The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

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Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.

Mermaids II

If I were a mermaid living in the ocean, I’d be angry with humans.  The ocean is, afterall, my home.  I want my environment to be pristine.  For myself and all the variety of wondrous sea creatures who also live here.  When my environment is polluted by the ignorance and greed of humans, well I can’t just get up and walk away, can I?  The integral relationship of the ocean with the moon and our ecosystem that keeps things “working” is being drastically damaged by destructive human activities.  Witnessing the devastation that humans have wreaked on my home, I’m wondering what I can do to wake them up!

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As we get more and more distanced from nature, we are going to feel the effects.  Because, as John Muir has said, “Nature includes us!”

As sophisticated as we might think we are, as much as we think we’ve conquered nature and that we are civilized above and beyond the natural world…that’s false thinking.  We are nature, nature is us.  We have a biology and so does the earth and the sea and the whole ecology in which we are included.  I’m likely preaching to the choir here!

This mermaid reminds me of a warrioress.  She is both tender and tough when necessary.  She is ready to go to battle for her home, the ocean.

mermaid.1

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In 1995, an amazing film was released, The Secret of Roan Inish.  The music was haunting, the scenery enchanting, the acting authentic and the story–magical and mythological.  This is where I first heard of “the Selkie.  And, I feel that the sea is portrayed as a character itself.  Effective personification!

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The phrase “If I were” is a good way to begin writing.  Especially when you’re feeling stuck…”If I were…”  Those three little words open the door to imagination and possibility.  Go ahead, WRITE!

The Point of Inspiration…the Opening

How do you begin a short story?  It helps to have a good idea, one that has sparked your own curiosity and imagination.

Sometimes, as in this case, it can start with a class assignment.  Several years ago, a writing instructor offered this prompt…Write about a secret revelation.  Does that get your imagination going?  It did for me.

At the time, I had become fascinated by the spires of Bryce Canyon (having come across a photo of them in a magazine).  That seemed like a good opening, a starting place.  And, perhaps, a good way to capture my reader’s attention.

The Point of Inspiration (in 3 parts)
© by Christine O’Brien

     She was either to blame or to be credited for his secret passion.  It was certainly a fate of sorts, meeting her below the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

Pointing upwards and to the east, she handed him her binoculars, saying “That’s Inspiration Point.”

And then, in a quick breath almost inaudible, “Do I inspire you?”

“What did you say?” he asked shaking his head as if he had water in his ears.

Swiftly, she changed the subject “Have you been here before?”

“Never,” he answered.

“How about I be your tour guide for the day?  I know these spires like, like…”

“…the back of your hand,” he offered.

“I was looking for an original metaphor,” she said.  “I hate cliches.”

“Cliche or otherwise, I’m all yours,” he said, noting her muscled calves and tall sturdy frame, a spire herself he found himself momentarily thinking in metaphors.

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Does this opening make you curious to know more?  About the characters?  About where this story is going?  How is it going to lead to a secret revelation?  If it has caught your interest, then, it’s done what was intended.  It has hooked you as the reader.

 

 

Writing About Yourself in Third Person

Over the years, she had a variety of interests. bakeoffcookbook1965
Baking and cooking “from scratch” lead her to
gourmet cooking for her family and friends.
She enjoyed preparing a few ethnic dishes
–enchiladas with red chile sauce,
chicken tamales; Asian soups and stir-fry;
her mother’s Spaghetti and Meatballs.  One year,
facing into another cold and snowy winter
in the mountains, she tried her hand at
Eastern Indian fare.

 

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Writing about yourself in third person, as if you were your own fictional character, is an exercise we’ve looked at in an earlier blog.  You know your history, quirks, qualities, likes and dislikes.  With all of that background information, you can readily fictionalize yourself…put yourself in a circumstance and consider your reactions based on what you know of yourself.

You can apply this same type of exploration when it comes to your fictional characters, the ones that your imagination has conjured.

Giving your character a DOSSIER enables you to write a character with believability. Before you put your character in a situation, don’t you think that you, as the writer, should have that omniscient author’s privilege of knowing them fully? In order to effectively write this character(s) it is necessary to understand where they’ve come from, what their motivations are, what they are distressed by, how they dress, who and what they love, etc.  There are fictional character dossier templates online.  Enjoy the process.

Degas as Inspiration

Looking through an art magazine, I came across the image of Degas:  Les Femmes Qui Se Peignent.  I have not posted a photo here due to possible copyright infringement.  However, I suggest that you Google it to get an image of where the inspiration for this short prose poem came from.

Inspiration is an interesting thing.  One gets inspired and then either does or doesn’t do something with that inspiration.  Once I engaged the inspiration, imagination took over.  And who can predict where the writing goes from there?

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She’d Get By, Right?
© by Christine O’Brien

There had been weeks of gray skies.
She’d get by, right?
In the meantime, dress simply
keep a positive focus
and send loving thoughts to everyone
you’ve ever met.
When memory slips in, turn away…

“Let me be your guide,” he said
as he tucked a sprig of gypsophila
beside her ear, already too familiar.
He isn’t practical she thought.
Yet, there is poetry in his eyes.
She told herself that she needed more space
but his teal eyes could too easily
dissuade her from that idea.

This relationship wasn’t going to be–
convenient.
He worked in a high rise
while she had earthy values.
The night sky had to be star-studded
not city light lit.

The morning they met,
she was sitting by the sea
combing her hair
while the gentle waves teased her feet.
He told her that she looked Indian
and asked if he could braid her hair.
What type of woman allows a
strange man with teal eyes to
braid her hair?

“In honor of the new moon”
he winked leaning into her resistance.
It didn’t take very long for her to realize
that she was falling for his line, his leanness,
his too too teal eyes.

These months later,
entrenched in weeks of gray skies
she asked herself if the heartache was worth it.

She decided that it was.

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Writing Prompt:
Inspiration and imagination are never very far away.  Get your inspiration and take the time to follow it.  Write a prose poem or a prose piece.

Futuristic Writing

Recently, I watched a few episodes of a television reality show, PROJECT RUNWAY.  I find the creativity aspect fascinating.  Sixteen up and coming fashion designers are competing over a period of approximately twelve weeks.  They are given design challenges and they create their own unique take on the assignment.  One designer is eliminated from the competition each week.  A challenge was for the remaining seven designers to work collaboratively (rather than competitively) and come up with a line of clothing based on what fashions might look like in a futuristic society in the year 2055.  They were each given $55 to spend at a vintage clothing store and then used these purchases to create their line of futuristic fashions.

The overall theme that the designers chose to work with was that in the future, the environment would “be the enemy” and people would need protection against toxins and hazards that mankind had perpetuated through their reckless use of resources, greed, apathy, etc.  That these young designers would perceive the future to be hazardous in their futuristic imaginings, is probably not surprising.

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So, is all futuristic writing then going to be apocalyptic in nature, I wonder?
If we started to write about the future with more optimism, could we alter the course of things?

Writing Prompt:
What is something that you’d like to imagine into the future for the earth and her inhabitants?  Write about it.  Share your better vision with someone.

Orbs in the forest
Orbs…lucky me

Pablo Neruda–“The Word”

Pablo Neruda was a renowned and prolific Chilean poet and diplomat.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.  The fictionalized 1995 film, The Postman (Il Postino), takes place in Italy during Neruda’s time in exile.

Neruda loved his native language, Spanish (Chilean).  He wrote in this native tongue; there have been beautiful translations of his work.

The following bit of prose, translated into English, transmits this love and the preciousness of words to him. This is only a partial excerpt from Neruda’s homage to “The Word”.  I’m sorry that I cannot give credit to the translator as it wasn’t available.

The Word
by Pablo Neruda

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down…I love words so much…the unexpected ones…the ones I wait for greedily or stalk, until suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem…I catch them in mid flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them.  I set myself in front of the dish.  They have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, oil, like fruit, like algae, like aggates, like olives…and then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything exists in the word…”

Writing Prompt:
A brief meditation.  Get quiet, shut your eyes, take a few deep breaths.  Continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  Experience the release of what you think you know with each out breath.  Experience your openness to something new with each in breath.  Ask for entry into the land of the WORD.  In your imagination, construct that land.  Visit it for a few minutes as you continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  When  you feel ready, open your eyes.  Pick up your pen and let your words flow onto the page–write your own homage to the word.

peony

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

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.

More Practice with Noticing the Details

When I meet someone new, it is not unusual for my mind to form “judgments” or “conclusions” about him or her.  Before I can count to three, I’ve made up my mind in some way.  Once I have this inner judgment, I log it as “true” unless or until I learn otherwise.  First impressions are powerful and I wonder how many times they are correct?  I’m guessing there are a few studies.

How certain can you be about what you actually see?  What filters do you wear as you view something?  I know there have been tales of five individuals witnessing an event and, afterwards, each one relates it differently. Interesting.

Years ago, I was hiking in a designated wilderness area.  I don’t wear my glasses while hiking.  As I passed this grassy meadow, I was certain I spied two white horses, grazing in the relative distance.  What a lovely sight! Returning along the same path hours later, I realized that it wasn’t two white horses grazing, it was two large white immobile boulders! If you’d have asked me, I would have sworn that I’d seen these two beautiful white horses.

horse4

As an observer and writer, I have an active imagination and can fill in the details around someone or something without having facts to substantiate what I conclude! 

Writing Prompt:
Here’s an opportunity for you to practice constructing a story based solely on what you see. Select a photo of a person in a magazine–National Geographic?–any magazine with great photos of people is desirable.

Tear out the photo or copy it so there are no distracting elements aside from the picture you are studying.  Using image detail, describe every aspect of the person in the photo. Clothing, expression, age, coloring, a “dissonant detail”, etc.  What are you assuming about this person based on the photo? Write that down also.  Make up a story based entirely on what you see.