What’s It Mean?

You write a poem, paint a painting or sculpt a piece.  You’ve followed your intuitive guidance, the flow.  You stand back from it.  What does it mean?

Is your poetry or art a clue to your own inner experience or process?  Like a dream, does it somehow help with self-understanding and integration?

What do you think?

Why do certain symbols, colors, words, images attract you more than others?

Is there a story or a message for you in the poem you write?  the art you create?

Sometimes, it’s obvious.  Other times, it reveals itself over time or as you sit with it in inquiry or contemplation.

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Like with this recent painting.  I definitely feel it’s got something to say to me.  Getting quiet, I allow it to reveal itself to me.

Contemplative Prompt:
Have you written a poem or prose recently that has a self-revelation for you?  Or, a painting that you know is trying to tell you something?  Take the time to be with it and stay open to that which wants to be heard or seen by you.

Have a good day.

The Influence of Place on Your Character

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What sort of creature was I growing up and living beside the ocean?

What sort of creature am I now living in the mountains?

 

 

There is an age-old argument about the role of genetics versus environment in a person’s development.  We’ve heard stories of identical twins, separated at birth, reared in different environments…how these twins share idiosyncratic traits though they haven’t “met.”  A preference for certain foods, a predisposition to particular physical ailments and even that they vacation on the same Florida Beach!  This seems to apply more to identical twins than fraternal for some reason.  Fascinating, right?

We can say that genetics influences our physical appearance, preferences, predispositions and some behaviors.  However, external environment is also an influential factor in development, lifestyle and opportunities.

My 17-year old grandson is taking an elective class, Human Geography.  Recently, we had an interesting discussion about how environment shapes development.  Of course, things cannot be separated out…it is not an either/or.  Can we safely say that both genetics and environment affect development?

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As a writer, what role does place play in the development of your character?  In a real sense, place is its own character.  This is not about using personification in describing place.  If place figures prominently in a story, then, it needs to be described.  As the writer, you explore and expose the relationship between your character(s) and their environment.

The harshness of the sou’wester storm in Maine causes your character to go indoors and batten the hatches for days on end.  They are forced to be reclusive.  Either they like this proscribed reclusiveness, they are apathetic towards it or they hate it!  Either way, there is a relationship between your character and these storms, this place.

There was a time that I didn’t enjoy reading long descriptive scenes in a novel.  I felt that they halted or interrupted the story.  I wanted paced action and dialogue to move the story along–quick revelations, rather than long, drawn out descriptive paragraphs.

These days, I have a better understanding of the value of effective descriptions of place.  And, when rendered well, I appreciate the relationship between character development and environment.

WRITING PROMPT:
Who would you be if you lived in the desert?  Or, if  you live in the desert already, who would you be if you lived by the ocean?  Take fifteen moments to describe a desert or an ocean scene.  Then, insert yourself there and show us who you are in relation to this, your environment.  Engage the spirit of imagination and play.  We’re not looking for exactness here.

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.

 

Imagination and Fabrication

Imagination…

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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Naming Your Ancestors (part two)

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Story is one way that we carry forth the thread of ancestors.  Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of  Women Who Run with the Wolves, is big on story. Estes wrote about a childhood experience in The Dancing Grandmas. This story is about four elder women of her foster father’s family who came over from Hungary to America when Clarissa was seven years old.  She first met them as they disembarked from the train “looking like Santa Clauses” because they wore all the clothes they owned. The riches she received from them were all about story.

An excerpt:  “…They brought riches just by being.  Even though bereft now of children and husbands, stripped to the bone of their icons, their roadside chapels of worship, their village lives as they had known them; stripped of the simple solace of the ancestral forest they lived near and all its medicines, the satisfaction of the white cloth they wove, stripped of the ability to protect their daughters, their bodies, their modesty, their privacy–even so, they had managed to hold onto the essential and resilient Self…”

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So it is with each one of us.  We each have women and men who in some way modeled something saving and special for us.  We each have precious stories that we file away. Maybe we even forget them until something in the present triggers us and sends us back to a person, place, time…a positive experience that imprinted us in some way.

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WRITING PROMPT:
1) Choose one of the persons from your ancestor’s list.  Recollect and write down the basic facts of a story from your childhood that involved you and this person.

2) Stories often contain a hidden gem.  Take a moment of quiet reflection. Reread your story. What is the gem or gift to yourself within the story.  In one sentence, write down what you perceive as the gem within.

3) If there is more that you want to say about this, please do continue to write.

Note:  The thing about stories, at different stages of our lives they can take on new or deeper meaning for us.  It is, finally, our personal mythology which speaks to us on a symbolic level.

Deepening

 

What helps us to deepen our writing?  We put something down on paper.  Is it superficial or honest only to a point?  Ask yourself, “Am I holding something back? Have I told the whole truth?”  Even if you are writing fiction, these questions apply…within our created fiction, we strive for plausibility.

One thing you soon discover about writing is that there’s almost always somewhere else to go with a piece.  There is something more to be said.  On the June 29th Blog, Invocation of the Muse, you were invited to write for twenty minutes from your list of inspiring topics.  Now what?

Deepening

WRITING PROMPT:

Review what you wrote.  Find one key sentence in your piece.  Let that sentence take you into a deeper truth or story.  Elaborate.  Remember that effective writing is found in the details.  Let the force of your passion continue to guide your writing.  For now, give yourself permission to belabor a point where you feel called to do so.  Write for another twenty minutes (at least).

Afterwards, read what you wrote aloud and sit for a moment with where your writing has taken you.

WRITING TIP:

Writing is not about controlling the words, it is about freeing them.  It is about freeing your voice to speak what it really wants to say.  PERMISSION.  How does it feel to have permission to speak freely?  Write down your response.  Depending on your life experiences, it could feel anywhere from exhilarating to normal to dangerous.  Every feeling is welcome here.

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Consider how else you might deepen your writing?  Any ideas?  Write them down and try them out.