Story Jam

Last week I participated in a Story Jam, an event where local writers read their works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry around the theme, “You give love a bad name.”

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That’s me reading about First Love

Sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (the original WNBA), and organized by local author, Rae Theodore, the Story Jam drew about thirty-five people–ten readers and twenty-five listeners. The owner of a local coffee shop,  Brewed Awakening, was gracious enough to open late for this special event.

As I listened to these brave souls share their work, I was struck once again by the amazing power of a prompt: give ten people–or twenty or fifty–a word, a phrase, some theme to write about, and you will get that many diverse responses. I see this every Tuesday morning at our Just Write writer’s group.

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Our ten brave storytellers

Look closely at this picture of all the writers who read their stories that night and you will see we are looking in all different directions–indicative of how we write–with unique views and unique voices.

Some of the varied takes on our theme involved First Love, Free Beer, Psycho Alcoholics, Ice Cream, and a Vengeful Wife.

As a reader, I experienced the power of having an audience, a mirror for your work. This is a lesson I am grateful to have learned at the Women’s Writing Circle. There is magic in oral storytelling, an alchemy that transpires between speaker and listener when written words are given voice. I can’t explain this in scientific terms, but I’m convinced there is research out there somewhere that would corroborate my claim.

wnba story jam flyers 2016What’s in a name? I tried to have a “reading” last year, but I couldn’t muster any interest. There was no theme, no exciting name like “story jam” or nifty flyers to pass around. My vision of a reading was of a sedate group of listeners pretending to be interested in hearing us read our stories. Having a theme brought cohesiveness, fun, and energy to the event, and having the backing of WNBA lent extra weight and officiality. I will put this in my “lessons learned” category.

These lessons could be applied to other arts as well. Imagine putting out a call for artwork surrounding the theme “You give love a bad name.” Or any theme. Perhaps a combination of arts.

Can you envision a room filled with works of art based on a theme, with authors reading, musicians performing, dancers dancing?

Can’t wait for the next Jam.

Creative Breath

A few years ago while listening to Native American flute music, I realized that, with headphones on I could hear every breath between the notes. At first it seemed to detract from the melody. But the longer I listened, the more the breath sounds became part of the music.

It occurred to me that we each have something that gives breath to our creativity, something that powers our art.

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Breathing new life into my art

I have long been fascinated with this particular instrument and often listen to it while I write. So last week I finally bought myself a Native American flute. Exquisitely hand crafted from cedar, it is a work of art in itself.

The simplicity of the design makes it relatively easy for even an amateur like me to play. From the haunting sound of the low notes to the joyful flight of the highs, it centers me and lifts me up.

This type of flute is one of the oldest instruments known to man, along with the rattle and drum. It was used to imitate the sounds of nature, primarily birds.

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I am not a musician, but I believe that creativity thrives on experimentation. Are you a writer? Pick up a paintbrush or a camera. Are you a painter? Write a poem. If you are right-handed, try sketching with your left hand or vice versa (a technique used in art therapy).

Breathe new life into your art.

I was surprised to learn while playing this flute that the higher the note, the more breath that’s required. The highs are closest to the source, and yet more strength is required to reach them.

What is the breath that powers your creativity? What have you tried in order to increase that force flowing through you, reaching for the higher notes?

A Sense of Faith

The twelfth and final chapter of The Artist’s Way is so rich and full it is difficult to sum it all up. Here are a few tidbits from each section.

Trusting
Faith is the underpinning of creativity, and faith requires loosening our death grip on control. That is a frightening proposition. But look around you. Take a close look at your life and you will discover that control is an illusion. The effort it takes to maintain this illusion often creates confusion, anxiety, and depression.

Let go. Trust yourself, your own inner voice. Have faith in the Source of that “still, small voice” of inspiration. Try using these affirmations to bolster your confidence: “I know the things I know.” “I trust my own inner guide.”

Mystery
“Creativity–like human life itself–begins in darkness.” (p. 194) Inspiration often seems like it comes in a flash of light, but in reality ideas have been swirling around under the surface, in the “delicious dark,” gestating until they are ready to see the light of day. Trust the darkness.

“So you see, imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Brenda Ueland (p. 22)

This “moodling,” or mulling on the page, in Morning Pages can at times seem pointless. Have faith in the process.

Escape Velocity
Escape velocity is a term Cameron uses to describe that point in time when you are ready to launch into a new realm. Whether it’s leaving behind a bad relationship, a stifling job, or old, unproductive patterns, you’ve built yourself up, you’ve prepared, you’re ready to go. Then…bam. Something–or someone–throws you off course.

This is the story of my last few weeks. I was flying high, excited about the growth I’ve experienced through The Artist’s Way process, planning new creative adventures for the new year, posting a weekly blog. Then came “The Test.”

The busyness and increased expectations of the holidays, which I wrote about in my last post. A sick elderly parent needs extra help. My own physical limitations and mood swings slow me down. These are all a normal part of my life at this point. I’m learning to ride the ebbs and flows and trust my resolve to pass those tests in whatever form they take.

What are the tests you encounter when you reach “escape velocity”?

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“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” André Gide

Go forth, brave souls, and create! You will make the world a better place.

 

A Sense of Autonomy

Do you find yourself getting derailed during this busy time of year? It seems as though demands on our time rise exponentially between Thanksgiving and New Year. Parties, shopping, wrapping, sending cards, baking cookies. No offense, guys, but much of the burden falls on women.

10-Tips-for-a-Stress-Free-HolidayI decided long ago not to get caught up in doing things I don’t enjoy just because they were expected of me as a woman. I don’t bake dozens of cookies, and I send a minimal number of cards, just to name two examples. This makes me a bit of an oddball in social circles, and I’ve noticed our party invitations have dropped off in the past few years. I miss the interaction with friends and neighbors, even though I always have that awkward sense of not fitting in with the crowd.

In Chapter eleven of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about the artist’s temperament in a way I found myself relating to. If I’m not creating (which for me means writing), I am out of sorts, restless, crabby. If I’m trying to conform to the expectations of others, I feel stifled and phony.

Claiming, or reclaiming, a sense of autonomy is essential for creative expansion. Twelve weeks ago, one week before starting The Artist’s Way, I set up an expectation for myself to write a weekly blog about each chapter of the book and my insights from it. Honesty compels me to admit that I am struggling to complete that commitment in the midst of all the holiday busyness.

There is so much more that I could write about on this chapter and all of the others before it, but here is what is resonating with me today:

  1. As an artist, be yourself and don’t be afraid to be a little “odd.”
  2. Live up to your own expectations.
  3. It’s okay to ease up on your expectations occasionally.
  4. Guard your space, physical and emotional space, that you carve out for your art.
  5. As a minimum, cling to your morning pages as a lifeline to your creative self.
  6. Buy your artist child a present.

I wish you all whatever fills your heart with joy.

And if there is anyone reading this for whom this is not a season of joy–I see you, too–and wish you peace.

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A Sense of Self-Protection

Chapter ten–almost through the twelve-week Artist’s Way recovery course–is where we learn about recovering a sense of self-protection. We all need to learn to protect ourselves from the crazymakers in our lives (see chapter two) and when to say “no” to infringements on our creative time and space.

But I took a different twist on this chapter. Cameron writes about the “dangers of the trail.”  When creative energy starts to flow and you’re not sure where it’s leading, you might feel shaky and out of control. Where is this path taking me? You slam your foot on the brakes; your artist child sits down in the middle of the road and refuses to take another step. This, in a sense, is another form of self-protection: we protect ourselves from fear of the unknown.

As a writer, I have heard and read, written, and spoken a lot about writer’s block, but I am only recently beginning to understand that there is only one thing responsible for writer’s block: ME. Wether we realize it or not, we all have our favorite ways to block creativity (because, you know, that Muse can be a scary bitch).

My go-to blocks are sleep, daydreaming, reading, television, and Facebook. And sometimes food. I need a muffin. Now.

For some, alcohol, drugs, or destructive relationships might be the chosen blocks. Others escape into busyness–work, work, work to numb out those nerve-wracking creative ideas.

How to stop reaching for blocks? Make friends with creativity-induced anxiety. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety and use it to fuel your imagination. Put on some calming music, or whatever music motivates you and helps you focus. Exercise. A simple twenty minute walk can calm nervous energy, un-jumble anxious thoughts, and bring clarity to your path forward.

I don’t mean to over simplify what can sometimes be a crippling issue, but here is another situation where small steps can bring about big changes. If you recognize that your artistic blocks might be self-induced, that can be the first step to overcoming them.

o-CALIFORNIA-DROUGHT-facebookIt is easy to confuse a block with a time of drought. While blocks are often self-induced, droughts “appear from nowhere and stretch to the horizon like a Death Valley vista.” (p.169).

 

A creative block is when the Muse is speaking, but we are not listening. In a drought, she is silent. “A drought is a tearless time of grief. We are between dreams.” (p. 170) I am learning to appreciate these periods as a time of gestation. A new dream is being implanted.

But how can anything grow in that parched landscape? Think of your morning pages as rain. To continue the practice of writing, stream of consciousness, three pages every morning when you feel it is an empty exercise–that is an act of faith. It will water the tiny seed that you may not be aware of yet and eventually, it will bloom and the drought will end.bloom-where-planted

What do you do when you feel creative energy carrying you along at a faster pace than you want to go, or you’re not sure what direction it’s leading you? Do you go with the flow or do you go into self-protection mode and reach for one of your favorite blocking devices to slow things down? Are you even aware that is what you are doing?

Have you experienced a creative drought? Are you in one now? Hang in there. Keep writing morning pages, and a path will emerge.