Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A post about the constancy of life and New Years

Blossoms to hold onto.
It is that time of year again when everybody is writing either their New Year resolutions or their accomplishments for the past year. My thought is more along the lines of what is still present, still ongoing. So here is my New Year list post.

  • My Labrador companion Cagney it turns out is not turning ten years old in a few months but in fact is going to be nine for another year. She and I are quite pleased about this turn of events now that she is over me aging her faster than she needs to. 
  • Cagney is still an excellent backwards tap dancer and gives a show every night when I measure out her evening meal. 
  •  I am still working on Book 4 of the Students of Jump series, which appears each day, (though I keep writing more scenes) to still have another 6K of words to get to the end. My book apparently has some Dr. Who Tardis qualities: the inside is larger than one would expect. 
  •  I am still disappointed with the movie version of The Hobbit. Where in heck did this white orc come from and since when was a dwarf the main character of a book titled The Hobbit? 
  •  Don't get me started on Ender's Game. But I still feel the same. Good news: no white orc.
  •  When building a house, everything takes longer than expected, still. Yet the roof is on, windows are in, garage doors are going in as I write and siding is going up. I remind myself daily that I could still be smoothing the concrete in the garage, and suddenly I feel as if we have been moving along quite swimmingly. 
  •  I am still getting older and expect to continue aging in the future 
  •  Teaching has been, is and will continue to be very hard work. Fortunately, students still have the capacity to learn despite their nearly all out effort to avoid this. I get updates a year or two after graduation that show that these kernels of learning take root and remain exponentially active for many years. As of this year, I began teaching my first grand-student. He is a much better student than his mother. Appears kernels imbed themselves in the genes. Who knew? 
  • Creativity still begets creativity. I am testing a theory: One can never run out of creativity. I'll let you know the results, but you have to hang around. I won't make the post until shortly before the end, and I plan to live a very long time. 
  •  There are in fact motor homes that one can be comfortable in. You just might not want to bring along two Labradors and two family members to test the comfort level. 
  •  You should still floss the teeth you want to keep. 
  •  Teenage girls notice teenage boys faster than the speed of light. Boys might be a little bit faster noting girls. Research is still coming in. 
  •  Having to pay bills teaches responsibility. Politeness, consideration, appreciation, timeliness, good work habits and sympathy are also benefits of this experience. Earning grades through one's own personal effort teaches the same lessons. 
  •  A kind word still makes a difference worth noting and is therefore worth giving. 
  •  Still keeping company with the best of writer friends, Marcy Peska and L. A. Hilden. 
  •  Another year with the best man in my life and he assures me he is looking forward to another. 
  • The finest of daughters continues to grow into a woman who will one day also be my best friend. Though I don't look forward to letting go of her girlhood, I am already reaching for her adult hand. 
  •  My daughter's Labrador is still terrified of white floors of any material. She treats them like ice and skates on her curled black nails in a comic lack of control that promises to end with all four legs spread out like Bambi but never happens. It seems an appropriate phobia considering the time of year. 
  •  I expect to continue blogging for another year, and probably longer. 
  •  Based on my current writing projects, I see several years of writing ahead. Theory on creativity appears well supported.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Been hanging out with the lady writers these days

Ready to read at a moment's notice

Just today I decided to make a list of my new favorite authors and was surprised to find that they were all women. What's up with that?  All my past favorites have been largely men, or in some cases women using male pen names. Same question applies. I suppose I'll have to think on that, but for now, I thought I would just highlight these ladies of writing. To avoid any favoritism, I am following the alphabetical rule.

Kim Headlee – she writes a series of books that is steeped in Arthurian legend. Her characterization is strong and ties nicely into the legend without being strangled by it.  The female characters are strong as are the male which is what I like to read as it really bothers me when generally one gender is more capable, intelligent and sensible than the other.  She is a skilled writer, and especially so in this particular series.  For more specific details on Headlee see my post of Learning from the Masters on Headlee.

L. A. Hilden – I tumbled onto Hilden's writing via Goodreads. It's been a while so I can't really say if I read a book by her first or started chatting with her first. But they were not far apart in either case.  I have enjoyed her time travel regency romance series.  She is particular about her research down to the tiniest details.  I am a sucker for good research as I love the marriage between fiction and history.  It has been quite some time since I focused largely on reading romance, so Hilden's books are actually a step away from my current interest, but not too big a step as I have lately run almost exclusively to time travel in my reading and this particular series of hers anchors itself in the main character's stumble back and sometimes forward in time. She's working on another novel laced with time travel that I have been treated with a glimpse at.

Marcy Peska – another author I have become close friends with. We met on Twitter via our dog interests and blossomed into sharing our writing interests.  Peska has two books out that are urban magic/legend stories imbedded in Alaskan landscapes. I am not much for urban legend, but throw in some magic and I am ready to take the leap. Leap I did and I met a strong woman character who is finding her way through unexpected elemental magic, friendship and danger. The characters are genuine and full of spark, particularly Vivian who shares the journey in quips and quarrels that show her depth of character and struggle to deal with the unexpected magic she finds all around her.  Remember, you promised a bunch of people (not just me) a book 3, Marcy.

Veronica Roth – the author of a dystopian series. At this point in time, she hardly needs me to tell about what she has written. I enjoyed her books because I found her created society a reasonable evolution and its ultimate breakdown also well supported. Her characters are easy to connect to, in fact, easy to feel possessive about.  I found I was arguing with the play of events, but one cannot control the world he or she lives in, so how can readers expect everything to flow as they wish. This did not stop me from "Whatting!" at particular events, but I prefer my flabbergasted rampage to a predictable read any day.

Jodi Taylor – Her St. Mary's time travel novels have quite hooked me.  I wait for the February publication of her fifth book in the series. (I also read her Nothing Girl standalone novel and loved it as well.) What I appreciate most about this series is Max's humor and internal dialogue. She is the main character and tells the story with wit, flawed wisdom and loads of emotional baggage. After reading four of the series books, I know that when there is a moment for me to rest my tense expectations, something bad is about to happen and Max is going to be stretched to the limit of her imaginative escape powers, and emotional scars are going to tear, a marathon to the end.

Rysa Walker – The Chronos Files series.  I have read the first two books of the series and am waiting on the third. It is sort of a YA/NA time travel mix or perhaps it is a YA evolving over time into an NA. In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying the time travel "training" of Kate by fire and confabulation. Poor girl. It's not enough to have her losing lovers every time the history takes a flip, but she has to stop her grandfather from thoroughly destroying the world as she knows it (or keeps knowing it more than one way), while deciding who to trust/distrust/retrust/untrust and work the darn hourglass thingy that moves her through time.

April White – I will tell you right now, I avoid vampire and werewolf books purely on principal.  I have no explanation for that other than if everybody is writing about vampires, I am probably going to get annoyed. (Go ahead and shake your head, I keep reading time travel. I know, I know. I didn't say I was logical just avoiding a particular genre for some reason.) The point in bringing this up is that White's Immortal Descendants series includes a vampire or two.  And the main character is in love with a vampire. But that is not the focus of the series. Time Travel is the focus as is getting back alive, figuring out how it all works, protecting people important to her and avoiding all the interference that comes her way when she is just trying to save her mother, and then her lover, and then her friend, and his friend, and everybody else who gets pulled in. I hope book three comes out soon.

The immortal Connie Willis – I could blame her for getting me hooked on time travel if it wasn't for Heinlein who gets the blame for just about everything I do related to reading or writing.  However, I had been on hiatus awhile reading a lot of literary stuff (Jane Austin about killed me) and then I read Blackout, Bellweather, Doomsday Book, and…..  You get the picture. She was just trolling along, and I took the bait and been hooked ever since. Because I like time travel and nonstop up and down, breath-stopping difficulties and general lost in time stuff!

So there you are. That is what I have been reading lately. Yes, I have read other non-time travel books in between and several by men, but these are the ladies I keep checking up on and packing my Kindle with. They are the reason my files are now sorted by author rather than book title.

Who are you reading?  Is there a common factor?  Are any of these ladies on your list? If not, why not?


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Creativity: the art of the accidental inspiration

Rules of Magic
A couple of years ago, a fellow blogger and I discussed writing guest posts for each other. She writes in the combined fantasy/urban legend genre and hoped I could write a post about magic or how place contributes to a story.

I decided to do it on how every story has rules, and how rules of magic effect story development?  I thought I would come up with a set of rules of magic and show how these rules would govern the flow of the story.  Great idea, huh?

So I begin asking myself a set of questions:
  1. Who is allowed to use the magic?
  2. How is the magic performed?
  3. Is there an age requirement or limit?
  4. When is one eligible to perform magic?
  5. How is one recognized as a performer of magic?
  6. What makes one especially good at magic and therefore a respected provider of magic?
  7. What/who determines quality, strength and usage?
  8. Are there social rules governing its use?
  9. How does economics play into its use?
  10. How does social standing play into it use?
  11. How does one learn or is it innate?
  12. Can one be employed as a magic provider?
  13. Are there any personal costs to performing magic?
My post never was sent to my friend because in the process of answering the questions so that I could show how they would govern a story, I ended up with a great idea for a short story. A case of accidental inspiration.

Perhaps these questions could generate a story for someone else.

What unexpected inspiration led to a story, novel, poem or what-have-you idea?


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Creativity: when the track is full and starting to backup

You know that feeling: itchy fingers, voices in your head, ideas backing up, the urge to sit and type like a maniac through a scene, a tirade of dialogue, a well-strung motif? That's where I am at, about to break out in a rash of words.

But there is a hold, the ever present disruption of life.  I have other work to do. So the log jam of voices stack up like train cars bumping into each other, linkages snapping in place, and me hoping I don't run out of track in this backward build up of freight cars.

I bleed off pressure by writing on note cards quick bits I might forget, short cues of dialogue, beginnings to leap off from, to prime the pump when that moment of tunnel writing pulls into view.

That is the nature of being a writer while working at a job that does not include being a writer. I have said before that I teach and that teaching keeps me quite busy. I live two lives which impose on each other, sparring for my time, my creativity and my concentration.  I do not fear boredom when I retire. And sometimes lesson planning turns into an intense creative process that is nearly as satisfying as completing a chapter, getting through a bit of emotional dialogue, typing ###.

But at this moment, writing now this little post will have to suffice as a tug on the rope to let off steam until this weekend provides a few hours of uninterrupted racing down the tracks of my current book coming to an end or my next book establishing its voice, both rattled into line, the engine having gathered enough pressure to make my breaks squeal against the anticipation.

Who else is at the station? How are you holding out?


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creativity: Using your own experiences to authenticate your writing

 My last post was about brainstorming with my writer pal Marcy on a novel idea involving dementia and Alzheimer's.  Much of what is going into the book is based on my experience with my mother and my father-in-law who are both suffering from this kind of memory loss.  Every phone call I have with them or chat with my mother-in-law or my sister, who also keeps contact with our mom, is a source of inspiration and information. But it is also disheartening because it will only get worse.

I tell myself that as painful as it is to watch and keep up with the changes they are going through, it is part of life, part of loving someone and part of the truth that must be in what I write. What we experience is our greatest source of originality and authenticity.

I know this book is going to tax me and pull hard at my heart, for every wall my character must climb will echo a difficulty my mother is going through. I have long since given up having those chats with my mom that always left us laughing. For many years I would unload my disappointments through the receiver of my phone, and my mother would be on the other end listening.  But it was never a sad event for I would find myself giggling over those troubles because she brought that out in me.  They were fodder for humor instead of tears or anger when I shared them with her.

But I cannot do that any more. She cannot hold onto the same conversation for more than a couple of minutes. Sometimes she thinks she is talking to my daughter or worse me back when I was in high school.  It is much harder to make her giggle and much harder for me to find the humor in the troubles that come with the changes she is going through.  Nowadays, she is sharing with me her difficulties, and I am the one hoping to bring humor rather than sorrow to her experience.

What life experiences feed your writing and give you hope that you will find peace in the effort?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Creativity: round robin brainstorming can lead to strong writing

Talking the story into life
Partner and group brainstorming: I use this technique in my creative writing class. We gather around the table and discuss ideas. After we settle on one, I step back and write down each plot point or character decision as they work through them and build a consensus.

Now and then I read through what they have so far, and then the group is off again revamping, adding, changing.  Epiphanies fly about their heads, like those crazy fireworks you set on the ground and dodge as they zip off in random directions.  My students ram through half-baked thoughts as quickly as their mouths can speak them, making connections and changes to enhance emerging motifs.  And each student adds more flame and fires-up another idea.

That's brainstorming for strong writing.  That is the achievement of more than one mind reaching for development, precision, cohesion. I love those moments because they don't just make for great writing, they make for the truly creative moment. If you have ever been a runner or done any kind of exercise that demands individual focus for more than half an hour, you may have felt the sensation that makes you feel as if you could go on running forever; the pace is perfect, the weather, the degree of breathing.

You float along without really feeling your feet hit ground or the sensation of running at all, almost an out of body experience. Time seems to stands still.  When two or more people are on the same run through an idea, it's like that glorious running experience.  It feels as if you could create forever and you do not want to stop.

Very recently, just this past weekend, I felt like that.  I shared an idea I have been mulling over for a few months.  Soon my writer pal, Marcy Peska, and I were digging into the characters, their concerns, histories, families, questions, possibilities and my idea took on more life, seemed to breath a few halting breaths each time Marcy or I sent off another email between us.  The characters that had been slipping into my creative moments stopped being just skin deep. 

Sharing with Marcy and gleaning tidbits from her knowledge and experience made for development I would have taken much longer to come around to by myself.  What I love most about brainstorming with Marcy is that her questions are framed so that my characters are real people.  "Does Joan have Alzheimer's in her family?"  Now I have to sit down with Joan and find out about her family history and for very good reason.  Colleen in a matter of seconds became even stronger because she is the type of person Marcy likes.  That alone added considerable depth to what was already a strong-minded woman.

Brainstorming with another writer or an interested friend is my kind of idea development. I am sure many of you use this same process. Is it a major factor in your process?  What others benefit idea development?

+Marcy Peska

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creativity: reading, thinking, and occasionally sunflowers are components of the process

 Since I am often inundated with numerous obligations I cannot put off because they are important aspects of my income-producing job, I need a few tricks to galvanize creativity.  I have already written about several of them, but my most trusted approach to getting off the pot and onto the page is very simple.  I read what I have already written and/or read other writers' work and think.

This post is a definite example of that.  I post every Wednesday pretty reliably (unless life interferes with unreasonable demands I must give in to).  But I don't often come to the page with an idea ready to zoom from my finger tips.

Today I started by diddle daddling around reading my old posts, posts that landed in my mailbox, posts I came across on Twitter, and posts I know my friends have written recently.

Somewhere along my diddling about, I dropped in on a blog or two by other writers (Jane Friedman for one, on ironically "What should authors blog about?"  Seemed rather apropos.)

Reading makes me ask questions.  It also makes me stop and think, and thinking leads me to wandering and wondering, which can on occasion produce a thought worth writing about. 

Of course, this approach does have its downfalls.  I may be planning to write a post and I get curious about sunflowers and then think about My Antonia by Willa Cather. In the book was a long description of the sunflowers which often stretched far into the distance on hills and along road sides in that part of Nebraska. Thinking about this image, will remind me of a neighbor I had in Oregon who grew sunflowers along one side of her house. From across the street and several houses down, I could see those enormous orange/yellow bobbing heads.  They stood in a long narrow line along the garage wall like tall garish soldiers.

They made me want to grow sunflowers one day. Years later when my daughter was about eight years old and wanted to grow a garden, we bought sunflower seeds and planted them along a fence line just the other side of our neighbor's garden. I imagined them leaning over our fence and gazing with smiling sunny faces at his squash and pumpkins and benefiting from his soil preparations.  We had one of the wettest seasons that year and my daughter's foot-tall sunflowers were leaf deep in runoff.  We made numerous attempts at building up berms to hold back the encroaching flow, and dug channels to move the sitting water. But it just kept raining and raining.

We finally moved them to higher ground while rain ran down our necks, and the pooling water spilled over our low boot tops.  Either they never quite recovered or the seeds were only distant cousins to the spritely blooms my neighbor had grown.  We had a rather sickly crop of lean seeds to harvest.

That's the thing about creativity, it's like an unexpected rainy season when you're trying to grow sunflowers: one thing leads to another and you just have to go with the flow.

What flows have you had to ride along that guided you to a writing moment?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Creativity: one drop, one twist away from completion

My mind is full of words, but none of them are clinging to each other and the few that bump and hold together, however briefly, are whispering, and I can barely hear them over the din of all the phrases sloshing against each other in garbled conversation.

It is not a creative day, not even one to press into a chain gang of little efforts: organize, sort, and summarize.  My thoughts are lethargic and oddly cantankerous when shuffled about in search of meaning.

I am resolved to putting one word in front of the other, simply letting whatever rises to the surface for a spot of air be sacrificed to expression, going down on the page. So be it.

Yes, one of those days.

I don't have them often, maybe once a year. But here one is, planted firmly in my available writing moment.

A stagnant field under a swelling of greasy water.

I try to imagine the kind of flooding river that relieves a serious drought, but my inspiration is not buying it. This is swamp, this is bog, this is puddle, and I did not remember to wear my boots, not even the ones of brilliant pink broken up with splashes of yellow ducks.  My feet are cold.

luck and the trick play equal part
Look at my hands. On one index finger is a puzzle ring.  Such rings are lovely metaphors for writing.  Characterization, description, setting, conflict -- puzzle pieces that when brought together create a story.  Today I slip the ring off and gently separate the four circles of fitted silver shapes, but I don't allow them to drop away fully from the others.

I know how to put it back together.  It will take me anywhere from two minutes to two hours.  Luck and the trick play equal part in the creation of a whole ring.  I have not mastered the trick enough to rely entirely on it. Much like writing, I am still twisting and turning, thinking it through, watching for the sudden drop into place, ease into fitting as if I was in control of the results. 

Does any book, short story, poem, essay, article ever slip into place no longer tricky, just trick.  I hope not. Part of the joy comes in the struggle. This is writing, sifting through the slough, the remnants of both memory and meandering, the slithering together of parts and a bright, shiny unexpected whole that whether seen from the beginning or cobbled together reaches completion.

Do you have such days? Are they in the end successful?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Time travel: returning to the best of times

Revisit yesterday.
Never mind focusing on what terrible thing would come out of going back in time. Just what if I could? What things would I want to just observe. Imagine being able to cherish an event without worrying about all the other things that drag attention away because of worry or fear or weariness.  This is my list of "If I could go back."
  • definitely hide where I could see my mother painting in the backyard
  • see the day my mom and dad where washing the car and he turned the hose on her and she doused him with  the sudsy water from the tin pail
  • the night my dad brought my mom home from a date and stood beneath her parents' window tossing pebbles until her dad pulled up the sash and demanded to know what they were about.  It was midnight and he had asked her to marry him and she had said yes. Her father said, "About time," pushed down the window and opened a bottle of champagne.
  • my dad coming off a destroyer in Boston Harbor mid WWII for shore leave
  • when my dad was a boy and he and his best friend stole apples from a neighbor's orchard, got caught and had to work the season harvesting those apples
  • my sister and I when she told me my dolls were actually alive. How was she so convincing?
  • the day my dad took us to meet our grandparents who hadn't seen us since we were babies. How did I know Grampy's lap was the best place to take a nap?
  • the day I crawled under the porch to retrieve inner tubes, knowing that dark, web-draped place was infested with spiders, and I returned triumphant with tubes for my sister and myself to go float on the lake with.  She was older than I, but for that one day, I was heroic in her eyes.
  • watch my husband march in Ozzie's Band when he was a clarinet-playing boy
  • the day we drove up to the house with our baby girl for her first day at home
  • my graduation ~ Oh heck, all three of them
  • watch me on skis for the first time tumbling my way down the mountain. Maybe this time I'll laugh.
  • that first dinner date with my husband. I want to know if it was visible how much my legs were shaking
  • the first time my daughter walked all by herself was at the daycare center. I really wanted to see that.
  • see my grandmother on her stone stoop on that tiny island in Sweden: a young woman who couldn't wait to come to America
  • my mom at one of her photo shoots
  • see my face when my dad told me we could just turn around and walk away, and we were in line behind the bridesmaids ready to enter the church where I was about to get married (I stayed ~ 34 years now. One of my best decisions)
  • my father flying search and rescue missions for a Maryland CAP unit
  • lazing around on the shores of Lake Powell or my husband's outrageous skiing technique in the side channels while other campers whooped and yelled their praise
  • hear my daughter's three-year-old version of umbrella just once more
  • the day I walked home from the university clinic with news I was pregnant and didn't realize I was grinning ear to ear until I was halfway to the house
  • that crash landing my father walked away from that curled the tips of his plane's propeller a good foot
  • my father-in-law dancing with my mother-in-law before he knew she would one day be his wife
What would you want to go back and see. Splurge, name three.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Creativity: How do you gather your bits and pieces?

Organize the bits and pieces.
I'm brushing my teeth and an image comes to mind. It's intriguing, and I feel the need to race for my computer, but I have to get ready for work. There is no time to pursue this image and the possibilities it offers.  So I head for the library catalog box I bought on eBay and take a blank index card out, and scribble the image and the beginnings of what I thought it was opening up to. I throw it behind the label marked with an "I" (for "idea": I'm into simple).

Next day I'm putting on makeup.  A conversation begins in my head (no, I'm not crazy. They're characters in a book I'm writing). Another card tossed behind "I." Then I'm getting ready for work again.  Back to the study, the index box, a blank card, scribble, toss behind "I."  Sure there is a pattern showing up here:  I ridiculously creative when I'm getting ready for work.

But you get the picture.  It's getting pretty full behind that letter. When the weekend comes or grading lets up and there isn't a multitude of todo's on my list, I'll rifle through that stack, see who has been partnering up with whom.  I'll work on a story or develop another scene.

I decided to gather these bits and pieces of subconscious rendering into something more searchable.  I have two sets of organized ideas in that drawer, those used and those waiting to be used.  My old habit was to write them in notebooks, record them to my memo app, fit scraps of notes in a pocket folder or a manilla file in a rack on my desk, wherever I could find a place to mark down my moment of inspiration.  My ideas were all over the place (some still are).

The new ones and a number of those already noted somewhere are now landing in one place ~ that old library card index box.  I have to admit I did not come up with this idea.  It is Robert A. Heinlein's.  When I read his biography by Patterson, there was mention of how he needed a system to keep track of his ideas and his published works. So he and Ginny Heinlein came up with organizing the index cards he scribbled on. He would wander around with those jottings for his current book on cards stuffed in his pocket. He'd take them out and shuffle through them when he sat down to write.

I thought if it worked for him, I might try it. I am a reasonably organized person and this simple approach fit my style. So far, it seems to be working out.  One description of an end of a story went in to the drawer.  About a week later, I went in search of it and added some details. Then two days later, I was able to sit down and work on the story.  The original note had been residing on my phone on the notepad app for more than two years.  I would recall it now and then, and forget where it was.  Gathering the bits and pieces and writing them onto the cards to place in the box dug up lots of scribbles I had forgotten, mislaid or remembered but had not been able to find. But now they are gathering in one place.

I could have entered them all into a digital organizer, and I am pretty computer savvy, but I like the tactile effort of going through them.  There is something much more intimate about the shuffling of the cards that inspires my creativity so much more than the occasional digital attempts I made to record my creative tidbits.  And my squirreling them away in all manner of places wasn't helping.  My card file seems to be working.

Do you have a way of keeping track of your inspired bits and pieces. If so, please share it.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creativity: generating with What If? and Why?

What if she was real a moment ago?
It is the What Ifs that writers bring into reality. What if kids had to fight  to the death to earn a position in society? What if everybody was altered to fit into one of five personality types?  Questions and possibilities are what we build our stories on.

Questions make us search for answers, for back stories, for the first domino to fall and the last. And that search creates stories. This is nothing a writer does not know. But it is another way to dive into the creative moment.

  1. Who is the woman who lives in a cave in the earth caring for mushroom gardens and why is she there?
  2. Beneath the fallen roof which leaned precariously against crumbling rock walls, lay a child, clean, unmarked, sleeping peacefully. Who put him there, for whom does he wait, and why does he rest so well, so safely?
  3. When the man crouched down to look into the toddler's eyes, he backed up recklessly and lost his footing, yet still he scrambled away from her, his gaze never leaving her face. Why?
  4. A snuff box lid, engraved with delicate swirls about a blue cabochon, is canted against a plain, smooth gold container. Who does the box belong to?  Why is it here, open, empty?
  5. The house slumps in the dark shadows of a long night. Occasionally, a ghostly glow moves behind the windows as though someone is using their cell phone for a light. What do they search for and why the lack of electricity?
  6. Over there, among the autumn-pruned rose bushes, something glints like a butterfly's wings. Only it is a brightness almost too glaring for one's eyes to stay focused on. What is it?
  7. The mud reveals the outline of footprints, pressed to impart only the front portion of the foot.  Whoever stood here wore heavily shod shoes with a deep tread as if they were cut from tires and reshaped to be the sole of some large man's shoe. Who stepped here uninvited, unwelcome, on tiptoe?
  8. What if a teacup arrived in the mail without any indication who sent it. Who could it be from?
  9. What if over night every single person found that when they closed their eyes, they could still see what was before them.
  10. Today the phone rang and when it was answered the person on the other end said, "Finally. I have been trying for an hour to reach you.  I must talk to you about the absolute worst day I have ever had.  Sit down and just let me talk. You don't have to say a word. I just want you to listen." The voice is unfamiliar.
  11. Dr. Who's tardis showed up in your kitchen blocking the doorway to any other part of your house.
  12. The young woman reached for her water bottle and took a sip. Not water. She sipped again just to be sure. It made her think of pineapples. 

Alright, those are mine. You come up with the last one and write about it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pentel click erase: If I am going to erase something, I want it gone completely

The best eraser ever.
Every once and awhile I come across something that I just plain like.  I don't want any other thing but it.  The Pentel clic eraser is one of those things. I am a writer that cannot leave behind the shadow of the previous words or lines that came before. It's distracting. If I didn't like them enough to erase them, they better be gone for good. Thus I have grown greatly attached to my clic eraser.

It erases everything. If I am making notes in pencil and I want to rewrite a word or two for clarity's sake, then I will search the house for a Pentel clic eraser. Sure you can buy the soft white polymer erasers in hand-sized rectangles, but they don't have the class of the Pentel clic.  Your hands get them dirty and they get your fingers dirty, too. The clic eraser is clean, remains clean, fits like a pen in the hand and can be placed anywhere a pen can be placed.  I have several that I strategically positioned about the house, my handbag, book bag, desk, work station, etc.

For a time, the Pentel clic erasers were very hard to find, so I hoarded them and would not share.  They seem to have returned to the market, and my students are running around with mechanical erasers, clicking them because they find the snap satisfyingly destructive to the quiet of exam taking.  Along with being a cheap purchase and refillable, they are an allowable entertainment in class.  And they're new (to my students at least).

But I have had this product for years.  I like to draw in pencil, using pictures I have taken on my travels as my models.  I create images by adding and subtracting lines until the right one is finally shaping the perfect curve, shadow or impression.  I erase the rest, and I expect them to disappear completely.  This eraser does that, and I don't have to rest my hand on the paper.  Erasing from a polite distance, that's me.

And that's it. I just wanted to tell about liking this particular version of the trusty eraser.  You can get one anywhere and make what you want to remove gone completely. Sorry, it only works on pencil; bugs, annoying children, homework, and other non-pencil created items will just have to be dealt with in the usual fashion.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creativity: where does it reside in the brain?

Creativity: Uses your whole brain.
In the past the right brain was established as "conceptual, holistic, intuitive, imaginative and non-verbal" according to the Scientific American article "Is it true that creativity resides in the right hemisphere of the brain?"  It was later replaced by the whole-brain theory which is covered by Ned Herrmann who wrote the article. Basically, according to Herrmann, our brain is balanced.  It must use all parts to create, analyze and implement an idea.  So creativity is a holistic condition, not really a specific site in the brain.  

How can this relate to creativity pursued by writers?  I see it as recognizing the need to both explore through writing (write without reserve or even intention) and followup by demanding that we put our writing through a rigorous testing phase.  I follow my unreserved outflow of words with a more analytical, testing mind to review the work. And then off goes the non-restricted creative process again with new parameters. 

Every time I stop and reread my last thousand words, I am examining them for quality, usefulness, relatability, and connectivity. I adjust, develop, contrast and redesign my writing as I consider how it all makes a whole.  Essentially, I move back and forth between what reaches for anything and what reaches for the specific, and I parley between these two brain activities until I am content with the result.
Better storage

Back on creativity and where it resides in the brain. I suppose it resides everywhere or perhaps where it is most needed in order to solve the problem it is facing.  While researching where in the brain one finds the part marked "reserved for creative thought," I came across an article  questioning whether creativity is a bi-product of intelligence or a quality in and of itself essential to the evolutionary progress.

Certainly, I have heard in a long ago history class that society does not have time for culture until it has dealt with the needs of survival and is able to store enough food stuffs and necessary items to carry it through seasons of low availability.  I suppose one could use that point to argue that creativity is just bi-product and creativity is not a separate necessary aspect of survival. For only after all needs are met can the people of a village find time to decorate the necessities of life with engravings, fabrics and color.  However, it seems to me and others that those abilities don't just suddenly arrive unfostered out of the air.

Just coming up with the idea that increases production of necessary foodstuffs counters that theory.  For the idea of how to store product long enough to gain excess time to give over to less essential activities is proof of creativity.  Painting, carving, decorative weaving and embroidery are extensions of already necessary skills which means that creativity and its various supporting brain characteristics come part and parcel with all other thinking demands. 

creativity: lovely and necessary
The point of all this questioning over the location of creativity in the brain is to focus on the fact that we need all that our minds encompass to be strengthened.  Read, argue, examine, consider, connect, research, reach, etc.; do all brainy things that challenge and develop our thinking.  Creativity doesn't recline among the brain cells eating chocolates; it searches, gathers and prances about.

Another study deals with the location and quantity of dopamine which apparently is the key chemical ingredient of creativity according to a variety of scientists.  But there are so many approaches to examining this key chemical and its interaction with the brain.  A study in Sweden linked dopamine D2 filtering in the thalamus to creativity based on the degree of filtering. Two groups have this feature (a greater number of unusual/unfiltered ideas could slide through): "highly creative healthy adults" and adults suffering from schizophrenia.  (The actual paper on this study is located at this site.)  I love the statement that this lower filtering could be described as "Thinking outside a less intact box."  I had this image of my ideas looking out of a mesh at the active real world beyond (slightly ironic as we are talking about writing in the creative form, not reality), waiting in line to slip through and become part of a story, poem, etc. The assumption is that "highly creative healthy adults" know the difference between reality and a created world.

More studies: Yet a second study linked high concentrations of dopamine as a sign of high creativity.  They were tracking what parts of the brain have high concentrations.  Presumably creative people tended to have more areas of greater concentration.  Also a theory presented in Alice Flaherty's study supports the idea that creativity occurred along these "dopamine pathways." I suppose when combined with the previous study, one could say high concentrations encourage more "divergent" ideas which then were lightly filtered, providing more creativity to the individual.

Creativity does not have to worry about being a wall flower in the scientific study party.  I found numerous papers discussing all sorts of research on how it works, where it is and how to get it to be more active.  So I am stopping here on the various articles I read.  But if you wish, Google "dopamine and increasing creativity" or check out this link on a study of the writing mind.

So what are you doing to channel your creativity? How do you incorporate your whole brain?

Extra credit value: Herrmann also said that male and female brains go about idea generating differently, so it is necessary that research groups have both sexes present.  Hmm, so writers, here is yet another argument you can use to encourage your spouse to participate in your writing as both muse and criticizer.