Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Lifetime of Meaning in 28 Words

            So many stories in literature are about awakening because life is about awakening. In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller says the elements of good storytelling — setting, conflict, climax and resolution — come from that great conflict in the universe, which exists in our subconscious and we experience as separation from the divine. When we awaken to this, we know we must find the divine within us, which is a journey to our true self. Donald Miller says it a lot better and a lot funnier than I can. Just read his book.
Even though they lived more than a century apart and their writings were nothing alike, I love Edna St. Vincent Millay just as much as I do Donald Miller. They both had an unconventional approach to the act of awakening and they both had the gifts to express it well. Besides, Edna St. Vincent Millay—who had a really cool name—wrote the poem, “Renascence.” Anyone who can do that is immortal in my book.
Miss Millay was an American poet and novelist who was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She had a controversial personal life, probably because she had an open mind. She had red hair and liked to call herself “Vincent” sometimes. Nancy Milford’s biography of her was named Savage Beauty and that’s probably pretty descriptive. She was the type of woman who attracted both women and men admirers although men didn’t seem to understand her or her poetry. “She liked nature,” one man wrote of her. Oh, what a shallow, shallow being he must have been. She wrote about so much more and everything about her tells you she was awake from an early age.
Her poem “Renascence” is about awakening. I’ve loved it since I was an adolescent and reading it was quite possibly the beginning of my own personal renascence. The words I love best are toward the end. Sometimes I read the whole poem just so the last words will have the power they’re intended to have.
            The world stands out on either side, no wider than the heart is wide.
            Above the world is stretched the sky, no higher than the soul is high.
            Words to remember for a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Birthday Blues and Birthday Bliss

It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to. I know those are not the exact words of the song, but it’s my birthday and I’ll write what I want to.
These days, birthdays just remind me of my real age. Not how old I wish I were or feel or act or look or pretend to be. You know, that stark, cold, harsh number.
Pablo Picasso once said, “It takes a long time to become young.” And someone else said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Both things meaning this: The older you get, the more youthful you feel even if your body says, “no, no, no.”
At least that’s my take on things. I’ve never felt so grateful for every day I’m here and able to do what brings me joy. Writing. Walking. Being with family and friends. Cooking healthy food. Music, books, art, nature. Shopping. (Whoops! Did I say that out loud?)
So today I’m not going to do any work. I’m going to receive birthday wishes, have a birthday lunch with my buds, appreciate my wonderful daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, do a little shopping, have a birthday dinner with another friend, and feel the gratitude in my heart.
Later, I’ll cry if I want to.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Once you find your way through the maze of creative writing, you’ll never get lost again

            I’ve been on the road to writing historical fiction forever, however I can’t say I was always totally aware of that. Many years ago my sophomore English professor—I think his name was Mr. Marcum—called me into his office. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. We chatted for a while about For Whom the Bell Tolls, our reading assignment. Then he stopped abruptly and said, “You are one of the most perceptive students I’ve ever had … and you write well too. You should consider a career as a writer.”
            I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. It didn’t sink in at all. I had other plans. I can’t remember what they were but I definitely had them. I was an art major at the time, a fact many people now find difficult to believe because I went on to become a journalist. So, eventually, I did write for a living—every day I wrote about every kind of thing a person could possibly imagine, most of it not remotely interesting to me. But when you’re on daily deadlines, you don’t have the luxury of being interested.
            So that brings us back around to my English professor and his class. We had an assignment every week to write an essay stating our opinion. It could be about a book, or a movie, or something in the news but we had to construct our thoughts in an orderly fashion. It was my first time to do that and what I learned holds me in good stead to this day. I remember sitting on my bed pulling the sentences out of my brain like you would pull sore teeth out of your mouth. They weren’t perfect and my sentences still aren’t perfect but the thinking was good discipline. It opened up certain pathways in the synapses of my brain, the pathways of cognitive thought that end up in the garden of expression. Once you go down that pathway, you never have to lose your way again.
            “What exactly is the main character all about?” Mr. Marcum asked me that day in his office.
            “He has a heightened sense of duty and that guides all his actions,” I said.
            “How is that expressed in the writing … not the words, but the writing?”
            “It’s sparse and direct and the writer has shed his skin.”
            “Yes, and why did he do that?”
            “Because he wanted to reveal the character’s motivation.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mr. Marcum said. “And motivation is at the core of all storytelling.”
            Thus began my thinking about writing and my pathway to writing fiction.