Little Bo-Peep

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and doesn't know where to find them. Leave them alone and they'll come home Wagging their "tales" behind them.

I sit at my desk almost every day waiting for words to come.  I probably should be doing something useful like dusting or cleaning the kitchen.  But, I always promised myself that when my kids were grown I'd take all that energy I thought I had stored away for years and churn out story after wonderful story.

Now, I have not been totally negligent in turning out stories.  I've turned out some that I quite like and others have shared my opinion by publishing them. Sometimes words come to me.  Sometimes I wake up from a dream with an opening line.  Sometimes I am in the middle of doing something useful, like dishes or laundry and I receive a word, a line, a beginning.

But, way too often I try to court words and story ideas and nothing sparks. Maybe I'm scaring them away by searching too hard.

I court words in a few ways:  I play solitaire.  Yep, dopey, minimally engaging solitaire.  Sometimes it works, I think, because it makes my brain turn on just a bit to get the gears working  thus allowing words that are streaming in my mind a chance to get together and form a sentence, a picture, a scene.

Recently I have added nursery rhymes to my method of distracting my "monkey mind" ( thank you Natalie Goldberg) long enough to let the undercurrents gain a little strength.

Bo-Peep was going through my mind this morning and I realized that some of my most ancient memories are of sitting with a book opened on my lap as a small child, reading the classics.  The classics of children's lit, that is. Nursery rhymes are a lot like the Book of Proverbs for the pre-K set.

I think Bo-Peep showed up to tell me to let go, stop searching so anxiously.  Leave them alone, and they'll come home, wagging their "tales" behind them..

Boy, I hope those nursery rhymes have as much wisdom as they're supposed to.

To Live, To Write, That is the Question

John is in the kitchen teaching the Tango to one of his friends.  She brought a pair of high heels, because everyone knows a woman needs heels to tango.  A twirling skirt would be helpful too, but this is her first lesson. Our house has resembled a dormitory or a frat house this past week.  My oldest son and his band from Boston are in town for the SouthBySouthWest music festival in Austin. My middle son came in for the weekend, so we had all of our own sons, plus several honorary ones, these past few days.

Being an (almost) empty-nester, I welcome the life, the creativity, the high spirits, and yes, even the noise.

This situation hasn't left me a lot of time to write, but I am of the school of thought that if you don't take the time to live what have you got to write about?

I do know of some purists who go and lock themselves away in a cabin in order to produce their great literary opus, but a very long time ago I made the decision (and life in all it's wonderful messiness led me to this decision) that writing is a reflection on life, not a substitute for life.

Creating is an act of will, as much as it is a function of temperament and talent.  My husband and children all devote a great deal of time and energy to their various pursuits like music, art, photography, writing, and, naturally actually living their lives.  They continue to be my best teachers and have provided the fodder for much of what I have written.

One of these days I'll put on a pair of high heels and a twirly skirt and ask my son to teach me how to tango.  Then, after that marinates a bit, I might write about it.

The Youthfulness of Creativity

I've been on grandma duty, traveling back and forth about 200 miles each way so Katie can take exams while Jude entertains me.  He's quite an active little boy, climbing over my head while I try to hold him, scooting across the floor, bouncing up and down in his bouncy chair and playpen. He's perpetual motion unless he is studying the noise making device on one of his brightly colored toys or pushing buttons on a cell phone. Everything is new to him.  Everything is wonderful.  The littlest things make him laugh and smile: a sneeze; a burp: Sponge Bob cavorting with Patrick: seeing his mommy's face, pulling on his daddy's beard.

Did I tell you that it's wonderful?  And hard work.  Changing his diaper is a race since he takes every chance to scoot across the bed and grab onto curtains or see what's down there on the carpet. Makes me realize why we have babies while our backs are still young enough to take all the bending and lifting and we are quicker than a toddler looking for adventure.  Or at least have longer strides to make up for their quickness.

If we could all just spend some time with a very young child we would learn so many important things, again.  Once upon a time we knew them.  Then we let them get educated out of us.  When we delve into any of the creative arts, we take a step back into that time when we could hear the angels sing and laugh at their music and the symphony of colors in innocent delight.

Character, Characters

I'd like to think that I would have been one of the kids who joined Harry Potter in his secret society to counteract the fascism that has taken over Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The wise and benevolent Dumbledore has been disenfranchised due to a wave of suppression and rule by terror that has overthrown their world. The personification of this government of terror is Dolores Umbridge, a Dark Arts professor clad in  pink, sporting immovably coiffured haired and a smile that broadens in insincerity in proportion to the pain her students suffer at her discipline. Harry and friends employ courage, skill and cleverness to undermine the darkness that is a constant threat.

But I am not writing about Harry Potter.  I'm commenting on characters and character and the role literature plays in our understanding of such things. When a story is well crafted and its heroes and villains embody the qualities that writers and artists have been portraying since the ancient days of cultural mythologies those writers have become wright-ers of our current mythology; that is, they craft stories that help us understand the moral battles we must all face, in one form or another no matter where or when we live.

The names and settings may change, but we humans have been battling the same evils with the same virtues forever.  Since folks gathered around communal fires and shared meals we have anticipated the arrival of the local seanachie to tell a tale and subtly, oh so subtly, teach us about courage and love and evil and good and all the other things that go into wondrous mix that makes us human. Even when they are writing about wizards.

Grain of Wheat

It's noteworthy that much of the 'self-help' and 'self-improvement' advice sounds an awful lot like phrases taken right out of scripture.  A wide variety of scripture, I might add. I read a lovely essay about a woman who discovered that the child she was carrying tested positive for Down's.  Some advisors advised her to end the pregnancy.  She did not.  The essay was not about 'choice'; it was about letting go of her expectations of what her life should be and allowing life to happen, with all its twists and turns and surprises. She quoted a Buddhist phrase at the beginning of her essay which sounded so much like words from the New Testament reminding us that a grain of wheat must die in order to become more fully itself.  Let go of your little mind and let life surprise you.

What has this to do with writing?  Well, quite a bit actually.

I'm currently working on a series of short stories that I have culled from the novel  I had poured much work and struggle into. I have been banging my brain around the structure of the novel for several months, perhaps even a few years. Recently I decided to let go of the novel format and take the characters, scenes, conflicts and settings that I had invested in and re-shape chapters into work that could stand alone as short stories.

Now it's a bit more complicated than lifting chapters from a novel and re-labeling them short stories.  Short stories have their own set of rules for structure, narrative arc, beginning and end, and construction.  In order for some of my scenes and characters to stand out in the world by their lonesome, not cradled by chapters, I had to (and have to) re-think the direction and let myself be surprised by what developes.

I have sent one such story out into the world to be judged.  I am working on getting the others in fighting shape to join it.

A friend of mine once said what most writers know:  I don't know what I'm going to write until I write it.  Isn't that grand!! It's grand because it demonstrates a letting go, a release, a freedom to become a channel between the thoughts and characters that have moved in to our heads and that process, that encounter, dare I say, that grace that happens between pen and paper, between keyboard and screen, between mind and fingers taking off in a flurry of tapping.

None of this is as magical as I wish it were.  It's hard work.  It takes a great deal of logic and organization and thinking and criticizing and often years of training and straining.  But then, we need to let it go and see if the seeds we have been sowing are strong enough to take root and grow into something we can look upon with delight.