Write for 5: The best things in life (and in writing) are ideas

This Saturday our little Write for 5 dalliance won’t cost you a dime. I’ll post an image. You’ll take a look, get a spark, time yourself for five minutes.

You don’t have to get dressed up and pretend to be your grown-up self. Stay in your PJs or old bathrobe. No webcams here. Coffee or tea? It’s up to you.  This is for you as you are.

Use a pen or a pencil or a keyboard. Think of that like colouring your hair — only you’ll know for sure in the end, unless it’s purple.

Think of it as a quick weekend luxury. Take as long as you want to look at the image that gets posted. (Well, don’t spend more than 30 minutes or anything like that). We won’t count examining the image as part of the five minutes.

Do time yourself. Keep it to 5.

Most importantly, believe in the imagination and the brain to rise to all creative challenges. That grey matter will somehow find the words that exist up there in the muck and the wonder of your subconscious where all the most interesting meetings occur. Like chocolate meeting peanut butter.

Shut down the critical thoughts. The enjoyment in timed writing prompts for me happens when words and weirdness and beauty come out of my mind and onto the page and it’s like, “Where did THAT come from?” That’s the best part. Don’t you agree?

Maybe broaden your idea of form. Poem? Flash fiction? Script? Dialogue? Fortune cookie fortune? Surprise us!

So here’s how I think this might work.

I’m going to post the image tomorrow, Saturday, February 25 at 9:00 am.

  1. It would be so fantastic to have some participants.
  2. Post your 5-minute writing results as soon as you can in the comments.
  3. Stay positive in the comments. You have to have something nice to say. Yes, it’s the equivalent of everyone getting a blue ribbon. When was the last time THAT happened?
  4. I may highlight the piece(s) that resonate for me the most and refer to the writer’s website (assuming that they have one).
  5. I encourage you, as well, to connect to one other writer who posts in a comment by commenting on what they’ve posted.

If you have any suggestions as to how this might work best for you, let me know.

Really looking forward to reading what your writerly minds seize the courage to share tomorrow.

Don’t forget to come back after 9:00 a.m. on February 25.

Thanks for playing.

A feminist success story continues: Making Room

I went to a panel on Tuesday at the Vancouver Public Library on the 40th year anniversary of the literary magazine, Room, or Room of One’s Own as it was called in the past. What stood out for me is how challenging it is to capture and retain the many authentic voices that make up the oral history of an organization. I know that’s true whether that organization has been a feminist collective run by volunteers such as Room or a large private corporation. Anyone who has ever tried to write a history of an organization will know this to be agonizingly true.

You may not know, as I didn’t, that the VPL has in their catalogue, bound copies of every decade of the four decades that Room has now been published. A physical presence on shelves that leaves the complexity of what has actually taken place to sustain it to one’s imagination.

It was fantastic that there were a few women on the panel who had been participants from years gone by.  I wanted to hear a lot more of those types of personal experiences because they really highlight the struggles and the conversations in the inevitable tug o’ war dynamics of a democratic process that goes on in every organization that is concerned not just about producing something of creative value but of ensuring that the way in which those volumes come into being is also something to be proud of.

One of the women spoke about how she came to Room at a time when they were really challenged by funders who were questioning whether the journal was unique enough. There are only so many stories about motherhood and breast cancer, not that those aren’t important, that any of us can take.  They went so far as to hire a Branding specialist who began to ask them annoying but typical Branding type questions like “If Room was a woman what kind of woman would she be…?” And then at some point in Room’s history there was even a question about whether feminism needed to be central. Blasphemy!

Cynthia Flood’s response to why Room still matters, mimicked, dare I say, the response Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave when he was asked about why he felt a gender balanced cabinet was important and he replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Flood’s response was: “Because sexism still exists.” My apologies for the comparison, Cynthia, but the succinctness and the truth were comparable.

Chelene Knight as managing editor for the past year said that they want to be constantly questioning the type of work they are publishing, and questioning perhaps even what they aren’t publishing, and recognizing that it’s not just about the content but about the process and being open to involving women who may not have considered Room as a place for themselves or their creativity.

They spoke of how recognizing the evolution of Room is to recognize the entire evolution of print and how technology has impacted the way the magazine comes together. It’s been possible in the past few years to expand the editorial team to include Toronto and Montreal. They spoke to the way in which they now receive manuscripts through Submittable which has significantly reduced the amount of on-the-ground labour. At the most basic level, nobody has to trudge down to the post office and pull reams of envelopes out of the post office box and transport those back to the office. Formerly, the process involved paper being passed from one editorial reader to the next. Meetings no longer have to take place face-to-face, at least not as much.

Chelene acknowledged former editor Rachel Thompson as the catalyst behind her own participation for taking on the responsibility of managing editor, urging her to do it, assuring support, and pushing her to greater empowerment given that Chelene came from a background where envisioning herself in that role would not have been a part of the personal stories she told herself about herself.  Those are some of the women writers, artists, and editors the magazine hopes to embrace.

Forty years! It’s a quietly impressive legacy and if you’ve been paying attention in the past two years to what’s inside Room, it’s clear that an evolution is happening that has indeed led to an interesting diversity in the contributors and the issues overall. Chelene said that constantly questioning that, not getting complacent…making room…is the way forward.

For the first time ever, there will be Growing Room: A feminist literary festival in March. Tickets are selling fast.

Write for 5 for those who hate writing prompts

Call it serendipity but this morning I received an e-mail from a blog I follow and it was about hating writing prompts. And what it has to say is exactly why we shouldn’t look down our noses at writing prompt exercises.

Without ruining the ending of this story, and (begrudgingly overlooking the misuse of the word loose instead of lose) this little essay explains why writing prompts can have positive outcomes.

If you’re planning on joining us for Write for 5  on Saturday from an image posted on my blog here that day, this might give you an additional reason to participate.

If you have 10 minutes, read it here off Dinty Moores’ Brevity blog.

Getting inspired to Write for 5

It’s not too long until Saturday when I’ll be posting an image here on my blog with the hopes that some writer friends, or anyone who wants to give it a go, will participate in a timed writing exercise. I wrote about the idea on my last post, Using Imagery as Muse.

In preparation for that, I thought I’d remind you of what most of you already know, and that is, there’s nothing like reading some inspired writing, right before you know you have to write something to get yourself into the right frame of mind. That’s a lot of rights to live up to!

Maybe because of the free flowing nature of poetry, (at least until you try to write it and then you realize there’s actually nothing all that free flowing about it except maybe the first draft), I find poetry often inspires me to get into a creative mindset for writing on demand.

The other thing you also know is that the editor in your head, that dastardly perfectionist, must be slain or at least sent off on a long errand for a product that hasn’t been invented yet. Adopt a “This is not a test, this is an Experiment attitude.” It’s a jumping off point to investigate how the brain can rise to the challenge.

As an aside, I was reading the NYTimes on my phone last week (in bed), as I often do (sad but true) because that’s not what anyone should be doing in bed, and they posted the original short story of BrokeBack Mountain written by Annie Proulx.

I re-read it and couldn’t put my phone down and if you want to read something that is really amazing, you should read that story that the Oscar-winning movie was based on. It’s amazing how she uses language.

Unfortunately, that story come block-buster movie ended up causing Proulx unending irritation because people just didn’t get it. Here’s what she told the NY Times…“And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending. They can’t bear the way it ends — they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it.”

And you thought that getting published would solve all your problems. Guess not.

My absolute favourite poem (getting back to being inspired) and I have to say that loving this poem hasn’t really changed since the first time I read it, although there are so many poets to choose from it’s kind of crazy to say that a poem can remain a lifelong favourite, is a very old poem by Margaret Atwood that was in her very first book of poetry, The Circle Game.

Here it is. Hopefully this inspires you in preparation for Saturday. And, I should say, there’s nothing that says you can’t write a poem in response to the image. The slate is blank. Colour it!

Against Still Life by Margaret Atwood
Orange in the middle of a table:
It isn’t enough to walk around it
At a distance, saying
It’s an orange:
nothing to do
with us, nothing
else: leave it alone

I want to pick it up
In my hand
I want to peel the
skin off; I want
more to be said to me
than just Orange:
want to be told
everything it has to say

And you, sitting across
the table, at a distance, with
your smile-contained, and like the orange
In the sun: silent:

Your silence isn’t enough for me
now, no matter with what
contentment you fold
your hands together; I want
anything you can say
in the sunlight:
stories of your various
childhooods, aimless journeyings,
your loves, your articulate
skeleton; your posturings; your lies

These orange silences
(sunlight and hidden smile)
make me want to
wrench you into saying:
now I’d crack your skull
like a walnut, split it like a pumpkin
to make you talk, or get
a look inside

But quietly
If I take the orange
With care enough and hold it
gently

I may find
an egg
a sun
an orange moon
perhaps a skull; center
of all energy
resting in my hand

can change it to
whatever I desire
It to be
And you, man, orange afternoon
lover, wherever
you sit across from me
(tables, trains, buses)

If I watch
quietly enough
and long enough

at last, you will say
(maybe without speaking)

(there are mountains
Inside your skull
garden and chaos, ocean
and hurricane; certain
corners of rooms, portraits
of great-grandmothers, curtains
of a particular shade;
your deserts; your private
dinosaurs; the first
woman)

all I need to know:
tell me
everything
Just as it was
from the beginning.

If you have any piece of writing you get inspired by prior to writing, feel free to share it in the comments.

Using Imagery as Writing Muse

Rummaging through some papers, I found this image from a magazine stapled to something I had written on July 18, 1998.

I was in a writing group then that met monthly – or tried to –  and re-reading it brought me right back into the small living room in the house where we’d meet. It was an old house, up rickety stairs, rooms all chopped up.

I was thinking how much fun it used to be to sit in that group, a bunch of magazine pages ripped out haphazardly, each of us taking turns choosing which image to pick so that we could scribble away during a timed writing exercise, letting whatever words come to us as they came. It was a form of writing meditation.  I think 5 minutes was what we settled on back then.

I was thinking how much fun it would be to let other writers look at a photo on the blog and see what they could come up with. It’s kind of a nice idea, a way to share. And then, you could post what you’d written after your own timed five minutes at home. No cheating!

If you feel inclined to try and time yourself and write to the above image, and then add what you ended up writing into the comments, it would make things a million time more interesting around here. I could then add a new image every week with whatever I’d managed to come up with in my own timed 5 minutes.

Here’s what I wrote back then although I will admit, I changed a few things after sitting down to type it out before posting it here. I changed her name. I decided this woman was Turkish and so Isabella didn’t seem like the right name.

Gülçin, a name bestowed eighty-nine years earlier, reveled in the spicy warmth of the nicotine as it streamed through the shriveled opening of her throat, lingered for just a few seconds, and was then expunged, pushing its way against the afternoon’s hot wind like an apparition.

She was safe in her chair, her favorite place. That same chair that had balanced her when the roundness of her thighs had not crept round the wooden corners of the frame but had fit snugly, like foam, atop the smooth wooden cup of the seat.

Her cane, carved by her grandfather over a few months the summer she turned eight, had been her most constant companion in the last few years. She had remembered him sitting near the red rocks, and bits of grass at the cliff edge near their home, the sparkling sea like a rug as far as the eye could see to the horizon.

She’d sit on her porch, perched above the dusty street in that town she’d lived in since she’d married more than 70 years ago now, and she’d watch the youth pass by in the way a factory foreman might watch assembly line workers. She never barked out orders or even greetings. 

When a neighbor or familiar face passed, she’d remove the cigarette and blow the smoke between the space where her two front teeth used to be and in that subtle shift, they’d know they’d been acknowledged, they’d been seen. And it was enough.

Most of the time she would not even notice the strays barking, the wrestling of small boys whose bare feet raised the dust to feather their ankles, or the bustle of women, beautiful full girls, and slap-dashed-together mothers hurrying back from the market in preparation for another day of the cooking, washing, feeding, cleaning cycle. She was there and she wasn’t. She was with all of them and she was with the images of her past that greeted her just as real as company, adding excitement and grief, love and energy to what would turn out to be just another 12 hours, like the 12 hours before that, wrapped in heat and routine.

 She’d think back to her best friend as a child and the hours they’d spent playing in the back alleyways, listening to adults they knew only by the first names their mothers used to refer to them as they gossiped. Mostly they watched. Anything to escape the one room they each shared with three generations who had perfected the familial folk dance, weaving around each other, ducking anger, ignoring bodily functions and even the tears everyone would have preferred to have kept hidden if they’d had the luxury of privacy.

Usually around midday, she would sometimes feel the phantom lips of her deceased husband as if they were grazing her forehead. A tear-dropped wet bead of sweat would seep from beneath her white headscarf and slip over the band of folded skin that decorated her chest like a handmade necklace.

She had loved the memory of his lips. Not just because they had become as familiar as her own but because they embodied everything they had shared together; framing the rite of two-as-one even though he’d been gone for decades.

Elevating the Ordinary

Creative Commons photo

One of my intentions this year is to do something that lifts the day out of the ordinary every single day. It doesn’t have to be anything big and let’s face it, most of what I find interesting doesn’t typically cost a lot of money. It’s usually related to the Arts or being in a natural environment or dredging up questions and memories, if not stuff, at thrift shops.

It might be as simple as going to a different library. It could be cooking a new type of soup. Maybe I’ll visit a natural space in the Lower Mainland that I haven’t yet been to, or have been to and would like to visit again. I merely have to find enjoyment in the thought of doing it and then, here’s the tricky part, I actually have to follow through on those original intentions.

So yesterday on CBC Radio when I heard that it was PWYC (PayWhatYouCan) Wednesday at The Firehall Arts Centre and that there was a play there called And Bella Sang with Us by Sally Stubbs, I walked to the train for the requisite 35 minute sit into Vancouver and got off at the Chinatown station.

I walked down past T&T, past the Sun Yat Sen Garden, up past the Chinese grocers and herbalists and turned left at Gore Ave crossing Main Street, then walking back across the street to The Firehall.

The play is a glimpse into the lives of two female constables showcasing a part of Vancouver’s early history that I knew nothing about. That alone made it interesting. The cast was really good and the script was interesting.

I sat down and a woman sat down beside me in a small audience of mainly retired folk. It was 1pm. We chatted a bit, enough for me to learn that she’d recently graduated from Photography at Emily Carr. That little bit of info was enough for me to know I wanted to chat more with her.

After the play was over, we talked briefly before she asked if I’d like to go for a walk if we picked up her dog in her nearby co-op. So, we walked a little deeper into Strathcona and she returned with a curly-haired poodle named Bodhi. He was more than ready to get some fresh air.

We walked into Strathcona Park, passed a professional dog walker, watched as some other millennial dog walkers chased Bodhi around. “He loves to be chased,” she said, as we watched him scurry the way happy, fast moving dogs run, back slightly arched as his little legs took him on a big excited swath of a circle, the smile on his small black lips almost discernable.

We continued down a street near Union Market and then back up a street past Strathcona Elementary. Another woman walking a small cream-coloured poodle stopped to let the dogs interact before continuing on her way.

“Do you know who that is?” asked my new acquaintance.”

“No, but she looks familiar,” I said.

“That’s Daphne Marlatt. She lives around here.”

“Oh, I love Daphne Marlatt’s long poem on Steveston,” I said, a poem I’d read years ago and I’ve never forgotten its effect on me at the time, way back in the early 1980s. Long poems still amaze me in their complexity.

We talked about the challenge of being the age we are and finding work. We talked about art and photography and we made a plan to meet again, to revisit the Walker Evans exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery before it ends on January 22nd.

And there you have it, a fine example of elevating an ordinary day.

Travel blogging the humanity of connection

Miniature felted yurts

For quite a few years now, I’ve been following the blog of this wonderful young artist and writer named Candace Rose Rardon. She is an all-round creative entrepreneur who travels the world sketching and writing. By birth, she is an American and by choice she is a citizen of the world.

Some time in 2012 or later, she lived in a yurt on Salt Spring Island for a while and I too love yurts arising from the first time I experienced a yurt in Northern New Mexico. I was out with two other women who were staying at Ghost Ranch at the same time as I was. We were driving around sightseeing and we stumbled upon this yurt on the side of the road. Intrigued, we hopped out and descended upon it only to be met at the door by a guy who was inside.  I don’t actually recall much about him but you can see him in the photo below.

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A yurt in Northern New Mexico near the Chama River.

Following her experience of living in a yurt on Salt Spring, Candace wrote a fantastic post about yurts the world over.

Her dreams have unfolded as she’s utilized her double whammy talents of writing and sketching to make connections in very organic, free flowing and serendipitous ways.

Recently she was doing a giveaway on her blog that got an overwhelming response from readers who shared their travel tales with her as a way to entice her into picking them as the recipient of a newly published anthology.

Here’s her original post for that giveaway of the Lonely Planet Travel Anthology.

She was overwhelmed by responses. In a follow up post, she decided to draw a map and put the names of all who contributed onto the map that she sketched so inspired she was by readers’ responses.

It’s such a great idea. You can see the map in her follow up post, The Geography of Connection. Readers’ comments were associated with 36 countries across five continents.

I submitted something related to my half day cycling trip to the Silk Islands off Phnom Penh.

Congratulations on your exciting news of being published in Lonely Planet’s literary edition for 2016. In 2013, on a trip through Thailand and Cambodia, I ended it in Phnom Penh and decided to go on a 1/2 day cycling excursion with Grasshopper Adventures. It meant arriving at the bike shop and gathering with a small group, getting a designated bike and helmet before heading off on a busy street right in the middle of the city which, at first, seemed very dangerous. Our guide was a young Cambodian woman who was really enthusiastic and we took off, traffic all around, which was a little scary and quite exhilarating. Luckily the ride to the ferry was very short (no more than 15 minutes) and once on the ferry we made our way across the Mekong to what are known as the Silk Islands.

It was so great to be on a bike, and to learn that a very rural existence was a mere ferry ride (10-15 minutes) away from the bustle of Phnom Penh. I loved the feeling of riding down an empty dirt lane way and as I passed by, little children would run out from their huts and yell “Hi” or “Hello” to us in English and we’d yell back. It was such a happy experience. Afterwards, we went to a silk farm, had a delicious fruit feast, and then on to another place with a temple and really unique wooden carvings that were quite ancient.

I felt like it was the S.E. Asian version of cycling a Southern Gulf Island in B.C., a place near and dear to my heart. We rounded it off with a feast at a local spot that, of course, our Cambodian guide knew would be really decent. A great day. A lasting memory.

Candace ends the blog post by saying, “There’s a lot happening in the world right now that would lead us to believe how disconnected we are from each other—but if this map says anything, I believe it’s that connection is real, alive, and important to us all.”

And that’s how you actually make blogs interactive. Something that I’m sorry to admit I’ve failed at miserably.

Monday, however, is a good day for dreaming about the next getaway, and for me, that’s as close as a visit to Candace’s blog. Check it out!