Archive for the ‘women and creativity’ Category
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
Posted September 16, 2012on:
Hi! My Sunday Surprise includes tidbits gathered from here and there. Soon I will return to my longer posts, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interlude.
-I’m now on Twitter and loving every moment of it. I’m reconnecting with teachers and alums from 1996 Clarion East, a science fiction and fantasy writers’ summer intensive, that I attended! Come find me @MicheleTBerger
-Visual artists trick our brains all the time in how we perceive light and color. This article on CNN.com explores what neuroscience is teaching us about how we perceive art.
-I gave a workshop, ‘Are You a Wooer or Withholder? What’s Your Creative Relationship Style?’ a few weeks ago for the ‘Sisters In Crime’ writers’ group in Raleigh. One of the prompts I gave them was to imagine that an adoptions worker comes to interview them on their capacity to “adopt the creative”(based on Deena Metzger’s work). Judy Hogan, farmer, co-founder of Carolina Wren Press and newly minted mystery author attended the workshop and just posted a dialogue between her and the adoptions worker. You might want to try the exercise and then read Judy’s engaging response.
-Feel like you’ve lost that loving feeling with your Muse? Brenda Moquez’s quirky and funny dialogue with her Muse might give you some ideas about how to court yours!
-Very compelling post by Kate Elliot on the male gaze, the female gaze, and women’s sexualized portrayals in fantasy and science fiction novels.
-A thought about persistence. Yesterday, after an all-day faculty retreat I got to the gym as planned so that I could exercise as a reward. Well, I quickly realized that in my early morning haste, I had forgotten to pack my sneakers. I also had to be somewhere else within an hour and knew that if I didn’t work out during my allotted time, it wasn’t going to happen later. So, although I felt a bit silly, I changed into my workout clothes and grabbed my patent blue wedge shoes (the only shoes with me), and walked with my head held high, barefoot, into the gym’s workout area. I picked up a few magazines and sat down at one of the recumbent bike stations, put on my shoes and began my thirty minute workout. Yes, I felt a bit silly as people walked by and looked at me pedaling away in my nice shoes. However, it was more important for me to be true to my fitness goals then let a little thing like shoes stop me. This incident made me think of writing. It is so easy to get off our game if one little thing goes wrong during our scheduled writing time. It could be that we’re out our special tea, or the pen we love has just gone dry. Or, that we have an interruption that we have to attend to. And, we can feel silly and out of sorts that we have to make do with our sometimes ‘less than perfect’ writing life. But, if we remind ourselves that our larger goal of consistent writing practice is so much more important than fleeting frustration when things don’t go as planned, we just might find ourselves able to persevere and receive a greater payoff in the long run.
(Photo Credit: these shoes look a lot like the ones that I wore while pedaling. http://www.shopoloriswank.com/product/patent-blue-gucci-wedge)
Spring presents writers with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world. Spring fuels us with the energy to tackle physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve us. Over the next several posts, I’ll explore the role of spring cleaning for your writing life. I also asked writer friends for their thoughts and will share their nuggets of wisdom. I posed this question to them: What is one thing that you’re doing, giving away, rearranging, reassessing, reorganizing, etc., to support your writing life?
The ONLY thing unique I have been doing for spring is rearranging my writing nook. (It’s a small indentation that has a desk with shelves all the way up the wall above it across from my bed in my bedroom. I have to write on my laptop sitting on my bed due to my disability.) I have been saving my son’s schoolwork there as well, but have found that it sits there making me feel guilty that I am not putting it into albums, scrapbooks etc., while I am trying to write. So I am moving all his stuff to a place all by itself AWAY from the nook, so I can take ONE day this summer to go through it and file everything where it belongs. It’s been so distracting to have something OTHER than my writing materials in my writing nook. It’s amazing how all that other stuff hanging out in one’s writing area (reminding you of all the other projects waiting for you), can make you feel bad about writing!
So spring is about making my writing space EXCLUSIVELY about writing and not a multitasking space. It’s already made me feel more focused that I have given my writing its own place, making it a real priority.
Jennie Kohl Austin, a writer who also describes herself as a “fiercely determined mom, artist, researcher, lover, and motorcycle enthusiast” shared:
I chose to rework my writing work space as a part of my spring routine this year. I separated my writing work space from my regular computer area so that I could define the state of “being a writer.” Laptop, markers and notepads, nice lighting, and my most inspiring books make for a soothing space that not only honors my process, but also lets my family know I’m working. The best part is how it doesn’t gather unrelated clutter, so I’m always ready to work!
Samantha and Jennie’s insights remind us how important it is to periodically reassess our writing space. Go and look at your writing space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel as sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing area?
Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.
It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.
Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive, but a good place to start.
-Do you need to organize and sort out your paper files?
-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals?
-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?
-Do you need to release some writing books? Welcome others?
-Do you need to physically clean your computer?
-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?
-Do you need more or less shelf space?
-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (i.e. paint)?
Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.
I’d love to hear from you about your process of spring cleaning and your writing life. Any please feel free to share any tips!
Guest Post by Fi Phillips
Most writers will have heard of how the seed of the creation that became Frankenstein came into being. In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, their son and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spent the summer near Geneva in Switzerland. Holidaying with them were the poet Lord Byron and his doctor John William Polidori. At this point, Mary was calling herself Mary Shelley although she would not marry Percy until later that year after the suicide of his wife.
Renting villas close to Lake Geneva, this should have been a summer of boating and sunshine but Mary Shelley wrote that,
‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer… and incessant rain often confined us for days in the house’.
Conversation turned to the experiments of Erasmus Darin in his attempts to re-animate dead matter, and ghost stories, the group often talking late into the night. It was Byron who suggested that they write their own supernatural stories.
In what Mary called, ‘a waking dream’, she came upon the idea for ‘Frankenstein’. At first, she thought it would be a short story but with Percy’s encouragement she expanded her idea into the novel we now know, published in 1818.
Mary was never going to be a follower of the norm. Both of her unorthodox parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were philosophers and writers. Her mother died when Mary was only days old but she cherished her mother’s memory, her writings and her lifestyle. This individuality and following of her heart (and her creativity) has always drawn me to the character of Mary Shelley.
At a time when the majority of formally published authors were men, Mary published her novel anonymously. It was assumed that as this was not a story of romance and the interior sphere of the home the author must be male. The fact that Percy wrote the novel’s preface and dedicated the book to his hero (Mary’s father) William Godwin caused many to believe that Mary’s husband was the author. The novel was received well and viewed as an intellectual piece of writing rather than a horror novel.
Mary was a strong, individual woman who would carve out a career in writing, eventually being recognised as the author of Frankenstein although it was not the only novel she wrote, or indeed her only piece of writing. After her husband’s death, she would hold fast to her writing as a means to support herself and her son, editing her husband’s poetry, writing her novels, assisting friends in writing their memoirs and other literary endeavours.
Mary Shelley has always been an inspiration to me in her individuality, her strength as a mother, her refusal to succumb to society’s judgements, and her commitment to her writing. Intelligent and forward thinking, she created many works but her novel Frankenstein would produce a figure of stage, screen, comedy and tragedy, bridging the divide between the canon and popular fiction. Mary Shelley would be remembered.
Fi Phillips is a mum and wife, and currently writes murder mystery plays
for her small business Murdering The Text. She is a literature graduate,
originally from York but currently living in North Wales.
For many years, she worked in an office environment until the arrival of
her two children robbed her of her short term memory and sent her hurtling
down a new, often bumpy, creative path. Writing is her passion and she
finds that getting the words down on paper is the best way to keep the
creative muse out of her shower.
(Photo Credit Wikipedia)
Guest Post by Barbara Ehrentreu
The two women writers who have influenced me wrote in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Jane Austen and Edith Wharton both wrote about every day life during their respective time periods. Both of them had feminine main characters and showed how a woman’s life was dependent upon her getting married. Yet both had very independent heroines who went against the established norms for society at their respective times.
What I like about Jane Austin’s writing is the way she was able to tell a story, yet she described her scenes in such a way you felt you were there. She brought you into everything and you felt like you were part of each scene. When I first read Emma I was unable to stop reading and though my teacher had only a few chapters assigned for us to read I found myself reading beyond them to the end of the book. The story was so compelling and although I had difficulty with some of the situations, I wanted her to end up with the dashing hero.
I had to read Edith Wharton for a graduate college course and again I became fascinated by her attention to detail. Like Jane Austen she described each scene as if it were photographed and her characters were so real you wanted to go and put an arm around the poor woman in The House of Mirth. In The Age of Innocence the missed chances and the sadness of unrequited love are played out in such a lush setting you find yourself wanting to live their lives. The writing is so outstanding. Of course, today, some or a lot of both Jane Austen’s and Edith Wharton’s work would be considered too much telling. However both are classic authors and we can learn a great deal from their writing.
Barbara, a retired teacher lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara’s first YA novel, published by MuseItUp Publishing was inspired by Paula Danziger. Her novel is also available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback, Barnes & Noble for both paperback and Nook, Smashwords, Omnilit and of course, The Muse Bookstore. In addition, Barbara has a story in Lavender Dreams, a memorial anthology for which all the proceeds go to cancer research. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!
Check out her blog: ‘Barbara’s Meanderings’, http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com/
Guest Post by Heidi Moore
I’ve just fallen into literary love with a writer I assumed was brand new, Edith Pearlman.When I finished reading her short story, “Tess,” I put down my iPad and sat still for a moment with the intense feeling it left me. It’s a difficult sensation to describe to those who haven’t yet learned to love the short story. The sensation feels as though an important truth about one corner of the whole world has been encapsulated in an exquisite, but simple, jewel that I have just held in my hands, and I want to know how it is possible the author could have constructed something so precious there.
Anyone who wants to know how to write, or even read, a short story would wisely begin with Pearlman. One reason her stories are so remarkable is Pearlman writes amazing sentences; these are sentences that tell a story as much as the plot itself conveys meaning. For instance, in “Rules,” Donna, a woman who works at the day-shelter, hands Ollie, a mother, diapers. Donna knows she urgently needs them; as soon as she hands them to Ollie, she knows that a couple of diapers cannot possibly fill the gulf of need, so then she just hands Ollie the whole box. The narrator explains: “Donna gave Ollie both money and Pampers, and was rewarded by a mammoth embrace that made her grin—it was so easy, so emphatic, so momentarily sincere, so ultimately meaningless” (190). Within a single sentence, we understand the subtleties of an emotionally complex transaction that another writer might take a paragraph to describe.
For those of us who want to emulate Pearlman, it is important to know that this kind of writing does not happen in an afternoon: Great sentences are hard won. Pearlman told interviewer Daniel Jaffee of BiblioBuffet, “Each short story takes several weeks (five days a week, about four hours a day) to write, in many, many drafts, all on the typewriter. The nth draft then marinates in a drawer while I work on the next story or piece. [...] So each story takes about a month and a half in total time.” I will post this timeline near my computer, so I remember not to rush my creative process so much. Pearlman is a great example.
Pearlman’s plots are also worthy to emulate. “Tess,” a first-person account from the point of view of the mother of a severely disabled two year-old child in the hospital on life support is complex. The mother describes circumstances around Tess’s birth and her own life difficulties: “When I had to leave the Sea View a month before the baby because of some law about lifting and stuff, Billie said not to worry. I could come back whenever I was ready” (95). In alternate passages she describes the services Tess requires from her many different health care providers: “[H]er friends know she cannot hear, but they talk to her anyway, for to see faces in action, lips moving, is instructive for Tess, according to the neuro-audiologist” (97). The action leads up to our being convinced that Tess’s mom is a deeply caring parent, who, though she may not be well educated, is doing the best she can to advocate for a daughter who may not have much hope of recovering. Pearlman is masterful at developing the roomful of characters who manage Tess’s care, and at building tension; plainly, Tess is going to die. What is not clear is what will be resolution of the story when the mother goes to the windowsill to retrieve the toy she thinks is Tess’s favorite: “The red floppy dog. They always forgot it. I put it in a corner of the crib.Then I unscrewed the end of the heart tube from the aqua clothespin and slipped it under the blanket so the blood would pool quiet and invisible like a monthly until there would be no more left” (105). It is an emotional ending, but one that causes the reader a genuine heart-stopping moment, a mixture of grief, disturbance, and relief.
This precise feeling brought me immediately back to the title page of Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, and I wondered how I could have missed being a fan of this writer who has been publishing award-winning literary fiction for three decades. Then I knew I wanted to share her with everyone I could. What better occasion than Women’s History Month?
Just this month, on March 8, 2012, Pearlman’s short story collection won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction. Binocular Vision also won the 2011 PEN/Malamud prize for outstanding short fiction and was nominated last fall for the National Book Awards. Individual stories have won numerous awards in the past as well.
Edith Pearlman is a true gem, a woman writer worth modeling oneself on.
Jaffee, Daniel. “Talking Across the Table. Edith Pearlman: An Interview.” (11-13-2011). BiblioBuffet.com. http://www.bibliobuffet.com/archive-index-talking-across-the-table/365-edith-pearlman-an-interview. (3-15-2012).
Pearlman, Edith; Ann Patchett (2011-01-11). Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories (p. 190). Lookout Books. Kindle Edition. (3-16-12).
Pearlman, Edith reading at the 2011 National Book Foundation Awards.
Heidi R. Moore
Heidi R. Moore is a writer and artist, a former college writing and literature professor who is now working on a memoir and painting watercolor and acrylic paintings. She also writes a blog, http://heidiwriting.wordpress.com
Heidi went to the Goddard College MFA writing program, where she studied with Mark Doty, She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies, with an emphasis in Film and American Popular Culture.
(Photo Credit: http://www.edithpearlman.com/index.htm)
My dear friend and writing buddy Al Capeheart is guest posting today about a woman writer who continues to inspire.
Maya Angelou wrote, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” Hearing her presidential inauguration poem she calls us all forward by the belief in a just and peaceful future. She lives her commitment, her words are everyday, and in her wisdom she calls to all human kind to be inspired by faith.
My main inspiration came from Ann McRae Kennady, my Mom. She had the most profound influence on me. She insisted that we speak proper English. We might not be rich, but we could talk like we were educated. She finished high school in 1937, but unlike her siblings she did not go to college. She ran away to marry my father. She would say, “I can learn to do anything as long as there is a book written to tell me how to do it.”
She was PR director and editor of in-house publications of a regional life insurance company. She was the second woman in Virginia to earn the title of “Charter Life Underwriter”; she called it her Ph.D. She edited and published the national award-winning “Southern Exposure” magazine of the Richmond Camera Club. She was the first person I knew to use word processing. She studied photography in the city she loved. Her curiosity was about all facets of history from free-standing renovated town houses, to ancestral monuments from the Civil War.
To earn money after retirement, she became a City of Richmond tour guide for the historic society. The green tour type bus/trolleys had regular schedules leaving from the Virginia Museum of Science, the old Broad Street Railroad Station where in the 1940s and 1950s she’d board the train for New York where she was the ‘ready to wear’ purchasing agent for Thalheimers and its mid-south department stores. But it seemed she was always late.
I remember Pop racing the north bound train to Ashland, VA its first stop 18 miles out. She never missed a train that I know of but it always seemed like a panic to catch it. My sister said, “She’d never get anything done, if it weren’t for the last-minute.”
Her reputation as a Historic Richmond tour guide brought her many specific requests. Her description of historic characters was so engaging it was as if she’d had lunch with them the week before. Busloads of tourist and history buffs were her guests. Of particularly note were her ghost tours and knowledge of southern Jewish communities. She always used, encouraged and appreciated proper grammar. She continues to inspire.
AL Capehart aka Santa AL
AL Capehart is a retired social worker and a professional Santa. AL is working on a memoir about his 20 years of Santa Claus work as ‘Santa AL’. Visit him at http://www.santaal.com/