Thursday, July 18, 2019

Why Write? Why Read

Here I am, reappearing for my annual check in with my creative self.

This past year I revisited poetry a bit, and of course kept journaling, journaling every day - but life - well, life demands what it does. I immersed myself in my teaching life and it felt grand. My personal life placed new demands on me, demands at a deep, soul-level as I encountered the realities that aging can throw your way. So this year was about learning.

Now it is summer. I meet my writing self as you might meet an estranged lover after a long separation. It's awkward, uncertain. I wonder if the old spark is still there, and whether I want to reignite it again or not.

But I have been reading. A lot. Poetry, nonfiction, essay, novels, articles. Funny how reading can feel, these days, like "goofing off" or "doing nothing."  But writers read. Writers read.

And humans read. Perhaps I will begin to remember why I write by noticing why I read. I read to explore topics and stories that resonated with friends and acquaintances and they recommended to me. I read to explore ideas and tales that sparked my interest when I encountered them in other text. I read to expand my thinking on the world. I read to get lost in a story that ultimately widens my vision of what it means to be human. I read to find comfort and wisdom and advice. I read to challenge myself to think more deeply about other people's experiences and history and culture. I read to escape. I read to engage. I read to take part in the vast human conversation that transcends time and space.

And that is why I write, too.

Friday, October 12, 2018

An Update from the Writing Desert

It's been almost a year since my last post. I choose to post again more for myself than the world, as my blogs feel more and more like messages in a bottle in the vast ocean of cyberspace. I post today's update as a way to check in with my creative self, see how she's doing and what she's up to and why she hasn't ventured forth much lately.

During this past year, I participated in two storytelling performances, one with Portland Story Theatre and the other with Solospeak. Both were powerful experiences in exploring true stories from my own life, stories that swerve close to the bone. They were great lessons in crafting structure, choosing details, and thinking about overarching themes that expanded my creative vista into the more vulnerable realm of personal narrative.

The other big creative event for me last year was a performance of my own poems at my 30th College Reunion at the invitation of a classmate. Being so public with the raw emotions embedded in some of my poetry was an incredible experience - to speak with that voice in that place witnessed by those people. Afterwards, I told myself I wanted to explore other chances to share and perform my poetry. This December, I will do just that, as part of a culminating reading for a poetry class with the fabulous Claudia Savage.

Other than that, I've written some poems and posted them on my other blog, Pamplemousse, created a one-hour edit of Macbeth for Willamette Radio Workshop's Halloween show, read, tended to my health with yoga and meditation and wandered around in cyberspace. I find myself putting my energy into the needs of my family, nurturing relationships, and the demanding vocation of teaching. I write every day in my journal, but I seem to have given up any pretense of seeking publication, even self-publishing beyond my blogs. I alternate between accepting that and being horribly disappointed in myself. I dance between neglecting and abandoning my identity as writer.

Perhaps this shift is a function of that word "identity" and its collision with mortality and a changing  concept of self. The whole notion of "I" or identity seems, as I age, less important than the notion of the larger human organism, the world and the great arc of time, of which I am only one infinitesimal part. Making my peace with that truth seems to occupy more of my energy, and a desire to have public recognition for writing seems to dwindle.

Or perhaps it is laziness, or an honest self-assessment of my own abilities and chances, or just simple  despair. However, here I sit, typing this entry, reminding myself once again that the written word is my chosen form of self-expression, for good or for ill, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Refilling, and Stirring Things Up

It's been a while since I've posted in here, mostly because I've been focusing on recharging and generating work, and just functioning in the world, rather than writing about writing. And, to be honest, after a long streak of rejections and non-responses to submissions, I was engaged in a lot of soul-searching about my writing life, like you do when the world seems to shrug apathetically at the products of your soul.

In any event, here are some things that have put a little wind back in my sails.

First, the friendship, support and inspiration of other creative people. My husband, Sam, and I spend a lot of brunches kicking around creative ideas about our respective artistic lives. Some of those ideas overlap, some don't, but it helps me remember that I exist as a creative individual.  My writing friend, Suzanne, not only inspires me and holds me accountable every time we get together for coffee, but she recently gave a concert of songs she'd written and it was so freaking brave that I found myself challenging my own fears and disappointments around the submissions grind.

Next, feeding the soul. I didn't write much formally this summer, but I spent almost every day communing with nature, God and my soul through a dance between the beautiful outdoors and the written word. I read inspiring writers. I journaled - A LOT.   And I recently took an 8-week class on Mindfulness in Education through Peace in the Schools. All of that work, and the habits of mind that it fed, has left me ready to dive in again. Sometimes, nurturing the spirit is the best thing you can do for your creative self.

And finally, stepping outside my comfort zone to stir things up. I signed on to be part of not one but two separate storytelling performances in the coming months, a process that will ask my writer/storytelling self and my performance self to join forces in brave and vulnerable ways. I decided to dive into self-publishing one of my novels (more on that when there's more to tell). And I attended an Open Mic poetry event through Portland Ars Poetica, where I read some of my poems, met a lot of new poeple (all poets of one sort or another, all ages, genders, styles), heard a wide range of work, and gave my words a life outside myself (which left me inspired to polish a few more pieces in preparation for the next open mic poetry event).

So, I've managed to give my dying creative spirit a serious IV infusion and now it's looking a lot healthier and recuperating from the batterings of life and rejection.

If you're finding yourself floundering, and wondering whether to keep on creating, but knowing in your heart you can't help yourself, and pondering the fate of your creative soul in this dilemma, try a few of these ideas:
  • Connect with other creative souls. 
  • Take time to nurture your spirit and refill. 
  • Look for a ways to step outside your comfort zone and give your words an audience through a non-traditional avenue.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Taking the Reins to Redefine "Finished"

Not long ago, my writing partner and I wrestled with the question "What stops us from finishing?" We followed the thread of this question and it led us to another question - "What does finished mean to us?"

Sadly, at this point in my writing journey, finished, for anything but poetry, too often means homeless, stillborn, rejected and unwanted. I believe that constellation of adjectives is sufficient to stop me from finishing.

What makes poetry different? I post it on my blog, maybe share the link, and consider it done. It is similar to tossing a message in the bottle out to the universe, but a bit more like the digital equivalent of one of those poetry boxes I see sometimes in my neighborhood. If only a handful of people see it besides me, so be it. At least I am not waiting for it to come into being. It has been born. It is public. It exists beyond the realm of a stray dog begging for scraps at the exclusive tables of public consumption on a grand scale. I'm not sure I can bear any longer to subject myself or my words to that other fate, that begging for scraps fate, and the massive infusion of self-doubt, jealousy, petty emotions and misery connected with it. I have been brave and ventured into that world, and, quite frankly, it sucks. I hate it. And it has given me precious little of value in return. Nor, I think, has it brought much to the world, including my words, in the end.

This holiday season, inspired by poet and teacher Claudia F. Savage, I created hand-bound mini-chapbooks of poetry as gifts for three special people in my life. Each book was a poem, or collection of poems, written for the recipients. The process of writing and the process of lovingly creating the binding was so profoundly energizing and meaningful. My words were given homes that mattered. My words were born from a place of love. There was not a single thought of fame or fortune or self-doubt involved. A gift of love, made with love, given with love.

Now I find myself with two collections of poetry that I want to turn into chapbooks, that were born from strong and personal sources, but that are something other than personal gifts meant for one recipient. One is called DEAR ONES: MESSAGES FROM A TEACHER'S HEART, and is inspired by and dedicated to my students, past, present and future. The other, tentatively titled EPIC is a series of poems exploring the height of the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted my life. I have begun to contemplate how to give birth to these two collections.

I can't bear the thought of putting them out there for the wolves to feed upon or turn up their noses, left to shiver in the cold and die of neglect. I realize that money and recognition aren't what I want for these two collections. I want them to exist, to find homes, if only a handful, and speak to some other heart somewhere.

So, a plan is beginning to form in my brain. A plan to hand-bind a small number of each collection and put them out at local, welcoming places - the coffee shop I frequent down the street, and perhaps some of the "free libraries" around my neighborhood. A plan to offer them for free, with a note on the back page that says, if these poems spoke to you, please make a donation to charity, and then includes either a list of charities or a link to a list, with maybe a place to email me a note if the reader is so inclined. I like the way this idea also feels like a small act of resistance in the face of our current political climate.

Perhaps this will be my one and only New Year's Resolution. To give my written work existence, without waiting for scraps from the great tables.

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