Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Killing Time

Counting the moments to the season 2 premiere of The Killing.  I just found season 1 on Netflix and I think I watched the whole season in 2 days.  From the "who killed Laura Palmer" opening, I was hooked.   (in fact, I'd argue this is, in many ways, a complete flip of Twin Peaks - a trip through the female psyche).

Since I just found it, I missed the whole controversy surrounding the end of season 1.  You can find articles about it ad nauseum. It didn't disturb me, in fact, seeing it after it aired, I thought the move quite brilliant.  I love shows with flips, twists and multiple perspectives - I love the way Damages doles out information in teaspoonfuls so the big picture keeps changing, the heroes become villains and the villains heroes - so this was a welcome twist for me.  I didn't want to lose the great actors Michelle Forbes (she is so essentially human here - such a great role for her) and Brent Sexton to unnecessary subplots in season 2.  I also didn't want a season 2 that felt like it was a season 2 because season 1 got such good ratings.

I'm not mad; I'm excited.  After the disappointment that was the US version of Prime Suspect (the show - not Maria Bello), I think I've found what is the rightful heir to that series.   Though she doesn't have alcoholic tendencies, Sarah Linden is a first class commitment-phobe and workaholic.  She plays big league with big boys without making a fuss.  She neglects her son to catch the killers of dead girls.  She obsessively chases those who have harmed women, children or innocents.  She can smell a lie and never lets go of the truth.  She doesn't scare easy. She will apologize for mistakes in the line of duty, but never notice a personal gaffe.  What would Jane Tennyson do?  Exactly and all that.  Mireille Enos' understated performance is masterful - we are just noses pressed up against the windows of truth.

The writing is so clean, succinct, economical, stark.  The actors have so much room here.  Joel Kinnaman gets everything right about his character - it's a shockingly truthful performance, and Billy Campbell has reached an entirely new level with Darren Richmond.

I may be losing Shameless on Sunday, but I'm gaining The Killing.  Bring it on.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Women You Should Know - Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

I was pushing for one more Woman You Should Know post before the close of the month.  I had a lot of candidates, and it was hard to choose.  However, the announcement of the passing of Adrienne Rich made the choice clear.  Everything you need to know is in this obituary from the New York Times.  It offers, history, facts, poetry, and perspective.

Of course, I hope you will read her, too.  And take a step toward reclaiming feminism in her honor.

For me - along with June Jordan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Oliver, and few others - Rich offered a window on how poetry could both be idiom and transcend it.  How it could be personal story and be resonant, and how it could be political, yet still be supple.  All of these women you should know created languages within languages.  Yet the languages they created are so much closer to the one we actually hear inside, as to be indistinguishable from a common, universal, interior syntax.

I don't aspire to the work of any of these writers - I don't dare.  I do know that I might not have written anything at all had they not been there before me to stake the poles for the tent.  I am grateful for their diligence.

It feels fitting to close this series here.  Until next year.

(If you'd like to be a guest blogger in the Women You Should Know series, contact me with your idea for who you'd like to profile!  Ground rules:  Non-living female, not a household name, no more than 500 words.)

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - What's Next?

Lately little sparks of writing wisdom seem to attract themselves to me like staticky socks.  The Jhumpa Lahiri blog on sentences.  William Martell's great article on creating drama in your screenplay that so perfectly illustrates the points I was making in the Go Organic post - that making it harder on yourself  - letting the demands of the situations and the conflicts that naturally arise dictate the writing - can actually make it easier...and better.

We've been in getting started territory for a while now - handling impulses, looking at the thing called Writer's Block, marshaling ideas, locating the energy in the work -  we've covered a lot!  Sitting down and opening the floodgates are the first, second, third, fourth...steps - well they are a large part of the process.

But there's more.

'Writing is rewriting' is what people always say.  And it has its truth.  I think of rewriting as something specific - different from editing, proofing, copy editing, and even different from revising.  I know - it sounds mysterious.  It's not.

Like Ike and Tina, let's start nice and easy, and then, no - I promise it'll never get that rough.

Maybe we should start by defining some of the terms.

Copy editing - Easy.  Simplest thing to do - once you've gotten the ideas out.  DON'T force yourself to copy edit as you go.  You can if you get stuck or run out of juice, but for the most part, leave the typos and grammatical agreement problems where they are until you're writing, finished gathering up the meaning, through stylizing the piece.  Don't break your flow - there'll be time to do it later.

Sure, spell and grammar check will catch some stuff, but you do need to go through it.  There are plenty of things they won't catch - like the difference between using it's and its, or their and they're and there.  Don't ask people to read or give feedback on messy files - it's disrespectful of their time AND it's going to get you the wrong kind of feedback - do you want to know if your piece has typos or do you want to know if it makes sense, has impact, has a good rhythm, is interesting?

If you don't know your basics - learn, find out, and get yourself some handbooks!

Proofreading - We're rapidly losing the distinction between copy editing and proofing.  Proofreading is looking at proofs and correcting them for publication.  For me, it's the last once-over before sending it out, uploading a file, or sending something to the printer.  I think it's a good idea to include this step even in our digital publishing universe.  Honestly, I proofed versions of my book 4 times, and still found a typo a few months down the road in a printed copy!

Don't skip this step if your writing is heading into the world in print form.

Editing - A lost art.  I lament the days of the star editor - like Jackie Onassis whose books for Doubleday were some of the loveliest, tightest volumes.  A great editor makes a good writer great.  Having another pair of eyes - a skilled pair with audience, marketing, and the feel of the read in mind - is priceless.  Before you get to an editor, you've got to do it yourself.

Editing is refining the way you say things, tweaking the order of things, playing with style.  It's taking the bones of the piece and turning them into a skeleton. That dances.  And can grow skin.  It's a huge part of the time you may spend sitting at your writing.

No matter how first-thought-best-thought you may be - you need to edit.  People don't talk about it.  They pretend they don't do it, but the best writers edit, edit, edit.  They may not even know they are editing - they may think they are reading, re-reading and poking around, but that's an edit.

Revising - For my own purposes, I think of revising as what I do after I think I have a good draft, but before I do anything with that draft.  I put it away for a couple of days if I can, and then, feeling as though I've got everything in there I need to, have checked for errors, and have turned it into what I hoped for, I step back into it.  I do this in the hopes that now that my brain has drained all the expectations it was holding for this particular piece, that I will see something else.  Something new.  Something luscious.  Something serendipitous.  Something I just couldn't see before, because I had too much going on in my head.  Revising is a great moment.  It's when you can take that extra step closer to your reader.  It's a great opportunity to become a better writer than when you sat down to write your draft.

Rewriting - Again - for my own purposes - rewriting is a specific idea to me, separate from everything above.  Rewriting is what you do once you've "published" a draft - that can mean sending out a version of a script to actors and director, it can mean standing up on stage reading it in front of people, or just letting some friends give you feedback.

It's an overhaul, based on all that you know now, but didn't know then, all the things you didn't manage to layer in the current draft.  The more complicated and long the original, the more likely it will need a rewrite.  You are not a bad writer if you need to go through drafts- going through drafts is what makes you a good writer because it is what produces good writing.

There more to be said about editing, revisions and rewrites, but at least we have some parameters for what these are.  It's important to realize this process is part of the timeline for your project - don't deliver without going throgh these steps in you can help it.  And you can.

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Women You Should Know - Katherine Dunham


Why don't you know about Katherine Dunham?  I don't know.  Maybe it's because dance and choreography are living arts - ones difficult to tend after aging or death of an artist.  Dunham's legacy, however, is much more than that of a dancer/choreographer - she is now most remembered for the books she left behind, her work in ethno- and dance anthropology, and her boundless life and energy.

Dancer, choreographer, social anthropoligist, writer, icon.  A seminal modern dancer and choreographer, a chronicler of culture.  Dunham traveled to Haiti to study dance and ritual.  What she brought back was the material for her detailed account of voudoun, its culture and ritual,  Island Possessed, as well as music and dance language that became part of her idiom as a dancer and choreographer.

Ms. Dunham was a multi-disciplinary artist when there were none.  She was a mixed hertiage woman who explored and honoured her ancestry.   She gave many the gift of dance through her school, and her company.  She performed in the United States and Europe, and ran her own self-supporting dance company (something still nearly impossible in the United States almost a century later), and lent her talents, and those of her company to Hollywood.

A carrier of her lineage, she brought the physical expressions of the cultures she explored into mainstream dance in ways that have affected all who came after her.  She forged her own language of dance - the Dunham Technique - which is still taught today.  There'd be no Alvin Ailey at all if it weren't for Ms. Dunham's company.  I'd stretch to say there'd be no hip hop dance class at your local Y if it weren't for Ms. Dunham - possibly, even no So You Think You Can Dance.

Some people turn earth, plant seeds, water, tend seedlings, and end up growing a forest they never see.  I think Katherine Dunham was one of those people.

(Here's a nice interview with Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey.)

(If you'd like to be a guest blogger in the Women You Should Know series, contact me with your idea for who you'd like to profile!  Ground rules:  Non-living female, not a household name, no more than 500 words.)

Monday, 26 March 2012

Poems in Red Ochre Lit!

I've got 2 poems in the current issue of the Red Ochre Lit Journal!  Both 'Call' and '5' were written in Morocco.

In addition to the English, there are French translations of the pieces by the wonderful Catherine Webster, PhD.

You can't read them online -- this is an actual print mag!  But you can order copies....

Quote of the Week - O'Connor


"I write to discover what I know." 
- Flannery O'Connor

So good.  That's her desk.  I'm only a little obsessed with Ms. O'Connor.  You might want to be, too.   An interesting voice in American literature.  Sometimes I imagine what she might've written had she lived past 39 years old.  And turns out, it was her birthday yesterday!  So happy birthday to Ms. O'Connor and happy Monday to you...

Friday, 23 March 2012

Women You Should Know - Beatrice Wood


Personally,  I've never thought about living to 105.  Maybe Beatrice Wood didn't either.  She seemed to live her life with style, flair, individuality and a unique sense of being in her moment.  Ceramicist, artist, performer, writer, bon vivant, she lived the longest life you might imagine, and all of it productive, interesting, and on her own terms.

I found out about her from a friend, who had visited her studio in Ojai, where she crafted her pottery.  While in NY on a trip, I discovered there was an exhibit of her watercolors at an Upper East Side gallery.  Her paintings were delights.  The lines reminded me of Joni Mitchell's, but they had a sense of humor, playfulness, and sexiness about them, too.  You could tell she had great stories to tell.  I've still not read her autobiography, I Shock Myself, but it's hard to resist a title like that!

Jules et Jim

Her relationships with Roche and Duchamp may or may not have been the inspiration for the triangle in the novel Jules et Jim - which yielded the incredible classic film by Truffaut.  And was the inspiration for Old Rose in Titanic!

"My life is full of mistakes. 
They're like pebbles that make a 
good road."

So - what do you learn in over a century?  How to make the mistakes into perfection.   Like this:

I wholeheartedly embrace her philosophy on longevity:
"I owe it all to chocolate and young men."

And thank her for the signposts, and the pebbles, in the road.  Beatrice Wood is definitely a woman you should know.

(If you'd like to be a guest blogger in the Women You Should Know series, contact me with your idea for who you'd like to profile!  Ground rules:  Non-living female, not a household name, no more than 500 words.)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - The Myth of Writers Block (Part 4) - Tips and Solutions!

My monster

As life goes, I've been too busy writing to write!  Funny thing about writing is, it takes time.  Lots of time.  And mental space.  I promised you some tips - so let's get to them!  I was going to break this into two - cause it's kinda long, but I think I'll put them all here and maybe take a week off from the Writing posts next week.

We've talked about the dreaded, yet fictional,  Writers' Block and what might cause it.  All that psychotherapy is great, but what you really wanna know is --- how to stop it.  How to get the waters flowing.  How to step out of your own way to create the novel, screenplay, epic slam poem, one-person show you truly want to create.

(Some of these are suggestions I've made before in previous posts, but for the sake of having helpful hints in one place...)

1.  Start where you are.  It's kinda zen, but also kinda unavoidable.  You are where you are, in the state you are in.  Every day you wake up, you are somewhere between your best and worst self.  Even within that day, your moods, actions, and choices may vacillate between those points.  As many self-help and spiritual gurus suggest that you stop waiting to live until you are your most perfect self, I'd like to suggest the same thing to you about writing.  You don't need to wait until you are your best, most writerly self to write.  Just write.  Writing badly can be a powerful step in the progression to writing well.  Start now.  Be who you are today as you face the page.

2.  Write it all out.  Whether or not you are doing Morning Pages (which I so thoroughly recommend), writing it all out is a suggestion you can always use.  Give yourself an hour or so. Put on music if you want - turn off the phone and the WiFi.  Get  a notebook.  A pen.  Write by hand.  Write out every single thing that is bothering you, smothering you, every idea trying to get your attention while you are trying to write something else, every fear, every insecurity.  Let it all boil over the top and spill it out.  Feel free to burn it when you're finished.  (But save those good ideas for later!)  If you are feeling corked, it may have absolutely nothing to do with the thing you are writing - find out.

3.  Monster up.  You've got a monster in your box.  The project you are committing to, while simultaneously not committing, is the monster.  The box is the file you keep it in.  The box is the brain it is stuck in.  The box is the dark corner.  The monster is hiding there.  You need to court this monster.  You need to stare down this monster.  You need to play possum with this monster.  You need to call this monster a coward.  You need to monster up.  The story is the monster - you are the monster.  Why do you think we have so many monster stories?  Archetypes from Frankenstein to Jekyll and Hyde are there so you can see that you are not alone in your monster!  My suggestion is use the tool as a weapon - write the monster into the light.  If you feel blocked turning the beast into a beauty, then write the beast.  Every last snarling, drooling detail of it.  Draw a picture of the monster.  Visualize the monster.  Then like Arthur wielding Excalibur, slay the monster.

4.  Pin it down.  You know what you want to put off writing today, but tomorrow you want to put off writing something else.  Make a choice.  You dip your toe in, then pull back.  You are going to have to get in the water at some point, or you are going to have to give up.  Here's an exercise that will help you locate your most powerful energy right now (what some might term passion):
  1. Write down all of your writing project ideas
  2. From that list, choose 10 (If you  have less than 10, well, skip this step!)
  3. Put those top 10 (or fewer)  choices in order of most- to least-interested at this moment
  4. Look at your top 3
  5. Chose 1
  6. Write!
5. Ask yourself... Questions are key.   When we sit down, we think it is to have answers.  We think we know.  But even the best idea is just that - an idea.  A spark, a sketch, an approximation of the actual thing.  Questions help you find out what you know about that idea, and maybe, more importantly, what you feel.  Answering the questions will hone your gut instinct, and define the direction you are going to take.  Questions can be practical:
  • What is keeping me from writing this screenplay/novel/play/poem/article...?
  • What do I most fear about the writing process for this piece?
  • What is my deepest hope for this piece?
  • What skills do I wish I had in writing this?
  • What can I do to make myself the right person to write this?
They can be related to your particular project:

  • What is the one image I have that is the center of this piece?
  • What is the one scene, chapter, paragraph, sentence I feel must be part of this piece?
  • What is the core element of this piece that makes it so important for me to write it?
  • If this piece were a city, what city would it be?
  • If I could take this story out to a restaurant and sit it down to talk to it, where would I take it?
  • What ride at Disneyland most closely resembles this piece?

The questions don't even all need to make sense - in fact - it can be more helpful if they don't!

Answering questions about characters is a great way back into the process.  Make a list of at least 10, but up to 100 questions you might ask about a person.  For example:
  • How old is he/she?
  • Where was he/she born?
  • What is his/her favorite song?
  • Did he/she go to college?  What did he/she major in?
  • What is his/her credit rating? rent? mortgage payment?
  • What is his/her favorite color?
  • Has he/she ever been sailing? fishing?  shooting?
  • Is he/she afraid to fly?
  • What songs on his/her iPod?

You can include all the vital statistics in these questions - how old,  star sign, address, weight, height, eye color - and non-vital ones - favorite animal, kindergarten teacher's name.  Get a list of questions - the longer, the better.  Then, answer them.  For each main character in your piece.  (If you are your main character, do it anyway - the you in your piece is not you, exactly, it is an alter-ego - your Jekyll or Hyde - so let it breathe a little.)

You can answer all questions for all characters, you can answer the first 10 questions for your protagonist, and the next 10 for the antagonist and so on, if you have a really long list.  But these questions and answers are going to help you make the characters into living, breathing people.  They are going to make you pin down things you already know, and give you details that will make your characters specific.

Details and specifics are friends of the writer - those quirks might suggest whole scenes, raise conflict, and solve narrative problems.  This exercise also gets rid of the icky backstory problem.  Once you know your character this well, you are free to leave out a lot of details, instead of feeling compelled to try telling your story through expositional backstory.  It's like lifting a weight - you suddenly have the answers, so you are free to disregard them and only use the ones that serve the narrative.  If you like, you can use the answers to the questions to begin constructing a bio for each character - just don't dance too much around the issue, which is getting back to writing the actual project.

Make up your own questions - about the world you are writing about, about the decision points in the story, about what you want to share with an audience.  Answer them.  (This can be a great exercise to do verbally with a buddy, or in a writing group, too.)

Use questions as a way back to the writing process; let the answers suggest a place to dive in.

6. Visualize.  If the verbal, literal and linguistic are bugging you --- give them a rest!  Get visual.   Get magazines - tons - and cut out pictures that suggest the world, tone, style, mood of your piece.  Make a collage of the images.  Put it up where you can daydream into it while you are writing.  Join Pinterest - set up a board for the project with anything you find online that sparks - anything you might not want to forget from a quote to an image, to the actor you want to play the lead role.  Near where you write, keep the inspiration, the seed, of this project close - an image of a loved one who is the basis for a character, a picture of a landscape where the story takes place, the quote that sparked the whole thing.  Watch movies and shows that have the feel of your piece.  Translate your piece into a great work of art - who does it feel like - Picasso, Dali, Rothko, Basquiat, O'Keeffe?  Find images from masters that represent the feel you are hoping to create.

7.  Collect. I'm an Evernote addict.  Research is important for most things we write.  So do it.  Maybe you're stuck because you simply don't know enough about what you're writing about.  Start collecting information, directly and indirectly related to your subject.  Go deeper - go further.

Is your main character a bartender?  Have you ever mixed a drink?  Take a bartending class.  Are you writing a science fiction story?  Keep up to date with developments in science by reading journals, and the Science Times on Tuesdays in the New York Times.

Research yields pithy little details that will make your writing more real.  It might create anecdotes that you can use in your story.  Tools like Pinterest and Evernote can help you collect the pieces you find online, but don't forget about collecting real life material - examples, stories, experience.  Are there people around who have experience directly connected to your story?  Take them out for coffee and let them talk to you about it.  Life is out there and life is the source of whatever you're writing.  So don't hide from it - find out what you need to know to make your writing real.  Hunt it down and gather it up, then let it percolate through you into images, events, and scenes.

8.  Utilize powerful procrastination.  None of this namby-pamby, wash the dishes, do the laundry sh^t.  I'm talking SERIOUS procrastination.  Forbid yourself to write - for a day - for a week.  Take yourself on a day trip - to a museum, a movie, take a hike, a bike ride, go to the ballet, take a dance class, go to a concert.  Go away for a weekend.  Give up.  Give in.  If it's not going to hit, then fill yourself up with something else.  Ignore the writing.  Defy it to show up in your life.  Dare it to come knocking on your door looking for some break-up booty call.

9.  Get creative!  These suggestions are just the beginning.  There are scores of ways you can get yourself back into the game.  Make a playlist for the project.  Put it on and listen to it.  If you're an outline person, do an outline.  If you're not an outline person, start one anyway, putting in everything you already know and leaving space for what you don't.

Customize these suggestions and the ones you find elsewhere to make them work for you.  And not only for you, but you in this moment, working on this project.

Give yourself the task of creating new writing prompts.  Give yourself the task of starting by describing the locations or settings for your project.  Tasks are key - they make the landscape less sprawling - give you inroads to the story and the elusive elements you are cultivating that will eventually give your work a transcendent, universal, or mythical level.  While you're at it - don't worry about the transcendent, mythical level while you're writing - it will only mess up your head.  There's plenty of time to worry about that in edits and revisions.  Focus on the small picture now - it will take you farther.

10.  Get help.  Have you ever taken a writing class?  If not - then maybe it's time!  There are a tremendous number of classes available geographically and virtually in all price ranges (scroll down for resources after clicking the link!).  Build your skills and tools so you don't feel like you're drowning every time you sit down.

Another option - join a Writing Group.  It's a great way to mitigate the loneliness of writing, get social and get feedback.  Maybe you're not the writing group type - if you are - great!  Get into one; start one; find one.  

Find a buddy.  Your buddy doesn't even  have to be a writer or a reader.  Someone you trust, who you'll feel comfortable checking in with about your progress, and someone you can be honest with is much more important than whether they are also in the throes of writing.  You need to feel responsible to them, but not beholden.  It's great if they also need you to check in with them on their goals - then it's reciprocal and accountable.  You are alone, but then again, you're not.  Don't get so deep in that you forget there's a world out there!

Use the internet!  Google "writing prompts" and articles on writing - you'll find some valuable tips and ways to get going!

Get a coach.  I do writing consulting and coaching, but I still think there is a lot of work you can do on your own before hitting up someone like me.

If you're really feeling pent up, tied down,  press play and let Florence help you shake it out.  Dancing recommended.

If none of this makes you want to write, or get back to the writing at hand, there's one thing to think about. Maybe you're not a writer.  I'm not saying that you can't write, or even that you shouldn't write.  I'm saying that maybe it's writing that you aren't responding to.  Maybe you have a story idea, but what you really want is to be able to play the villain in that story once it's done.  Maybe you want to write the score to it.  Maybe you want to paint the scene you see in your head.  

Writing is an art people gravitate to for a lot of reasons - it's got a slightly twisted, yet romantic reputation, it seems really accessible, it seems like it doesn't take much work or practice.  It's an easy-entry art, but not one that is easily cultivated.  To become excellent at the craft of writing takes as much work as it takes to be a great quarterback or an astronaut or a software programmer - yet we don't have a playbook, a set of rules to function in zero gravity, or a perfect textbook to follow.  

Ask yourself if this is how you want to express yourself creatively - is this idea you are hounding a written idea - maybe it's an opera, a circus show, a painting, a song.  Maybe you need a collaborator to bring the words, because what you are interested in is something else.  Don't be afraid to ask this question.  You could be beating yourself over the head for a long while if you don't.  Don't tell yourself that everyone can write, so you just need to work harder, and therefore miss the inner voice that's telling you to sing, or design beautiful buildings, or join Cirque Du Soleil

If the answer to the question is no - then go find your true creative path and pursue it doggedly.  If the answer to the question is yes, or you are in a position where the answer is no, but the reality is yes (like finishing your PhD thesis), I'm afraid you should just go back to Step 1 and proceed back down the list...

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Women You Should Know - Mary Lou Williams

You may have noticed that this week's quote was from Mary Lou Williams.  She's a big touchstone for me in the world of female artistry.  Like most of us, she was driven to use her gift in an art form dominated by men.  Her seriousness of purpose, her talent, her ear, her technique, and her spirit all pushed her forward even when the tide was pushing her back. 

She is up there in the world of jazz, in the world of piano, in the world of American composers, arrangers, and bandleaders.   When you think how easy it is to give up - to stop sharing your words or your vision - to let yourself really believe what they tell you about being a woman and an artist, think Mary Lou Williams.  She never gave up; she just played.  Past the trend of pretty women jazz singer/pianists in pretty dresses,  through the decades of jazz defining itself, she played.   She never lost her innovation - in fact, I think she grew into her voice and her style as jazz modernized - her later compositions seem strong, effortless, and timeless.  (Her album Zoning is an absolute favorite of mine.)

When people talk about Mary Lou Williams, they never talk about her personal life.  They talk about her playing.  Just as it should be, and just as she would have wanted it.

(If you'd like to be a guest blogger in the Women You Should Know series, contact me with your idea for who you'd like to profile!  Ground rules:  Non-living female, not a household name, no more than 500 words.)

Monday, 19 March 2012

Jhumpa Lahiri on Sentences

This is just too elegant not to post.  Yes.  Exclamation point. Click.  Read.

Jhumpa Lahiri's blog on sentences - the cornerstones of writing.

Consider it an addendum to the Writing series or the Women's series or both.

Read her books if you haven't.

Quote of the Week - Williams

my fave mlw recording
"You got to play.  They don't think of you as a woman if you can really play." 
-Mary Lou Williams

Sisters - this one is for you.  Get it.

More on Ms. Williams soon...

(P.S.  Hoping to be back to regular posting schedule this week!  Maybe with some extras.)

Monday, 12 March 2012

Quote of the Week - Taylor

"The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues." 
- Elizabeth Taylor (via Goodreads)

Just one look and it's so clear - Ms. Taylor knew how to be bad when necessary.  A little bit of vice is good for you.  Go get some.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Women You Should Know - Gertrude Bell

Who taught T.E. Lawrence everything he knew?

Who hosted salons that included, Jews, Muslims, and Christians?

Who warned of the situation we face in the Middle East almost 100 years ago?


Ever since reading Janet Wallach's  Desert Queen, I haven't been able to shake the notion that Gertrude Bell needs to get her due.  For years I harboured a secret ambition to make her story into a movie.  Now I'm too late.  Soon (or as these things go, not so soon) a movie about Gertrude Bell will happen - so far starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Ridley Scott.

Writer, diplomat, camel rider, negotiator, translator, cultural facilitator - Gertrude Bell was a single woman in a world overwhelmingly male.  Even today, as a woman traveling in those regions, you feel more than other - you feel invisible or you feel probed.  Yet Bell made a home here, made a space for herself, and used the outsider perspective to see things as they were and as they were going to be.

Stuck in a bureaucratic world, many of her suggestions were ignored, and sadly, some that were swept under the rug in a transition of power have come back to haunt future generations.

I think she deserves more than a movie - maybe a whole series about her exploits as an Intelligence Officer during World War 1 in the Middle East - like MI-5 - only with lots of sand and camels.

Besides Wallach's great biography, there is a newer one by Georgina Howell, of almost the same name.  

I don't want to say so much about her - I think you might just want to read one of those books about her life - which certainly flies in the face of the stereotype of the Victorian woman.  On the other hand, so did Queen Victoria's.

(If you'd like to be a guest blogger in the Women You Should Know series, contact me with your idea for who you'd like to profile!  Ground rules:  Non-living female, not a household name, no more than 500 words.)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - The Myth of Writer's Block (Part 3)

In Part 1 of The Myth of Writer's Block we looked at having too few ideas and how that plays out.  In Part 2 we looked at what happens when you  have too many.
These are two huge challenges that go undiagnosed as we ascribe more and more power to the idea of "Writer's Block."

Yet, they are just the tip of the iceberg.  Almost anything can derail the process if you fall prey to it - and we lump most of it under the term "Writer's Block."

The blank page is daunting; occasionally beautiful, but mostly daunting.

The blank page is dastardly.  It represents infinity, and its opposite, the null set.  Everything and nothing.  Every possibility you've dreamed; every failure you can possibly project.  The blank page is a barometer of fear and loathing.

The blank screen may be worse - as it offers myriad ways to click into internet bliss.

The already-written page can be annoying, boring, and invoke fits of housecleaning in the most chore-averse people on the planet.  Re-reading what you've written, editing, fashioning the end result from the raw ingredients is a lot of work.  It requires patience, a good eye, courage and tenacity.

However, lack of focus is not writer's block - it's lack of focus.  Unwillingness to wade through the morass of words to find the story is not writer's block.

There is no writer's block.

There can be a pervasive feeling of inadequacy; there can be non-belief in your story, your words; there can be shortcomings of technique to express it properly.

Writer's do themselves a massive disservice by calling any of this Writer's Block.  This can result in literally supporting the block - refusing to let the symptoms show means that there can be no cure.

You end up as a sporadic writer with a fickle muse.  This makes you moody and inconsistent as a person.  It makes you wonder all kinds of things you don't need to wonder (oh, but what a great opportunity for a free write that is!).

What it doesn't do is get the words out.  And this is, after all, what it means to be a writer.

You've got to know yourself to write.  You've got to create an intimate relationship with you to get the words down on the page.  You've got to deal with yourself.  You've got to self-govern.  You've got to figure out how long a leash you need.  You've got to figure out how hard you have to play to get down to work.  You've got to know when housecleaning is downright procrastinating and when it's actually letting ideas rise to the top, or it's just ick - you really need to clean your home.  You've got to learn when going out with friends and drinking too damn much is going to clear your mind to leave you free and easy in your next writing session, or when it's a delusional foray into hipster oblivion.  You've got to know when to go out and get laid.  You've go to know when to take a walk on the beach and clear your head.

And then you've got to write when it is time to write.  The more you sit down to it, the more often it will be time to write.  I swear and I promise.

Figure out what the problem is before you name it.  Then, use your skills to defuse it.  Get help if you need it.  Talk it out, walk it out, write it out, ride it out.  Remember what you know - names are powerful and often acquire force in the naming.  Be bigger than it is - it's your monster in a box - you put it there, and you can open the lid and peer inside.

As artists, we inevitably start and end with ourselves.  As humans, we are trapped in our skins and circumstances, prey to sensory misperceptions and unconscious motives.   If we don't learn the labyrinths of our own inner workings, it makes it very hard to map the artistic process.  (Don't worry - you won't get bored; we are consistently changing.)

If your temperament and lifestyle only suggest a few hours of writing a week - then make that fine.  Sit down with that.  Contorting yourself into your idea of what a writer is or does - this is most assuredly going to lead to writer's block.  Build your chops - progress in the process.  Let a regimen evolve according to your needs and abilities.

There are tools that can help you - daily free writes, timed writing, using prompts, talking your story into a recorder, talking it out with a partner, artist dates, walks, meditation.  Use the ones that work for you.

“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.” 
- Bruce Lee

What if the block is not a block?  What if it's a building block?  What if it's air?  What if it's a foundation?  You are a writer - the imagination is your specific province - we create worlds from words.  That block, writer, it's whatever you want it to be.

What would Bruce Lee do?

( - we're still not finished with Writer's Block.  I promise you some tools for diagnosis next time!)

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

Monday, 5 March 2012

Quote of the Week - Morrison

"Make up a story...For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul."  
- Toni Morrison (via Goodreads)

First quote of Women's History Month - I think we'll go all female for March.  There isn't really a feminine language to describe the greatness of Ms. Morrison.  She is masterful - but certainly not "mistressful."  She is one of the English language's greatest crafters and interpreters.  She is voice's greatest living ally.  She is story's soul.  If you have not read any of her work, then you are so very lucky to be able to come to it for the first time.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Women You Should Know - Mina Loy

Yay!  A new series just for Women's History Month!

Women You Should Know is a series profiling some stellar females who you might not be familiar with -- ones who were not superbly famous, or whose contributions might have been lost in the cracks of time.


When I first read about Mina Loy, I was stunned I'd not heard of her sooner.  I read Becoming Modern:  The Life of Mina Loy from cover to cover -- real fast.  She had that kind of Midnight in Paris life - in fact - she could have been a character in that movie.  Her wanderlust leading her from England to Paris, to Florence, to Mexico, to New York -- the kind of life you wish for as an artist, traveling in creative circles with legends from Duchamp to Cornell to Djuna Barnes to Gertrude Stein:

of the laboratory
of vocabulary
she crushed
the tonnage
of consciousness
congealed to phrases
to extract 
a radium of the word 
(Mina Loy)

loy2.jpg (61528 bytes)
Consider Your Grandmother's Stays (1916)
She seemed like someone you'd want to know, touched tremendously by love and loss, who'd had a very full life and priceless stories.  A sort of ultimate Bohemian from her Jewish-English Victorian upbringing to her traipsing round the globe, her marriages and loves, and her willingness to bounce back, reinvent, create resilience.

Loy accumulated a body of work in visual art, decorative art, and poetry.  Collector Peggy Guggenheim was a benefactor - the great art dealer Julien Levy was her son-in-law. Her poems have been collected and published in The Lost Lunar Baedeker.  Rereading her work now - it still feels fresh - there is a creative wordplay, a precision of image, and a kind of fearlessness in creating meaning.

Loy believed in love, life, fun, creativity, innovation, freedom.  She didn't give up her art for her loves, her loves for her freedom, her femininity for her beliefs.  To me, she's a great spirit whose life cannot be separated from the work and the descendants she left to carry on after her.

(If you'd like to be a guest blogger in the Women You Should Know series, contact me with your idea for who you'd like to profile!  Ground rules:  Non-living female, not a household name, no more than 500 words.)