Showing posts with label artist date. Show all posts
Showing posts with label artist date. Show all posts

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Through the Keyhole

"Hey, Jillian!" you exclaim.  "Where've you been?  You haven't written about anything since the garlic!  And you haven't changed the 'weekly quote' in weeks!"

"Around," I say, casually.  "Reading fabulous books.  Working on the first draft of a complicated novel.  Trying to get involved in an online writing group called Scribophile.  Disciplining a cat.  Ya know?"  

"Really?  Is that all?"

No, really.  I do feel at times that I'm galaxies away from Daedalus Notes, and it's hard to get back when so many other things are filling my head.  Such is the life of a writer: there never seems to be enough time or mental energy to give everything the attention it needs.  Sorry about that, readers!


You know I've been waxing poetic about Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird lately.  I read it twice in a row.  I'll probably buy it so that I can read it a dozen more times.  She simply speaks my language - not just because she understands the plight of passionate but anxious writers, but because she has conveyed wisdom in helpful, beautiful little metaphors richly sprinkled throughout her book.  One little image to which I keep returning is that of the one-inch picture frame: this focus beyond the storm of self-doubts and distractions that plague her when she first sits down to write.  It is a starting point, a little assignment to stoke the fires, silence the doubts and carry on.  And I love it.  She says:

"It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through the one-inch picture frame.  This is all I have to bite off for the time being.  All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running..."(Bird By Bird, page 17-18.) 

This image has come back to me repeatedly in the last several weeks.  A one-inch picture frame is tiny, perhaps the size of a locket.  It only has so much room to stay something.  Either you'd have to write in tiny, infinitesmal print or choose your words carefully.  

And then I happened to wander into Michael's, which is usually where I find myself on a casual artist's date.  There is so much - I don't know - possibility in craft stores.  I've always been excited by scrapbooking papers and embellishments, special pens and the smell of new journals.  In the midst of my perusal of clearance and sale items, I happened across a little (cheap) 2-inch picture frame, as well as a stack of fun Victorian-esque craft papers: images of keys and sprockets, flowers, butterflies, old letters and turn-of-the-century lovers under an umbrella.  And... a little image of a fancy keyhole.  Something clicked in my head.  And this is the result:

The frame is roughly 2 inches by 2 inches, but the keyhole itself is roughly one inch, and even tinier in places.  I have it on my desk to remind me of the starting point, beginning with the scene glimpsed through this tiny opening... so tiny you have to press your eye to it.  (Pretending of course, that it's a real keyhole below a doorknob in some deliciously old fashioned house.)  Only one image can fit in that little space, only a few words of truth, but they will launch you nonetheless.

So my frame and Ms. Lamott's frame are a little different, but I feel we understand each other.  The frame isn't what really matters - this $2 plastic-pretending-to-be-copper frame and a little piece of cardstock - but being able to silence all the noise in one's head so that we can finally sit down and listen to our hearts.  Focus on the keyhole, the squint, the slats between the blinds and write what you see, however you see it!

See you around!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Neverwhere on BBC4

I have just finished listening to the BBC Radio production of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.  It is exciting to hear one of my favorite novels transformed into such drama; nothing unlocks inspiration quite like hearing a story unfold, and letting the visuals come to life inside the imagination.  Neverwhere, though it has its short-comings, is one of the richest worlds ever created... from the streets of London Above to the sewers Below, to conversations with rat lords and the bustle and chatter and chaos of the floating market.  It has its own rules, legends, and dangers.  The first episode made for an excellent, transporting hour that I was sad to see (or rather, hear) end. 
Episodes will be broadcast in 30 minute episodes this week through Friday, and then they will be available until the end of March.  Neverwhere features the voice talents of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Bernard Cribbins, David Harewood, Sophie Okondeo and Natalie Dormer.  Visit Mr. Gaiman's blog for a fun cast photo.
About Neverwhere
Click on this cast photo for a link to the program website!

Trust me - you want to make yourself an artist date and lose yourself in London Below this week!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Little Things (Jillian)

A change of venue: Hingham, Mass.

It has been a crazy month, I will admit. May saw me out of town to visit Michelle. Then the first week of June, I was ill and unable to enjoy life for a while. Now, I am back, painfully aware that the blog hasn't been touched since before my adventure.

I've learned little things about myself in this month - things that help with the writing, and allow me to better enjoy the act of creation. I'll share:

* I've taken artist dates to Michaels and purchased a lantern (for candles), a new journal, candles, and fake ivy to drape over my other-wise very boring, very cheap book case.

* Going to visit Michelle gave me a nice change of venue, which was refreshing and at some points adventurous. You may not know it from our work here, but we operate from different parts of the United States: the East Coast and the Midwest.

* I was glad also to spend so much time with her, my creative compatriot. We artists need a circle of support, or, as Michelle and I call it, a mutual appreciation society.

* Try new things... or do things you've never done before. Par example, I boiled lobster for the first time this May! Also, I believe there is something to be said about branching out, using new brain cells... discovering new music, new television shows, a new favorite spot in the garden. Now on my list of inspiring things are BBC's Sherlock, the music of the Beatles and drinking lattes. (Thanks, Michelle!)

* Dive in before it's too late... in other words, don't think yourself out of something. In my case, I often over think my writing, and as a result, get scared or freaked out about its nascent uncertainty, and any hope of writing - just writing - dies a guilt-ridden death. We call that writer's block. Julia Cameron is very helpful about this: "Art is not about thinking something up. It is about the opposite - getting something down."

* And last but not least: sleep. Let's face it, the world is task-driven and we drive ourselves to the brink of exhaustion. We need to sleep: to recharge our batteries, to realign synapses and memory pathways, to allow our bodies to heal. This week I learned my lesson about staying up late to "watch just one episode of Doctor Who" (insert various other excuses): even one hour has severely reduced my ability to focus on my projects. This weekend I will sleep and enjoy it. No regrets. None at all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Artist Date (Jillian)

I have begun to revive the practice of going on purposeful artist dates - just me, myself and I. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, it is basically the act of taking yourself out to recharge your creative batteries - do something simple but stimulating and freeing.

This activity could range from venturing to the local craft store for modeling clay and spending an afternoon twisting it into shape. Or it could be spent trying to figure out a sewing machine. Or simply take a long, thoughtful walk. Last week, I watched a movie. This week on my day off, I decided to plant flowers in the pot on our front porch which until then had been occupied by a very dead geranium. "Enough is enough," I thought. "It's finally spring, and I have an artist's urge to do something!" Hence the violas and purple allysum you see below.

It was a nice little creative project to accomplish in one afternoon. I didn't go ahead and tackle the garden like I'm tempted to do, but I know that will follow. These little bursts here and there are nice bits of encouragement I've been able to give myself. And flowers, with their bursts of color, really do give hope for brighter days ahead. Nature is in our veins; creativity is our natural interaction with the world, so I am not going to apologize for smiling with pride on my little flowers every time I leave the house!

Apart from the neighborhood squirrels digging in the pot for non-existent acorns, I'm satisfied to call this a success!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I'm Not a Writer, I'm Writing (Michelle)

Normativeness. I’m not sure if it’s a word and am frankly too lazy to check in the dictionary, but I’ve been thinking about it. The human bean (as distinguished by Mr. Wonka from the cacao bean, the jelly bean, and the baked bean) is terribly fond of rules. And writers are no exception: they make up all sorts of “rules” for themselves that really ought to be more like guidelines.

A quick scroll through our Quotes of the Week archive will show you how often writers pontificate about what Writers Should Do and What Writing Should Be. Usually, it’s wise, helpful advice, but it is always good to bear in mind that the opposite of any maxim could be true for you as a writer. Alan Bennett says that when you come across a sentiment from another a writer that you thought unique to you, it's like being taken by the hand --- but don't let that proferred hand yank your arm out of the socket and lead you down a road you don't want to travel.

Because in fact, all a writer is is someone who writes stuff. Anything more specific is going to be personal, idiosyncratic, and discovered by you yourself.

Point for discussion: One of my biggest quarrels with Letters to a Young Poet was Rilke’s tendency to make up rules for young writers, who are already have enough challenges. Take this one, from the First Letter:

Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write?...It is possible that even after your descent into your inner self and into your secret place of solitude, you might find that you must give up becoming a poet. As I have said, to feel that one could live without writing is indication that, in fact, one should not.
(pp. 11-13 of the New World Library edition)
I take it that Rilke means that if one could live without writing, one should not write. To which I say: Piffle. Poppycock. Tripe and other expressions of increasing vulgarity and anatomic specificity. Certainly there are people who feel that writing is lifeblood—but if you don’t feel that way, or don’t feel that way every second of every day, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a Proper Writer.

What’s really criminal about dicta like Rilke’s is the way they undermine the tentative soul. Who is really confident enough to declare: "Yes! I know exactly what my inner soul is saying and I would die if I couldn't write!" Frankly, such a person sounds insufferable. (Further, I often think that the more unselfish love is the one that can live without the beloved but does not wish to. Then we are looking at the gift of self rather than selfish, acquisitive love.)

I think that for every one reason I have to write, there are about ten insecurities waiting to gobble it up. Writers are geniuses at explaining why their work doesn’t really count, why they are hacks, why they are not even proper writers at all.

Any of these sound familiar?

"Writers are supposed to scribble constantly, seized by inspiration like Jo in Little Women or Cassandra in I Capture the Castle or Jamal in Finding Forrester. I don’t do that. In fact, I hardly ever feel like writing."
"Writers are also supposed to have heads brimming with stories and characters. I don’t."
"I never played make-believe as a child, so clearly I don’t have a vivid imagination."
"I can’t write a novel. Ernest Hemingway wrote short stories for years before he wrote novels, and I haven’t written a single short story, so I have no business writing a novel."
"Stephenie Meyer had a dream that grew into Twilight while her kids were little. I never dreamed when my kids were small because I was too tired! I must not really have a creative mind."
"J.K. Rowling started Harry Potter while she was a down-and-out single mom, but all I can think about is where my next meal is coming from. I must not really be driven to write."
"I’m too normal to be a writer. Aren’t I supposed to be a total mess or something? Isn't this where material comes from? I'm too boring."
"I’ve never even been in love. How can anything I write be credible?"
"I don’t dress interestingly enough to be a writer."
And the worst: "I’ve never finished anything, not even a journal, so I’m not a writer."
There are plenty of responses to the doubts I’ve just listed. For one thing, wanting to write comes from making a habit of writing. There's a lot of habit-forming that goes into being able to finish something. For another, for me at least, it takes continual practice to crystallize vague emotions and interior colors into characters and plots. They don’t come ready-made, however the movies make it look. It is also ridiculous to compare ourselves to such a rubbish writer as Ernest Hemingway (and everyone has their own genre gifts anyway). Most importantly, if you’re worried about how you dress, just buy some fingerless gloves at Hot Topic. Insta-funky, and your hands will be warm while you type as an added bonus.

Forgive the tongue-in-cheek, but I am writing from a place very close to my heart, as someone who has wasted a lot time enumerating the reasons why I don't "count" as a writer. The point is that we all have different stories. We all have different artistic needs, different ideas to express, different roads that led us to the page. Comparing ourselves to our heroes, fictional or real, is natural, but they can’t be allowed to make rules for us.
The relationship between every writer and his or her pen is as unique as every relationship between one human and another. People are all different; writers are all different. Though you may benefit from the example or advice of Hemingway or Shakespeare, Stephen King or Francine Pascal for all I care, what you write, why you write, and how you write are all up to you.

I really am convinced that there are many more potential writers out there than dare to declare themselves. Many, many people would be happier and more alive if they would allow themselves to be writers or artists of other casts. Please: take a piece of paper, and a pen, and write something. String a few words together to describe what you are seeing right now if you can't think of anything else. It'll probably stink; so revise it. Welcome to the guild.

As Faulkner says: "Try not to be a writer. Try to be writing." If you give up on being Jo March, you might just become yourself.

A writer is someone who writes stuff. End of story.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ShakespeaRetold (Michelle)

From dire illness, I return (gradually) to the land of the living and, hence, the blogosphere. And I return with a film recommendation that made me want to write like mad!

I've been exploring the BBC's 2005 miniseries, Shakespeare Retold. There are four 90 minute adaptations: Much Ado About Nothing (set in a provincial newsroom), The Taming of the Shrew (with Kate as a stroppy politician), A Midsummer Night's Dream (in a faux-rustic resort), and Macbeth (in a gourmet restaraunt).

Usually I avoid modern retellings of Shakespeare that excise the language, not from snobbish impulse but because they're usually just not very good. I do enjoy 10 Things I Hate About You as much as the next teenybopper, but it has to be said that just a tad of the original play's richness is lost, and I'm usually acutely aware the entire time that whatever is being said, Shakespeare said it better.

Not so with these adaptations. Occasionally I do miss the language (when Beatrice says, "I love you so much I can hardly breathe," I do wonder what was wrong with Billy Shakes' "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest!"), but most of the time I'm just slavishly admiring the creativity of the scriptwriters and the skill of the actors.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, Peter Bowker captures the spirit of the conflict between nature and artifice in the original play with its touristy setting in DreamPark. Sally Wainwright, the scriptwriter of The Taming of the Shrew, makes some brilliant strokes as well, including some clever adaptations of the totally over-the-top, utterly un-PC farce of the original.

And there are so many good performances, too, but some of my favorites are Rufus Sewell's Petruchio, Shirley Henderson's Kate, Imelda Staunton's [Hip]Polly[ta], Dean Lennox Kelly's Puck, and Sarah Parish's Beatrice. If you like British TV, it's a good actor-watch. A good half of the cast have been on Doctor Who at some point or other.

The scripts are frequently eloquent, moving, and hilarious. For example:

"My advice to Titania and Oberon? Leave the forest. It's this place. It gets into your head. I mean, all this's not natural, is it?" (Puck)

"He just didn't want you to mistake him for one of the grown-ups. In reality, he's probably not more than about...six." (Petruchio's friend whose name escapes me.)

"Love is probably one of those things that a man grows into, like...jazz! And olives." (Benedick)

"If Beatrice doesn't watch it, she's going to grow into one of those women whose idea of a big night is a really big bowl of hommus." (Margaret)

"If you don't get it right, I'm going to turn you into a novelty key chain." (Oberon to Puck, of course)

A Misummer Night's Dream, written by Peter Bowker; starring Bill Paterson, Imelda Staunton, and Johnny Vegas

Much Ado About Nothing, written by David Nicholls; starring Sara Parish, Damian Lewis, and Billie Piper

Macbeth, written by Peter Moffat; starring James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes

The Taming of the Shrew, written by Sally Wainwright; starring Rufus Sewell, Shirley Henderson, and Stephen Tompkinson.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nut-Whacker! (Michelle)

Tis the season when I start rereading The Nutcracker and watching the Mikhail Baryshnikov ballet that used to air every year on PBS when I was a kid. My little niece calls it "Nut-whacker" which somehow seems to remind a world awash in sentimental sugarplum fairies that this is in fact a weird, edgy story. What else would you expect from E.T.A. Hoffman?

So, this is a seasonal suggestion for an artist date --- explore this story. Whether you're a sentimentalist or a scifi lover with a taste for the macabre, you will probably find something to intrigue.

The above picture is from Maurice Sendak's unsettling illustration of the tale, in which Godfather Drosselmeier (the creator of the Nutcracker doll) appears as a very, very ambiguous sort of figure. As with Shakespeare's Prospero or Hawthorne's Matthew Maule, it's sometimes unclear whether this magician is a force for good or evil. Imagine waking up in your living room finding that face looking down at you from the top of the grandfather clock!

I also rewatched the ballet a couple of days ago and found it unexpectedly heartbreaking. Obviously, it's imbued with a strong sense of wonder and fantasy, as harlequins come to life, Christmas trees grow huge, and snow and spun sugar suddenly seem indistinguishable. But as all this is going on, Marie/Clara is growing up, becoming ever longer, more graceful, able to match her magically transformed prince...but every growth also leads her closer to waking from the dream.

Baryshnikov's version of the ballet culminates in a gorgeous pas de deux, the part of a ballet traditionally between the male and female principal dancers, but this time Godfather Drosselmeier is constantly interposing his black form between the dancers, both guiding and separating them. He's creating the dream, but he's also ending it.

I am reminded of what Ursula LeGuin wrote about Sleeping Beauty:

"The story is, itself a spell. Why would we want to break it?"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Margaret Atwood and "The Juniper Tree" (Michelle)

I recently ran across this quote from Margaret Atwood in an essay called "Of Souls as Birds." It's in a collection of essays by women writers about their responses to fairy tales called Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales (ed. Kate Bernheimer). I'm very much enjoying the collection, but this quote particularly amused me. She's responding to the lyrical and brutal Grimm tale, "The Juniper Tree," in which a little boy's head gets chopped off by his stepmother. He is ultimately resurrected, in part through his stepsister's love.

In the early sixties I published a poem based on this story [“The Juniper Tree”], which began ‘I keep my brother’s head among the apples.’ My friend Beverley, who worked for the same market-research company as I did, has recently confessed to me tat she came across this poem and was badly frightened by it. She didn’t know about the original story; she thought I might just be too weird for words. Such are the hazards of mythopoetry.

I had to laugh, because (a) it's funny; and (b) I can identify.

At the moment, I am nourishing a secret and not entirely explainable wish to go to the grocery store and take photos of the bins of fantastical gourds and squash that are currently populating the produce section. I just think they look really cool, and they are tickling some part of my creative brain - it's no wonder that squash play such a crucial role in Cinderella. They're also traditional symbols of resurrection, apparently! I can't quite work up the nerve to do it, though, because I will look utterly insane, and I think that there's even an outside possibility that I will be asked to leave.

Such are the hazards, indeed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reading Rainbow (Michelle)

I got the gift of another unexpected artist date this week. I was baby-sitting, actually, for my niece and nephew, and we were watching Reading Rainbow together. It's no secret that I love this show and really have not grown out of it --- I truly buy all that stuff about being able to go anywhere and do anything when you read.

Anyway, this was a great episode, about travel. It was "based" on the premise of LeVar showing off his "travel room," which is full of maps and souvenirs from the places he's visited. The segments, though, basically amounted to a really neat collection of interesting people doing interesting
things that emphasized the richness of life, the variety available even within the United States. There were segments on:
  • a woman with a rooftop garden in New York City
  • a Brooklyn man who raises pigeons on his roof (He was extremely cool; he had so much pure enthusiasm, took such joy in the beauty of the birds and the feeling of freedom he gets from watching them fly.)
  • a potter in Hawaii inspired by volcanoes
  • a family who lives on a schooner in the summer months

There are so many different lives in this world; there is so much richness in being human. It's amazing that we take refuge in fantasy at all. And I say this as a writer of fantastical fiction.

So, I am an advocate of exploring children's literature and television when imagination runs dry. Children have a sense of wonder that we for some strange reason expect ourselves to leave behind as we become adults. But there was as much for an adult to savor in the potter explaining how thinks about his art as there would be for a child.

If you're curious, you don't have to take my word for it. I've checked, and the DVD is available on Netflix --- the one called Let's Go. The book of the episode was called Someplace Else.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blue Sugar and Silver Shoes (Michelle)

In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron recommends the "discipline" of taking a weekly "artist's date," to allow yourself to play, recharge, collect images for future work. "Restock the pond" is a phrase she uses. It never quite works for me, in that if I try to plan an artist date, I get stressed out and feel burdened, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the enterprise. I do take a lot of impromptu artist dates though: sudden decisions to poke through an antique store, spur-of-the moment doodle sessions, unexpected trips to the children's section of a used bookstore...

I had a lovely one yesterday when I was making cookies with two toddlers of my acquaintance, and one of them spilled an entire bottle of blue sugar crystals (you know, decorating sugars) all over the floor. Now, I got in huge trouble as a ten-year-old (and rightly so) for sprinkling glitter all over the basement floor one afternoon and dancing around in it. And I have always nourished a secret (or not-so-secret) wish to be Ginger Rogers, gliding around in a fantastical world of art-deco satin and sparkles. (In college, I wrote a paper for a philosophy course trying to justify this. No joke.)

So, instead of being upset that there were blue sugar crystals all over the kitchen floor, glittering in the afternoon sun, I found myself incredibly pleased. I was wearing silver flats, too, so as I shuffled around, broom in hand, gathering up the sugar, I felt like I'd been given a huge present. It was spring cleaning day in Candyland; an explosion in Mr. Wonka's factory; perhaps it was the most serious problem Ginger Rogers would face after her sparkly, tap-dancey marriage to one of Fred Astaire's many smooth-faced characters.

I would highly recommend that, if you think you can be free enough of your social training that teaches you not to make deliberate messes, you immediately buy a bottle of decorating sugar (or glitter, I suppose) and dump it all over the floor to shuffle around in.

This is artist date suggestion #1. I have no doubt that more will follow!


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