Building Your Creative Community
Although we should instinctively know that when we build anything there will be work involved, we still sometimes expect (hope?) that the work won't be hard or even that we won't know that we're working at all.
A conference is one of those events that presents itself as something fun and simple, but that actually can be quite exhausting because usually a conference is part of an attempt on our part to build something: knowledge, a supportive network, a bridge to a place where we'd like to live or at least visit more often. Here I am at the NESCBWI Spring Conference and I have to say I'm pretty tired, but not so tired that I'm not sitting here and writing this. That's a win! I'm writing--something, anything: this:)
The tricky thing about things like conferences is that I need to remember they are like Thanksgiving: there is a lot of great stuff, you're going to see lots of people, you're going to eat lots of food (not all healthy), and you might need a nap at odd intervals. The smart people take naps. I am not a smart conference attendee. I did not nap. There's just too much going on and there are just too many amazing and creative people all in one spot to take a break from.
Which brings me to what I have found to be one of the most important, but often the most challenging, aspects of a conference: meeting new people and reconnecting with people I haven't seen in a long time--especially since this is the first in-person conference since before the pandemic. Building creative community is probably one of the things I enjoy most. I love learning about others and then finding a way to connect them with someone else. Rinse and repeat. It takes effort and sometimes my brain cells and memory don't cooperate, but that's what laughter is for. Laughter is the Modge Podge I brush generously over the top of everything to smooth things out. Or make things worse, but usually better . . . I think:)
So, get out there. Sign up. Pack your bag. Put that name tag on and shove yourself into awkward situations and then, when it gets really awkward, get over it and move on and laugh a little along the way.
Eventually you'll start to build a community and find yourself beyond your expiration date writing a semi-incoherent and possibly rambling blog entry on a random bench in a hotel hallway.
Lessons from the Fog
This morning I walked the lake as I've been doing consistently two days a week since the new year. I suppose that is my resolution. I'm not sure if I knew it was at the time, but apparently that's how resolutions are made and kept at my age: make it small, tangible and achievable.
Today the fog seemed to tell me something similar.
Usually while walking the lake, I have a clear view of the opposite shoreline. It's only about 3 miles around, so it's not difficult to see the whole thing at a glance, but not today.
This morning the fog was so thick--like pea soup, as they say--I couldn't see the water, let alone the other side. It was very striking, beautiful, unusual--other worldly. At certain points it seemed as if I was staring off into the ends of the Earth.
As I walked I wondered what the lesson was because it felt like the fog was telling me something. The Universe was whispering in my ear and it struck me: focus. Focus on what is right in front of you and don't think or worry about the other stuff in the background. Fog forces this to happen.
On a clear day the branch of a tree can be so easily lost among the colors of the water, the distant trees, the bird flying by at that moment, etc, etc. Fog erases all of that from your vision and the branch that never caught your eye before, stands boldly against the backdrop of the muffled grey mist. An ordinary blade of grass pops. The empty boat has never looked so desperately alone.
The Universe pleads, "Slow down. Focus on what is right in front of you."
Don't waste time thinking of the stuff off in the distance. There may come a time when you are there, but currently you are here. Forget "over there" for now.
Appreciate, worry about, tend to, take pleasure in, suffer through, deal with, savor--what is right here right now.
Let everything else fade off behind the fog.
Sonnet: Do I love thee?
As part of The Room to Write's Senior and Veterans programming, we have writing days that are more casual and unstructured. We call those writing days: Gather & Write. It's a way to make time for writing during the week that is less structured. An instructor shows up and offers a writing prompt or two, or whatever, to the group--something to get the wheels turning and the pen writing.
Being the only "poet" in the group has propelled me to utilize the time I am at the writing prompt helm to offer up something poetic. Not everybody in the group that gathers is necessarily interested in writing poetry--per se--but, really, poems are simply words that sometimes appear in a flowing sundress, sometimes in a polo shirt, and other times squeezed into a tuxedo and bowtie.
For Valentine's Day, I decided to give the group a glimpse of a well-dressed poem. What form stood out to me as appropriate for the special day? The Sonnet, of course. When you think Sonnet, you often think Shakespeare. That might make you nervous, but it shouldn't. Shakespeare was in love with words. That's it. Sometimes passion can cause a person to get carried away, and so that is all that was--a man who got carried away with words. He was truly in love with words and so am I.
Now, do I sit at home crafting sonnets all day or even once a week?
I am more of a free-verse poet, but I do enjoy a challenge every now and then. Think of a sonnet as a word puzzle. Puzzles aren't always meant to be easy. They are meant to get your mind churning and working until: voila! You have solved it--or you come close to solving it. There is a satisfaction in that. Sonnets can be wonderful exercise for our brains!
I printed out some background, information and examples of the sonnet using a very helpful website, which you can access at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sonnet
Keeping with the clothing theme, I told participants to think of a sonnet as a Corsette. Sonnets are a very tight poetic format. There are rules--strict ones. The sonnet forces you in place. It can be painful, but we persevered.
You know what? Some participants actually enjoyed it. Others scoffed and at least one or two outright refused to conform to the format, which is perfectly fine. Still many surprised themselves with what they produced.
I was one of them. Having been the person to force this poetic form upon the group, I was stumped when it came to sitting and writing until I simply decided to write about having to write a sonnet itself and the difficulty it posed for me.
Give it a try! Who knows--you may just find yourself despising it and then enjoying it:)
Here is the sonnet I produced that day using the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme:
The Sonnet Structure
Thinking outside the box can be so hard
especially when the box is not square
but instead a stretching, boundless vast yard
where we normally wander anywhere.
And so, I sit and struggle with this form
a torment brought upon by my own hand.
My mind is like a literary storm.
My thoughts forced into sonnet cannot stand.
Sonnet poetry, why do you exist,
forcing me to count like a little kid?
Out from under your thumb I turn and twist.
I didn't think I'd like this, but--I did.
A glutton for puzzles and punishment,
for literary suffering--I'm meant!
Water, Water--Everywhere . . .
Like many others this past week--a pipe in our basement gave way to an imitation of the great Niagra Falls. Being a light sleeper came in handy this time around when I heard water at 3:30am, but I assumed it was coming from the nearby bathroom. Perhaps one of the kids was up getting a drink or washing their hands. But, then--the water kept flowing. What were they doing in there?
I got up. Nobody was in the bathroom. Nobody else was even awake. Just me. Maybe it was coming from my dish washer. I went downstairs. Nope. Kitchen was dry, but the sound of water was getting louder and I spun around, flicked on the basement lights and opened the door: Water! Cascading over the light at the bottom of the stairs which was now hanging out of the ceiling that had dissolved. Screams to my husband to turn off the main . . .
Everybody was up. My youngest was as frightened as if we were in a sinking ship that was taking on water. My oldest? Being a teenager who values every minute of sleep left her only annoyed by abruptly being woken in the middle of the night. She went back to sleep. The other two took it all in with reactions floating somewhere in the middle of the youngest and the oldest.
I usually work in our basement, so last week was a week filled with working on borrowed time as well as borrowed laptops. While my laptop came out of the ordeal dry, the power chord was immersed in water. So, when the battery ran out, then I lost access to my laptop until a replacement chord could be delivered.
As I attempted to balance the virtual world with the real one, I felt displaced and unproductive trying to figure out new laptops and the parental controls that would kick me off the internet suddenly. A remote meeting I facilitate took extra time and two different borrowed laptops to get up and running.
Papers that hadn't been soaked were shoved away in the rush to clear the basement. I still don't know where everything is as I sit at our dining room table with my own laptop fully powered up again and attempt to catch up on a week's worth of discombobulation. I continue to fall into the "it could be worse" or the "you're lucky" category, but I'd prefer to just fall into the category of "nothing happened" or "none the wiser." But, thinking of how much worse it could have been makes me feel such empathy for those who experience any sort of flood, fire, weather-related or not, event that leaves your things and your thoughts scattered. In this age of online, a seemingly simple power chord was a real problem when it came to getting work done, communicating with others, etc.
So, hopefully you weren't as "lucky" as we were when the latest, "hasn't happened in 150 years" weather event presented itself. But, if you were the recipient of more water than you would have liked last week--hopefully this week is a drier, calmer, better week:)
Frog in my pen
I'm sure you've heard of the term, "I've got a frog in my throat." 99 times out of 100--the person is not referring to an actual reptile that has hopped down their windpipe unbeknownst, though last summer frogs were beyond reasonable numbers in my backyard. (See July's blog posting: Wild Kingdom or Unexpected Sanctuary for more on the frogs.) The vast majority of "frogs" in throats are actually emotion or nerves. Emotion can make it difficult to get words out.
Emotion is like a cloud floating above us, unnoticed while we buzz about our daily routines, until they gather and rain. Just as clouds can shed water, emotion can become too much to ignore. The frog in my throat presented more like a frog in my pen. I couldn't get words out on paper--aside from the necessary words for correspondence and work-related writing.
When my mother passed away at the beginning of last year my work-in-progress, which is a middle grade novel that focuses on a secret garden, got dropped suddenly from my list of "things to do." For some, grief and creativity work well together. For me, grief is a head space hog. It saunters in, plunks down with elbows boldly claiming what I understood to be a shared armrest. Shoes kick off, cell phone conversation blares--smelly and loud all at once. Grief is the most obnoxious and inconsiderate airplane seat mate imaginable. There will be no relaxing, no focusing, no enjoyment on a flight alongside grief.
Creativity evaporated. I had been really enjoying my work-in-progress, Secret Lives of Leaves, up until my attention was no longer my own and grief took hold of all my senses, sucked out my reserves of energy--insisted on getting my full attention. Clearing my mind became impossible. Time passed. A whole year. Then, a couple weeks ago--I sat down to write the next chapter of that novel. One great thing about middle grade is that it allows for shorter chapters. So, I talked myself into writing a paragraph, then two--then, might as well finish the page . . . as I rounded the corner to the next page, I developed a scene in my head and had to follow it at least until page two. The result was a 6-page chapter.
It felt so good to get a little further on a fun project that had so long lay dormant, just as I had been getting to the good part: the secret garden! One year later, I find myself at the other end of the emotional spectrum. The juxtapositions of life border on comedy--satire, really.
One year after my mother's passing, I am distracted again by emotion. A frog in my pen. But, this time it is excited emotion as I await word from my brother that his first baby has been born. He and his wife are at the hospital, setting out on a journey that will change life as they've known it forever.
Want some more irony?
That chapter I finally wrote after so long is titled, "The Journey." Good luck on your journey as it twists, turns, stops and starts.
I can't say I'm sorry to see the year 2022 bid adieu. Goodbye!
"Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord . . . well, you know the rest."
This year has been skipping to the same beat all year and it sounded like this, "What! A new month? Which one?! (Insert current month here) already!! No way." Even on the lead-up to Christmas week the song I remember hearing most was any Christmas song by Trans-Siberian Orchestra with its electric guitar and spastic musical climax. That could have easily been the theme of the entire year: hurried, admittedly painful, too much and yet not enough.
So, there it is: my year in review. Uninspired perhaps. Soggy and a bit stodgy, as they say on the Great British Baking Show when they bite into a piece of cake that is supposed to be yummy, looks promising, but just isn't--at all.
Let's hope that 2023 is all that 2022 wasn't.
I did not dress up for this evening's ringing in of the new year.
Wearing my favorite pair of sweatpants (with pockets of course), a well-worn t-shirt that has an image of Cape Cod's Sagamore Bridge and reads "Cross that bridge when you come to it!" beneath a long, cozy sweater (also, pockets:) and fuzzy, purple polka-dotted socks is how I will enter the new year:
Hopefully 2023 will skip to more of a Nat King Cole beat: slower, steady and soothing.
It's the little things, right?
I had a great Thanksgiving! Love that holiday. It's my favorite, filled with eating and the ability to nap spontaneously, and the long weekend didn't hurt either. More time, guilt-free naps, and longer weekends are something I'd love to see more of in my future. Until that's possible I will celebrate the discovery of a reasonably simple dinner roll recipe that I found in my attempt to relax. Relaxing is something that needs to be eased into for me, so finding myself unable to just sit still and veg out, I thought I'd try my hand at making some dinner rolls.
I googled "dinner rolls recipe" and the second recipe I found was a winner. I did a test run and THEY WORKED!!
It is amazing that people have made bread and bread-like items since the dawn of time and here I am in modern civilization celebrating my ability to made dinner rolls. But, you see, I'm not a baker as much as I am a cook and I bake only when required by the need for a birthday cake, a big zucchini that is only good for zucchini bread, overripe bananas that must not be wasted, or a school bake sale assignment. Baking is a bit too slow-paced for me and I just don't have time. So, I found myself with some time.
It was so exciting to make hot, pull apart and slather with butter rolls that my family devoured in short order. I watch British Baking Show and it always looks so complicated and takes so much time: the measuring, the water temperature requirements, the kneading, the proofing, the actual baking with the threat of something being "undah-baked"--the science of it all
I'm not a big dinner roll person at Thanksgiving. I'd rather dig into all the other stuff, but my brother likes them and I thought his wife might enjoy a fresh-baked roll. The recipe I found, which you can find HERE, didn't require the greasing of bowls and it only made 12 rolls, which is a reasonable amount. I don't need the 24 rolls that many recipes yield.
I did have a couple of tweaks: I had to use regular yeast I had in a jar (so activated it before mixing it by combining it with the very warm water and then a teaspoon of sugar and waited ten minutes), I used a wooden spoon and elbow grease to mix instead of the electric mixer in the recipe, and then just followed the recipe and let it "rise" for more than the 30 minutes in the recipe, but still they were really fast as far as homemade bread goes. I didn't brush them with anything before baking and they came out golden brown.
A success! These days with so much going wrong all around us, it's nice to have a humble success to celebrate--and eat:)
I just did something for myself. Well--not counting the KitKat bar I just asked my second born for. She obliged willingly taking it out of her sibling's bag. I shouldn't have accepted or condoned or whatever crime it was to allow my second born to take a chocolate from one of the other born's bag for my own craving--but it's Friday, so I did.
Anyway, that was not what I did for myself. What I just did was participate in a poetry workshop. On Zoom, which I'm a bit sick of . . . but it was free, and I needed something. Like the KitKat, but for my creative spirit. I needed somebody to feed me creatively and force me to produce something creative. The workshop was sponsored by International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) and facilitated by Warrior Poet Kai Coggin. She'll be offering a poetry intensive workshop if you are looking to get creative. Find out about that here.
Here is the poem the workshop helped me produce. It's a draft--as everything is:)
She sat there
in our ordinary kitchen.
My cup of tea, still hot,
perfectly sweet and splash of milk.
Ordinary black. Stringless bag. Sinking. Steeping.
She sat there
knowing she wouldn't stay.
She couldn't --
-- wear out her welcome
-- be taken for granted.
Sitting there--as if always.
In our kitchen
every ordinary, sleepy Saturday.
Tea and talk, dancing.
So simple until she slipped away
to another kitchen,
somebody else's unassuming moment.
I've kept a journal since I was a teenager. However, writing in a journal was like one of those on-again, off-again relationships. I can't say I ever really wrote with any reliable level of consistency over a long period of time and often, when I was younger, the entries were more centered on "what I did" than "what I thought."
But, when the pandemic started in March 2020, that changed. I started filling up a whole journal every three months, so I'd say I probably filled about six journals since then, alone.
It was as if writing in my journal was my moment to take a deep breath at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. Today, the third page I wrote in my journal was my attempt to figure out why writing in my journal is something I have begun looking forward to as much as my morning cup of tea. I'm transcribing my thoughts here--in this online "Diary," to encourage others to find solace and sanity in the safe confines of a journal, diary, notebook or whatever you term it. (Warning, part of the perk of journal writing is no grammar, run-on sentence, spelling mistakes exist or matter--so I'm copying it in here as it was written in all its carefree format.:)
Here's what I wrote:
Anyway, I'm enjoying the pocket of time right now when I don't have to be anywhere and the kids are watching cartoons downstairs and I'm in this chair in the living room with a cup of tea and this journal. I can't quite understand why writing in this journal is so attractive to me, why it feels like such an "escape" but I almost crave it at times. Maybe it's because I'm safe here--as cheesy as that sounds. I'm able to say what I want whether I'm right or wrong or politically incorrect. I am able to sort out my thoughts, maybe make sense of them, perhaps vent my frustrations with anyone and everyone without worry of offense or disagreement, and also I am able to let out the leash to allow my ideas and imagination to run wild. To dream on paper and quietly out loud:) Silently out loud. Without fears of contradiction or being talked sense into. It's a vision board sans images. Sans color! A vision board of black and white that leaves the imagination of the reader to fill in the vivid greens and bright blues. Time and space and freedom. There are so many means available these days that allow people to escape, to breathe a little, loosen the collar--so to speak--and here is perhaps one of the healthier, most accessible, cost efficient and convenient of them all:
Writing in this here humble Journal . . .
Thank the Lord for paper and pen :)
Every now and then the universe sends in something that tells me to "slow down!" The world has been moving at warp speed lately and this morning I took some time out to go into my garden and do some deadheading. Snipping or snapping off spent blooms can seem like an onerous task, but often that is the magic of the garden--many of the things you need to do in the garden are not exciting and take time. But, that's sometimes just what we need.
This morning, while looking closely at the various Cosmos scattered in patches within my front and side garden, I saw something move. First it freaked me out and then I looked closer. Yes--nature is wild! A Praying Mantis was sitting on the plant and since their advantage is camouflage, I hadn't noticed it until it moved, perhaps in an effort not to also get snapped off by me.
I once watched a Praying Mantis crawl on the outside of a screen door and they are extremely (painfully!) slow moving creatures. Watching paint dry pales in comparison to watching a Praying Mantis move. From that first sighting onward, I took the sighting of a Praying Mantis as an indication to me that I need to slow down. I hope to do some slowing down this weekend, but until then--it's full speed ahead.
If you find life is moving too fast--go outside, into a garden and try to find a Praying Mantis.