Creative Impulse

Often, we seem to think that creativity is an uncontrollable impulse. It seems that all kinds of creative endeavors, from photography to painting or fabric arts to sculpture or writing to metalwork, are dependent upon the fickle and capricious appearance of this impulse. It comes and goes as it will and we are at this muse’s whim.

However, this may not be exactly as full an understanding of creativity as we might think. I’m not convinced that we are utterly at the mercy of creativity’s impulsive nature. Ray Bradbury’s book, Zen In the Art of Writing,  gives many good ideas on how to tame the muse or, put another way, find ways to stimulate creativity and not be continually at the mercy of its appearance (or absence).

A recent post on a chainmailing blog I follow has some fantastic ideas as well. Actually, they are ideas that come from some seasoned artists. The post summarizes the various suggestions and recommends some good books to read. It’s an excellent post and well worth the read! And these are good ideas and suggestions whether your vocation includes a creative component or if you need creative sparks in any area of your life.

For me, the very best things that have helped me remain creative personally and professional are simple: write every day even if it is a seemingly uninspiring journal entry, read both fiction and non fiction as much as I can, put intentional focus on the details, patterns, colors, people, animals and natural elements of the world around me, and when I realize I am stuck with a project(which usually occurs about 3 hours into stuck-ness) I get up and do something completely different for a while.

Of course, sometimes creativity simply won’t flow. There’s a reason why people sometimes equate a time when they cannot get moving creatively as dry and desert like. It seems that these times are a little like the times when people come to see me for pastoral care. In a crisis, even a mild one, our vision becomes narrowed. We see fewer options, see less support, help, and connections to our world around us. It is as if we are seeing, thinking and feeling with blinders on.  We remove those, or at least shift them out a bit, when we move out of ourselves and broaden our vision. The same is true for creativity.

Got ways you spark your creativity? I’d love to hear about it!


A Diet, Mini Vacation and Strident Feminism

You know how life can be humming along splendidly… busily… ok, to be honest here, Frantically, and you suddenly realize you haven’t posted a blog entry in quite a while? Yup, me too.

When I first got into blogging many years ago I had been, for some time, a regular reader of many blogs. Something I found to be true for most every blog was the presence of intermittent periods of silence. You don’t notice it so much, especially if you’re reading ‘back issues’, until you get to that ubiquitous apology post. You know the one I mean. It’s usually titled something like “Long Time Since Posting” or “Re-Entering the Blogosphere.” I hate those things! Certainly, I’m guilty of these kinds of posts as well and when you read the Dummies’ or Idiots’ (or some other word from the self-deprecator’s list of common ways to minimize your own brain) Guide to Blogging you discover the worst, most cardinal of sins you can do when blogging is to not post on a regular basis. I’m wondering if this might be the source of all the bowing and scraping and “mea maxima culpa”s we blogauthors do. Perhaps it is also sprinkled with the tiniest bit of hope that somewhere… out there in the vast and endless chasm that is the INTERNET teeming with up to the minute news on Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians, wikis on everything you could dream of, porn, questionable news stories that sound like they are from The Onion but aren’t, youtube, literally countless things on which to spend your money via paypal, Amazon (mordor!), tons of things you wish you could unsee and unknow, and lost emails dancing around with all those socks missing in the wash over the years… somewhere out there in all of that soupy mess may be someone who missed our tiny digital life while we didn’t post for a few days. Or decades.

Well, I’m just not going to do it. Not this time. I’m not going to apologize to you, dear reader (if you are indeed out there) because I think most likely it doesn’t matter so much and it is a little bit like callers to the Diane Rhem Show on NPR where every single caller feels compelled to tell Diane how much they love her and religiously listen to her show and how many times they miss the stoplight turning green because they were so wrapped up in her discussion. I imagine she is thinking, as she graciously thanks the two millionth caller for their kind words, “Great, now can we get on with it.”

Yes, Diane, let’s get on with it.

Recently I spent four lovely days in Savanna, GA at a fantastic bed and breakfast. I love Savanah and walked all over its not-yet-too-hot streets. Photos to follow at some point. Also a fantastic spa day as well. No photos to follow of that.

I am on a diet, have lost 7 pounds and feel really good. No fast food in 26 days and I’m confident that alone has reduced my cholesterol by at least 2,000 points. I plan to write more on this and the connection between diet and body image.

Just finished reading (and listening on audio book while running up and down the highway non stop for work stuff) to How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. I love her. Truly. And here’s why:caitlin_moran_5048

1. She makes lists. A lot of them. And I LOVE lists!

2. She’s British and sounds really cool. Not the posh accent that we Americans think automatically makes them smarter than us, like Hugh Grant or the Queen. No, it’s the cooler kind of sound like some rock & roll star and we think, “If I were British, I’d sound like that and I’d be COOL!”

3. She is a feminist. A strident feminist in fact and does a pretty good reflection on feminism.

4. She’s the kind of feminist I feel I could really talk to and possibly disagree with. Frankly, I’d be afraid to disagree with Germaine Greer or bell hooks or those like them because they are smarter than me in some sort of wholly undefinable way that makes me think I have to just take it all and say Thank You. But Caitlin….she’s still clearly smart but, perhaps because she’s from my own generation, I think I’m just fine disagreeing or agreeing with her. I don’t feel that I’d be disrespecting the great matriarchs of feminism if I said, “yeah Caitlin, I just don’t know about all that.” She’d probably take a drag off her cigarette and say, “Well then, crack on with it!”

5. She has messy hair. I have messy hair, too. Not quite in the same way of course, but maybe it’s not the end of the world to have messy hair.

6. There’s more but I’m tired of listing so I’m going to stop now. Because I can. And I have more to say on it all as well but I’m going to stop now for the same reason.

So, that’s the end of what I’ve been doing lately. Not entirely but it’s a fair summation of the highlights.

Oh and by the way, I really am kinda sorry I haven’t posted lately. I’ll work on it 😉

Writers and Their Reading

This week I was delighted to be invited to guest post at a fantastic blog belonging to one fantastic lady! Rochelle Melander over at Write Now Coach! is not only an excellent writer, she has a gift for helping others write and, perhaps most significantly, helping writers complete their writing.

She sometimes invites writers to write about what they love to read and boy, do I love to read! So, this was right up my alley. Stop by and take a gander. While you’re at it, check out the rest of her blog because it has some really great things to help with writing of all kinds!

Play Your Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One

I loved this book! I loved it so very much! I feel like some sort of silly fan-girl that can only say that with a gleeful smile and clutch the book desperately to my heart. But it’s true…so very true.

For one thing, it’s right in my genre wheelhouse! Wars and battles and intrigue. The honorable and the dishonorable. Dysfunctional families and friends to die for. Kings and queens and knights, commoners and tavern keepers, prostitutes and sellswords, warrior girls and bastards, direwolves and crows. Oh yeah, that’s my people! Because you see, as Tyrion Lannister says, “I have a fondness for cripples, bastards and broken things.”

Actually, when I started reading this first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin, I thought it seemed remarkably shallow and predictable. The ugly were bad, the beautiful were good. The men were either heroes or villains and the women were either villains or in need of rescuing. But that impression was shattered rather quickly. Certainly there were some who fit these nice little steriotypes but there were far more characters with greater complexity. Close to the end of this novel, I started thinking about my first impression and how remarkably nuanced some of the characters actually are. So much so, in fact, that I am genuinely uncertain as to whether or not some of the continuing characters are on the good side or the bad side.  And, for that matter, I’m not certain whose side I’m on because, at least at the moment, there might be more than one good side to be on!

In short, it is the story of a kingdom that had been unified through a great war waged by the king, Robert Baratheon, and his friend, Eddard Stark, and all the difficulty and unrest that still exists in the land amongst the peoples of different regions. In that way, it reminded me of stories of Uther Pendragon. A great warrior who unified a land through warfare and hammered together by brute force a kingdom from marginally loyal regions. In Robert’s case, it is truly hammered together by his great war hammer that crushed the previous ruler. While there is the unrest of political intrigue throughout the land, there is also a faceless looming threat to the north on the other side of a great ice wall. Winter is coming and it is coming in a land where summers stretch on for decades but so does the time of darkness and cold.

Many have watched the HBO series Game of Thrones but I have not yet done so but plan to. What follows is a SPOILER if you’ve not watched the series or read this first book

************SPOILER SPOILER***************

Oh My God They Killed Ned!  Eddard Stark was one of my favorites, perhaps my absolute. And I was stunned when they lopped off his head. Stunned, I tell you! It isn’t just because Sean Bean plays him in the series (although he was killed early on in Fellowship of the Ring, but never mind that now) but because he was so integral to the story! Ned straddled the old world before Robert was king, the current world of relative though tentative order and justice and we readers….at least This Reader… had every reason to assume he was going to be one of the old guard moving into the new chaos. Oh boy was I wrong! Did Joss Wheedon consult on this? I was so upset when he was executed right after he had given his false confession to save the lives of his family. Noooooooooooooooo!!!!

Then, just a bit later, Jon Snow deserts the Black Watch. Once again, I shouted Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!! I swore that if Martin killed that character, too, I wasn’t going to ever read another book by him again. Ever. Of course his friends, in a remarkably moving moment, track him down to bring him home, circling him and reciting the vow they all swore to the Black Watch. His direwolf didn’t even stop them, so clearly was it right for him to return to the Watch. Whew! I was so relieved Snow wasn’t going to lose his head, too! I loved Ned, Jon Snow, Arya, Catelyn and even Tyrion. I was also fond of Drogo and was sad when he died, too, but it was not unexpected. And I loved the direwolves! I often wonder about how the story would be different if told from another perspective and since there are so many storytellers in this book, that nearly eliminates this little game for me. Except for the direwolves. I’d love to hear the same stories told from their different views.

But if there is a character that I am curious about it is the Hound. Sandor Clegan is interesting to me because he is not a knight and will not take knight’s vows though I believe he would readily be made one, is terribly scarred from his brother’s heinous violence and, at least in my view, shows remarkable kindness for one so callous to Sansa Stark. He also seems to fit into this interesting theme (one of many themes it appears) of cripples, bastards and broken things. I, like Tyrion, have a fondness for the broken things of the world.

Another big question I’m hoping the next book answers for me is: what exactly is on the other side of that wall guarded by the Black Watch? What kind of undead ice zombie was it that Jon Snow killed? What happened to Benjen Stark? What is it that walks in the long dark nights of winter?

****End Spoilers******

So, I look forward to the next book in the series, A Clash Of Kings. I’ve taken a break from Ice and Fire for just a bit since my summer reading stack is so very high and am reading something very different. City of Thieves by David Benioff. It is cold in WWII Russia, so it will likely prepare me to dive into the next Martin book. After all, winter is coming.

Summer Reading Stack 2012

Summer is here! A new grill sits proudly in the driveway awaiting her next full belly of charcoal, the window AC unit is chugging along full blast and the yard dances with firefly promenades every evening. There’s nothing but flip flops by the door and the cats look for opportunities to escape to the exotic land of birds, squirrels and other small critters. So if all that is happening, then it is once again time for the Summer Reading Stack!  Wooo Hooo!

Actually this is the short stack. I didn’t want to take the time to drag together all the books I’ve got in piles for the upcoming few months, so here’s the ‘best of’ list.

Currently, I am about knee deep in the first of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones.  It is awesome and I’m a little obsessed. Of course, this is not an uncommon occurrence for either me or for readers of this series.  It is quite good and since this is perhaps my favorite genre, I feel quite at home with this story. The book is in such poor shape, I was almost ashamed to put it at the top of the pile for everyone to see! I accidentally got it soaking wet. But it’s so good, the ruffled pages only add to its charm.

Also, while we’re in the lands of the Starks, Lannisters, Tullys and others, I’ve also got The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook on the stack. Recently I have discovered that there is, in fact, an Official Game of Thrones Cookbook. I’m certain it’s cool as well. I’ll be steering clear of the blood sausage, thank you very much, but there are some quite delicious sounding meals in there I’m looking forward to trying.

Next is City of Thieves by David Benioff.  (Not to be confused with City of Thieves by Cyrus Moore. Probably a fine book, but not really my speed.) It’s set in WWII Natzi besieged Leningrad (which is, by the way, entirely more my speed) and though I’ve only covered the first chapter or so, it’s really good. Reads sort of like a memoir in a way. Came highly recommended from one of my most trusted book sources, so it promises to be great. Also  the author wrote the screenplays for the movies Brothers and X-Men Origins: Wolverine which are fine marks in his favor.

Three books in the stack are loaners. The Grizzly Years by Doug Peacock, and Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez are both environmental books that look great. Spunk by Zora Neal Hurston is a collection of her short stories. Since Hurston is the author of one of my life long favorite books, I’m looking forward to that one.

Then there is Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I’ve started and put down this book twice, but it’s not the fault of the book. Met the author and she seemed really great so I am looking forward to reading her book and this time I will read beyond the first chapter!

Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell. Woodrell has written several books, one of the latest is Outlaw Album, but he is probably best known for Winter’s Bone.

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith. He wrote Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and at least one other preternaturally revisioned classic.  This one is about the three kings in the Christmas (or, if you will pardon the liturgical perfectionist in me, the Epiphany) story…. with a twist.

China Mieville’s latest, Railsea, was an ARC sent to me by the publisher and so far I’ve been negligent in reading the Man With the Big Words.  Mieville’s massive and artfully used vocabulary is always a refreshing challenge, but one I must be prepared for with dictionary in hand so it may be at the end of the summer before I get to him. In the mean time let me just say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious antidisestablishmentarianism! Take that Mieville!

On the bottom of the pile is Ron Rash’s The Cove. Clearly, this is an indication that the stack is in no particular order! When it was first released, I got about half way through with this but had to take a break. I’d just read Land More Kind Than Home and re read Serena and I suddenly found myself overfull of this part of the state and had to break for a bit. It is, of course, a beautiful, rich, deep and dark story compellingly written so I long to return to it soon.

So, there it is. The short stack.

Prepare yourself, O mighty grill full of charcoal! Chug on, window AC! The Summer awaits!

My Poetry Is Magnetic

Often I have wondered if self-help groups that deal with phobias could be formed around the “anonymous” idea. Sort of like the AA/NA groups.

Hello, my name is Rosemary and I am a shop, craft, book, choco, film -aholic.

Hello Rosemary!

It would be great! No one wants to admit their fears any more than an addiction. Groups could gather together and share in the same sort of safe-space as the -aholics. Except it would be -phobes.

Hello, my name is Rosemary and I am a Poetry-phobe.

Hello Rosemary!

Yes, I’ll confess it here to the great wide gaping electronic masses since there is no PA (Poetryphobes Anonymous). Just remember this is all confidential, ok? I am afraid of poetry.

Years ago I had a refrigerator full of poetry. I mean, of course, magnetic poetry. These tiny slivers of lodestone printed with words gave me hours of joy. They strike me now as a verbal equivalent of disposable cameras or those little all-inclusive crafting kits in bargain book sections of the mega book marts. Cute but not very substantial.

But oh how I loved them! I used to think that if I ever wrote a memoir I would call it My Poetry Is Magnetic. It would have to be published by No. 2 Pencil Press. There is no real danger of this ever actually occurring, so do not bother coming up with apologies for not pre-ordering.

Eventually, all those tiny words ended up in the trash. Stuck together in little clumps, huddled and clinging to one another in their abandoned state and smashed between wet coffee grounds and half empty take out containers. I don’t exactly remember why I threw them out. Probably because some boyfriend made fun of me. Maybe there was some sort of passive-aggressive content by which he was offended and he retaliated with jeering sneers. Maybe I thought it was time to put such cutesy things behind me.

Or perhaps I saw quite clearly that I was not then nor would I ever be a poet and the esoteric delft braiding of words into such a beautiful creature as a poem was as far beyond my fingers as weaving a spider’s web. In defense, I built a wall between me and Verse and said, ‘I don’t understand this.’ I made my own sneering snarks about my lack of ability to become a beret wearing emo girl and, therefore, could never relate to poetry. You see, unchecked consumption of poetry might lead to attending readings in darkened clubs where ultra hip people dressed in all black and lit by a single spotlight recite deeply emotional renditions of their grocery lists composed in iambic pentameter or a series of haiku extoling the virtues of some obscure facet of their intense and dramatic lives.

But the truth is I am afraid of it. I stand before Poetry as a wet-behind-the-ears kid bearing a crinkled lunch bag stands before the school on the first day of the first grade imagining all manner of terrors that lie behind the doors. It is risky. It bears the hallmark of vulnerability. Poetry is, frankly, fraught with danger and the mysterious unknown rhythms with which I do not wish to engage in an undue familiarity. What if I accidentally liked bad poetry? I mean really bad poetry that should be obvious to all hearers is complete drivel and I, in my ignorance, might not realize it. What if I [gasp] wrote a poem and it truly was a horrid thing that left me standing, wounded, open handed and open mouthed before the wizened worldly ones experienced in the gnostic methods of verse who cackled mercilessly at my foolishness?

No. I am safe here behind my wall of not understanding.

A few months ago I accidentally read some poetry. It was not on purpose. When I bought the book, the guy at the bookstore said, “you’ll like it.” Was that some kind of warning or a dare? “Oh, it’s not for me,” I said, reaching out to touch that old familiar safety barrier between me and Poetry. “It’s a gift. I don’t understand poetry.” Then it happened. I was stuck at the laundromat and had forgotten to bring the book I’d been reading. In semi-desperation I opened the only one I had. It was a book of Ron Rash’s poetry titled Waking. Who on earth writes a poem about a fish whose name means “ugly pike” (the muskellunge)? Or about men cleaning their fingers with pocket knives and wearing grooves into porches with their rocking chairs? I guess he does. And it was good. At least in my small world once lined with magnetic words, it was good.

Then I actually went to a poetry reading. I have no idea how I ended up going because I never remember saying I’d be there. But there I was. Not a beret in sight. The room was brightly lit. The woman who read was just about as far from emo as I am. (For the record, I doubt Rash has ever donned a beret either.) It was so…… normal. I thought maybe it wasn’t real poetry. After all, I kinda liked it and I don’t understand poetry so there must be something amiss. No, I learned from an objective source, it was indeed real poetry and pretty good at that.

I have to be cautious now so that I don’t accidentally end up at another poetry event. However, I have conceded to an invitation to attend one in the future. So far I’ve felt no urge to don any kind of French headwear but at the first sign of this, I will run away as fast as my legs will carry me! I may have read another book of poetry, too, but I’m not ready to confess that just yet.

I still don’t understand poetry…. but maybe I don’t have to.

A Land More Kind Than Home

I’ve often wondered how many people quote Thomas Wolfe in their books. Either the title or some dedication or other such thing. Seems to be a trend. I’ve never been a huge Wolfe fan, though I’ll admit a deep love of both the grave marker and the title of Look Homeward Angel and the John Milton poem he quotes for it. “Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth: And O Ye dolphins waft the hapless youth.” (Lycidas 163-164) But, I digress even before I begin.

Wiley Cash’s first novel bears a title that comes from the Wolfe’s pen. “Something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth”—You Can’t Go Home Again.

A Land More Kind Than Home

A land more kind than home. There is some kindness in this story, and surprising kindness as well, but there’s some sincere hardness as well. Any good story has both and you can’t really have redemption without them.

This is a story told by three different narrators; a young boy, the sheriff and an older woman. Their voices are as familiar to me as my own family perhaps because Cash does an excellent job of capturing the Madison County speech and heart. He does so with all of the characters but particularly with the female narrator, the turn of whose phrases feel like comfortable, well worn paths in the memories of my father’s people.

The narrative centers around the events at a small store-front church in Marshal, NC. The first sign that something is happening there that shouldn’t be is the fact that the windows are covered over with newspaper so no one can see inside. This is what is often called a ‘snake-handling church’, however it is more than this practice that makes it into something quite unlike a church at all. The pastor, Carson Chambliss, is a holy man with a messiah complex as dangerous as a pit of rattlesnakes. At his church there is a fine line between being saved and being lost; healing and death. A fine and blurry line. Along with Pastor Chambliss there are Ben and Julie, their two children Jess and Christopher, their alcoholic and violent grandfather Jimmy, Sheriff Clem Barefield who’s memory of the son he lost some years before returns with force, and the Sunday school teacher and midwife Adelaide. These make up the cast of this southern gothic small mountain town epic.

As things start to go wrong at the church with an unfortunate accidental death of an older parishioner due to a snake bite, Addie decides that the only thing she can do in the face of this dangerous situation is to get the children out of the worship service. She becomes an enemy of Chambliss then, as does anyone who contradicts him and his borderline black magic power disguised as Christian faith. Chambliss and some of his church members seem more like mafia thugs than anything else but his charismatic personality seems to draw people into his spell. Especially a wife distanced from her husband and desperate to find some healing for her son’s disability.

In one way the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ of this novel seem easily distinguishable and underlined in bright, broad strokes, but in another, not so much. Storms and other weather activities provide the obvious backdrop to increased tension and the heightening of conflict. Chambliss, surrounded by snakes and half covered in burns, is clearly the bad guy and there’s not much of anything redeemable about him. Addie is equally clearly the good woman put in a bad place and trying her best to fight the evil the only way she can. So, too, is this true of the Sheriff and the vulnerable brothers, Jess and Christopher, who seem to be basically good despite difficulties and challenges. And yet, there are other characters here that are far more ambiguous. Jimmy Hall, far and away my favorite character, is one of those who we expect to see a certain way in a black and white world but who may not be purely either one.

For the record, I have no idea why Jimmy is my favorite character. There isn’t any good reason for it. He just is. Perhaps it is because there is, amid a whole lot of waste, voilence and regretable choices, something that is redeemable and hopeful. When I read a good story, I sometimes wonder who the story is really about. Good stories are not always truly about the main characters and this book in particular is ambiguous as to who the “main” character or characters actually are in the first place. But maybe it is Jimmy who is looking for a land more kind than home.

I definitely recommend this book. It is not what I would call light summer reading by any means, but it is well worth the time and emotion to read it! I would probably never have noticed it had it not been for the recommendation of someone else, and for that I am grateful. It is a good, solid first novel and I look forward to seeing what Wiley Cash will write in the future.

+As a seperate aside for any pastors or church leaders who might be reading this review: I highly recomend this as a cautionary tale. It is a good example of a pastoral ego out of control and the evil (and I do mean evil) that can be wrought by it. While we would like to think that this is fiction and would never happen in a church we know, especially if our congregations don’t do anything as extreem as incorporating snakes in worship as a test of faith, we are fooling ourselves if we do not recognize the true source of danger here as not a serpent but a human being.