Breakfast with Lisa
This week in our Friday series, “Breakfast” (where we get to know an inspiring, creative mother from the blogosphere and peek into her creative space) we break virtual bread with Lisa Damian, writer, literary critic, blogger, and mother of two young girls. Lisa is so dynamic that her personality leaps off the page, whether you’re reading her blog or the interview below. And that red hair? Oh…yeah. If only I had the guts.
CC: Tell us about who you are, what you do, and your family parameters.
LD: Who am I? Good question. Still trying to figure that one out, but the evidence suggests that I am a writer and a mother (and a whole slew of other things too numerous to get into here). I have two daughters — the oldest will be five in a couple of months, and my youngest will be two in July.
I spent most of my adult life pursuing a successful career in the field of higher education administration. I’ve been employed by and consulted for colleges and universities across the country. However, after becoming a mother, I realized that the demands of an intense yet traditional career were not as rewarding as they once were, and I took some time off to focus on my family and pursue more creative interests.
CC: Tell us about your writing life and creative projects.
LD: My nonfiction local history book, Trout Valley, the Hertz Estate, and Curtiss Farm, will be released at the end of July 2008. I enjoy doing book, art, movie, and culture reviews for my blog, the Damian Daily, and for Blogcritics Magazine, and I also publish articles for various other magazines and newspapers from time to time. I’ve dabbled in poetry, but my real passion is writing fiction. I’m currently about a third of the way through a novel.
As for other creative pursuits, I’ve been writing and dancing since I was a little girl. While working on my bachelor’s degree at UC Irvine, I crammed in as many electives as possible with courses in creative writing, art history, and film history, as well as numerous dance classes. I choreographed and performed all through high school and college. (As you can see by the photos, another way that I express my creativity is to change my look every few months.)
CC: What inspired you to launch a blog?
LD: The answer to that would be a ‘who’ rather than a ‘what.’ Lisa Guidarini, of Bluestalking Reader, founded the writers’ critique group in which I participate, and she has been instrumental in encouraging me along the way. One day, she said, “Lisa, you should start your own blog.” So I did.
CC: Where do you do your creative work?
LD: I have a beautiful office space at home with a gorgeous desk and a fantastic view. Every morning and evening, eight or nine deer can be seen grazing in the yard outside my office window. I hardly ever get anything done there.
I usually smuggle my laptop up to my bedroom and close and lock the door, hiding from my husband and kids so that I can concentrate on my writing. My laptop and I can often be found at any number of nearby libraries. I hardly go anywhere without a book, a journal, and my laptop, in the hope that I will be able to sneak in even the smallest snippet of time to read, write, or frantically jot down a story or character idea when inspiration strikes.
CC: What do you struggle with most?
LD: Finding the time to write is my biggest struggle. It’s always difficult to prioritize creativity when so many other daily demands beckon. Thankfully, my husband has been hugely supportive in that realm, sometimes pushing me out the door with my laptop, knowing that I will come home a happier woman after having spent a few hours writing.
I also find it challenging to transition from one project to the next. Maintaining a fluid consistency for a paranormal fiction story, for example, while juggling reviews and journalism projects or writing nonfiction can sometimes be like trying to play different roles on the same stage. My voice and writing style vary when I am writing in different genres, and sometimes juggling multiple projects can be a distraction.
CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
LD: Guilt used to be a major constraint for me. I felt like my career, my family, my friends, every volunteer project, the household chores, and everything else on the planet should come first, to the point where there was nothing at all left for me. I felt like my creative outlets were just that — “outlets.” What an awful word, really, when you think about it. Creative expression isn’t an outlet. It is an essential part of who we are. When I don’t make time for my creative pursuits, I am miserable, and that translates to everyone and everything around me.
CC: Where do you find inspiration?
LD: My biggest source for inspiration can be found in my own dreams, or rather my nightmares. I keep a dream journal on the nightstand near my bed, so that when I wake, I can quickly scribble down story or character ideas that emerged during my REM sleep. Some of my most spooky and intriguing concepts are taken directly from my frequent and relentless nightmares. I used to consider them a source of torment, but now I see them as my muse.
CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
LD: My favorite blogs are difficult to narrow down. I have favorite authors’ blogs, such as Neil Gaiman’s, and then I often visit blogs of other aspiring writers, sometimes political blogs, and frequently the blogs of friends and acquaintances. A few of the links on my Damian Daily blogroll include the Algonquin Area Writers Group (the writers group that I attend regularly), Bluestalking Reader, My Other Car is a Tardis, and of course Creative Construction.
CC: What are you reading right now?
LD: I’m always juggling multiple books at a time. I like to keep one in my laptop bag, one in the car, one by my bedside, and one in the living room, so that if I ever find myself with five free minutes, I can grab a book and read. I’m currently reading Abhorsen by Garth Nix, the third in a trilogy sent to me by Harper Collins for review. I’m also reading How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, Club Dead by Charlaine Harris, and a friend’s screenplay. I have a huge pile of review books to work my way through. They’re a joy, and I always get a little thrill when books arrive in the mail, but the stack grows at a pretty rapid rate.
CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
LD: My greatest indulgence is time set aside specifically to work on my fiction. A writing retreat off somewhere all by myself in a place with no distractions is my idea of sanctuary. An occasional bubble bath is a decadent pleasure now and then as well, especially when my girls don’t discover that I’m in the bath and try to jump in with me, splashing water and bubbles all over the bathroom floor.
CC: If you were having coffee with a mother of young children who wanted desperately to fit more creativity into her life, what advice would you offer?
LD: I would have to quote that old Nike slogan, “Just do it.” There will never be some magic sign telling you to “Be creative now, between the hours of 10:00-2:00.” Life is never going to slow down and give you permission. You have to give yourself permission to make creativity a priority.
Sometimes writing for me is more of a compulsion. I find myself up at 3:00 am writing, or unable to sleep if a story idea is churning in my head. Sometimes I think it might be easier to schedule inspiration at a more convenient time, but it doesn’t work that way. Whether it’s foregoing sleep, working around the kids’ nap times or school schedules, arranging a deal with another caregiver to watch the kids, or whatever else you can work out, you have to make the time. If you’re truly a creative person, you won’t be happy unless you make your creativity a priority.
CC: Thank you, Lisa!