The Creative Habit


Humans, as a species, are lazy. It’s easy to check Facebook, Twitter, email. It’s easy to come home and turn on the TV. Habits that demand nothing of us are easy, and so we default to them. It’s easy to keep a job that we dislike, because it’s habit, it’s what we know.

I broke the TV habit years ago. It was mind-numbing. Now I make conscious choices about what I will watch. It saves me money and I have reclaimed untold hours of my life. Untold hours. Sure, I periodically get lost in pop culture conversations. I have no clue why everyone is upset about the latest twist in Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen the series (although Sean Bean is always tempting to watch).bean I didn’t read the books, before I started the first, someone told me that the story gets lost in book four. Why would I start it then? Hours reclaimed.

I have read several books in The Dresden Files series. Butcher writes well enough. But then, I made a disastrous mistake; I went to Netflix and watched an episode of the ill-fated TV series. Oh. My. God. So bad. I watched episode one and thought, ok, it’s a pilot, I have to watch more than the first one. Not true. Each episode was worse than its predecessor. I stopped reading the series for a while. I could hear the bad series voices narrating the books. So bad.

Writing is a habit. It really is just that simple, like exercising, reading, or gardening it’s a demanding habit. I try to foster demanding habits, conscious living. It’s not easy. People work to discourage it. I recently obtained a reel mower. You know, a push-mower with no motor. Why? Well, why not! Why do I need gas to cut the grass? Ok, so it’s harder work, but I’ve lost almost five pounds pushing it.mower I like the idea of exercise, as a concept, but, in the end I don’t feel productive. I like being productive, so I push the reel mower. I am being environmentally conscious by not expending fossil fuels; I’m exercising; and my yard is cut. A win-win. When I suggested that I wanted one, you would have thought I was asking for, oh I don’t know, heroin, access to a nuclear reactor.

Seriously.

We don’t foster demanding habits in the people around us. We have a riding mower. You’re going to do WHAT? Why?

The same is true of writing. I maintain a writing schedule, and by that I mean I keep it in my Google calendar. Actual writing is another story. It’s an under-valued, invisible habit. Oh, she’s on the computer, probably playing on Facebook, not doing anything of value. Oh, she’s just writing, it’s ok to interrupt, she can go right back to what she was doing.

The thing about conscious, deliberate activity is that it requires focus. It’s not interrupted every ten minutes by commercials. Interruption breaks the flow, disrupts something vital, tangible. Removes consciousness.

I find this same level of concentration when reading, and gardening. I was so engrossed in my garden yesterday that my poor uncovered Irish skin was scorched. But, I cleaned the weeds and encroaching grass from around the strawberries, tomatoes, and mints; edged the box gardens; placed solar lights.With my grandson Ryan’s help, we planted another tomato, watermelon, radishes, and two varieties of hot peppers. All of my plants are bearing fruit. It’s focused effort, a habit to care for them.2013-06-04 06.59.53 And one thing leads to another. I have moved from growing things to making things with what I have grown.

And making things, that feels productive. I helped to make plants, now the plants help me make food—better meals, slower food, and bug spray, and lotion, and house cleaning solutions… It’s awesome.

I find one habit fosters the next. I am focused about my gardening, and feel more focused in my writing. I feel more conscious, more grounded. I have fewer moments of mind-numbing, commercial-filled laziness. I sleep better at night, my mind is busy—trying to make up for the dullness of my day, my body isn’t restless because it wasn’t active.

And so, after a weekend of gardening, I played with two book ideas this morning and posted them to one of my writers’ groups.

And now I have blogged. Life is good.

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Guest Blog: Bolton Carley: Jeneration X: Read it and Weep (with laughter)


Book Review Rating:  I give it 5 Stars, 3 Unicorns, and 10 County Fair Funnel cakes

If I didn’t like her so much, I’d have to hate her.  I’ve used that statement on more than one occasion when I admire and envy someone in the same breath.  No one fits that description more than the brilliant comedian/author, Jen Lancaster.  If you haven’t read her, I double dog dare you to do so!

Although she’s written one fiction novel, the rest have been her memoirs.  The latest is called Jeneration X:  One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development, or Why it’s Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner.  See, even her titles are freaking hysterical!  Let’s just put it this way:  Her writing is the kind that makes you sit in an airport terminal wiping tears with an over-used, crumpled, nasty-wet Kleenex because you are laughing so freaking hard that people are staring, but you’re completely okay with it because you simply can’t not keep reading even though there’s a wafting scent from the Cinnabon less than 100 feet from your current location.  Need I say more?  If that’s not a testament to her brilliance, I do not know what is.

Basically, Lancaster uses her books to document her life from her college days to her dot.com plunge into unemployment to the best seller’s list.  She’s a Midwestern girl made good (and made damn funny if you ask me)!  What makes her books different than everyone else’s?  Simply put:  nobody describes the universal plight of all of us “girls” (as she calls all twenty to eighty-somethings) surviving the daily grind of life like she does.

What I love most is that she has a keen sense of nostalgia that surfaces in her references to Barbies, 70’s TV ala Bewitched’s Gladys Kravitz, and 80’s John Hughes movies.  In fact, she refers to her/my era of adults as “a beeper generation in a smartphone world” which often leads to mishaps in her home-life, in the business world, and when she’s out on the town.  Her current book focuses on how she has fought the battles of adulthood and won, more or less, thanks to follow-through, stubbornness, a great sense of humor, and having the right people around her.  With lively recounts of all her daily drama, you have to giggle at her woes over shopping in Whole Foods, her pets going on Rumspringa, her spying-on-the-neighbors technique, and wearing the proper nail polish to refinance her home.

If you’re in need of a good laugh or a little empathy over life’s challenges, I can only recommend that you pick up one of her brightly-colored covers, throw on a one-piece (per her suggestion), plant yourself on a lounger in the sun with a drink in hand, and enjoy the ride.

Bio:  Bolton Carley is a blogger, writer, teacher, and farmer’s daughter.  Her humorous life lessons blog can be found at www.boltoncarley.wordpress.com and her e-vice at http://boltoncarleysbottomline.blogspot.com/, and her young adult verse novel, Hello, Summer Vacay! can be purchased at www.amazon.com.

 

The Starving Artist


It’s been a busy and productive week. I had four articles published at Yahoo!, and I have two more queued. My latest article has a typo in it, it says Apollo 11 launched in ’68, but it was ’69. I am being paid for these posts.  Ok, not much, but still. I am paid for hits to the articles – so go read them, read them from home, then again from work. Tell your friends, family, hell, tell your enemies. Go be my fan, I have one fan. I feel like the Baltimore Orioles.

This week has been the lull, the in-between for teaching. I only had one section to teach at one school. Ten hours, but only one section. Final grades for that will be posted tonight or tomorrow. Come Monday, I will have five courses to teach, at two different schools. Two courses I haven’t taught before – lots of prep work.

In addition to teaching, I began tutoring through the University this week. It’s been a while since I’ve done any tutoring. As some of you may remember, my former employers forbade it when I left my job. They threatened me with a non-compete agreement. I was harassed until I sought legal advice. And I wasn’t even planning to do any sort of tutoring. I knew what I’d signed. But, this tutoring does not compromise that agreement because it is through the university, with enrolled students.  So far, I have worked with two students. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed one-to-one work.

I have guest bloggers lined up into August—are you interested? I am always adding to the list. Guest blogs are on Wednesday, and an occasional Friday.

Oh! And I am officially an Amazon Affiliate, well almost. Amazon is “reviewing” my status.  So, once the links go up, if you click on my link to Amazon, I’ll get a percentage! So, if you shop Amazon…

And since I seem to be doing shameless self-promotion in this blog. You should sign up for Swagbucks. I use Swagbucks as my search engine, instead of Google. Randomly, I receive points that I then trade in for Amazon gift cards, $25 a month. If you sign up using my link, Swagbucks will credit my account with the same number of points you receive for any searches. If you do a lot of Internet searches, and shop through Amazon, it’s worth it. It’s two free books a month.

And while you’re out there searching, check out these writers: CatherineKhara House, Gail Kushner, Bolton Carley, and Veronica Roth. I have more, lots more.

See Above


As you may, or may not, have noticed, I am working on redesigning the site.  I’m working to make it crisper, sharper. More focused. At the top of the page there are menus.

Elsewhere Online, has a drop down menu. There you will find links to pieces I have published, as the title implies, elsewhere online. I usually post when I have a new piece go up somewhere, but if you miss that, the above menu will guide you. Yesterday, I had a piece published here. Go read it! Let me know what you think.

Reviews also has a drop down. Some of the links therein will guide you to categories within this site, while others take you to sites for which I have done writing.

Both of these menus will expand.

Currently, Be My Guest simply leads to a page inviting guest writers to query. It is my intention to expand this menu to include a list of guest bloggers. So to read Ed Cook’s posts, you would simply need to hover over the menu and then click on his name.

The PorchesAt some point, there will be a link to my personal URL (which is still very much under construction, and so a little messy), I am working on links to retreats I am organizing, my CV will be there, along with links to groups with whom I have affiliations. I’d like to get a chat, and possibly a forum going there. I’d like to make the experience between the two sites seamless. And then have them match my Facebook, my Author page, my LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+. It just seems endless!

I had considered moving the blog to the other site, but have decided against that. In January 2011, I created this blog. It started out with three dedicated readers, and now has an average of 448 per post. My goal is 1000 dedicated readers per post – so tell your friends, tell your enemies! “Like” my Facebook Author page (there’s a button right here, scroll down and look to the right). If you read something here that you like, tell your friends, repost the link, tweet it!

Writers, myself included, are generally shy people. It’s hard to put one’s self out there; to speak from the heart. With passion. Every post invites rejection (and believe me writers get more than their share of that!). But those of us who want to publish in magazines and books blog. We depend on a consistent readership to help support the dream of a book on a shelf somewhere… A light at the end of the tunnel.

I often hear (read) that what I post is the high point of your day – a moment to laugh in the morning before you take on the world. That always strikes me as funny, because my readers are my high points, my light at the end of the tunnel.

So look to the right, click on “like” and go tell your friends! That way, when I get that book deal, you can say, I knew her when

Typing and Teaching


Wednesday is a quiet day in my classroom. Students have forum discussions to post, writing projects to organize, and presentations to finalize. I usually grade papers, offer advice, and do a little writing of my own.

Yesterday was such a Wednesday.

I graded a creative writing exercise (use all of the following in a 3-5 paragraph story … a fairy godmother, an ashtray, a courtroom, and 3pm any afternoon. It pushes the limits of creativity and if students ever hope to write engaging, dynamic academic papers, they must learn to allow their creativity first).  I often group random phrases together for them; I even have an app to help me. But I graded circling there when it should have been their, like when it should have been as, the usual Comp I issues. Writing fragment, or run-on in the margin.

Students were coming and going from the room. We had a laptop set up in a different classroom so they could record digital stories without interruption or background noise.

I fielded various and sundry typical Comp I questions (do you want this double-spaced? By three pages do you mean it has to make it to the third page, or fill the third page?).

I finished all of the grading and decided to catch up on my email. I sent out a couple of Yes, let’s no that, or no I can’t, but thank you anyway. Would I like an extra class for the summer term? Yes, yes I would, thank you.

And then I started a longer email to my Porches-retreat crowd:

There is less than a month until our trip to Nelson County and there are some things we should consider, talk about, discuss. Some things you may want to know: 

I will have a portable printer with ink and a ream of paper. Paper donations appreciated. You can access the printer either by…

Miss Mel, how do you spell juxtapose, with an a or an o?

An A—you realize spell-check will fix that for you, right?

I don’t use spell-check.

I returned to my typing…

…pluggung a flash drive into my machine or using google print. If you have a gmail account, google print is an amazing tool. Ink is cheap, $15 per cartridge and I will provide ink. it gets 150pgs per cartridge…

Pluggung? And ink and it need a comma, not a period. I made note and forged ahead—I would fix all typos before hitting send.

Miss Mel? Can I use Wikipedia as a source?

No.

But, it has the best information.

Wikipedia isn’t always reliable and should be avoided as an academic resource.

That’s dumb.

It’s the rule.

…I will also bring amaretto, whipping cream…

What if there aren’t any other sources?

There are always sources.

No, Wikipedia is the only good one.

You could go to the library.

You, mean, like, get a book? A book-book?

A printed book, yes.

Oh. Can I use a book-book as a source?

…and dinner wine…Rachel and I are planning a trip to Polyface Farms the morning of June 30–and will undoubtedly return with bacon, sausage, and steaks (the filet mignon is to DIE for!–we’ll

Miss Mel, how do I upload my response to the forum? I forget.

Write your response in Microsoft Word, highlight it, right click and choose “copy” from the list.

How do I highlight?—Never mind, I remember.

…bue a whole filet and slice it ourselves, it ends up at about $6-9 per steak that way)…

I quickly finished typing, amidst the plethora of surprising questions, and brief baffling conversations and hit send.

I hit the button and instantly realized, I hadn’t returned to correct my distracted errors. Maybe I should be kinder to my students. And dear email recipients, I do, in general, proof read.

Retreating


I am going on my annual writing retreat to The Porches in July. I actually got my draft done and uploaded. Now, I need to finish the book list (2 books left to read). And then I’ll critique the work of other writers attending.

Last year’s Memorial Day trip was magic, as was my second trip later in the year. I am hoping to rekindle that magic this year.

So what’s a writers’ retreat you ask? It is often a solitary writer retreating to a quiet, serene place to have concentrated writing time. And we do that.

The way we have arranged our time at The Porches includes writing time, workshop time, and community/free time.

Earlier this year we selected a list of books to be read to help foster focused discussions about craft and style. We’re reading:

 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf

A Place of My Own Michael Pollan 

The Beak of the Finch Jonathan Weiner (not available on Kindle)

What’s the Matter with Kansas.

Good Omens and Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett

The list draws from several styles and should foster some healthy discussion. Each writer submits up to twenty pages to be workshopped.

I plan a return trip to The Porches in the fall, probably October. Interested parties should email me, so I can get that under way. And we’ll need to talk books and stuff. The Porches has five beds.

I am also in the beginning stages of planning a retreat to Ireland next spring or summer. This retreat will need many more writers than I gather up for The Porches. To make it affordable, I will need twenty committed writers (I think). I am waiting to hear back from the castle—yes, I did say castle. Right now, it looks like cost for this trip (the castle and airfare) will run between $1000 and $1200. But I don’t know that yet. Interested parties should email me. And of course, there’s food and field trips to consider. With twenty people, it is possible—probable—that we will divide into groups by genre. The only way to make this trip doable is to fill every bed. I am looking at Ballyhannon Castle in County Clare, Ireland. Lots more to consider for this trip. So, Tanagers? MWW-ers? Not-Bobbers? SWAG-ers? 

Quoth The Raven


We went to see The Raven on Sunday. I’m a long-time John Cusack fan, and I’ve been an Edgar Allan Poe fan longer than that. Cusack and Poe seemed a natural fit. The film has gotten bad reviews and the theater was mostly empty. I didn’t see that as a negative, I’d seen Harold and Maude, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Willie Wonka (Gene Wilder), and Fight Club in theaters. It’s a Wonderful Life, Serenity, Donnie Darko, Boondoack Saints, The Big Lebowski, The Shawshank Redemption, Army of Darkness all had disappointing runs in the theater—hell, even The Wizard of Oz didn’t meet the expectations of the studio. Industry reviews, and empty theaters mean nothing.

I like Poe, I’ve read everything he wrote (yes, including the essays and reviews, I am that double-dome), much of it before John Cusack was born; I like Cusack, seen every movie he’s been in– what could go wrong?

By “the theater was empty,” I mean that there were eight of us: Ian, Jamie, Ryan, and me, and then two couples, one older, one younger. But, like I said, empty theaters mean nothing. The older couple seemed tense, like maybe they’d not agreed about which movie to see and the stronger personality won out (obviously the Poe/Cusack fan—obviously, I’m not sure why the other would even argue there). The younger couple was—how shall I say this?—interesting. They looked like they were perhaps recovering, or maybe wannabe Goths. She had the sulky walk and posture I have come to associate with the high school Goth movement, but she looked to be a natural blond (not dyed black), and was wearing nice, spring pastels. He looked fresh from the farm. And well, my family is fairly…eclectic. Everyone arrived before the previews.

You can usually tell a lot about a movie by the previews. Not so much here. Men In Black III, ok. The Hatfields and McCoys—I don’t think I’m interested in that. The Expendables looks interesting; the boys want to see that. There were others, but I can’t remember what they were. I couldn’t get a read on what the preview trailers were saying about The Raven. We pulled the sodas and Smart Food popcorn out of my big purple handbag (my Mary Poppins bag) and settled in.

Cusack captures Poe—despite Ian’s objection that he didn’t look like Poe (Ian is the intellectual snob in the family – and in our family that takes work). Cusack radiates the melancholy genius—the wounded artist—the narcissist—the brokenhearted widower—Griswold’s drunken madman—and the amazing linguaphile that blend into what was the real Edgar Allan Poe. Merely this, and nothing more.

The story is a mystery that involves murders, but I wouldn’t call it a murder mystery. It’s a who-done-it sort of film. Being the dorky family we are, we focused on the other aspect—each crime was based on a Poe story and we all worked to name the story before the movie named them. (Not in any particular order…) The Pit and the Pendulum, The Cask of the Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders at Rue Morgue, The premature Burial, The Tell Tale Heart…

Several times throughout the course of the film, Jamie and I both responded with a, “Wait! What?” There were good twists and turns, I found myself wishing I could pause, rewind and look and listen again. It was like reading a Poe story. Stop, retrace (once you understand), and continue happily with the story. That sounds off-putting, but it’s actually what I liked best about the film. It’s what I like about literature, good writing plays with the mind, engages and tantalizes. I had to think about this movie, in the way I have to think about a good book, or short story. Poe would be proud, Mr. Cusack, proud of the job you did.

I liked the poetry analysis (so Poe!), and the allusions to the real Poe’s life in every scene. I liked that half way through I was asking, is it him? or him? or maybe him? I loved, Loved, LOVED that Griswold doesn’t survive to decimate Poe’s character. Imagine having your obituary written by your worst enemy, as Poe did…

Griswold is the main reason we paint a picture of Edgar Allan Poe as a madman (ok, his stories kind of encourage us to believe that, but still…). Griswold’s death in the film is poetic, if only to a select nerdy few. Well-played, very well played.

As with a good book whose pages are worn from repeated reads, I find myself wanting to re-watch this movie, to pick up the breadcrumbs I missed along the way. If I weren’t planning to see The Avengers next weekend, and Dark Shadows the week after, I would see this again (one has to budget). I will purchase the DVD. It will sit on the shelf beside Harold and Maude, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Willie Wonka, and Boondock Saints. And like its shelf-mates if will be played again and again and I’ll see different nuances each time.

I imagine Poe watching from some ethereal realm, smiling at how his work has been reintroduced to a new generation, how his character has been redeemed by the quality of acting. I imagine Poe laughing, and saying to Griswold, Nevermore.