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.”


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.


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.

Artistic Legacy

I am writing this week’s blog in honor of my mother and her musical family. This family of nine siblings did not have an untalented one among them. Raymond, with never a lesson or practice, could pick up any instrument and play like a master. He also had a spine-tingling tenor voice. George, a.k.a. Red, was lead singer and guitarist in his own band.

My mother, Louise, her twin, Lorraine, and their older sister, Margie formed a trio at a young age and were performing publicly (with their father as chaperone) by the time they were fourteen.

The Redbirds, a.k.a. The Nelson Sisters

The Redbirds, a.k.a. The Nelson Sisters

My Aunt Margie (in the middle with the guitar) passed away a few weeks ago at the age of ninety-three, and her granddaughter put together a video collage with a few rare recordings as the soundtrack. I have listened to it repeatedly, tears streaming down my cheeks, as their voices reached to the depths of my soul–because of who they are to me, but also because of the shear beauty of the sound they created.


Their three-part harmony–voices blending like the colors of an evening sky–strikes a deep, rich chord in me. They gave me my love of music, my ear for harmony, even though I can’t sing it.

And so I write this to honor them for sharing their gifts, but also to remind myself and others that we are not here forever. We do not have an infinite amount of time to use our gifts and talents. My mother and her sisters chose family and a conventional life over a creative life. Am I judging them for it? How could I? They sang when they were young. They traveled, they had a radio show, they devoted themselves to their art when they were young. Then they moved on. But those experiences were a part of the women they became. That creative spirit never left them; it became a part of their legacy.

They sang whenever they were together, but those times became few and far between. Eventually, they were spread out over three different states, hundreds of miles apart as age and illness made it increasingly difficult to travel.


Singing at a family reunion

My point is, some of us pursue our art when we’re young and then move away from it for one reason or another. If we’re lucky, we may migrate back to it in later years. I have a high school friend who revived his music career after retiring from his job. Kudos to you, Dan! I also resurrected my desire to write after I was “over the hill,” as we used to say.

Or maybe we never got to live those dreams as a young person, due to a lack of confidence or time or any myriad reasons.

I want to say it’s never too late. But eventually, it will be too late. What if that insidious disease, Alzheimer’s, steals your mind? (Although, I do believe being actively creative can forestall that.) Or arthritis robs your dexterity? Or illness consumes your energy?

What I’m saying is, do it now. Sing, dance, write, paint. Give something of your creative self to the world, or at least to your family.

What about you? Who marked you with their artistic legacy? Will you leave your own mark?




A Sense of Safety

I’m back with my second post in a week. That’s progress, folks!

As promised, I’m blogging my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and this week I’ll cover the first two chapters, Basic Tools and Recovering a Sense of Safety (which is actually chapter one). That’s a lot of material, so I’ll touch on the highlights.

Morning Pages
What are the basic tools for “Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self”? The first tool espoused by Cameron is a practice called Morning Pages–three pages of stream-of-consciousess, longhand writing done first thing in the morning.

Write Morning Pages

Write Morning Pages

The purpose, basically, is to dump the brain sludge onto the page and write your way to some clear thinking. And it’s not just for writers. Everyone–and I think creative people especially–suffers from the inner critic and negative self talk. If you’ve read my previous posts you know this is a recurring theme with me.


Don’t share your Morning Pages

Morning Pages, or MP3’s, as my friend Jan calls them, are not meant to be read by anyone, even you.

So what’s the point? In between the “blah, blah, blah” new ideas will surface. Ideas for changing your circumstances or plans for a new story or art project. You won’t be able to stay stuck. As Cameron puts it, “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action.” (p. 15)

Artist’s Dates
The artist within us needs nurturing and something many people find frightening–alone time. An artist date is a block of time set aside for yourself and your creative inner child. It might be a walk at sunset or it might be a visit to an art museum. This week I went to a craft store and bought all kinds of fun stuff to experiment with.

Morning pages are for sending–dissatisfactions, hopes, dreams. Artist’s dates are for receiving inspiration, guidance, insight.

Negative Self Talk and Affirmations
When those critical thoughts raise their ugly heads, bat them down with a positive statement about yourself, even though it doesn’t feel true at the time. 

I have to admit, this is the hard part for me. Oh, not the negative part, I’m really good at that. But turning those negative thoughts around to say something positive about myself, that makes me uncomfortable.

Another woman in our group is great at it. She gave me a paint pen to write affirmations on my mirror, but I haven’t done it yet. That will be one of my goals for next week.


Perception is everything

I will let you know if affirmations really work. Have you tried them? Did it work for you?

Oh and P.S.–I have decided to tie my weight loss goals to this creative journey. One pound per week will have that lion in the mirror looking a bit more slender and feeling healthier. One down, eleven to go!


Adventures in Creativity

“We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” Henry Miller, Sextus.

I have been feeling restless lately, stagnant in my routine, and wondering what next steps to take on this creative path. And so, I have decided to return to a tool, a process, that helped to get me here in the first place.

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, though published more than twenty years ago, is still a powerful tool for discovering and recovering the creativity that “is already there.”91LlW46QU-L

My first time through the book, with a group of fellow travelers, gave me the courage to draft my first novel, create a weekly writer’s group (which is still going strong after three years), and publish a piece of memoir in an anthology. (See Slants of Light). There have been other creative adventures along the way, but the most satisfying is meeting other writers and nurturing their creative dreams.


With that in mind, I am returning to The Artist’s Way and have gathered a team–a cluster–to embark on this path with me. I know these restless feelings are leading me somewhere, and together we will recover, discover, and release those creative impulses, bursting through the blocks that hold us back.


Bursting through the walls

And since blogging is one of the blocks I can’t seem to break through, I am making a commitment: I will blog my way through this process. Look for a weekly post chronicling my progress and that of our cluster. I hope these posts will encourage you on your own creative path.

How about you? Do you feel stuck, restless, stagnant? What methods or processes do you use to propel yourself forward?