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!


The Hills Remember

writing assignment: choose a title or cover from a book on a shelf and use that as a starting point.

The Hills Remember

The hills re4member my father. He used to talk to them, imagine them, dream with them, pine for them when he was away for too long. He walked them plowed them, loved them.

“I lift mine eyes unto the hills,” he would say every time he returned home, “whence commeth my strength.” It was not a question as the psalmist would have it. It was his declaration. He knew from whence his help, his strength, his all came frometh; those mountains.

During the time of the great second war he wrote home from France and Germany in words that never pretended not to be homesick. He saw horrible things but also beautiful ones as well. “It is all really pretty,” he wrote from the countryside somewhere between France and Germany, “the Land, I mean. But it ain’t none of it as pretty as our mountains!” All he wanted to do was return to these mountains; these rolling hills that never forget.

I stand on the earth, toes gripping, sinking roots down deep. The ancient hills roll out all around me as far as the eye can see. Soon, as the sun sets, the mountains will leap up and catch the fire ball, pulling him down below their horizons.

If my father were alive he would be 90 years old today. But he does not walk these hills any more, at least not with feet of flesh and bone. But the hills do remember him and so do I.

I lift my eyes to the hills from whence commeth my strength.

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!

City of Thieves

After finishing Game of Thrones, I was totally in book-hangover mode. I wanted to read something completely different but it had to be completely good, too. With that in mind, I chose City of Thieves by David Benioff and was not disappointed. And yet, I often wonder if it is worthwhile to write a review of a book that’s been out for a while. City of Thieves has been out since ’08, so I considered skipping a review. However, it is so good, it’s worth it!

It’s fiction but it has a sort of non-fiction feel to it. Memoir-ish, I guess. Set in WWII Russia’s St Petersburg, the story centers around the journey…that is survival…well I guess journey and survival and friendship of two young men. One, Koyla, is a deserter from the Red Army. Or maybe he’s not. Or maybe he is. The other is Lev, the 17 year old son of a Jewish executed poet. It is Lev who gives voice to the story and his not quite grown up and not quite boy perspective, somewhat jaded by the incredibly harsh realities of war and Russian winter, make the story funny in places, unforgettably cold and truly beautiful in others.

The two are given a unique opportunity to escape execution for their crimes (desertion and stealing from a dead German soldier’s body) by procuring a dozen eggs for a locally powerful leader who needs them so his wife can prepare a cake for their daughter’s wedding. There is a stark contrast between a city so starved that people sell ‘library candy’ made from the glue in books and the comparative luxury of a wedding that includes a cake. Cannibals lure in victims, the dead are pretty much everywhere, and the German planes fly above the city, bombing random buildings. Life is remarkably cheap.

And yet, it isn’t at all cheap. It seems to be, at least in Lev’s telling, precious. Despite all the starvation and daily facing potential death from one of a dozen angles, he is still a young man who worries about whether or not he will ever be brave, the fact that his nose is too big and his shyness around women. Amid an overwhelming mass of inhumanity that would dishearten most anyone, the less-than-jovial Lev seems to have not lost his humanity despite the fact that he certainly isn’t an optimist. One of my favorite scenes is an exchange between Lev and another character after one of their traveling companions has been killed by a German soldier.

“Markov’s not important,” she said. “I’m not important. You’re not important. Winning the war, that’s the only important thing.”

“No,” I said, “I disagree. Markov was important. So am I and so are you. That’s why we have to win.”

Lev’s traveling companion and friend is Koyla and, in contrast to Lev, he is nearly always up beat, full of energy and confidence. His bravado both saves them and puts them in harm’s way multiple times and his charm is an excellent counterpoint to Lev’s less sparkling personality. But there is more to Koyla than just comic relief or counterpoint and by the end of the book, I really liked this character even though I started out thinking he was an irritating jerk.

Every so often, there are passages that will stick with you for both the image created in the mind and the sheer beauty of perception. In one scene, Lev and his companions witness the burning of a little town:

“The fire was silent, the little houses collapsing into the flames without complaint, flocks of sparks rising to the sky. At a distance it seemed beautiful, and I thought it was strange that powerful violence is often so pleasing to the eye…”

I really recommend this book strongly. It is well written without a single extra or un-useful word in the entire thing. However, it is punctuated with violence so it is good to go into it knowing this is no light hearted coming-of-age story. After all, it is WWII Russia, so it wasn’t ever going to be a comedy.

David Benioff has also written The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over, neither of which I’ve read but certainly are worth putting on the list!

Forgive the ubiquitous plug for the local bookstore, but I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been suggested by one of the people at the small indie bookstore in town. I’m certain that the most complex formula Amazonianite programmers could come up with would never have considered this book for me. But a real person who knows me did.


City of Thieves

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!