Naming Your Ancestors (part one)

In a previous blog, I discussed having discretion when writing about family members especially if publication is the plan.  I also mentioned the value of doing your personal groundwork in order to lend credibility and depth to whatever you are writing.  And then, the disclaimer–don’t proceed with this if it is too tender of an area for you; and do have support in place (whether professional or a trusted friend). Depending on one’s family history, there are areas where we face challenges–sometimes we aren’t ready for this type of exploration.  Be self-wise in this regard. There is never force when we pursue our own growth.  Take small steps and lots of pauses and retreats when necessary.
****
Following is an exercise I’ve borrowed from Barbara G. Walker’s book entitled, Women’s Rituals.   I’ve used this exercise in a creative writing workshop and found it to be deeply grounding.  It is called NAMING. Conducting this exercise outdoors in nature would be conducive, though not necessary, to this experience.

Depending on if you are female or male, follow the lineage of your same sex ancestors to create a list of names.

Women:  List the first names of your mother and your sister(s); going back as far as you remember, list the first names only of your mother’s lineage–grandmother, great- grandmother, your aunts–grand and great aunts.

When you have finished with this list, do the same with your father’s side starting with his mother, your paternal aunts,  great grandmother and go back as far as you know.

Next list any elder women who influenced you, besides your named relatives, when you were growing up.  This could be teachers, friends of your family, soccer coaches, Girl Scout leaders, whomever.  Be as thorough as you can in your listing.

Finally, were there any historical women, public figures or even actresses whom you particularly admired as a girl or young woman.  List their first names also.

Men:  Using the same listing technique, begin with your father’s lineage and write down the first names of the males in that lineage.  Your father’s first name, your brother(s); your grandfather, great-grandfather, great or grand uncles going back as far as you remember.

Then list the first names of the males in your mother’s lineage, as far back as you can remember.

Continue with the first names of any elder men who have influenced you when you were growing up.  This could be teachers, friends of your family, sports coaches, Boy Scout leaders, etc.

Finish your list with the first names of any historical men, public figures or actors whom you looked up to as a boy or young man.

****
When you feel satisfied that your list is complete, stand, take a few deep breaths and read the names aloud, slowly.

Be present with these names for a few minutes.

(When I did this exercise with a group, the energy of these names was palpable.)

Recognizing that these are your female or male ancestors with their multitude of personalities and stories, do you feel their presence, their aliveness, their connection to you?  All of this through the act of naming them.  Does this feel like a place of power?

WRITING PROMPT:
Write about this experience of naming.

ancestors2

 

 

Mistress or Master of None?

You’ve heard this well-used phrase, “jack of all trades and master of none.”  This saying sort of piques me.  Being curious about so many things, I want to pursue every creative avenue that opens before me.

While it is true that Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY and I appreciate the diversity of ways to be creative, it seems that if I really want to get better at any one thing, I need to spend time with it.  It’s that whole thing about learning a language best through immersion…move in with a family fluent in the language you want to learn.  Three months, they recommend, I’ve heard.

Years ago, I viewed a National Geographic Special, the Living Treasures of Japan.  This film is about Japan’s Living National Treasures…men and women artists who are paid a stipend to perfect their art over their lifetimes!  I remember thinking how brilliant that was. The individual artist (sometimes there were groups of artists that were supported) had the opportunity to develop his/her craft over the course of his/her life–the sword maker, the indigo producer and fabric dyer, the puppet maker, etc.  This was their lifelong field of study!  Imagine that…being paid for your artistic area of expertise throughout your life! (Most of us can only imagine that.)  Here is the link to the National Geographic film.  I found it to be very inspiring!    https://youtu.be/KujoKBGuRsM

****

If you aren’t financially supported as you practice your art…you could choose to do a study of something you want to learn.  Stated simply, a study is a chosen immersion to practice a technique or form to help you develop a degree of mastery.   For instance, one online art class assignment was to draw and paint every version of a strawberry that I could imagine, using differing techniques & tools, but with the same theme–strawberry. In looking at these today, I see how each painting evokes a different emotion.

strawberry2

I’ve certainly done this with my writing. Especially when studying a poetic form that was new to me.  Or even the entire summer I spent learning how to make truffles.  No one minded eating my mistakes.

WRITING PROMPT:

Do you admire the way another writer uses descriptive detail in his books?  Or have you been intrigued with how a painter achieves perspective in her landscapes?  Is there some style of writing that takes  your breath away every time?  Or a shading technique that you’ve always been curious about in pencil drawings? Whatever it is, let your curiosity guide you to do your own study of something.   What would it be?  How much time are you willing to commit to this study?  Go for it!

ARTIST TIP:
This type of immersion has great rewards for you as the writer or artist, not to mention a bit of healthy self-pride at sticking with and developing skill in a particular area.

*The above exercise with strawberries is from an online art class presented by artist, Marla Baggetta.