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Archive for January, 2010

Aimee: Messyville

[Editor's note: Aimee Dolich of Artsyville is an irresistible artist and a lovely person. Aimee has agreed to have several posts from her archives re-posted here. Enjoy! I look forward to sharing more of Aimee on these pages in future.]

Crossposted from Artsyville

there is a danger in daring to doodle during the day when a toddler is on the prowl, as you can see in this five minute wrath of a two year old. and i don’t even have the heart to show you the toothpaste wrath of a six year old. imagine an entire tube of sculptures on the light fixtures, the wall, the bathtub, the floor; bathroom shelves adorned with crisp stripes, sink knobs thoughtfully painted, the basin a sea of blue. what’s that you say? this and this? OK… i’ll try… but alas, i think daylight creating is out of the question for the moment. back to moonlighting for a while ;)

Brittany: Unkeeping a Journal

Crossposted from my personal blog.

I’m the sort of writer whose ideas are in a constant state of percolation. I’ll be driving my mini-van, listening to the Wiggles, answering a constant stream of “whys” from the backseat, and all of a sudden a snippet of conversation will pop into my head, where it will sit until I’m in the grocery store, and I imagine a dialogue around that snippet of conversation, where it will sit until I’m in the middle of a debate with Tom about what to have for dinner, when the setting for the dialogue with the snippet of conversation will pop into my head. Then I’ll let it percolate some more while I work out all the sensory details and plot points. And then, when everything finally starts to come together in my own mind, I *try* to write it all down.

It’s not the most effective means of novel writing. Invariably, I lose my momentum halfway through and end up wracking my brain trying to remember what I’d been stewing over.

In this month’s Writer’s Digest, there’s an article that caught my attention about “unkeeping” a journal, and using it as a repository for all those snippets that fall into your head and end up lost to time. Since there are no rules, because technically, you aren’t *keeping* a journal, you can use it to play around with your writing, brainstorm out loud, and amuse yourself by transcribing the conversations around you, funny things children say, and any interesting stories that interest you. All excellent ideas.

Some of the suggestions didn’t really appeal to me. I’m not going to interview myself, pretending I’m a bestselling author, for example. And I don’t see the point in brainstorming titles for a children’s book about two dogs. But a couple of pages into the article, one of the suggestions really caught my eye.

It’s an exercise called Outrunning the Critic. What you’re supposed to do is write 100 short sentences about a character, central concept, or scene in a story, and write those sentences without lifting your pen from the paper. I read that and went, “Huh. I should try that.”

I had a scene percolating in my head — a very pivotal, very long scene that I didn’t want to start yet. It was just too daunting. It takes place at a square dance and it had already taken three hours of watching square dance and clogging videos on You Tube to get the first page of the scene started. But the boys were playing trains in the playroom, and they wanted me in there with them, so I grabbed my new journal, numbered the lines from 1 to 100 and jotted down thoughts as they came to me.

Even though there were times that John was leaping on me and literally swinging off my pen-wielding arm (in danger of getting his little eyes stabbed out, by the way, which I suppose is an occupational hazard when your mother is a novelist) I got my 100 short sentences written in pretty short order. It was surprising to see how truly fleshed out that portion of the chapter already was in my head, and how little I really needed to fill in.

Since I don’t like to “write” until the scene is complete in my head, but 100 sentences feels like a substantial amount of ideas for getting started, I was able to subvert that part of myself that says “Sorry. Not enough here to write it down.” The best part is, in transcribing those 100 sentences into the body of my text, I see it is a hugely substantial piece of writing after all. It didn’t feel like I was making progress because it was too easy, but even so, I was.

This is definitely a technique I’ll try again (there’s a lot of scene left to write, and I still dread writing it).

[Photo courtesy the8rgrl]

Debra Bellon: Star

Debra Bellon’s ongoing poetry blog, No Haikus, is a treat. Excellent way to re-fill your own well. Here is a recent gem:


Another long mile. You breathe;
the air is full of dust, the moon
achingly round.
All the words that once seemed important
are now gone, like the bitter
November leaves.
You yearn for the faraway light
of the nameless star
flickering in the dark sky,
both inviting
and devastatingly vast

Thanks for permission to re-post at Studio Mothers, Debra. More, more, more!

Creative Haven: Purple Cottage Retreats

If you’ve been hanging around at Studio Mothers for a while, you’re already familiar with Kelly Warren. Kelly is an inspiration, living life to the fullest with her twin daughters and husband, a fulltime job, and a busy creative life as a jewelery designer, photographer, collage artist, guitarist, singer, and active blogger. Read the Studio Mothers Breakfast interview with Kelly for details — and a guaranteed smile.

As further evidence that Kelly’s creative mojo just can’t be contained, she recently took a big step toward realizing another creative dream and launched a new venture, The Purple Cottage. The Purple Cottage offers unique creative retreats in Jacksonville, FL. The first retreat will take place May 21-23, 2010, featuring the talented Carmen Torbus — who joined us for a memorable Breakfast interview of her own. Carmen is a empowering and inspiring teacher, in addition to being a talented artist. Have a peek at Carmen’s work for yourself.

From The Purple Cottage website:

Spend the weekend constructing your personal Dream Book. Explore a mixed assortment of techniques, exercises, prompts and methods to uniquely express your thoughts, emotions and individual artistic style. Cultivate your wildest creative dreams and tuck them neatly into your Dream Book to cherish, reflect upon and nourish your soul.

Enjoy a supportive atmosphere where you can give your muse the complete freedom to play and experiment with many techniques. My demos will use paint, papers, photos, ink, collage and other media. I will toss some exercises your way to challenge you to dream bigger and expand your vision. We’ll explore words and text to create personal affirmations and find creative ways to incorporate them in our Dream Books.

At this retreat you are free to make a mess, play and let go of the need for perfection. I will gently and playfully encourage you to let loose and fully engage in the moment — creating simply for the joy of the process. Enjoy sheer artful indulgence!

Throughout the weekend, we’ll use brushes, pencils, our fingers, stamps, crayons and other tools to create texture and add color to the pages that will fill your Dream Books. We will work on several pages simultaneously, giving you complete freedom to work intuitively. Savor absolute creative abandon!

Art and Dreams ButtonIt’s hard to overestimate just how much creative excitement, learning, sharing, growing, bonding, and exploring will happen at this retreat. It sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? I’m still trying to figure out if I can attend this retreat myself. If I lived within a 6-hour drive of Jacksonville, it would be a no-brainer. I’m not sure my husband is still reading my blog these days, but Honey, if you are……

Brittany: What Did You Do Today?

Crossposted from my personal blog.

“What did you do today?” It’s never a good idea to ask this of a stay-at-home mom and expect to be told anything exciting as a result.

One of my single (and childless) friends asked me this very question today, and I was embarrassed to admit that so far, my morning had consisted of getting Sam to preschool, then taking John with me to Target to buy him some training pants.

I left out the part about waking up to Ice Age: The Meltdown, making toaster waffles for breakfast, negotiating with Sam about which shoes to wear to school, and refereeing a squabble over how many Froot Loops Sam should share with John and who would get to hold the cup of Froot Loops after Sam exited the car.

That was my morning in a nutshell. Heady stuff there…

And yet, when I got home, and after I put John to bed and dumped his new training pants in the wash (to hopefully shrink them — Baby Boy is only in the 6th percentile for weight), my life got interesting because once again, I felt a compulsion to write and my brain was almost instantly transported up to Bear Wallow.

Now I’m a novelist, with interesting things to talk about.

Like, for example, this new method of writing. I haven’t even once sat down at the computer and tried to bang out a chronological story. In fact, I rarely sit down at the computer at all. Mostly, scenes have been popping into my head and I’ll write down whatever comes to mind in my notebook while I sit with the boys in the playroom.

Then, during their naps, I’ll slip downstairs to the computer and type out what I’ve already written freehand. I had so many snippets that I began to put them in chronological order. Then, out of nowhere, I had a fully fleshed out beginning, middle, and end. So whenever I get a new scene, I stick it in the appropriate chronology, and move on.

Yesterday during the boys’ afternoon nap, I typed out my ending. Then after they woke up, while they were playing, I wrote a scene that became the catalyst for the ending.

And when I want to write, and I’m stuck, I just number my page from 1-100 and jot ideas down. Sometimes they go together (they usually do), but sometimes it’s a thought pertaining to something I’ve already written. And then I go add all of that to the body of the novel. And the book is slowly coming together.

This is quite possibly the craziest writing experience I’ve ever had. This is not what writing is supposed to feel like. This is not how writing is supposed to me done. I don’t feel like I’m in the driver’s seat with this one at all. And now I’ve got this niggling voice in the back of my head (my Muse, most likely) saying absolutely insane things like “When you’re done writing this one, you’ll have to go back and re-write Home Improvement the same way.”

The Soul’s Re-education – Whose writing do you love?

I will never be a literary critic. I say Wow. I say Yes. I feel a resonance inside, a plucked guitar string, light shifting, I find myself holding my breath. I feel a flicker of an idea, consciousness swirling, a pulse of feeling, a glimpse of memory that sets me ready to try to say…..something, something that might in turn touch and inspire others or provide them with a reflection of their emotions, or show them a new way of looking at the world.

Who are the writers that refill the well for you?

The last decade for me has been a decade of what I call ‘mud’. Not in a negative sense but in a hands-on, practical, prosaic, down in the thick of things kind of way. I have given birth to and raised four children with all the nappies and puree and wiping down and tidying up and cajoling and physical helping and emotional steering that that entailed. Something has to give, sometimes its ‘air’, what’s up there, the things that take us out of ourselves, music, words, exercise, theatre, new places, silence. The children are older now, the tiny baby stage has passed. I am about to start a new decade in age too. I want to begin to refuel in all the other things that I haven’t been able to get to. I still have the physical, the hugs, the squeaky noses, the lifting, the holding, the toddler insisting he can only be happy lying cheek to cheek with me but I want the breath as well, a little bit more than before.

This means catching up on old music videos I have never seen, bands that I hear fleetingly in the car between pickups but never hear the name of. It means, perhaps DVD box sets or catching re-runs of shows I missed like Madmen, The Mighty Boosh, The West Wing. It means getting to more music shows, more theatre, more galleries. (Even if its only 1 more!). And it means books and authors.

These are the books currently on my bedside table or in a tall pile beside it.

They are by writers who were recommended to me by others or are people that I have enjoyed in the past and want to continue to become more familiar with their work. In particular since I have begun to write so many short stories I have also become a voracious reader of short story collections.

  • Hanif Kureshami: The Body (Already in awe!)
  • J.G. Ballard: Kingdom Come
  • A.S Byatt: Possession
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Nabokov: Collected stories (His work is a wonderful revelation!)
  • Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
  • Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories
  • Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
  • Virginia Woolf: The Waves, To the Lighthouse
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl, Sweet Thursday, The Wayward Bus
  • Ivy Bannister: The Magician (short stories)
  • Paul Durkan: Life is a Dream: 40 Years Reading Poems 1967-2007
  • Sylvia Plath’s: Collected Poems

These are books I have enjoyed most in the past few years and highly recommend.

  • What was Lost: Catherine O’Flynn
  • The Accidental and Hotel World: Ali Smith
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • To a God Unknown, Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
  • The Gathering: Anne Enright
  • Postcards, The Shipping News: Annie Proulx
  • Map of Glass: Jane Urquart
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (An event of a book, great illustrations, notes in the margins. Beautiful to hold.)

Short Stories

  • How to Breathe Underwater: Julie Orringer
  • Constitutional: Helen Simpson
  • Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories
  • A.S. Byatt: Little Black Book of Stories

I also hope to become acquainted with the stories of Raymond Carver and to read the first two available stories from The Chaos Walking Trilogy (teen fiction) by Patrick Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.

Help me with my re-education, my filling up of the soul and the well of inspiration.

Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite books? Do you have any recommendations for us of authors we should become acquainted with? Are you an author we should become acquainted with? Add in your favourite band and TV show too. Please leave your comments and hopefully we can share some gems.

Ellie: One Crafty Mother

I’m Ellie, mother to two kids aged 7 and 4. I’m a jewelry designer, blogger and I love writing. I sell my jewelry on Etsy, which has worked well for me. When I’m not chasing my kids around, making jewelry, or writing, I love to read. I have been designing and selling jewelry for the past two years, specializing in wire wrapping. I started a blog last May, thinking I would just dabble in it, and it I love the creative process of writing a few times a week. I am also a woman in recovery from alcoholism — sober over two years now — and my writing and jewelry making is a HUGE part of my recovery. It helps me stay in touch with my creative muse and gives me peace of mind. I love this community, and I’m looking forward to learning more about everyone!

[Editor's note: You can follow Ellie at Twitter via @onecraftyellie!]

Brittany: Bitten By the Muse

(parts cross-posted from my personal blog)

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I can be a real literary snob. But after obtaining a BA and an MA in English, which required me to read approximately 500 works of English literature in 5 1/2 short years (all of which were considered classics), I started to scoff at certain types of books.

And since an MA in English is about as useless as an advanced degree in Bird Calling, I’ve tried (tried being the key word) to put a little distance between myself and overly-commercialized drivel, because I couldn’t possibly be seen reading that stuff. I have an image to maintain, right? Snobbish-literary-type, playing-bongos-in-some-smokey-dive, composing-odes-to-Kafka-on-a-cocktail-napkin. You get the picture.

Enter Twilight. I read all the articles, all the reviews, watched the hysterical swooning, saw how one little book about teenaged vampires turned the world on its head, and Masters-in-English Brittany sniffed disdainfully at all that nonsense and went on reading “big girl” books. You want me to read a young adult, sci-fi vampire book? Please.

But there is a part of me that pays attention to pop culture, and when talk about Stephanie Meyer and her stupid vampire books wouldn’t go away, I became curious. The writer in me was curious about the writing. The sleep-deprived mom in me wondered what in the hell would possess my son’s preschool teacher (another mom) to stay up well past midnight to watch New Moon the night it hit theaters. Was I missing something?

So for Christmas, I asked Tom to get me the series, and being Tom, he looked at me like I’d just casually asked him to buy me a crack pipe. But he got me the first three books anyway (and didn’t buy me the fourth because it was still in hardback and he didn’t want to pay hardback prices if I hated the books) and New Year’s Eve, I parked my butt on the couch and read ALL THREE BOOKS straight through.

I haven’t read books with that much enthusiasm in I don’t even know how long. Maybe never. I was able to put Harry Potter down at least. With the Twilight series, the house could have been on fire and I would gladly have gone up in smoke  just to read one more page.

And I don’t particularly enjoy young adult, sci-fi, or vampire books. So that was uncharacteristic for me.

But even stranger still, reading about Edward and Bella appears to have tripped my circuit breaker back into the “on” position, and as long as I am under the Twilight spell, I can write and write and write. I actually had to leave Tom twice in the middle of a conversation yesterday because words and phrases kept popping into my head and I felt this odd (and lately, all but forgotten) compulsion to go write those things down RIGHT THEN.

And I want to point out, here for all the world to see, that I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to start writing again. I hadn’t given it the first thought. In fact my unspoken New Year’s resolution regarding writing was that I’d only write when I had a real compulsion to do so, but was *not* going to sit anywhere near a computer and try to compose anything.

And yet here I am, burning up the keyboard like a woman possessed. I had less than two thousand words written a week ago, and that was after a couple of months of plodding along whenever I felt a scene coming. Now I have 6, 942.

It’s been a very odd couple of days.

Since I finished the first three books, I haven’t been able to sleep. Or at least sleep deeply. All night my brain is working away, re-imagining scenes, analyzing the words, the moods, the tone, the characters, the use of adverbs (usually a no-no), the use of modifiers (also a no-no), the way Stephanie Meyer describes every little nuance of every single facial expression, tone of voice, shade of skin. My brain wants to learn everything it can. I’ve been so manic about the Twilight saga that I sat down and read Midnight Sun (Twilight told from Edward’s perspective) — and then was promptly inspired to write a chapter from my own male protagonist’s point-of-view. Then, when I thought I was well and truly going to lose my mind if I didn’t read Breaking Dawn, bought it yesterday and read it straight through, and rented the movie Twilight today. I’ll probably sneak off to watch New Moon this weekend.

I may need a twelve-step program after this.

But I’m not one to turn down a gift Muse, in whatever guise she appears, and if vampire love is what it takes to get me writing feverishly again (and I can’t tell you how good it is to feel obsessive compulsive again), then I’ll take it.

The funny thing is, and it only occurred to me after the fact, Stephanie Meyer is a writing mother, too. In this interview she describes the way Twilight first came to her in a dream, and the strange compulsion she felt to write the story.

Perhaps we’ve  been bitten by the same muse. :-)

Creative resolutions, one week later?



Cathy: Moms Who Blog

crosspost from musings in mayhem

Moms Who Blog: It sounds like a support group for mother’s who can’t help themselves from blogging, a twelve-step program.

But it’s a growing population of those of us who need to tell our stories, lament the woes and record the triumphs of our day in and day out, a way to be creative when we feel we have no mental space for thinking more deeply in order to write our great american novels or capture the image of our masterpieces, like in the days before we had children and we still had brains capable of more than routine tasks and singing Old MacDonald for the 300,000th time, or reading Tikki-Tikki-Tembo until we are blue in the face.

It seems from where I sit anyway, that there are more of us in the blogosphere than most, and fathers too, recording the amazing and most common thing humanity shares, the raising of our children.

Some of us are special needs moms, some are moms of teens, tweens or small children, some moms of blended families, some young moms, some who waited until later in life, and some of us are all of the above. And yes, I am talking about me in that last group. :)

We share a lot, with each other and of ourselves with the world at large. I think, besides the outlet for creativity, we do so to say, like the Whos on Horton’s dustpeck, We are here! We are here! We are here! To say, we matter, I am doing something with my life, and it’s important. We do it to say, I am not alone, are you out there, can you hear me? I want to hear your story, too!

The old trotted out line that it takes a village to raise a child is very true, and one of those reasons is to keep the mother who is caring for her kids from feelings of desperate isolation. It may be the mother who is running from work to home and racing to the store for dinner in between, who is lacking a serious connection with her friends she used to see all the time or stay up all night talking on the phone. It may be the mother who is going mental thinking the last time she had a conversation that didn’t involve diapers and their contents in graphic detail was she can’t remember when. It may be the mother who seems to have moments of sheer joy at the developmental milestone her child just sailed past, who wants to call out, Hey! Did you see that?! It may be the mother who found a moment of quiet and beauty with her child that cracked her open like an egg to the wonders of the universe.

Some people, even in this day and age, still have their coffee klatches and playdates, some of us don’t. In the twenty-first century, we have our blogs. Our neighborhood is the whole world and whoever happens to click in and say hello, I see you, and that sounds just like me! Sometimes readers click in, and if you use a tracker on your blog, you can see them and know you’ve been visited from Brazil, Ireland, Russian, Japan, or across the the US or even from the next town. I feel validated when I see my tracker or when people, I still haven’t met but who feel like friends comment. I feel like what I’m doing matters. That sometimes talking about the tougher stuff helps someone else, or sharing a joy lifts someone’s spirit. But mostly I feel like the fact that I am parenting matters. That I’m not doing it in a void. That doing what I can for my kids is the best thing I can do.

I’ll just write the great american novel later. When I’ve had some more sleep.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Not made for “momming”

Thanks to Cathy Coley for sending me a link to Lucy Kaylin’s interesting interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed (as well as three other books). The interview is good reading for any writer or Gilbert fan, but the bits about motherhood — and choosing not to become a mother — are of special interest. Here are a few excerpts.

LK: While the book is fundamentally about marriage, you are also quite frank about not wanting children, which had been a big problem in your first marriage. How did you reach that decision?

LG: Where other women hear that tick, tick, tick and they’re like, “Must have baby,” for me, it was like, tick, tick, tick, “boom.” [Laughs] It was a biological clock, but it was attached to a bunch of C-4 explosives. I’ve often thought that if I had been married to somebody who wanted to be a mom, I could have done it. I used to say, “Man, I think I’d be a really good dad. I’ll be a great provider. I’m funny; I’ll go on trips with them — I’ll do all sorts of stuff.” But the momming? I’m not made for that. I have a really good mom; I know what she put into it. I didn’t think I had the support to both have that and continue on this path that was really important to me. I wasn’t married to a man who wanted to stay home and raise kids. So…

LK: You tell a story in the book that is pivotal for you, about your grandmother. She was born with a cleft palate and thought to be unmarriageable, so she got an education and took care of herself, one day rewarding herself with a $20 fur-trimmed, wine-colored coat, which she adored. Eventually she does marry. And when she gives birth to her first daughter, she cuts up the coat to make something for the child.

LG: That’s the story of motherhood, in a large way. You take the thing that is most precious to you, and you cut it up and give it to somebody else who you love more than you love the thing. And we tend to idealize that, and I’m not sure we should. Because the sacrifice that it symbolizes is also huge. Her marriage and her seven children, in a life of constant struggle and deprivation — it was heavy. And that beautiful mind, that beautiful intellect, that exquisite sense of curiosity and exploration, was gone.

I went to Africa when I was 19, and when I came back, I was showing her pictures. And I remember her stopping me and just — she had to collect herself. And she said, “I cannot believe that a granddaughter of mine has been to Africa. I just can’t imagine how you got there.” I think that her story is so central to my story. To be able to choose the shape of your own life — you sort of must do that, as an act of honor to those who couldn’t. There were times, especially when I was traveling for Eat, Pray, Love, when, I swear to God, I would feel this weight of my female ancestors, all those Swedish farmwives from beyond the grave who were like, “Go! Go to Naples! Eat more pizza! Go to India, ride an elephant! Do it! Swim in the Indian Ocean. Read those books. Learn a language. Do it!” I could just feel them. They were just like, “Go beat the drum.”

LK: Now that you’ve been hit with this tsunami of cash, is there any threat that it might insulate you from the kind of rugged, spontaneous travel that made you famous?

LG: I’ve actually never traveled less than since I got hit with a tsunami of cash. When I was in Mexico when I was 20, I remember meeting this American couple who were in their 60s, and they said, “Oh, it’s so great that you’re traveling now, before you have kids, because you won’t be able to then.” I know this is a thing that people do; they go traveling for a year, and then they hitch their leash to the wall and put their face in their feed bag and that’s the end of it. And I thought, “But I might want to keep doing this,” you know?

You can read the full interview here.

Gilbert clearly believes that banging the drum and having children would not be compatible. I can understand that perspective. I can also understand how suburban inertia can look very much like being hitched to the wall with your face in a feedbag. <shiver>

I have to admire Gilbert for knowing who she is, what she wants, and what she doesn’t want. And I have to thank her for reminding me that I DO NOT want to waste my life face-down in a bag of oats. (A bag of Entenmann’s chocolate-chip cookies, maybe.) But really. It’s a good thing I read this interview while still full of New-Year adrenaline. I’m considering posting pictures of feed bags all around my desk just to make sure I stay on track.

What about you? Have you banged any drums recently? Is drum-banging compatible with your brand of motherhood? Or are you too occupied cutting up your treasured coat in order to fashion something new for your children?


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