Alice

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Too Small Alice

This drawing is my copycat drawing based on
an original illustration by Sir John Tenniel
and then water-colorized by me.

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Some stories are timeless.  When you were young, did someone read to you from the classic tale, Alice in Wonderland?  Or, did you pick up the book and read the story yourself on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Perhaps you’ve seen one of the many film versions of Alice in Wonderland.

A few years ago, artist Jane Davenport offered an online watercolor painting class, Wonderland.  I had no experience with watercolor painting.  This seemed like a fun way to get my feet wet.

I also decided to read the book, Alice in Wonderland, from start to finish. I am certain that reading this book in present time, I had greater comprehension than when I read excerpts in the past.  That is the thing about some stories, they have the capacity to reveal something new when viewed from a different vantage point of age.

Have you found this to be true?

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I wonder what gives a story this timeless quality.  As a writer, does one set out with the intention to create a classic tale that spans generations?  What do you think?
I believe that a person writes for the love of writing, an inner drive, compelling inspiration, his/her own particular circumstances and the outer stimulus of the times. Add to this their commitment to follow this particular tantalizing muse.

How could Lewis Carroll have imagined that his story would leap across continents and into our present time?

feel it’s important to note that Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations bonded with Carroll’s words in such a way as to pop the story off the pages.  When I think of Alice in Wonderland, I see Sir John Tenniel’s “Alice”.

Note: This classic tale has had many illustrators over time.

WRITING PROMPT:
The quote below, from Alice in Wonderland, is a popular, often quoted one.  Applying this to writing, isn’t it an advantage for a writer to stay open to where the flow of thoughts, words and emotions want to take him/her–that is, not knowing where they want to go? If you have a goal in mind for your writing, how do you react when your writing wants to go in another direction?  How can you align with your goal and yet stay open to rerouting?

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.

“I don’t know where,” said Alice

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

 

One Poem a Day

A poet once recommended that an aspiring poet write one bad poem a day (Does anyone remember who said this?).  I add…refrain from judging whether your poem is good or not because a poem typically begins with a rough draft.  Personal expression through poetry, especially in the initial stages of getting it down on paper, doesn’t benefit from judging.  I think that the poet was actually saying, WRITE DAILY!

According to Wikipedia, “Olav Håkonson Hauge was a Norwegian poet. He was born in Ulvik and lived his whole life there, working as a gardener in his own orchard.”  Following is one of his poems:

One Poem A Day
by Olav Håkonson Hauge

I’ll write one poem a day,
every day.
That should be easy enough.
Browning did it for a while, though
he rhymed and beat time
with his bushy eyebrows.
So, one poem a day.
Something strikes you,
something occurs,
something catches your attention.
–I get up.  It’s lighter.
Have good intentions.
And see the bullfinch rise from the cherry tree,
stealing buds.

Here’s another one by Olav Håkonson Hauge:

The cat is sitting
out front
when you come.
Talk a bit with the cat.
He is the most sensitive one here.

Note:  Poetry can be this seemingly basic.

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Isn’t writing, whether poetry or prose, about observation–of our feelings, nature, encounters, our environment, caught phrases, daily life experiences, our own introspection? Again, inspiration is everywhere when we are awake to it.

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WRITING PROMPT:
Writing daily is a habit.  Do you have this habit?  If so, yay!
If not, try writing a poem a day for 21-days–it can be any length.  That’s the challenge!  Be accountable and share your journey with someone.

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.”

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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.

 

Words that conjure or impassion

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

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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.

 

Collecting Quotes

quotes2.jpgI seek, at times, (often, daily, always?) insight, clarity, truth.  I quietly quest as I go through the day.  I gather experiences, encounter others, learn lessons (sometimes reluctantly) and discover myself.

Over the years, I’ve collected quotes, though not stashed them in any orderly file. (I should, right?) I sometimes post one or two on my bulletin board. Mostly, I jot them down on a piece of notepaper. Typically, they get sandwiched between piles of papers–ideas that stand alone or that I might develop at some elusive future date. Regardless, when I happen across them as I sort, I am often touched, again, by the words of another.

Looking online, it is obvious that I’m not the only one who appreciates other people’s wise words.  These gems float on the internet, are sprinkled throughout books and magazines, graffitied on walls, in literary articles, etc. We read them in store windows or on hand-crafted signs.  Hallelujah to the immortal quotes that remind us of higher human values or that help us broaden our awareness or that become a lifeline in a moment of need.

As a writer, a quote can inspire me or find its way into something I’m writing. It can be food for thought that expands my view of the world.

Following is a quote from Frederick Buechner from his book entitled Now and Then, 1983.  

“Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

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I came across this quote many years ago, yet today, I find value in it.  My understanding of it is that the body, on it’s amazing sensory path, is a worthy vehicle and when I’m intimately connected to it, I can be transported to the very center of my being over this life of great variety.  How do you interpret this quote?

WRITING PROMPT:
Have you been collecting quotes to support, influence, enliven, expand, enhance and inform what you’re writing? Are they easily accessible? Have you contained and organized them or are they scattered? Do you plan to use any of them in your writing?

WRITING TIP:
To discover the correct formatting of quotes within the body of your work, you can Google the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This is a great resource (there are others). You can also find out how to properly document your resources. And so much more!

Depending on the genre in which you are writing, there are various style guides–MLA (Modern Language Association), the Chicago Manual of Style, CSE (the Council of Science Editors) and the APA (American Psychological Association).

Hasn’t it all been said?

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Say “hello” to your inner critic. WHY WRITE? HASN’T IT ALL BEEN SAID? AND MANY TIMES OVER? DO WE NEED ANOTHER BOOK? ANOTHER POEM? ANOTHER WRITER? ANOTHER BLAH, BLAH AND BLAH?

Is this a common argument for you not to write. Or is it merely an excuse, avoidance?

This is what I’ve found.  Each one of us has a unique voice, a unique way of saying things. Your writing will connect with the “EARS” that can hear your voice.  I also believe that in these times, it is necessary to think and write outside the box.  As you do your own deep work and write from that place, there is the strong possibility that something new will be revealed to you.

Have you had this experience yourself or witnessed it with your children? Your mother gives you a lecture on, for instance, why you should practice the habit of saving part of your allowance.  You are half-listening while inwardly saying “yeah, yeah, yeah…” Then, your favorite aunt or uncle says the exact same thing but in a slightly different way and you begin tucking away part of your allowance every week.  Alright, maybe that’s not the best example…a child has to rebel against parental authority.

However, the point is, some writers reach us while we dismiss others who might be saying the exact same thing in a different way.

Do throw your voice into the ring of writers if this feels like something that is important to you.  These are not the times to be timid or quiet if you have something you want to say.

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In other words, as said before in a different way, inspiration is everywhere and in everything.  Ideas and images adrift in a universe and you, the writer, snatch the ones for which you feel a passion.  You extract what is of value to you, command the language, wield your wordy power and shape, fondle and create something that might have been said before, but now it’s made new or renewed through your particular voice.

Author and poet, Kwame Alexander recommends that you say “YES” to writing as “…language has the power to alter our perceptions.”  That’s no small thing.

WRITING PROMPT:
What in the whole universe are you writing about today?  Are you being true to your writer’s voice and allowing what wants to come forth to come forth? Is there something else you’d rather be writing?  WRITE YOUR ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS IN YOUR JOURNAL.

CELEBRATE YOUR UNIQUE WRITER’S VOICE.

Playing in the Field of the Daily Mundane (part one)

A poem by Al Zolynas

The Zen of Housework
I look over my own shoulder
down my arms
to where they disappear under water
into hands inside pink rubber gloves
moiling among dinner dishes.

My hands lift a wine glass,
holding it by the stem and under the bowl.
It breaks the surface
like a chalice
rising from a medieval lake.

Full of the grey wine of domesticity, the glass floats
to the level of my eyes.
Behind it, through the window
above the sink, the sun, among
a ceremony of sparrows and bare branches,
is setting in Western America.

I can see thousands of droplets
of steam–each a tiny spectrum–rising
from my goblet of grey wine.
They sway, changing directions
constantly–like a school of playful fish,
or like the sheer curtain
on the window to another world.

Ah, the grey sacrament of the mundane!

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Al’s poem certainly elevates the mundane task of washing dishes to…a sacrament!  And, it illustrates that anything is fair game for inspiration from which to write your own poetry.  Reading Al’s poem, we become very present with him as he washes the dinner dishes.

When reading a poem, I recommend that you read it at least twice.  And aloud, slowly. The writer has placed line breaks where he feels they are appropriate.  Reading it, let the line breaks support the meaning of the poem.

There is no writing prompt today.  Instead, review Al’s poem giving it your full attention. Some things to notice are the shape of the poem on the page, the number of stanzas, the number of lines in each stanza, line breaks, the opening line , the closing or concluding line, cohesiveness, the punctuation (or lack of), rhyming or not, a rhythmic quality. Notice how the poet uses simile and metaphor and shifts his description from the actual to the metaphorical and back again.  In your estimation, what is the purpose of this poem? Is there anything else that stands out for you? What feeling(s) does it evoke in you?

Have fun playing in the field of the daily mundane!

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Betwixt and Between Prose or Poetry

Where Do Poems Come From?
© by Christine O’Brien

Plucked from the heavens
or scavenged from dread–
Swung upon a star
or in the lover’s eyes–
Breathed through
a baby’s first cry
or landed on the moon

Where do poems come from?
The gnarled roots of a
toppled pine–
The ecstatic branches of a
grasping redwood–
Dropped to the earth
in a widow’s tears–
Sprung up from a new flower
hatching the world

Where do poems come from?
Pushed out between my thighs
or sobbed into a pillow–
Creeping through the house
during the longest night–
Inherited from ancestors
too numb to speak
Chanted
in mindless media messages–
Twitching on the cat’s tail
as she leaps towards her prey

Where do poems come from?
Spread-eagled on the ground–
arms outstretched
Faraway places
without dreams–
Under the lamppost
kissing new promise–
In a child’s prayer
to the gods who deliver
a happier life

On the surgeon’s table
when the heart stops cold
Groping in the back seat of a car
and more
Raked embers of pain
Tattered ideas
A fallen meteor
Rotted earth poems
Encrusted pearl poems
Fusing my experience
as I
witness the universe

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Each one of these images can be translated into at least one poem (likely many) or into a story or prose.  Do you agree?

And I do believe that any story can shapeshift into a poem.

This is a game that a writer can play with him/herself.  That is, transitioning between poetry and prose and back again.  Each writing form lends something to the development of a piece that you are working on.

For me, poetry has been a soul-touching expression.  It has engaged my deepest writer’s voice, plugged into my emotions and rendered–a poem. While prose  has been meandering, meaningful, and cathartic for me, poetry got me to the crux of whatever I was trying to express through writing.  Poetry takes me directly to the heart of what I want to say.

WRITING PROMPT:
Dancing Between Poetry & Prose:  Borrow one of the lines from the poem above (or draft your own list of where poems come from) and write a short prose piece. You decide the time limit on this one.  Then, reread what you’ve written.

Walk away for at least 24-hours.
In the next day or two, reread your prose piece.  Extract an emotion from this piece and let this feeling be your guide into writing a poem.  If the poem wants to go another way than initially intended, let it determine its own course.
This exercise is not about producing a polished poem or prose piece.  It’s an exploration in playing with two different types of writing.  Invite in the spirit of play and curiosity.

WRITING TIP:  You can glean words and phrases from your prose to develop your poem and vice versa.  By the way, there is also prose poetry.  (You can google it if you are curious.)

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Writing from the daily mundane–Part One

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from the Tao of Women, by Pamela K. Metz & Jacqueline L. Tobin

“The muse’s energy is tapped when you stop
and listen to the silence inside.  Creating
sparks of brilliance from barely glowing
embers, she is only a breath away.
Expressions of the self wait to be birthed.
Look to the potter’s hands, the weaver’s eye,
the basket maker’s techniques.
The creative spirit lives on in women’s tasks.”

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One way that we tap the quiet space inside is through our repetitive tasks.  Though society has devalued women’s work, we no longer need to abide that false notion for what has been termed mundane is often where we find our muse–especially when we are able to be fully present with the task at hand.

WRITING PROMPT:

  1. How do you perceive this quote from The Tao of Women?
  2. Consider ways that you experience creativity (in any form) in your life?
  3. Do you garner gifts from your daily repetitive tasks?  What are a few tasks and what are the gifts in them?

As you go about your day today, witness yourself in your repetitive tasks.

INSPIRATION

 

I’ve heard some say that they receive inspiration while in the shower or on a trail in the forest or beside a lake.  I’ve had a poem write itself when I’m stuck in traffic.  There are innumerable places to find inspiration.  Consider if there is a place or time of day when you typically receive inspiration.

INSPIRATION–Truly, it is everywhere, in any moment if we are RECEPTIVE!  Aren’t we blasted by inspiration of one sort or another daily.  When I look out my bedroom window, I see sky and natural beauty everywhere.  When I’m traveling, I view highways, vehicles, people, bridges, bays, high deserts.  In a cafe, I overhear a line from someone at the adjoining table that I have to write in my notebook. Or an aroma crosses my olfactory awareness and I’m transported back in time to when my mom used to make her famous spaghetti sauce.  Or, as often happens, the words of an old familiar song take me right back to my twenties.  With all the inspiration around us, we could easily go into overwhelm.  For the writer, there is a necessary sorting process to determine what “scents” we want to explore further.  The sorting of dross from gold. That’s where our particular inspiration comes in.  You’ve decided, haven’t you, what you want to write about, where your passions lie?

According to Mr. Webster himself, inspiration is “A divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify her or him to receive and communicate sacred revelation.”

NOW THAT IS A POWERFUL CALLING!

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It’s a good idea to be a witness to how your unique creative process works and how you respond to inspiration.

WRITING PROMPT:
Think of something you wrote recently.  Then back track…and list the details that lead you to explore this particular topic.

  • What was the topic?
  • Where were you when inspiration hit?
  • What were you doing?
  • Were you in conversation with someone?
  • Did you immediately know that this was a hot topic for you?
  • Did you write it down?
  • Tell someone about it?
  • Put it aside for another time?

This is a way to witness your own process when it comes to how you respond to the muse, to inspiration.

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Next, consider
“What does it take for you to leap from the point of inspiration to write something on the page?”