Sunday, September 23, 2018

Power of your words

First of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Be Impeccable with your Word:

Speak with integrity.

Say only what you mean.

Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.

Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Love Letters to my Life #3: Editing ... how I love editing

Calle Arcoiris (Rainbow Street)
This time last month, I had just finished a book. Or, so I thought.

It was the first major writing project I had done in awhile and I had forgotten what happened at that stage. Suddenly the creativity gears shift from generation to refinement, from roughing in a painting to adding the golden highlights on the trim of a dress. 

The generation stage is blood, sweat and tears: facing a blank page, not knowing if anything will come forward.

Refinement is sweet, soft, confident, a no-fail zone ... unless the gentle sweeping away of typos, comma splices, and slightly off words reveals something deeper calling, suggesting other memories, new insights, a strange feeling of connection with something that hadn’t been there before, and is now demanding its space on the page.

Click here for free version.
This month, putting the final touches on the book pendulumed me back and forth between those two zones of creativity. One morning I woke up thinking the whole book was wrong. I had lost the thread of meaning and every page would have to be rewritten. By the next day, I could see gaps where a new page or image here or there … or maybe a whole new chapter … would pull it together. A glimpse of what I wanted to say was pulling me forward.

It fascinates me to start a creative journey like this when I truly don’t know where I’m going. I start out just wanting to rearrange the spices on the counter when suddenly I’m knocking out a wall because I just know it’s the right place to put a patio. (Thankfully, that’s merely a metaphor.)

While some writers and artists are very clear about what they want to say when they begin, others like me have to write to know what they think. When I was writing a lot of poetry, the last line almost always knocked me over and made me wonder just where it came from.

Being on a path for a long time has its benefits. I don’t get swept away by the tides as often. And, there’s a body sense when something is right or when it’s still slightly out of kilter and needs to be clarified and polished. I do love the slow, repetitive polishing, the looking for a word with the right rhythm and meaning, seeing the cliche hiding in a paragraph and pulling it up by its roots and then wondering what to plant in its stead. Looking at a page for the forty-first time and seeing a typo light up like someone had flipped a switch.

I’ve heard people ask how often a book needs to be edited. I agree with Roald Dahl who said, 
“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” 
Click here for Roald Dahl interview
Which makes me think of a video interview with him where he talks about his process. He writes in a tiny, quiet and unswept hut and wraps himself in ritual and a warm, comfy cover for his feet. He sharpens his six pencils, sits in his one chair with a lap board for his writing pad, pours a cup of coffee from his thermos, and settles down, saying, “Finally you get settled; you get into sort of a nest; you get really comfortable; and then you’re away.”

So, now I’ve called my book done again, and put it out into the world as a free offering. Gratitude sweeps over me and once again I give thanks for the incredible gift of time. I have time to go slow, ponder possibilities, explore passing interests and whims, drop every thing and have coffee with a friend or read a good book.

Of course, now that the book is done, (she says with hope in her heart) I also have time for new projects ... and playmates to collaborate with ... so who knows how many quiet moments of reading will actually show up.

A big find for the month ... after spending a great deal of time trying to find a printer to replace the metal prints I was getting from Bay Photo, I've finally found one who uses a coating which I may like even better than metal. The opening image is a piece I entered in Fotoseptiembre photo show. Of course you can't see the finish but it makes it look very close to what you see on the screen but still doesn't need a frame or glass since I build the frame into the image itself. Progress.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Foco Tonal and the beauty of bad photos

Fashion Fairy (More at Digital Art Gallery above)
I love bad photos … sometimes the worse, the better. Blurry, badly composed, tilted horizon; it doesn’t matter. It’s a good thing I like them because I take enough of them.

When most people are looking for that crystal sharp picture with the subject smack dab on the rule of thirds grid, why am I fond of the rejects? Because they invite me to play. 
When a photo is really good, it’s almost a sacrilege to change it. When it’s all warty and lopsided, I can mess with it, stretch it out of shape, smush it together with another misshapen image and see what they do together.

A symbol from Foco Tonal
A few weeks ago, I journeyed to a strange place … Foco Tonal, a flat place with an echo when you stand in the exact right spot. It has been turned into something like a spiritual Disneyland complete with multicolored towers. I still haven’t figured out why my voice resonated when I stood on the special spot, but it was a lovely place to walk quietly in the gardens and meditate on the mysteries of life.

From the Elf Garden
I almost missed the elf garden, but someone pointed the way and I found a glade strewn with broken toys and candies left by visitors. This is one of the little scenes I photographed and the Barbie elf charmed me with her flowing gown and beguiling look. However, of course, this was not a “good” picture; nothing more than a casual snapshot. I was surprised when she clambered into a photo and demanded my attention.

Foco Tonal
Several hours later she had become the “Fashion Fairy.” You can only do this kind of stuff with bad photos. The good ones want to be cherished for what they are, maybe tweaked a bit or cropped a little, but no rough stuff.

Fortunately, I have a life time of bad photos to play with. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Artifact Memories: powerful indicators of who we are.

A few years ago, I lived in a lovely mobile home park on the central California coast. My neighbor was a certifiably crazy woman.

At first, she thought I was cool because I was an artist, and she would bring me broken glass for my mosaic work. I just thought she was a little odd, so when she started asking for small bits of money “for medicine,” I gave it to her. When I found out her medicine was cigarettes, I said “no” and all hell broke loose. She started writing me long, rambling notes about how awful I was … in pretty graphic language. Then, a few weeks would go by and I was in her good graces again, generally because she wanted money. It was normally only about $10 and she generally paid it back, but her requests escalated and, again, I had to start saying “no."

She had three small dachshunds that she would leave outside for hours at a time and they barked constantly to the point where I couldn’t peacefully sit on my deck. When I asked her to not leave them outside barking, she went off again. More letters. After I was there long enough, I learned that this was her pattern with other residents and the park administration so I just tried to avoid her. 

However, the point of this story is that at some point during our up moments, she gave me a dusty box of bits and pieces that included a broken elephant head. I don’t know why, but it called to me so I rescued it from the box. When I moved and did the normal downsizing, it wound up going with me. As the move to México approached requiring a drastic downsizing of all non-essentials, somehow it came, too.

Pat's doll
A conversation with a friend made me wonder why. Pat and I talk every week and when she mentioned that she had a doll on her desk that had been there for at least 30 years ... as long as they had been in their house ... I was surprised. She is one of the most organized people I know, and not the type to have an old doll on her desk. She told me the story of having that doll since she was 16 when she was corresponding with a soldier in Vietnam. She had met him through a pen pal program and he had sent it to her. It started us both thinking about things that hold memories for us. 

As we talked, it was clear that Pat's attachment to that doll related to her feelings about the world and herself at that time. Even though it had no intrinsic value, it was a significant artifact of her life, representing that time of chaos when she reached out to a stranger and connected to the world in a new way. It revealed a piece of herself that she had discovered at that time, a piece she valued highly.

One of my most treasured guides, Jerry McNellis, talked to me often about the power of artifacts, tangible things that hold memories, stories, meaning, and a certain power beyond their actual physical essence. For Pat, that doll is a powerful artifact. For me, that decorated elephant head seems to be an artifact. But, of what? It’s not like I have fond memories of the woman who gave it to me, or even that place since a political disagreement ripped the park apart and, somehow, I wound up right in the middle of the hostilities.

There must be something about this elephant artifact that is calling me, something to learn or recognize that I don’t understand right now. One of the gifts of this stage of life is time to contemplate things like this, reflect on our lives, and begin to gather pieces into a mosaic of who we are. 

I think it’s worth the effort to uncover the meaning of these powerful memory artifacts in our lives. 
Questions to ask about the “stuff” or “treasures” that surround you.

Look around you for something you’ve had for a long time, something that isn’t a family photo or heirloom, and ask: 
  • Why do I still have this prominently displayed? 
  • Is it because it is particularly beautiful or given to me by someone I love or loved? 
  • Is it a valuable collector’s item? 
  • Is it important to the room decor?
If the answers to those questions are “no,” you may be dealing with an artifact that holds memories for you that might be worth exploring. 

Some time later the memories unravel
Pismo Beach
Pat and I talked again about my elephant, and she suggested it might have something to do with  the political turmoil I experienced in the mobile home park where I had lived. As often happens, memories started unraveling in the middle of the night. 
When my neighbor gave me the box of broken bits that included the elephant, it was missing a tusk. I found the tusk in the bottom of the box and glued it back in place. Thinking it might be part of a future mosaic project, I stuck it in a wire bed frame which was part of a garden art installation. It stayed there until it came time to move away from the Central Coast.

I dearly loved living on the coast, but had recognized that it wasn’t financially viable in the long run. In spite of a massive downsizing, I retrieved the elephant from the bed frame, again thinking it was a mosaic potential. When I arrived in Grass Valley, there was a spot where I thought the elephant would fit, however, since it was broken, there was no way to hang it or even stand it up. I wound up wire wrapping it and including it in a wall arrangement of plates and other bright bits. 
My place was small and I saw the elephant every day and it gradually became a “he” rather than an “it,” always making me smile. In the final downsizing before Mexico, he made the cut and came with me, but I still didn’t think much about him other than he was cute. However, lots of cute stuff was easily left behind.

When I think about him now, it feels like I rescued him, and that he is a survivor … just like I was a survivor of that difficult time in the park. I had thrown myself and my energies into a political situation where I became a target of anger and fear. I was maligned, attacked and lied about by people who didn’t know me. Even though I was also respected and embraced by the minority of residents who saw things my way, it was a tough time. But, I survived and I think it taught me that I, too, could be tough.

I think that’s why the elephant is still part of my life. We may be bunged up a bit, but we are survivors. He is my reminder that I am strong and I can deal with whatever comes my way. Not a bad gift from what appears to be a dime store trinket. 
Invitation: if you have memory artifacts and would like to tell us about them, please leave a comment below.

Monday, August 27, 2018

My mother was always a mystery to me

I decided that Wandering & Wondering with a Storyteller’s Eye needed a Table of Contents. Simple, huh?

I’ve been through this process enough to know that it would also prompt some revisions. However, that’s all I expected, just revisions, not a whole new chapter, and definitely not some of the deepest writing I’ve ever done about my mother. 

I’ve always somewhat jokingly referred to myself as a motherless child even though I had a mother who did all the right things, who took care of my father and I, who was a good person, a kind and generous person … to strangers and people outside her closest circle. To us inside that circle, she was a prickly mystery, a closed book.

I am still working through the book revisions (and the Table of Contents), and will release the finished-finished book on September 17th, with the final copy sent to everyone who has requested the free version … of course. In the meantime, here’s the page about my mother, beginning the chapter on Wisdom. I will always wonder if I had been wiser earlier, if we might had made that connection that never happened while she was alive. 
Here's the page about wisdom and my mother. If you click on the image, you'll get a larger version.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Mindmapping in 8 Easy Steps

Mindmapping is one of the simplest, most powerful, tools a person can have in her creativity toolbox. It is a non-linear way of organizing information and a technique that allows you to capture the natural flow of your ideas. 

Here's a five minute workshop on how to use this flexible tool. Try it the next time you need to write a memo, prepare a meeting agenda, or are trying to get a bird's eye view of a complex (or simple) project. It's great for planning vacations ... use a big sheet of paper and give everyone a crayon.

NOTE: Your maps won’t look like these ... 
neither do mine ... 
these were drawn by a graphic artist. ;-) 

 Step 1: Center First. Our linear, left-brain education system has taught us to start in the upper left- hand corner of a page. However, our mind focuses on the center ... so mindmapping begins with a word or image that symbolizes what you want to think about placed in the middle of the page. As the images get more complicated, you can click on them to bring up a larger version.
Step 2: Lighten Up! Let go of the idea of finding a cure for cancer, ending hunger, solving the problem or writing a report that your boss will love. Mindmapping is simply a brain dumping process that helps stimulate new ideas and connections. Start with an open, playful
attitude ... you can always get serious later. 

 Step 3: Free Associate. As ideas emerge, print one or two word descriptions of the ideas on lines branching from the central focus. Allow the ideas to expand outward into branches and sub-branches. Put down all ideas without judgment or evaluation.

Step 4: Think Fast. Your brain works best in 5-7 minute bursts so capture that explosion of ideas as rapidly as possible. Key words, symbols and images provide a mental short-hand to help you record ideas as quickly as possible.

Step 5: Break Boundaries. Break through the "8 1/2x 11 mentality" that says you have to write on white, letter-size paper with black ink or pencil. Use ledger paper or easel paper or cover an entire wall with butcher paper ... the bigger the paper, the more ideas you'll have. Use wild colors, fat colored markers, crayons, or skinny felt tipped pens. You haven't lived until you've mindmapped a business report with hot pink and day-glo orange crayons.

Step 6: Judge Not. Put everything down that comes to mind even if it is completely unrelated. If you're brainstorming ideas for a report on the status of carrots in Texas and you suddenly remember you need to pick-up your cleaning, put down "cleaning." Otherwise your mind will get stuck like a record in that "cleaning" groove and you'll never generate those great ideas.

Step 7: Keep Moving. Keep your hand moving. If ideas slow down, draw empty lines, and watch your brain automatically find ideas to put on them. Or change colors to reenergize your mind. Stand up and mindmap on an easel pad to generate even more energy.

Step 8: Allow Organization. Sometimes you see relationships and connections immediately and you can add sub-branches to a main idea. Sometimes you don't, so you just connect the ideas to the central focus. Organization can always come later; the first requirement is to get the ideas out of your head and onto the paper.

Have fun! And, let your ideas flow.

NOTE: My mindmapping book was published almost 30 years ago and I created this simple workshop almost 15 years ago so everyone could use this powerful technique. A friend wanted to pass it along to her workshop folks so I was delighted to find it still on the internet ... although it had been appropriated by a website that used it verbatim without bothering to attribute it at all. I'm just happy to find it in its original form.

In case you would like to pass it along, please feel free to send this link ... or click here for a pdf if you'd like to print it out and use it.

Book Challenge: Day 7: The Tangled Tree

Sometime after the Big Bang, life on Earth emerged.

That statement summarizes hundreds of years of gathered wisdom about the human condition, while leaving vast oceans of questions still to be answered. I love knowing that brilliant minds around the world are constantly nibbling away at the unknown. Their stories amaze me and make me wonder about life in general and my own life, asking myself the questions that fuel our curiosity:

Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Why are we here?

Currently I'm reading The Tangled Tree which replaces the lovely and comprehensible plant-animal tree-of-life of my childhood with a simple-looking, three-pronged branch of Bacteria-Archaea-Eukarya, based on characteristics that can only be seen in a high-tech lab. (I'm only 39% through the book and the author has already warned me that this, too, might change.)

The "Natural System" tree of Woese, Kandler and Wheelis, 1990.
Like many things in life, it seems as if we can comprehend it, we don't fully understand it. 

I was already prepared for the Bacteria part of this development after reading 10% Human which helped me respect the mass of bacteria that makes up my body and have a better understanding of how to feed and care for that important aspect of myself. And, Bill Bryson's book delighted me with his, as states, "sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it."

I am grateful for authors who can simplify and translate science into stories and information that I can understand and relate to.