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Reading, Writing, and Stargazing

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Kim Davis and car cameras, Serena Williams and Syrian refugees, Donald’s hair and Clinton’s emails . . . and September 11th, of course. Opinions and predictions, rages and laments. Words, words, and more words. Aren’t you sick of them? I sure am.

You might have noticed that I’ve taken a little break from blogging lately, after three years of being fairly faithful about it. Why add to the noise and hub-bub, when I have nothing insightful to say at the moment? And I’m hoping that my creative energies might build up to dramatic and explosive levels if I put a cap on the well and quit releasing little blips of creativity every week through my blog.

No great bursts of brilliance yet, but I’m certain there’s one bubbling up. Or not.

During this blogging hiatus, I have started writing Morning Pages again, the thirty-minute stream-of-consciousness-just-keep-your-hand-moving practice extolled by author Julia Cameron and other writing mentors as a way to access your subconscious and release your creativity. There might be something to it: I’ve recently drafted two personal essays that have potential, assuming I can muster the discipline to slog through the editing and polishing process. Attention Deficit Disorder lends itself to blogging, but not as much to focused writing projects requiring multiple revisions. My master’s thesis nearly killed me.

Julia Cameron also recommends a whole week of abstaining from all forms of reading, but I’ve always thought that impossible, if not outright insane. Who would do that? And why would that help my creativity? Every time I get to that chapter in Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I conveniently misplace the book. (ADD helps with that, too.)

Hence, I was surprised a few weeks ago when I got a strong inclination to quit reading fiction for a time. It’s torture, really, but it feels like the right thing. I get lost in novels, which is wonderful and relaxing and healthy, but it can be taken to the extreme. Right now I need to be more disciplined and intentional about my time and my reading. I want to focus on my new pastoral role at church, and I’ve been teaching some challenging writing workshops. So it’s strictly non-fiction for now, mostly spiritual, but also an outstanding memoir by Tobias Wolfe, This Boy’s Life.

I’ve been reading about prayer (I suppose some might call this fiction), and am learning a lot. But I can get trapped in my brain, and there’s a danger of my spending too much time studying prayer and forgetting to actually pray. So I’m also setting aside contemplative time for meditation and labyrinth walking and star gazing. Rough life, right?

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve missed you guys this past month. I’ll touch base again when I have some words worth saying. Peace to you.

Whiling away the time...

Whiling away the time…

Ten Minute Blah-Blah

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Well, this is a really bad idea, I can tell already. If you start with the word “well,” you are already meandering. But that’s what happens when you’re doing woo-woo writing. It’s like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages,” where she tells her disciples to write every morning for thirty minutes, non-stop free-hand, in order to free up the subconscious.

That may be good therapy and it may be good exercise for the wrist, but it is surely not good form for actual writing. Nevertheless, since I had so much fun with the WordPress Daily Prompt yesterday, and since I am trying to avoid errands and chores and packing for my road trip, I decided to see what the Daily Prompt was this morning, and it’s a free-write:

“Take ten minutes — no pauses! — to write about anything, unfiltered and unedited.”

So readers, don’t blame me — this is a WordPress idea and I am just writing, writing. Though I must admit, as much as I didn’t care for morning pages (mostly because they cut into my more reflective journaling time), I do prefer Cameron’s writing by hand to typing, which I’m doing now.

I rarely draft a blog by hand unless inspiration strikes when I am on the metro or in a restaurant or something. Too much trouble — then you have to type it in, and that leads to micro-editing and pondering word choice, and that’s too many steps for something that’s by nature imperfect, unpolished. At least that’s the nature of my blogs. Good practice for overcoming perfectionism. This post in particular will not be accused of perfection.

I think it’s just dreadful how boring my brain is. I have — oh, I don’t know — forty or fifty volumes of journals dating back to 1970. I never read them, though I do intend to if I ever get off my duff and start my memoir. But if the current volumes are any indication, they are all pretty boring. Blah blah kind of stuff. Like this blog post.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

I rarely think about who might read them, which is funny, because I do tend to care too much what others think of me. But I recognize that those journals have saved my sanity and perhaps even my life: I must vent and cannot be bothered with posthumous reactions.

I’m pretty transparent anyway, there probably aren’t many surprises except to find out how obsessive I am, when to most folks I appear fairly laid back. The obsessiveness and boring patterns and repeated life mistakes are what makes the journals tiresome.

Who thinks like that? And who would encourage a blogger to dump that crap out on the page? I don’t even like to read stream-of-consciousness writing by the greats like Virginia Woolf. Why would I write it? Why would I subject you to it, dear reader? Because WordPress told me to.

You are SOOOOOO glad that ten minutes is up.

Tick Tock, Tick tock

Online Dating as a Creative Process

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Reading about creativity is way easier than actually creating something, just as messing about on a dating website is way easier than going on a date.

Today I’ve been reading about art as process, rather than product; about how our consumer mindset cramps our creativity by asking questions like, “Where is this idea going?” or “How might this direction help my career?”

creativity

creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee) Creative Commons

Fine questions for a certain time and place, but there’s a time in the creative process – the writing process, in my case – when you have to let your wild woman/man be in charge. No judge, no editor, just gut.

You can read a superb essay by Betty S. Flowers about this artistic process here.

Asking “What is this going to be?” might be asking for a creative block. It tells your curiosity and sense of fun that they are not welcome.

“When we focus on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure,” says Julia Cameron. “Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.”

Foolish. Not to mention barren.

Sex or True Love?

Which brings me to online dating. If you read my last post, you will know that I have just entered this baffling world, after many moons of being happily single and date-free.

One of the questions on the site I’m using asks:

“Are you interested in A.) Sex or B.) True Love?”

That’s it? Those are my options? The “products” I’m allowed to choose from?

What about C.) Having Fun and D.) Enjoying Myself and E.) Trying New Things?

Daydreaming a Date

One person who commented on my last blog said I should make haste to meet anyone I might be interested in, lest I start daydreaming and create imaginary partners. Point well taken: I’m already doing the imaginary man thing. She warns against wasting time in case there’s no chemistry once prose becomes human voice and personality. She is a wise woman.

On the other hand, I have time. Perhaps there is a place for daydreaming, making stuff up, letting my wild woman romp around in my head for a while.

I think that for someone like me who has not focused on dating for an eternity, simply enjoying the process can be healthy. For instance, contemplating all this has led me to seriously consider what I’m looking for in a guy . . . to create that guy in my mind. This gives me an ideal to compare the “real thing” with, if and when I decide to meet one of those real things.

The Perfect Product

When I consider what I’m seeking, not one of my desires resembles a product or an end goal.

From my journal, I offer just a taste: “Someone to share perspectives with – to laugh together, be outraged together, wonder together, be grateful together, pray together . . . I want somebody to encourage me, to share my dreams for who I want to be and to support me getting there in a loving, ego-free way . . .”

All process, not product.

All journey, not destination.

My two-page list also hopes for someone creative and maybe a little quirky who will cherish and adore me and help me with projects around the house. Yes, I’m asking for a lot, but if I’m going to give up one iota of my freedom, it’s going to have to be for a VERY good reason.

The wish-list ends with a heartfelt prayer: “God save me from being bored.”

To be continued . . .

Creating Abundance

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I was chatting with my neighbor Linda this morning about psychology, types of therapy, and what constitutes childhood trauma. You know, the usual over-the-back-fence conversations.

We agreed that there are two ways to view life, metaphysically speaking: as if the universe, or God, or whatever Higher Power might exist is good and benevolent, or as if She/He/It is vindictive and negative. Some folks simply expect good things, like the person who says (and actually believes) “everything will work out OK,” while others cycle between “It figures,” or “What do you expect?” or “Of course this would happen to me.”

You can see the physical manifestation of these mindsets in the lined faces of elderly people, can’t  you? Were their eyebrows often raised in wonder or expectation, their cheeks creased by smiles? Or were their mouths drawn down in discontent or bitterness?

Johnny

What’s Johnny’s mindset?

Family Flack

Our childhoods and the attitudes we absorbed from our families heavily influence which side of the dichotomy we occupy. If your father regularly dumped his obsessive financial angst on your little head, you might have grown up fearful, expecting the worst. If your older siblings railed at you, “What the hell is wrong with you??” whenever something happened to spill or break in your vicinity, you might have grown up believing that you are such a loser you don’t deserve anything good to happen to you anyway.

I have a friend who invariably remarks whenever I share anything good that’s come my way, “How come nothing like that ever happens to me?” His attitude sucks the joy out of his own life and out of our interactions.

Counting the Cost of Freedom

My point is this: we have choices in this matter. If we have learned an attitude of scarcity and a mistrust of fate as kids, we can decide to do the hard work of recovery as adults and unlearn the negative beliefs that make us unhappy.

Oh sure, there is some satisfaction in playing the victim or in anticipating scarcity and/or trouble. It feels good to say, “See? I knew it. I was right.” There’s a certain sense of control in that. And it’s familiar and comfortable.

One has to calculate the costs of abandoning negativity and the benefits of launching into the unknown realm of hope.

What we Nurture

One of the bugaboos that clings to me like a fat tick is my habit of nurturing dread. When things are going smoothly, my default is to wonder what’s going to go wrong.

“This can’t last – when’s the other shoe going to drop?” is a perfectly natural reaction for a person who grew up in an alcoholic family. Anything could and would happen.

And this is true in general. Good times will pass because change is the nature of life. Good times pass, but so do bad times. Happy times and sad times. Life is both/and.

It’s what you choose to focus on that creates your reality. Something awful might happen tomorrow, but why should I ruin today by thinking about it? I have better things to nurture.

Which brings me to creativity.

Creating Abundance

One of the reasons I enjoy reading fine literature is that I find the world of words and ideas to be infinitely expansive. That’s why I write, too. When I’m in the zone, my tiny mind is released from all constraints, and I expect magic. It might not *read* like magic, but it *feels* like magic.

Creating and experiencing art gives me a sense of open, boundless freedom through which I can connect to others.

My neighbor Linda is sitting on her patio picking out a new song on the guitar. She plucks and sings, then picks up her pen and writes. I’m sitting on my porch, writing this blog. The fact that Linda is exhibiting her creativity doesn’t mean that there’s less for me. In fact, there’s a symbiosis going on. Her guitar is providing a soundtrack for my morning and bringing back memories loaded with creative potential; she asks if I can help her with lyrics.

Inside a human head and heart there exists a reality of limitless abundance and possibility waiting to be unleashed, no matter what’s going on in day-to-day reality. When you open to this creative spirit, whether its visual arts, music, or writing, you are saying you believe in abundance. You believe there is more than enough.

And it is all good.

Julia Cameron writes in her book, The Artist’s Way Every Day: A Year of Creative Living:

“Because art is born in expansion, in a belief in sufficient supply, it is critical that we (artists) pamper ourselves for the sense of abundance that it brings to us.”

She says that creative blocks usually come from our attitudes. “The actual block is our feeling of constriction, our sense of powerlessness. Art requires us to empower ourselves with choice. At the most basic level, this means choosing to do self-care.”

I like people who tell me to pamper myself. I’m thinking I might go see a movie instead of cleaning my dining room. For the sake of creativity, of course.

Make Something Good!

I hope that you get a chance to do something fun and creative this summer. If you don’t think of yourself as the creative type, I call B.S. You were creative when you were a little kid, and you can recapture it. It’s all in the attitude.

Give yourself permission to believe something different.

Finger paint.

Write a poem or a children’s story.

Build an awesome sand castle.

Make some quality mud pies with your kid.

Experience the abundance that’s bottled up inside you.

Happy summer!

Women Wrestling With Writing

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“I’m afraid to write.” The woman looks down and gives the dirt a few timid kicks with the toe of her Nike-clad foot.

“I don’t get that,” says her twenty-something daughter. “I blogged a lot when I was trying to work through my family stuff a few years ago.”

“Yes, that helped you, didn’t it?” The older woman says, more to herself than to her daughter. “But still, I couldn’t.”

Couldn’t what, exactly? It’s not as if we were talking about publishing  – I had simply suggested that journaling might help her sort through the tangle of what’s-next-in-my-life thoughts that tumbled out of her mouth. What was she afraid of? The thing is, I’ve heard this trepidation expressed often, especially from “women of a certain age.” When I mention that I’ve left my career and gone back to school for a Master’s in Writing, their response is often an expression of awe and fear that would be more appropriate if I were taking up alligator wrestling.

I suppose that could be partly a reaction to me leaving a good paying job to pursue freelance writing. Yes, that’s crazy. But they’ll follow it up with, “I could never write. I’d be too afraid.” If you ask what of, they’ll say they don’t know.

Are they afraid they won’t write well? That they’ll be judged? Won’t measure up to some imagined standard? Feel stupid?

The most important thing about putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, is at least a mild willingness to contemplate truth. Writing can be like moderating a conversation with the voices in your own head as they meander their way towards an emerging truth. When you’re writing, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t share it if you don’t want to. But you do have to be willing to let the truth settle out, like flakes of gold through silty water.

What some people fear, I expect, is looking at the truth. And that’s because the truth is often not an intellectual thing, but a matter of the heart and the emotions. These women don’t want to confront their feelings. Writing can be very revealing and therapeutic, but therapy is hard. And scary. They seem afraid to look inside themselves, afraid of what might be down there. Having been raised to be “nice” women who don’t make waves, they’ve likely got a cap on things like resentment and disappointment and unexpressed anger. Or maybe they fear there is nothing in there at all. Nobody home, or at least nobody worth noticing.

I don’t know what issues the woman in the Nikes was dealing with, and she probably doesn’t either. I do know that in the ten minutes we chatted, she repeatedly apologized for herself and called herself stupid twice. I could feel the toxicity of her shame. I almost wanted to beg her to write.

“You’ve got to expose those wounds,” I wanted to say. “Let it all bleed out onto the page so the infection can get some air and light.” Just Do It, Nike Lady!

One of the reasons I’ve decided to study writing is to learn how I can help others discover the healing power of the pen. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen. I dredge up my crap, dump it on paper, and then sift through the muck looking for lessons, obsessions, warped motivations, and worries I’ve picked up that don’t have my name on them. Even if I start out making a grocery list, my psyche knows that it’s safe between those covers, and it will shortly deliver whatever needs to be processed.

If you don’t journal, Blog People, I hope you will start, or maybe try again if you’ve quit. Personal journaling might reduce navel-gazing on the web, and I’m certain it would make the world, and your brain, a healthier place.

I’m realizing as I write that I’ve got my own fears to confront. I have never read the dozens of old journals stacked in my closet. Once or twice I’ve scanned through some years of sexanddrugsandrock&roll, and what I read was painful. I felt sympathy for the desperately needy person I used to be, and sometimes disgust at the way I treated myself and others. It wasn’t fun reading. But it will surely enrich my writing if I can muster the courage to dive in. Fear is overrated.

“The courage to create is the courage to make something out of what we are feeling.”

Julia Cameron

 

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