Taking it to the Page

As a painter and visual artist, I have had many times in my life when I felt stuck and deeply dissatisfied with my work. If this creative malaise gets too entrenched, my internal critic gets the upper hand, and I create less and less, because, after all, “what’s the use?” I know many creatives who have experience with this kind of paralysis, and yesterday I  mentioned Morning Pages, a very effective practise of writing three pages first thing.

Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is a complete program. I highly reccomend you get the book and join or form a group to work through it all.  She applies a 12-step framework to the creative life: your higher power (pick your denomination or guiding principle) wants you to create. You are made in the image of the Creator, as in , you are a creator. It’s beautiful, and full of rejuvenating concepts and exercises.

Throughout the book you are urged to “take it to the page.” Whatever life is dishing up, work on it through your creative medium. If you are a pianist who is angry, play from your fury. As a self-critical painter I began to make images about my self-hatred and its effects, or just to warm up the painterly hand and eye by dumping out my frustration with mark-making. From Morning Pages (remember, completely uncensored!) I learned to bitch and complain and wibble until I had cleared that dreck out of my head. As I kept writing, other things would emerge.

Over time I found that stories would arise out of the mess, without apparent conscious intent. Or, a character I was writing would have insights, a crisis, healing about the issue that was moving through me.

I think the key there is moving through. As I was crafting that last sentance I started with ‘roiling inside’ and realized, no, that is what happens when I’m STUCK. When there is a flow, the issues, concerns, emotions flow through and change, and the art moves with them. You might even say it’s fueled by them.

So, for today, what’s bugging you? Start with a word-dump and just scribble or type without any editing whatever is top-of-mind, no matter how ridiculous. Keep it up for at least 300 words or 3 long-hand pages. Play with it: name the ‘character’ that’s speaking inside you. Write a scene where you tell [your boss, mother, congress…] exactly what you think of them. Let what wants to happen, happen.

And look for the breadcrumbs that will lead you somewhere new. I promise, they will appear!

Writer’s block: are you stuck or just re-prioritized?

Alas, I missed my posting yesterday. I allowed life to sweep me along, and although I started something, I didn’t like it and didn’t complete it.

So often, it’s distraction, demands of daily life that take me away from my creative life. But there’s another element. It requires a certain devotion, a willingness to put my creative work at the top of my queue, in order to have the backbone to stand against the forces of obligation and distraction that can, no WILL take me away from my work.

Sometimes it’s dramatic: “oh! I must rush to the emergency room!” (Take a notebook, whispers the Muse.) But more often it’s the way water wears away the stone. The phone rings, the dogs need a walk, you go grocery shopping and it takes longer, your job keeps your mind occupied, your kids need something, there’s something on tv, your neighbor asks you “did you hear about the appalling [whatever] that [whoever] did!?”, you decide its finally time to clean out the closet… shall I go on? Before you know it, it’s time to get to sleep.

The challenge then becomes protecting time and inspiration, hoping they will arrive together. Often, of course, they don’t! But if you’ve created the time, there are tricks, techniques, exercises that become habits which can carry you across those inspirational deserts. Protecting time for writing is a way of creating time. How can you declare the time more important than anything else?

One really effective method I’ve used Morning Pages, comes from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I write my Morning Pages before anything else but coffee. It’s important for me not to ingest any words from outside sources, so I don’t read the papaer or watch the news or talk to anyone until I’ve done them. Cameron defines the practise (underscore mine):

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.

I use the computer to write mine – I just flow better that way. Choose your more comfortable medium. Morning Pages are a highly effective way to get in touch with your ‘voice.’

Tomorrow I’ll give you more ideas for defeating blocks and exercises to inspire you! In the meantime, what can you do to devote daily time to writing?

Let me know!!

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

I can’t believe I forgot November the 5th.

Have you ever had a story grab you in such a way that you couldn’t shake it? As if it touched something deep inside?

A few years ago I was seized by a powerful intrique with an image from an upcoming movie. Soon I fell under the spell of the film and its lead character.

Images, themes and lines from the film had deep resonance. The character became my muse, leading me into new creative places. I discovered an online fandom with new friends and the shared passions and ideas there. It changed my creative life in profound ways.

This year, I forgot to honor November the 5th! The immediacy of those themes of revolution have cooled as my creative work has moved into other areas. But V ignited a flame when he followed in Guy Fawkes footsteps, one that is still burning in my creative life.

Think about books, movies, TV, or even a new story or a friend’s tale. What is it that’s moving in you? What response is eager to arise?

Let me know!

thanks, Patrise

Early writing experiences

from The Children's Drawing Board

The first writing I remember was keeping a diary. Soon after I began to write short stories about horses, my earliest obsession. Since I had consumed all the horse-centered literature available in the children’s section of the library, I decided to write my own.

Those early stories drew on the young persons horse literature tropes of the day. Usually a brave and fiesty stallion evaded capture through speed and cleverness, defended his heard of mares and foals, and struck dramatic poses on the mountain side surveying his domain. I was always the stallion. (An early hint about my gender ‘issues.’)

Today, my writing falls into several catagories: journaling, which has gone online and become interactive; fantasy and fan fiction; blogging, and marketing copy. The journaling and blogging has evolved out of the form of the diary, a desire to create documentary. The marketing copy is one of my coins in the realm. And the fiction is play. My fantasy writing very much parallels the stories  I created as a 10 year old. I am playing with favorite characters and themes and sharing with friends.

What’s the first thing you remember writing? Where did you start your writing practice? How has it changed over time?

Let me know!

blessings, Patrise

Writing about imagery

I got a comment today with a link, and I debated tossing it in the spam bin. Then I went and had a look at funoak.com. It’s a blog that posts series of amusing and interesting photos. Poking around I found a post about Sarolta Ban, a 27 year-old  artist from Budapest, Hungary. She makes intriguing surrealist photo manipulations that I find very beautiful. Find her on Facebook or at her Flickr.

Images can make a wonderful prompt for writing. Go take a look at Sarolta’s pictures, or find another image that grabs you, and write at least 100 words that are inspired by that image!

to find images, go to flickr, photobucket or google: images and search on keywords. You’ll get lots of interesting things to look at!

Drabbling: a fun, easy writing excersize

I’ve learned a fun writing technique in my travels around the Web: the Drabble.

From Fanlore:

Traditionally, a drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly 100 words long. <snip> The term itself comes from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book, which declared the drabble a word game in which two to four players compete to be the first to write a novel.[1] Drabbles emerged within British science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the Birmingham University SF society is credited as being the organization that set the length at 100 words.[1] The form remained popular throughout the decade, and the British science-fiction publisher Beccon put out three books of drabbles between 1988-1993.

Usually a challenge for drabble writing provides a prompt to inspire the writer. Prompts can be words, photos, phrases, songs as well. Here’s a holiday drabble I wrote in response to the prompt: ‘Skating.’  I then searched for a quotation using that word for extra inspiration, and I had a character in mind.

Title: Thin Ice
Author: Patrise

Prompt: Skating

Pairing/characters: a lost boy
Rating: G

Word count: 100

“In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flashes. Hot. No, cold! Dark, light tumbling like a stone. Roaring fills his ears. He sputters, scrabbling on the icy rocks like a mad, blind thing.

“What the…!” someone hauls him up by his collar, bundling him in a rough cloak. “Ye damn fool, on the ice, were ye?” a blurry face appears, breath redolent of pipeweed and firewhisky.”Nuh..” his mouth doesn’t work properly, he can’t recall who he is, much less form a sentence.

“Well, c’mon then, laddie. We’ll get you into something warm and dry.” He staggers after the man lest he melt into the dark forest.


The process of writing 100 words I find strangely pleasing, like carving and polishing something to it’s essential form. There are phrases and words I don’t want to let go of, but then find a more concise way of portraying.

In case you’d like to try your hand at drabbling,  here’s a three-word prompt:

  • spire
  • tranquility
  • reveal

Use these three words in your 100 word story, and post them in your comment!

November is for NaNoWriMo, and blogging!

If you are a writer you may know about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, now in it’s twelfth year. My writer friends gear up for NaNo by preparing plots and outlines and committing to a daily word count goal, and aim to achieve at least 50,000 words in November. Go watch the short video on the NaNo home page, and check out the wealth of resources! The pep talks are great, even if you aren’t up for 50,000 words this month.  Next time you’re in a cafe, look around at the laptop users. They may even be sporting a WriMo button or mug. So pick up your laptop or pen,  join the cheering section and encourage someone you know.

NaBloWriMoAlas, October was National Blog Writing Month (NaBloWriMo), and I missed the boat! as one who is guilty of letting her blog languish, I am going to support my sisters and brothers in word and write a post each day on Art, Spirit, Nature. Naturally, I am a day late. **facepalm**

I’m an artist who occasionally writes, so the written word is not my primary means of expression. But I love the feel of writing, and I seek out that kind of flow when the days grow short and the fireplace becomes the heart of the house. Comfy chair, cat, laptop, fire and a cup of tea will conjour the word-smithing spell around me.

As a non-writer, taking on a writing challenge gives me more appreciation for the  form. I pay more and better attention to what I read. I’ve learned a great deal from hanging out with writers online – about the challenges and techniques for creating written work, inspiring more respect for all writers. Much like painting sharpens my eye and makes the world sparkle more brightly, the words in a novel or essay ring with more depth, and I can savour them like wine.

So, follow me, dear friends, and put a few words down of your own.

More tomorrow!!

Sugar in the Ground

It’s been a great year for butterflies. I’ve seen winged things in drifts coming to my butterfly bush, lantana, inpatiens and lobelia, including species I’ve not often seen. Something called the Great Spangled Fritillary paid a visit, American Copper, many varieties of Swallowtail and a profusion of the magical Luna moth have been abundant this year.

This morning I was to the garden early, and as I unlatched the gate a cloud of yellow Swallowtail rose from the green, followed by red cardinals and a few bluebirds. I’ve been suffering a bit of depressive lethargy lately, and I had to coax myself out of bed, but I was so richly rewarded for my slight effort!  I didn’t have to struggle or sweat for it, just show up and pay attention.

I am a child-free woman by choice, and so my maternal drives arise around my animals and, I am discovering, my plants. When I see my little veggie plot, I feel a rush of pride and worry and curiosity and love, and without hesitation set to work watering the thirsty tomatoes.

It’s time to plant the fall crops, and I have plenty of space where earlier plants have come and gone. Yellow bush beans were a huge success. My zuchinni was like a dragon that gave and gave and gave. Onions and chard and cukes have all finished for now. My garden mentor has already dug her potatoes and turned the earth, planting spinach, chard, lettuces, kale, broccolli, carrots and more. I have much to do.

I move the hose about, giving everyone a good soak. I pluck the ripe tomatoes, of which I seem to have 4 distinct types so far: orange grape, romas, Burpee hybrids that are perfectly round, and another volunteer that is medium-small but not a cherry variety. This week I made a batch of sauce — oh, my fragrant and delicious, the fire of summer went right into the freezer. Now I’m gearing up for some real canning — that will be a first in many years. It’s long since time to pull the beets, as that will free up the largest plot I have  for fall crops. The beet tops are bitten and dry but the woody shoulders standing above the soil promise fat roots below. As I rinse and trim their tops, I can see the vivid magenta inside.

As an artist, I know I feed on the lusciousness of colour, but I’m not the only one. Those butterflies, as well as the hummingbirds and bees, come to sip from brilliantly coloured flowers. Yellow buddleia, orange lantana, red and pink impatiens, purple lobelia, and all the sunny oranges, reds, pinks and yellows of the zinnias in my vegetable garden call to the sugar-seekers.

I’m holding a fat beet in my hand, marveling at the bright pink and magenta target revealed when I sliced off it’s woody top. Hot pink stains my hand, and I’m drawn into a favorite  childhood memory:

Once peach season arrived, the family would pile in the boat to go up the River Snye to the Ontario town of Wallaceburg. The river had a no-wake law– effectively, a speed limit– so our sleek and speedy boat idled  for an hour or so along the placid river through fields and orchards. Some farmers with roadside stands had a dock for river traffic, and we’d get a bushel of peaches for canning.

As we drew near the town, the blue-green water grew murky, then brown. As we came around the bend to see the first bridge the water was distinctly red. By the time we passed the beet sugar plant, the V of our wake was in  red-raspberry water, and the foamy waves were pink.  We passed the plant, and the water turned back to it’s usual sea green-blue, clear with waving river grasses and sandy bottom below.

I never saw that pink river as pollution; it was a short season, and the red beet colour disappeared before it ever reached the big river. More I marveled at the snowy white bag of sugar that came from those dark red roots we dug from our own garden.

I’ve heard it said that our colour vision may have evolved to help us get good nutrition. Think of the foods rich in vitamins and nutrients: carrots, blueberries, tomatoes, not to mention the chlorophyll that ultimately feeds us all. Those butterflies heed the signal blazed by the flowers: sweetness here!

As I pluck the warm tomatoes from the vine and imagine them bubbling in the pot, destined for jars of sauce, I’m delighted by the summer sun captured for me. And when I open that jar some wintry night and enjoy the contents. may I remember the ruby fire of  summer, and the brilliant colours of the garden calling : “Sweetness Here!”

Eating Flowers, and the Wonders of Dirt

A Perfect Dinner

Last night’s dinner was so beautiful I should have taken a photo. It was a stir-fry of zuccini, new onion and spring garlic, bok choy, thyme and thai basil, with bow-tie pasta. All the produce was freshly picked moments earlier from my own garden. The crowning touch, the brushstroke that made it ‘pop’ was when I tossed in the squash blossoms at the very end. Their dazzling tendrils or bright orange amid the green and white was the colour it needed to make a beautiful painting.

In order to acquire that dinner, I have been working the soil in my tiny plot since March. I’ve turned the clay, added compost, rotted leaves and manure, turned it again. Built beds with cedar poles from an old tobacco barn. Tenderly tucked seeds and plantlets into the dirt and watered them with encouraging words.Pulled out seedlings of things I didn’t plant.

Yesterday after harvesting I had a few new plants to put in. The clouds thickened into a wet dark grey mass, and rain fell in fat drops, pelting the large leaves of the zuccini plant with an audible “thwap!” I dug faster as the surface began to run with rivulets of muddy water. Thunder and lightning ensued. My dogs cowered under a nearby tree, rather put out by my behavior. At one point they were barking at me. I persisted: If I buy a plant it must go in the ground within 24 hours.

Finally, soaking wet but triumphant, my two new heirloom tomatoes, two New Mexican peppers and some new herbs were in their new home in earth.

Earth. Dirt. Soil.

We walk on it, it feeds us, it is the raw material from which some say we are made. Our words diminish its value: “dirty,” “soiled;” or celebrate its humble power: “earthy,” “grounded.”  Here’s a paragraph about this stuff, from Annie Proulx’s amazing novel That Old Ace in the Hole — a book I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who loves beautiful language, touching characters, and the interactions of people and place:

In his mind’s eye he saw the panhandle earth immemorially used and tumbled by probing grass roots, the cutting hooves of bison, scratchings of ancient turkeys, horses shod and unshod pounding along, the cut of iron-rimmed wheels, the slicing plow and pulverizing harrow, drumming hail, the vast scuffings of trailed cattle herds, the gouge of drill bits and scrape of bulldozers, inundations of chemicals. What was left was a kind of worn, neutral stuff, a brownish dust possessing only utility.

This year, with my first kitchen garden in 10 years, the soil is my canvas. (LOL, for those wondering where the “art” was in “Art•Spirit•Nature, this may be the explanation!) And I am learning to grow and eat close to home in healing ways that are beautiful and nourishing to all, not just myself. I hope you will enjoy this art as much as the painted kind. If you’re in the neighborhood, come over and help me eat it!

Green Fire: the force that through the green fuse* feeds the world

In the buzzing radiance of the  garden, everything I see is alive. My neighbors looked up from tending their plants as my dog runs a woodchuck into the woods. “Good dog! Protecting the garden!” they cheered. (NB: no groundhogs were harmed making this blog.)

Every plot in this community garden is different: Here edges made with locust logs, for their rot resistance. There, someone has used tree branches for trellising. Another has tomatoes suspended by adjustible twine to lend support as they grow. Some still rich bare earth, others bushy with green. Some weedy, with bolting kale waving yellow blossoms. A hill of strawberries, crinkled leaves all jaunty, and such treasure beneath the green!

My half-plot is all the way down the end, so I admire the changes as I arrive, tools in hand. It’s the first vegetable garden I’ve grown in 10 years, and my first experience with a community garden. I took on a half, since at 12 x 15′ it’s already bigger than my last successful city garden. I learned long ago that bigger can be too much, and I really want this to succeed.

My nearest garden neighbors are in Afghanistan, and their strawberries are burgeoning with fruit, even though many of us gardeners have been harvesting by pints and quarts. I taste a few, crushing the warm sweet berry on my tongue as I survey the changes from two days ago.  I see that since spreading home compost I have hundreds of tiny tomato plants coming up, and two fast growing squash-pumpkin-gourd-melon things. Plus, peach pits!  My french breakfast radishes are popping out of the soil, asking to be plucked. The little beets are crowding more, and I thin and thin until I have a nice pile of beet greens for supper. More potato plants are crowning through the soil  and my own tiny strawberry patch has 2 ready to eat gems. Next year, sweet abundance!

garden harvest for May 15, 2010
mmm, organic goodies

While I am admiring the potatoes, my neighbor K warns me about potato bugs. She takes me to another plot to see them. At first glance, they are roundish and orange with spots and might remind one of the beneficial ladybug. But no, I look closer: these fiendish beasties are actively chomping the leaves in a voracious manner! She shows me how to pluck them (less pleasant that picking berries, alas) and I squash them with a plank. MY potatoes.

I spend an hour or so puttering: pulling weeds, harvesting , setting up a field washing system so less grit goes through my drains at home. I transplant one mystery gourd to a nearby untended plot — if it’s pumpkin, gourd or melon, I don’t have the space — and feed some of the feeble looking plants more top dressing  of composted manure. My dogs have come to rest in the shade outside the gate, and the birds swoop overhead and chatter on the fence. I sow some new seeds: Russian Kale and climbing beans. I stow my tools and admire the box of greens and reds I take home.

*Link to Dylan Thomas poem The Force that through the Green Fuse drives the Flower