Ideas and What To Do With Them

Tomato Juice in a glas, decorated with tomato ...

Tomato Juice in a glass, decorated with tomato slice and sprig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my weekly column–now you will know what I was busy doing on Saturday. There is some local lore here–Richard Scarsbrook is from Toronto now; the Workshop was held in my hometown of Kingsville;  Coopers Hawk is a Winery just a few miles away; the Mettawas is a local restaurant in our refurbished train station, and Merli’s is a quaint eatery just down the street from the library:

            A gathering of like-minded people met last Saturday to form a community for a day. A community we all recognized—creative people assembled to learn something new, to gain inspiration, and to add to our body of knowledge. We attended a Short Story Writing Workshop led by a local boy “made good” author Richard Scarsbrook, originally from Olinda. He opened the workshop with these words: “I want you to walk away with two things today: ideas, and what to do with them.”

            Before the workshop I wrote a few articles about it for the paper, and described Richard as dynamic—but only because I had gleaned the information second-hand. On Saturday I experienced the truth of the word dynamic: energetic, active, lively, vibrant, and full of life. All those words described our leader for the day, who took his cue from us in how he structured the workshop. He had a handout that he used for part of the day, but abandoned it somewhat in the afternoon after hearing what we wanted to concentrate on.

            The venue was provided by the Essex County Library Board. We used the activity room in the beautiful Kingsville Library as our “classroom”. Organized by volunteers for “Wine, Writers and Words”—it was in this volunteer’s eyes an unmitigated success. Personally I loved every minute of it—from the workshop itself to the lunch at the Mettawas Restaurant, a wine tasting put on by the affable and knowledgeable owner of Coopers Hawk Vineyard, Tom O’ Brien to an open mike session followed by the fellowship at Merli’s just down the street. It was a full day of my favourite things: writing, reading, eating, conversation, and a little wine.

            Admittedly, I have been writing this column for years so I must try and come  up with new ideas on a weekly basis—but a workshop of this sort really helps the creative juices run afresh. One of the exercises Richard provided us with was the prompts provided by  six words that he said were guaranteed to get us writing. And right he was. Apparently the words he chose are psychologically proven to get our minds in gear and our fingers working. I was surprised how each of the words brought up strong memories. The first word was childhood, which evoked in me a memory that has obviously been lurking in the background for a long time. The subject is kind of quirky, the memory not life changing, yet there it was. I will give you a taste of what the word evoked during the workshop:

            “The whole family was invited. Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Cousins. And of course mom and dad and my brothers and sister. Even Tippy, our dog, was excited.

            We had set up the dining room table in the living room. It was joined by sundry and other tables to make it long enough to seat twenty-two people.

            I was in charge of setting the table, a job I enjoyed even as a kid. Lining up the silverware just so. Placing the glasses between the tip of the knife and corner of the plate. And since we were having company we used our tiny glasses placed in the middle of the plate to hold tomato juice. That was always the sign that we were having either a special meal or holiday dinner—we had tomato juice to start the meal.”

            That was as far as I got as the exercise was timed and we had to stop writing—but Richard said that the whole idea behind the prompt was to give us something to start and a place to go with it. So here is the rest of the story—be forewarned, it is a little….well, I will let you be the judge of it:

            “After setting the table, I found a glass of what I thought was tomato juice poured into a lovely container. To this day I do not know why I did what I did next—but I took a drink from it. It was not tomato juice at all! It was my mom’s homemade chili sauce. And she was none too pleased that I took a sip from it. Many times during my life I have asked myself “what was I thinking?” and I believe this was the first time I had this thought. How could I not have recognized that the lumpy chili sauce was not juice? I was mortified by my mistake and skulked away to my room. I think I remember this so well because I was deeply embarrassed about my stupid mistake—and it ruined the special meal for me.” I understand that this is no piece of writing genius but it is a vivid memory drawn from the word “childhood”.

            The workshop happened through the hard work of Nancy Belgue, Tara Hewitt, Brian Sweet, Joan Cope, Arleen Sinasac and to some extent me. A lot of thought and rethought, planning and replanning went into the day, and speaking for myself (and hopefully the other participants) “a good time was had by all.”

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My New Word

Cover of "The Daily Writer: 366 Meditatio...

Cover via Amazon

VERISIMILITUDE

“…a story possesses verisimilitude when it gives readers the sense that it has captured the situation with total authenticity.” ~ Fred White from the July 24th entry of The Daily Writer

This is my new word of the day. I love this word. I love trying to say it aloud. I am at times awkward in my pronunciation of words, (room and broom being two that send people into fits of laughter when I say them) but I try anyway.

I belong to a very forgiving Writers’ Group and when I read my “literary” offerings aloud I find it embarrassing that words I use with abandon in my writing I cannot pronounce correctly. I have either not heard them said or because of a defect with my tongue (which is imagined, not real) I cannot say them properly. Dishevelled is just one, but there are many.

I am fairly well educated and this should not be a problem. But it is my personal  albatross or millstone around my neck, which could explain why I have trouble with some words—having such impediments shackling my burdened neck is a hindrance don’t you think?

Anyway, I like my new word. Ve-ri-si-mil-i- tude. And I think I have captured my problem of pronunciation with verisimilitude—it is an authentic problem that does not, as White says: « filter out the disturbing details. »

Do you have any millstones around your neck? Or a favourite new word?

Is This The End of Bliss?

So I have tried Recipe Saturday. Writing Wednesday. Words of Wisdom Sunday. Writing a poem a day for the month of April (only missed one day!) Various themes for a month and been semi-successful—I think I spend a month writing just 200 word posts; then another month using the letters of the alphabet as a prompt; and occasionally I do Michelle’s prompts.

Bliss first logo (2006-2008)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I am out of ideas today. I have  been pretty good about my bliss posts—only missed a few days since New Year’s. But I think I have about covered the subject as much as I can.

So, I am asking you—what bliss have I missed?

 

Published in: on June 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm  Comments (28)  
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Humanity and Warmth

Holy Grail in Valencia, Spain

Holy Grail in Valencia, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If “…the essence of writing is rewriting” as William Zinsser claims in his book, “On Writing Well” , then take me to the dentist.  I would rather let a dentist do excavation work in my mouth than rewrite, but I know this evil twin to the writing process is necessary.

Zinsser, I suspect does not “suffer fools gladly”. I do, as I consider them to be my cohorts, but nonetheless I like his style—confident, demanding, and dare I say it, entertaining—though don’t tell him that. I think the word entertaining would baffle and horrify him, so I must find some better words: engaging, compelling, even witty describe him more suitably.

In Part 1 of his book, titled “Principles”, he sets out his manifesto. He states that two of the most important qualities his book “will go in search of are humanity and warmth”. In searching for these qualities he is unforgiving, but by being unforgiving he is setting goals for writers who should always be in search of the “Holy Grail” of writing: clarity.

Zinsser found himself on a two person panel at a school in Connecticut for a “day devoted to the arts.” He and a doctor (who had just recently begun to write) were asked several questions about the writing process.  The first was “What is it like to be a writer?” The doctor said he came home after an arduous day of surgery and would go straight to his yellow pad and “write his tensions away”. He said the words flowed and it was easy. The same question posed to Zinsser found a very different answer. He said that it was neither easy nor fun and that it was “hard and lonely and the words seldom just flowed.”

The doctor was asked if it was important to rewrite. His response was absolutely not—“let it all hang out”. He felt the sentences should reflect the writer at his most “natural”. Again Zinsser did not quite see things the same way. He stated that “rewriting is the essence of writing” and that professional writers “rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.”

What if you are depressed the students asked the panelists. Then “go fishing” said the doctor. Zinsser pointed out that if your job is to write every day, then you learn to do it every day, depressed or not.

The last question dealt with symbolism. The doctor said he loved symbols, and weaving them into his works was a joy.  Zinsser, in his humble assessment of his attributes said he did not use symbolism if he could help it because he “has an unbroken record of missing the deeper meaning in any story, play or movie, and as for dance and mime” he never had any idea about what was being conveyed.

I love this book—it is riveting. Zinsser is at once clever, uncompromising, intelligent and well, downright entertaining. He sprinkles his hard-nosed advice with wonderful asides, vignettes, and examples, and by the end, you too are convinced that the “essence of writing is in the rewriting” even if it is painful.

Oh, and as for the doctor—he was very interested to find out that writing could be hard. And Zinsser?  He is taking up surgery on the side, and I imagine when it gets difficult—he will just go fishing.

An icon for rewriting an article and for other...

An icon for rewriting an article and for other purposes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Life Is the Creative Act

Creativity

Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

“If you’re alive you’re creative. We “reduce and  deflect” our creative selves in many ways. Life is the creative act, not the canvas or the blank  page.”            ~ Patti Digh, “Creative is a Verb”

I like to think of myself as artistic.  There is no real concrete proof of this, yet I keep trying to find my “artistic” self.  She seems to be playing a game of hide and seek with me that I have not yet won. I keep seeking, and while my artistic self is wily and still in hiding, I continue to try to coax her out into the open and tag her.  (Lest you worry – I do understand that tag and hide and seek are two different games). I used to love playing “frozen tag” where you would chase your prey and tag them and they had to stand in the spot where you tagged them frozen into place—that is what I want to do with my creative self: seek her, find her, and freeze her so she cannot get away.

The first step to being an artist is to realize that we are all creative beings. I like to think that my primary way of satisfying my creativity is in writing. But I would like to expand on that creativity to include other forms of inspired, inventive, and innovative methods of expressing myself, other than letting the dust settle on my furniture and doodling in the grime.

I particularly admire artists who can paint and draw or find other mediums to express themselves in a way that lends just that little bit more beauty to the world. Of late, I have been reading the book “Creative is a Verb” by Patti Digh, who believes that if we are alive we are creative. I love this all-inclusive definition of creativity. It gives me hope that someday I will produce something beautiful, but if not, then just the mere act of creativity is enough.

Digh includes a poem by Osho in the introduction to her book which I found inspiring:

When I say to be creative

I don’t mean

you should all go

and become great painters

and great poets.

I simply mean

let your life

be a painting

let your life be a poem.

Osho’s poem is inspiring, but so is Digh’s advice that we should fully own “that we are creative beings, whether we will ever call ourselves writers or artists” or pick up a pen, brush or camera, or show our art, sell it or “create something fantastically unique.” And I love this line: “What if we owned that making dinner was a fully creative act?” (My cooking, if nothing else is creative and sometimes edible.)

Apparently, we should not limit our definition of creativity, but instead—“Open up. See more, Live Deeper.” That is what Digh believes art is, creativity is, and life is.  So, even if I cannot draw something besides a stick figure that is recognizable, I am still creative. So there.