The Prompter Room

For Friday, October 19, 2018:

 

Creativity embeds knowledge so that it can become practice. We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands. We are born makers, and creativity is the ultimate act of integration — it is how we fold our experiences into our being… The Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has a beautiful saying: “Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”

Brené Brown

RISING STRONG: THE RECKONING, THE RUMBLE, THE REVOLUTION

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The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, May 17, 2016:

 

” … The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Sylvia Plath

“Your only responsibility as a writer is to be true to the story that has chosen you as its writer.”

Jean Little, via LiteraryLighthouse.com

A story sits before me right now: the hardcopy proof of my novella.  This is my last chance to catch typos and make changes before it’s released to the world, so I’ve been going through it with what I hope is the editorial equivalent of a fine-toothed comb since Friday.

I loved the story and its characters as I wrote and when I went over the digital proof.  I still do.  Now, though, as I progress through the physical copy, I find myself wondering if it’s any good after all.  Is the writing as good as it can be?  Is it effective?  Does the storyline make sense?  Did I tie up all the pieces, connect all the dots?

This is where I have to trust.  I have to trust my early readers, all of whom say it’s a good story – and yes, according to them all the pieces come together, everything makes sense.  I have to trust my instincts now.  I have to trust the characters and their parts in the story.  They definitely chose me, not I them – and they’re still speaking as I embark on the second story in their collective series.

Another thing I have to do is not compare this story to other novels.  It’s not a thriller, it’s not jam-packed with action or brilliant technological details or sex or horror or … whatevers.  I can’t write those books and I don’t want to.  There are plenty of others who can and do, so I’m not going to get stuck wishing I could.

I can edit such books – I have, and I enjoy doing so – but I’m just not called to write them for some reason.  Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, but I tend to hear the voices and the stories of the shy, quiet ones, and that suits me fine.

Well, there’s a new insight – I’ve never thought of that before!  If I’d not been talking myself out of my self-doubt, I don’t think I’d have reached such a realization.  Thank you for bearing with me as I wrote through to this point.  Now I can say with conviction that the story is good, and that it seems to have chosen me for a reason – perhaps to give voice to some of the more reserved and taciturn among us.  I can do that.

That being said, I’m not sure how quiet I’ll be when it’s time to announce the book’s release in a week or two … but that won’t happen if I don’t finish going through the proof.  It should go a little faster now that I’ve worked through the doubts.

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 Thursday, March 17, 2016:

 

“In order to be created, a work of art must first make use of the dark forces of the soul.”

Albert Camus

Chapter Four of my MA thesis started with this quote.  I don’t remember the title of the chapter now, but the purpose was to explore the common perception that artists are – must be – at least a little ‘crazy.’  Looking back, it’s almost as if I knew what was going to happen.

As many people observe and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, I remember a friend who was in the same MA program I was.  Anne Marie used to love St. Paddy’s Day.  Every stitch of clothing she wore on March 17th was some shade of green.  On this one day of the year, it didn’t matter if the shades matched – if it was green, she wore it.  She put jeweled shamrocks in her ears, on her fingers, around her wrists.  She was half Irish – the other half was Italian – and proud of it.  She even named her foundling dog Biddie, a nod to her mother Bridget’s nickname.

Actually Biddie found Anne Marie.  At a particularly dark time in Anne Marie’s life, this little malnourished and partially lame dog somehow found the strength to jump into Anne Marie’s car in the middle of a snowstorm.  Anne Marie did all the right things: she notified Animal Control and all the local veterinarians, she called and spoke to neighbors, she put a notice in the newspaper and on bulletin boards in her area.  After two weeks of no responses, she and Biddie finally settled in and helped each other with pure shining love.

Anne Marie was one of the most creative people I have ever known.  She had a lovely voice – both her Irish and Italian sides really came together there – and she played a beautiful guitar.  She wrote songs and composed poetry, both funny and sad, both biting and touching.  One room in her small house was filled to the rafters with her stash of fabrics for the stunning quilts she crafted (where all the greens and other colors matched and complemented each other) and materiel for any possibility of something creative.  Her IQ had to have been off-the-charts high, and her imagination was right there with it.

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The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, March 15, 2016:

 

“I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act.  It discharges the tension.”

Norman Mailer

I wonder, then, if one of the reasons it took me 20 years to finish my first novel is because I talked about my ideas for characters and plots with others in the earliest days of its coming together.  Or trying to make it come together.  It was my first one, after all, and I wanted to get affirmation from others that I was on the right track.

At that point, I didn’t know the characters would take over.  I didn’t know the characters would develop themselves and that I was merely their scribe.  Once I learned to get out of the way, and once I reached the point where I trusted my – and their – instincts and didn’t need affirmation from others, the story and stories came of their own volition.

That seems to have happened again for what will be my third novel.  I woke up this morning with a good idea and I want to talk about it because it’s so good!  But I know I can’t.

I’m almost afraid to write it down, in the event that will dissipate some of its energy.  After all, if the idea is truly good, if it fits for the storyline – it certainly fits the title – then it will stay with me and the characters will make it happen.

So for now I’m staying silent.  It’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do.

The Prompter Room

For Sunday, March 13, 2016:

 

“Go into the arts.  I’m not kidding.  The arts are not a way to make a living.  They are a very human way of making life more bearable.  Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.  Sing in the shower.  Dance to the radio.  Tell stories.  Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem.  Do it as well as you possibly can.  You will get an enormous reward.  You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Well, there you have it: ‘for heaven’s sake.’

Yes, practicing an art makes our souls grow, but it does more than that, as wonderful as that is.  Writing a poem, painting a picture or photographing one, singing, dancing, and so much more, makes heaven grow!

The theologian in me believes that God created us, humankind, in his and her image, and that generous spirit thus invites us to be co-creators through our art.  Longtime followers here know how important hospitality is for me – with others and in our writing.  I believe, then, that the Creator’s invitation to participate in acts of creation, too, however grand or small they may be, is one of great love and hospitality.  We are welcomed into the creative process.  We are encouraged in that process.  How can our souls do anything but grow in such an environment, such a practice?

Whether Vonnegut intended those three little words in the way I take them or not, I’ll never know.  If he didn’t – if he meant them in the same way as ‘I’m not kidding’ – I’m glad he included them, for I think he found the crux of the matter anyway.  We are to create for heaven’s sake, and for the world’s sake, and for ours.

When we accept that arms-wide-open, generous, loving, and creative invitation, I can see the eyes of heaven smile inside our souls.  I can even feel it.  Can’t you?

The Prompter Room

For Saturday, February 13, 2016:

 

“Creative minds are rarely tidy.”

Unattributed Facebook meme

So that explains it – the condition of the house, I mean.  If you were to see what I’m looking at right now, you’d think I was a creative genius.  That’s definitely not true, but if the above meme is to be believed, maybe there is a little bit of the creative in me.

Of course, the meme could be taken literally: the creative minds themselves are rarely tidy.  That could be true – I know how my mind gets when characters or ideas start stumbling over each other because they’re coming so fast – but perhaps it also applies to our rooms or houses as well.  I’ve seen reports that say the same thing, along with photographs of ultra-messy studios and desks.

I also remember seeing statements like ‘Don’t touch the piles on my desk.  I’ll never find anything otherwise.’  That certainly resembles me (she says as she looks at the notebooks, folders and books and stacks of paper next to me on either side).  They may be overflowing, but I know just which piles I need to search in if I need to find something specific, so please don’t try to clean it or straighten it up!

But does this explain why I need to clean when I’m in between projects, or when I get stuck when writing?  I guess this is one reason I know I’m not a genius: I do have to clean on occasion.  Not only does it tidy up my surroundings – too much of a mess becomes chaotic to me – but it helps to declutter my brain.  The physical activity, however small or limited, helps.  If nothing else, it gets me out of this chair and moving.

Now that I’ve finished the second draft of my novel and I’m re-typing and gradually turning the manuscript into the third draft, I find myself looking up from the hard copy and the computer screen every once in a while and I’m starting to notice … well, all the little things that need attention.  I know the chaos stage is getting close and that I need to get a move on.

This also tells me, though, that I might be almost through with the more creative part of the novel.  If so, then most of what’s left is the mechanics – along with the usual minor tweaks and edits as I type – and that’s a good thing.  For the house, anyway.  And the book, too, of course!

The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, February 10, 2016:

 

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent van Gogh

This story may be familiar to some of you who have been here from the beginning, but I think it’s worth a bit of a repeat, given van Gogh’s statement above.

When I was an adult learner in the process of choosing the rest of the studies I needed to achieve my BA, one of the fields I chose was art.  I have always wanted to make art, but almost all of my artistic ventures received negative feedback.  Despite the fact that I have stellar artistic genes in my family, this apple fell far away from that tree and I knew I would never be able to paint or draw in a way that people would enjoy.

Part of the problem is that I have trouble with depth of field, even in everyday life.  This means I cannot do perspective.  I know the purpose of it, and I can do the beginners’ road or pathway that starts wide in the foreground, then narrows to the vanishing point somewhere in the background, but that’s all I can do.  Eventually I turned to photography so the camera does the depth of field for me.  I’m actually pretty good at it and I enjoy it, but it wasn’t the same.  I wanted to paint and draw – at least try to – so because I was blessed with a safe place to explore, one where I knew I wouldn’t be laughed at, I did a semester’s work doing just that.

That’s when I first read these words of van Gogh, and the account of how he’d been scorned and ridiculed but persevered and taught himself.  Imagine my surprise when I found that some of his early sketches look remarkably like my own attempts.

A little more exploration found the story of Grandma Moses.  She, too, was self-taught, painting first on a wooden fireplace screen and other things for her house and family.  She was 70 years old (or thereabouts) when that fireplace screen was ‘discovered,’ and the rest is history.  One has to do some digging, however, to find out that she also had trouble with perspective, and if you study her iconic paintings, especially her earliest ones, you’ll see how true that is.

The more I read about and studied the progress of these two and other artists, the more I found myself saying, ‘Okay, then.  I can do this, too!’  Then one day I was in a restaurant that had the work of a locally-famous folk art painter on the walls.  Looking at those paintings and prints, I realized there was no sense of perspective in them at all.  And soon I discovered that a whole heck of a lot of folk art has little to no perspective in it.  Woo hoo!

Even more important than all of this, I learned that my vision – my literal vision – and, therefore, my painting and my drawing, was just as valid as that of some of the most revered artists of all time.  Different, yes, but still valid – and valuable.  I’ll never be van Gogh or Grandma Moses, but that’s okay.  I’m not them.  I am and I will be Genie.

The most important thing I learned in that semester years ago, though, was that I had to try.  van Gogh was right: I learned I had to answer the voice inside my head.

So, please, if you have a voice that says you can’t write a book – or paint a piece of artwork, or dance, or design a house – please try.  Respond to that voice with a positive action instead!  My voice tells me you can and you will.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, January 26, 2016:

 

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”

Beatrix Potter

“Originality is the best form of rebellion.”

Mike Sasso – BEING HUMAN: EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about life (sic)

The child in me is glad Beatrix Potter wasn’t sent to school, too, if that meant her stories and illustrations would have been different – or, worse yet, even nonexistent.  Some of my most treasured memories are reading her books, and they still delight me.  My niece has it now, but I kept my little stuffed plushie of Squirrel Nutkin for years, and I’m sure that’s one reason I love red squirrels to this day, pest though they might be to some people.

If I remember correctly, her father believed girls shouldn’t get the same education boys should.  No doubt Beatrix was restricted to the more feminine studies of needlework, cooking, and how to manage a household in preparation as someone’s wife.  The latent teacher in me cringes at the thought of the education Potter missed out on, but the adult learner in me celebrates the fact that she rebelled against her father and she taught herself in secret.  Among other things, she went out into the fields around her English home and observed and drew the flora and fauna that were later depicted in her books.

Beatrix Potter’s story reminds me of a seminal book I was given by my writing mentor: Silences, by Tillie Olsen.  In my humble opinion, every writer – especially women who are creative in any way – should read this book.

The writing itself, to be honest, is not that great.  The book is a compilation of some of Olsen’s lectures as a college professor and presentations to various groups, so we’re basically reading her notes to herself.

What is important is the context, that women’s creativity has been stifled, even silenced, over the centuries precisely because they were women.  (And some women of those times whose work we read now were not published until after their deaths.)  It’s still going on today in some ways – witness the wage disparities, and the dearth of women represented in literary anthologies, for only two examples.  Some male writers and artists did, and do, experience the same issues, and Olsen included them as well.

The more I read in Silences, the more I was amazed that we have any books by women from centuries or decades past.  A lot of Olsen’s examples point to situations like Potter’s – bright young women who wanted to learn but couldn’t because of societal expectations – but others show that even those few women who were allowed (sometimes even encouraged) to write were held back because of lack of funds or space or time from such things as childbearing and -rearing (Harriet Beecher Stowe and Kate Chopin are two I remember).  It’s such instances as these that caused Virginia Woolf to opine that women must have a room of their own and enough money in order to write.

We are all, women and men, luckier today, and thank goodness.  There are, though, still ways some of us are silenced or stifled.  I hope those of us who are can take Beatrix Potter’s example to heart and find ways to let our voices be heard.  I know I won’t write anything that will be beloved centuries later, but hopefully you will.  I do know I’d rather have a book with my name on it, not in it.