Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spelling Be - 10 Words to Stop Misspelling from the Oatmeal

Stolen Borrowed from The Oatmeal

I see this one alot a lot, and it always makes me grit my teeth, if not loose lose my lunch. 


Assuming your verbs don't have hemorrhoids, how are your adverbs doing?  Many people defiantly sprinkle extra A's in their words, demonstrating why they received so few as students.

Feeling possessive?

But that's only three, you say!  For the other seven, go here.

Which words are your weirdest weakness? 
I pperiodically have a pproblem ppicking the
appropriate number of P's in certain pphrases.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Creativity - a Kaleidoscope of Ruminations

Angel's Window - Grand Canyon, North Rim.
Looking closely, you can see the people on the top walkway.
And the Colorado River peeking through the "window."
Creativity - exploring it from different points of view can be fascinating.

Backstory: among the things I am currently doing for my personal growth as a human being is learning more about healthy eating and lifestyles.  To that end, I'm following some blogs on the subject, and one of the things they (okay, WE)  are doing is exploring, via the Self-Discovery Series, a different word each month.  (Anyone is welcome to join in!)

These bloggers include women with eating disorders, professional counselors, life coaches, fitness trainers, yoga teachers, art teachers and more.  Participation has included blogs with photos, or artwork, or recipes, or poems, or video clips.

For January, the word was Creativity.  For some it was specifically linked to Body Image, for others, more a stand-alone concept.  I found the input so interesting, varied, and so applicable to a writer's life, I wanted to share a few (of so many!) nuggets here, as there wasn't a single post where I didn't come away feeling like I'd learned something or been inspired to think a little more, well, creatively.

1.  Megan's Ascension Blog post writes about how creativity isn't simply a state of doing, it's a state of being.  "Creativity is something that is intrinsic is all living beings, and which we humans embody in every living moment by default."

2.  Michelle's Healthy Cultivations post goes into how creativity is related to how we think about and talk to ourselves, whether negatively or positively.  "...I came across another definition I like better from the University of Southern Maine.  It defines creativity as 'the experience of thinking, reacting, and working… characterized by a high degree of innovation and originality, divergent thinking, and risk taking.'"  And she offers a recipe and photo of salmon with mango chutney.

3.  Katie at Health for the Whole Self waxes poetic.  "the days when a similar pad of post-it notes/ kept record of my worth" in a beautiful poem that chronicles the desperation and sadness of disordered eating, to the triumph of post-it notes used to connect with one's loved ones, instead.

4.  Rosie Molinary relates Creativity & Body Image.  "And when we go inside, when we consider what we think and feel, when we are receptive to that which is inside of us which sometimes we can only access through a creative medium, we further our self-knowledge.  And furthering our self-knowledge is an essential step in improving our body image and self-image."

5.  Creative Reflections from Joy Tanksley on Vimeo.  (above)  Left me feeling, well, joyful!

6.  Ashley at Nourishing the Soul therapizes herself to get over her block/fear of being creative:
"What is the worst that could happen (if you tried to be creative)?
You could all laugh at me. (But that could happen even if I didn’t try to be creative. Come to think of it, it often does.)
I could fail. (But then again, can you really “fail” at creativity, really?)
I could learn that I am not so sucky at being creative. (And then that might mean I have to try more often… scary!)"
7. Elizabeth Patch's More to Love Sketchbook on Creativity, Self-Love and Body Image slams the evil twin thoughts of negativity “I don’t live up to what a woman should be.”  “I don’t live up to what an artist should be”.

8.  Aspire to Be Juliana connects creativity to sports: "I’ve learned over the past couple years that creativity is not confined to one aspect of life, such as music, painting, or writing.  It also resides in sports- someplace I never would have thought to find it.  The greatest sports players are creative geniuses, able to think around a situation in an instant."

9.  Heather at Jumbling Towers challenges the myth that in order to be creative, one must suffer.   "What I didn’t realize is that great art doesn’t come from the self-centered place of focusing on your own need to be known and understood. It comes from unselfishly sharing yourself so that others might better understand themselves and the world."

10.  Curvy Yoga's Anna brings together creativity, body awesomeness and yoga.  "I realized how closely yoga and creativity mirrored themselves in my life.  The more I opened up on the mat, the more I wanted to open up off the mat and try new (previously unthinkable) things like sewing my own tea bags as gifts.  The more I embraced my body on the mat, the more I wanted to express it off the mat."  (I realize myself that on days when I skip my yoga, I feel less creative.)

11.  Mara of Medicinal Marzipan (now that's a mouthful!) writes of the release and relief brought about by sharing "shameful" secrets via writing: "I made the conscious decision that I was worth that safety. I was worth revisiting the scenes that caused me so much pain, and I was worth rewriting them in my own words, reclaiming them for myself, and repurposing them to reach out to others."

12.  Taron of Mind Body & Scroll (love that blog title!) talks of the importance of giving oneself space, and freedom to be creative, and not denying creativity because it's not in a prescribed form: "From thank-you note writing to cake baking, gardening to applying makeup, I believe there aren't boundaries when it comes to what constitutes creativity. There are people who can make you a good meatball and those who can make you laugh until tears are running down your face."

13.  Rosie is a Loser, enchantingly, find many creative ways to try to sell the argument that she's not creative. "It seemed that no matter how I tried to explain it, I could not convince people that I did not have the talent to create, only to imitate."

14.  Big Girl Bombshell's (another great blog title!) Jules shared creativity with her daughter: "When she was younger, she thanked me for teaching her that the sky could be green and the grass could be purple." and is honoring it in her own life: "I will pursue my fashion sense, my cooking, new recipes, and a variety of EXERCISE."

15.  Dorry of Living with Healthy Hunger shared stunning photographs, and a great tip about: "being a WARRIOR, not a WORRIER." and not wasting creativity on inventing things to worry about.

16.  Health Misfit's Janet explored the intriguing notion that creativity is about destruction: "When allowed to breathe, creativity breeds independence and individuality, eventually freeing – or breaking down – inhibitions. To create something new – say a belief – we need to destroy the old thoughts through a series of demolitions, and find new routes around the barriers that hold us in."

17.  The hostess with the mostest, Margarita of Weightless brings together the big picture: "creativity is in our bones. It is in our hearts.   It is in the photos you take to document a silly smile, a fun family outing, a celebration, an anniversary, a favorite thing.   It’s even in your cereal."

18.  I also wrote a piece for this, in my other blog (yes, I'm a two-timer,) about the way we limit our creativity: "isn't it sad, for anyone to let their creativity get shut into a deep dungeon, not allowed to come out and play, because it might be messy?  It might be laughable, and not deliberately so.  It might be - horrors!  imperfect!"

Finally, there was this beautiful video, a wonderful, short guided meditation.  (I had listed the blogs - mostly, in the way Margarita received them, but I am putting this one last with the idea that it can now help you to connect with your creative spirit, and move on to create something.  Be it a short story or a customized bowl of oatmeal.)

I have to confess though, it was been hard at first for me to get through it.  I tried at work, closing the door, getting comfortable in my chair...  My Mistake was, I forgot to unplug the phone, so I got several Important Calls just as I was feeling relaxed.

So I tried again at home.  Had a nice dinner, adjusted myself comfortably in my chair, and pressed the play button.  I was just starting to sink into it beautifully, when the cat decided that was the ideal time to take a big, noisy dump (her litterbox is in my office five feet from where my 'puter is.) 

Finally this morning, I was able to align the stars and moons and planets so as not to disturb my meditation, and I'm so glad I did, because it's lovely, and I will be replaying on a regular basis.

19.  The Colors of Your Creative Spirit from Christie Inge on Vimeo.

So, what are your thoughts on Creativity? 
Did any of the above nudge you in a new direction?
Leave a Comment or Reaction, below, and let me know.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Post: Dear Diary from The Hot Word

Nice Interpretation of the song

Gotta love that ending, "Somebody exploded an H-bomb today, but it wasn't anybody I knew."

Diaries can be about any number of things.  A food diary can be helpful tracing sources of indigestion or possible food allergies.  Samuel Pepys kept one that became quite famous.

A health diary, a menstrual cycle diary, a dream diary, all can help us track things we might want to refer to, later.  Snooping in her mama's diary leads Amanda Seyfried to the fun and frolic of the Meryl Streep movie Mamma Mia.  (Lesson: Don't record all your sexcapades in a diary unless you're comfortable with shocking your descendants!)

Dear diary . . . What’s the word for the qualities that make your writing unique? The Hot Word

Science magazine recently released a study on the effects of diary writing for college and high school students. The results showed that students experiencing test anxiety and who wrote about their disquiet in a diary right before the exam performed better on the test by half a grade.

Dictionaries and diaries are old friends; what better way to learn new words than expressing your thoughts in writing? We welcome this bit of educational news as an excuse to talk about the precise origin of “diary” and some of its history.

Diary comes from the Latin word diarium. You’ll recognize the first part of that word as di-, “day” in modern English. The suffix “-arium” and it’s more modern equivalent “-ary” show up in many words you use every day: library, stationary, revolutionary. If you haven’t guessed already, the suffix means “in connection with or pertaining to.” A diary is just that, a daily log that records the events that happened over the course of the day. The playwright Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was the original shortener of diarium to diary. The word first appeared in 1605 in his play Volpone.
For the rest of the article, which also explains the difference between diaries and journals, click HERE.

But since I'm not going to be fussy about the difference, here's two good links about journaling, which is pretty darn close to keeping a diary:

eHow - a page with many links about different kinds of journaling.
Journal for You has lots of good links, though I found the bright red fonts and graphics a smidge off-putting.

A blog, of course, is also a type of journal.  Journals can be about thoughts, ideas, impressions, diet, movies, books...  You can relieve tension through journaling just as you can by making a diary entry.  Sometimes when you're at a stopping place in your novel or screenplay, by journaling you can find the words flowing again.

What do you journal about or record in a diary?
(And where do you keep the key?)
Leave your comments, below.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Last Word On... Online Publishing (Book Review & More)

If you combine brilliant artwork with witty writing, you've got a surefire hit, right?  Especially if you cut out the middle man and publish it yourself online.

Well... maybe.

Okay, I confess:  He had me at Hitler.

Many people would argue that the subject of Hitler should be totally off-limits for humor.

But as Tim Sheppard points out in The Last Word On, Hitler's dog did think he was a great guy.  Which shoots to hell the popular theory that all animals are great judges of human character.

He also pokes fun at the psychological effects pets are reputed to have: lowering blood pressure, rendering the mood calm and cheerful.  Imagine, what terrible things might Hitler have done without Blondi keeping him happy?

On cats:
Domestic cats behave like deposed royalty, forced to live among us common peasants but still believing themselves vastly superior.  Whereas dogs typically inhale any foodstuff placed before them, cats regard their menu as if indignant that the wrong vintage of wine were being served with their revolting little tins of chopped kidney and liver.  It is true; if cats were human, they’d be restaurant critics.
The Last Word On is a wonderful collection of cartoons, supplemented by humorous text.  Or is it a collection of illustrated, satiric micro-essays?

What makes this such a strong work is that the author doesn't hold back to be Politically Correct, but challenges all the conventional wisdom that most of us absorb without even thinking about it.  He makes us laugh, even while we sheepishly admit to ourselves that we may have thought like that.

The Last Word On dissects dogs, cats, whales, chickens and microbes.  (Figuratively, not literally, thank goodness.)  It scores the American obsession with sports, from Auto Racing to Golf, not omitting the sacred cows of baseball, football and basketball.

It mocks our obsession with the Boob Tube.
A Chinese emperor once asked Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma, “What is the most sacred truth?”  Bodhidharma replied, “Vast emptiness and nothing sacred about it.”  Bodhidharma must have had the Ultra Deluxe Premium Choice satellite TV package.

On kids and TV:
What do you feed struggling young minds, trying with all their little might to understand reality and cope with the challenging world around them?  How do you nurture impressionable children’s psyches during those critical first years of life?  I know, let’s barrage them with a stream of bizarre animated talking animals, a fantasy world of anthropomorphic puppets, cartoon warrior robots of destruction, anything divorced from reality, anything with a squeaky voice and high strangeness in appearance.  Good heavens, being a child must be like being on a bad acid trip, considering the weirdness we pump into their heads.
On pop culture and music:

A television station which will remain unnamed, but whose name sounds something like “MTV,” was the first all-music channel, and is now the nerve center for the self-styled hip-hop generation.   This station has become a one-stop shopping site for all of your pernicious, gangster-thug cultural needs.  Tune in and you will see what is in my opinion perpetual glorification of violence, misogyny, anarchy, drugs, pornography and racism--not to mention commercials for acne remedies and products that promise minty-fresh breath. Pimply kids watch this station and emulate the vile, depraved, wicked role models they see, because they are led to believe it is cool to be a minty-fresh gangster.
This work is ideal as an online book, since it combines short, snappy writing with eye-catching cartoons.  I've enjoyed reading a few pages at time over my lunch breaks, but I think the market would be slim for selling a long, wordy Faulknerian or Proustian-style novel via computer screen.

Is there a Last Word on gardening, marriage, poetry, shopping?

You knew there would be.  I believe I've met the woman, pictured above.  She also carries a "take no prisoners" attitude towards securing a parking space.

This may not, in fact, be The Last Word; there are plans in the works for a sequel.

Tim Sheppard, the author, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, since I am pig ignorant about the current world of self-and online publishing.

Did this book make you Filthy Rich?  The book more than broke even, if you don’t count the labor.  90% of sales happened in the first few months, then tapered off dramatically.  Taking that as a 'no,' especially as the art is clearly a result of much love, energy, and labor.

How do you get a distribution deal for a book like this?  I did not get into a mainstream distribution deal; it is really difficult to get a real distributor, as they only want “sure things.”  Even if you do get a distribution deal, they will put your book on the shelf for 90 days, then send them back to you (at your expense) if unsold. 
What's it like to self-publish?  I understand in addition to the online version of this book, you opted to have some copies printed, instead of going the POD (Printing on Demand) route.  It is a brutal business.  The home computer revolution made everyone an author.  Reviewers get scores of books per day in the inboxes.  There are scammers at every turn: the thieving bastards who have a monopoly on selling ISBN numbers being among the first you will encounter.  What a racket: they sell you an odorless, tasteless, colorless,weightless number, a product with infinite shelf life and virtually zero cost of sales for $250+.  The last scammer you may encounter is Amazon; they take their pound of flesh with cannibalistic relish.
The vast majority of books lose money.  While it’s wrong to throw wet blankets on aspiring authors, I’d advise folks to consider their efforts a hobby.  They can save money and heartache by POD printing a few copies for their immediate friends and family, with a few extra for promotion—market the title vigorously otherwise, and hope for a miracle.  I did not POD.  I still have a couple of boxes of pre-printed books.

In recap: 
  1. Buy TheLastWordOn.
  2. If you do decide to self-publish, make sure you have a good product.  Your grandma may think it's the most marvelous book ever written, but she also laughs like a hyena when your eight-year-old nephew tells her knock-knock jokes.  Run it by a good feedback group, and if they say it ain't ready - put it aside and work on something else for a little while.
  3. Be prepared, if you decide to go the self-publishing or POD route, to spend at least as much in blood, sweat and tears branding, marketing and promoting, as you did writing your book.
    1. "Waste" the money on a good editor.  Few things are more irritating than reading a friend's self-published book, which you bought even though it was priced at three times what a 'regular' book would have cost, and to be assaulted with three typos and two grammatical errors on page one.
    2. When promoting your book on FaceBook, don't do it every other freakin' day, and when you post, have something new to offer - a quote, a teaser, a photo.  Otherwise you'll be turning Friends into UnFriends, or they be putting your posts on "hide all" status.
What did you think about The Last Word On? 
Do you have a POD or self-publishing story to share?
Comment space below offered absolutely free.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Branding, You're A Fine Girl

Video just because I want to brand BRANDING in your mind. And what better way than a catchy tune?

Hopefully I haven't ruined this song for you for the rest of your life!
Sorry about the low-quality video, but the audio is still good.

A lot of people thinking "branding" is about about sneakers.  (Just say Swoosh!)
Or about cows.
Or even about people with a kinky fetish for disfiguring their bodies.  (Not gonna show any pictures of that.  You can thank me in the comments.)

And of course, branding is about all those things.

Branding is also about us as individuals.  As employees, as small businesses, and yes, as writers.

There are approximately eight billion people out there who have opened their mouths at one time and said, "I ought to write a book."

Eight million who have actually written an entire book (notice, I'm not saying they're written a good one.  But just writing one at all, start to finish, is an accomplishment of which to be proud.  If you're one of them, give yourself a little pat on the back.)

An even smaller fraction of writers send their finished books off to an agent (again, takes much courage, so kudos if you went this far,) and of those, 96%+ are rejected without even being read.  (Been there, done that - you can buy your own box of tissue, I need all of mine.)  If your book is one which gets through those filters, gets read, and gets an offer of representation, it still has to be unique enough to make a publisher want to take a chance on you.

The publishing business is in horrible flux right now.  The vast majority of published books are either breaking even or losing money for their publishers.  E-books are still a big question mark in terms of long-term profitability.

However, every publisher still has wet dreams of discovering the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  That is, not discovering a writer who can write just one crazy-successful book, but an entire series of them.

And your best bet of impressing an agent, and later, a publisher, is being serious and professional about your brand as a writer.

Consider these thoughts:
Starting today you are a brand.
You're every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.  (from The Brand Called You.)
If you don't know what you are, and what makes you stand out, how on earth do you expect an agent or publisher to figure it out?  These are busy people; they don't have time to babysit you while you gaze into your navel and try to figure it out.  They have tons of "okay" or even promising material in their slush piles.  You want your work, and yourself, to ~pop~ out.  You want them to say, "Here's somebody who stands out, who is serious about his/her writing, and about building a career in this field."  My agent asked me to include marketing ideas in my latest author bio that she sent out with my last book proposal.  So you cannot assume that you'll just write a good book and then the hard part is over.

There's nothing wrong with being a writer on the side, with occasionally submitting short stories or poetry to a tiny online literary journal.  But if you want more, if you want people to take you seriously as a writer, you've got to start with you.  And that includes thinking of yourself, the writer, as a brand.
Remember your team jersey
Even if the brand you wear is a personal one, remember that you're wearing it every time you open your mouth and the effect it may have on your audience, your business contacts and those around you. Your "brand" is not an excuse for being a jerk, just like "authenticity" isn't either. Before you say or publish something, remember the jersey you're always wearing and ask yourself if this will build it or take away from it. If it's going to detract from it -- is it worth it?  (from Common Sense Tips on Entrepreneur)
This means that, unless you have decided there's a big enough market in the Aryan Nation groups to support your work, you probably shouldn't make racist comments on your FaceBook page.  Avoid blogging your worries about the alien lizard people who are poised to take over the earth, your visceral disgust about the overweight (which will shortly be 95% of Americans,) or explicit photos from your clown sex parties (send those to me privately, I can always use a laugh.)  Anything that might create an "ick" factor in your potential audience should be avoided.  We can all think of famous people who have ruined, or seriously damaged their brand.  (Speaking of jerseys, anybody want to buy a green & gold #4?)

As you build your library of finished material, ready for submission, allocate some time, thought and effort, as to how you are building your brand, and what it says about you.

Helpful Links on Branding:
What is Branding, and How Important Is It?  from  Includes lots of helpful links.
All About Branding
From Entrepreneur Magazine

Personal Branding Blog

Comments?  More tips to share?
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Got Blank Page?

Toy Matinee: Special Edition by Toy Matinee cover

This is the song I want played at my funeral (which hopefully won't be for a while, but ya never know.)

Sometimes, you have what seems like a fabulous idea - and find somebody has already beat you to it.  Written a story, a poem, a song that expresses everything you were turning over in your mind.  Only, about a zillion times better.

Been tearing my hair out trying to find a way to share the song via a flash player here, to no avail.  Click HERE, and then under the words MP3 Song and Song Title, press the PLAY arrow (that's the triangle thingie inside the circle, for you non-techie peops)  to at least get a taste of the bleak, melodic beauty of this song as you read the lyrics, below.

Blank Page 

Blank Page
Lonely, staring up at me
Daring me to try to be
Simple yet profound

Words alone
For all that consciousness allows
Find I'm at a loss for how
To say just what I've found

I entered through an open door
Left by all who came before
With thoughts so rich yet words so poor
For truth's already spoken for

Reach within
To find a misplaced bit of truth
In love or hate or age or youth
In what prized piece of mind

Close the book
Evasive truth still yet to find
Of rhythm felt by twisted rhyme
When words get left behind

Well something snaps and then you learn
Chasing words is no concern
Then one by one they die and turn
To mild regret and hopeless yearn

Blank page
Lonely, staring up at me
Escaping by apology
From a blank page left unsigned.

The Toy Matinee album (originally released in 1990; re released in 2001 with this as one of the bonus tracks) is one of my favorites, and well worth adding to your collection.  Most of the songs are light, catchy pop tunes, not this introspective, although they all have amazing lyrics.  Of course, the number of available Kevin Gilbert songs is sadly limited, since like most great geniuses, he managed to off himself way too young (age 29.)   Yep, this is all rather dark, talk of funerals, writers' block, premature death...

But darkness is part of writing, too.  I recently visited Sark's website - and I adore Sark, don't get me wrong.  I find her highly inspirational; I have one of her books on my desk and a poster in my bedroom as I type. I truly strive to live as a succulent and juicy person.

However... I also felt the need for an insulin shot after spending several hours on her site - and I'm not diabetic.  Sweetness and light and rainbow-colored unicorn poo can only take you so far - unless you, yourself, are Sark. 

Like Kevin Gilbert, if you truly want to be an artist, you need to let yourself go to the dark places, to despair, to pain, to all the terrors and feelings you'd rather not deal with.  Not just hang out in the safe warm sunny places.

Facing fears and writing about them - that's what makes writing real.  That's what brings the unmistakable ring of truth, even in a complete work of fiction.

What's your funeral song(s)? 
Or, do you have any favorite songs about writing?
 (So many to choose from!  Not.)
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Ontology, Motherhood, Writing and God as explained by Madeleine L'Engle

Writers could do much worse than to learn from Madeleine L'Engle.  Although she's most famous for A Wrinkle in Time (published 1962, winner of the Newbery Medal, never out of print since publication, over ten million copies sold according to Scholastic,) she wrote many other beautiful, poetical, thought-provoking books for both young adult and adult readers, including The Crosswicks Journal, Book One - A Circle of Quiet (1972.)

Circle of Quiet is part journal, part autobiographical rumininations on God, life, writing, parenthood, education, and pornography.  Crosswicks is the name of the old New England farmhouse L'Engle and her husband bought and lived in for over a decade while raising their family.

Some dismiss those who write for young adults as unsophisticated.  In the first few pages, L'Engle takes on ontology:
Ontology: the word about the essence of things, the word about being.
Is there anything deeper a writer (or human being, for that matter) needs to understand?  The root, the heart, the essence of a person, or star, or burning bush, as separate, yet part of what one does, because what we do, what we experience, also affects our soul essence.  I've always loved her writing, though sometimes she seemed almost too ethereal and spiritual to be human.

Yet, L'Engle also experienced the conflict between deeply loving one's family, spouse, home, and still needing space apart.
Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody - away from all these people I love most in the world - in order to regain a sense of proportion. 
Haven't we all experienced that feeling?
....My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.   ...If I sit for a while, then my impatience, crossness, frustration, are indeed annihilated, and my sense of humor returns.
Often we're not lucky enough to have a small brook handy, but we can always find someplace - even if it's in a room in the city where we can put on headphones to drown the traffic - to escape.

And escape is a critical part of writing.

The concentration of a small child at play is analogous to the concentration of the artist of any discipline.  In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not outside time, he is outside himself.  He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is that he is doing.  A child playing a game, building a sand castle, painting a picture, is completely in what he is doing.  His self-consciousness is gone; his consciousness is wholly focused outside himself.

... A writer may be self-conscious about his work before and after but not during the writing.  If I am self-conscious during the actual writing of a scene, then it ends up in the round file.   ...This kind of unself-consciousness I'm thinking about becomes clearer to me when I turn to a different discipline: for instance, that of playing a Bach fugue at the piano, precisely because I will never be a good enough pianist to play a Bach fugue as it should be played.  ...Mostly, no matter how inadequate my playing, the music is all that matters: I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy.  When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.
This is writing in flow.  This is why we write - not because of the hope of fame or fortune (though if it comes, surely we can find a way to deal with it, lol!)  We write because of the wonderful, ecstatic feeling when we are in that magical place outside of time, outside of self.  In play and joy.

She shares the madness of coping with a kitchen that never got warmer than 55 degrees in winter, the washing machine freezing up, trouble making ends meet financially, not being able to write until the little ones were in bed, and then being so tired she would fall asleep with her head on the typewriter.

Of rejection slip after rejection slip.
So the rejection on the fortieth birthday seemed an unmistakable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie.

I covered the typewriter in a great gesture of renunciation.  Then I walked around the room, bawling my head off.  I was totally, utterly miserable.

Suddenly I stopped, because I realized what my subconscious mind was doing while I was sobbing: my subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.
In this book she recalls forty rejections for A Wrinkle in Time; other sources have narrowed it down to twenty-six.  Twenty-six!!
When Hal Vursell was asked why they had accepted it when other publishers were afraid of it...  "We have all, from time to time, chosen and published obviously superior books, a book not written to prescription or formula, one which we passionately believed to be far better than nine-tenths of what was currently being offered, only to have that book still-born.  New editors have emotions, too, and when this happens, believe it not, they bleed....  It was our good fortune that the manuscript reached us at a moment when we were ready to do battle again."
On sex, L'Engle is far from being a prude (she mentions enjoying a burlesque show and being much impressing with the whirling of tassels,) but does decry the substitution of sex for truly touching and being touched in a deeper way.  For the substitution of the three-letter word, sex, for the four letter word, love.
So we rush around trying to light candles.  Some are real; books are candles for me; so is music; so is friendship.  Others blow up in our faces, like too much alcohol and too many sleeping pills or pep pills.  Or hard drugs.  Or sex where there isn't any love.

L'Engle is a Christian-themed writer, but her religious beliefs don't feel either stapled on as an afterthought, or thrust into the face of the reader like a club.  When she speaks of God, it's an integral, interwoven part of her work; an invitation, "Come, investigate this with me, I'm not sure of everything, but here is where I am so far on this journey."  It's beautiful, mystical, enticing - not demanding the reader throw out science or facts, but inviting us to open the mind even wider, to integrate religious beliefs as part of one's whole understanding of the universe.  To be ontological.
Science, literature, art, theology: it is all the same ridiculous, glorious, mysterious language.

Whether you are Christian, Jew, Buddhist (she kept a white Buddha statue on her desk for years), agnostic, pagan, or something else, you can learn a lot from L'Engle about what works and what doesn't, if you'd like to convert the world with your writing.   Or even if you simply want to live in it, in love, joy, and wonder, because nothing last forever, even the stars in their courses.
Meanwhile, we are in time, and the flesh is to be honored.  At all ages.  For me, this summer, this has been made clear in a threefold way: I have fed, bathed, played pat-a-cake with my grandbabies.  In the night when I wake up, as I usually do, I always reach out with a foot, a hand, to touch my husband's body; I go back to sleep with my hand on his warm flesh.  And my mother is almost ninety and preparing to move into a different country.  I do not understand the mysteries of the flesh, but I do know that we must not be afraid to reach out to one another, to hold hands, to touch.
Madeleine L'Engle passed away in 2007, but I will go on drawing inspiration from her work as long as I live, and I'm sure so will many others.  Just as light from a star long dead still shines in the night sky.  I hope you'll pick up this book and join me.
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stolen from The Onion: I'm Only Really Happy When I'm Writing

I think I found my soulmate!

I'm Only Really Happy When I'm Writing, Or When I'm Having Lots Of Fun With My Friends And Family

By Chuck Burgess

I guess you could say I have always had a love affair with the written word. The simple, solitary act of contemplating the white expanse of the blank page, and then putting pen to paper and seeing where the words take me, is my one constant solace in an otherwise turbulent world. Yes, I must admit it: I am only truly happy when I'm writing.

Or if I'm having dinner with family and friends, or a new and interesting acquaintance I happened to meet that week and hit it off with. I'm pretty happy then, too.

But for me, it always comes back to the writing: the discipline, the stamina required, the unrelenting determination to give voice to my innermost thoughts, thoughts that illuminate the cracks and crevices of the human condition. That is my only satisfaction. That and watching a really good movie on late-night TV, like Suddenly, Last Summer. That's a great feeling, especially when you haven't seen the film in some years, and you discover anew just what it was that you loved about it in the first place. I also enjoy canoeing and windsurfing when I get a free weekend down at the beach.

And Frisbee. I love Frisbee.

Yet writing, that noblest of tasks, painful and frustrating at times, easy-flowing at others,  (click here to read the rest)

I promise, I'll have a new, all original post... soon.

What's been distracting YOU?
Tell me about it in the Comments, below.
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Guest Post: Kinetic Typography via My Mother-in-Law is Still Sitting Between Us...:

Do you love language?  Do you like to swirl beautiful, poetic words around on your tongue like truffles from See's candy?  Did you ever carry a secret crush for Roget of Roget's Thesaurus ("Roget sounds so mysterious and sexy...")

If so, you're in good company.  Stealing borrowing this post by permission from a great blogger who truly knows how to make words sit, beg, dance, and rollover.  (Although I do believe she's a "cat" person.)

My Mother-In-Law is Still Sitting Between Us...: Guest Post: Stephen Fry, "Kinetic Typography - La...:
"Yes, G. This one's all about me. And although I don't think you'll ever admit it, you'll like it a little bit, too.Or "also."
But that's my old pedantic voice talking.The same voice who Is screaming at me to put a comma in between "old" and "pedantic." But won't...

Leave a comment and tell me how much you enjoyed it,
or better yet, follow the link and tell her.
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