Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Spinners #3

As I'm sure some of you have realized from my posts, I love to write about the characters I meet. The first night of writing camp, I was sitting alone in my dorm room, trying to settle in and adjust to the environment before I ventured out to get to know some people. I heard a knock on a door. Thinking it was someone else's door, I kept writing and munching on Honey Nut Cheerios. The knocking persisted. Finally, I opened the door to see what was going on outside, when I recognized a girl whom I had briefly spoken with earlier, standing outside my door.

"Can I come in?" She barged in. "Have you read that paper our professor gave us today?"

"I started it," I said. For our first non-fiction homework assignment, our professor had assigned us to read "The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative" by Vivian Gornick.

"I don't know if you got to this part yet, but this part really fascinated me." She took my paper off my desk and read:
It was remarkable to me how excellent were relations between this narrator and this narration. The speaker never lost sight of why she was speaking––or, perhaps more important, of who was speaking. Of the various selves at her disposal (she was, after all, many people––a daughter, a lover, a bird water, a New Yorker), she knew and didn't forget that the only proper self to invoke was the one that had been apprenticed.
I looked at her.

"'...she was, after all, many people,'" she repeated. "I love this! Because it's true that we are all so many different people. Because we meet so many different people..."

"...and every one of those people affects us in some way," I added. We talked for a solid thirty minutes. She paced around the floor and watched our reflections in the window as we stood side by side.

She pointed her hands forward like a traffic guard waving on cars. "We're all going down our own path." I nodded. "But sometimes..." She turned to face me. "Sometimes we cross paths. We meet at intersections."

"And that's when we affect each other's lives."

It was such an intriguing conversation. As soon as she left I pulled out my laptop and wrote three pages about it. And there is so much more I want to write. Imagine how many human interactions we have every day. I'm not talking about conversations. I mean interactions: the awkward eye contact in the grocery line, the bump on the street, the woman who returned our dime.

I believe we are all a ball of clay. We all have the ability to mold each other. Some people will chip away at us. Some will add to us. Some will twist us around ourselves and make us question who we are. Some will rough us up. Some will be there to smooth us out. Sometimes we may harden with resistance. Some people will take advantage of this and pick us up and drop us. Others will be there to sweep us up and glue us back together. 

We also have the ability to look for opportunities to mold ourselves, better ourselves, redefine ourselves. The shape we are today does not have to be the shape we are tomorrow. In fact, we should never stay the same, but rather always be slightly changing, so if we were to make a stop action film of our lives, we could see ourselves shifting.

So here's the exercise: Select a minimum of two of your favorite characters. They can be from a novel, a comic, a movie, or even people you know personally. Try to combine them and spend 5-10 minutes free writing about them. (Girls, it's like finally being able to combine those two guys. You love so many things about one, and so many things about another, and you wish you could just morph them into one person.)

Happy Writing!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Spinners #2

My phone says one hour and four minutes–my laptop says one hour–before I would have missed the second Sunday Spinners. It really would be embarrassing if I couldn't keep a series running for more than a week.

This week's Sunday Spinners is an exercise I did in a poetry workshop at writing camp. Although it is a poetry exercise, you don't need to be a poet to try it. Lord knows I'm not a poet...but I still really enjoyed this exercise. If you don't want to write poetry, feel free to be creative and stretch the exercise to whatever medium best suits your interest.

Here's the prompt (the pictures are only examples of the types of things you could write about...your possibilities are literally endless):

Write a poem about something ugly using beautiful language.

This is the bathroom in the hotel room I stayed in all by myself when my flight back from Ohio was cancelled...that's another story for another time.

Write a poem about something beautiful using ugly language.

This is just a daffodil.


If you're feeling stuck, here's the last stanza of the poem I wrote for this exercise. I titled the poem "Full Moon." In my poem, the speaker is a heartbroken woman who stares at the beauty of the full moon and is filled with anger, because she thinks of all the lovers who share that full moon together. It's a work in progress. I need to watch out for using too many big words. I got too carried away with the thesaurus.

We may like to raise our thumbs
to the moon and cogitate 
about the “universality” of how everyone
somewhere in this world is seeing 
the same moon,
but I glower at that moon
and I raise my thumb and ruminate
about how I would crumple it like a bad idea 
or crack it like an egg and let the yolk run, 
spewing false shooting stars 
so people could wish on them and spend
their lives with the credence 
that their wish may actually come true. 

I kept looking up synonyms for words like "think" and "believe," trying to see if I could find words that had more negative connotations. The words themselves don't have to be "ugly" though...think about the images you use. The metaphors. The similes. Think particularly about the tone of your poem. As I wrote my poem, I strived to keep a spiteful tone.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Merging In

"Just inch out into the road. Relax. Take a deep breath. Check both ways. You're clear. Drive." All my life, I have been used to "following." I question myself about everything, even when I know that I know what to do. I realized this particularly when I was learning to drive.

ME: Dad, can I go now?
DAD: Yes. The light is green. Green means "go."

ME: Mom, do I signal?
MOM: You're switching lanes. Yes, you signal.

One of the hardest things for me to learn has been merging into oncoming traffic. I second-guessed myself. I didn't trust myself to move unless someone else told me to.

As soon as I started driving by myself, that changed. Fast. The first time I drove by myself I forgot I had to drive around the rotary downtown. "You know what to do," I heard Mom say inside my head. "Think about your next move. Trust yourself."

This summer, I feel as if I've been merging into my own life. I've mused in previous posts about the newfound independence I've acquired over the past few months, between obtaining my license, traveling alone, and now as a working girl. I've found that with this independence also comes a new rhythm––my own rhythm.

In previous summers, I have followed my parents' schedule. When they swam, I swam. When they ran, I ran. When they ate, I ate. This summer, I'm not able to do this. I have my own schedule. I work during the day, I perform in a community theatre production of Les Mis at night. I have to run and swim when I have time to run and swim. Sometimes there are days I'm not able to fit in a run or a swim, because I choose to prioritize memorizing my lines, or reading, or taking the time to write. Or napping. Sometimes I need a nap.

I've also been making a lot of my own meals lately. My dinner tonight was one of my favorites so far.

I stopped by work on my way home from play rehearsal to pick up a portabella mushroom with my 20% employee discount. I brushed it with olive oil and cooked it in the oven until it was soft. Meanwhile, I sautéed kale, green beans, snap peas, zucchini, and tomatoes from our garden. When everything was cooked, I flipped the mushroom so that its belly faced up, and blanketed it with the kale leaves. Then I filled it with the other veggies. To top it off, I sprinkled grated asiago cheese over the mushroom and the plate, and added a nasturtium on the side for decoration.

After setting the table and taking many pictures, I finally sat down to eat...the food was only a little cold. now you're probably thinking that I only wrote this post as a sly way of sneaking in pictures of my dinner. But I actually started the post the other night and never finished it, and when I cooked dinner tonight, I realized these pictures accompanied the post perfectly. And here's why: I'm on my own this summer more than I ever have been before. I'm starting to think more for myself. I love to be I run and swim and bike, even when it's on my own. I love good food. So when I have the time, I don't just grab cereal from the cupboard or throw in a frozen pizza...I take the time to cook something for myself. 

When it comes down to it, I'm learning how to take care of myself. It has certainly been an adjustment these past few weeks...but I'm slowly releasing my foot off the break. I look both ways. And I go. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Spinners

Building off of my last post, sometimes I find when I haven't sat down for awhile, I just don't know what to write about. It's like when you haven't seen a friend in so long, and you feel like you have so much to say, but then all of a sudden you get on the phone and can't think of anything...because there's just too much.

So, I thought I would start something called, "Sunday Spinners." Every Sunday, I will try and post a prompt to get your mind spinning. Whether you be a painter, a writer, a can respond to the prompt in whatever way suits your craft.

This week's prompt is inspired by something my friend and I did at the Columbus Art Museum while we were at writing camp. The two of us walked around the museum, and took turns picking different paintings that intrigued us. We set our cell phone timers for five minutes, and wrote non-stop about a painting––a story, objective observation, subjective opinions, whatever came to mind. When we were done, we read what we wrote out loud (no editorializing!).

Our stories were so different for every painting we wrote about. One of the paintings we wrote about was the Norman Rockwell painting below.

Soda Jerk
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1953)
1953. Oil on canvas, 36x34"

When I saw this painting, I focused on the conniving face of the busboy. In my free write, the busboy was the older brother of the girl with red hair, and he was playing a prank on her and her friend. My friend focused on the lonely boy in the corner. In her story, he had bought the brunette a soda in an attempt to ask her out, but then the cocky busboy came along and started flirting with her. Definitely two very different relationships! 

After we left the museum, another fun idea we had was that after we finished sharing our own stories, we could then spend another five minutes non-stop writing, but continuing the other person's story. 

At writing camp, what I loved perhaps even more than writing form myself was listening to others read their work. The range of backgrounds these people came from...the diversity in their writing styles and topics...their willingness to be graphic and pure and let themselves bleed for us. They pointed out things I never would've thought of on my own. And that is why I love collaboration, and I love to talk and I love to share. That is why I love art. 

My friend from camp was telling me about a time she went to an art museum with a friend of hers back home. She saw a plain black canvas displayed on the wall. 

"I could do that," she said. 

"But you didn't," said her friend. And that was the difference. That is what makes an artist, an artist. A writer, a writer. A composer, a composer. The artist, the writer, the composer...they saw the ordinary and cast the spotlight on it. They found some deeper meaning or had some further motive, even if that motive was simply a rejection to the "complicated," to the explainable, to the obligatory. They had the courage to put it out there despite what others thought. 

And that is why we need artists of all kinds––not just writers or painters or actors. We need the different perspectives.

If you try the exercise, let me know what you think of it! The key is that you have to trust yourself to just write or paint or sing or whatever it is. If you can't get to a museum, try searching a picture on the internet. Or find a picture in a book. Be open.

Wishing you all a week filled with inspiration! 

P.S. This is one photograph I really enjoyed writing about at the museum. If you're interested, see what you come up with! 

View From Below
Zoe Leonard

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"So You Want To Be A Writer?"

One would think that after a week-long intensive writing camp, I would be posting every day. Or at least writing every day. But I am ashamed to admit...I am not. Leaving camp, I had this grand idea that I would sit down and write every day. I made a document called "Writing Exercises," where, for three consecutive days, I gave myself a prompt and free-wrote, non-stop for five to ten minutes. Five minutes a hard can that be?

Mind you, I said three consecutive days, meaning that after the third day I skipped two, then remembered and went back to it, then skipped another. It's not that I don't want to write. It's certainly not that I don't have anything to write about. In fact, I have too much to write about, between all the inspiration from camp and Les Mis rehearsals and work and the beach. I think a big problem is that I don't know what to choose. I have all these scattered snippets in random documents and on scrap pieces of paper and notebooks and sticky notes on my desktop. They are all just seeds floating in the wind, waiting for someone to grab them and plant them in the ground. Unfortunately there is only one of me, and I have a history of being slightly indecisive.

But that doesn't explain why I can't sit down for five minutes to just "dump write." And I think it's because I haven't made it part of my routine yet. At camp, it was amazing to have it naturally built into my daily routine. I don't have that at home. I don't have class to go to or an assignment to complete. I only have my own self-motivation, and let's face it, it's a lot easier to say "no" to yourself than it is to someone else.

So does that mean I'm not a writer? Does that mean I'm not "serious enough" to be one? I would like to think that I still am a writer, because I am always thinking about writing. I think about writing when I read and analyze other people's work. I think about writing when I'm onstage, and I think about the words I am saying, and I ask myself, "Why did the author choose these specific words? What do they convey about my character?" I think about writing when I see a little crab stand on his hind legs and pinch the air while I squat to meet him eye to eye, and I think, "What would he be saying right now if he could talk?" And for whatever reason, all I can imagine is an angry, swearing foreigner.

I believe I am a writer because I am always noticing. I don't think the true gift of a writer is how they use words; I believe it is the things they choose to bring to light: the dead fox on the side of the road, the bruised apple, the ripped flag...all the things others may not blink twice over. I believe the true gift of a writer is his/her ability to make the ordinary, extraordinary.

The title of this post is inspired by a poem my friend shared with me, called "So You Want To Be A Writer" by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski begins his poem with the following lines:

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.

Although these moments may not happen all the time, I have experienced the moments when it does come bursting out of me, like those times before bed when I turn my light off and on four times as I think of another note to jot down in my notebook.

He later writes:

unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.

And this is why I know I am a writer, because I love to share what I notice. I know I am a writer because I love to share things with you on this blog.

The majority of Bukowski's poem highlights the passion you must have if you want to be a writer. I agreed with most of Bukowski's points, except for the following lines:

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.

Writing is hard work and I don't think any published author could say that there are never days when they don't want to write. I think the same is true of any profession.

I guess the underlying message of this long ramble is that, no matter what profession you are interested in, there will always be days when you don't want to do it. There will be periods in your life when you aren't able to do it as much as you like. You will always meet people who practice more than you do and do whatever it is, better than you do––believe me, I learned from camp. No matter if you lose touch with it at some point, know that, if you truly are meant to be in that profession, you will always return. That is when you will know you have passion. And that is when you will know that you have what it takes.