Hey friends. I have this little article I wrote that might be helpful for when you are experiencing a bit of a block.

Leading the Witness. A cautionary tale for my fellow writers and artists.

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When I ask myself why I never finish anything- my mind will assume that this question is valid and that the statement is true and I will supply all kinds of evidence and end up concluding that I shouldn’t even bother writing or painting or doing anything artistic.  

I call this particular kind of self-questioning leading the witness.

 It’s like there is this big trial going on inside me and the prosecuting attorney wants me to confess that I am guilty of never finishing anything–and of course I have this very compliant witness inside me that is swayed easily and will provide lots of evidence that I am guilty as charged.

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But the thing is it’s not true. I’m not guilty. I do finish things all kinds of things.

I have learned that when I feel stuck or confused, I try to ask questions like: What can I do today to get back on track- to keep me excited- to keep me focused on my writing goalsHow can I make better choices to keep going when I get bored or confused by my script— or how can I increase my focus  when I am distracted and in danger of  losing my momentum? These questions are more effective because they have me asking a wiser part of myself how to do what I am trying to do.

A writer asking themselves why they are not writing might miss the implied judgement in the question, and judgement of self is not useful for moving forward in life or in art.

Judgement– to stay with the legal metaphor is a way to  punish yourself and lock yourself up in a prison of self doubt.

 Or if that’s too dramatic-it’s  a good way to slow you down or even cause you to give up.

Who, what and how questions imply that there is a solution. These questions move us into a part of our brain where we can strategize and plan and problem-solve and analyze. How can I get the support I  need?  How can I organize my time to make room for writing?

If we want to transform something,  change something,  finish something, asking  why is not the best  way to do it.

Of course writers need to ask why their characters do what they do. Asking why can helps justify an action or a decision. But, writers do not need to supply evidence of their lack of discipline, dedication or actual talent around writing itself. That is a waste of your time.

So if you are  wondering why you aren’t writing,  don’t ask why.

If you do–well–I object–the prosecutor is leading the witness.

 

Trying to write a poem

0n the death of Seamus Heaney

faint-hope.jpgI am trying to write a poem

because I am sad–

and because

summer is ending-

and because

a poet I love has died.

I am trying to write a poem

because–

as the days grow short

and the nights fall so suddenly-

all my summers-

of innocence and invincibility

are coming to an end again.

As I face the ever expanding sadness

of this moment of my life–

As I face the turning of the season–

I am facing a turning in my soul.

I am longing to mark this moment

with something that will capture

it’s meaning.

I long to write something

to add to the map

of the unknown world.

Something to guide a weary traveller.

Something to put in that corner

where it says

“Here be monsters”

Isn’t that what a poem is?

A map of the soul’s geography?

I am trying to write a poem because

I am not a poet

Not really.

I am just a lost dreamer looking

at summer roll past

and needing to write a poem

to hold my sadness.

So here I sit fingers digging

into the soil of my lost

summers like the poet

who died has taught me to do-

trying to write a poem.

old map engraving

Mind your own business

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“There are only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s.” ~ Byron Katie

Today, I had the urge to write about something that I was outraged about. I was annoyed  about a particular internet  art star. I wanted to be the kid in the crowd who cries out that the emperor has no clothes. But I changed my mind. And even if I am right and the emperor is truly naked a lot of people love her. A lot of people hang on her every word and lavish fawning praise every time she overshares on her facebook fan page.

My grandmother used to say- “A still tongue in a wise head” In other words, keep your opinions to your self. So I will. I will not blab my snarly opinions, even though I want to. I will not be a critic. I will not be a judge. I will hold my tongue. It is just me being skeptical, about what I see as bullshit.

Truth is, I feel threatened by it. Not sure why. Some form of jealousy maybe? Some kind of resentful feelings about her success. Feelings of injustice maybe? My judgements might be my own insecurity. I don’t know. Then again I could be right. My skepticism could be spot on. What I see as a load of crap, could be indeed–crap. But it’s not my business. People apparently love crap. So who am I to try to counter that. Who am I to tell them what to believe. So I have told myself– Don’t sit around grumping in self righteous indignation about whether or not someone deserves their success.

You have your own work to do. I am reminded about my grade two teacher Mrs Clippingdale who never listened to tattle tales. She said if we were busy doing our work we wouldn’t be noticing other people not doing theirs. So thanks Mrs. C. I am taking your advice. I will do my own work. It’s not my job to save the world from naked emperors. Life is too short. So now–Back to work on this play. I am on draft three of that and I have a ways to go. Right now my play sucks so I need to stop avoiding it with indignation and other wastes of time.

Sally LIves Here
Sally LIves Here

Reminding myself of the light within.

The traveler driving down a lonely country road at night, is encouraged by the distant twinkling lights of her destination.

But it’s the headlights of her car that keep her from driving off the road.

In life we are drawn toward the bright light of desire and distant dreams.

But only the light we carry with us, will keep our wheels on the road and our footsteps on the path.

We have to keep that light burning.

Mountain-road

This is a re-post from last year but I needed to remind myself of this today.

ART AND COURAGE

If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage. —Cynthia Ozick

Fear and Courage
Fear and Courage

I do believe that writing is an act of courage.

Courage to keep going when life is in chaos–

courage to keep going when your are tired and drained and empty,

when you think you have been left behind,

when you think someone else is better than you.

when you think you have nothing to say.

when no one pays any attention

to what you have written.

It takes courage to write.

I believe this.

Over and over and over in my life,

my fear has stopped  me dead in my tracks.

And courage was nowhere to be found.

I didn’t understand that fear was necessary for courage to exist.

I didn’t realize courage and fear were inseparable companions.

So now I live my life,

knowing fear is always present

and always talking to me–

And somehow I have to keep going anyway and trust that I can.

Because courage is standing right there with fear-

waiting to be called on–waiting to  take the lead-

waiting to carry me across whatever dangerous territory–

whatever hidden enemies–

I think I am facing.

I need to remember this.

Now especially.

I have an opportunity to include an excerpt of my new play

in a festival of new work but fear is plaguing me.

It’s screaming at me.

It’s sneaking up on me.

Covert attacks.

Constantly.

Every little obstacle that I have to face or every tiny suggestion

that something needs work or should be cut–

is scaring me to the point that I am angry.

I wake up in the morning

with dread that I am not good enough–

That the play is not ready.

I find myself reacting angrily to things.

Or I am annoyed at the person who offered me

the opportunity at the wrong time.

I have to constantly remind myself,

That I am not actually in danger.

It’s just my fear  trying to protect me.

It’s just my fear,  wanting me to quit —

so that I don’t have to take a risk–

or feel the pain of possible failure.

And every demand of my life–

and there are many these days-

seems to suggest I don’t have  the time

or the stamina or the ability.

But  it is just my fear trying to stop me

from failing.

But I am not going to fail.

I can do this.

I can do it.

There is no conquering fear.

There is no need to conquer it.

Courage needs me to know this.

Ready or not here I come.Ready or Not

Knowing and accepting- Creative Process Part One

Knowing and accepting

that we will be criticized-

that we will be judged,

rejected or even worse

ignored–

and choosing to

continue anyway-

is an essential skill

that we need to acquire-

that we can not do without-

in life and in art.

So is knowing and accepting

that sometimes the road is

long and hard-

and straight uphill-

all the way–

and that our chosen path

will take us through

mud and sludge and swamp-

and steep mountains

and dark forests.

And that for much

of the journey

we are absolutely

alone.

To be lost and afraid

and to ache

and nearly break–

is part of the journey.

There is no avoiding it.

When we are engaged

in the process of writing or painting–

where the product matters-

where it’s not just therapeutic–

or an exercise in self inquiry-

but where expectations of merit-

and quality play an important part–

we will at some point-

feel all of the awful.

fearful, jealous, disappointed,

rejected, despairing, angry emotions.

And we will be full of doubt.

We will from time to time

believe that we can not

keep going.

But there is the trick

to surviving all this misery.

It’s remembering that if

you are feeling these

things–you are on your path.

If you feeling all tis pain

you are doing it right.

You are staying on track.

If you opened your lap top today

and hate what your wrote yesterday–

and the day before–

You are in the process

of doing the work.

You are getting there-

you are slogging up the hill-

you are getting it done.

You are getting somewhere.

So when you are stuck with nothing to say-

remember that you are supposed to get stuck-

sometimes.

You are not going anywhere folks if–

from time to time

you don’t get stuck-

waylaid, distracted, completely lost.

You haven’t left the comfort zone if

you never want to rage and moan.

It is part of the creative process.

That is all it is.

You wanna quit but don’t.

You gotta go through this part.

On the other side of this

is your reward.

Coming soon. Part two,

Some lists.

I reblogged this post from a few years ago

I think I have come a long way from this but some of them still apply.

 

Reasons I get stuck.

1. It is hard to keep going when the destination seems so
distant and unknown.

Imagining Frida
Imagining Frida

2. It is hard to keep believing in yourself–
when there is no real evidence that what you believe
is more than your ego gone wild.

3. It is hard to go on without recognition
or validation or reward–
because you could be delusional.
Completely mad.
It’s a distinct possibility.

4.It is hard to find a reason to keep going because of
all of the above.

5. And then there is the question of your own sanity.

So Here’s another list.

Reasons to question my own sanity.

1. I am writing the third draft a play–that may never be produced.

2. I probably could put time and effort into more lucrative pursuits yet
I persist.

3.The life of an artist is often painful, disappointing
frustrating and depressing.

I hate to say it, but this leads to another list .

Painful things about being an artist.

1.The weeping, nail-biting–
and hopeless staring at an empty
screen.

2.Thefeeling that I am absolutely on the right
track suddenly changing to the realization that I’m not.

3.Awareness that my ability
to say something-
that hasn’t been said-
by countless others–
seems–
a) lacking?
b)missing in action?
c)otherwise engaged.

3.The constant nagging voice inside me
saying unkind things about the value or validity
of my own work

4. Experiencing shame, jealousy and resentment for the success of others

5, Trying to not have jealousy and resentment for the success of others.

6. Feeling threatened by the success of others. Oh God! Help me!!!!

7. Though some artists, writers and actors are wildly successful
famous and rich– the majority of us deal with–

Oh dear– I guess it’s another list–

The 99 percent

1. lack of recognition,

2. crushing poverty

3. the thought of dying in obscurity

4. The realization that absolute failure is entirely possible

5. The ever looming reality of poverty–
and dying in obscurity increasing with age. Yikes!

BUT–

I realize that despite the above lists–

None of these are good enough reasons to give up my dream.

Not writing–because of fear of failure
ensures my success at one thing– failing.

Failure is possible enough without my helping it along.

And–If I do not write–

My fearful, negative, self will have defined me and
controlled me and won this battle.

AND SO

I keep

1. writing.

2. painting,

3. improving,

4. growing,

5. discovering–

and even though I am often–

1.stumbling

2. falling,
3.crashing,
4. burning.

I keep going.

Because

1.There is no turning back for me.

2.The road only goes one way.

3.There is no place that I can go back to.

4.The road behind me is closed.

Well folks–

if this has not been annoying enough–

Here is another list–this one is for you .

1.What are you working on?

2. If you are not really working on something–

What are you avoiding?

3.What are you risking by not risking?

What are you denying yourself

by not devoting yourself to the discipline?

4. What terrors are you subjecting yourself to

by not confronting the fear?

And last but not least–

5. Why are you reading my silly lists.

1.Go get to work.

2.Call the Muse.

3.Wait for her.

4.Don’t make other plans

She is most likely to show up when you are actually at your desk or your easel
on tapping away on a keyboard in bed or in a coffee shop or wherever you write.

Cultivating the Creative Habit

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.”
Twyla Tharp THE CREATIVE HABIT

I agree with Twyla Tharp.

I think art for some of us has to be a kind of determined,

intentional creative habit that we submit to willingly.

I think habit is the right word for me.

But it is a habit that we have to hook ourselves into.

We have to manufacture our own psychological twitch.

We have to lace our own blood with the gnawing, clawing,

need to sit down and knuckle under.

This is what keeps the writer writing all the way

to the final words THE END.

Inspiration is involved. Magic is part of it.

Sometimes we need that whisper-that breath of the muse to wake

up imagination. After all what good is writing that is not inspired.

But Inspiration disappears pretty quickly when the work gets hard.

When the idea on the page starts to melt into a confused mess.

When fear and self doubt start their yammering.

But you can rely on good old habit and discipline and yes routine.

They will see you through the hard part.

At least that is how it is for some of us.

When we wait for the muse to inspire us–

or we wait for an opportunity–

to be invited, discovered, adored, chosen–

we can wait a long time.

If I relied on those things I wouldn’t write much at all.

Some people say they need a deadline.

I used to say that.

I said it because I thought it was true.

I thought I needed the pressure and the structure to

call forth my undisciplined mind to do my work.

I don’t think it’s true.

It’s just that deadlines scare me into submission.

And that is the key factor folks.

Submission.

Literally.

I need to surrender.

I need to come humbly to the work.

I need to bow my head and submit to the demands of the work.

Think about it.

The deadline causes us to comply.

We obey. We apply ourselves to the task.

You know it’s funny–but when actors and writers

are invited to send an example of

their work–in the actor’s case to audition–

in the writer’s case– to send a manuscript,

these are the words that are used.

CALL FOR SUBMISSION

This is usually interpreted as an opportunity to deliver–

to offer– for consideration.

Don’t be fooled. That is not what it means.

We are being invited to chain ourselves to our heart’s desire and do the work.

I believe that I need to come humbly and submit every day.

It is not my talent or my experience or my great idea–

that will write my play. No it’s my creative habit.

Some days my talent seems negligible, my idea muddy and unfocused.

I can’t rely on such ephemeral notions.

It is the daily submission to my creative habit/discipline/devotion

that will put words on the page.

Resistance as Stephen Pressfield calls it in his amazing books–

The War of Art.
Do the Work,
and Turning Pro

will show up. You can believe that.

Resistance he teaches is the inevitable opposing force to any creative act.

But I am cultivating an addiction to my creativity that will defeat resistance

like a smoking addiction will defeat a smoker’s good sense.

That is why I am sitting here on this brilliantly beautiful day,

tapping away at a blog post that few will

read. I am enslaving myself to my creative habit.

It’s a beautiful sunny day in rainy Vancouver and I know

that soon our endless rainy weather will be upon us–

but here I am writing instead.

I want to be so addicted to this that I will get the

shakes if I don’t write five pages a day on my play.

Oh and speaking of Twyla Tharp here is something of what her

Creative Habit has produced.

Accepting uncertainty and living the questions in life and art.


 

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
Live in the question.”    Rainer Maria Rilke

I love these words.

I try to call them up when

I face uncertainty

 

I am in the middle of developing

an idea that is slowly forming in

my mind.

I don’t know if it is a play

or a short story

Or something else altogether.

My  desk is covered in sketches of  artists who have  inspired me I am not sure why I drew them.

The images are clues or perhaps  threads  of  a story – slowly weaving itself in the back of mind.

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If I stand back and speak to

my images I might say JacksonPollack and Lee Krasner and Andy Warhol–What are  you trying to tell me?

Why are you here? What are you pointing me to?

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For me drawing opens a door into  a deeper

more potent form of imagination.

Something beyond intention and anything

conscious.

Maybe these drawings are part of a search

into my own psyche.

Maybe I am digging, sifting through the layers

of  my early romantic ideals-

when my fascination with these famous artists

woke up some kind of young longing in me.

I don’t know. I have to sit with the unknowing.

Here is the thing.

There is a relationship somewhere

between the drawings and the writing I am doing

and my own life right now.

It’s not always immediately evident.

I  look at the drawings that come out

after a session of writing

and I think  ok–

I  think that  the subject of what

drives someone to create

is the subject I want to explore.

And somehow death is part of the subject

And how the need to be present for life

is part of it. And how creativity

is the way of showing up.

And I think that somehow

spirits– as in the spirits of the

dead artists  are alive to all of us who

look at the art they made and left behind.

But I don’t really know.

Maybe drawing the artists

and even writing in this blog

is like playing with a Ouija board,

and I am summoning spirits from within myself–

to help me with my troublesome imagination.

I know the location of whatever I am writing

is somewhere just west of collective unconscious.

And has to do with a place where artists

can meet and converse.

 

e thing is, with art and with life–

sometimes we have to tolerate

the churning and distracted feelings of  uncertainty.

Because on the other side of this unknowing,

is the path to where it all makes sense.

It’s true we  must learn to live  in the questions–

as Rilke tells us–and just wait–because beyond

the  clouds of uncertainty,

is the bright blue sky of knowing.

The story will weave itself together and everything will be revealed.

 

Full Moon coming July 3rd. Get your wishes ready


Getting ready for making wishes on the full moon,
July 3rd. I used to have tea parties with my
friend Rachel once a month before she moved to Boston.
She taught me the different names of the full moons,
as they appear through the wheel of the year.
The last one was the strawberry moon or the Rose Moon.
The one coming up is the Thunder Moon. I love that.
We used to eat special moon cakes and things in honour
of a particular moon and drink chai or peppermint tea.
It was lovely. Here is a painting in honour of the Thunder Moon
and Rachel. I added some digital magic for fun.
If you click on the picture you should get a nice surprise.

Some work in progress–The beginning of a story-reposting to inspire myself to finish it.

This is the beginning of a story that I scribbled down in the coffee shop.
It showed up in my notebook today like this.

My grandmother was quiet and mysterious and knew mysterious things.

She was part gypsy, at least that is what I grew up believing.

She could heal wounds, and cure sickness, and she always knew how things would turn out.

She could predict bad news, and see right through untrustworthy people.

She knew what to do about both.

She had secret recipes, and special remedies,

and wise old sayings, to fit every situation.

She believed in good luck and friendly forces.

She also believed in the unfriendly forces,

and she took great pains to protect us from them.

I would watch her fill a little cloth bag with needles,

and nails and bits of broken wire.

Sharp things.  Broken twigs. spiky leaves. Dried nettles-

would end up in the little bag.

She would put the little bag under the door mat.

What are you doing Gran? I would ask.

“Doing what needs doing” she would answer.

My mom would tell me, “Oh it’s something Irish–

Something to keep intruders away. superstition that’s all.

But I would watch my Grandma hide a bottle of my Grandad’s whiskey,

way in the back of the cupboard. She would carefully sprinkle a line

of coarse salt in front of it, and then stack the mason jars

of peaches and carrots and crabapples

in front of the line of salt.

What are you doing Gran? I would ask

“You can see what I am doing,

or are your eyes just for show then, and you can’t really see?”

My Grandad would come home, and look behind the piano for his whiskey.

He’d come into the kitchen scratching his head.

He’d open the cupboard and move the jars around.

“Where have you hidden my whiskey Maggie?” he would say.

But he would never find the bottle.

He couldn’t see it. Even though it was right there in front of his eyes.

If I asked Gran too many questions though,

I was always told something that would make me feel

as if I shouldn’t have asked– as if knowing this information,

would be a terrible burden to me. It wasn’t what she said–

t was what she didn’t say that made me know this.

So I didn’t ask questions–

at least not often.

Sometimes though Gran would make me feel,

as if we had shared a special secret.

I could never remember the secret.

I just knew something wonderful had passed between us.

And every moment I spent with her seemed magic, and precious,

and I was convinced she had remarkable abilities.

I was convinced she could make things happen.

She did things efficiently quickly and without any fuss.

She seemed to do whatever she did, without actually doing it.

She would tell me a story of her girlhood in Ireland,

while she ironed the shirts, baked a pie, washed the dishes,

and swept the kitchen floor.

I would be so carried away with the sound of her voice

and her tales of the fancy french seamstress that taught her

at the Dressmaking school, or the Scottish School Master,

who was sweet on her sister Esther,

that I couldn’t remember the unfolding of the

ironing board, or the basket of white shirts, or the

flour and lard, or the rolling pin or the big bowl on the table,

or the broom or the dustpan. Yet suddenly she would be taking

a golden brown apple pie out of the oven.

And the shirts would be hanging crisp and white on the hangers.

The dishes were washed and the floor was swept.

I didn’t have to ask any questions

I knew she was magic without being told.