Figments

survivalsm

Creative Survival

It’s been a long time again, but it’s not been laziness that’s kept me from posting here. Without exaggeration, and without unnecessary detail, I can say that my world imploded. In the space of two days the life I thought I had, vanished. In the months since, I have started from scratch. New home, new job, new friends, new future.

All of us, I’m sure, have occasionally fantasized about picking up, moving on, and starting over. If only I could go somewhere far away, we think. Then I’d be someone new. As though a change of scenery could allow us to throw off our identity like an old coat.

But as William James so memorably put it, even “The most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of the old order standing.” Bumping up against that realization can be pretty disheartening, especially if you’re committed to self-improvement.

According to some neuroscientists, over 95% of the thoughts we think each day are the same thoughts we had the day before. In other words, our trains of thought go mostly ‘round the same old track, clickity-clack, clickity-clack. We think in habitual patterns, turning over the same fears, the same hurts, the same if-onlys as the day before, all the while imagining ourselves to be living in the present moment.

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butterflylady

The Experience of Creativity

During my “blog-cation” I’ve been busy with a number of projects, including working with my agent to find a home for a biography I wrote (and co-wrote). Happily, that book has now found a home and will be published next year. More details on that soon.

What’s been occupying most of my time, though, is developing a creativity workshop. I’ve been chipping away at this particular mountain for a few years now, not because it’s been difficult, but because there’s soooo much to say. Studying creativity is inspiring and possibly endless. One discovery leads to another, which leads to another and quite often I feel like I’ve bumbled into a kind of magical house of mirrors. It’s amazing and humbling and occasionally brings out the worst in my personality: these toys are so awesome I don’t want to share any of them! Yes, the petulant toddler is alive and well in my brain. Luckily, creativity is one toy store that never closes and never runs out of stock.

I plan on sharing a lot of what I’ve learned about creativity in future posts but today I wanted to attempt to explain an epiphany I had while doing some research:

The point of being alive is to experience being alive.

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Gulliver

The Big Myth

There’s a lot I like about writing. It’s creatively satisfying, it allows me to play day long games of “What if?” and call it being “productive.” Writing lets me pretend I’m someone else so I can try on different viewpoints and new ways of living: Christmas on Mars is nothing like back on Earth! I even enjoy the challenge of mastering a craft that on many days seems hopelessly beyond my reach. And it’s good for me! Study after study after study shows how good writing is for my brain, keeping it healthy and flexible well into old age (assuming, of course, that all my other writerly bad habits don’t destroy me first).

But another thing I like about writing – and one that doesn’t get discussed so much – is that it is a powerful tool for personal development. Writing teaches me lessons about perseverance and problem solving, about tolerance and interpersonal relationships. In short, it makes me a better person.

Case in point: A few days ago I was thinking about the novel I’m currently working on and found myself getting overwhelmed by the number of themes and scenes I’m developing. Although I have an outline in place, I don’t have all the details sorted yet and holding the whole story in my head felt like an impossible task. I was trying to eat the watermelon in one bite.

Of course the only way to write a novel is word by word, beat by beat, scene by scene. If I can just remember that, then the process of writing a novel shrinks to but one small task: writing a sentence.

I quickly realized that this is not just true of writing – it’s true of many, many things in life. So often I avoid doing certain things because they are BIG and OVERWHELMING and I’m tired and would rather troll for free images on Flickr. But actually there are no big tasks, only small ones:

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Train Wreck

A Conference of Train Wrecks

Just back from three days at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Three days of sessions on the craft and business of writing, as well as keynote speakers (Cory Doctorow! Chuck Wendig! Laura Bradbury! Others!) and a whole lot of networking. I listened to Don Maass describe how to write settings that readers will want to live in. Robert Wiersema gave his ideas on how to make readers cry and drove his point home by bringing his audience to tears. Chuck Wendig made his case for how to develop kick ass characters (we ended up outlining a story about a missing child whose parents opt to cope with the tragedy by CLONING the child). David Corbett steamrollered my brain with his rapid-fire erudition and thoughts on how writers can use various types of moral argument to develop plot and character. Larry Brooks and I had a wonderful chat about story structure and character (my notes from his book Story Engineering live on my office wall). Peter Rubie discussed voice and how you can make yours better (hint: practice the right things). By Sunday my brain was ready to hesplode.

The last session I attended was Liza Palmer’s “Your Voice, Your Career.” I expected another class full of tips, and there were plenty of those (including creating a Pinterest page for your characters!) but, for me, much of what made the session work was just Liza herself. She stood in front of her audience, laughing, digressing, talking a mile a minute, sometimes forgetting her place but then getting on with things anyway. None of the hiccups mattered.

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Poets Reading

Poetry: Alive and well and fun as hell.

A few weeks back I took a train to Seattle for the Cascadia Poetry Festival, a four day smorgasbord of readings, speakers, and expert panels.

Now, for those of you who think attending a poetry festival would be about as exciting as filing a callus, restrain your clicking impulse for a second. Poetry is the dope bomb shiznit. Seriously. And the Cascadia Poetry Festival was three days of creative hedonism that included parties, a beer slam (with free beer!), and a living room reading series. Yes, there were some serious readings and discussions of pedagogy, but they were offset with poems that eulogized the end of smoking culture and readers who began with the invocation,

“Oh Lord, if I have but one life to live… I hope this ain’t it.”        -George Bowering

There were poems that glorified bumper stickers, oral sex, bar fights, and roadside fruit stands.

It was, in other words, not boring.

Over the course of the weekend I read a few times and had some very flattering feedback from people I respect, which is always nice. But, for me, the very best part of attending a festival of poetry was simply hanging out with people who get high on creativity. We’re all human. We all live within the contours of one small life, but sharing our perceptions of that experience is liberating because it opens up new landscapes and new possibilities. When we see through other people’s eyes, our own vision is enhanced.

Hobnobbing with creatives is inspiring too. In a hallway of the Spring Street Centre I overheard someone use the phrase “situational rhyming.” …Ok, so I’m still not sure what that might mean, but it feels loaded with possibility. Some phrases seems to catch fire in my brain, burning the way a pine branch does – with sizzling smoke and sparks, too wild to control. One speaker talked about an “activism of the ethical imagination” and I was off again… remembering that there’s a point to all these sentences we write. Art, and poetry in particular, can be used to unpack important issues – poverty, climate change, sustainability, social justice. The pen really is mightier than the sword. Writers can change the world – and, bloody hell, the world needs some changing.

The next Cascadia Poetry Festival happens in Nanaimo, BC April 30-May3, 2015

Who is the Doctor?

The Who Doctor

One of my favourite shows in the history of ever is Doctor Who. I remember a little of the original series and though I enjoyed it, it never captured me the way the new series has. Now I just need to hear the theme song and my mood improves. I get all dork-buckety and start speaking in a mock English accent. Ehlaoh.

There are a hundred reasons to love Doctor Who – the adventure, the humor, the wildly inventive stories – but I think the biggest reason I’ve come to love the Doctor is character.

I started with the wonderful Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. His devil-may-care attitude and his ability to convey intense emotion with the merest shift in facial expression held me spellbound. Billie Piper as Rose Tyler was impossible not to watch, and impossible not to root for. She seemed human. Fragile. But also blessed with an intrepid curiosity that made us believe she would climb into that phone box with a Yorkshire-voiced alien. Rose and the Doctor were a winning team and I was ready to follow them anywhere across space and time.

But then the unthinkable happened. Christopher Eccleston left. Regenerated right out of the Tardis. Sure, it was part of the script but I was heartbroken. The role of the Doctor would now be played by some guy called David Tennant. It was a sad end to what could have been the best television series ever. No one could replace Eccleston as the Doctor because he was so perfect: muscular, energetic, occasionally manic. He was, as he would say, fantastic. Now I was stuck with a wispy Scotsman I’d never heard of. This would suck. This would be the end of the show…

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