Smell

Caged Freedom

Smells
Animal dung smells
hang heavy in thick air of suspense.
The stink of carnivore dung
is quite different than the
oddly sweet scent of herbivore dung.
I’ve become expert on such things
as I feverishly stride
through long afternoons of dejection.
They feed me plenty and often~~
raw, red horsemeat, scent of blood.
My cage is hosed down three times-a-day
watering away wild odors.
My trainer—we are faithful to each other
~~he sweats profusely—mustily
as he trains away fierceness
and retrains fierce pretense.
I cooperate
growling and scowling as we rehearse.

Performance night a collage of smells
–clowns acrid greasepaint
–tightrope walkers
reeking of cheap perfumes
–concession foods
popcorn and hotdogs vie for supremacy.
All the people blend into one
odoriferous stench
of fear, excitement and their daily dramas.

Sometimes,
between cage and circus tent,
I catch it…
a whisper of deep forest fragrance
wrought with imagination
of strange stalking beasts
of birds with multi-syllabic calls
olfactory descent into wild ways.
And I stop
–right there–

in that wild breeze pause.
I tug at the rope that collars me
and rear up slightly
on cramped hind legs.
I groan a roar that crawls deeper
than any loneliness.
Then, it’s gone
–the smells of today snap me back
camouflaging uncivilized dreams.

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Everyone has a nose.  They come in all shapes and sizes;  their purpose is universal. Though we don’t rely on them in the same ways that animals do, we do count on them to warn us of smoke or beckon when our favorite pie has come out of the oven.  Besides being great for breathing and filtering the air, noses are olfactory memory generators!

Several years ago, I attended a Writer’s Conference in Ashland, Oregon.  I chose to work with poet and author, Kim Addonizio, over the five days of the conference.  I am so grateful to have had this experience.  One of the final assignments was to write a poem based in the sense of smell.

I returned to my room and sat there for awhile, tallying the possible directions I could  go with this theme.  Suddenly, it fell into place.  Being an empath, I never really liked circuses.  One brother is an animal right’s activist.  I’ve taken my kids to a few circuses, but we felt unease.

In the poem above, I became the circus tiger in the cage and wrote from that perspective.

Writing Prompt:
The invitation is yours to write a poem or prose with the sense of smell as your prompt.  Follow your nose and see where it takes you.

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Putting it Together

We’ve practiced working with descriptive image detail and the figurative language of simile and metaphor. We’ve played with writing in third person. Let’s put it together.

For your prop, find a photo of yourself at a younger age.

One way to approach this exercise is to begin by making a list of nouns naming the facial features. i.e., hair, face, nose, eyes, ears, chin, cheeks, jaw, forehead, neck, lips, skin, etc.

Beside each noun, write an adjective or two that describe the noun. i.e., for jaw, a few adjectives could be strong, weak, tense or what?; for lips–full, pouting, stern, etc.

Then, look for something that really is a “dissonant detail”–something that jumps out and makes you take notice.  Is your smile crooked, your front tooth chipped, are you frowning, squinting into the sun, anything? What is your demeanor or countenance? How old are you?  What is your hairstyle, style of dress?

Next, using the third person perspective, write a paragraph incorporating the nouns, adjectives and the dissonant detail(s) as you fully describe yourself in the photo. Dare to further expand on a few of the nouns using the imagery of  original simile or metaphor in your word illustration of the photo. i.e., his jaw was as determined as a base runner; her eyes were misty like that indeterminate rainy April day.

Finally, what is something you might have said or wanted to say…give yourself one spoken line.

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Writing Tip:
If  you are writing a memoir, looking at old photos and re-collecting in this way can help you to connect with yourself or someone else in another time and place. 

Tuning In

When I write in my journal, I am usually trying to get to something deeper than “life on the surface.”  I’m expressing while questing.

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According to author, Angeles Arrien, “The muses call us to live our lives with integrity and devotion to their chorus of inspiration.  Above, all, the symbol of the muse invites us to be resourceful in daily life.”

muses

 

Writing Prompt:
Think of one area of your artist’s life which seems dry, non-productive or unsatisfying in some way.  In your journal, write about this in detail.  Create a written dialogue between yourself and  your muse inquiring as to how you can be more creative in response to this particular issue.  Ask your muse what resources are available to assist you now.  Listen and write down the response.  Take as much time as you need for this exercise.  Sometimes, you ask the question, walk away from it and the answers come over the course of the day or week.  In your journal, note the replies. Is this something you can easily implement in your creative life?  If an action is called for, do you see a way to proceed?  If not, inquire into that. How do I proceed?  Pay attention to see if something shifts for you in your creative awareness as you bring your sincere attention to your question.

Take good care.

 

Imagination and Fabrication

Imagination…

elephant

Excuse me, but is that a PURPLE ELEPHANT?

Why yes, it is.

Where in the world would you find a purple elephant?

In the realm of imagination, of course.

Artists love to paint elephants.  Some artists choose realism and create elephants that look like they have walked out of an African forest.  Other artists are inspired to paint whimsical elephants (like me).  There is room for both, of course.

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Writers of fiction are great fabricators–they take an idea for a story and let their imagination run with it.  And, if  permitted, the imagination can take you on a ride into the great unknown!  In a sense, fiction writers might begin their story with “I wonder what would happen if…”  and then take off into a flight of fancy.

When you write from the place of imagination, you typically want to have your story grounded in some “facts”.  Your reader appreciates some plausibility or credibility in order to hinge his/her mind onto something recognizable.

Years ago, I remember watching the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with the actor, Danny Kaye.  There was a remake in 2013 with Ben Stiller…I haven’t seen it yet…I think I’ll rent that one tonight.  This story is based on author James Thurber’s classic story of a daydreamer who drifts off into an imaginary world, escaping his mundane life.  He is, of course, the hero of his daydreams.

Writing Prompt:
In your writing, do you dare to enter the wild and unpredictable territory of imagination? Have you written from this place?  What story can you create out of thin air?  Even if you are a non-fiction writer, can you allow yourself the play that imagination steals one into?  Do you want to give it a try?  It might feel like you have veered off course, but why not?  Don’t new inventions rise from someone’s untethered imagination?  The questions being “How can I do this better or make this easier or what if I do this or try that, then what?”

EXPLORE

Words that conjure or impassion

Following is a list of only a few of the many words that I like:

Words.1

Reverie

Ecstasy

Genuflect

Sublime

Ridiculous

Freedom

Grope

Reconnoiter

Grace

Figment

Rhapsody

Unity

Discombobulate

Umbrella

Surreptitiously

Filament

Peace

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Words have power.  We know this as writers.  They move us to action; they stir desire; they incite; they rally; they quiet; they infuse; they placate; they calm and comfort and so on.  Some words we love for their meaning.  Other times the sound of an isolated word…the way it trips across the tongue, tickles us.  Sometimes it’s the look of the written word–the spelling, the way the letters cluster that interests us.  Who can say what word fascination is really about?

WRITING PROMPT:
What are your words…the ones that when you hear them you are moved in some way. Make your own list of evocative words.

Something to ponder:

  • Do you think that antiquated words frame a belief system?
  • Do new words invoke something new?

It seems to me that each word is its own inspiration–that is, a word can take the writer on a journey into their own experience in some peculiar and unique way.

Try it:  Choose a word from your word list and let it be your writing prompt…write a paragraph, a page or a poem.  Have fun with this wordplay.

 

Conjecturing

I call this exercise Conjecturing.  Imagination let’s you play with what you’ve accepted as the way it is or was.  Imagination opens doors to other possibilities–what if’s, if only’s and dream on’s.  Fairytales, we discover, can be altered.  Following is my poetic rendition using the fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood.

What if Little Red Riding Hood
wasn’t so little
and the color, red, was a camouflage
in a maroon forest
and the wolf was tamed
or on vacation?

What if Little Red’s mother
drove her to grandma’s house
on some well-traveled highway
and the woodcutter
was a truck driver
in some other state?

What if Little Red
was a lot older and wiser
and understood wolfish ways
and detours?

And, what if grandma
lived with Red and her mom
and no one had to go anywhere
afterall
with a basket of goodies?

What if the world weren’t so dangerous
and the unknown wasn’t dark and scary
only unknown
and talk over tea and cookies
were the universal fare
and war was obsolete.

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I’ve used the “what if” technique to encourage the imagination to play with and rewrite a story that can be traced back to Europe preceding the 17th century (there are many different versions of Little Red Riding Hood).

WolfandRed.final

Writing Prompt:
Is there a fairytale that you’d like to recreate? In prose or poetry, employ the what if  technique and see where you can go with it.  Flights of fancy can take you to surprisingly new territory (and out of the woods).  Enjoy the process.

Writing Tip:
Conjecturing with “What if” is a good way to move through a writer’s block.

Note:  All of the art on these blog posts is my own. This piece was inspired by a class I took with Alissa Millsap called Barn Painting.  With general guidelines, I tend to go in my own direction and this painting is where I went.

Writer’s Block Reverie

Reverie.1

Several years ago, I took a refresher online writing class with a nomadic creative writing instructor.  She was travelling throughout Mexico, it seemed a pleasure trip, while supplying lessons via the computer.  She had a well-planned curriculum; there was homework and other requirements. I had virtual classmates and it was actually quite fun!  It was a bonafide course offered by the local junior college with college credits.

My final paper was an essay on writer’s block with several works cited.

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Following is an excerpt from that paper…

“There is no such thing as writer’s block,” I’ve been heard to say.  “Think of it as a period of gestation, a between-world where something is brewing and you need to be patient while nurturing yourself.”  I sympathetically add, “Do something else that is creative, just to keep the juices flowing, the channels open, blah, blah, blah.”

Here I am with this paper coming due and I find myself in a barren crevasse.  I’ve done what any frustrated woman might do–I’ve air-popped a large bowl of salty popcorn with a compromise of coconut oil instead of butter.  I know there’ll be a price to pay later–upset stomach and kernels wedged between my teeth–but right now, I’m desperate.

In her book, If You Want to Write, Brenda Euland has a chapter entitled “The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly.” (24)

Writers do have to bank on this idea.

“You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absentmindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is all right…know in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later.”
(Euland 24,25)

I’m sure if she could see me in this moment, stuffing fistfuls of popcorn into my mouth, she’d know that I am a writer in waiting.

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WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal. When you experience your version of writer’s block, how do you deal with it? How do you feel when you are in this state? Have you tried writing about this experience? Can you describe your writer’s block by writing down the details? Are there things you can liken it to–using simile, metaphor, personification? What is your recourse when you encounter this seemingly static energy?

Have fun exploring your brand of writer’s block reverie.
Perhaps this writing exercise is the breakthrough you need.

Essentially Yours

We begin learning by imitation.  This is necessary for survival in the world into which we are born.  Then, comes the differentiation…the recognition that you are neither your mother nor your primary caregiver.  Waving your hands in front of your face, you begin to realize that these are your hands and under your control.  The very beginning of individuation!

In writing and art, you might begin by imitating, copying techniques, practicing methods, mixing colors as directed, learning the language, advancing your use of tools and studying your genre of choice, etc.

As you further your education, what is bursting to emerge is that which is essentially yours.  How do you weave together all that you’ve learned and then, in which direction are you going to take it? Many artists speak about style.  Some artists fear being copied.  Other artists are flattered at being imitated. Every artist wants to receive credit for their creations.

I do think that there is within each one of us is that which is essentially your own. When you are in the copycat stage, there is an awareness that this is only the springboard that is going to take you to your very own style.  Style can be seen as the way in which you uniquely put the various constructive components of your chosen art together.  There is  a certain something that emanates from your writing or art that comes to be seen as your style.  At first, perhaps, you yourself can’t see it because it is so basic to you. I’ve found that others often recognize my style of  painting before I do!

In your daily life, there is a way you go about things. From the way you greet the day, to the foods on your shelf, to the arrangement of furniture in your home or how you dress.  I doubt that any two individuals do any of these exactly the same. Through experimentation, daring and trust–whether writing, sculpting or painting, –you are going to find a way to express that which is essentially yours.

WRITING PROMPT:  How do you perceive your writing or painting to be essentially yours?  What do others notice when they read your poetry or prose?  What do others point out when they look at your art?

koala

 

A Few Craftsperson’s Tools

As writers, our initial task is to get something down on paper, uncensored.  If we want to make a piece “public”, or refine it for our own satisfaction, then the process of crafting begins.

I often think of crafting as sculptors have described:  setting the sculpture free from the marble.  So it is with writing.  We have extraneous words, not the precise word, unclear thoughts, a lack of cohesiveness.  In refining his or her work, the writer employs some basic editing tools in order to set his or her piece free of what is superfluous.

  • Have nearby: a dictionary, a synonym finder and a rhyming dictionary (if you are rhyming poetry)
  • Look for imprecise words…ask yourself if there is a better word.  When you find the precise word, you typically have an economy of words.
  • Notice if the words you’ve chosen are interesting and varied.
  • Have you used figurative language effectively?
  • Look within the structure of a sentence and ask yourself “Can I say this better?”
  • Read your piece over paragraph by paragraph or verse by verse.  Within each paragraph or verse, look for unnecessary repetition.
  • Remember the beginning, middle and end segments of a paragraph.  Is the paragraph cohesive unto itself?
  • Does one paragraph or verse flow into the next?
  • Have you said what you want to say?
  • Is there a conclusion?
  • Get in the habit of giving your poem or prose piece a title.

These are  a few crafting tools that you can employ, one at a time. This list is by no means a comprehensive one.

WRITING TIP:
This type of crafting is a word-by-word, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page process. Don’t attempt this when you are tired.

NOTE:  There are downloadable editing programs that you can find online though I haven’t personally tried any of them.
Ultimately, if you are publishing, hire a professional editor for refined and expert editing. They have their very specific tools and aren’t emotionally attached to what you have written.

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