Protests, Riots and Creativity

image by “Mighty” Mike McGee http://www.mikemcgee.net

I have been glued to Twitter all week, reading real-time updates from protesters all over the country. The killing of Eric Garner and the decision of the grand jury not to prosecute the officer who killed him has sparked a wildfire of rage and frustration. Most of that anger has been seen in the protests, and too many people calling themselves protesters have turned those actions into riots.

But many people have transformed their frustration into art. For example…

This song by Rising Sun All Stars  https://risingsunallstars.bandcamp.com

This spoken word poem by Tia Nache Yarbrough

This performance piece in New York’s Times Square

This image   http://heartacheandpaint.com/I-Can-t-Breathe

image by Damon Davis

image by Damon Davis

 

And this one  https://lockerdome.com/6272859261640513/6865575687363604

And this    https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7558/15331991803_36bc4215c1_b.jpg

artist unknown. please help me identify to give proper credit

Creativity is a force that can heal, scream, question, destroy and unite. Creativity can open minds and change the world.

Art has power. How will you use it?

One breath at a time? Of course, but first I need to study, clean, investigate and doubt myself.

Why is it so impossible for me to sit still? Is there such a thing as creative ADHD? I think I managed to focus on breathing for two days before my brain went back to habitual overthinking. So many questions to solve. Should I get a PHD? How can I help Medusa’s Muse grow? Do I keep publishing books, or stop? How can I find more editing clients? Do I need neck surgery? What is the name of the yellow moth in my front yard? On and on my brain goes, adding to a list of possibilities and defeats. If I’m not tackling a problem or creating something, I feel itchy.

That is why I forced myself to stop. For two weeks, I made myself climb out of my head and only do things that required moving my body. No writing. At first I felt guilty. Then, I felt relief.

Hyper-creative people forget the importance of rest. Driven by the need to express our inner selves, we burn bright and fast. And then we drop. Once we’ve used up all our energy, depression sets in because our thoughts are still rushing while our body is not. Or we try in vain to capture the right word to make the scene perfect, only to discover we don’t have the energy to type.

This is what I learned while forcing myself to stop: I will never run out of creative energy. In fact, if I rest my body, my creativity burns brighter.

Try it. Set down that pen, close the journal, shut down the lap top and go outside. Spend 7 full days doing nothing that requires you to be creatively productive. Instead of writing, make a collage. Work in your garden. Go for a long walk and absorb the sites, sounds and smells of your community. Cook. Read a book. But do not write. When you finish your seven days, you will discover your clarity and creativity has improved.

Right now is the perfect time to try it. NanoWrimo is next month.

The Writing Process – a blog tour

Thank you so much Natasha Yim for inviting me to the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s fascinating to learn about each writer’s creative process. Click the link to Natasha’s blog and learn more about her process. Then follow the links backward for some great insights on writing.

But first, read my responses to the writing process questions.

1) What Are You Working On?

Currently I’m writing a middle grade fantasy chapter book for Goosebottom Press, but I’m sworn to secrecy on the exact subject. Let’s just say it’s about a really feisty girl with the power to change the universe. I’m also writing another play, this time set in the 1980’s. This new play is more dramatic than my previous two plays, but will still have plenty of comedy.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Writing for middle grade readers is a new adventure for me, one I’m really enjoying. After reading several middle grade books to familiarize myself with the language and nuances of the genre, I’ve learned that middle grade readers are more savvy and sophisticated than I realized. Your average 11 year old loves a scary scene. Maybe we can thank Harry Potter for that. I can’t really say how different my work is, because I’m still learning. All I know is that I love writing for this age group and hope to write more books.

Now, if you want to ask me about my plays, the number one thing that makes my work different is that I typically write more parts for women actors than men. It is a common complaint in the theater that plays seem to be written for and about men. Unfortunately there are far more actresses looking for parts than actors, so competition for good parts is horrible. I decided to do something about that. Plus, having a background in drama helps me create plays that provide theater companies what they need: parts for women and simple sets. Most of my plays take place in one setting, which means a theater company can save money on scenery design, or go full out on one set.

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was a child, Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author. I devoured her books! When I grew up and started writing, I longed to write for that age group (middle grade) and explore some of those darker subjects. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

I started writing plays because I’m lazy. Writing description is hard for me, but dialogue is easy, so I followed my strengths and discovered I can create great stories with just people talking. And it helps me finally use my BA in drama.

4) How does your writing process work?

Typically, I start with a situation. I’ll get an idea about people in a setting and one of them wants something from the other. But at first, I don’t know who the people are. So I’ll start writing the scene, just letting the language lead the way. Suddenly, one of the characters will take center stage and her desires will become clearer. I’ll hear her voice in my head and once I have that, the plot develops. Now the real writing can start. Occasionally I might discover that the character I’m following isn’t actually the main character. A different character will take charge and the story might go a direction I didn’t imagine. How do I keep any control over this chaos of my imagination? By focusing on my original idea, that one scene that started it all. If I write too far from that original point then I know I have a new story and I have to decide to pursue it, or go back. But generally, the first image is so strong it guides me.

I don’t like too much of an outline at first; I like to follow the characters. Once I have a very clear idea of who all these people are and what they want,  I’ll plot the scenes. Ultimately, there has to be a story, not just characters interacting.

Before I even brush my teeth, I write in the morning for an hour. If I start doing anything else before I write, I won’t write at all that day. I’m also a mom and a publisher, so those two jobs take a lot of my time. If I say, “I’ll just start the laundry before I write,” I will start doing other things “for a minute before I write.” Then my writing time is gone. Let the laundry wait. Write!

The blog tour continues on June 9th with writers Shannon Drury and Kirsten Imani Kasai. Follow the links in their bios to visit their websites and next week you can read their answers to the Writing Process questions too. 

SHANNON DRURY is a writer, at-home parent, and feminist activist. She writes a regular column for the Minnesota Women’s Press and served six years as the president of Minnesota NOW. Her book, The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, will be published by Medusa’s Muse Press August, 2014. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

KIRSTEN IMANI KASAI writes horror, erotica and sci-fi/fantasy. She is the author of the novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo” (Del Rey/Random House), “Private Pleasures” (Renaissance), and “Rhapsody in Snakeskin” (Renaissance), a collection of poetry/short fiction. She is the co-founder of the horror/spec fic literary venture “Body Parts Magazine.” Her experimental prose/poetry piece, “mice,” will be published in the spring 2014 issue of Canada’s “Existere Journal.” In May 2014, she participated in a 10-day artists’ residency and festival in Romania, where she dined with the mayor of Borsec and read her locally-inspired poem “The Truth about Decay in Transilvania” in English and Romanian. She’s recently completed a poetry chapbook “The Atmospheric Mysteries of a Steaming Corpse” and is the recipient of the Anitoch Los Angeles Library Research Prize for her critical paper “Redefining Utopia: How Feminist Utopian Literature Can Serve as a Model for Creating Workable Futures.” Originally from Denver, CO, she lives in Southern California with her children and her partner. Visit her at www.IceSong.com and www.facebook.com/kirstenimanikasai.

And for fun, write your own responses and post them here as a comment, or on your own blog. I’d love to learn more about your writing. 

“Dancing with the Stars” is the greatest dance porn since “Dirty Dancing.”

Image

 

It’s a new season on Dancing With The Stars, which means I am once again obsessing over Cheryl Burke, Valentin Chmerkovsky, Mark Ballas and Karina Smirnoff. I’m watching fierce dance routines and booing the judges as if ballroom dance was a football game. The “stars” don’t matter to me (how many “reality stars” are there on TV?). I love the Pros, the dancers who train, teach, choreograph, plot and scheme their way to the mirror ball. Why do I love this world of spray tan, fake eyelashes and glitter so much? Because Dancing With The Stars is the greatest dance porn since Dirty Dancing, and I love dance porn.

I admit I’m a little embarrassed by my obsession. I’m an intellectual feminist with a Master’s Degree and a publishing company. But here I am, every tuesday morning (I don’t have cable, so I have to watch it online,) applauding Emma Slater’s creative choreography. In the middle of the night, I’m scouring Twitter for #DWTS comments. I become frustrated that I can’t vote because I’m watching it the day after, and I know exactly how it feels to have to TiVO a basketball game because you couldn’t watch it live, and then have someone tell you who won.

Dancing with the Stars is my escape from the chaotic, stressful, overly-serious world I live in. It feeds my inner child who longs to be a ballerina. When I was little, I was obsessed with ballet and longed to be a dancer more than anything in the world, but we lived in Lake County, California, far away from any dance classes. So I practiced plies’ in my room while studying a book on basic ballet positions, eventually screwing up my knees. The love of dance never left me and I was finally able to take my first class in college at the age of 19. I danced in a troupe for five years and loved every minute of it, even choreographing three productions. Later, I choreographed two shows for children. Yet again, I live in a town with limited dance opportunities, and being a mom keeps me home. I channel my longing to dance into my writing and publishing, but the desire has never left. I’m too old to be a ballerina, but I know I would be awesome at Tango. All I need is a teacher.

Every day at 4:30, I dance to electronic music on Pandora. Dancing is how I de-stress. At the end of my work day, right before I switch into my mommy day, I shake my ass as fast as I can in my kitchen. My daughter thinks I’m crazy, but sometimes she’ll join in. Occasionally, a Tango rhythm will come on and I’ll pretend that I’m dancing with Maksim Chmerkovsky (and that man can dance a tango!).

We forget to play when we grow up, and before we know it the burdens of life drag us down like quicksand. It seems we only remember to be silly when we’re on vacation, or drunk. Why not do something ridiculous every day, like Tweeting about #DWTS or dancing for 30 minutes in your kitchen? Ridiculous is good for you. Silly lightens the load. Just ask any 10 year old practicing ballet moves all alone in her room. What is better than dance to make you feel alive?

Permission to Rest

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to rest? I mean lie on the couch with a good book kind of rest. Or take a leisurely walk with no particular destination in mind, without the dog, kind of rest. If you’re a parent, the “slow days of summer” is a myth, one you wish you had the time and money to live in. But now the kids are back in school, the days are still hot, the sun still bright, and the garden is bursting with produce. Before you roll up your sleeves to vacuum the last of the sand out of the mini-van, think about what rest means to you.

For me, rest is stopping all outgoing energy, including creative energy. Trying to care for my daughter while writing two books and editing another, running Medusa’s Muse, and marketing books, all while injured, was crazy making. I resented my daughter at home all the time, resented the heat that kept us in the house most of the time, resented the hours spent trying to manage the everyday chaos of home and family. My lap top sat idle, my stress load increased, and my sense of claustrophobia got so bad I started throwing out every book and knick-knack in my bedroom (throwing out books? unheard of!).

While grabbing one precious hour of writing time at the cafe, I opened my lap top and heard a loud “crack”. The hinge on my computer had snapped. Carefully I tried propping the screen up, but it kept slipping backwards. I wanted to cry. My husband, a computer tech, examined it and pronounced it unfixable. My most important tool and toy had just died.

Without money to buy a new laptop, I was forced to stop working. No more editing or blogging or revisions for me. But a funny thing happened while I was being depressed, I also felt a surprising sense of relief. Writing was impossible for several weeks, so during that time I found art projects to do with my daughter, read one of the books I’d been longing to start but had “no time,” and nurtured my pumpkin patch. My heart rate slowed and the tension in my neck relaxed. All of my self-imposed deadlines fell away.

Once I had the cash, I bought a new laptop. My daughter started the 12th grade. My days were still busy, but I had the ability to concentrate on writing again. Claustrophobia was replaced with an opened mind filled with fresh ideas.

We artists spend all of our energy on our art; even when we’re taking care of our children or working at our jobs, more than half of our brain power is spent imagining new ways to create. Rest for me is not simply about relaxing my body, I also need to relax my mind and let go of the need to keep writing. The world will not end if I’m unable to write a new play by Christmas. At least I hope not.

And I gotta say, I am madly in love with my new MacBook Air.