Tuesday, September 30, 2008

London Calling

I never thought I would want to try Creativity Counselling - it's not really 'done' in Britain. In fact, counselling of any kind isn't really something British people admit to readily. It's been hard to admit that I needed help to change step with writing. Writing is my haven from the world. Writing should be inviolate. I used to have to scratch together a few moments' peace for creativity but then, I learnt how to set aside that time. I'm in a place where I've thrown myself into writing over the last two years. I've produced the lion's share of a novel, some poetry and some short stories. They are in my desk drawer right now as I blog, and that is the problem. They never go anywhere else. I don't want to stop writing entirely but I'd like to submit them somewhere - yet I cannot. I am always writing, and I'm scared now that I'll lose it if I stop.

I am scared of changing step and feel a bit lost about where to begin. I feel a bit daunted by it all, and about how to protect my creative self whilst I move forward in this new way. Read more!

Monday, September 29, 2008

No Country For Old Men - The Ending

Pauline Kiernan's Notes on Creativity,
Screenwriting and Thinking

The ending of No Country For Old Men is still causing a seemingly never-ending debate among critics and filmgoers that has raged ever since the movie was first screened.

Writing about it this week has got me thinking about our human need for a comforting sense of an ending in stories. Faced with a story that takes us out of our comfort zone into the unfathomable and then leaves us there is disturbing.

This is what directors Joel and Ethan have done with the audiences of No Country For Old Men.

The movie is a tense crime thriller and has a goodie and a baddie, but that's about as far as it goes in obeying the rules of the genre.

The tension is built up throughout the movie and it's relentless.

Anticipations of denouements, multiplying and deepening, are repeatedly blighted, and serve only to strengthen the audience's acute need to know what will happen.

But instead of the conventional high-wire tension of the final, cathartic shoot-out between good guy and bad, in a dramatic, often 'epic' setting, the villain is still alive and good guy Sheriff Bell sits, sad and weary, in the small, domestic space of his kitchen - talking. In one almost completely static shot, he delivers a lengthy monologue about the dreams he has dreamt.

It is the quietest, most intimate of scenes. And it is the final one. Anti-climactic, anti-dramatic. Four simple words, before the screen goes back. 'Then I woke up'.

You could call the ending a cruel joke - playing with the audience's feelings. And it is cruel. There is no catharsis.

We've been denied the release from fear of watching a David slay Goliath. And if we don't like it, tough.

That there is no consoling denouement in No Country For Old Men is perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the experience.

The movie holds up a mirror to a world in terminal moral decline and refuses to soften the dark, apocalyptic nightmare for us.

It may leave us in the bleak wilderness, confronting our most profound fears. But to stay truthful to the moral theme of the story, could it really have ended any other way?

View the clip of the No Country For Old Men ending with Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones www. unique-screenwriting.com

See my articles on
No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men Screenwriting

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sculpting a Life
Susan Gallacher-Turner’s turn in the Pacific Northwest
(Six of my copper & screening masks)

Ok. I’m a little late getting this blog out because I’ve been too busy sculpting to write about it. I’m happy to be working in the studio creating 5 new masks for a mask show that opens tonight. But, being under a tight deadline is good and bad.

The good part is easy to see. I’m working not procrastinating. I’m in my studio everyday, except Sunday, pushing, pulling or painting. There just isn’t time for worrying about every mark made and that keeps my fears at bay. I’m forced to keep pushing that copper, keep painting that screening, keep moving one stroke at a time. Everyday. No futzing allowed. That kind of focus is good for me.

The bad part is a little harder to see. The adrenaline rush of excitement hides the fact that working under tight deadline pressure is scary. It’s that fear of not getting the pieces done on time that makes me lose sleep, get impatient and tighten up. I make mistakes. I correct them. I push myself harder and harder. I make longer to-do lists because I’m afraid I’ll forget something.

I did make my deadlines. I even had almost 24 hours to savor the end of the process before I delivered the pieces to the gallery. I let myself have a mini-celebration and went out to lunch.

Then, I put together another to-do list of all the things that I’d put off to meet my deadline, including what I had to do to get ready for the openings. Pick up announcements, distribute them and send email announcements. Check in and chat with friends. Look into other opportunities I’d put on hold. Clean my studio. Take those other projects out of the closet and finish them. Get some new work started. Write this blog. Write my other blogs.

Now, I’m proud of the fact that I’m a self-motivated person. I set my own deadlines when I don’t have one from somewhere else. And that’s a good thing, usually.

The bad thing is pushing myself too hard, too long. A part of me is rebelling against another week of a long to-do list. My to-do-list side doesn’t like this at all.

My body won the battle by making me feel dizzy. I took the hint and took a nap. Did yoga, walked in the park and vegged out in front of a favorite movie. Read a book. Sat out on the patio enjoying the change of the season. Talked to my friends, family and neighbors. Enjoyed a live concert. Then wrote this blog a few days later.

So, here’s what I’ve learned this time about sculpting a life. I enjoy sculpting. That’s good. Now, I just need to remember to enjoy life a little more along the way. Should I put that on my to-do list next week? Just kidding…

Read Susan’s posts every other Friday in the Joy of Living Creatively. Visit her website at susangt.com or blog at http://sculpturepdx.blogspot.com

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Television Musings - Rants and Raves of a Romance Writer

Night Rising

By Kathy Carpenter

This one was a little tough for me. Night Rising by Chris Marie Green is the first book in a series of three. The third one is out currently.

Since this week is the three night premier of Dancing with the Stars and I wanted to write about it. What comes out as the night rises? Stars. And Dancing has plenty of those. Well thirteen names. Though you may not recognize all the names at first. Once you see them dance you do not want any of them to go. Each usually grows on you (well at least me in some way) Some with their dancing, some for the pure entertainment of their trying. Some for their personality. Some for their potential And some because they are so bad you feel sorry for them and hope they can go one more week.

This season, which is season eight. Has thirteen couples. Two of which are leaving this week. After viewing the first two nights I feel this year is a more competetive playing field. There are really no stand out dancers. They all have a lot of growing to go. Which in a lot of respect makes this a more exciting round to watch.

They have Cloris Leachman was the main name. If you know who she is. She is eighty-two. Are they dragging the bottom? I not sure of all the people but will try to give you some idea. Ted McGuinley , from Married with Children and Love Boat. Warren Sak, football player, Toni Braxon, singer, Lance Bass, from InSync. Brooke somebody, model, and mom of four. Two Olympic winners, Michelle someone from Vollyball and someone Greene from track. Susan Lucci from All My Children ( Soap Opera). Jeff someone, a comedian. Rocco Desperno or something from the Cooking Network, Kim Cardesian, reality TV. A guy from Hannah Montana, and I can remember the others.

No wonder there is no stand out. They are trying to appeal to broad range of people and show anyone can dance. Well most.

I have no favorite yet. Though I do kind of like Rocco, he’s an underdog. Never danced before and off to a slow start.

If you want to let me know who you rooting for please comment or email kathy.carpenter4@gte.net

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Southwest Ramblings: Thoughts on Making and Living Art

Creative Ceilings
Linda Moran
Ever count all the little holes in a ceiling tile? And that's the most exciting thing you can do?

On Monday I had that opportunity, as I was strapped to a backboard for two hours, and in a neck brace for another 6 hours. All I could do was look up, and since I have virtually no vision in my left eye, that one ceiling tile was my world. You can only count holes for so long.....

So my mind wandered to what else could go up there? Posters? That would get old. I discovered, as I stared at the light fixture, that there were some incredible patterns to the texture of the light cover. And - they would change, depending on how long I looked at the light.

Why not a digital screen in the ceiling tiles, centered so that it wouldn't really matter where the stretcher was placed, with interesting patterns that would change on a regular basis? Since we seem to spend more and more time waiting in ERs for assistance - even if you came in by ambulance - this might cut down on the number of angry patients who are tired of waiting - especially those whose field of vision is so restricted.

Just a thought...someone want to patent the idea? Remember, you read it here first.

Linda Moran is a fiber artist working with hand-created marbled fabrics. This centuries-old art form originally limited to paper takes on new life when used on fabric. Join her for musings on the fiber field, art in the Southwest, and the challenges of creating fiber art. See her work and contact her at The Art of Fabric, or reading her musings on her blog. Read more!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Morning Motivators to Slay Your Creative Dragons

By CJ Lyons and Margie Lawson

Build Your Karma! from CJ

Ever get stuck in a cycle of professional jealousy? Or just the blahs…feeling like it’s never going to “happen” for you?

It’s so easy for us writers to do this. We wonder, why didn’t I…..win that award, get the starred review, get a great deal, snag an agent….the list is endless.

Often this isn’t a reflection of where our writing is–but where we want it to be. And our fears that we may never get there.

Here’s one way to banish those green-eyed goblins so you can get to work on building your own future instead of borrowing someone else’s.

Go to www.hallmark.com or a similar site and find an e-card. They’re free, fast and your spirit will lighten immediately when you send one to brighten someone else’s day. Or send one to yourself (you can even set up a calendar to send them on future dates, so that when you need an extra dose of encouragement, one will pop up in your in box) and give yourself a smile!
Try it!

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a national bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, is due out January, 2009. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net

Margie Lawson -- presenter, psychotherapist, writer -- lives at the top of a Colorado mountain west of Denver. Margie merged her two worlds, psychology and writing, to develop psychologically anchored editing systems and techniques that teach writers how to write page turners. A former college professor, Margie works as a psychotherapist, writes fiction and nonfiction, and presents full day master classes for writers internationally. Go to http://www.margielawson.com for more information.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wild Woman of Queens: Notes on Urban Creativity from across the East River.

Oh Baby, Baby

Man my head hurts. It is a pounding that keeps creeping up on me when I least expect it. It starts with a slight stiffness in my neck and then spreads up the back of my skull flowing over the top down my forehead into my eyes. Spreading like a wildfire I can't contain. Today I slept for 3 1/2 hours the world was spinning and the headache creeping. When can I create with this insistent pain?

The distractions pile up and just when you think you can sneak a moment something happens. But that is what you must do. Sneak in some time, hack out chunks of time from the mass of distractions to be the creative creature you were meant to be. When I am not engaged in some form of creativity I am not a happy being at all. I do get tight and the headache appears as a dark reminder that I have better things to do then suffer for my art. I have art to do. Even if it is in small bits in the middle of day create I must. Still I am not fully engaged in art. It still eludes me. I am a creator in short spurts and stops. Is this any kind of creative life?

I don't think so. I believe I could do better. I could be better involved in my life. My life could be art and not just a dry day with bursts of life.This is my struggle. My creative distraction. I want to be creative but I push it off then question the reason why. It is so much easier to be in the question of why I don't create then do the creation. Easier, safer more comfortable to continue to ask why then to get my hands dirty, to feel the scratch of the paper under my pen, or smell paint.

But my headache gets the best of me and I sleep to ease the pain rather then write. This is the challenge in front of us all. How to create our life and not have it create us in image that is not life sustaining. I would like be fed differently to live more completely. Pondering the why of not creating keeps me safe. Each day I push against this looming question so that I may be a creator.

Here I am. Headache and all I am writing.

Sandra Lee Schubert is a creative vagabond, a poet, writer and dabbler in the arts and online entrepreneur. She co-facilitates the Wild Angels Poets and Writers Group at the historic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. She is also the creator of the e-course, Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own. Visit her blog: Email her info@writing4life.com or @writing4life via twitter.

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Creating Character

Which comes first? Plot or character? Perhaps it depends on the genre of the novel, the story or the screenplay.

In the movie world, people distinguish between 'plot-driven' and 'character-driven' stories.

For me, I have to start with the character. If you have a character but no story, the character can create one. If you have a story but no character, you can drop a character into your story, but you'll have to fit him or her into it. I also like to think in terms of the emotional plot and the surface plot. Surface plot is just that - what is happening on the surface. The emotional plot works as subtext. But I think it's the most important element of all in fiction - whether prose fiction, stage plays or screenplays.

The emotional plot is what powers the story. That's why, for me, the creating of character is paramount. Even in a conventional thriller novel or movie, the excitement of the surface plot depends on how compelling the emotional plot is. And the emotional plot is the engine that is driving the character to do what they do.

A lot of the advice in books and courses for creative writing talk about a character profile and list the kind of questions you can ask about your character. I always want to dig a lot deeper than the usual characteristics they focus on. Many of the questions seem designed to elicit simple yes or no answers. But as people are far more complex than that, the creating of character needs
to be more than thinking about whether, say, they're introvert or extrovert.

A lot of the time it depends on who a person is with. With some people, an individual can be extrovert, with others, introvert. But even that's probably too simplistic.

One of the most exhilarating aspects of creating character in the kind of fiction I try to write is finding ways to free yourself from being afraid of ambiguity, because the most intriguing characters are ambiguous. And to tantalize the reader or audience by concealing things about the character. It's all about keeping the reader or audience hooked because throughout the story they're wanting to know
What lies beneath...

The site for ground-breaking screenwriters

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Career Inklings from Columbia

Mindful Meanderings
Janet M. Ruck

Some days, when I’m kayaking down an unfamiliar body of water, map in hand, I find that I’d rather enter a tributary that looks interesting, for whatever reason – foliage, birds, whatever. It’s often these forays into the unknown, into the unfamiliar that are the most satisfying and the most memorable. Despite my plan and my map, I am ready to take a chance on the unknown. I’ve come to call these mindful meanderings on my weekly kayaking journeys. Off the beaten track, they beckon me to follow them just this one time, and I’m never disappointed.

Perhaps this can be a technique for career exploration. With all the planning that we do, we may lose sight of opportunities ripe for the picking because we only look forward, not left or right. But it’s in the willingness to take a chance and to take action that we often find the most joy and satisfaction.

A theory of career development is that sometimes, as much as we’ve planned a career, it’s taking a step into the unknown that provides us with the most return for our effort. Called “happenstance” it takes the stance that we create our opportunities by taking action on our curiosity. By acting on chance events, we give ourselves a chance to transform unplanned events into career opportunity. Rather than waiting passively for something to happen, we take advantage of circumstances that create a synergy in which we make our own luck.

Not having all the information can cause us to fear going in a direction, or making a choice, or taking a stand. But sometimes it’s best to just take action, some kind of action, to loosen inertia’s grip on us.

And, when faced with so many choices, options and opportunities, fear can cause us to remain motionless. Action begets action. Taking the first step makes it possible to take all subsequent steps. Making a choice and a commitment to follow through can dislodge the fear and the muck that keeps us bound to our indecision.

To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Taking a chance and a stance in a direction, you’ve energized yourself and your journey for what lies around the bend. Especially if it’s another fork in the road.
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Rants and Raves of a Romance Writer

Kathy Carpenter


This week’s book is Vittorio by Anne Rice. A vampire tale. I’m a little upset because I’m sure I have read the book before, and even though I can’t remember the story,however like with movies and television shows I don’t like to repeat. The is so much new stuff out there to absorb.

You might say vampires from a romance writer. Or you may know a lot of woman find the mystic of the vampire alluring. One only knows why. I mean who wants to live forever, or be bitten with fangs, or drink blood.
Regardless I am a fan. However I much prefer the story where the vampire becomes human again to the one where the lover turns into a vampire.

Last season we had the vampire series Moonlight. Kind of fun.. Some comedy, some romance, creative fiction. Writers love these shows where they get to make the rules creativity at it’s best.

This season we have the new vampire series on HBO True Blood. Definitely more graphic all aspects. More sex, violence and blood. A More serious tone and not quite so fun. More adult. Not always a good thing.

This past week I finished From G’s to Gents and the guy I picked won. Creeper. This was a little different show for me but the guys really seemed to improve themselves let’s hope they can stay on the straight and narrow.

Also finished Big Brother 10. And I was happy with the winner. Not always the case.

As always if you want to talk television send me an email.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Musing Among Valley Vineyards

Creative Distancing
By Kelly Pollard

My husband and I have been taking our young sons (those tiny dots on the trail above) on short hikes around the foothills of our town. The first time I hiked Brushy Peak and looked down into the valley where our home hides among cloisters of sycamore trees and vineyards, I looked at my life in a whole new way. Viewed from above, our hometown was nothing like the suburban sprawl and everyday monotony that I lose my hours to. It was beautiful, art worthy.

Then, in the same time period, I approached my young adult manuscript as if from afar...or from the creative distance of many months since I sent it out on a round of submissions.

Oh, what a difference a bit of perspective makes on my creative life...

Unfortunately, rereading my novel did not rouse the same awe I felt for my hometown. The first fifty pages were as I remembered them. How many times had I workshopped them with my critique group or reread them before sending them out to potential agents? Too many to count.

Then, I read the rest of the manuscript. Many of the scenes were rushed. Characters barely sketched and the setting almost nonexistent. How did I think the book was ready to send out? There were even the little typos that slipped past my radar through the many drafts I worked through. As I read through the stack of paper, I constantly asked myself: how could I have believed this was ready? Would it be wildly inappropriate to beg the agents who have had my manuscript for a chance to resend before they even give me an answer? In some ways, I've had to sit on my hands in order not to shoot off some passionate emails.

What is so crazy about this experience of distance and time since working over the manuscript, was just how much I missed in drafts six through eight. When does it stop? How long are we writers expected to allow our drafts to simmer on the backburner? I'm going on close to four years working on this book. So here I find myself working on my last revision...again.

Kelly Pollard is a freelance writer and aspiring young adult novelist. Her two sons give her plenty of material to write about over at her blog. She is also the Newsletter Editor of the California Writers Club, Tri-Valley branch.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Muse Quest PDX

Romancing the Creative Life in Portland, Oregon

Kim Switzer

Lounging My Way to Inspiration

Here I am, returned from an unintended and rather extended hiatus. I’m feeling really ready to write and create and get back into the world, though, so my time off was a good thing.

I suppose planning this sort of break might work better. It would have led to more relaxation and rejuvenation right from the start, I’m sure, since at first I worried and stressed out over my lack of getting anything done. During the second week, though, I realized that this chunk of down time was really useful and necessary for me. A death in the family, two family members with serious illnesses, and an injury of my own had left me feeling really frazzled and depressed. Time to regroup was a brilliant plan; I’m glad my subconscious thought of it.
Looking back, I realize that I didn’t spend the past three weeks just vegging out and doing nothing, though. I’ve been thinking about what I did during my down time that helped me de-stress and start to feel creative again. Here’s my plan—which next time will (I hope) be put into play on purpose:
1. Recognize that you need some downtime to recharge yourself and your creativity
2. Decide how much time you’re taking off and when. And decide if it’s time off from everything, including the day job, or if it’s time off from extracurriculars, etc.
3. Decide how you want to feel at the end of your time off. Do you want to be energized, inspired, creative, rested? This decision will help you figure out what you will actually do during your break.
4. Make a list of things (books, movies, tv shows, music, anything at all) that you feel might lead you in the direction of the feeling you’re trying to achieve.
5. Spend as much time as you can reading, watching, listening, and letting yourself unwind. Don’t try to achieve any outcome except relaxing and enjoying yourself. If you’re not enjoying one of the things on your list, put it down and move on—this is all about the enjoyment and relaxation.
I did these steps unintentionally, but obviously what I needed was to stop feeling anxious and depressed and to stop feeling like my writing and other creative pursuits were just more things piling up on top of me, adding to the pressure, making me feel bad.
I found that my time was spent watching favorite movies and TV shows (Terminator 2, X-Files), re-reading favorite books (several by Charles de Lint), reading books on writing, a couple of books on fiber arts and collage. In other words, most of what I was spending my time on was very relaxing but still related to my writing and creative life (since I write contemporary fantasy and some dark fantasy/horror, the movies really do count!). By immersing myself in all of the pleasurable aspects of my creativity with no pressure to try to write or create anything, I ended up letting go of the pressure, and now I’m back to feeling creative and inspired and ready to write.
I hope this experience and the ensuing list is helpful to someone else. I know I’m printing this out to stick in the back of my journal as a quick reference if I need it again. Here’s hoping none of us needs to use it too much.

Kim Switzer is an aspiring novelist and avid dabbler in various visual and fiber arts, especially embroidery, beaded embroidery, oil painting, and her new-found love--art quilting. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her boyfriend, her cat, and various incarnations of her muse. For more information or to contact Kim, you can use the
following links:

Website: http://www.mythicwriters.org
Blog: http://www.wordcolors.blogspot.com
E-mail: kimswitzer@mythicwriters.org
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Funny Thing in Vegas- Improv Vegas

Every couple of weeks, my writers group, The Las Vegas Quill Keepers, meets to chat and work on the world that is publishing. (http://www.lasvegasquillkeepers.com) And, because we have such a large group of folks, we meet in big coffee shops, often in bookstores, and often without any idea of what will come of each meeting. Generally, there is comic relief through the magic of diversity, and all that the age groups and racial backgrounds bring to the table. Then there comes the writing that happens on the fly- the improvisation- the writing prompts that take simple concepts and turn them into walks into the minds of the madness. And that is what improvisation does to people- lures the madness from the mundane.

This week, after the usual gathering of gams and dames, I had the fortune to chat with a woman who does more than talks about improvisation- she lives it. As a co-Second City Almumna, it was terrific talking with Amy Pittle, President of Improv Las Vegas.Amy started in Las Vegas, as many do, with the Second City Training Center, which formerly reigned supreme at the Flamingo, on the strip. Several months ago, the center closed its doors, leaving very talented comedians with no place to call home, nor a leader to count on to guide them through their careers. Pittle, a seasoned Vegas resident found a space at the Onyx Theater, and soon formed the Student Experimental Theater. Using Spolin, Second City, Groundlings, and other creative on-your-feet models, the theater company continues where its parent left off.

Each week a packed house doesn't just watch a bunch of people repeat their routines and gimmicks. The crowd is just as much a part of the show as the performers. Asked to only mention things familiar to their lives, the people in the crowd are transfixed and doubled over in laughter discovering the magic that is improvisational comedy. The key is- not TRYING to be funny is what makes people laugh. Amy possesses not only the qualities of a guide, who helps shape her company, but the patience of a teacher, offering classes to those who are excited about the idea that a show is part of life, and therefore an attainable goal.

As the only improv training center in the Vegas Valley, the school does more than shows people what the skills are- it teaches that fun can be a team sport. With dozens of people signed into the courses, from all levels of experience, Amy is adding Stand-up as part of the class schedule this year. She is aware of the many legendary performers who call this town home- and is luring them to the school with her magnetic smile, and smart business sense. Her experience with casino VIP services, marketing, and as a member of Second City helped her develop this theater and education center into one of the finest in the country.

People wonder if Improv Theater is something worth checking out. In fact, with the growth of shows like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", NBC's 30 Rock, and even the continued success of Saturday Night Live, improvisational ensemble theater is still one of the best ways to see the biggest stars in comedy. Wayne Brady headlines a show here, and helped bring audiences an awareness of improvisation that simply didn't exist in the last twenty years. It's music. It's stage play. It's stand-up. It's a way to be on the inside of the inside jokes - and develop new ones. And, audiences can play as much as the performers, or simply just enjoy the moments.

Amy knows how to bring the silliness from the most somber of topics. She knows how to coax the inhibition out of the shyest of people. And, with her warm smile and down-to-earth manner, she makes everyone feel as if each is the most important person in the room. As a teacher, she allows the individual to shine, and still makes the performer work in harmonic resonance with the team. Just like jazz music, the players only work well when all are listening, and feeling the same grooves.

You can check out the production for less than what it would cost for a large coffee in a Seattle shop. Only $7 will give you a sampling of the S. E. T. on Monday nights, at 9:30pm, right after the football game. Check out the Lotus of Siam restaurant just a few doors over beforehand and you have yourself one of the least expensive nights with the most bang for your buck here in Vegas. Be sure to say howdy to Amy when you go. Maybe even sign up for the classes and give your sense of humor a new sandbox to play inside. Bring friends- or make some there. It's your turn to be part of the action.
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Harry's Dance Of Joy

Harry stepped back as Gretchen approached him. What was he afraid of? Instantly, he realized that he was vulnerable…but to what. She wasn’t going to hurt him. But she could see into him, through his thick white coat, his burley muscles, his John Wayne persona.

Harry felt defensless. He had no weapon to counteract this threat to his masculinity. His shield had been penetrated, the force was no longer with him.

“What are you doing?” He asked lamely

“Why, Harry, are you nervous? Am I too close for comfort?” With that, Gretchen moved even closer.

“No, of course not. I’m Harry the Polar Bear. Harry fears nothing!” A low defensive growl rumbled from his clenched jaws.

Gretchen stepped back. Her look said it all. No longer was there that softness around her eyes, that gentleness in her smile. Her seductive mysterfy evaporated before his eyes.

“Wait!” he stammered. “Don’t leave me!”

Gretchen stared back…waiting.

“I’m Harry…that part is true. You see this macho persona I wear like a cloak? It’s like Superman’s cape. With it, I am the Bear of Steel. Without it, I’m nothing. I’ve never taken it off because I’m afraid of what you’ll see.”

“Why don’t you just give it a try? Let’s see what’s underneath. What do you have to lose…whatever it is, it’ll be better than what I see now – this big hairy super-sexed goofball who can only express himself with a bellow.”

Harry starred back defiantly. Gretchen held his gaze fearlessly. She wonderd what was going through his young mind. A long time passed.

Slowly, almost imperceptively, Gretchen saw the shift. First, there was a very slight softening around Harry’s eyes. The fierce defiance that danced there
previously began to fade. In its place appeared a gentleness mixed with just a trace of humor. A smile slowly crept across his face.

Gretchen watched Harry’s body relax. She said nothing waiting for the transformation to continue.

A soft energy encompassed Harry. Gretchen could clearly see a beautiful tourquoise aura surround him. His smile broadened.

Gretchen smiled back.

Harry reached behind him and symbolically removed the cape that had been his source of strength and masculinity for so long. Now there was no protection…he was on his own. What really existed inside him? He didn’t know and…it really didn’t matter. Intuitively, he knew it was good, had value. It was beautiful and he loved it. It was him.

“Dance with me, Harry” Gretchen said as she took his paw.

“There’s no music.”

“We’ll make our own. Can’t you hear it?”

And he did. It swirled around them in a beautiful cacophony of sound and light. The rythem was intoxicating. Harry put his arm around Gretchen and began to move with her.

Gretchen looked back. “What do you think now, Harry?”

“It sure beats walking around like John Wayne.”

It sure does.
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Scenes from a Floating Life: An Artist’s View of Shanghai

Christina Shmigel

Eric’s Call For Grandeur

When I’m in the uncomfortable phase of transition between cultures that overtakes me like a flu each time I come back to Shanghai, I think of an account I once read from one of the early European expeditions in Africa. Each day, in keeping with the explorer’s pace, the expedition’s native porters broke camp and moved forward, up until the day on which they didn’t. The explorer, purple with frustration, demanded an explanation for what he saw as their insolence. The porters replied simply that they were waiting for their souls to catch up. With which, obviously, there’s no arguing. And so it is with me as I try to catch up on myself from the dislocation of traveling to the States. But while my soul lags behind, the lost NYC post has caught up with me and, with lovely synchronicity, it lines up with Eric’s call last week demanding “grandeur”…
I grew up in NYC and it’s where my parents still live. If Shanghai is two cities - old and new - at once, then NYC has almost entirely re-invented itself. The version that I knew in the 60’s and 70’s is now only occasionally visible in some native New Yorker’s prickly humor or inside the corner hardware store that somehow manages to hang on amidst the gentrification and affluence. I really miss the grit, the prostitutes on the Lower East Side warming themselves in their hot pants next to fires lit in trash cans, but the change is exhilarating, too: the Waterfront Greenway that lets you walk, cycle, or rollerblade all along the waterfront, well, there’s just nothing anywhere in the world that beats it for cool. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/edc/pdf/greenway_mapside.pdf)

This summer, the waterfront was made grander still by four elevated waterfalls, created by Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliason, as a commission for The Public Art Fund. (http://www.publicartfund.org/pafweb/projects/08/eliasson/eliasson-08.html) Not everyone thinks they’re a great idea: I overheard the guy behind me on the Staten Island Ferry grunt to his girlfriend, “Dey spent 15 million dollahs on doze! What a &*#$!% waste a money.” (This being NYC where the f- word flows just like that big money.) And I suppose in the face of bigger issues, maybe he’s right.

But for me, the waterfalls did exactly what I yearn for art to do: they profoundly changed the way I “see” something. Like the Greenway, the falls transform the waterfront from a generic place that one takes for granted, or even ignores, into a particular place, one that creates a feeling of community and bond between the people who share in the experience of it. Borrowing from the sense of the sublime that one feels in the face of great natural wonder and set among the great engineering wonders of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the waterfalls collect in the viewer’s mind the grandeur of humanity’s accomplishment and the depth of it’s capacity for meaningful experience… all while ordinary life goes right on going on, couples necking, old people dozing, sirens wailing, all along the waterfront.

Further on along the waterfront, inside the Battery Maritime Building, people were “Playing the Building,” thanks to David Byrne and another great commissioner of art, Creative Time. A small electric organ sat in the center of a vast and beautifully derelict 19th century warehouse space. Rectangles of light, cast on the floor and walls, were crisscrossed by the shadows of the steel armature of the clearstory above. At the keyboard, people took their turn triggering distant mechanisms that tapped iron columns or blew air past holes in steel pipes. The sounds produced weren’t much in themselves & even good musicians couldn’t draw especially good music out of the organ/building but I stayed on for a long time anyway for the pleasure of seeing the wonder on people’s faces as they pondered the space and the sounds and the wild audacity of the idea. (http://www.davidbyrne.com/art/art_projects/playing_the_building/index.php)

The vastness of the physical spaces that the two projects occupy, the grandness of their ambitions, it makes one feel both puny and somehow connected to the universal all at once…perhaps it’s that old American sense of the transcendental in the vastness and beauty of the untamed landscape, but here surrounded by the remnants of the last century’s industriousness. It’s a kind of soaring one gets to do looking at work like this and I’m so grateful that someone thinks that it is worth spending money on.
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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Creative splash

Earlier today I wrote about meaning-making on my other blog called Walking The Circle Home. After writing that blog I wanted to share some thoughts that came up about creativity and it's place and meaning in our lives. We can't just "find" creativity just as we can't just "find" meaning but we can definitely support and manage the discovery of our creativity. We can be eager and alert for opportunities to explore our creativity with hope and vigor. If we don't feel hope and vigor we can try our best to fake it. It could become real. What do you have to lose? Creativity that has staying power I think comes essentially from the heart. I'm not talking about a wage-earner who must create, I'm talking about passion. Passion comes from the heart. I believe that devoting our efforts for the good of other people will increase our staying power. As I said earlier to day effort that is devoted to furthering personal aims and ego will feel shallow eventually, perhaps so late in life it will carry a heavy burden of regret.
Our creative work can be traced by to cave drawings that are thousands of years old. Using charcoal and ochre our creative ancestors made creative marks to describe something of life, meaning and method. Creativity is inherent in our human nature. Nurture your creativity, it is sacred and honorable - hopefully used in the service of goodness and justice.

This week I invite you to take your creative work a step further in some way. It's entirely up to you, it's a free pass for a bit of creative freedom or expressiveness or joyful abandon. Perhaps an experimental piece...in your preferred creative medium of the day. Throw your arms wide and grasp something new and bright - have the brisk cold splash of a new creative experiment make you gasp with surprise. I'll try to do that same.Please share a comment about your experience if you feel like it.

Happy creative splash!

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Writing New York

A Writer Takes on Grad School and New York City… and Lives To Tell About It

Deonne Kahler


Last week I workshopped my first story in fiction class. The night before, I had gone out with a couple classmates and one said, “I really like your story, but now that I’m getting to know you I need to be nicer with my comments.”

I figured that probably didn’t bode well.

Professor Weir had warned us that at least in his class, we’d never hear that our story is ready to go. He’d never say, “Deonne! Your story could not be made one inch better; in fact I’m shocked that you even bothered to apply for an MFA. In gratitude for writing a perfect story, please accept this publishing contract, box of See’s nuts and chews, and a puppy. Now get outta’ here and write the Great American Novel, you crazy talented person!”

His point being that even if you’re Amy Hempel, you still need to revise, revise, and then revise some more. That young writers tend to think a story is well done, when in fact it’s still on the south side of rare.

Here’s what I heard last week: a few people loved my story. (Hurray!) Most people had useful suggestions, pointing out trouble spots and how I could improve them. The story’s ending got opposite reactions: one person thought it was terrific, another thought it was hokey. Ouch. And one person (one of two who didn’t like the story at all) was flat out snarky in his comments. (The snark was only on paper – he kept his verbal comments to a more mature level.)

Overall, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I got some encouragement, some helpful critique, and minimal negative feedback, and all of it got me thinking in concrete ways about how to improve my writing. (In the case of this story, it’s clarifying what the protagonist wants: what’s at stake for her? And then playing that out on the page.)

The next two years are going to be a steep learning curve, which is the point. I didn’t come here to get petted and praised, I came here to learn. I’m sure there’ll come a point when I will get discouraged and doubt my talent, and when that moment comes I wouldn’t say no to kind gestures, although please don’t send a puppy unless you punch holes in the box first.

Deonne Kahler has been a freelance writer for seven years, and decided it was time to move to New York and get her MFA. And really, why not? Contact her at deonne [at] deonnekahler [dot] com, or check out her blog at www.lifeonthehighwire.com.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Southwest Ramblings - Thoughts on Making and Living Art

Creativity in Rocks
Linda Moran

Who knew? I sure didn't. You study rocks in school, and they're - well, they're rocks....How can you get excited about a dark rough rock? I didn't understand the appeal....until.....

The first time I went to the Tucson gem show, I was expecting plain, ordinary rock, like I saw in elementary school. I was - in a word - stunned. I had no idea there was that much color out of the earth. There sure is color on the surface of the planet, but I wasn't prepared for what was down below.

Now the gem show is a regular stop for me each February - dealers from around the world - oh my, two years ago it was an incredible jade boat, last year crackelated quartz, and just this past weekend, some amazing jasper. The original question about why go to the gem show to see rock now has an answer - for my fiber art.

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is spread out around Tucson, with one weekend at the Convention Center (depending on road construction...), but the fun is going from site to site, motel room to motel room, to see the vendors. There's beads, sculptures, raw rock, tapestries, feng shui aids, jewelry findings, diamonds, HUGE geodes, and semi-precious stones.

Be prepared for your senses to be assaulted - the colors are kaleidoscopic, and there is SO MUCH! If you check this list of dealers, you can get an idea of just what is available. After the first jaunt, when I had NO disposable income, I survived on getting a set of a dozen hand-painted jade eggs - for $10.00. I was hooked.

As I have gone back each year, I've narrowed my focus to what I need for embellishing my fiber. Two years ago it was tree agate, for some of the environmental pieces. Last year I was looking for stones that would work with my water pieces - some great aquamarine and glass fish. This year I'm looking for "fire" for a couple of "volcano" pieces.

I've started going with my friend Alison, who does jewelry with semi-precious stones. I've gotten VERY good at finding unusual pieces for her - which she ends up buying, and then I usually end up with earrings as a result...great deal. Alison has learned a great deal about stone - what's manufactured, what's dyed, what's "reconstituted" (like coral, so it isn't hurting the reefs). We both like agate and jasper and the stones that have "interesting veining and occlusions - the more detail, the more interesting. We paw through piles, sort through individual strands, and decide just how much we can buy. I go with specifics in mind - otherwise, there's just too much to see!

And bottom line - some of the stones you just want to have - 'cause they're gorgeous, plain and simple. In fact, this past weekend was the "preliminary" show, with some of the dealers who would be here in February. Guess who found some of the most interesting stones? Hubby has a great eye for what works with our marbled fabrics.

Linda Moran is a fiber artist working with hand-created marbled fabrics. This centuries-old art form originally limited to paper takes on new life when used on fabric. Join her for musings on the fiber field, art in the Southwest, and the challenges of creating fiber art. See her work and contact her at The Art of Fabric, or reading her musings on her blog.
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Wild Woman of Queens: Notes on Urban Creativity from across the East River.

Wild Woman of Queens: Notes on Urban Creativity from across the East River.

Sandra Lee Schubert


I was fascinated by a man who had the word Perseverance prominently etched on the inside of his forearm. It was simple in design and lacked any color. But it was there for him to see. When in doubt just persevere.

The subway is my movable muse. It is living theater. I have written about it before. I will write often about what I see on the subway. Creativity has many faces. It takes many forms. I watched a young man writing in an over sized journal. He had taken a large spiral sketchbook and was using it to write in a large scrawl across its vast pages. He was completely absorbed in his works, going back and forth between pages, pondering, thinking and writing again. Eric Maisel writes about a man sitting on a park eating and writing equally entranced with the words before from his wellspring. We may never know if what they wrote was any good. But, it doesn't matter.

What matters really is that they were involved intimately, passionately with their creativity. Nothing was going to get in the way of their moment of inspiration. I don't know about you but it has been a long time since I had that kind of inspiration. I sometimes wait. It is not the kind of waiting that allows something to gurgle up. It is the kind of waiting that has permission attached to it. I am waiting for inspiration to come and find me. I want it to seek me out- hand me a letter, send me an email, write my book for me. I could be waiting a very long time. The kind of inspiration that has you drop everything to follow is a wonderful and intoxicating time but it comes like a thief in the night when you least expect it. It does not come on command.

I have been reading Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper (Gifting the World with Your Words and Stories and Creating the Time and Energy to Actually DO It) by Sark. She writes that she creates each of her books by hand. Writing them out at least four times, approximately one thousand pages in all. She also creates her covers and the art for her books. Each book takes about eight months to complete, fourteen in all.

Do you have that kind of patience or perseverance? Maybe not.That doesn't mean you can't develop it one creative step at a time. If you are waitng for the muse to whisper in your ear you might as well plug in your IPod. We all have to seek out our muse- working each and every day to develop the skill sets that allows us to be the creators in our lives. Take inspiration from Sark and have fun with your craft and let art flow freely from you. Take pen to paper and write. The muse is waiting.

Sandra Lee Schubert is a creative vagabond, a poet, writer and dabbler in the arts and online entrepreneur. She co-facilitates the Wild Angels Poets and Writers Group at the historic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. She is also the creator of the e-course, Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own. Visit her blog or email her at info@writing4life.com or @writing4life via twitter.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Garden Views: Garden Writing – 2

Another type of garden writing is rather like a memoir and recounts the evolution of a particular garden, or gardens if the author is a landscape designer, from start to finish. Martha Stewart’s garden books, for example, have literally invited us into her various back yards. Less common is a kind of archeological dig that provides an overview of the restoration of an historic garden.

Writing about period gardens (Colonial, Medieval) or gardens of a particular style (bungalow, courtyard) can require a lot of research
, but be very rewarding in terms of adding to the writer’s knowledge base.

Various religious sects have gone through periods in which elaborate gardens were built as demonstrations of the church’s or an individual’s power (the Roman Cardinals’ 15th and 16th Century pleasure gardens) or as spiritual or meditative aids (cloister or temple gardens). For those who like to travel, writing a book on such a topic combines the best of work and play.

My kind of creative garden writing is on a more esoteric level, stories about the transforming power of the symbiotic garden/gardener relationship. While there is some existing literature on therapeutic gardening, and how gardening might become an expression of a person’s religious, spiritual, or humanistic nature, The Transformational Power of Gardening is more about the conscious, and often subconscious, meanings that gardening has for some.

In these gardens, one feels a certain type of energy or “atmosphere” that just isn’t there in the majority of gardens. As the story of these gardens unfolds in private conversation, it becomes apparent that these living works of art are shaping their creators every bit as much as the creators are molding their gardens.

Lois de Vries' thoughts on gardening and environmental issues run the gamut from gardening in her own back yard to promoting land management practices that reconnect people to the Earth. Lois is seeking a publisher for her book, The Transformational Power of Gardening. Visit her blog at http://loisdevries.blogspot.com.
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Wrong Wife

Television Musings
Rants and Raves of a Romance Writer

Kathy Carpenter

For The Wrong Wife a Silhouette Desire by Eileen Wilks, which is a short contemporary romance, my thought went to The Starter Wife.

This is a new televison series starting in October. It came from a six part mini-series last year. And although when I saw previews for the show I initially wanted to watch. It starred Debra Messing. And although I don’t think Debra’s a raving beauty or so talented I would not miss something she was in ( I never watched Will and Grace. Well once in a blue moon.) There is something about her that captivates me. Maybe I identify with her.Whatever I based my heroine of my short contemporary “Make-Believe Bride” on her. Or what I have perceived of her over the years.

Anyway The Starter Wife is based on the concept of a Hollywood man who after getting where he wanted in his life then divorces his wife. She stood by and supported him faithfully like a good first wife, then he dumps her She isn’t right for him anymore The Wrong Wife.

In theory it looked like a nice little romantic comedy. In reality it was the bittersweet story of a woman trying to put her life back together. Will I watch? Probably. At least to see if the series is a bit lighter. Like I said something in Debra Messing appeals to me. Will I stay with it time will tell.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Synecdoche, New York and Shakespeare

Shakespeare would love Synecdoche, New York. He wrote about the kind of big issues that Charlie Kaufman has been grappling with in his latest movie - finding meaning in a meaningless universe, the desire against all odds to be the author of our life, how art can never deliver the real thing, Time's bewildering effect on experience and memory, and... I could go on.

The film centres on a theatre director, Caden Cotard, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who builds a replica of New York City inside a giant warehouse. He wants to direct his own life, and imagines that by creating this artifice, God-like, he can direct life itself.

This reminds me of Shakespeare's artist-magician, Prospero in The Tempest who came to realise that art can never be a substitute for life.

The movie's title reflects the major themes of art and truth. 'Synecdoche' is a figure of speech in which a part is substituted for the whole or the whole for a part.

Caden's replica of New York City re-presents the real New York City - a part for the whole, but not even a real part of the whole. The 'synecdoche' here shows art as a doubly inadequate substitution for life. Caden's imitation may be life-sized, but it's not life, only a constructed artifice, a mere simulacrum of a real thing.

Kaufman's film has sent me back to the first book I wrote about Shakespeare that looked at the dramatist's obsession with exposing art's sterility. He's always questioning whether art can ever do more than offer artifice. Imitate life, and it becomes lifeless. How can the artist or writer accommodate the flesh-and-bloodness of human existence, organic process, mutability and time?

Kaufman seems to me to share some of Shakespeare's preoccupations with the relationships between art and truth, identity and memory, loss and desire. And there's something else about Synecdoche, New York that makes me think about Shakespeare.

Kaufman quite often seems to manage to pull off one of the toughest challenges for any creative writer. He can give intellectual ideas an emotional resonance. He strives to avoid the movie cliches of characters' feelings. He knows if you're going to tackle the profound questions in a drama you have to give your characters emotional depth to make your audience ask them too.

Kaufman may not be up there with Shakespeare - who can ever be? - but I'm certainly grateful for a screenwriter who gets me thinking when I leave the cinema.

I've just put up two clips from Synecdoche, New York in a short piece about it on my site for ground-breaking screenwriters.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Metaphors from the Minneapolis Muse

Having Fun Wagging the Dog’s Tail

By Sandy Nelson

I arrived in St. Paul, for the Republican National Convention, on Air Force One. I hoped to share a cup of tea with the president on the flight discussing his creativity; however, he and his V.P. Dick canceled a couple of hours before take off. It had something to do with a stormy troublemaker named Gustav. I made the best of the situation. With a pair of extra seats open on the plane, I cashed in my frequent flyer miles to buy some extra tickets and invited a few fellow artists along. Because so many scheduled celebrities canceled too, we got the red carpet treatment.

We partied hard, drinking champagne, eating gourmet sandwiches and watching old movies in the lounge. We even ate popcorn and twizzlers! They can whip up anything on that plane.

Like my picture leaving Air Force One? Actually, folks, this isn't computer generated. It's me at Civic Fest; a creative exhibit full of history, interactive displays and fun props. Sure it's also political, but it was lots of fun to play with the idea of an artist like me, or you, as the president.

Looking across the convention floor, imagine the sea of art posters I'd use as campaign signs. I'd alter the overall color scheme using pastel shades of peach, cream, and um - turquoise. I'd have my campaign speeches sung in beautiful voices, in front of a backdrop of video screens broadcasting awe-inspiring moments of peace and kindness expressed by everyday Americans. I'd hire poets to write the slogans - just musing.

What would you do to make the conventions more creative? How about the upcoming campaign season, what creative expression would you make to let the world know you're running for president as an artist?

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The Game of Writing - Literary/Mystical Puzzles for Writers

Jill Dearman
Letter Meditation #3: Gimmel, The Long Run
The third letter of the Hebrew Alphebet, Gimmel, is often discussed by Talmudic rabbis, as a symbol of the rich man running after the poor man to give him charity. Gimmel shares the same Hebrew root as the word "Gamel", meaning camel. That image makes us think about the ability to walk through the desert for long stretches, without water, without sustenance.

The camel image takes me back to the first time I read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (film adaption by Bertolucci was weaker than it should've been, and yet memorable in its own way). I was returning home from a trip to Africa, where I had gone to visit my friend Suz in the Peace Corps. Laidover in Paris, I laid on the floor at Charles DeGaulle, on a makeshift bed made out of my duffel bag, and picked up where I'd left off in The Sheltering Sky. Without spoiling the plot, suffice to say, one of the Americans becomes ill during his travels and things take a very bad turn.

I too had a bad turn during my journey, though everything else about it was wonderful. While biking in the hot sun, to help my friend help the African mothers she was working for as a health care practitioner, I found myself dehydrated, sick, scared. An African woman, a friend of my friend's helped me by giving me water and a place to rest. For a dumb, young American in her early 20s this experience was poignant, humbling, meaningful.

As the summer, season of travel, fades into fall, I am left to think about journeys, short and long. Writing projects, short and long. I am curious as to what it takes, for each different artist, to find his or her Gimmel / or Camel like energy to see a project through from beginning to end. It's not easy.
Some scholars describe the image of the letter Gimmel as being similar to a three-legged stool and suggested that we take that image as an inspiration to find balance. Balance between what is the question?

I have seen, in myself, my writing clients, my writer friends … the intensity to get the words down on paper, to finish something "before we die." Then, as time passes, we see that more time is necessary to go on with a project. To go through another draft, another revision, another way of imagining it.

There is something to be learned from a Gimmel-esque camel. Can we see our way through the desert, and go for many miles in difficult weather without outer sustenance? How?
Clues, perhaps, can be found in the previous two letters. The first letter, Aleph, shows us that we are at one with the universe. We can internalize the power of that universe and then when it is time, externalize it, by producing our work, our one individual piece of the universe. Beit, the second letter, shows us that we must find a home for our work –– first in ourselves and then in the world. Can we find, through the strength of those first two letters, more strength to keep going -- through the wind and the dark?

Don't forget to hydrate … and to rest!

Letter Exercise: Use the image of a camel, or another animal of your choice as a jumping off point to tell a story, fiction or nonfiction. In prose, poetry or play form.

Puzzle of the Moment: When you do your writing at a slow, camel like pace, what is the experience like, and the results? Try "slow writing" for ten minutes, thinking about each word.

Please comment with your thoughts!

Additional reading:
The Sheltering Sky (novel) by Paul Bowles

Jill Dearman is the author of the forthcoming book for writers, BANG THE KEYS. Her prose has been published in numerous literary magazines including Lilith, New York Stories, The Portland Review and North Atlantic Review. She is a part-time Professor of Journalism at New York University, and a writing coach with a large private clientele. For more: www.jilldearman.com
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Writing New York

A Writer Takes on Grad School and New York City… and Lives To Tell About It

Deonne Kahler


Classes started last week, and I’m happily adrift in a week-long grad school joy hangover. I'm taking a poetry craft class called "Poetic Closure," a literature class on Henry James, the 19th century American master, and fiction workshop, where we bring in work for critique by both class and professor, as well as discuss the art and craft of fiction.

In this semester’s workshop, professor John Weir tells us we’ll focus on two problems he sees in most young writers’ work. One is the sentence. As in, we tend to write lame ones. Sure, the sentence may convey the pertinent facts, and sure, we neophytes may sneak in a good metaphor or descriptive detail once in awhile, but overall, our sentences aren’t doing nearly the work they should be.

To make his point, Professor Weir had us dissect the antithesis of a simple sentence, a 342-word behemoth from William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. Not to say that 341 words or fewer are a supreme disappointment, but to be good writers, we have to create more interesting, more layered, more complex sentences.

We managed to break that sentence down to its most basic structure, subject-verb-object, which took some serious brainpower on my part. I was a business major in college, for crying out loud, and I’m not sure when I last studied grammar, but I’d bet I probably wasn’t tall enough to ride the rollercoaster.

Then there’s the lack of what Professor Weir calls “And then.” As in, and then what happens? The neophyte story starts off promisingly enough with the dotty Aunt Edna losing her beloved cat, Mr. Whiffles. Intriguing! And then what? Unfortunately what many of us do, instead of proceeding to tell a compelling story, is launch into ten pages of existential meditation on the injustice of a dotty old woman losing her beloved feline companion. Or we describe Mr. Whiffles’ litter box using all five senses, or we flash back to Aunt Edna’s childhood and her first cat, the sweet but doomed Mr. Pickles.

In the hands of a genius like Faulkner, those things might actually make good fiction, but for the rest of us, it’s unlikely. What might work better: Aunt Edna loses Mr. Whiffles. And then Aunt Edna decides to drive her 1954 baby blue Buick around town looking for Mr. Whiffles, which is a bad idea since Aunt Edna is legally blind. And has a drinking problem. Which she’s been indulging since she crawled out of bed seven hours ago.

And then? You put another obstacle in Aunt Edna’s way – self-imposed or otherwise – and see what happens. And then another. Until you reach the end of the story, the resolution of all those And Thens, and the reader can finally sit back and say, Whew! How satisfying that Aunt Edna escaped the drunk tank (again) and was reunited with beloved Mr. Whiffles. Or, in this lame example, the reader might simply lean back and say, good lord that was awful. Get me one of what Aunt Edna’s having.

Deonne Kahler has been a freelance writer for seven years, and decided it was time to move to New York and get her MFA. And really, why not? Contact her at deonne [at] deonnekahler [dot] com, or check out her blog at www.lifeonthehighwire.com.

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Monday Morning Motivators to Slay Your Creative Dragons

By CJ Lyons and Margie Lawson

Working Back-wise from CJ:

Writers are particularly prone to low back pain. Here are some ways to prevent or relieve pain.

~Your mother was right about good posture. Protect your back by strengthening your core muscles (abdominals and back muscles) that give you that gorgeous, strong posture. Pilates and yoga are good for this.

~Have a ball! If you work on a laptop, abandon the desk chair every once in a while and instead use a 65cm exercise ball as a chair. Place your laptop on a table or ottoman so that it is at a comfortable height. Feel how you work your muscles to balance on the ball. Talk about time efficient, working out as you work!

~Go for the L-Z boy! Studies have shown that always sitting at a strict 90 degree angle can place a strain on your lower back. Try using your laptop while sitting in a recliner or rocking chair that allows you to lean back. Researchers recommend a 120 degree angle as the most healthy.

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a national bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, is due out January, 2009. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net

Margie Lawson -- presenter, psychotherapist, writer -- lives at the top of a Colorado mountain west of Denver. Margie merged her two worlds, psychology and writing, to develop psychologically anchored editing systems and techniques that teach writers how to write page turners. A former college professor, Margie works as a psychotherapist, writes fiction and nonfiction, and presents full day master classes for writers internationally. Go to http://www.margielawson.com for more information.
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Funny Things in Vegas... Saying Goodbye

When entertainers gather together for one big party it isn't always in celebration of a film release, or an opening. It's bound to have free food, but it doesn't mean the occasion is a joyous one. Yet, even when artists and entertainers are brought together to say goodbye to one of our own, it can be a day for resounding fulfilling happiness. Such was the day spent today, in memory of John Thompson, Jr., a writer whose work is still giving people reason to laugh even though he has left after only 41 years on the planet.

John's dad is known to many fans of the Tonight Show, as the Great Tomsoni, a spectacular stage magician who still inspires the likes of Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, and thousands of kids who battle with card tricks, pigeons, and rabbits with hats. His son was uniquely gifted with words, sought out by script and screenwriters, and freelanced as a reporter for nearly every periodical in Las Vegas, and many in the entire West Coast.

He was inspired by the magicians and entertainers who crossed his path as son of Magic Royalty. Today, several of his friends spoke eloquently of the firm beliefs, the wild humor, and the downright goofiness of the kid they knew. In fact, as a many sat there, we were in awe- it was very clear that the people in John's life were not the ones who would normally fit into society. They are the geeky, strange, weird, fun people whom you always wonder about, but never quite get to meet in person. They are the Crispin Glovers, and the Pee Wee Hermans, but not quite famous as that.

One is a disc jockey whose love of amusement parks took them to Knott's Berry Farm on an adventure that included food poisoning, and a far more dangerous ride home to Las Vegas. Another is the socially awkward man who didn't quite seem to fit into any particular group of people, and yet, managed to say hello to everyone who crossed his path. Another was a country music radio jock who met John in high school, when the pair shared inside jokes, and constant cut-ups as boys often do. They did so up until the end. And, for every person who spoke, there was a common element- these are people who just don't fit into the society that appears on sitcoms, or in fairy tales- these were the odd ducks that only seem to know other odd ducks, and as such- they were perfectly suited to John.

This is one of John's charms. He was able to bridge the world between the guys who giggle in corners at Rocky Horror showings, and those who study at MIT, or are the celebrities of the day, or have jobs dancing for millions. He never let anyone be anything other than who they were. As such, he made friends with everyone he met, and rarely had a reason to dismiss any person- as he or she was a potential long-time friend. From the producers of the largest shows on the strip, to lowly writers and artists, we all stood in tribute to the man.

Today wasn't a memorial as much as it was a time for Las Vegas to appreciate the young man who left behind people to become friends with each other. Had he not died, many of us would still be unknown to each other. In that, he had another gift- he introduced the world to ideas he always knew as fact. Each of us has purpose- and therefore reason to be part of one another.

Brain cancer. It didn't see a guy- at 41 years old- and think- "NOW I will Get YOU!" Disease is simply a random process, and it took a man who loved words, loved to write, loved to laugh, and loved people. It brought a few dozen people together, to giggle stories, to share in the happiness of knowing him, and to admire his family's ability to bring a darling doggy wherever they went. The day ended with a song of "Happy Birthday", which both Pam Thompson, John's stepmom, and her little doggie, Gracie, did as a duet. They used to sing it as a family at least twice a week.

Happy Birthday John, Jr. February is to long to sing it..so happy birthday to you.
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Don't Quit Your Day Job

Creating and Stolen Moments

I’m alone in the house right now. Just me and the dog. It’s about 100 degrees outside, so I’m content sitting in my air conditioned living room plunking away on my keyboard. My daughter is at a friend’s house working on a school project and my husband and son left for the 6th grade basketball tryouts. Everyone will be home soon and the rest of my evening will be all planned out.We’ll all go to 5 o’clock mass so that we can sleep in tomorrow. Then, we’ll pick up a take n’ bake pizza and follow it up with the big event…my son wants us all to play Monopoly! I’m excited that he chose this instead of the computer, but as we all know this will take up most of the night.

He put in this request on Thursday. I, of course, explained that Monopoly is not a weekday game and it needs to wait till Saturday. This morning it was the first thing he mentioned when he woke up. I let him pick between the San Francisco edition and the golf edition we received as a Christmas gift, cellophane still intact. He chose the golf edition.

Now since everyone’s gone I should be cleaning off the dining table. I have to file away the pile of bills, decide which junk mail can go in the recycle bin and what should be shredded. I should probably put a clean tablecloth on. I know I should be doing this, but his request brought up a concern. How will I write tonight?

It’s been a particularly tough week time wise. With Monday being a holiday, both my husband and I had the day off from work and both kids were home from school. My daughter and I decided to go see a movie…two movies actually. We earned it. She worked hard on homework all week and I managed to complete four separate writing pieces. We had a great time and laughed a lot.

Then, Tuesday night was “Back to School Night” at the high school and my Wednesday itinerary featured a dentist appointment and a Feldenkrais session, with my friend, to alleviate my neck pain. Thursday I had my second acupuncture appointment and, since it was late in the afternoon, dinner and homework were delayed. Friday night and early Saturday morning was devoted to finishing my library book and trying to relax.

I’m looking forward to spending time as a family tonight playing a simple board game. It’s the kind of Norman Rockwell family portrait I always dreamed of. I do feel a little guilty though that I feel my writing will suffer for it. Because I’m always so pressed for time, I never feel that I come remotely close to accomplishing my personal goals. It’s hard to realize how much not writing can inspire writing. All week I didn’t know what my post would be about and then it hit me. Not just the challenge of time, but the ways we are pushed and pulled in so many directions; how our need to create sometimes isolates and makes us feel guilty and selfish for needing time alone.

Look at me. I was handed a rare private moment at home and I’m not squandering it in front of the television or folding laundry (I really do need to fold that laundry though). I can enjoy my evening knowing this post is already in the can. I was also able to work through the block of ideas and come up with something after all. Last week my husband said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you writing more than you’re talking about writing.” So, even if it’s not as much as I think it should be, I am moving forward and really that’s all anyone can ask for. I better get that table cleaned off. By the way, we already selected the game pieces we’ll be tonight. I picked the golf shoe. Even on a metaphoric level, I still want to feel that I’m moving ahead!
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Career Inklings from Columbia

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Janet M. Ruck

Got choices? Life’s circumstances are often the result of a series of choices that we make with varying levels and amounts of information. What profession to choose, who will be our life partner, whether we’ll have children or not…these are decisions we make at certain times of our lives. Who knows if we would have made the same choices at another time or place? But, regardless of the path we choose or the choice we make, what we do with the result is entirely up to us. We always have the ability to make the best of our situation.

When I was young and faced with an outcome that wasn’t quite to my liking, my grandmother would tell me to “make the best of it.” I did not always appreciate this advice because it felt to me like a cop-out, a waiving of my ability to control my own destiny. It seemed to me like I was allowing circumstances, rather than me, to determine my choices.

But, reality being what it is and being a grandmother now myself, I can appreciate my grandmother’s wisdom. There are a lot of versions of her advice, but the one that resonates most with me is the expression: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

In other words, we could learn how to make the most of where we are now. We could flourish and grow, achieve our goals, reach our potential. We really only have this moment – how are we going to spend it? It’s our choice whether to “make the best of it” or to squander it with regrets and laments. This is so true in our careers and our jobs. Not having all the information possible or necessary to make a fully informed choice, we can find ourselves in situations that are not always ideal. Micro-managing bosses, gossiping coworkers, oppressive work environments are certainly not ideal conditions. Often, our situations, the outcomes of our decisions may not be of our own choosing, but the manner in which we handle them truly is. But, it is truly up to us to figure out what we can do to maintain our positive attitude, our present moment. In other words, how can we make the best of it? (Thanks, Grandma!).

Got a minute? Think about what you can do today to uplift your spirits, honor your values and bloom where you are now. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Janet Ruck is as an escapee from the world of full-time work. As a career consultant and writer, she is consumed with helping people identify their passions, uniqueness, interests and talents to keep them from slipping into the faceless abyss of the workplace. Janet encourages herself and her clients through the use of journaling and creative self-expression as means of gaining perspective and insight into their authentic selves. She helps clients create and sustain satisfying careers by recognizing their own personal magic. Contact her at janetruck@yahoo.com. Read more!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Mixing It Up Down Under

What is an Artist Book? - An Interview with Sara Bowen

This question was on my mind when I recently made a journey to see an exhibition of artist books at Barratt Galleries in Alstonville. I wondered how much I actually knew about artist books, even though I have made a couple myself! The question was all the more poignant as my travelling companion was Sara Bowen, printmaker, artist book maker and friend. I knew Sara’s entry for the Southern Cross Acquisitive Book Award did not physically resemble a book although it had many ‘book’ qualities. Happily that day we were able to celebrate the acquiring of her book for the university's collection, along with others’ more book-like forms.
Later I asked Sara if she would allow me to ask her this question and others about her art practice, inspiration and the meaning of the motifs and symbols in her work - her river and her bridges. Sara arrived before me and as I walked in and scanned the coffee shop for her, at first I failed to notice her. As a newish arrival to Australia and Coffs Harbour I hadn’t expected her to be the one joining in conversations with nearby tables. Ah, but I was to learn more about her networking skills as the morning progressed.

Sara arrived in Australia in 2006, having left family and friends in Bristol, UK. She told me she came around to art the long way after 15 years of working with small businesses, setting them up and running various ones herself. She is now concentrating full-time on her art; well as full-time as a mother, wife, PHD candidate and project manager for the building of the family home can be.

JA How does your small business background help your art practice?
SB It has taken away the fear of the non-art part of being an artist. I’ve done cold calling with a suitcase of samples, written my own press releases and marketing plans and, because I have confidence that I can do those things, I don’t worry about them. It doesn’t mean I’m super confident or that I’m not terrified, but it does mean that I don’t panic about it.

JA How did you get started in printmaking?
SB In an effort to avoid killing my stepchild I was encouraged to get out of the house! I’d done life drawing and painting and I thought “Oh, printmaking that sounds good.” The little cogs went around in my head and just that whole thing about working backwards came easily. Somehow it all made sense for me.

JA How did you get started making artist books?
SB I don’t think I was really conscious of the fact that I was making artists books. I think I just ended up assembling things. I had a very vague idea of what I might do and it will just sit there in the back of my mind for ages and then something will trigger me off and it will usually be something like a little piece of cardboard or a photograph and I’ll think “that looks nice.” Tidying up the studio is actually quite often where it comes from, because I come across things I’d forgotten about, like bits of wire or a rusty nail or something and I’ll start thinking what can I do with that? And it ends up being a little exploration. That’s what starts me down the path and what the end is I’m not at all quite sure until I get there.

JA What printmaking medium do you most often work in?
SA The technique I use most often is viscosity printing where you are able to layer colours on your plate instead of having separate plates for separate colours. I change the viscosity, the runniness or thickness of the ink, and the different viscosities repel each other and instead of making a brown sludge like you might think, the colours stay separate and one top of each other. I’m interested in it as a technique to get multiple colours on the plate. This gives me the subtle colours I’m after. I also use a lot of embossing in my printing.

JA Where do you get your inspiration?
SB I love moody landscapes, bleak places where I can search for beauty. I am primarily a landscape artist. My work has an emptiness. I have a reoccurring motif in my printmaking, a swirl of river. It comes from a grainy black-and-white photograph of The Great Juanbung Swamp, which is the area at the confluence of the Lachlan and Murrumbigee Rivers. It was taken by my father-in-law from a crop-spraying plane in 1960. It is mainly a metaphor for journey.

JA You have been working on bridges in your Artist Book works. Have they always been a motif? Is it because of the river?
SB No. It’s got nothing to do with the river. It’s quite odd, but it’s got everything to do with moving countries. I moved here in October 2006 and I had my PHD started at UWE which was great because it made me feel like I wasn’t leaving everything behind, there was still some kind of connection with my old life and the people I knew and my art. But then I just didn’t have any contact from anyone in my old life. The people I felt very strongly connected to in Bristol turned out to be no good whatsoever at keeping up contact. I spent a year blogging about art and moving over here, being very up front with people about how I was feeling and I didn’t get a sausage back, no emails, no phone calls, no cards, no birthday presents, nothing! I spent 2007 feeling very, very lonely and very isolated.

Eventually I decided I needed to build bridges, metaphorical bridges that linked me with people, with ideas. I initiated a project with an artist back in the UK to exchange artist books and the project was to be about bridges. I spent ages fiddling around with different things and I came up with the idea of physically making a bridge. I read this lovely little poem by Walt Whitman called “A Noiseless Patient Spider”. It does mention the word ‘bridge’ in the poem once, but it’s about how spiders fling out a thread of gossamer and the wind catches it and they have no idea where they’re going to end up, an act of faith. It was such a meaningful way of looking at how I was feeling about my life. I think that’s been my way of working. Sometimes I just have to take courage that I don’t have and do something, even though I don’t know where I’m going to end up. The poem goes on and is effectively about building ones own bridge, what one needs in life is to do that. So it’s very reflective of my own experience and how I was feeling at the time.

It got me thinking about the form of the book and I’d already decided I was going to base this series of books on children's building blocks (you can build bridges with children's building blocks). I ended up with the carved plastic text, which was such a nightmare to do. Originally it wasn’t about the light shining through it with the shadow revealing the text, but about making the text a kind of gossamer. It just happened to work in that other way and gave it supplementary meaning.

There are a few other reasons why it ended up being very meaningful for me. One is that I’m terrified of spiders! I had hypnotherapy at Bristol zoo before I came to Australia so I could deal with the Australian creepy crawlies. I ended up holding a bird-eating tarantula in my hand. I am quite fascinated by them now although I still find them really repulsive. I also wrote a very bad poem about not being able to say anything meaningful to my father about leaving and going to live on the other side of the world and it was couched in terms of spiders.

That book has a much more open meaning available to it than most of what I do. Practically everything I do has a lot of personal meaning to it. I have a bit of a problem actually expressing the meaning to other people. In the end I’m very glad of people who do manage to work out what a work means, but its not why I’m giving them the object to look at. I’m very happy for them to give their own meaning.
I find my self really fascinated by artists who can write out very personal experiences in their art and the reason is because I can’t do it. I don’t know how one would begin. I tried it and doesn’t work for me.

JA What is an artist book?
SB MY definition of an artists’ book is hardly definitive and is highly subjective and probably very woolly from an intellectual perspective. I think an artists’ book is a book made by an artist, that requires the evocation of ‘book-ness’ in order to function as a complete work. There is the question of why make a thing defined as a ‘book’ rather than as a ‘sculpture’ or as a ‘print’? What’s so important about it being associated with being somehow a book? For me, there is something about a confounding of expectation (e.g. a book that is part of a child’s building block, for example, and in the same example, a slipcase – usually an afterthought – that has as much of a role in the complete piece as the book has itself; or perhaps where the text, written in shadows, is actually OUTSIDE the book rather than inside). There is also something about physicality: the ability to pick something up, however gingerly! and to view it as a piece of art from more than one direction – a quality that book arts share with sculpture, I guess. And perhaps there’s something about a thing having an outside and an inside: even my ‘bridge’ book comes concealed and had to be unwrapped and assembled in order to be ‘read’. There’s something there for me about text and covers too. Interestingly I find myself drawn to artists’ books with little or no text but find myself putting text in, sometimes obscurely, because that is part of my ‘model’ of what a book or book-object is. How conventional of me! But I like to subvert it too; although the shadow-writing aspect of my bridge book was an accidental aside rather than an intention from the start it makes me snigger quietly that there IS text and that there ARE covers for it, but that the text isn’t IN the book but written outside it!

JA How do you promote your work?
SB You never know who’s looking so it’s important to get it out there. Moving to a new country has given me the opportunity to make new networks. I like talking to people and putting them in touch with others. I work on the premise that people are happy to talk to you about themselves. They are also happy to be put in touch with new people that they can talk to about themselves. I don’t mean that in any negative way. My business experience is in creating structures that allow things to happen. I see networking as doing much the same.

JA Any advice for others who want to promote their work?
SB Just get out there and do it!

Jan Allsopp is a visual artist living in Coffs Harbour, Australia. Jan will be keeping us in touch with the art scene in coastal New South Wales as well sharing her exploits, as mid-career and mid-life, she decides to change art forms. View Jan's art, read her blog and browse her shop at www.janallsopp.com.au

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