Jack Kerouac with Steve Allen

Recently, my brother sent me a video clip of Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show, an American variety show that aired in the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s.  Kerouac is reading his poetic prose in the clip below.  This is not to be missed!

Don’t just look, SEE!

Jack Kerouac lived from 1922 to 1969–a short, fast-lived life.  His writing evokes time and place–what has been termed “The Beat Generation”.  His words are evocative and though I might look at the same images, his words help me to really see through his personal and specific lens.  Listening to Kerouac read his own words, once again, I am moved by this author’s authentic voice.  WOW!

We could debate the difference between looking and seeing.  For me, I look at so many things throughout the day.  A sweeping look, a glance, a quick visual summary of the places I go and the people I meet along the way.

However, there are moments when I really stop and SEE!  These are those moments when I feel most connected to something beyond myself.  These are the moments when I pause and really witness what I’m looking at.  It is a whole other level of experience, the difference between looking and seeing.

WRITING PROMPT:
Try giving yourself a conscious experience of seeing versus looking over the next few days.  Move yourself from looking at something to seeing it.  Later on, with pen and paper, reflect on this…what was your experience of looking versus seeing?  An interesting exercise.

Practice Doesn’t Mean Perfection

I’ve been practicing how to draw and paint faces.IMG_9403

As a ripening artist, I fall in love with each painting…even when it is far from perfect.  Like this one.  Learning a new technique taught by Sara Burch in Paint Your Heart and Soul‘s year-long online painting and creativity course, I realize that one eye is larger and a bit lower than the other.  Yet, this painting captures something for me that I was having trouble expressing in words.  This painting helped me to bring some disparate feelings together.

Learning and practicing a new technique was the primary purpose of this new-to-me process.   Perhaps there is a time and place to strive for excellence (rarely perfection?) or even one’s personal best.  As I am learning, there has also got to be plenty of room for play, experimentation and error…sometimes happy accidents.

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With writing, is it any different?  Writers strive for perfection as they craft their prose or poetry.  Do they ever reach it?  Levels of perfection are relative, it seems.  For with any final piece preparing to leap into the world, the writer decides, at some point, to let it go.  This is not based solely on whether a piece is “good enough”.  There is an inner sense of completion.  What wants to be said has been said in a way that is “kin” to the writer.  In using the word kin in this way, I intend that the writer has expressed him or herself in a way that is unique, particular or inherent.  When that goal is reached, then a painting or piece of writing can feel complete and ready to be launched.

When you write about someone, you look for the dissonant detail.  Perhaps this is also reflected in your greater body of work–that you allow the dissonant details into your writing thereby,  making a work your own.  Those details–which could be seen as imperfections–mark your work in some way.  Those details reveal to the reader “your style”.  Offering your work, with all of its perceived blemishes, does make one feel vulnerable.

Contemplation:
Do you find fulfillment in practicing your art or craft?  Are you tolerant of “mistakes” as you learn? Are you patient with your development as a writer or artist?  Can you spot the dissonant details in your work that make it stand out as YOURS?

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“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take
if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Apricots

A few days ago, while selecting apricots from the fruit bin at the local health food store, I had a sudden flashback…nine ragamuffin kids eager for a box of bruised apricots from Uncle Oliver’s garden in Santa Clara–a place of summer sun and outdoor sprinklers. Not for us.  Living in San Francisco, we had summer fog, jackets and scarves and work to be done.

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At some point, childhood becomes a distant landscape.  While there was a dearth of love, there were also heroes.  Sometimes the mind chooses one, a bright spot on the horizon, and hinges there in private gratitude.

On a rare occasion, Uncle Oliver would appear at our front door.  His entry was sunshine walking into the house as he placed a small cardboard box of apricots on the dinette table. Uncle Oliver, a round name, a round face, head thrown back and round-syllabled laughter tossed like a ball into our cluttered living room.  A pleasing sound to our laughter-starved ears.  Did one need permission to laugh so fully, so boldly? Laughing involved his whole face, his whole vibrating body.  Musical.  Tears squeezed out the corners of his laugh-slit eyes.  His laughter affected us, if only for the moment.  A laugh that one could trust and believe in.  His voice was musical too, as if each syllable was a note played on a piano, rising and falling with a quality of comfort like soft flannel, enveloping.

OliverEach apricot radiated a sweetness that came from some foreign land where climates were warm enough to grow apricot trees–Santa Clara? Those apricots, by the time we got to the bottom of the box, were bruised and wormy, but their sweetness and Oliver, himself, are what pervade the memory.

WRITING PROMPT:  As you go about your business today, be open to a flashback moment,  a positive experience that is triggered by something in the present. Describe everything you possibly can about where memory sends you.  Once you’ve written this, go back and introduce some comparisons to enhance your writing.

WRITING TIP:  Notice the comparisons in my piece above…”comparing childhood to a distant landscape, laughter tossed like a ball, comfort like flannel, sunshine walking in the front door”…these are some examples of how to include comparison in your writing.

Be pleased with yourself.

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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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