Ever look at the words ‘flailing’ and ‘failing’?
One definition of flail is ‘to wave or swing vigorously; thrash’. The word flail always reminds me of Grover from Sesame Street with his blue arms up in the air running around, being dramatic.
Writing often feels easy, until it’s not. We get stuck, hit a bump, and don’t know how to fix it.
I’ve always like the word flail because that is what I feel like I do on the page sometimes when I get stumped.
We can try writing prompts, freewriting, word sprints, delete sections, move the end to the beginning, write six fresh ways to open the essay or story, etc. If we’re being kind to ourselves, we know flailing about in our writing is no big deal. We just keep trying new things.
If our inner critic is awake and cranky, it will tell us that we are ‘failing’. It will tell us that if we were really good writers, we would have figured it out perfectly the first time (or something to this effect). When I was younger, I believed my inner critic(s) and often stopped writing when I got stuck and consequently didn’t finish pieces that I loved.
Now, I know that while flailing on the page looks and feels dramatic, it’s what’s needed to get to the Land of Completion.
Flailing is not failing.
Toni Morrison in her recent interview for the NEA Arts Magazine discusses creative failure and revision. It’s worth a read. Knowing that a great writer like Toni Morrison sometimes has to start over with a piece of writing and go in a different direction is quite comforting. She reminds us that we each have the power to “write and erase and do it over.” And, that there’s no shame in not getting it right the first or fourth time.
When fears are attended to, it clears the way for clear and simple writing that comes from your heart. Even the briefest attention can melt fear. Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK)
In March, I began a series about spring cleaning for your creative life. There are three steps in the process:
1) You reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your creative life.
2) You reorganize your space, schedule, and patterns of minds to allow you to create with more ease.
3) After reassessing and reorganizing, you rededicate yourself to having a productive and joyful creative life!
Reassessing your physical space is a great place to start because it is visible and you spend a lot of time there. Another thing to reassess during spring cleaning are your ‘patterns of mind’. By this I mean, the habitual ways of thinking and responding to your creative life. I’ve been looking at the pattern of fear.
Fear can show up in so many ways in a creator’s life. We fear to write, draw, and sing badly, we fear rejection, we fear we won’t reach our potential, we often fear the blank page, canvas, music studio, etc. Fear often causes us to procrastinate.
Recently, I noticed that I was procrastinating on contacting an editor of a magazine that I met in January. This editor encouraged me to send him a story of mine. I’ve known for months exactly the story that I want to send him. Sending him my story has been at the top of my to-do list, but I have had some fear around taking action. Ironically, I’m not afraid of getting rejected. I’ve been writing long enough to not be undone by rejection. I know rejection is part of the writing process. What was it then? It was a ‘taking the next step’ fear. Since I’ve met him, he’s not a faceless editor anymore. Sending my work to him because I met him and he was encouraging made it harder, not easier. I know this sounds weird. Fears are far from rational! And, because he wanted me to send it to his assistant, and not through the regular submission process, it triggered a fear of ‘not getting it right’. These twin fears around ‘taking the next step’ and ‘not getting it right/doing it right’ are familiar patterns of mind that I am paying attention to this spring.
To put fear in its place, this weekend, I set a deadline for myself. I wrote a very nice email to his assistant and sent my story with it while I was also so sending out other submissions for this month. I keep a submission sheet to record where and what I have sent out to contests and journals.
Fears never go completely away, but I’ve now got these two on the run for at least a few more weeks.
Do you have pattern of mind that needs some attending to during spring cleaning?
Happy Mother’s Day!
Themes about mothering and specifically the relationship between mothers and daughters tend to find their way into my creative work. Several of the stories, in the short story collection I am polishing, deeply explore the continuum of mothering relationships (e.g. biological moms, grandmothers, godmothers, aunties, etc.).
In my recent non-fiction work, I celebrate the courageous spirit of my mother in the just released A Letter to My Mom.
In fiction, I love reading about mothering relationships that are a bit off balance, unusual or difficult. There are some mother characters that have stayed with me long after I put the book down.
I’m thinking of the complex figure of ‘Elphaba’ in Gregory Maguire’s brilliant retelling of the Wicked Witch of Oz story in Wicked. Elphaba didn’t want to be a mother and for most of the book denies that she is responsible for Liir, a young boy. She is an absent, wayward and troubled mother. Although the second book, Son of a Witch, confirms that Liir is indeed Elphaba’s son, I appreciate how Maguire challenges ideas about the ability to mother as innate and easy.
In Beauty, Sheri Tepper’s stunning mythic novel, the main character Beauty is half fairy and half human and is the important player in an elaborate effort to save humankind (although she does not know this at the beginning of the novel).
Beauty is on a quest to find her mother (a fairy) who abandoned her when she was a baby. The novel begins in the 15th century and her journey propels Beauty through multiple time periods including the 20th century. Through Beauty’s quest, Tepper is able to have Beauty experience and shape key ‘fairy tales’ including Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White. When Beauty finally finds her mother, she must confront her mother’s divided sympathies. This book takes up questions of loyalty, love and abandonment.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver tackles the question of: How do different people view an unusual event in nature? Is it a disaster? Is it a miracle? Is it a sign of life out of balance? Kingsolver explores these questions through the prisms of class, region, science, love, loyalty and family.
Kingsolver’s main character, Dellarobia Turnbow, is someone who has been let down in many parts of her life. She got pregnant young, married the wrong guy, is tolerated by her in-laws, doesn’t like church and is constantly overwhelmed as a housewife and mother. The novel opens as she is about to take a drastic step to escape her unfulfilled life when she comes face to face with an experience that will shape and redefine her in unimaginable ways. This book provides some of the best descriptions of the physical and emotional labor of raising small children and how that often allows little time for self-introspection. I also love how trust and rapport develop between Dellarobia and her mother-in-law, Hester, who begins as an unsympathetic character.
Do mother figures and/or themes about mothering show up in your creative work? If so, how? What are some of your favorite mother figures in fiction?
Posted May 4, 2015on:
Camille Armantrout was born in 1954 on the East Coast, first born and only girl followed by five little brothers, which is where she got her sense of humor. She began keeping journals and corresponding with pen pals in grade school and has traveled the world with her soul mate, Bob.
Like so many who live in Chatham County, N.C, she is passionate about local farming and food cultures, sustainability and building community. I’ve been a friend of Camille’s, for many years, and a fan of her blog: ‘Plastic Farm Animals’ that threads together community news, personal reflection and travel stories. She and Bob host an annual ‘Hoppin’ John’ potluck party on New Year’s Day. They are greats host and I look forward to this event every year. This year at the party, I held in my hands the recent fruit of Camille’s labor, a co-authored book, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life as We Know It. Camille and her co-author Stephanie De La Garza document the maladies, epiphanies and tragedies of their collective wisdom gleaned from traveling the world and writing to each other about their discoveries. They loved the challenges of living abroad and inspire readers to go on their own adventures. Although I knew Camille blogged, I had no idea that her passion for writing was deep in her bones. I had to invite her here to learn more.
I am delighted to welcome Camille Armantrout to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.
Tell us about your new book, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life as We Know It. Why did you want to write this book?
My year and a half in Africa was epic. When I returned to the U.S. everyone was eager to hear about the trip, but would quickly become confused when I tried to sum up my experiences. Inevitably, I would end the attempt with “I could write a book…” and so I did.
My co-author Stephanie and I had discussed writing a travel book a few times. While I was in Ghana, she was experiencing her own travel adventure in Central America, having sold her house, cars and nearly everything else to move abroad. We thought our stories would inspire others to follow their dreams.
Stephanie came up with the title and I liked the alliteration. She chose the alternative spelling of braud, a word Urban Dictionary defines as “Fearless female; an adventurous, daring or independent woman.”
How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?
The writing bug bit me early on. My father was a writer and I began keeping a journal in grade school. I don’t think there’s been a day of my life when I didn’t write something. In the back of my mind, I always thought I would one day transition from writer to author, and now I’ve gone and done it.
What was your relationship with your co-author Stephanie before this book? What did you learn about each other in the process of writing Two Brauds Abroad?
Stephanie and I are longtime email buddies. We met in Nicaragua ten years ago when she came to stay at the lodge my husband, Bob and I were managing. We enjoyed each other’s company and have been corresponding ever since. Over the years, we have shared all aspects of our lives and know each other well.
Interestingly, we are two very different people. I’ve been married for twenty years. Stephanie is sixteen years my junior and still playing the dating game. I’m a vegetarian and Steph dislikes pretty much all vegetables, she’s more willing to take risks than I am, I’m more of a morning person than she is and she’s an only child while I come from a large family.
As we plunged into our project, we were happy to find that we have similar work ethics and that our skill sets dovetailed nicely. I submerged myself in editing as she launched a comprehensive marketing plan. Stephanie discovered that I’m a perfectionist and I found out she has a compulsive, “Let’s do!” streak.
The second half of the book is about how someone can transform his or her self into a world traveler. Where does this person start?
Planning begins with a financial safety net. Decide how big your cushion needs to be and either start saving or begin liquidating assets. Next, check out the possibilities via the Caretaker Gazette, Help Exchange, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof) or similar resources. Pick a location and start reading up on the culture and climate.
It’s worth noting that our transformation tips are not limited to world travel. You can reinvent yourself right here at home with a career or other lifestyle change using the same tools we offer in part II of our book.
What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading right now?
I am reading George Monbiot’s Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells and have just finished Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Pay attention to your writing patterns. If you discover, as I did, that your words flow in the morning, clear your am calendar to take advantage of that creative burst. Keep pen and paper handy at all times, in your pocket or purse, on your bedside table, and in the car.
Camille Armantrout has lived and worked all over the world. She is usually traveling with her co-conspirator and husband, Bob. Camille has worked in kitchens, on construction sites, driven taxi and groomed race track thoroughbreds. She bakes for fun, trains horses, and writes about the world as she sees it, here.
Check out Two Brauds Abroad on Amazon!
It’s the last day of National Poetry Month and I couldn’t let the day slip away without giving a shout out to my writing group buddy, Ashley Memory. This past Sunday, she attended one of the local events I look forward to all year-Vision and Voice Poetry Project hosted by the local gallery Joyful Jewel. During the month of March, writers are encouraged to visit this amazing gallery and choose a piece of art to write about (they sell everything from jewelry to paintings). Then the V&V event pairs up the writer to read his or her work and the artist to talk about the piece. I have participated in the past and have found great inspiration in all sorts of art objects. Ashley participated and you’ll see a link to her poem. I’ve learned so much from her keen sensibility and poetic ear.
Originally posted on Ashley Memory:
Yesterday, Sunday, April 26, I had the honor of reading a poem at the 4th Annual Vision & Voice Poetry Project at the Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, a local art gallery specializing in original arts and crafts. Once every year, they open their doors to local poets who, in the style of poetry known as Ekphrasis, write a poem inspired by a piece of art. I chose as my inspiration the beautiful photograph of a snowy egret by Gerald Dukes (kindly held by local artist. D.G. Chandler). If you like, you may read my poem here.
Pictured above is the poet Candace Falloon reading a poem inspired by proprietor Mariah Wheeler’s (also pictured) lovely work of mixed media titled The Muse Calls.
A number of other local poets read, including Mary Barnard, Judith Fisher, Tim Keim, Judith Stanton, Patty Cole and Judy Hogan, who emceed the event. In addition…
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