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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Tradition: Rock Painting

For several years my children and I enjoyed a special holiday tradition. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year we would paint river rocks with symbols representing an intention for the upcoming year. We each got 3 rocks. As we painted, we talked about our intentions and shared our ideas about our goals. Daydreaming, fantasizing, brainstorming, it was all a part of the ritual. We created some beautiful fold art and many wonderful memories. It was always fun as the New Year arrived and progressed to see our intentions come to fruition. They always did.

As my children became teenagers and I entered a second marriage, the tradition faced resistance. The new husband did not want to participate and the children lost their uninhibited expression of freedom. So for the next couple of years, I carried the tradition on in the form of a “Dream Giver’s Festival” with my writing friends. We gathered at my house around a camp fire to paint the rocks, then we would move into the teepee to do some writing.

Last year I left that new husband and I no longer had a teepee. I was displaced, both physically and emotionally. The rock painting tradition stayed sealed up in a box with all my other thoughts, hopes, and memories. No rocks were painted that year.

At a recent writing meeting, we all talked about how much we had enjoyed painting the rocks and agreed that we wanted to do it again this year. We talked about how the teepee was an accessory, not the essence of the meaning of the tradition. Simply painting the rocks and being together would be enough. So we agreed to meet at my house on New Year’s Day 2010.

I’ll provide the rocks, the paints and paint brushes. Everyone will bring a dish to share for a potluck meal. We will gather to paint and talk, laugh, write, dream and eat together.

I thought about how traditions evolve with our changing lives and circumstances, but like the core essence of who we are, traditions maintain a basic and essential element of their meaning.

Rock Painting
January 1, 2010 @ 4pm
Contact me for directions

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HUB update #2

It takes time to learn something new. What what’s to learn about HUB pages? It’s a website where you post articles you’ve written and then, based on how many people read your articles and click on the advertisements placed there by HUB, you eventually start earning some money.

Yes, this seems to be it in a nutshell. You can learn what subjects get more readers and you can learn how to write better HUBs. You can participate in the forums and learn strategies that work for fellow “hubbers”. You gain followers by doing this and you get to read lots of interesting articles as well.

OK, so what is there to learn? Am I making this more difficult than it needs to be? No, I don’t think so. Yet I struggle. I think that my struggle is with the time and effort involved versus the tangible reward. I don’t’ get a balance here. Something must be missing…. But what?

I’m just not convinced. I’m not convinced about my own purpose with HUB pages, and I feel that I just don’t get it. I mean, who is my audience? Do I even have one?? It seems that the purpose is to produce hundreds of articles in order to just be noticed. And then what? OK, so volume matters. This makes me feel like a machine spitting out articles as fast as I can. And quality matters, too, so that negates the quantity factor. Or is it just me – am I the only one who requires time to produce quality? I just don’t spit out quality very quickly.

Hmmm. Maybe what I’m saying then is that my approach to writing has to change. Maybe my whole philosophy of writing has to change. My belief in inspiration and creative flow is being challenged.

Yeah, I’m struggling, but I’m not ready yet to make any conclusions…

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Old Friend From Far Away

By Guest Blogger, Linda Johnson.
Visit Linda's blog, Various and Sundry Items of Interest

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Natalie Goldberg, hardcover edition, November 2007, writing practice, $25.00, 13:978-1-4165-3502-7

Natalie Goldberg rocked the writing world in 1986 when she wrote Writing Down the Bones, a treatise on using writing as practice. That is practice, as in practicing scales for a musician, and practice, as in the Buddhist tradition of practice as a way of meditation. Since then, writers all over the world have filled countless notebooks with pages and pages of handwritten words as their own writing practice.

Goldberg returns to the idea of practice in Old Friend from far Away to help her readers learn to write memoir. In her introduction, she emphasizes that writing memoir is not a straight path from A to B to C. She says that we need to write and remember and realize “…the zigzag nature of the way our mind works.” (pg. xviii) She says that we need “to approach memoir sideways, using the deepest kind of thinking to sort through the layers…” (pg xxi) Then she says, “Go!”

Goldberg believes in using a pen and a notebook; she believes that writing is a whole body experience. Plus, if you are comfortable with the simple tools, you have no excuse when you are away from a computer.
Just as in Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg advocates these simple rules given on pages 2 and 3:
• Write for a full ten minutes.
• Begin with “I am looking at.”
• If you get stuck, start with your first line again—“I am looking at…”
• Don’t cross out.
• Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.
• Be specific.
• Keep your hand moving.
• Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say.
• After your first ten minutes, take a short break, and then start with “I am thinking of…”
• Go ten more minutes.
• Next, write for ten minutes on “I remember…”

These rules form the basis for all Goldberg’s teaching. If you follow these alone, you will find enough to write about for a long time. As she says, “’I remember” hits smack-dab into the heart of memoir.”(pg 4) And as you continue to write “I remember” entries, you will find one memory leading to another until you suddenly remember something that you had not thought of for years. Write them all down—the familiar and the forgotten.

The book is organized into short chapters and short exercises, which all contribute to unearthing those forgotten memories. The book is excellent for use alone and in writing groups. My group is especially fond of Goldberg’s three-minute lists. She gives a list of unrelated topics, and then tells you to write on each one consecutively for three minutes each. When we do this as a group, we are amazed at the beauty and unexpected ideas that come up. Something about the short time, the continued effort and the juxtapositions always loosens up something inside almost every one of us.

Goldberg concludes the book with a chapter on structure. We need to know what to do with all these seemingly disjointed memories. She reminds us to discover our own organic structure, a “…way that is natural to what you have to write…” (pg286). And to find our own structure, we look at other memoirs to see how different authors have constructed their works. We don’t imitate; we look for the plot, the thin red line, the spine that connects the memoir. Then we figure out what our spine is and shape our writings around that.

We don’t try to do a whole life biography; we focus on a telling event or period in our life and see what form the writing needs to take. Then we let go of the parts that don’t fit this structure. Don’t try to force everything into this one book. Even though we have to write about everything, we do this to get to the essential ingredients for this particular memoir.

She ends the book with two pages of summarized guidelines and suggestions, and then a list of some great memoirs to read. Goldberg’s goal is to get us writing and to introduce us to “…who you were, who you are, and what you remember.” (pg. xix) Her prompts will get you writing, and if you follow them all, you will definitely meet that old friend from far away.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Writer's Gift (2)

I am still thinking of the gift of words and what a treasure it is. As writers, we experience one kind of joy in the process of writing and probably don’t think much about the joy that others receive from our writing. During this season of holidays and gift-giving however, I am thinking of how much it has meant to me to receive original writings and the reactions of those who have received such gifts from me. I thought I’d share with my readers some personal examples of writing gifts.

Family Writings

My mother is the family historian, so several years we have received the products of her careful collections. One year she took her mother’s diaries and composed an autobiography which included several never-before-seen photos. Everyone in the family received a copy of the autobiography on a CD. Another year she had a family genealogy book professionally bound and surprised us each with our own copy. And yet another year, we got a collection of her poems. Each poem was about someone in the family. None of these could have been done quickly, of course. The writings were done over a long period of time, many years, in fact, and what we received was the compilation of her hard work. Those gifts are among my most treasured items.

When my father died, I wrote the eulogy and presented it at the funeral. Ten years after his death, I created a small booklet using the eulogy, one page for each paragraph, and gave it to my sisters as a gift.

Writings for Friends

One year at Christmas time I wrote a letter to everyone in my Sunday school class telling them how their presence in the class meant something to me. Writing to some of the people was very easy because I had a relationship with them and lots of things to write about. Some of the others were more difficult however because there were a couple of people who I didn’t know at all and had never even heard them speak! As I thought about their mere presence in the class however, I was able to think of what such dedicated commitment demonstrated for me and from that idea, I was able to compose a meaningful letter. While my friends in the class expressed appreciation for their letters, it was the silent smile of the man who had never showed any emotion that meant the most to me. In the following year, he contributed to the class and even volunteered to participate in some of the outside activities.

Writing is easy for those of us who love to do it. We often do it for selfish reasons – because we love it; because it keeps us sane; because we have to… But this holiday season, I want to encourage you to do it for others. Write something out about the people in your every day life. Whether you give it to them or not is not the first priority, just start pouring your gift out on the page and maybe, just maybe, it will reach the one who needs it the most.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Writer’s Gift: The Personal Letter

I am still thinking about the gift of hand-written letters. Inspired by Patty Digh’s blog, 37 Days, one year during the Lenten season I decided to write a letter a day to someone who had influenced my life in a meaningful way. The act of thinking about significant people in my life and writing out just what it was about them that impacted my life was both inspiring and humbling. I never sent those letters and that isn’t really the point: perhaps the whole purpose of that exercise was the message it held for me, for it brought me back to my core values and put me back on a very specific path in my life.

The gift of writing extends far beyond our original intent and far beyond both the writer and the reader. One of my personal treasures is a hand-written letter from Jesse McAnally to Eliza Potts during the Civil War.

Eliza Potts was my grandmother’s grandmother and Jesse McAnally was her father. That’s four and five generations before me. The content in the letter is not particularly profound, but it’s endurance through all these generations is. That letter is a witness to family love; it is a record of the details of living during the Civil War; it is evidence that my ancestors are in fact the stuff I am made of; and it is a piece of genuine communication between two people.

Our means of communication are so sophisticated today and really, quite impressive. But I wonder what aspect of this technology will be witness to five generations from now of who we were and how we lived? A hand-written letter provides a piece of soul and spirit that just doesn’t come across in electronic devices. A hand-written letter demonstrates characteristics and nuances that are found in the unique shape of the letters and even in the energy absorbed by the paper. I believe in these things; I do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Writer's Gift

What gift can I writer give? Why, her words, of course!

In our last journaling meeting, my friend Andrea started writing about a memory of her father that just popped into her head. That was during the first prompt which was simply finish with the words “I am thinking of…”. After that, she kept working on that idea for the rest of the evening. (One of the nice things about our journaling group is that no matter what the writing prompt is, people are free to write whatever they feel like writing.) During each reading time then, she let us see how her story was developing. She was surprised by what she was producing and encouraged by the oohs and ahhs that accompanied each reading. At the end of the evening, she exclaimed, “Now I’ve just about got a Christmas gift for my dad!”

How cool is that?!

I have no idea how she plans to present her words, but I know that her story will be the best gift he gets this year – maybe even ever! I am also certain that h will remember and treasure this gift for the rest of his life.

How cool is that?!

We are blessed with this gift of words. Claim it! Own it! And feel the exhilaration of this gift deep in your soul! Then let this joy spill over into the confidence to share it with others.

You can write a story or a poem, or even a good, old-fashioned letter. These days, a hand-written letter is extremely rare. What a wonderful gift! You can package your words on pretty paper or laminate them on bookmarks. You can insert personal pictures and you can make a little booklet bound with a festive ribbon. There are a lot of ways to present your words, but don’t get so caught up in the packaging that you freeze yourself out of the writing.

First sit down and write. No one else in the world can choose the words you will choose or string them together in the way that you can. This is precisely what makes the gift of your words so wonderful!

Here are some story-starter prompts to get you going. Just begin with the words for each prompt and write non-stop for at least five minutes and see where it takes you.

Starter Prompts
I remember when you and I …
I always think of you whenever I …
The friendship we share is special because …
Your _____ has influenced me by …
You are a role model because …
Red (or any other color) represents you because of your …
I never laughed so hard as when we …
Wasn’t it amazing that we …
When you and I were …