The Prompter Room

For Saturday, October 7, 2017 (with apologies for being a day late):

 

… To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

… It takes courage to grow up and become who really are.

E. E. Cummings

 

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The Prompter Room

For Monday, May 16, 2016:

 

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent van Gogh

Tomorrow and Wednesday my best friend will debut a new creative enterprise and I am so proud of her I could burst!   Chris is one of the most courageous people I know – I always think of her when I need a dose of courage myself – and the way she has embarked on this whole process doesn’t surprise me.

I will share specific details here as soon as I can, but for now I will say how impressed I’ve been as I’ve watched Chris create this new venture.  She’s faced her technological fears and frustrations to design and implement a beautiful Website.  From the start, she’s found personal, digital, and business resources that have helped her to develop an endeavor that will serve others who are unable to leave their homes or are in nursing and veterans’ homes or rehabilitation facilities.  She has navigated territories and will go to places that are literally and figuratively unfamiliar to her, all because she is dedicated to helping others.

Creating anything new always takes courage and inner strength, and my beloved BFF is my example and role model for both.  Good luck tomorrow and Wednesday, dearest Chris!

 

The Prompter Room

For Sunday, January 24, 2016:

 

“An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo … Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”

Seth Godin – LINCHPIN: ARE YOU INDISPENSABLE?

A young friend of mine is an artist of this caliber.  In my eyes she walks in an aura of beauty.  Not only is she stunning on the outside, she is beautiful on the inside, and she creates – and enables others to create – amazing art that is literally changing the world one Peruvian barrio, one mentally ill prisoner, one group of struggling students, one Black Lives Matter demonstration, one New York City ghetto street, one dilapidated park bench, one gathering of grieving mothers, one homeless man at a time.

Her activism on behalf of others has landed her in jail, and it’s taken her to Russia to develop and present clowning workshops with Patch Adams.  She has worked with political, municipal, education, and hospital powers-that-be to brighten up neglected, dingy hallways, neighborhoods, and community spaces with murals and stencils that sparkle and shine.

Not all of us can be like my friend – for one thing she has the energy of at least five people in her slim little body – but we can strive to ‘challenge the status quo’ in our own ways.  How do you use your words, your photography, your dance, your voice, your own unique vision to make a difference in the world?  In the life of one person at a time?

Thank you for doing so!  And thank you for your courage.

The Prompter Room

For Monday, January 11, 2016:

 

“The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.”

Kate Chopin

What is it about creativity that is so frightening?

From my little notebook stash of quotations, I just counted at least 26 comments by artists and writers of all kinds that talk about the courage it takes to create.  There are even more that are less specific but can be easily related to the topic.

Books are written about it – I’m thinking especially of Rollo May’s Courage to Create, one of my personal ‘bibles,’ but there are many, many others.  Type in appropriate keywords on Google and you’ll find page after page.

What is it about creativity that is so frightening?

You’d think with so many great minds, so much experience, behind us and along with us to encourage us, it would be easier to contemplate and pursue a life of art and creativity.  Ah, but here’s the rub.  “Creativity,” writes Erich Fromm, “requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Most of us, I expect, like the certain feeling of something solid under our feet as we stand, a smooth path with no obstacles on which to walk.  I know I do.  As someone who is prone to stumbling, it’s something of a risk for me to put one foot in front of the other because there’s always a possibility that I’ll trip or fall.  That’s been my reality for decades.

Part of that reality is that sometimes I need to rely on the stability – the certainty – of a cane or someone’s strong arm or hand to keep me upright.  I’m unsure every time I leave the confines of the house, even if it’s to go out into the yard, especially by myself or without a cane, because I’ve fallen too many times.  That TV commercial that exclaims ‘Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ isn’t funny to me.

Are we afraid we’ll fall, or fail, if we embark on a creative endeavor?  Are we afraid to venture into the unknown of what might be if we start a new painting, story, or poem, or a new business endeavor that’s different somehow?  Are we frightened by the thought that others might think us strange, or – worse yet, perhaps – not like our work or – even worse – not like us?

But think of the beauty that’s out there once we leave the confines of our fears!  If we stay wrapped up in our certainties, what are we missing?  What will others miss from us? 

The reality is that this world needs us – needs you – to help make it more beautiful.  Cast aside the cane and take the risk of opening to a blank piece of paper in your notebook, or putting a blank canvas on the easel, or their equivalent.  If you’re even thinking of a creative project, you have the courage you need to start.

And you have a lot of people behind you to hold you up.  Thank you for taking that chance!

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, December 17, 2015:

 

“I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”

E. B. White

I do, too!  I also admire anyone who has the guts to create art of any kind – photography, paintings, music, dance, sculpture, songs …

Many years ago, when I was trying to come out of my shy, introverted shell, I set myself the task of learning to become more comfortable speaking in front of people.  Luckily I have prominent theatrical and performance genes in my matrilineal heritage, and I’d always had a similar longing, so I didn’t have to dig too far down to find opportunities to explore the possibilities.

Instead of the theater, I chose a different ‘stage’ to start: the church.  It was small enough to feel safe, yet public enough to engender stage fright at first.  I started by reading public prayers or announcements from my pew in the midst of the congregation.  When I graduated to going ‘up front’ to read lessons and then help lead worship, I counted that a big milestone.

Eventually, I was asked to start preaching.   Whoa!   Though flattered, of course, I didn’t see how I could.   Long story short, I agreed to try, and I loved it.  My theatrical heritage kicked in – liturgy, defined as ‘the work of the people,’ is a form of drama, after all –  and I could use my writing and theological training in ways I never had before.

Thanks to a priest seeing something in me that I didn’t know was there, I had found a little piece of personal heaven, in part because I was growing more comfortable in and with myself.  I was blessed and honored to preach occasionally for 20 years or so, in different congregations.  At one point, I was even invited to preach at an Anglican cathedral in Canada on a high holy day.  Not bad for a shy little girl from the South!

The feedback I received over the years  was always positive, but the same comment from a myriad of people has always stuck with me.  They were amazed that someone who is not ordained had the ‘guts’ – that was the word most often used, or ‘courage’ – to get up in front of people and preach.

The more I heard that comment, I came to realize that many people want to do such things, but don’t know how to start or think they’ll be too afraid, or they’ll do something wrong, fall down or fail somehow.  I came to see that, perhaps even more than any theology I tried to convey, my then-ministry of preaching served as an example, a model, of what we’re all capable of if we but try.

That courage – those ‘guts’ – is in each one of us, and I admire it in you.  Osho, one of the ancient haiku masters, wrote, ‘What if I fall?  Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?’  Let that be your mantra, because you can’t fly if you don’t start.

And you will fly.  I know you will!

The Prompter Room

For Sunday, November 29, 2015:

 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin

Some people are better at taking risks than others.  Or perhaps we feel like we can take some risks but not others.  But, if we think about it, it’s a risk to get into a car and drive somewhere — most of us do so every day without thinking about it because it’s our norm, but we are taking a chance nevertheless.

From a horticulture standpoint, buds are certainly part of the growth process.  As beautiful as they might be for a while, though, our personal ‘buds’ can wither and die if they’re not properly taken care of.  Or, stretching the metaphor, they become something of a prison, and our potential remains encased within the seemingly fragile petals.

If the thought of breaking out scares you a little, you are not alone.  Start with little steps.  A book that helped me at such a time is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  Most people are familiar with her practice of writing ‘morning pages,’ but what nourished me the most was Cameron’s suggestion of regular artist days.  As I contemplated the possibility of first putting brush to canvas, I couldn’t afford art classes but I could go to galleries and museums, art shows and art supply stores.

Those artist dates fed my soul in ways techniques and mechanics couldn’t.   I gradually developed the courage to express myself in new creative ways.  A lifelong bud finally had the environment to blossom, and as the process came to fruition, the rest of my life — creative and otherwise — opened up in new, exciting ways.

Take that risk.  The world needs to see you blossom in the fullness of your beauty.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, November 24, 2015:

 

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage

to lose sight of the shore.”

Andre Gide

The first time I went sailing was thrilling.  I was a senior in high school, and my best friend’s family had invited me to join them for a weekend on Pamlico Sound on the North Carolina coast.  My friend and her family were seasoned sailors, and they were patient and encouraging with the willing but nervous neophyte among them.

The waters of the Sound were gentler than the ocean just a few miles away, but they weren’t still in the sometimes-brisk breeze that whipped — it seemed to me, anyway — the sail of the four-person Catamaran.  I trusted my friends implicitly (for one reason, they insisted that everyone, regardless of skill or experience, had to wear a lifejacket), and it wasn’t long at all before I grew comfortable with the motions of the little boat, even to the point where I almost got the hang of when to duck and sway to avoid the sail when the Cat tacked back and forth.

I often think of that weekend and always, even 40+ years later, with great pleasure.  The weather was gorgeous, the waters of the Sound glistened in the bright and hot Carolina sunshine, and the company of my friend and her family was easy and comfortable.

I think of that weekend, too, whenever I’m tempted to stay in my comfort zones.  Before then, the only boat I’d ever been in was the old rowboat on my aunt’s and uncle’s little pond when I was a child, and I was always shaky getting in and out.  I knew, though, that I’d be all right because the pond wasn’t very deep and the shoreline was visible and close.  I wouldn’t be very clean if I fell in — the water was always mucky and muddy — but I’d be safe.

As writers, though, should we always want to stay safe?  If we don’t experiment, if we don’t explore, we won’t grow.  If my writing mentor hadn’t encouraged me to leave the supposed safety of short stories, I never would have embarked on my first novel.  If I didn’t have that sailing weekend to remember, I would have stayed with creative non-fiction and never taken the risk of experimenting with the possibilities of a zombie story (see the page above about taking the zombies out of writing for more about that) or fantasy or a second novel.  I wouldn’t leave the still waters of freestyle poetry for the once-distant shores of sonnets or haiku, or to puzzle out other various forms of poetry.  I wouldn’t have started this Website and blog.

An unattributed meme on Facebooks notes that ‘A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.’  What writing comfort zone do you need to set sail from?  What distant shores await you?

There are sun-glistened waters out there for you to find.  How can I help you find them?  It truly is thrilling out there!

The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, October 21, 2015:

“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self that we assume

like a garment with which to appear before the world.”

Kate Chopin, THE AWAKENING

The Awakening is a fascinating little novel.  Written in the late 19th century, it is at once an example of early — some sources call it the earliest — American feminist literature and the ‘coming of age’ of an adult woman who discovers within herself the best of who she is, the fullness of who she is.  If I remember correctly, the novel was banned at times, and went out of print, because it dealt with subjects — a woman’s sexuality, for instance — that were still taboo.   Thankfully, though, its literary importance was re-discovered and the book has been in print ever since.

This novel gave me the courage to start calling myself a writer in public.  I’d always thought of myself as a writer, but I was long reluctant to identify myself that way when talking with others.  Until then, it was always ‘ … and I also do some writing.’  Thanks to Kate Chopin, I came to see that my then-fictitious self needed to come out into the open, that I couldn’t be ‘real’ or true to myself, my identity, otherwise.

At the same time, we who write short stories and/or novels need to ensure our fictitious characters are just as real in their own contexts.  That can be just as hard.

It’s a process of exploration and discovery in both cases.  Where and when do our characters show courage?  How do they identify themselves?  What are their struggles, what are their joys?  When and how do they become themselves, not ‘our characters’?  If you’re like me, when ‘my’ characters reach the point where they direct their own stories — where they ‘cast aside’ their fictitious selves — it’s as if that moment of self-identity happens to me all over again, and I am thrilled.

Book Review: MY JOURNEY WITH MAYA

Poetry puts starch in your backbone so you can stand, so you can compose your life.

Maya Angelou

It’s been too long since I’ve read anything but snippets or quotes — like the above — by Maya Angelou, and this memoir by Tavis Smiley (with David Ritz) reinforced that lack on my part.

Even though the book is about Dr. Angelou, not by her, I could hear her voice throughout.

As the title suggests, Smiley writes of the decades-long journey he shared with Angelou as his mentor and friend.  In addition to specific times that they met, visited and spoke with each other, he highlights some of her poems along with her humor, wisdom, and insight. The quote above is not in the book, but it could have been, for that observation seems to be much of what drove the deep relationship between the two, even if it’s only implicit.

One of the things I most enjoyed were the accounts of when Maya Angelou and Smiley together broke into the gospel hymnody in which they’d both been raised.  I loved, too, the descriptions of her appearances before crowds and audiences and her more intimate times with friends.

According to Smiley, she was always comfortable, poised, and gracious, even as her health deteriorated, but he made it clear that her first priority was hospitality for others and to put them at ease.  It’s easy to see why when one reads the heartbreaking story of her rape as a child and the subsequent five or so years when she was rendered mute as a result.  While her famous poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and her first memoir are based on the trauma, and while both she and Smiley acknowledged what happened, the courage of Angelou’s life and works more than transform that horrific time.  And she has transformed the world, one person at a time, one poem, one book, one class, one friend at a time.

My Journey with Maya by Tavis Smiley, with David Ritz.  2015: Little, Brown and Co., NY.