THIS IS US is a BOUNTY of BACKSTORY

THIS IS US is a BOUNTY of BACKSTORY

In writer’s parlance, backstory is everything the has happened to the main character (MC) when a novel begins. It is everything that flows through their arteries and veins and makes up the thoughts, emotions and pains that person has experienced. Back story has formed them. As I say in my work-in-progress (WIP)–“There was dilemma with all of it, Ella knew, for in many ways the past had formed you—there was no escaping it.”  And that’s on page 48. The reader already sees the foibles and problems of each character. And though it’s nice to think a person can re-create herself, well maybe. But the past never goes away.

That’s true in life and in the world of the story. But in writing there are these dubious RULES attached to backstory–that you can’t use it in the first sentence, on the first page, etc etc. You have to be immediate to pull the reader in. The reader isn’t interested in back story. The reader wants to know “the now.”

Some of this is true, but Dan Fogelman, the writer of THIS IS US, certainly knows the POWER OF BACK STORY and how to use it. That’s why we are in the third season and aching for more.

We knew the father of this family, of Kate, Kevin and Randall, had been in Viet Nam. So okay, we knew that. But now Fogelman is using that, is GOING BACK, creating powerful tension by relating WHY Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) went to Viet Nam in the first place. He did have a medical deferment because of occasional tachycardia. But he went for his brother, for Nick Pearson. The season starts with Nick’s fear of being drafted. It’s about THE LOTTERY.

Some of you won’t have any idea what that was, but it affected many lives, including mine. Viet Nam was not a war that many young men were eager to fight. The draft, however, was up and running, and unless you had a deferment like Jack’s, you went. Until rioting swept the country and a change was made–a lottery was held. This happened on December 1, 1969. My future husband and I were in love and in college. John had deferments for college, but this lottery would be fairer, school deferments would go away.

I remember being in my family’s living room, watching the television. The drawing was held at the Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. All men between the ages of 18 and 26 were in this pool. And how did it work? The first birthday in a year of 365 days that was pulled from a box of all 365 would become number 1. This determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970.

Covered by radio, film, and TV, capsules were drawn, opened, and the dates inside posted in order. The first capsule – drawn by Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) of the House Armed Services Committee – contained the date September 14, so all men born on September 14 in any year between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number 1. The drawing continued until all days of the year had been paired with sequence numbers. My husband drew 364. He would not be drafted!

BACK STORY, FOGELMAN’S FORTE 

It has been written that often characters function at a level of morality that is really just moral inertia. They do things out of habit, out of biology. They do not make choices. A good writer creates a character that must make a choice, a hard choice. Thus Jack, despite his cardiac condition, purposefully gets drafted so he can go to Viet Nam to discover how his brother is doing. And that begins an entire new story for season three. We learn more about Jack and Nick’s parents, how they were raised. BACK STORY!! And now there’s this chain and medal Jack wore and a photo of a Vietnam woman wearing it–the secrets increase, we can’t wait for another Tuesday night to arrive.

STORY IS REAL LIFE DISGUISED, IMAGINED

Freud wrote: “Every child in his play behaves like a poet, as he creates his own world, or to put it more correctly, as he transposes the elements forming his world into new order, more pleasing and suitable to him.”

I find a clue to my own “writing life” in this quote. As a child, PRETENDING was my forte. With my younger brother agreeing, I could imagine the corner of our dining room to be my “house” where I was a mother and ruled the scene. (Sorry, a very female poet, I agree.) But my brother and I also were enamored of Davey Crockett and one coonskin cap could create an entire world of adventure, even in the winter when we were confined to playing in the upstair hallway or on the stairs. IMAGINATION!!

Later, I was always about MAKING THINGS UP, with a few props. I wrote a play in the early grades and performed it with my friend Jean in our basement. We even charged admission. We had too much fun creating our own world on stage or riding bikes that were really horses, or hiding behind the mock orange bushes that were really our hide-out.

DAN FOGELMAN and VIET NAM 

Fogelman has always used his own experience in his writing. Too young for Viet Name, he had read Tim O’Brien’s THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, and wanted him to consult on the scripts. O’Brien had agreed to consult for one week, to help shape the story.

“We had an idea of how we wanted to get from A to B but not how we wanted to get there,” said Fogelman of how O’Brien contributed to the story — adding that now O’Brien is a fixture in the room. “He’s now writing episodes. He’s now reading scripts that have nothing to do with [Vietnam] — like, he’s giving notes on Kate storylines,” Fogelman said recently. O’Brien said he was impressed with how seriously Fogelman and his staff wanted to portray an authentic Vietnam experience. “I thought it was amazingly subtle, no mistakes. Most veterans would see [typical depictions of Vietnam] and go, ‘Oh, it doesn’t happen that way, nobody would react that way,'” O’Brien said — but not on This Is Us. “It felt like a dream of your own life. It was an amazing experience.”

IT’S ALL HOW YOU HANDLE BACK STORY

Milo Ventimiglia who plays Jack Pearson, talked about his own father’s experience as a veteran. “My dad and I have spoken quite a bit about his experience in war. I’ve got a lot of friends that are veterans of current conflicts as well as on active duty, so I get it from all sides,The one thing that I always try and do is just bring in the emotional responsibility to represent what they’ve been through in what I do as an actor and playing a fictional character.”

The research, the sensitivity to issues that both writer and actor are considering gives even more power to the stories that we experience while watching, THIS IS US. And though I might struggle now and again with how to incorporate BACK STORY into my own work, I know how valuable it is, how decisions, secrets, hurts and successes can determine the decisions we make in the future. Fogelman gets this too. And with his penchant for research and authenticity, he has a gold mine of scripts already written and probably swimming around in his creative brain.

Fogelman has realized the bounty of backstory and is using it to profound effect. I know I’ll keep watching. Falling in love with the work of a genius can inspire one that is still learning her craft.

THANKS TO GOOGLE TV BANNERS

 

Why Not Try a Short Story

Why Not Try a Short Story

Writing fiction has been my passion for decades and took hold when I was home raising my children. It was a time when women’s magazines, Redbook, McCalls, were printing short stories written by women. I could do this! So I set my desk in a corner of the den, bought a decent electric typewriter and before my children awoke each morning, I squirreled away an hour to craft some stories.

Not surprisingly, the strength of my stories increased when I rooted them in the emotions and conflicts of my own life.  I published some in little magazines, later moving on to novel writing.

Retirement has allowed me to make writing my focus and to polish everything in my writer’s toolbox. Short stories stem from a reader’s desire to experience the rise and fall of the story arc in one sitting. Nathaniel Hawthorne published his collection of Twice Told Tales in 1837, probably the first known book of short stories—though not all of them were short!

Prior to this, in 1836, Charles Dickens found great success when he serialized in magazines and newspapers his novel The Pickwick Papers. Critics have said that at that time there was no insinuation that the work would lose quality when presented in so commercial a fashion—that came later. Dickens’ work was popular and thus must have affected the rise of shorter pieces of fiction.

Then and today it can be very satisfying to experience a character’s struggle right through to the denouement in a short period of time. Our life styles—working men and women, tired at the end of the day, a list of to-dos drumming in one’s head—has added more credence to the experience of completing a story in one sitting—or rather, propped up on pillows in bed. Short work fills a need. When creating a short story, the writer works with the same elements that make up a novel—but there is some tweaking.

The story will most often have one main character who is also the POV character—you experience the story through the eyes of this character. In my story collection, A Mother’s Time Capsulethe average number of characters in each story is three—most interactions occurring between two of the three. My longer stories have four or five characters, the POV character encountering the others briefly. The longest story, Angel Hair, based on the old tale in Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper, has as many as eight characters. A writer could create a short story simply using one character. Length: that is up for debate, ranging from . 30,000 words to 10,000. There is also flash fiction and other newly created forms that can be as short as 500 words. The shorter the more difficult.

Short stories are not only limited to characters but also to passage of time, while novels often span years, even decades. My stories Pumpkins, Thaw, Windows and Making Change take place on the same day—though to enrich content, there are references to the past. When Did My Mother Die? takes place over a year’s time—but the trajectory of the story moves in a straight line.

Plot is essential even in short fiction, and focus must be endemic. Get in and get out. But regardless of its short length, writing the short story is not simple. I can speak directly to this dilemma as some of my stories were taken from novels in progress. Someday It Will Be December required lots of editing and rethinking of the material to create the emotional arc the story demands. The first sentence has to grab the reader: In the depths of July, Claire Emmerling began to think about sex. Constantly.

Or from Angel Hair: The coffee gathering at Liz Grimm’s house was the first time anyone had been out in the small New England town of Hamilton since Pia Piper was fired from the local preschool, accused of fondling a boy-child in her classroom.

In Thaw, I use a quieter beginning that will build to the heartfelt emotions of the story:Her landlord said maybe she’d imagined it. She doesn’t think so. They argued about the age of the townhouse, the condition of the roof. She was late for her shift and had to hang up. “You’re the one with squirrels in your attic,” he had yelled at her.

Endings? They tantalize, inspire or make you weep. Endings are part of the reason I fell in love with the short story form. In high school, I read J.D. Salinger and John Cheever. After college, it was Ann Beattie, Alice Munro, Bobbie Ann Mason and Raymond Carver—they all published in The New Yorker Magazine.

In a novel, lots of things happen—often because of a complicated plot structure with twists and turns the reader does not expect. In the short story, something has to happen, or at the very least you have to feel that something has happened, though often it’s a small movement, a brief change, a symbolic gesture. But the brevity of the text reflects a smallness that in actual living is truly gigantic, monumental. Ann Beattie in Running Dreams, leads you into a world with few words—but at the end—wow! The soccer-punch. The narrator reflects on losing her father to cancer when she was only five. This is the last paragraph—the father is bending over in pain, to help put on his daughter’s gloves.

I remember standing with him in a room that seemed immense to me at the time, in sunlight as intense as the explosion from a flashbulb. If someone had taken that photograph, it would have been a picture of a little girl and her father about to go on a walk. I held my hands out to him, and he pushed the fingers of the gloves tightly down each of my fingers, patiently, pretending to have all the time in the world, saying, “This is the way we get ready for winter.”

This is so lovely, the main character finding closure in this simple remembrance of her father’s love. I surveyed the endings in A Mother’s Time Capsule and discovered that I  often use a symbolic action to pull the story to its closure. In Someday It Will Be December, Claire is uncertain about being a single mother. The ending finds her lost in a place she is familiar with: But she raised her head and walked on. She would reorient herself. She would find her way.In Fragile, Tess is a fearful mother. The ending: Tess stops. She listens, the words of her children falling on her with their weight of wonder. And welcoming all of it, she holds them, keeps them like a charm her two have hung gently around her neck.

Though novel endings are often muscular and dramatic, short stories present the conclusion using a quieter voice, though you know and feel that something profound has truly happened. Happy Reading.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Why Not Try a Short Story

 

 

Creative Power: A Mother’s Actions & Words

Creative Power: A Mother's Actions & Words

My husband bought me flowers for Mother’s Day. He often jokes that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were created by Hallmark. So I looked it up. The American incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar. She did not succeed. I love Mother’s Day, a time to think more intensely about my own mother and a day when I am guaranteed phone calls and gifts from my own three children. It’s wonderful.

Birth: An Ongoing Process

Once a mother gives birth, she day to day continues that birthing process, determining what we will become, the person we will be because of her physical love, guidance and nurturing. The words a mother says and the choices she makes in her raising, profoundly affects the person each of us becomes.

Introducing the Outside World 

The womb is great. It’s the time the mother has total control over her child, literally takes the kid with her everywhere–controls the environment. After birth??? Is that person supporting the head? Does my aging aunt have a good grip on the bottle? “Oh that’s okay, I’ll change his diaper, his skin is well… ”  You don’t want to say he’ll get a diaper rash if I don’t do this. We’ve all been there and it gets worse, because we often see the control we have as very fragile and tenuous. But is there a lucky charm?

When Tess’s daughter Sara almost loses her sight in a dumb accident, she has to release her mother-fears and at the same time release her daughter into the real world.

“It is one month after the accident. Sara no longer has to wear an eye patch so Tess takes the children to the pool. Summer is ending and pool is quiet…The child has a large inner tube that she twirls in the water, throwing her head back and laughing as she goes around and around. Tess feels a rush of contentment and leans back to look up at the solid blue sky…”  Later that night, after she tucks her two children in bed and they profess their love and that they will see her in the morning, she has a final thought about the future and the love they share. “Tess stops. She listens, the words falling on her with their weight of wonder. And welcoming all of it, she holds them, keeps them like a charm her two have hung gently around her neck.”

Then Comes the Birds and the Bees

Consider Cara, in the seventh grade, moving closer to body changes that will eventually make her a woman. But right now, she’s beginning to bump into that adult world, and one night tells her mother: “Tom Brody said I was a sexpot. But I’m not fat, Mom, and I don’t look anything like a pot. I don’t get it.”

Divorced and struggling with her own sex life, Cara’s mother goes to bed that night, realizing that the words and ideas she will share with her daughter are crucial.

“Cara’s question about sexpot comes back to me; half asleep, the fatigue of the day taking over, I pretend I am her age, wrestling with the word myself, struggling to visualize it. All that forms in my mind is something round and soft. Sexpot. Maybe my own mother, her belly, when as a kid I needed comfort and plunged my head into her warm, apron-covered lap. Yes, that’s it. I fall asleep.”

Raising a Child is Always about Looking Forward and Looking Back 

Rachel has just been divorced from her husband and charged with the deft process of raising her daughter Heather–who of course is suffering because of the divorce. But not all ties will ever be cut. Rachel has spent the better part of her day taking her mother-in-law to the dentist. Now home, she tries to organize her thoughts with the reality of this situation that is her LIFE.

“At the kitchen sink Rachel turned on the water. She stood waiting for it to get warm. Though she could hear Heather’s chatter in the next room and feel the light and space around her, she was still looking down, still seeing her mother-in-law’s face and remembering what a doctor once told her at a cocktail party. ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of children women are capable of having. Why even after they’re dead, you can cut open an ovary and there they are–all those seeds.’ Rachel bent to the water, cupping her hands. In a moment she would hold her face in the towel for as long as she needed to.”

No Matter Your Life Choice, There’s a Mother In It–Your Own

When my mother was slowing dying, fighting dementia, living in the Memory Unit of a Senior Facility, I had to write about how I felt–lost, useless, angry, confused. All of it. There was no ONE MESSAGE anyone could give me to soothe my state of mind. And if it happens to you, forgive yourself. Because there is NO ONE MESSAGE for this time in your life–the point of not wanting to hear the last line in the excerpt below.

“Ruth was awake, not wanting to be, but awake. Dan was softly snoring next to her, their upper arms touching, so that his sonorous noises almost vibrated through her. But her thoughts went immediately to her mother–the ninety-six-year-old probably having her breakfast, sitting in her wheelchair, her hair flat against the bones of her head, her hand trembling, raising the lukewarm cup of coffee. No aid had called during the night–no Kathy, Betty Mary. This the pattern of her nights and days, ups and downs: how was mom or how mom was. When to plan–anything; or how to plan anything. But you’re so fortunate to still have her.”

Thanks for reading and sharing these moments with me.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY. Every day the role of being a mother and having a mother is one to hold close, to consider and to most often cherish.

Tess, Cara and her mother, Rachel and Ruth continue to live in my collection of short stories, A Mother’s Time Capsule. I had the privilege of talking to M Eileen Williams about A Mother’s Time Capsule on her podcast on blogtalkradio.com Thanks again, Eileen. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/feisty-side-of-fifty/2017/05/04/elizabeth-havey-a-mothers-time-capsule     M Eileen Williams and Feisty Side of Fifty.

Artwork: XiPan Gallery Painting

Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

 Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

When I awake in the morning, the first thing I do is think of my children and prayerfully wish them a safe and fulfilling day. My grandchildren too. That’s how my mind works–a day is open to accomplishments. And so I wish for them a bundle of good stuff (those things they will achieve) and thus can claim for their own. No day should end with a big bunch of emptiness, unless we’re sick!

As a mother, I’m sure my children often felt some pressure from my encouragement. I remember sitting near the front door with my son, going over spelling words as we waited for the carpool. I suppose we could have been telling each other jokes or being happy about the weather. And maybe we sometimes were. But many times I was squeezing in that last math fact or spelling word before he started his day.

As a mother, I filled up many day-moments teaching and encouraging, guiding my children toward school goals and extra-curricular goals–even if the latter simply meant driving them to dance, gymnastics or baseball and making sure they had the “right stuff” for the activity. Turns out that believing in what your children can do is half the battle for them to achieve the “right stuff.” Parents can light the fire to achievement in their children, but we all must learn how to step back and let it burn.

The second thing I think of as I’m rousing myself for the day is WHAT WILL I ACCOMPLISH. I make a mental list and being at the stage of life I am, there are few interruptions to alter my list–except the excuses I might make to prevent me from “making it happen.” Let’s just say I have the freedom to make excuses, but I try not to.

My goal: to be a serious writer.

Sarah Manguso wrote recently in the New York Times:

The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

I had to share that with you. It’s radically different from what I might have answered. But it makes perfect sense. Serious writing probes. It pushes down through the layers of life, asks important questions, examines and offers up answers. And this occurs in non-fiction and in fiction. Reading is a profound experience that can transport someone who is dying back to life. It can offer beauty and joy to someone who is downtrodden. It can be an escape or have the effect of awakening. As Sarah says: If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

I believe this is true of many art forms. Do you paint, scrapbook, work in clay, or spend your days painting furniture and walls? Valley Burke is an RN. She was born with severe myopia and was considered legally blind. But she found LIFE in art and began to draw as soon as she could hold a pencil. Burke writes: “As a patient, painting, drawing provided an invaluable outlet wherein I was able to go beyond the pain, nausea, fear, grief and sadness.” Later in her nursing life, Burke offered her art work to hospitals and saw that her work helped patients heal. Being involved in art can provide all of us with profound feelings of accomplishment.

Thoughts on Accomplishments Or How to Make It a Good Day!

Burke with her painting RED GODDESS

Burke advises: “create a sacred space in your environment…dedicate a room and in this space, do what nourishes you. It can be writing, music, meditation, yoga, painting, drawing–anything that uplifts your spirit.”

Of course my space is for writing. And some days I can claim accomplishments. Others, the muse has abandoned me.

Sarah Manguso also writes: All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious. The result of this admission is humility. And a humble person, faced with the superior product of another, does not try to match it or best it out of spite. A humble person, and only a humble person, is capable of praise, of allowing space in the world for the great work of others, and of working alongside it, trying to match it as an act of honor.

Sarah’s words inspire me. I will always read and be filled up by the work of serious writers. I will always find myself transported by a sentence, a scene, the depth of a character. Will my writing do the same? I can strive, I can hope. I will be humble. And as Sarah underlines: allow space in the world for the great work of others–all the while doing my work, trying to match theirs as an act of honor. And I know that in following that goal, I will make it a good day!

What are you working on? What accomplishments can you claim for your day?

Thanks to You Tube, The New York Times and Nurse.com

Writing, Nostalgia and Spring

Writing, Nostalgia and Spring

She listened to the steady pounding of her feet along the roads. And after a while, she could feel it running in her veins, something that turned backward to rituals of spring–Lent, events of her childhood, like painting rain-washed colors on hard boiled eggs. The sky would scuttle from grey to blue to grey, rain spitting just as intermittently. But the air was becoming velvet, enveloping, warming the skin and when she walked now crunching spring detritus, a hollowness opened up inside her, a sweet opening as if she were ready, also, to suffer, to feel pain, to live and embrace. (from The MOON DOCTOR)

Writing about SPRING

I wrote those words years ago. They are part of a novel that sits in a manuscript box under my desk. I love those words and many springs I come back to them. But words of published writers also speak SPRING to me: “It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.” John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga There is simply something about the season that pulls words from the mind to the page.

Writing and Nostalgia

In a recent piece by author Jonathan Lee, he writes about the disquiet that occurs when a book is written AND published. Finally, it is out of your hands. You can’t mess with it anymore and yet something pulls at you about this fact. WHY? Anxious, Lee went to the library: looking for a book with a title like How To Get Through The Period Between Finishing A Book and Seeing It In A Bookstore Without Losing Your Entire Grip on Reality. But Lee failed to find it. He did find The Book of Disquiet, a collection of opinions of various writers. He decided it was a very sad book, drenched in nostalgia.

NOSTALGIA. Curious about the roots that formed the word, Lee looked them up and discovered: nostos (return home) and algos (pain). Writers, especially fiction writers, almost always deal in nostalgia. They are constantly attempting to return home, to reassemble in words the pain of life–and yes, the joys. But LIFE always seen through the lens of their own experience. The drug for writers is remembering–remembering who we are and where we come from and what we have experienced.

As Lee so beautifully states: We all know by now that the past is as much a work of imagination as the future. We re-form. We invent. We chase after moments that have already fled. We can never quite recapture the passion within the passion, nor the grief within the grief, but we make a version we can live with, shape, touch with color, and we start to exist within its architecture.

Reshaping Our Reality

All of us do this–not just writers. We shape our memories so that we can live with them. Sometimes to a fault, as we struggle to assign to ourselves a minor role in some conflict when truly we needed to accept more guilt. But that “remembering” allows us to move into the future with our recreated selves.

Writing by Committee

I am currently polishing and working toward a final rendering of my first novel–with the goal of publishing. I have rewritten the first chapter over six times. Writing is plastic, yes, but what affects writers today is the chatter about HOW TO WRITE. If the drug for writers is remembering, the antidote for that drug is all the VOICES on the internet imposing their views on what an agent or a publisher wants. It messes up your memory. It’s tougher than tough.

Writing by Committee occurs when a friend or fellow writer or agent who has rejected your query complains about your VOICE, or says the writing is too CLIPPED, or can’t fall in love with the character after one page. I do listen. Thus the changes. And thus I understand even more why some authors self-publish–they don’t want to write by committee–this is the book they have created, the book they love. But again, after it has escaped from the writer’s hands–the characters might still be walking around in one’s head, maybe changing their actions, altering their words. The only cure is for the writer to immediately immerse herself in another story and “forget those people”–or at least decide you did the best for them that you could possibly do.

Thoughts on The Reader 

Writing will always be a form of communication. But the question will also always present itself: do I write to communicate with myself or with future readers? Jonathan Lee concludes his piece:” …writing can be a beautiful and conflicted act—a private process through which we try, even with our most ridiculous lines, to reach an understanding with others.” So I write-on. And I read, always. Wishing for all of you a book that offers a tender rendering of life, an immersion in conflict, a perfect SPRING of a book. Let’s hear it for nostalgia.

THANKS FOR READING.

Writing, Nostalgia and Spring

This one is in print. I have let go!

Gifts from Where You Live

Gifts from Where You Live

I’ve kept my early publications.

On any given day, writing is my escape, my amazing friend, my intellectual stimulation as I seek and often find the right word, the exact phrase–or dream about finding it. Either way I go to writing to find myself, always hoping to give back something of value to my readers. I think of writing as a special gift and yet I have often referred to it as THE JOYFUL BURDEN, because I cannot walk away from it–even if rejections and disappointments are part of the entire process. Writing is something I want to give anyone who will read it. Writing is a gift from where I live.

A Story Here an Article There — My Writing History 

There was that two page story about a tornado, written in pencil in the fourth grade. There was an awful poem, written in freshmen year of high school that won a prize. There was my creative writing teacher in senior year, who knew I would always raise my hand with an offering, but encouraged me to be more judicial in what I considered FINISHED or WELL DONE. She taught me not to LOVE everything that went down on the page.

Things were more challenging in college and I struggled through my Creative Writing course. When I thought I had a gift and could breeze through assignments–I wasn’t even close. And there were a lot of people who could write better than I could. Still I had two things accepted in the literary magazine and my writing dream stayed afloat.

I taught English grammar, writing and literature at the secondary school level, which did not afford me much time to write. But in the Illinois community where we lived a newly chartered university, Governors State University, offered me another opportunity. It was the early 1970s and a woman named Helen Hughes started a literary magazine entitled THE CREATIVE WOMAN. I was introduced to Helen, started sending her stories and articles and again, I was published.

As a young mother raising two daughters I was able to squirrel away early morning hours to  write short stories. They were big in the eighties and my goal was to publish in REDBOOK or McCALLS. (I actually was on a first name basis with the fiction editor at both publications, but never made the cut.) So I gave my work to little magazines, one called GREEN’S MAGAZINE. I also had a few columns published in THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Bottom line, I kept writing.

From Fiction to Medical Writing

After going back to school and becoming a registered nurse, I wrote CEU’s for Nursing Spectrum now called NURSE.com. A totally different kind of writing, it required a lot of research and footnotes. But I enjoyed it. During that time, I also co-wrote and then published through Meredith Books, MIAMI INK–text and color photographs that complimented the television program about tattoo artists.

The internet changed everything about writing and publishing. In the late eighties and beyond, I was composing at a keyboard and loving the ability to erase large blocks of text in seconds. Spell check was a bonus too. From 1998 to 2007 I wrote three novels. By 2009, I was blogging and have been contributing to Boomer Highway weekly ever since. I am back to  writing fiction and published a collection of my stories this last May–entitled A Mother’s Time Capsule, it actually contains some of the work I had written in the 80s.

Finding Those Gifts 

Writing and publishing has moved into a new world since I began writing. Before, I used to hold my breath for the mail–waiting for that letter from a magazine editor. Now it’s an email. But the internet has allowed so many people to find and develop their own personal gifts, and from where they are living and working. Etsy has moved product from studio, backyard, shed, garden, sewing room out to the general public. Blogs do similar things, allowing artists, sculptors, screenwriters, novelists, seamstresses and people with a new idea to shout to the world–here I am, see where I live and what I have to offer. Abundant gifts.

So this is just a thank you to my readers for hanging in there with me as I find new topics and research and write about them.

Do you have a health issue I could research? Have you written some nonfiction that could benefit from a read and an analysis? Leave me a comment. I’ll let my fingers walk the keyboard and see what I can find. Now it’s back to my fiction. See you soon.

Comfort Versus Rejection--Which Do You Choose?

Thank you always, Charles M. Schulz

From the Creative Woman: Table of Contents in the late 70s.

Fertile Goddess by Tobi Casselman 24

The Goddess in Three Bodies by Tobi

Casselman 24

Waiting for Christine by Elizabeth A. Havey 25

Creative Lives: Lynn Thomas Strauss by

Margaret Brady 28

Book Review: Dreaming the Dark: Magic,

Sex and Politics
by Starhawk

Gifts from Where You Live

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind Our Eyes, The Creative Home Thrives

Behind Our Eyes, The Creative Home Thrives

I’ve written before about James Taylor’s song It’s Enough To Be On Your Way, my personal anthem. Because sometimes we need one to fuel our plans, execute the promises we make to ourselves, and along the way enjoy the ride. The anthem doesn’t have to spring like mine from someone else’s words. It can spring from your own. What matters is the vision of a road up ahead–the future. Life can be lived more fully if each hour of the day burns and glows with usage, and yet allows reflection and a glance at the possibilities in the next one.

For three days I attended what the leaders of Women’s Fiction Writers Association called a writer’s retreat. It included time to be at the keyboard or to have a pen in hand, yet it also encouraged time to talk to others who are all on a similar journey. There were discussions on the nuts and bolts of the writing process–creation, editing, publishing. But the strength of the very concept of gathering sixty writers together who write women’s fiction, was to aid in the process of “building behind your eyes.”

Yes, writers, painters, artists in a medium, and truly anyone who creates by raising or helping, caring for or working with other people knows that ideas often need fertile ground. Behind their eyes, researchers need time to process what they have culled, so that the ideas that prove a thesis begin to form an argument. “Behind the eyes” burn the concepts and ideas that we hope to work with during the creative process–and as James Taylor writes: it’s where thoughts thrive, it’s their home.

Singing oh, it’s enough to be on your way,
it’s enough just to cover ground, it’s enough to be moving on.
Home, build it behind your eyes, carry it in your heart, safe among your own.

When I think of building behind my eyes the world that lives in my fiction, this concept extrapolates from Taylor’s song, but here is the solid story of what fueled it. Taylor’s older brother Alex died of alcoholism on Taylor’s birthday. Though the song refers to an aging hippie chick named Alice, it’s a lament for his brother. Taylor says: “In Paris, a year later I changed his character…and the location to Santa Fe; but my soulful older brother is still all over this song like a cheap suit.”

The home where my fiction lives, where it grows and feeds my characters behind my eyes, could echo what Taylor is lamenting with his brother’s death, the loss of part of home as Taylor thinks of it. He says: “Consensus, just the sense of connection with other people, feels so great, and it motivates an awful lot of what we do. The more successful or thwarted you are as an isolated individual, the more you need reconnection.” YES!

Creativity in your life work, in your life relationships–in the simplest things you do to bring an idea or image to life–thrives in your brain, in your thoughts. That’s where it lives; that is its home. And on days when the clouds seem to cover the sun and life is duller or harder to embrace for whatever reason–it’s great to move into your imagination. To cover some ground (write a letter to a lonely person, prepare a special meal for your family, perform the chore someone has been begging you to do) — or escape into your own creative project or someone else’s by reading, looking at art, listening to music, strolling through an amazing garden.

What you build behind your eyes can even help you deal with the sorrows in life–as it helped Taylor when he mentioned his brother at the very beginning of the song:

So the sun shines on his funeral just the same as on a birth,
the way it shines on everything that happens here on Earth.
It rolls across the western sky and back into the sea
and spends the day’s last rays upon this fucked-up family, so long old pal.

Though our days are full of repetitive motions that keep life going, the ability to find at least one hour each day to build something behind the eyes, to utilize the human power of creativity–can mean the difference between a life devoid of color and one that responds with excitement, one that sparkles, keeps us moving on our way and provides that home in the heart.

Oh, it’s enough to be on your way,
it’s enough to cover ground, it’s enough to be moving on.
Home, build it behind your eyes, carry it in your heart, safe among your own.

Thanks over and over, James Taylor.

Thanks to: Nichole LaPorte Katz • colored pencils nl2013- inspired by “The Host”, by Stephanie Myers

Dig In or Have Fun

Dig In or Have Fun

I love the word rationalize. Definition: attempt to explain or justify one’s actions with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate. Example: I have a large block of time in which to do something. So I ask myself: should I sit down, dig in and write my blog post and then go down my work list, checking off other writing work? Or, should I escape from that, play and have fun? Because I have a large block of time, I can rationalize that play should be on my agenda.

Today’s definition of play:

  • sand my grandmother’s rocking chair and prepare it for a new stain;
  • repaint the Adirondack chair on the patio;
  • mat a lovely photograph in an old antique frame I’ve saved.

I love writing, but I also love puttering, decorating or as I call it playing with my house. No matter where we have lived, I have always had a file of photos torn from magazines from which to get inspiration and ideas as well as a basket of paint tubes and brushes, art paper and stencils. Sometimes my projects turn out extremely well. I blogged about chalk paint and have used it several times to freshen a furniture find. Sometimes my family notices and comments, sometimes they don’t. But even so, it is my kind of escape.

Dig In or Have Fun

One of my ESCAPE projects.

Thus we could engineer the old phrase VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE and make it work for us. In just about any situation. My explorations into playing with my house not only give my brain time to wander and thus possibly fire up my creativity so that when I get back to the keyboard there is something coming from my fingertips–plus the physical activity involved in painting etc is good for my body.

You might be familiar with recent research that stresses that sitting for long periods of time (at a keyboard, for example) is not good for one’s health. James M. Levine MD, PhD writes that a study was done comparing folks who spent at least two hours sitting in front of any kind of screen, with those who logged in at least four hours away from a screen. Those with more screen time had:

  • A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
  • About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack.

And even if you were at the keyboard everyday, all day and then worked out a few hours a week at a gym, that didn’t significantly offset the risk. The solution: breaking up those long periods of sitting time by adding periods of standing to your day–maybe while on the phone or eating lunch. Even better would be taking a walk, or at work, inviting a colleague to walk during an informal conference.

Here are some suggestions for keeping your body moving and insuring good health throughout your day:

  • stretch on arising, especially feet, ankles, and neck
  • when on the phone, sit on the edge of a stool or chair and do butt clenches
  • always tummy tuck (tighten abdomen) when doing daily chores or when lifting
  • fight against forward head posture by keeping back straight and watch position of head and neck while at computer or driving in a car etc
  • need to move furniture? use legs, try to push instead of pulling
  • take stairs with loads like laundry to increase aerobic activity and stress bones
  • add walking, running, sports or workouts–when you can and when age-appropriate
  • drink fluids throughout the day
  • women: favorite advice from an RN: at stop lights do Kegels
  • finally at bedtime, stretch to relax and keep muscles flexible.

So maybe in the end, I am not rationalizing by choosing to escape from my real work and go and play with my house. Maybe digging in can really be the fun stuff as well as the more serious stuff we do each day. I have a fire in my belly for writing–my first choice of what I want to do and be. But I also have fire for the second choice–decorating and making my home the best that it can be. And that choice keeps me moving. There are certainly many more ways to pump a variety of activities into daily life. So what do you do to fire up your desire, revitalize and add that needed variety to life’s choices??  What do you do to dig in and have fun? Please share. Maybe Calvin and Hobbes can say it better than I can. Dig In or Have Fun

P.S. Have you checked out my first publication: A Mother’s Time Capsule–Stories about Motherhood. Easy reading, one story a night. Maybe add a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine. Enjoy!

Announcing: A MOTHER'S TIME CAPSULE

NOW IN SOFT COVER AT AMAZON.

 

Plus

Dig In or Have Fun

 

 

 

 

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis and thewinecenter.com