#ROW80 check-ins, creativity, magic

A Creative Life is a Magical One.

 

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

A clear February night. I gaze up at the stars. I don’t know many constellations, but I can pick out Orion and his belt, bright pinpricks of light staring down at me.

A summer afternoon. I sit out on my patio, curled up in a chair, a notebook in my lap. The dog sits in the grass, perhaps gnawing on a stick. Birds chirp in the trees. I bring out my Tarot deck, whisper questions to the goddess and god, seek answers in the form of the beautifully illustrated cards.

An autumn day. A leaf breaks free of a branch, caught in the wind, spirals down toward the earth. I’m reminded of a childhood superstition–that if you could catch a freshly falling leaf before it touches the ground, your wish would be granted. I still believe. In faeries. In wishes. In the power of belief.

A creative life is a magical one. Stories whisper from the ether. Brushstrokes reveal hidden worlds. Songs draw emotions out of us. Plays and films and TV shows and books transport us to other worlds.

I am learning that one of the most important things we can do with our lives is to embrace and celebrate the magic. We don’t even have to call it magic. Call it any other name. Beauty. Wonder. Joy. Spirit.

Let’s make space for it to speak.

Magic Exists Nora Roberts Quote

TENDING THE CREATIVE FLAME

This week was a hodgepodge of writing tasks. I made some changes to my author website, finished revisions on chapter two of Spellfire’s Kiss, and wrote 1,375 words in Spun Gold. I also got a revise and resubmit for a short story, so I switched gears and dug deeper into the story. I feel like it’s much stronger, but I need to do a read-through and polish it before I send it back to the editor.

TENDING THE HEARTH FLAME

In hearth and home, I’m redecorating our living room with some unique art I found on Etsy. We’re really wanting to revamp this space, so we’re taking it one element at a time until it’s where we want it to be.

TENDING THE SACRED FLAME

I want to find a way to incorporate my magical practice into my everyday life. So far, lots of walks in nature and pausing to enjoy the beauty around me. Sunset walks with Leo have yielded some majestic views, and the cardinals have been flitting merrily through the yet bare trees. I’d like to bring some daily meditations into my life, along with getting back to work on my book of shadows.

What about you? How do you celebrate the magic of the everyday?

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#ROW80 check-ins, creativity, the seasons, the writer's journey

The Season of Stillness

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Photo by Martin Holek | Dreamstime Photos

The sky is a sea of gray clouds, sun fighting to peek through. The sun sets early, streaks of orange and pink a reminder of summer fire. The trees are bare, roots stretching deep into the earth.

My husband and I leave a jazz concert, our bodies and minds and hearts alive with the thrill of brass and percussion and a bit of string, and step into the cold winter air. I snap a picture of the sun setting against the backdrop of the campus that is the heart of this college town.

Part of me is always thinking about goals. How many words can I write in a year? How many words should I write in a year? How many projects can I finish?

And yet winter reminds me that sometimes we must cultivate inner stillness. Sometimes we must be quiet and listen. As writers, as storytellers, as artists, our primary function might be that stillness, that ability to listen.

I listen to the world around me. In pausing to drink in the sunset, in sitting in a beautiful performance hall to listen to jazz, in sitting quietly in the evenings and sipping my tea while I wait for characters to whisper, I am, in fact, listening to the earth and those of us who populate it, whether human or animal or tree or flower. And I am listening to something mystical, something spiritual, that ether out of which stories are born.

Cultivating stillness is difficult in a society that makes little room for it. We must always be doing something; we must always be achieving. We must always be counting and quantifying; we must always be striving and reaching and grasping.

Are goals and deadlines good things? Of course. They keep us accountable. They have their own seasons. Spring is the season of sowing, of goal-setting. Summer is the season of tending, of patient toil. And autumn, the season of the harvest, when all we have planted and tended comes to fruition. It is the season in which we celebrate a job well done—and yes, that is something we need to celebrate.

As artists, we have these seasons. But we must also, like the earth, have moments of quietude in which we listen. From the quiet new stories are born. New characters begin to murmur. We listen, and we record.

Ultimately as writers we must learn to cultivate stillness, to reach down deep, tap a deep root like the mighty oak, sway in the wind and wait for birds to roost. We remain still and steady and strong and rooted. And we listen.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. I did miss a couple days, but for the most part something is getting done every day, even if it’s just a few words here and there or a bit of brainstorming. I also started playing with some other ideas that might not lead to anything, such two more stories in the Faerie Forest series. One is a retelling of Snow White featuring faeries and magic apples (not just the poisoned kind), and the other involves a redcap (nasty type of faerie) running loose in a library.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. This week I added a page to my Book of Shadows!
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nothing.
  • butterfly-quoteAt least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Lots of activity here. I took a quote that had been tacked above my desk, typed it up in Word, added some scrapbooking embellishments, and placed it in a frame I bought at a Renaissance Faire years ago (see photo). I made homemade sugar scrub bars, which didn’t turn out well, but it was a first attempt at making soap. I’ll have to try a different recipe. I also did a lot of decluttering, especially in my office, which we’re turning into a home library. Soon I’ll be able to say, “If you need me, I’ll be in the library.”

What about you? Do you think stillness is an important part of the creative life? Do you feel we make enough time for stillness in our lives? How do you find time to listen to the world around you–and the stories that murmur in your ear?

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creativity, personal journeys, writing updates

Songstresses, Storytellers, and A Sunday Summary

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Recently, while sitting in a coffee house (of all places), I heard this beautiful, sweet, simple song called “When You’ve Got Trouble.” I loved it immediately, so much that I Googled the lyrics to find out who the artist was. It turned out to be Liz Longley, and I bought Liz’s album “Hot Loose Wire.”

But another song from that album inspired this post: A song called “Unraveling,” about Liz’s experience losing her grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. The lyrics left tears streaming down my face, but they also made me think about art, all art, and why we create the works we create.

If asked to describe what makes a good work of art—whether song, story, or sculpture—I’d say that good art breaks your heart and then puts it back together, leaving you altered—the same person, but changed, transported, and slightly better than before. In transporting you to some place—a landscape, a story, an image, an emotion, a memory—a work of art reveals some part of the human experience that lives inside of you. As far from navel-gazing as it could be, art connects us to the human experience.

My favorite thing about “Unraveling” and other tunes like it is that, as Liz described it, she wrote this song for herself, about her own experience. But that song ended up touching a lot of people, and she’s not the first artist to say something along these lines. I believe these works touch so many people because they speak to a common pain. Dar Williams’ song “After All” talks about experiencing depression and coming out on the other side a better, stronger person. Her discussion of writing that song echoes Liz’s words about hers.

The human experience has different flavors, but it comes down to love, to family, to memory, to home, to loss, whether those things bring up feelings of pain, grief, joy, or happiness. In every work I create, I hope I give someone out there that experience—of being transported, of being broken or lost, of being made whole.

How would you define art? Does music ever inspire your work? What’s the last song that made you cry?

Below you’ll find this week’s Sunday summary and mash-up of awesomeness, but first, here’s a taste of Liz’s music and that lovely, painful song called “Unraveling”:

Sunday Summary:

After seriously considering plunging into NaNoWriMo next month, I’m leaning toward no. My health still isn’t where it needs to be, and I don’t want to push my body–and my sleep-deprived brain–too hard. Since 2012 is my year of seeking balance, NaNo is going to have to wait.

I went back to “Pierce My Heart” this week, filling in some of Lithe’s backstory. Yes, I realize now that this story really is a novel–hard to believe it started out as a little novelette for Valentine’s Day. But the fact that there are several different plot threads at play–a whodunit suspense, a love story, two complicated character backstories, and a sociopolitical angle–means that to be done well, this one needs to be fleshed out. I’m also working on an outline for my novella “Oak-Bound.”

What are you working on this week?

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness:

creativity, dose of inspiration, feed your muse, the writer's journey

Take a hike. Get a life: Goal overload, chatter, and the creative self

The world is a noisy place, full of car horns, ambulance sirens, voicemails, and endless chatter. Some people thrive on the chatter; for me, too much information makes my brain hurt. I cultivate places of stillness in my life where walls of silence keep the chatter at bay. Without those walls, the creative parts of me suffer.

I freely admit to being a creative soul who gets lost in this world of noise. Some of that noise is useful. It teaches me to manage my finances, cook healthier meals, or improve my marriage. It teaches me to be a better writer, a better thinker, a better person. And some of that noise is just blah blah blah—a stream of negativity or useless gibber-gabber meant to make us buy something, vote for someone, or so on. Sometimes even those feminist listserv emails full of dire warnings about the relentless war on women’s rights exhaust me. Not that I don’t want to stand up for people’s rights. But that I need to get away long enough to have some fight in me.

In other words, I’m learning to take a hike and get a life. Over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly goal driven. Grade these papers. Write this article. Edit this copy. Meet today’s word-count goal. I didn’t just have information overload. I had goal overload. Too many goals; not enough time. My brain hurt. In order to nurture my creative self, I stepped back. My body hurt. I took time to listen to it and take care of my physical health—the antidote to my previous “sleep when you’re dead” mentality.

The creative self isn’t the list-maker, the left-brained editor. She doesn’t care what’s been done before, what’s forbidden, what’s in the rulebook, what’s not. She explores uncharted territory. She has the key to the forbidden room. She unlocks the door. She, as one poet wrote, plants “posies on the hob stones of hell.” The creative self is interested in potential, the unexplained, the ineffable. So for her sake, I took a hike.

Literally. In pursuit of a stunning waterfall, a trek five-six miles roundtrip. Not exactly a walk around the block, but nothing that involved scrambling over boulders or climbing up the sides of mountains.

At first, left brain reminded me of all the rules: You’ve been sick. Take it easy. Don’t push yourself too hard. Are you sure you should be doing this? I’m not sure you can do this. Maybe you should go home and take a nap. Yes, a nap.

But cool water charged down the mountain in the creek that runs parallel to the trail. The weather wasn’t too hot or too cold, but just right. My husband, who’s been dabbling for years in 3-D graphics and game design, studied the trees with the methodical eye of an artist. As he told me how he would create a forest in the 3-D world of game design, he made me think about my own stories, how I’d sort of left them hanging, how I wasn’t sure where to go next. Secretly, I’d been afraid that the muses weren’t ever going to return my calls. I’d reached a crossroads and then fog made the paths unclear.

We hiked past the main waterfall, where people slip and slide across the rocks, tiptoe on fallen logs lying across the creek, and swim in deep pools of icy water. Further along the trail, we looked down on another falls and across the water into the forest beyond. It reminded me of faerie country, the sort of place where faeries emerge to beguile or make deals with wandering mortals. It was the sort of place where stories are born, and I could feel the creative self buzzing with possibilities.

So I took a hike and learned to cultivate quiet in my life. I’m learning that I need to step out to that place every day, to the edge of the forest, past the place crowded with hikers to where the stories dwell.

Because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the stories sleep, curled up like a dozing faerie child against the roots of a giant tree.

What about you? How do you cultivate places for creativity in this busy world?

creativity, feed your muse

Singing to the Muses: Pearl and the Beard

I recently saw a band that inspired me as a writer, not just because their songs roused my inner storyteller, but because they take risks as artists: Pearl and the Beard. What they’re doing is so unique, and I’ve always admired artists who follow their medium, dedicate themselves to their craft, and make it shine. Their voices are powerful, their instrumental accompaniment unique and strong. Their work reminds me that there are indefinite combinations of words, notes, or brushstrokes—infinite possibilities for how we make art.

Art feeds our creativity; it awakens the deep self and the stories and songs that sleep inside of us. I love going to a concert because I get caught up in the energy of the music. Whether it’s the symphony or a string quartet, an aria or an a cappella group, an acoustic performance or an electric one, music, like a good story, can transport us.

So here’s a taste of Pearl and the Beard’s music. I hope it inspires you as it has me. And, as Moss of “IT Crowd” once said, “You best put seat belts on your ears…because they’re about to go for the ride of their lives.”

dose of inspiration

Confessions of a self-actualization junkie:

Some people want to climb the corporate ladder. Me? I just want to get to the top of Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs.

Maybe it all started in psych 101, the first time I saw that pyramid. The truth is that I’ve always wanted to become the best possible version of myself, ever since I was a little girl writing in her journal and sitting in the forest, pondering the meaning of life. I knew from a young age that I wanted something different out of my life, something that didn’t even seem like a possibility at the time. I couldn’t see what I wanted, but I knew it was out there.

I am introspective by default, critical by nature, and so analytical I’m surprised smoke doesn’t occasionally pour out of my ears. I assess, I reassess, and I take careful steps. Sure, I leave space in my life for play and spontaneity, but I am so goal-driven that it can be, quite frankly, detrimental. I’ve worked myself so hard, burnt the candle at both ends, that I’ve run myself into the ground before. And even that I analyzed until I’d seen each slide of my decisions under the microscope.

I meditate, do yoga, read Martha Beck articles on Oprah.com, do numerology, read up about my astrological sign, Feng Shui my home so often I’ve earned the right to use Feng Shui as a verb, and frequently peruse books by Deepak Chopra. I know my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFJ, the idealist or protector, and the rarest type). We’re dreamers, but we’re also hard-nosed. We love goals. Repeat: Love. Goals. Personalitypage.com writes of the INFJ:

INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis [that] is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.

Do you know your Myers-Briggs type? How does your Myers-Briggs type influence your approach to your goals?

Read more about how I’m fumbling my way toward self-actualization…