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

 

Meteors? I Meant Metaphors

Creativity is a powerful engine.  Its desire is to propel your writing or artful pursuit forward.  Creativity is like an early summer strawberry–you crave its sweetness.

Within this brief paragraph are three examples of creative writing tools:

Creativity is a powerful engine                Metaphor

Its desire                                                  Personification

Like an early summer strawberry            Simile

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In the previous blog, I introduced simile. Today’s blog is about metaphor which is described as a direct comparison (without the words like, as or as if). I think of simile as having a sort of buffer as it makes the comparison. Whereas metaphor is direct.  It doesn’t hem and haw.  It tells it as it sees it.

With simile, My lover’s eyes are blue like the sky.  Change this to a metaphor and My lover’s eyes are the blue sky. Do you get a sense of the difference with this comparison?  In the first comparison, the simile, I am comparing only the color.  In the direct comparison using metaphor–his blue eyes and the blue sky are one and the same! I can get lost in this vastness.

lover's eyes

Poet and author, Edward Hirsch believes that “there is a radical difference (or should be) between saying that A is the same as B and saying that A is like B.”  He says that “Metaphor works by condensation and compression.”

For me, metaphor is bold! It makes daring statements! Ones that I probably won’t question because they come across with such authority.

WRITING PROMPT:
If you don’t feel you have a grasp of metaphor, you can certainly google it to get more examples. That said, look at the similes you wrote the other day based upon a feeling. Consider what those similes would sound like if you dropped the words like, as or as if. Do they work as metaphors?  Try it out. Could you write bolder comparisons to make your metaphors even stronger?  Go for it.

 

 

Choices–When Two Roads Diverge…

It’s been my experience that whatever I’m working on, including this blog, the universe is supplying continual content.  When I’m in that flow with my writing and I come up against a choice…that Robert Frost dilemma of “two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both…”  I can either figuratively pound my head trying to choose one over the other OR walk away and let the answer drift to me over the course of the day…or week or as long as it takes.  That’s being in the flow even when you’re away from your writing desk or artist easel. Sometimes, a whole other choice presents itself.

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Example.  When I’m crafting a creative writing workshop and I feel at at a loss about how to proceed, I go out in the world. I might go to Barnes and Noble. Sometimes,  a line leaps out at me from a book cover or as I randomly flip through the pages.  Or, I might be sipping tea in a cafe and overhear something spoken that is precisely what I need to hear to move my work forward.  Often, the next step inwardly presents itself to me as I walk beside the lake.  Ah, the surprising synchronicity of it all!

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The other day, standing in line at the local health food store, a bedraggled young woman stood opposite me in another line.  I had passed her, her partner and child earlier in the summer-crowded store.  Their odor was ripe. Later on, seeing her in the line across the way, she dropped the left flap of her dress exposing a flat tanned breast.  Her child, its arms and legs wrapped around her like-a-monkey-it’s-mother, latched onto the nipple and began to nurse.  The child was skinny, around two years old, hair matted, dirty and sad-faced, seemingly timid. The mother’s eyes had a vacant quality and it seemed likely that her breast was milkless, only for the child’s comfort in a strange place.

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I chose to include an unpolished rendition of this experience in today’s blog because when we witness something notable, we might not find a use for it in what we’re currently writing.  However, I suggest writing it down while it’s fresh in your mind. Then file it. You might find this recorded & filed memory useful at some future date.

We live in an abundant universe which continuously supplies prompts and content. How open are we to receiving them?

WRITING PROMPT:
What bit of inspiration crossed your path over this past day or week?  Was there something heard, smelled or seen (or tasted or touched) that could be used in what you are working on today?  Regardless of whether or not it is useful to what you are currently writing, do write it down in descriptive detail.

Writing down an experience is not a wasted effort–it’s practice.

Leading Questions

When I paint, when I write or when I get stuck, I ask a leading question. Where do I go from here?  What would my protagonist do or say in this circumstance? Where does this poem want to go?  Or what color wants to come onto the canvas? Which line or mark can move this piece forward?  What if…I do this or try that? Then what? For it isn’t always flow, but sometimes a stumbling step, then another tripping step and then a fumbling move forward. Even a dreaded mistake can take you to the next level. It’s all part of it…this grand, unpredictable creative process.

As a beginning painter, my desire was often greater than my ability.  What did I do with that?  I continued the questioning.  And sometimes, I took a brush and black paint in frustration and swirled lines across my painting in process. Frequently, to my surprise, something new emerged from which I could move forward.

Basically, you become CONVERSATIONAL with whatever you’re doing–writing or painting. 

Life itself is really about “I wonder what is next?”  Because as much as we think we’re in familiar territory, we don’t know what the next moment might bring.  It is about fully trusting the unfolding creative process.

It also helps to see what you are doing as practice. You cannot know what you don’t know.  Through questioning, you remain open to discovery.  The faces that I drew and painted two years ago laid the platform for the faces that I draw and paint today.  I had to begin somewhere and to be patient with my development as an artist.  I spent time with faces. Today, I actually enjoy the challenge of drawing a three-quarter turned face.  I steeped myself in images of three-quarter turned faces–eyes, noses and lips in that profile position.  I memorized them, traced them, tore them from magazines, drew them, made tons of wonky faces.  And I learned from my mistakes.  I often asked, “What happens if I do this?”  These very words imply trial and error…and successes too.  And, I’m not there yet!inner2 (1)

WRITING PROMPT:
Revisit a work in progress that has been stalled (writing, painting, drawing) and begin a conversation with it.  Ask leading questions and respect the response(s) that you get. Allow the uncertainty and take the faltering steps as you move your work along. Allot yourself a sufficient amount of  time with this and see how leading questions work for you.

 

Image Detail

In the film, The Bridges of Madison County, Francesca (Meryl Streep) tells Robert (Clint Eastwood), “Robert, please. You don’t understand, no one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details…”  The thing about movies is that you see the details when watching a film.  They don’t have to be described.  However, if you’ve ever written a screenplay, you laboriously spell out every single thing from the sounds of a creaky door to “slouching in a front row torn upholstered seat in a moldy smelling theater.” Nothing is assumed…each tiny detail is duly noted.

Telling details actually means DON’T TELL ME, SHOW ME WITH YOUR WORDS!

In his book, Let the Crazy Child Write, author Clive Matson discusses in detail several ways to bring image detail into your writing. It is the details that capture our attention and imagination.  To bring the experience to a reader through our writing, we recapture the details.  It is the details that place the reader where your story occurs and it is the descriptive details that shows the reader who your characters are (along with their dialogue and actions).
Clive Matson gives a few examples of image detail: “The worn green fabric on the end of a diving board, a piece of chewed gum in the boss’s ashtray, the pearly scar on a lover’s neck.”  Recalling a detail, the entire memory returns. How many of you have had that experience with a smell, say cinnamon, which suddenly transports you back to a childhood memory–french toast with cinnamon and butter, a special treat for a Sunday morning breakfast.  Or, remember that song from the past you overheard at the supermarket the other day that returned you to a time and place in your life when you were making out with your first “love”.  When you are writing your story, include that detail; perhaps words from the song as they drift in and out of your experience.

I am going to refer you to Chapter One in Clive Matson’s book, on “Image Detail”.  He explains image detail in a precise, descriptive, engaging and educational way.

WRITING PROMPT:  What is a flashback song for you?  One that when you hear it transports you to another time and place?  Claim the song and a memory that it evokes and write about the whole experience in vivid detail. Paint the picture with words. Who were you then, who were you with, what article of clothing was a favorite?  Were you at the beach in southern California, in a windstorm on the high desert, in the back seat of a car–what kind of car?  Was there a smell that prevailed or a noise that intruded? Imagine your reader and take him/her there using sensory (of the senses) words and make the experience come alive.

Ah, time travel!

 

 

 

 

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.)

Bloom12x12 copy

“The Rules for Writing Poetry”

This is another one of those times when I don’t know the origin of something and so I won’t take credit for this.  However, I have borrowed the following “rules” from anonymous and I thank anonymous for letting me borrow these rules.  I have modified them a little according to my own experience with poetry.

I also apply these rules to writing prose in its initial draft stages.

  1. Write for yourself.
  2. It doesn’t have to make sense.  (It will in later drafts, but don’t concentrate on that at first.)
  3. Let yourself be surprised by what you write.
  4. Don’t plan what you are going to say.
  5. Trust your imagination.
  6. Let yourself be foolish.
  7. Don’t worry about spelling punctuation, grammar or neatness.  (They are important but not in first drafts.)
  8. There is no wrong way to write your poem/prose.
  9. Relax and enjoy the process!

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I remember reading somewhere that the gifted poet, Mary Oliver, said that she writes between 40 and 50 revisions of a poem before she is ready to let it fly. That’s a lot of working and reworking and it shows in her finished poem. She doesn’t dash down a perfect poem, a completed product in one sitting .
I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and if you haven’t read anything by her, please visit this youtube of her reading one of my favorites, Wild Geese.

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In an earlier post, I said, that in poetry I had been promised total freedom, and now I’m giving you rules.  Re-reading these rules, I see that they are basically telling the poet how to be free.  Many of us have our own built-in rules and restrictions.  We have habits that bind us to a code of writing behavior. English Grammar 101 or some such class; or we hear the echo of  that instructor who threatened to keep us in at recess if we didn’t understand some facet of the week’s lesson on past participles and verb tenses. Whatever.

WRITING PROMPT:
Do you have anything you want to add to the list of Rules for Writing Poetry?
So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and write your poem. Inspiration is everywhere. (You could even take one of the rules above and write a poem in response to it.)

Enjoy the poetic freedom.

More on Repetition as a Deepening Tool

The Observer  by CGO

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway,
Her aproned, pocketed self,
strip of white hair
fell forward
as she eternally stirred
a big pot of soup.
A single drop of liquid mucus
slid the length of her
curved Italian nose
and hung at the tip
for an indeterminate moment.
Just when it seemed
it would fall into the soup,
she snatched a well-used tissue
from her pocket,
swiped at it,
repocketed the tissue
and continued stirring.
I didn’t speak
and she never turned.

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway
to find out who she was
to get answers by silent osmosis
to find out who I was to become
to get a sign that she was
more than an aproned role,
robotic, dutiful
to see if she would sense me there
turn, smile and perhaps say she loved me
or invite me into the kitchen
to teach me what she knew of
making soup and being a woman.

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway
because I wanted to tell her
things would be alright
that I loved her
that the length of kitchen
between us
separating us
wasn’t necessary
that we were safe.

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway
a distance of ten feet
because she needed space
her boundaries with him were nil
and she always felt threatened
she couldn’t tell by whom
…and she held me all those embraces away
because love always hurt.

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Read this poem a second time.

Notice how I’ve used the line “I watched my mother from the kitchen doorway” to lead myself, as the writer, deeper into my subject?  As the reader, do you feel the rhythmic quality of this poem as this repeated line invites you into “the story”?

WRITING PROMPT:
Is there a theme that you’d like to deepen into?  Write one line that could be the initiator of this process and let your writing be guided by this repeated line.  By the way, the repeated line doesn’t have to begin the stanza; it could be within the body of the poem. That’s another type of challenge.

Good luck.

Creative Play and an Experiment

Contemplating how I begin, I realize that it doesn’t matter how I begin, only that I begin! With writing, I’ve found that I can intercept a story anywhere and start to write.  The following experiment is about testing this theory of mine.  That is, can you intercept a story anywhere and begin to write?  Let’s find out!

WRITING PROMPT:
Following are four borrowed, ready-made beginning sentences.  THANK YOU TO THE AUTHORS OF THESE SENTENCES!  Choose one sentence as your beginning sentence and write for fifteen minutes.  Choose another sentence as your beginning sentence and write for another fifteen minutes.

  • “He doesn’t ask anymore why this is called the broken heart trail.”  Mary Sepulveda
  • “When I was fourteen, I slept alone on a North Dakota football field under the cold stars on an early spring night.”  Louise Eldrich
  • “I travel for this, to unbalance my heart, to leave behind the litany of predictable in my life.”  Rohini Talalla
  • “Behind naming, beneath words, is something else.”  Susan Griffin

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Read both pieces aloud.  Do you hear your own writer’s voice even though the beginning line came from someone else?

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Things to notice:
–you borrowed someone else’s beginning line to tell your story
–this opening line became the jumpstart for your writing
–Even if you haven’t “slept alone on a North Dakota football field…” did you find somewhere to go with this line?
–what is your level of comfort or discomfort around writing using someone else’s beginning line?
–did this process work for you?
–(note:  This is only an exercise.  I don’t recommend taking another author’s line and using it in a piece you plan to publish unless you get permission and give full credit.)

WRITING TIP:
What is really interesting is inviting a friend to write with you.  Using the same sentence, it’s often surprising the directions in which each of you take the very same opening line.

STAND UP AND STRETCH BIG

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Mistress or Master of None?

You’ve heard this well-used phrase, “jack of all trades and master of none.”  This saying sort of piques me.  Being curious about so many things, I want to pursue every creative avenue that opens before me.

While it is true that Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY and I appreciate the diversity of ways to be creative, it seems that if I really want to get better at any one thing, I need to spend time with it.  It’s that whole thing about learning a language best through immersion…move in with a family fluent in the language you want to learn.  Three months, they recommend, I’ve heard.

Years ago, I viewed a National Geographic Special, the Living Treasures of Japan.  This film is about Japan’s Living National Treasures…men and women artists who are paid a stipend to perfect their art over their lifetimes!  I remember thinking how brilliant that was. The individual artist (sometimes there were groups of artists that were supported) had the opportunity to develop his/her craft over the course of his/her life–the sword maker, the indigo producer and fabric dyer, the puppet maker, etc.  This was their lifelong field of study!  Imagine that…being paid for your artistic area of expertise throughout your life! (Most of us can only imagine that.)  Here is the link to the National Geographic film.  I found it to be very inspiring!    https://youtu.be/KujoKBGuRsM

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If you aren’t financially supported as you practice your art…you could choose to do a study of something you want to learn.  Stated simply, a study is a chosen immersion to practice a technique or form to help you develop a degree of mastery.   For instance, one online art class assignment was to draw and paint every version of a strawberry that I could imagine, using differing techniques & tools, but with the same theme–strawberry. In looking at these today, I see how each painting evokes a different emotion.

strawberry2

I’ve certainly done this with my writing. Especially when studying a poetic form that was new to me.  Or even the entire summer I spent learning how to make truffles.  No one minded eating my mistakes.

WRITING PROMPT:

Do you admire the way another writer uses descriptive detail in his books?  Or have you been intrigued with how a painter achieves perspective in her landscapes?  Is there some style of writing that takes  your breath away every time?  Or a shading technique that you’ve always been curious about in pencil drawings? Whatever it is, let your curiosity guide you to do your own study of something.   What would it be?  How much time are you willing to commit to this study?  Go for it!

ARTIST TIP:
This type of immersion has great rewards for you as the writer or artist, not to mention a bit of healthy self-pride at sticking with and developing skill in a particular area.

*The above exercise with strawberries is from an online art class presented by artist, Marla Baggetta.