Archive | creativity

California Naturalist Class, Part 5: David Plays

There are no lights outside the Chief’s House, and Lesley and I follow David carefully up the uneven stone stairs to the grassy area (which I’d been eyeing jealously as a comfortable meditation spot) and around to the back of the house. It’s late at night, but the fog which had rolled in with the evening’s wind makes the darkness seem lighter somehow. Perhaps particles of starlight, colliding with particles of water, become diffused in the atmosphere, illuminating the darkness with infinite drops of fluorescent fog.

The cypresses wave and creak behind us, and I wonder if our Great-horned owls are watching us from the canopies, eyes yellow and bright, penetrating the shadows with ease. Raptor eyes, they had followed and hunted countless scurrying beasts like us in the mad scramble on the ground from one place of safety to the next. The inner mouse in me quakes at the thought of them taking off on their silent wings, gliding above us. Are they scrutinizing us, establishing our general height and weight, determining if they could — perhaps together? — grasp one of us in their claws and….

I know David’s been in the Chief’s House many times, but our quiet stumble and tiptoe to the back door seems somehow stealthy and clandestine, as though we are breaking in somewhere we’re not allowed. We seem to me, in fact, not much different from the two musicians in Some Like It Hot as they walk-crouch near the wall, covering themselves with their instruments, trying to seem inconspicuous as they run away from the police trap. I am carrying David’s violin, and he is carrying his mandolin and a guitar, so the reference is not quite as far-fetched as it would seem.

“The front door key doesn’t work,” David explains.

I am not surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, if in order to get in David lifted a rock and broke the window in the back door, threaded his arm through the broken fragments, and opened the lock from the inside. My breath hitches, but David does not lift a rock. He pulls out a key, and the door swings open without a squeak or a groan.

The three artists who had stayed in the house for the past week had left earlier that day. I’d watched them in the days since we arrived at the Boathouse, a peek here and there, as they wandered the grounds. One carried a camera with a big lens. Another, young, had come to listen to a lecture and had stayed for lunch with us. The third I often saw near the docks where I meditated in the mornings. We, aspiring California Naturalists, had left them be. They had come to spend the week in retreat with the intention of growing creative and inspired, becoming nourished by sea and sand and wind. Now they’d gone home, perhaps to turn the inspiration into essays and poems, paintings, photographs, eternal works of art or books.

The house towers above us, windows tall and unlit. David puts two instrument cases down, reaches for his violin, and holds the door open for us. Lesley and I tramp in and find ourselves inside a small mudroom which opens to a kitchen and a spacious dining room beyond. The kitchen has white cabinets, old and crooked. No table or chairs. A refrigerator hums in the corner. It reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen when she lived in her old house in Tel Aviv. To my surprise, the rest of the house is beautifully furnished. I had expected it to look sparse, having heard from David that he had scrounged every single item himself from people he knows or at the office. I should have known better. This is David, after all, and the house is, therefore, lovingly decorated with attention to detail and comfort. There are paintings on the wall, apples in a bowl on a side table, and knick-knacks, suitably ocean-themed. David proudly leads us to a sitting room, the most beautiful room in the house, he says. He showcases the front porch and a window, from which, he says, we could see Drake’s Bay in the morning.

We follow David up the stairs to see the three bedrooms. None has a bathroom attached. The bathroom is downstairs, David tells us, and there is another one in the basement, but the basement had not been cleaned out yet.

“We could fit twelve people in here,” he says.

I wonder how. The beds are easily recognizable as halved bunk beds, perhaps from the Boathouse. One of the rooms, which both Lesley and David declare as their favorite, is so tiny as to be more like a monk’s cell than a room. I wonder what it’s like to walk downstairs in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, to sleep in this haunted, groaning old house. What is it like to sleep in a house with a cellar which may still have remnants of inhabitants dead long ago, spider-webbed furniture, old photos strewn near a clothes chest that smells powerfully of dust?

Downstairs, Lesley and I settle on the sofa. I drag the ottoman toward us, and we both put our feet on it. David sits across from us near the dining table and brings out, in order, his mandolin, guitar, and violin. He plays and sings. The dining room is cheery, and David’s voice fills the silence of the house with a lively song. David wrote the words and the music to all the songs he’s singing for us, real and fantasy stories about his experiences mixed with commentary and dialog.

I don’t dance, but I wish I could. I let myself merge with the music, the old house, the nearness of new friends, the cypresses waving in the wind outside. Only one and a half  days are left in the class, and my mind and body are tired. Tired of not sleeping well, tired of being in close proximity with other people, of filling my head full of facts and names of things. I am happy to surrender to the sound of David’s music, to the notes twirling around the room in a jiggy dance. The house creaks gently. Rob, our cook’s partner, comes in and settles in a chair across from us. Later, the next day, I’ll discover he’s a backpacker, and my interest in talking to him will unfurl, but for now I am ready to leave and allow him to stay with David and talk about whatever it is men talk. Lesley and I make our way back around the house and under the cypresses and down the hill to the Boathouse. David’s cheerful music, the ominous creaking of the cypresses and the imaginary wings of silent owls hunting follow me into my sleeping bag and uneasy dreams.

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The Runaway Novel

At 36,853 words, my novel has finally broken through all my attempts to control it, and it is now running amuck, making its own decisions and running its own show. I really intended, this time around, to be organized and meticulous. I was going to follow all my themes, keep track of all my characters, their names, and the relationships between them, and in general hold tightly to the reins of creativity in order to prevent my two most dreaded of problems: chaos and loss of control.

My novel and characters, however, had different ideas. “Creativity,” they said, “means just that, giving free reign to possibilities and opportunities, allowing growth and risking danger, being open to new ideas, and altogether letting go of, well, basically everything.” To them, apparently, creativity means that they can run around the novel doing whatever the fairies they want to do, using a lot of adverbs in the process, a big no-no in the writing industry today, with a special favorite being “suddenly.”

Suddenly, she saw this, and suddenly he did that, upon which, suddenly, that happened, suddenly, suddenly!

Seriously, it’s a disaster!

I had a completely different vision of writing the first draft. In my vision, the characters and the novel were all of them going to behave. They were going to be as polite and accommodating as notes on a sheet of music. Surely Mozart was not able to hold complete symphonies in his head by allowing the bassoon to run away with the flute. And I am sure Tolkien did not consent to have the dwarves and hobbits take over his plot. But somehow my characters think they can do whatever they want, and I am helpless to prevent it. Worse, a part of my seems to enjoy this train crash down creativity lane. She’s even pushing some of the train cars along!

Despite my intention to concentrate on just getting the first draft down on paper, I can’t help but be scared of what the novel will look like when that first draft is done. I fear it’s going to be a huge, big balloon of a mess, with a lot of scenes that the characters insisted on, but which make no sense in the plot, and with a lot of themes missing or characters showing up unannounced. How will I ever revise this into anything that makes sense? How would I ever revise it into one homogenous novel? There is a reason why twenty people don’t sit together and write the same novel all at once.

At the same time, the train-crash accomplice part of me is not just participating in the chaos but luxuriating in it. She’s throwing words in the air like confetti, wanting to write more and more and more. 36,853 words in sixteen days really is a great accomplishment. And so far, knock on wood, I managed to keep the critic at bay. I sent him to Hawaii where he’s relaxing next to the pool. Every day, however, he texts me to ask: “Nu? (He’s a bit Yiddish, I think) Are your words any good?”

I don’t want to think about whether the words are any good right now, or about the upcoming revision, or even about whether there will be a revision (of course there will. I feel there will). I just want to write, and if half of my words are suddenly then so be it. The other half might very well be diamonds waiting to be unwrapped.

I’m not sure what is making this novel come out so happily and easily (relatively happily and easily, and pardon the adverbs) out of me. Perhaps participating in NaNoWriMo is motivating me to write, and perhaps I was just ready. Perhaps it’s the fact that there’s an endpoint, a date after which I don’t have to stress over 1666 words a day, and perhaps I am creating a habit right now, and I’ll keep going this way, like Stephen King, forever, churning one novel after another till I die. I don’t know yet, and I guess I’m happy being in the unknowing right now. Right now, all that matters is the next scene, the next surge of words, bringing those characters, this novel alive.

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NaNo Update

Today is day 8 of NaNoWriMo, and so far, so good, I’ve been able to write 17,245 words. That’s an average of over 2,000 words a day! I am making an effort to write first thing in the morning, when I’m at my best and when I am less likely to be interrupted. Usually that means I am sitting here at my computer between 6-8am.

I’ve been writing and only writing, not reading over what I previously wrote, and I think this method is working well for me. If I start reading back at what I wrote before, my inner critic becomes engaged, and all of a sudden it is not about being creative but about excellence and perfection or, worse, embarrassment and shame. I find that I really work much better if the critic is off to the side, minding his own business. Every once in a while he rears up his head and comments on my progress, and I politely ask him to back off. I don’t need him right now. I want to allow the words, unhindered, to flow.

I hope that when I am done with the first draft (as I feel fairly confident I am going to do) I can engage the services of my inner critic not as a critic but as a “feedbacker.” I think there’s a lot he can help me with, as long as he remembers that his job is to support and build and not to crush and shame. My cousin told me a good quote in Russian for this (and I’m using her translation): The first pancake always comes out in a ball. Similarly, I expect that this first draft is not going to be the end of the process. There’s going to be a second, and a third, and maybe a number twenty-third draft as well. There’s going to be revision. But the only way I can move from a ball to a beautiful pancake ready-to-be-served is with encouragement and love. It’s impossible to cook a nicely-shaped, yummy pancake — or a magical novel — with censure and hurt.

Other than discovering that NaNoWriMo does in fact motivate me to write, I’ve also noticed something else. I have more self discipline than I used to. I think all this meditation and qigong and Reiki practice is really paying off. I am better able to concentrate and to sit down for something that I know deep down inside to be very important to me. I am also, somehow, better able to let go. I put down the words, and whether or not the critic mumbles something from his place of semi-exile, I let my written words flow. There will be a time to review them later.

Having written one novel before, even if I did decide, after who-knows-what-number version, to leave it, I feel both awed and overwhelmed by the thought of what comes after the first draft. I know the task that is ahead of me, and I know what it feels like to have put so much effort into something meaningful to me only to discover that it is just not going to bear fruit anytime soon. I try to let these thoughts go too. Right now there are only two things I am doing, and they are allowing the story to tell itself and myself to feel the fun of it without thinking too much ahead.

Tomorrow I am going to a meditation daylong at Spirit Rock about releasing the inner critic. Very apropos, I think. I hope it will help with the writing as well. I have dreamed about writing a novel for so long, I’ve written and hoped, cried, shut down, avoided writing for months and months, and then found myself trying again and again. A part of me wants so, so much for it to happen finally, but I’ve decided to let go of expectations and hopes, and even of dreams. I have decided to let whatever happen, happen, and to stop interfering.

Many years ago when I was a student at Stanford, one of my professors said to me that in order to write a doctorate you need to have a fire burning in you. For me, the fire has always been in writing a novel. Sometimes it was on low heat. Sometimes on high. But it was always there, burning away, sending desire after desire into the sky. So we will see, won’t we, what will come of this new endeavor, this new concept for my novel. I will keep you updated as I continue following the NaNo path. For now, all is well. I hope all’s well also in your life.

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Fool’s Leap

Let’s build a box together,
Shall we?
One side made up of limitations
The second expectations
The third is disappointments
The fourth frustrations
The top from judgements
The bottom from beliefs
With some nails, scattered on the floor,
To symbolize our fears.

Let’s build a box together
A box to keep us small
To keep us safe from any need to
Grow
Expand
Or fly
Can you imagine flying in this box?
The nails shaking up a storm inside
The walls closing in
Crashing imminent.

Willing to give
Anything, anything at all
Just so there would be
No
Crashing.

And yet
What if
By crashing
Something new could come
Something fertile
Something blooming
Something green
And red
And pink
And yellow
And colorful all over?
What if
By crashing
The walls could disappear
And then
I
Could
Fly?

I’m listening to OneRepublic’s music in my car
Safe in the box
Safe in the car
Safe in my fears
But the music is beating, beating, beating
Calling me out of the box
And I find myself squirming
One part a sedate, responsible driver
The other dancing with the beat.
I want to leap out and explode
Instead of staying stuck
In this hurtling metal car
Inside of staying stuck
In my own self-built box.

Dancing, dancing, singing, dancing
My spirit’s hands reach up and out
Fingers tickling the stars
Sending storms into the stratosphere
I need to dance so I can write
I need to sing so I can write
I need more space
No box can fit
I dance and sing and sing and dance
With this creative, freedom trance.

The metal box, its speed, are gone
And in their place my soul explodes
To outer space, creating storms
Bringing blessed rain and more
Flowers, fruit, a golden shower
Words to fill out seven novels
Words to fill the heart with joy
I knew somewhere, somewhere within
This passion smoldered hid
Awaiting a single lighted match
To give it this release
Into a fool’s trusting leap.

And now,
What now?
No change.
No change at all.
After all,
That’s who I was,
You know,
Before.

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On Originality, Influence, and Plagiarism

naomi shemerMy mother sent me an article the other day about a popular Israeli song, “Jerusalem of Gold,” written by Naomi Shemer, one of Israel’s preeminent songwriters. This song is such a staple of Israeli musical and Zionist culture that I am certain that any Israeli you meet, independent of how musically inclined, would be able to sing from memory and on the spot at least the first stanza and the chorus. This claim probably includes most second-generation Israelis living abroad. “Jerusalem of Gold” has over 3 million hits on the web, including its own English-language website, and countless videos on youtube. I especially recommend the video I found in the article, sung by Shuli Nathan.

Many Israeli songs I know seem to have in their origin Russian folk music. In the article my mother sent, the journalist, Avner Hoffstein, mentions his discovery that Naomi Shemer borrowed the music to this song from a Basque folk song. Fourteen years ago, Hoffstein confronted Naomi Shemer about the similarity between her music and the folk song, but Shemer insisted that she has never heard that song before. After her death a decade ago, a letter was published in which Shemer acknowledges the influence. Scandalous? Surprising? I can’t say that I’m shocked.

When listening to popular music, I often wonder how the songwriters avoid repeating the musical themes which have been written before them. Here and there, I can hear a melody which reminds me of another song, by another band or singer. Is it a tribute to this other singer? Is it influence? When is using another person’s material a salute to that person’s genius and when does it become that dreaded word, plagiarism?

As an aspiring author, I have heard over and over again the advice to read a lot. Read everything you can in your field. Be familiar with what readers enjoy and love. This advice, however, is always tempered by the caution: Write what you know. Be true to your own voice. In the past, I’ve noticed (and sometimes was irritated by) authors using elements from another writer’s work. Most notably, in the Harry Potter books, I was annoyed by how J. K. Rowling built the school so like the wizardry school in Ursula K. LeGuin’s infinitely wiser A Wizard of Earthsea. On Wikipedia, I found the following comment: “Le Guin has claimed that she doesn’t feel Rowling ‘ripped her off,’ but that she felt that Rowling’s books were overpraised for supposed originality, and that Rowling ‘could have been more gracious about her predecessors. My incredulity was at the critics who found the first book wonderfully original.’”

There is a myth about writing that says that everything’s already been written. Now, all we poor hopefuls can do is repeat the same themes and stories and try to do it in as fresh, edgy, humorous, or newly insightful way as we can. Some works, in fact, use as an inspiration (or even clearly follow) a particular story, as in the many Pride and Prejudice novels (including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which came out in 2009), or novels like Cinder, which rewrite a popular folktale (in this case, Cinderella). You could argue that many romance novels follow the exact same script: boy meets girl; something prevents boy and girl from coming together; boy and girl come together; a secret is revealed which causes the boy and the girl to separate; boy and girl find a way to come together again in a happy ending.

I googled “famous authors who have been accused of plagiarism” on the web, and found some interesting stories. Helen Keller, for example, was accused of plagiarism in her short story, “The Frost King.” According to Wikipedia, this caused the young Keller to be so worried about plagiarism in her later writing that it inspired her to write her autobiography. That, indeed, seems safe enough to assume, would all be original enough material. Martin Luther King was also accused of plagiarizing his dissertation. Other people whose names I recognized included artist Andy Warhol, authors Dan Brown and Stendahl, and songwriter George Harrison. I can’t help but think that, if Naomi Shemer plagiarized the music to her famous song, she seems to me to be in pretty respectable company….

I am not, of course, condoning, suggesting, or defending copying other people’s work. I do, however, want to point out the difficulty of being completely original in our world of crazily-available media. Creators, whether consciously or unconsciously, probably cannot help but model their characters, lyrics, music, or words on what is going on around them, on this absolute bombardment of creativity that is going on in our world. Gorgeous work is being born on a daily basis, and, mostly, its originality astounds me every minute of every day. Since we don’t live in a vacuum, the delicate boundary between influence and plagiarism needs to be kept and maintained, and, perhaps most importantly, credit, as LeGuin so aptly said, should always be given. My admiration for Naomi Shemer’s work is the same despite her having (probably) borrowed elements from another song. I do wish, however, that she had admitted it and given credit to the original before the discovery by Hoffstein.

Read the article, in Hebrew, by Avner Hoffstein.

Listen to the Basque folk song.

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Touching the Divine

I am scratching my head in front of the computer. Taking a sip of water. Writing three words and then deleting them. Writing them again. Ugh, no. All wrong. More scratching. More writing and deleting. Finally, a thump. I’ve closed my laptop. My morning’s writing session is done.

In order to write, I need my groove, my muse, my connection to the divine. Call it, if you like, the elusive god of Creativity. As Mrs. Windermere, the playwright from Gary D. Schmidt’s fabulous Okay For Now, says: “Creativity is a god who comes only when he pleases, and it isn’t very often. But when he does come, he sits beside my desk and folds his wings and I offer him whatever he wants, and in exchange he lets me type all sorts of things….” But how do I get the god to come?

At 5 in the morning, the sky is dark and the air outside is bone-shivering cold, even in Sunny California. Every morning, I pull out my blue yoga mat, set it facing east, and practice qigong and meditate. With my mind seeking peace and rest, oftentimes my best ideas arise. Behold, the god of Creativity hovers before my eyes, his wings tipped invitingly toward the computer. And the question arises, do I stay and finish my practice, or do I charge at the computer and write? Will he get bored watching me if I continue to sit motionless on a pillow? Will he stay awhile or fly away?

Tom Leichardt of Inner Alchemy Center once said to me (and I am paraphrasing his wisdom): We practice qigong and meditate in order to open our connection to the divine, but if you’re already connected, instead of sticking to a rigid practice, be flexible and follow your heart. Flexibility in a spiritual practice! Can you imagine? I love my morning qigong practice, my Reiki self care, sitting on my meditation pillow. I want to be consistent in my practice and do it, all parts of it, every day. And yet, despite my need to cling to the morning qigong, Reiki, meditation routine, I see the wisdom of what Tom says. I see the wisdom in accepting the invitation of the god when he shows up on my desk. I see the wisdom in gratefully accepting right away the touch of the divine.

I believe it was the Dalai Lama who once responded to a man’s complaint that he had no time to meditate by asking: Do you have time to breathe? In Hebrew, the saying, “I have no time to breathe,” is often used to express how busy we are. An exaggeration, one can only hope. If we have time to breathe, we do, in fact, have time to meditate, to do what Tara Brach calls the Sacred Pause. Writing this blog, I find myself often pausing and reconnecting to the divine. Closing my eyes, I ask myself: what is happening in my body now? I can feel the weight near my heart that comes of writing to you my personal story, born of the fears I still have of acceptance, of rejection. I can feel the sizzle at the end of my fingertips, the eagerness to write. The tension in my jaw: “Why are you pausing?” My inner critic asks, “Just write!”

Acknowledging everything that is happening in my body gives me a greater connection to the god with his folded wings as he sits right here at the edge of my desk. The god doesn’t mind the mess on on my desk. He doesn’t mind the critic or the fears. He is a pure and objective flow of words and ideas. When he is here, he is generosity incarnate.

Here are some of my ways of touching the divine:

Meditation. I’ve written about meditation in a previous blog post. Any place, any time is good. Pausing in the midst of the day to check how I’m feeling, what is happening inside me, is great. Allowing the body to rest in stillness for a little while, even if the mind is restless, is as worthy of the exercise as if I’ve reached nirvana every time. Allowing the connection to the divine to form effortlessly, not really seeking, just resting in the body, letting go of the chaos of the mind.

Walking in the woods. As John Muir said: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” I often get my best ideas when hugging a tree or looking at a gorgeous landscape. My words flow effortlessly in heavens like the Hawaiian Islands, little points of joy like the bay at Los Osos, or majestic parks such as Yosemite or the Smokies. Bring a little notebook along so you can jot down ideas and remember them. I can’t tell you how often I wished for one when I left it at home! Simply spending time outside (or getting up from the computer and moving to a more splendid scenery like my backyard) can also reconnect me to the divine. Even something as small as watering the potted plants!

 

Thank you to Zest Bakery, for allowing me to use their photo!

Thank you to Zest Bakery, for allowing me to use their photo!

A chocolate donut. Ok, so I admit that I’ve been craving one of Zest’s gluten free and dairy free chocolate donuts for a few weeks now. I do, however, really believe that food is one way of connecting to the divine. Eat something you love and enjoy it whole-heartedly before, during AND after. Food tastes so much better with love! Appreciating the food we eat, the creativity and love put into cooking it, and the people who made it (whether I cooked or someone else) is a way to reconnect to the god with his folded wings. While eating the donut, taste that molten chocolate and imagine the cocoa tree growing in Hawaii, the cocoa pods hanging close to the trunk. Imagine the vanilla orchid climbing elegantly, twisting around the cocoa plant, or the wheat (or rice, if you’re gluten free), waving its gold-tipped crown in the breeze. For Mrs. Windermere, the food of creativity is probably ice cream: lemon, peppermint, mint chocolate chip, raspberry sherbet. For me ice cream is a little cold, but with a huge splash of chocolate fudge on top, I’ll accept any non-dairy kind.

Talking. Talking over my ideas I find to be a tough one. Sometimes I develop my ideas more fully by speaking about them to others, and they get more grounded in my mind, more memorable. But sometimes by talking about my ideas, they lose their urgency, and I end up never using them in my blog or book, almost as though I’ve used them up, a one-chance shot. Pay attention to what happens when you talk over your ideas with a friend — is it useful or not? — this is another time you can use that ever-useful tool, the Sacred Pause.

Do you have ways of touching the divine? Please share them with me in the comments below! I love your comments!

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The Creative Zone

The creative geyser — must release the pressure

The last two weeks have been tough. My days, thoughts, my sleeping hours, were consumed by stress: I wanted an answer for what was bothering me. I wanted it now. And I wanted it to be the best. I found myself bursting into tears whenever anyone offered a kind word. I cannot tell you what my problem was. Perhaps it is enough to say it was related to parenting and to wanting to parent well.

From below the chaos, Perspective would touch my shoulder with its light hand, reminding me: “Be grateful. You are healthy. The children and Dar are healthy. They are happy and they love you. You are all together. Concentrate on what’s good, and more good will come.” In my heart I knew this was true, but then the moment of gratitude would pass, and fears would take over, and the ever-relentless drive to find a solution now.

Lacking peace of mind, my creative zone zoned out. Unable to compete with worries, it became dormant, hiding below layers and layers of protective parts. This time, however, sleeping through the chaos was not enough. The Critic directed my thoughts away from writing by asserting: “You will never be a writer. It’s never going to happen for you. You better give up.”

I’ve been listening to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “You will never write this well,” said the Critic. “I have no need to write like Tolstoy,” I argued. “Only Tolstoy could write like himself.” The critic scoffed: “You will never be able to create a world like this. You will never be able to create a story of so many characters, so real, so colorful, so simple at the same time.”

The Critic looted every coin of confidence, burnt every standing wall, painted graffiti over my most treasured pavements. Instead of resting till the storm passed over, my creativity found herself engaged in a survival war. “Is it true?” She asked in a timid voice. “Is it really over?” And then, as though disappearing into herself: “Why do I exist at all?”

No matter how often I affirm that I am a writer, still doubts and fears assail me. I turn on the computer, my fingers trembling, eager and yet afraid to pull my document up on the screen. A huge weight settles on me. I am unable to begin. Then I remember. In the beginning was the word. I type a single letter, and then another, and suddenly, without knowing how or why, what or where, I am sitting here and writing again.

Relief.

Blooming into beauty — simply and easily

I still search for the answer to that parenting question I mentioned, but perhaps for now the crisis is over. I can raise my head over the storm and find perspective, allow the Critic to calm down, listen to my Creativity hum as it goes about its business, and let my fingers move over the keyboard, bringing my fairy tale world to life.

What do you do to quiet the Critic? How do you keep your creativity free to work its magic?

The Price of Passion

Uri’s main competition for my love.

Writers often claim that they write because they must. Why else would we write? Riches and fame, after all, are rarely the results. I have struggled with the inexplicable need to write for at least ten years, writing in bursts and sinking into doom and gloom when no writing comes. Having noticed the connection between not writing and my bouts of depression, I’ve made an effort to get some writing time every day. I channel my creativity into the blog when the novel seems too complicated an endeavor, and I’ve come to realize that the feeling I called depression was actually frustration in disguise.

Realizing how important writing is to me was only one tiny step. Ahead loomed a greater obstacle, so great, in fact, that terrified and ashamed, for a long time I preferred not to look it in the face. Even now, it seems to me both a ridiculous and crucial obstacle: my all-important mother-hood. Turns out that after all these years, I still doubt that I can be a mother and a writer at the same time.

My imagination, my creativity press on the dam of fears I’d built, lashing against it, trying to force a way out. When I write, I often don’t hear the children talking to me. I forget to tell them to go to sleep or to make them food. What will happen if I let all the passion of writing out from behind the carefully controlled dam? What if writing and novels and ideas will come rushing out in a great flood, overcoming everything? Will the mother mountain stay intact?

Yesterday my son accused me, “You love your book more than you love me.” I burst out laughing. I spend so much energy on being afraid that the kids will suffer because of my writing, and here he is blaming me for exactly what I fear the most. Except, he wasn’t talking about my novel, the one I am writing. He was talking about the ultra fascinating and unputdownable Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

Okay, so I admit that yesterday I was reading Bitterblue instead of playing with him lacrosse. And I was reading Bitterblue instead of paying him attention. And I was reading Bitterblue in the doctor’s office while we waited though he had nothing to do. But in one moment, with those funny and yet truthful words, Uri gave me glimpse of perspective about my great parenting-writing fear. Just a glimpse, mind you.

I have a feeling that if I let the dam loose the mother mountain will still stand safe and sure. I have a feeling that if I stop putting on the break with my writing, I will have more energy to spend both on my writing and the kids. And I have a feeling that it’s good for the kids to know that there’s more to their mother than just being a mother. It’s just a feeling. But I think perhaps it’s true.

Do you have a passion in your life, that makes you oblivious to the rest of the world?

Where Adventure and Home Meet

I love adventure. The idea of hanging on a rope between heaven and earth, holding onto nothing but steep, slick rocks delights me. I like to go far into the wilderness, sleep in a tent, discover new paths, light a campfire, and shiver as I bravely slide into a freezing lake. The lake especially is a challenge, because I don’t like to be cold, but the exhilaration I feel swimming surpasses most of my life’s greatest joys.

At the same time, I am a home body. I dislike leaving my routine. I’m not flexible in uncomfortable situations, and I like to have my own way. I get upset if I don’t have space to write, and I‘m attached to my quiet morning time eating and reading. I easily get overwhelmed and anxious in unfamiliar places, and if I don’t eat on time or enough I can get moody, headachy and unpleasant.

Paradoxical me, living with a dual temperament in one body, with one part that craves excitement and danger, and another that requires safety and routine. An odd combination, seemingly impossible to bridge. And yet, somehow, I have been straddling these lines for forty years, exploring the world’s wild places but also making myself a home where, despite the abundance of wildlife and trails all around, I rarely set foot outside.

Adventure is where I challenge who I believe I am. Sometimes I discover that I am capable of so much more than I thought, and other times I smash into a wall of limitations and weaknesses. When I climbed Mount Shasta five years ago, I leaped over the barriers of cold wind and darkness and found within myself the strength to keep moving and the knowledge that I can reach the summit. When I first arrived at Paradise to climb Mount Rainier, only a few months later that year, I grew overwhelmed by fears and found myself declaring defeat and retreating home without even trying.

In Kauai a few months ago, my creativity blossomed. Nothing, not heavy rain or Dar’s disability at the time could mar my enjoyment of the island. I wrote. I ran. I swam. I had endless patience to walk with Dar as he hobbled along on his crutches. But on Roatan, a Honduran island with every promise of heaven, I felt trapped, stressed and unable to handle any of the discomforts of the trip. Nothing, not our beautiful rented house, the promise of kayaking, or the glorious jungle could relieve the tension headache from hell that I had.

Perhaps it is time for me to stop defining success in adventure by whether I followed through with my plans and start appreciating that I left on adventure in the first place. I travel into the world, secure in the knowledge that I can always return home, my safe base from which I can challenge myself farther and to which I can return to lick any bruises to my courage. Like a baby who peeks out of her mother’s skirts, testing the waters. That’s how I am.

YES to Opportunity and Magic

A few days prior to the writers’ conference this year, I tried to decide what I want to get out of it. If I had a goal, I reasoned, I would be more likely to leave the conference a wiser woman. I could learn more about the craft of writing children’s books, meet other writers like me, perhaps get lucky and say hello to an editor or an agent, but what do I really want? For the last few months I’ve been writing a romance novel for adults — what am I seeking in a conference aimed at children’s books?

I do have one novel for teens that is being considered by an agent, and I have been playing around with a sequel to it (playing around equals to about one hundred and fifty pages written before I got the main characters stranded on a magical mountain). That makes me count as a children’s fiction writer still, even if I am concentrating on romance right now.

And craft is craft. Perhaps no one will teach me here to write better rolling around in bed scenes (notice the euphemism?), but I could learn about revision, creativity, and dreams. That settled it for me. I was coming to the conference to be inspired. What better goal than that? And, just to be on the safe side, I chose a secondary goal: to give twenty of my business cards away. The least I could do, since Dar printed about five hundred of them for me.

The conference began yesterday with Charlie Price, author of Desert Angel (and more). After listening to him, my first action once I returned to my room was to buy the novel on kindle. Price spoke about his creative process and how he watches the movie of the story unroll as he writes. I could see his movie myself on the page once I started reading. Price’s writing is visual, raw and real. I felt connected to Angel, the main character, from the first paragraph, and I’m sure this is a book that I will write about again. I was lucky to sit next to Charlie Price’s wife at dinner and talk books and work ethics with her. That was great.

After dinner I expected great inspiration. I had heard Dan Yaccarino speak before (and I wrote about his YES presentation). But this time he surprised me. After speaking for about an hour about his success, which he attributes to his saying YES to every opportunity that came his way, Yaccarino added: “For every project you see here there are ten that didn’t make it.” I was amazed and inspired by how Yaccarino keeps challenging himself, working hard, trying new things, never afraid of being ridiculed or making mistakes. Truly inspiring.

So inspiring, in fact, that I’m writing to you this morning before I even had breakfast, so I’m going to do it now. Wishing all of us a wonderfully inspiring and enriching Saturdday!

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109