Category Archives: Writing

Quiet afternoons with Emily

My last blog post (written THREE MONTHS ago, yikes) was about Emily Dickinson, and today–once again–it is Miss Emily who inspires me.

A NEW BOOK:


From the publisher: An engaging, intimate portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest and most-mythologized poets, that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry.

From The New Yorker: The Emily Dickinson who emerges in this vivid, affectionate chronicle is a complex and warm-blooded individual—as curious, defiant of convention, and passionate in life as in her poems.

Starred review from Kirkus: Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet’s sensibility make this biography extraordinary.

I found These Fevered Days a very accessible and detailed presentation of key moments in Emily Dickinson’s development as a writer. The final chapter brought me to tears. If you are curious but can’t read the book just yet, do listen to this podcast interview with the author on CBC radio’s Writers and Company: The poet of solitude: How Emily Dickinson was fueled by the light of her brilliant interior world. (Many thanks to Danielle for alerting me to its existence!)

AN INTRIGUING Apple TV SERIES:


A dear friend recommended this show to me (thanks Angie!), and I confess I was skeptical at first. Modern language and music? Drug use and profanity? Brief and sometimes random scenes of sexuality? It’s NOT the familiar tale of a repressed and reclusive poet who scribbles in secrecy. This Emily is fierce and defiant, except in those moments when she’s terribly vulnerable. The writers clearly know a great deal about Emily Dickinson’s life and 19th century American culture, so anachronisms are utilized strategically and, in my opinion, effectively.


Online Reviews:
The Verge: Dickinson is the wildest, weirdest, and most earnest show on Apple TV Plus

The New Yorker: Dickinson from Apple TV Plus is Deeply Weird and Dazzles Gradually

Vulture: All Hail Dickinson, a TV Show Made Specifically for Literary Weirdos

(Hmmm…do you see a theme emerging?)

There are negative reactions from humorless old fogies other reviewers, of course. The show is irreverent and downright bizarre at times, but Emily’s bittersweet epiphanies seem to temper the outrageous humor. Haven’t we all wished we could be that person who knew herself so well, who refused to compromise, and who didn’t worry about–in fact, embraced the notion of–going against the grain? We hesitate to be that person because we know the emotional and social costs. That’s one of the glories of Dickinson — we see her go there, defiantly and, at times, foolishly. She gets knocked down time and again, but she never gives up. (Hailee Steinfeld, who is wonderful as Emily, is also an executive producer of the show.)

I can’t stop thinking about this show, you guys. There’s even a scene where Emily stitches THE FASCICLES! (Verily, I did swoon.)


OF COURSE I made tea to celebrate finishing both the book and the first season of the TV series. The Emily Dickinson tea from Simpson & Vail, featured in my previous post, is a delicate blend of jasmine and rose petals recommended for those days in which you wish to dwell in possibility. The Cherry Scones were made from the EASIEST mix in the world–in fact, Emily Dickinson would probably be ashamed of you for using it–but they are so tasty and quick! See all of Iveta’s offerings here. (Folks with gluten or dairy intolerance may wish to try something different.)

Fall is coming! STAY TUNED. In September I’ll feature recommendations for classic and new Horror fiction. October, as always, will be a celebration of Spooky Films.
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Featured image credit: Photo 18834482 © Romanevgenev | Dreamstime.com

Cozy distractions in the time of Corona

Even if you’re healthy and safe at home, you may be losing your mind right about now. I’ve put together a list of things (in no particular order) that might brighten your mood during this surreal quarantine from the rest of humanity.

— First of all, complete your 2020 Census! It may not be a cheerful activity, but it doesn’t take long and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when done.

— Please visit Sampy and friends in Finland. Seriously, CLICK THAT LINK! You can’t help but cheer up when you see Sampy, Hiskias, and Elmeri cavorting in the snow. They are magical creatures and they always fill my heart with joy.

— Pre-order The Jane Austen Society. Yes, there’s a new Austen-themed novel coming out, and Richard Armitage* is reading the audiobook! The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, with starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, is “a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works.” Doesn’t it sound lovely? Speaking of sound, here’s a snippet of the performance by Armitage. The novel releases on May 26 in the U.S.

*NOTE: If you’re a fan of Richard Armitage’s voice, check out all the Audible books he has narrated. I was gobsmacked!

— Listen to Shedunnit, “the podcast that unravels the mysteries behind classic detective stories.” The latest episode is about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and thus of particular interest to me, but there’s much more you’ll wish to explore.

— If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, particularly the Christmas ones, fill out the Merry Madness Christmas Bracket. You can create up to 10 brackets and maybe even win some cash. This form of March Madness may not be as exciting as the NCAA basketball tournament, but it’s a nice distraction.

–ALSO, Hallmark’s Spring Fling starts March 28. In the meantime try to catch a repeat of In the Key of Love or watch it online. We loved it.

— Reorganize your tea cabinet. (Or any cabinet/drawer that contains magical things but has become untidy.) Trust me, it feels SO GOOD. I started with my tea cabinet and then moved on to every cabinet in the kitchen. But really, I only moved on to the other, less interesting cabinets because I was still on a high from tidying my teas. Check it out:

–Watch Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. It’s adorable, but you do have to give it a couple of episodes before you connect to the characters. This show makes me so cheerful, and sometimes (more often in later seasons) it’s so poignant that it makes me cry. Another great option: Playing House. This is my ultimate comfort show. I have downloaded all three seasons to my phone, and I often watch it on airplanes when the turbulence is rattling me. Maggie and Emma are a lovable pair of friends, and the actresses are besties in real life.

— Read the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths, or download the audiobooks from Audible.com. This incredibly appealing series of cozy mysteries will distract you from the harsh realities of our world. (Or just save you from boredom.)

— Make cocoa with marshmallows. I love this recipe from Epicurious.

— Take a long walk. It’s good for your body and will clear your mind. If the quiet streets freak you out, go home and drink more cocoa.

— Work a puzzle. There must be at least one of them lurking in a closet somewhere.

— Meditate. I like the guided meditations on the Calm App. They have wonderfully soporific sleep stories, too, if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night.

— Learn. Surely you’ve seen the ads for a free month of “The Great Courses” online? Go here for more information.

— Start or end your day with journaling. I’m addicted to this practice, and it has become my morning therapy. If you have no idea where/how to start, google “journal prompts” and you’ll find endless lists of questions and suggestions. As I’ve mentioned before (here, for instance), I love the journals from Paperblanks. But any old notebook will do.

— ETA: If all else fails, watch this: Coronavirus Rhapsody

Have a suggestion for this list? Do share in the comments!

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Featured image credit: ID 85961367 © Stanislav Salamanov | Dreamstime.com

A Horror Interlude for February

This past week I visited Dallas for the Highland Park Literary Festival. The festival volunteers always put on a great event, and the highlight for me was spending time with the HPHS students who signed up for my presentation, “How to Build a Horror Hero” (a companion to last year’s “Building the Perfect Monster”). As you might imagine, I had a splendid time talking horror with these enthusiasts and eagerly scribbled down their recommendations.

They did not steer me wrong! Here are the three films I watched:


HOSTILE (2017)
Juliette, a lone survivor of an apocalyptic era, fights to survive against hunger, thirst, a broken leg and strange, disturbing creatures that only come out at nighttime.
When a student recommended this one, I’m afraid I confused it with Hostel, which I never want to see. Eventually, however, it got through my thick skull that she was describing something completely different, and I’m just flabbergasted that this film hasn’t shown up on my radar until now. If you like horror with character development, tension, and alternating timelines, give this one a chance.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


THE THING (1982)
A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.

Why did I wait so long to watch this horror classic? It’s a clever sci-fi variation on the “And Then There were None” sort of mystery, and the old-school special effects (rather than CGI) make it all the more horrific. Kurt Russell is fabulous.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


CREEP (2004)**
Trapped in a London subway station, a woman who’s being pursued by a potential attacker heads into the unknown labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city’s streets.
This one will resonate for those who have spent a lot of time in Tube stations, particularly late at night. Franke Potenta (a favorite of mine since Run Lola Run) is appealing as a “party girl” who ends up locked in the subway station overnight. Guess what? She’s not alone down there.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing

**NOTE: there is a more recent horror film titled Creep with Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice, and it is well-reviewed, but I couldn’t make it to the end because I love Duplass and couldn’t bear him being so annoyingly evil.

Highland Park High School students–thank you for the great discussions and recommendations! Feel free to comment with more. 🙂

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Featured Image credit 89675574 © Tharin Sinlapachai – Dreamstime.com

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!

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!