Creativity Boost

I’m always looking for ways to silence the critic in my head–that meanie who loves to tell me “Girl, you SUCK.” (Does it talk to you, too?) I also love experimenting with different approaches to the writing process. The books in my featured image–The Artist’s Way and Walking on Water–have each been calling to me for some time now. I’m finally ready to listen.

(Both books have been around for a while, too — around 27 and 36 years respectively.)

It’s early days yet, but already I’m addicted to Morning Pages. For a year now I’ve had a morning journaling habit in which I report on the details of the previous day, sometimes including insights but mostly just a recap. Morning pages are different. They’re just three pages of…whatever. Just keep writing. Have a conversation with yourself. Write nonsense. Write a scene. I personally cannot seem to write stream-of -consciousness passages. In my morning pages I usually write in response to a task or affirmation offered by the author, Julia Cameron. But I don’t even try to make sense or sound smart. I just write. Three pages each day. After this warm up/affirmation, I turn to my regular journal, and then to work. All in all the journaling part takes a little over 1/2 an hour. So far so good, but I’m still very much at the beginning of this process. I plan to report back after twelve weeks.

(If the idea of Morning Pages intrigues you, learn more by reading this blog post from Marisa Mohi: How Morning Pages Changed my Life)

When I posted a photo of Cameron’s book on Instagram and Facebook, I heard from a few people who have gained so much from reading (and re-reading) the book. Writers, artists, musicians, and performers. If you’ve used the book, I’d love for you to share something–even if it’s just a little thing–that worked for you. I also heard from an artist, Gracie Hogue of Woodland & Wing, that Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water is “a wellspring of wisdom for the creative person.” Of course I had to track down my own copy, and what a pleasant surprise that one of my favorite authors, Sara Zarr, wrote the introduction to this edition!

Both books link our human creativity to a connection with the Creator, but L’Engle is specifically Christian in her analysis, just so you know.

Time to wrap up. I’ll report back when I’ve finished both books. (Which means I CANNOT get sidetracked by shiny new craft books.) Don’t forget–I’d love to hear your favorite things about The Artist’s Way, Walking on Water, or any other book on creativity that has made a difference in your work/life. I’m so hungry for inspiration!

Ballet Fangirling

This past Saturday we saw the OKC Ballet Company’s production of La Sylphide!


Principals Miki Kawamura and Alvin Tovstogray / Photo by Shevaun Williams

The evening was particularly special because it was Miki Kawamura’s final performance. Though she has retired from the stage, she will continue to work with the company as a Ballet Master.

La Sylphide is a very traditional ballet — Bournonville’s choreography dates back to 1836 — and perhaps it was the 19th century vibe that revived my dormant teen obsession. Watching it inspired a ravenous hunger for ALL the best ballet movies, TV shows, and books.

I have a few favorites already…

Ballet films I have loved:

The Turning Point (1977–seen above): I know this film is more about Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft’s characters, but as a kid I totally fell for ballet after watching Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne dance (and canoodle) together.

Black Swan (2010): Yeah, it’s weird as all heck, but I was caught in the spell of this film. That said, I’m not dying to re-watch just yet.

Ballet TV shows:

Breaking Pointe (2012): Very compelling reality tv, even if they force-fed the romantic turmoil a bit. Castmember Ronnie Underwood has danced for several years with the OKC company, where he is now Principal Dancer and Ballet Master.

A Nutcracker Christmas (2016): if you know me at all, you know I have a weakness for Hallmark movies. I’m also quite fond of Amy Acker, who is convincing as a retired ballet dancer in this movie — she studied ballet/dance for 13 years, after all. Sascha Radetsky, another dancer-turned-actor, is quite good, too.

[NOT a favorite: Flesh and Bone. WAY too dark. Sascha Radetsky couldn’t save this one for me, sadly.]

Ballet novels:

A Company of Swans, by Eva Ibbotson. I love all of Ibbotson’s historical romances and this one deserves a re-read very soon.

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield. Another classic that begs to be read again. (Yes, this book was referenced in You’ve Got Mail.)

What have I missed?

I’m thinking of watching Robert Altman and Neve Campbell’s The Company and reading Bunheads, by Sophie Flack (not the inspiration for the TV show?). WHAT ELSE? If you have recommendations, please share in the comments!

Friday Flashback — a new “mini-series”

I’m introducing a new feature here on the blog in which I revisit my oldest blog posts from the archaic platform known as Livejournal. (Shout out if you started the whole blogging thing on LJ. I know you’re out there! Do you ever miss those days?)

Not so long ago, I sat down and manually copied/pasted my favorite posts from Livejournal into a Word document before deleting the account entirely. Not all of the posts are worth sharing here (perhaps none of them are), but I hope you’ll indulge me if, every month or so, I share an old favorite.

I’ll start with an early offering from 2014, back when I was still teaching. At this point I was teaching half-time and trying to finish that first (terrible) novel. Oh, how I struggled!

Thursday natterings
DEC. 9TH, 2004 AT 8:44 AM

I’ve been out-of-sorts for a day now. Was very crabby with my students yesterday. I’ve just been feeling mopey. So this morning I picked up Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet in hopes of shaking myself out of the doldrums.

I’d read this ages ago, but forgotten most of it. Now I see where my fantasies of the perfect house originated. Crosswicks, the L’Engle summer home in New England, is the ultimate artist’s retreat–a two hundred year old farm house surrounded by meandering paths, stone bridges, babbling brooks, rocky outcroppings, etc. AND, best of all, it has a Private Workroom above the garage. (I’ve always wanted a little room of my own for writing–not necessarily in the Woolfian sense, just a room separate from the “office”. That way I could have my stuff strewn all about and not have to worry about my husband frowning and sighing when it’s time to do something mundane, like pay bills.)

But anyway, here’s my favorite quote from the book so far:

When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves.

She says “a writer may be self-conscious about his work before and after but not during the writing.” I know this, but I still have difficulty pushing that self-consciousness out of the way as I write a first draft. Now I will endeavor to “throw myself out” the next time I sit down to write!

I feel a little better now.

I do think it’s about time to revisit A Circle of Quiet. L’Engle fans–what’s your favorite non-fiction book by her? How about your favorite book (by anyone) about writing or creativity?

Journaling goals for 2019

I have long wrestled with journal lust. I even wrote a blog post about it in 2014.

Last year I decided to get serious about this problem and committed to buying fewer journals and writing more in the ones I have. In fact, I set the goal of journaling every single day. I didn’t demand anything particularly thoughtful, elegant, or poetic of myself. I only committed to recording what happened each and every day.

To facilitate this goal AND improve organization and productivity, I made a detailed to-do list in my daily calendar and checked off tasks as they were completed. Next morning I’d write my journal entry with the help of that checklist. Occasionally I would express thinky thoughts, but mostly it was just recap.


I ended up filling two largish Paperblanks journals (Brontës ftw!) and 1/3 of a smaller one that I use as a travel journal.


At the end of last year I reorganized my office (a never-ending process) and decided to do something about those motley fruits of my journal lust. Above you see my collection of journals from adulthood. The four in front are the ones I’ve completed. The stack directly behind them is comprised of partly-filled journals. The stacks on either side are blank journals. (Yes, I do have a Paperblanks fetish.)

My journal goals for 2019 clarified over the next several days:

Goal 1: Somehow consolidate pages from partly-used journals into one volume
ACHIEVED! It’s not pretty, but all the pages are collected in a binder with clear pocket inserts.

Goal 2: Donate usable journals
ACHIEVED! I sent my friend Susan a big box of partly used (with written pages carefully torn out) and unused blank journals to use in her classroom. I’m hoping she’ll set aside a few for herself.

Goal 3: Incorporate prompts into 2019 journaling
Hmmmmmmm… I’ve done a little of this. I didn’t want to require it every day, but I was hoping for at least once or twice a week. Part of my problem is that I’m looking for the best book or website of journal prompts. Ones that are perfectly suited to me. There is no such thing! I did find these pages somewhat inspiring, however:

19 Daily Journal Prompts that Will Change the Way You Begin 2019

2019 Daily Journal Prompts by Month

Journal Prompts to Inspire you in 2019 (short, simple, reusable prompts)

What about you? Do you know a good source for journal prompts? Any funny journaling stories? Do share!

Favorite books read in 2018

I read 54 novels in 2018, five of them re-reads (which I count because my memory is terrible and subsequent readings still manage to surprise and delight). Last year I was determined to raise my overall count and I managed to do that by 6 books!

Here are my favorites (excluding re-reads). Blurbs are excerpted from Goodreads, as are most of my quick takes.

Fiction

To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. Blurb: Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret. My take: I enjoyed Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, but this epistolary tale captivated me even more. The characters were so vividly realized, and the epic scope of Allen’s adventure is beautifully balanced by Sophie’s artistic journey. In a starred review, Kirkus praises it as “an exceptionally well-turned adventure tale…Heartfelt, rip-snorting storytelling,” and I agree.

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr. Blurb: Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. My take: This seemed a perfect read for Thanksgiving week — such a lovely story of healing through art and friendship. (The 1987 film adaptation, starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, is quite good, as well.)

YA/MG Fiction

A Sky Painted Gold, by Laura Wood. Blurb: Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, seventeen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer – a handsome, dashing brother and sister – Lou is quite swept off her feet. My take: A very appealing Young Adult story set in 1929 Cornwall and reminiscent of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE.

Elizabeth & Zenobia, by Jessica Miller. Blurb: When Elizabeth and her unusual and fearless friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House, peculiar things begin to happen. Especially in the forbidden East Wing. My take: A deliciously Gothic story with a conclusion that defied my expectations. Looking forward to more from this author.

Non-fiction

Take Courage, by Samantha Ellis. Blurb: [a] personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. My take: A pure delight! This is NOT a straightforward/scholarly/detached biography of Anne Bronte by any means–more a personal account of Ellis’ interactions with the novels and subsequent revelations about Anne’s life, talent, and vision.

Manderley Forever, by Tatiana de Rosnay. Blurb: a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer. My take: This is such an unconventional biography, and yet so compelling. What kept me glued to the page was the way de Rosnay portrayed Daphne’s passion for history, her obsession with place, and her fascination with dark secrets and twisted psychology.

I offer these “Best of 2018” links for your perusal:

Top Ten Books of 2018 from The Captive Reader.
A Box of Books for 2018 from Beyond Eden Rock.
My Favorite Books of 2018 from Modern Mrs. Darcy.
My Favourite Books of 2018 from Michelle Cooper

What were your favorite reads from 2018? I’d love to read (and share) your list!