The May 8th Ballot and Amendment One

So today I’m pausing briefly in my normal blogging to talk to you about something very important in our state. Coming up in May 8th (or November, depending on how our legislature decides to do this), there will be a proposal for an amendment to be added to our state constitution saying, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized.” I’m pleading with you to vote against.

 

The problem with this proposed amendment is that it’s sneaky. If you’re a straight, married person in this state, you’ll read the ballot and think, “sounds good!” The language being used here doesn’t reveal all the ways that this could hurt people we know and care about–it doesn’t let on that it will be bad for our economy and our families and that it could even be life threatening for some people.

Let’s break it down:

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in this state. No matter what you vote on May 8th, gay couples will not be able to marry in this state. So why? Why do we want to go so far as to add an amendment? Let me keep on rolling.

It’s bad for business. There are now dozens of companies in our state that offer protections and benefits to domestic partners (meaning unmarried couples of any gender combination who are sharing things like insurance). These companies are attractive to a huge range of people and often bring talented and skilled employees from other states where these right are not offered. We keep our workforce diverse and competitive by having these options. This amendment will strip the rights of companies to offer benefits to domestic partners. In so doing, we send the message that we don’t care about someone’s skill and ability to contribute to our economy. We’re basically putting a big sign on our door that says, “Same-sex and unmarried couples are worthless in this state.” Rest assured, talented people will find work but we want them to work here and enrich our communities. Not to mention, this is a big government imposition on companies’ abilities to govern themselves. If you’re a fan of keeping the government’s hands out of business practices (*ahem* Republicans), you should be all over shooting this bad boy down.

The language is vague and therefore dangerous.

All other southeastern states have passed similar bills, adding this amendment to their constitutions and in those states, we’ve seen this amendment used to justify the following things:

Excused domestic violence. Abusive men have been released early from prison because domestic violence claims were overturned. The language in the amendment was used to say that as a partner in an unmarried couple, there were no legal protections or rights available to them. Seriously. This should scare the shit out of everyone. If a woman calls the cops on her boyfriend for hitting her, he goes to jail, and is released the next day, what do you think will happen? Aren’t abusive partners even more pissed when their partners fight back? This is beyond hazardous. This could kill people.

Child visitation and custody rights nullified. If an unmarried partner has secured child custody rights, they could be stripped using this language. If you know an unmarried woman with custody of her children or possibly even children that aren’t biologically hers, you should be against this amendment. Please, be against taking kids away from responsible parental guardians.

Trusts, wills, and end-of-life directives ignored. Right now, with proper legal documentation, a person can leave money and belongings to whomever they want. If they constantly carry around a power of attorney paper stating that a certain person is granted hospital visitation rights, they can guarantee that their significant others can spend time with them if something were to happen. This would be very likely to go away if the amendment is added.

Certainly, this bill is directed at blocking the rights of gay couples and there are a lot of people who want that but this won’t just affect them. This is all unmarried couples. Specifically, this could hurt a lot of women who are already struggling. We’re talking ex-wives, widows, girlfriends, (non-adoptive/biological) single moms. This hurts people.

So back to my first question: why go this far? The only reason I can see to pass this, to voteforit, is because of hate. If you can look at all this information andstill think that it’s worth it–it’s worth it to hurt our standing in the global economy, to send away talented professionals, to allow women to be beaten, to have their kids taken away, to overlook someone’s last wishes, and to deny any legal rights to unmarried couples all to send a message to same-sex couples that they’re second class citizens who don’t deserve basic rights–you are hateful.

Team, please. I’m begging you. Vote against this thing and don’t just stop there. Talk to people about this information. Talk to your friends, families, and co-workers and make sure they understand how unnecessary this measure is and how much it will break down our families and workforce in this state. To learn more and for tips on conversation starters, go here: http://www.protectallncfamilies.org/

Also, attend an event. Do yourself a favor and just go and listen and participate if you feel up to it. I went to one last week and listened to some hard, honest discussions from people who were passionate about both sides. It was amazing to me in a lot of ways but it was also really special to see everyone respecting each other and showing compassion no matter what their beliefs are. Communities doing this is the only way to change things. We have to start seeing each other faces before we realize who our actions are affecting.

Coming Back…Soon!

Hi, team!

I know I told you I would be back…was it last week or the week before? Anyway, a lot’s happened in the meantime. I was feeling burnt out because I was packing a heck of a lot into my days. I mean, this is what my day looked like:

Wake-up routine (getting pretty, making breakfast, taking care of the dogs, starting off chores…)

Jesus routine (Bible-reading, prayer, worship time)

Writing routine (Sitting down and either writing or editing)

Mental break (doing something mundane like painting my nails or reading blogs/pinning)

Bite off a chunk of school work (deciding what I’m going to tackle)

Eat some lunch

Meet with physical therapist or dog trainer (Almost no one knows this, but I’ve been working with a PT on a strained ligament that I’ve had for years. Yeah, being thin and super flexible? Not always a good thing. I’ve also been working with a trainer on my beloved Aussie, Luca, who…just can’t stop being a shepherd.)

Get cracking on said school work (for, oh, three-four hours)

Shut it down before the boy comes home (so I can make dinner and relax for the rest of the night).

Also, I’ve been interning for a library that’s an hour away from me so that takes a whole day of my week. I also usually have to work a day or two every week, thus why I squeeze in as much school work as possible every day. And really, some of the stress I bring on myself because I like to do NOTHING after 5 and on weekends. I will stay up all night on a week day just so I can hang out with my family and friends for a couple days a week.

I’m not complaining, either. I’ve very aware that there other people who are busier and that ultimately, I’m kind of lazy. After I announced I was going to take a cool down period, though, I got sick. Then my husband got sick. Between the two of us feeling awful, I got really behind on school work. Anyway, that’s the real story of how I didn’t make an appearance here  until now.

I also went through a few days when I really wondered if it was worth coming back. I’m not a quitter but I recognize my limitations and I knew that at my current pace, something would give and that of everything that could give, it needed to be this blog, if anything. This is the only thing I really do for fun. A few hours a week I also squeeze in some gaming and pleasure reading but those are things that I really need, in a way. They let me escape and imagine and just be somewhere else for a short period of time. On the other hand, I thought this blog was something I did completely out of faith–faith that you guys liked it and that it was somehow important to someone. After a lot of reflection, though, I know that the bigger thing is that it’s important for me. Talking about creativity and urging on others fuels my own and that makes this blog just a soapbox for me. You can read it or not, I just need it for myself.

So, yes, I will be back to doing this…next week. I still have a little catching up to do and I’ll be officially on task next week, which just so happens to be my spring break. My spring break that I will be working through. (Hooray!)* Nonetheless, what frees me up is that I’m almost done working with the dog trainer and I’m also done with the PT so I have some time freed up now.

Yeah…sooo, I’ll see you on Monday?

 

(Sometimes I feel like I should re-name this blog Parenthetical White Girl. I love me some parentheses.)

 

Taking Some Time Off

Hi, readers!

I’m going to be taking a week off from the blog starting today. I know you all won’t mind but I just need some time to relax, enjoy the break in school assignments and work hours, and do nothing but recharge with some serious reading and video game playing. It should be delightful as long as I beat this virus that’s camping on my doorstep. 🙂

 

Friday’s Featured Artist: Stacy Shepanek at Mud Pie Studio

I got SO excited when I found out about Stacy’s studio in Durham and I couldn’t wait to share her work with you today. I mean, she’s a potter! A real, live potter! Of course I knew they still existed but I’d never met one. Seriously, they’re rare birds these days. Then I find out there’s one right up the road so I just had to try to get her on the blog for you guys. So, I hope you guys find her words and work as interesting as I do and that you go admire and maybe even buy things from her shop to support her.

How did you decide to make your art into a full-time career?
Funny, most fabulous things seem to happen accidentally.  I’ve always loved art, but my actual profession for 10 years was in Engineering, on the residential end.  When the housing market tanked,  I found myself job hunting.   Instead of interviewing for positions in my field, I chose to focus on pottery.  My friends and family thought I had completely lost my mind.  They politely indulged my sudden idea to “become a professional potter.”  I had only taken one or two pottery classes, and I was pretty horrible at it.  I spent the next 2 years practicing obsessively.  I cleaned houses to supplement my income and give me a flexible schedule.  One day, I realized that I didn’t need the cleaning income anymore.  That I was actually getting enough steady orders to practice pottery full time.  It was amazing!  I’ve been a full time potter over 2 years now.
Was there a time when you were shy to introduce yourself as an artist?
I think on some level all artists feel that way.   It’s an interesting thing to come to terms with.  I still answer with a hint of a question mark in there when people ask, “So what do you do?”, and I answer  “I’m a potter…  ?”  Like it’s still sinking in a bit, that I actually really do that for a living.   A close friend of mine recently took a month off work when she accepted a new job. I remember her saying that she loved not working!  If she was rich, she just wouldn’t go back to work.  It made me realize that if I were rich, I would actually do exactly what I do now.  Maybe  little less of it, but I would still work with clay.   So to answer the actual question, I suppose I’m not really shy about it.  I’m a bit shocked by it.  Not many people are lucky enough to do something they love for a living.
What things inspire and challenge you?
Doing custom work is always inspiring.  Much of my best work comes from collaborating with my customers.  I love taking their initial concepts and transforming them into something real.
My biggest challenge is probably finding the time for creative development.  When you’re a professional artist, you can sometimes get stuck in a rut of creating the same pieces over and over again.  I try to jump on any opportunity that I can to make something new.
Do you have an kind of routine for honing your skills?
Creating art as a business forces this upon you.  As much as I like to avoid it, I actually need to know how long it takes to create each piece, and how much effort goes into it.  As a result, I end up tracking my work and calculating my labor.  I’ve realized that by doing this,  that I constantly challenge myself to get better and faster.
Any advice for growing artists?
You could probably write an entire book on this.  The most important thing for me has been finding a  balance between art and business.  Make sure that you can realistically make a living selling your art – without compromising your art itself.  I constantly find myself debating with businesspeople about my methods.  They think I should find a way to mass produce.  Which I, in turn, laugh at, and say “that’s not the point”.  It’s hard to produce art at a price that actually pays you enough to make it.   It’s also hard for artists to look at it in that way.  As a realistic business venture.  Still, Art,  like anything else, requires a business plan, if it’s something you want to persue full time.
Stacy Shepanek, Mud Pie Studio, Durham, NC
Etsy Shop     Blog

Progress Report on My Writing

So a couple weeks ago I informed you that I was preparing a piece for submission to a contest. Last Thursday I finished writing and editing it, gave it a little kiss for luck, and handed it in for a local competition that Weymouth Center is sponsoring. With contests, you typically have a lot more competition for publication than usual because there’s a prize to be won. When money is involved, everyone who believes they can write a line or two gets it in their head that they should submit something and that can make the judging period very long. For instance, I have to wait until next month to hear back about that. Best of luck, though, to anyone else who may have submitted work.

Meanwhile, as I said yesterday, I’m working on something to challenge myself. My focus for now is writing a short story that’s plot-driven, equally funny/happy and sad/contemplative, and uses a good deal of dialogue. My comfort zone is more lyrical prose but spreading my wings is fun as long as I don’t depress myself by feeling bad at it. Since I promised that I really would share what I write here and this isn’t something I plan to try to publish, I can actually do that today. So here’s a peek at what I’m working on right now. It’s currently called The Engagement Party but I almost always change my title towards the end of things. Tell me what you think.

***

Liam was standing in a corner of the room when Helena broke away from her sister’s table and sighed into a punch bowl. She saw him there and briefly considered ignoring him. In fact, she more easily persuaded herself to sit again with the jabbering harpies that Cammie had chosen for bridesmaids than to approach him five minutes later, head still swimming with the squeals of approval they gave every time Cammie said the word, “fiancé.” What could be worse? Certainly not a conversation with one’s ex-boyfriend, Helena reasoned. She checked the straps on her heels on before she got up. It had been a long time since she’d worn such high, strappy shoes and she wanted to be sure there was no wobble in her gait. Saunter, saunter, she thought trying to imitate an actress’s walk.

“Hello again, stranger,” she began.

“Helena,” he said only barely turning toward her, “you’re looking well.”

“Really?”

He looked at her then without saying anything. She sucked in her lips and rolled them, taking a sip from her punch to break the stare.

“So, my big sister and your little brother…” she said at last.

“Yes, getting hitched,” he said and bobbed his head. He looked down at his feet and gave them a little rub on the floor.

“It’s…great. Great! Isn’t it?”

An hour beforehand she had been crying silently in a bathroom stall while the rest of Cammie’s friends chattered on in front of the mirror about what kind of dress they thought she would choose. Helena already knew. Ball gown with a touch of pink to the fabric and crystals emblazoned like dew.

“Well, they are perfect for each other,” Liam conceded.

She looked at him, his eyes still focused on a wall opposite them, and noticed how tight his jaw was. She could see the muscles moving as he clenched it and realized then that he was in pain. She smiled and was surprised that he turned to her in that exact moment and smiled back in that silent, still way that she’d come to think of as warmth.

“Do you want to go somewhere?” he asked. “I mean, for coffee or something?”

“Uh, when?”

“Oh, I was thinking,” he paused and glanced at the door, “now?”

“Oh, sure,” she said. “Yeah, I guess Cammie won’t be too mad if I leave early.”

Work:Play

This week I’m being a little lazy in finding sources for items. If you’ve seen these already, it’s probably because they’re on Anthropologie’s website that I browse…you know, once a week or whatever a normal amount is. 🙂

Work:

I am in the market for a new desk. This one looks particularly inspiring to me because it would be perfect in an artsy loft and even though I have two dogs, I really want one of those. It’s not impossible!

Play:

And look at this! Seriously, DIY watercolor postcards? I mean, mine would be abysmal but yours. Yours might be the stuff of legends. Someone send me one so I can have some  free art to frame. 😉

The Creative Habit: Chapters 4-6

Today, I’m crawling out of a somewhat insipid funk and coming back to the blog to continue my pseudo-book club of The Creative Habit. Last week I managed to squeeze in another three chapter between my reading for grad school and reading for inspiration. Here are the highlights.

 

Harness Your Memory:

I didn’t think I was going to take much away from this chapter, but actually I really related to Twyla’s thoughts. She described how she believes memory is crucial to creativity because it defines our perspective in our art, and for writers this is called “voice.” It determines how we see the world and share it with others.

“Creativity is more than taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them. What we’re talking about here is metaphor. Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself. Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we’re experiencing now with what we have experienced before. It’s not only how we express what we remember, it’s how we interpret it–for ourselves and others.”

Genius, right? While the thought may have occurred to me, I’ve certainly never been able to put my finger on the matter so eloquently. I love a good metaphor. I use them often in my writing but what she’s referring to is larger than the few lines that I spike my work with for flavor. All art is metaphor because it draws on an experience of a single person to point to an overarching theme in human existence. That’s what makes some art greater than others–this knowledge of the theme.

She also gave me something to think about when she talked about muscle memory and how copying an artist we admire makes us stronger artists ourselves. I’ve never exercised this copying technique…you know, consciously. I’ve never sat down and said, “Today I will write a story in just the way that Dave Eggers would.” But it makes sense. If I were to copy someone I admire, I would get a feeling for the way they construct their sentences and how their unique voice shows itself. I would go through the motions of creating a plot in his style and therefore be more able to do it on my own. It’s something that I think about and analyze as I read but I’ve never tried to copy in my writing. Anyway, here’s what she had to say about it.

“If there’s a lesson here it’s: get busy copying. That’s not a popular notion today, not when we are all instructed to find our own way, admonished to be original and find our own voice at all costs! But it’s sound advice. Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill.”

 

What do you think about this copying technique? Could it be more harmful than good? Could you get swallowed by someone else’s style? Could it be more helpful to some kinds of artists than others?

 

Before you think out of the box, you have to start with a box.

Admittedly, I really didn’t get much from this chapter where Twyla talked about how when she begins a work, she makes a box for it in which she stores everything that pertains to it. This includes pictures that inspired her, recordings of dance segments, note cards about her goals for the work…anything. Then when she gets lost in a work, she goes back to the box to remember where she’s going.

It’s a good thought and I do something relatively similar. I try to keep a notebook with me at all times to jot down any thoughts I have for a project because otherwise I’ll lose them. I also tend to write myself post-it notes that wind up scattered over my desk. I also save all the scraps of work that I begin with or remove from a story. When I go to edit something, I play with removing parts or re-writing them and when I do that, I move the original lines to a scrap file. That way, I can always revert to it or just smile at it. I like my methods because they’re not so structured that the entire process feels mechanical. Twyla’s method is different but essentially the same in its intention.

Here’s one thing that I found really interesting, though.

“Sadly, some people never get beyond the box stage in their creative life. We all know someone who announced that they’ve started work on a project–say, a book– but some times passes, and when you politely ask how it’s going, they tell you that they’re still researching. Weeks, months, years pass they produce nothing…My solution for them: This isn’t working. Free yourself. Get out of this box. Put it away for another day and start a new box. But do so with the faith that nothing is lost, that you haven’t put in all this effort for naught. Everything you’ve done is in the box. You can always come back to it.”

I’ve seen this scenario play out several times and every now and then, I’m the guilty one too. I get this great idea for something but it’s so big that I can never bring myself to start working on it. It’s just too pretty right there in my mind. When this happens, I do just as Twyla recommends. I move on. I work on other things and often, one day, I come back to the thing I was too afraid to start.

What does your “box” look like? How do you prepare for a project?

 

Scratching

Scratching, as Twyla describes it, is the method artists use to find an idea when one isn’t readily available.

“The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight…You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. These are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun–paint into a painting, sculpt into a sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance. ”

Trying to get an idea when you don’t have one is excruciating. I’m just sitting there, staring at a blank page, thinking up ways to begin and characters to invite to the page. It’s awful. Worse is how I feel as a writer until I find that idea. I think, “how worthless I have to be not to have a single idea.”

Twyla talks about how it’s often more helpful to think in terms of big and small ideas. Small ideas show us how to begin and big ideas often come from them as we’re working through it.

Last week, I started to challenge myself to write something new and outside my comfort zone. I typically write language-driven flash fiction that’s not really about the plot but more about the way an event is described. Short stories are, by comparison, much harder for me. They require a plot to ensure the reader reads all those pages and honestly, plots are difficult for me. I also don’t typically use a lot of dialogue. Short stories thrive on a balance between narrative and dialogue, though. When you have that much writing, you just need it to break up the work for the reader.

So the challenge is to write a short story with a compelling plot and a good amount of dialogue to make it easily readable.It also needs to have  a balance of happy and sad. Seriously, too much writing is all of one or the other, at least in my opinion. I started with the thought, “if seasons were people, how would they act?” So I came up with characters and from there, I thought of how they would interact and came up with a plot about relationships between them. Mainly, I had  a small idea that Fall and Spring would be engaged and that they would all be interacting at their engagement party.  As I began the story, the plot developed in my mind to include some misfortune and a snarky main character. Then something very human came from an original idea about things that weren’t human. I realized the story was no longer about seasons, just people, so I changed their names to normal ones. Now the big idea has inherited its shape from all those little ones–those little developments that snowball as you progress with a project.

That, for me, is normally how “scratching” goes. I get some little curious thought that I decide to work with and it molds itself as I go along, accumulating odds and ends from real life experiences. Sometimes I get ideas from observing people and making up stories to go along with them. Sometimes I get them from gossip or little tales told by a television host. So how do you get ideas? Just by being open to them.

How do your ideas evolve into projects? Do you start with big ones or little ones? Tell me about the weirdest source you’ve had for an idea.

Friday’s Featured Artist: Fiona Miller

Happy Friday, readers! Today I get to present a unique artist from Charlotte, Fiona Miller, whose truly beautiful paintings I found on Etsy. I don’t want to steal from the story below too much but what really fascinated me was her background in architecture. I feel that art stemming from practical purposes is sometimes downplayed in the art community–like it’s a little less special or creative somehow–and that’s not fair or true. Every artist takes inspiration from the things around her and makes an art of showing those subjects from her perspective. It’s why people still like reading biographies or memoirs. Even if you know the history of a person, you’re still drawn to hearing a creative perspective. Arts that are more realistic make us back away from our own assumptions and pictures of things and go, “ah, yes, now I see.” They simultaneously remind us that we are all separate and that we are all still trying to connect.

But no more of that. Here’s Fiona, at last.

 

 

How did you decide to make your art into a career?

Well actually, I am still in the process of making this into a full time career!  This is my second year in business and I have seen small, but steady growth.  The decision itself was prompted by two things: having been trained in architecture and having worked in various architectural firms, I realised that my favourite part about the job was creating paintings for the clients – watercolours showing what their finished building design would look like.  So I swapped Autocad for a paintbrush and loved it!  This was coupled with our (my husband and I’s) desire to start a family.  This is a talent that I am able to put to use as a home-based business.   I am now 5 months pregnant, so the real test is on its way…

 

 

Was there a time when you were shy to introduce yourself as an artist?

Yes, definitely.  I have been painting watercolours since my teens, but only in the last few years have I been confident enough to market myself in this way.

What things inspire and challenge you?

Inspiration-wise: I love historic architecture.  It is always exciting to go exploring in a new city and see what men have created over the years.  You can learn so much about human history and culture by taking a look at the layers of buildings.  Recently, I had my first trip to Washington, D.C.  Though freezing cold outside, it was really fascinating getting to see and wander around the venues created by Latrobe, Hoban and Jefferson, et al. that have shaped this nation.

My main challenge is to try and glorify God in the work I do – to work hard not only to please myself, or my clients.  I want to create art that is full of the joy of being alive and reflects something of the beauty of the one whom I believe created me.

Do you have any kind of routine for honing your skills?

I try and draw/paint in the morning, when my head is fresh and clear.  Otherwise, it is a combination of being in the right mood to work…. and having a few free hours to get involved in a project (ie. not being at work somewhere else!)

Any advice for growing artists?

Keep a good sketchbook: one small enough that you can carry around with you.  Take it with you, and use it!  Draw things that interest you and write down/sketch out sparks of ideas that come to you.  My ability to sketch out what I see, as well as what I imagine, has been honed – (and continues to be improved) by years spent drawing in travel journals and in life drawing classes, training the hand to follow the eye.

 

To check out her work and support her new career adventure, visit her Etsy shop or website. If you’re in the Charlotte area, a lot of her work will seem very familiar. 😉

Work:Play

Work:


[Que Hallelujah Chorus]

Perfect, right?! To help build your creative habit, I tracked down this planner that can help you establish some good routines. Whether it’s going to the gym, walking your dog, or making a daily sketch, you can have some positive reinforcement right in front of you every day. Check them out at Kikki K.

Play:

It’s a DIY Valentine’s advent garland! Too cute, in my opinion. The garland comes as kit that you can construct yourself and the object, of course, is to write some little sweet nothings on the notecards and place them in their bags for your love. (Or your pet. Whatever, I won’t tell.) Get ’em while they’re hot on Etsy! Hairbrained Schemes.

The Creative Habit: Chapters One-Three

I know I said that I was going to review Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit as a whole but as I continue to devour the book, I just can’t help but feel that it deserves more than that. So instead, I’m going to do this as a kind of pseudo-book club where I go over my favorite points in the selected chapters, share my thoughts and experiences, and then ask you how you feel about them, hoping that you guys will be oh so kind and respond. Because I really like it when you do. No pressure. 😉

Chapter One: The White Room

The first chapter of this book is all about Twyla’s feelings on being creative. Here are the highlights that resonated with me.

In referring to the white room where she rehearses: “To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying…Some people find this moment–the moment before creativity begins– so painful that they simply cannot deal with it…In it’s most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.”

“The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.”

The emptiness! There’s something so terribly imposing about a blank page to me and it can be paralyzing. There have been a few times when I’ve sat at my desk, stared at the blinking cursor, and had to walk away because I felt I was not up to the task of just writing something. For me, the fear comes from the feeling that my stories aren’t really worth reading. What could I possibly have to say that would interest other people?

Over time, though, I’ve taught myself to write only for me. In the early stages of everything, I have to write because it’s an impulse that, when denied, makes me feel worthless and when obliged fulfills me. It’s not really my job. It’s more of a calling. More a fit of insanity, actually.

“I’ve worked long enough and produced with sufficient consistency that by now I find not only challenge and trepidation but peace as well as promise in that empty white room. It has become my home.”

Dear Lord, I hope to say this one day. I hope that one day I’ve written enough to have that instinctual faith that makes a challenge feel peaceful.

It is the perennial debate…between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration…or (b) hard work.”

Of course, for me, it’s mostly b with the occasional a.
Readers, how do you feel about where creativity comes from? Are you paralyzed by the empty beginnings of things?

Chapter Two: Rituals

“First steps are hard…It’s vital to establish some rituals–automatic but decisive patterns of behavior–at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way…Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this?…The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.)”

I love this. I have different ways of kicking off my writing for different days. Sometimes I have to find a new song before I start my work or sometimes I have to wash dishes. The one thing that always does it for me, though, is reading my Bible and/or prayer. It makes me emotional. It stirs my spirit. It makes me feel like I’m not alone in the “white room.” To find something that works for you, you should keep just two things in mind: whatever it is, it should make the prospect of the work seem easier and it should compel you to create.

Later she says, “When I walk into the white room I am alone, but I am alone with my: body, ambition, ideas, passions, needs, memories, goals, prejudices, distractions, fears.”

What are you alone with in your white room?

Chapter Three: Creative DNA

In this chapter, she muses on how artists find their voice and patterns that are uniquely “them.” She says:

“I believe that we all have strands of creative code hard-wired into our imaginations. These strands are as solidly imprinted in us as the genetic code that determines our height and eye color, except they govern our creative impulses. They determine the forms we work in, the stories we tell, and how we tell them.”

She goes on to describe a few ways that she sees artists distinguishing themselves from others but one thing in particular interested me.

“When I apply a critic’s temperament to myself, to see if I’m being try to my DNA, I often think in terms of focal length…All of find comfort in seeing the world either from a great distance, at arm’s length, or in close-up. We don’t consciously make that choice. Our DNA does, and we generally don’t waver from it.”

This is definitely something that defines my writing. I don’t like to write lengthy things because I feel that people and stories reveal themselves in moments. My stories usually have very little dialogue in them because I feel that what people say isn’t half as important as the things they think and do. I examine small things: gestures, sighs, touching, the lines on people’s faces and hands. I see whole worlds in photographs and flashes of memory. I don’t do well with long stories and plots, even though I like reading them. So for me, my focal length is often up close or, at most, arm’s length. Fifteen pages per story is about all I can ever offer and still feel good about the quality. I’m usually most proud of tiny, three page scribblings that are more instinctual.

“I suspect many people never get a handle on their creative identity this way. They take their urges, their biases, their work habits for granted. But a little self-knowledge goes a long way. If you understand the strands of your creative DNA, you begin to see how they mutate into common threads in your work. You begin to see the “story” that you’re trying to tell; why you do the things you do (both positive and self-destructive); where you are strong and where you are weak (which prevents a lot of false starts), and how you the world and function in it.”

So true. Just marinate in that for a moment.

She then asks 33 smart, evocative questions to get artists thinking about what their DNA might be. My favorite questions are these:

What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat?

What are your attitudes toward: money, power, praise, rivals, work, play?

Who are your role models and why?

When confronted with superior intelligence/talent, how do you respond?

When you work, do you love the process or the result?

At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp?

What is your idea of mastery?

Answer any of these.

Finally, I’ll end my reading round-up with this thought, “Venturing out of your comfort zone may be dangerous, yet you do it anyway because our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable.”

Amen.