To Sarah on her Thirteenth Birthday

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Dear Sarah,

When I was thirteen I stepped upon the bima to become a Bat Mitzvah–singing with my heart and soul as I became a woman in the eyes of Judaism. As a family we decided not to have you do that, because your Daddy and I have tried to raise you to see the world spiritually without being restricted to one specific religious philosophy. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve done you an injustice that way–but I hope we have shown you that goodness comes from the heart, that doing mitzvah and being kind to others is a spiritual act, and that we should live our lives to make this world a better place because it is the right thing to do–not just in the hopes of reward in an after life that we cannot define. If someday you wish to choose to follow Judaism or any religion more clearly, I hope you do it recognizing that faith is a personal thing unique to every individual. There is no one way to believe, but there are many ways to live with kindness and love.

It wasn’t my intent to turn this into a letter about religion. I mention my becoming a Bat Mitzvah because that year was significant to my life. That moment remains powerful in my memory. Today, as you turn thirteen, I wonder what I can offer you that will be as significant. I watch you take your first steps as a young woman, and my heart grows with pride but also fear, because your journey will not always be safe or easy.

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You and I have had some growing pains over the past few months, as you struggle to discover your own path and I try to remember that your choices are your own to make. I don’t always have to agree with them, but I promise to support you and love you even in our disagreements.

New Mommy, content puppy, little girlStill I have so many wishes for you. Lessons that I hope you will carry with you into the future, even if you don’t yet fully understand them. I’m not even sure I fully understand them myself yet, but discovering these are part of my journey too.

Discover what brings you joy and fulfillment and make that central to your life in some way. [Please don’t just work to make money or take the easy path because it is easy. Find hobbies that you love to do and do them. It is fine to take a job to pay the bills, but don’t make it the center of your existence. If you choose to have a career, make it be something you life doing. But, most importantly, find your vocation–that one thing that you will always do whether you get paid for it or not.  Find that thing that makes you feel the most yourself, whatever that may be. Find it. Live it. Do it. (Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for helping me understand the difference between these terms.)

Life is a verb–live it that way. If you sit around waiting for life to change, for things to get better, for you to win the lottery, for magic to happen . . . then the only thing that really happens is you sit around waiting. Go out and live life. Try new things. Explore. Imagine. Create and dream. Amazing things will happen while you are out living your life.

Beautiful Dancer

Learn to love yourself first. I know I’m not the best example of this. You’ve seen me be hard on myself. You’ve heard me be cruel to myself. I want better for you. Over the years, I’ve learned that love and friendship come when you learn to be happy with yourself first. Please don’t go seeking love because you are afraid to be alone. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, and who give as much as they take in your relationship. There have been many times when people reached out to me as they were going through dark times, and I was there for them. But, as soon as I reached out to them for help, they had no time for me. That is not true friendship.That is not love.Those were also the times that I would begin to judge myself most harshly, thinking I was somehow unworthy of true friendship. I don’t want that for you. Believe in yourself, respect yourself, and give friendship to those who are worthy of the wonderful person that you are. When you run into those people who take but do not give (which you will inevitably do) let them go and remember that it is their loss not yours. Do not rush to find that one true love. I believe that love will find you when the times is right, when you are ready, and when you learn to love yourself.

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Never stop learning. I know I love you a lot about reading, but that is because I love discovering and learning new things through books. But there are so many other ways of learning, and I hope you explore them all. I hope you travel, but not just as a tourist. Learn about culture and  difference from the people who live in other worlds. Explore language. Take classes. Wander through museums and gardens. Listen to music and see shows that you never thought about. Conduct experiments. Accept invitations to go to services with people from different religions. Debate ideas. Question others. Research things that interest you. Challenge rumors and gossip while always searching for truth. Remember that there aren’t two sides to any argument, there are many sides and perspectives. Strive to understand the complexities before you make your decisions. Then make choices, but always be open to listening, learning, discovering. Amazing things happen when you accept that you don’t know everything, and that you have a lifetime to learn more.

Family adventures

 

Define success for yourself. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have to offer you. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you aren’t good enough. Only you get to decide when you have succeeded and when you have failed–and even failure can lead you into new ways of defining your own success. This is a lesson I struggle to remember every day, I hope you can learn it as well.

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Happy birthday, Sarah. You have brought so much joy into my life. I can’t way to see where your journey takes you next.

Love,

Mommy

The Reason for Silence

Stage Fright

Why does a writer stop writing?

Why does an artist stop arting? (I know, “arting” isn’t a word but I can make up words if I want to.)

Why does a creator stop creating?

I’m sure many of you think you know the answer to these questions. Many of you will immediately leap to a word I’ve written about many times

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But for me, it is something else. Something more difficult to define.

Sure, fear still whispers its ugly messages in my ear once in while:

“You aren’t good enough.”
“Nobody cares.”
“You will fail.”
“The world will laugh at your efforts.”
“You are doomed to rejection.”

Messages that can stop me cold, if I let them. Messages that have stopped me in the past, and probably will sometimes in the future.

But that is not what has silenced my voice a lot lately. After all, I have come to realize that there is nothing to be afraid of. I produced a work of which I am proud, and while it may not have become an international best seller, it has reached readers near and far and inspired quite a few of them.

As an aspiring writer I truly looked at Andra and the way she used her words as guidance. Never have I been so truly convinced of the influence of words until I read this book. I have always believed that words trump violence, and now I think it is time for society to recognize that as well.
Kramer truly has a way with words in her ability to create a world that is fantastical, and yet not so different from the world we live in. While the message of the book pertains to the innate strengths of women, everyone learns that they have a strength to be celebrated, not hidden away and shamed. (For the complete review click here)

I have nothing to be afraid of. I have fans asking me for a sequel, readers wondering when I will have another book out, supporters who want me to do presentations and workshops.

And yet, as of late, I have been silent. My words, even the private ones on journal pages, have not flowed. My art . . . whether Zentangles or something else, hasn’t poured onto pages. My dreams, of which there are many, haven’t found their way out of the secret corners of my mind.

Stage Fright

That isn’t to say I’ve been doing nothing creative with my time. I am actually juggling many projects:

  • I’m directing the upcoming production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) which opens on Nov. 19

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  • I’m co-authoring a book entitled “Inclusive Theatre and Community Based Learning: Reaching Youth in Transition through Arts” which is based off a major collaboration between my Theatre for Young Audiences course and Public School transition students where they are creating a production to be performed in less than a month.
  • I’m brainstorming ideas and workshops about for projects that I could do this summer to make some money as well as expand my reach.
  • I have occasional book events, with more coming up in the future.

Writers Loft Holiday Bazaar 2015 (002)

And yet . . .

I have silenced my voice. I have silenced my words. I have silenced my art.

Why?

If not out of fear, what is it.

I think, and this is me just spit-balling, I am not struggling with fear but I am struggling with the need to feel like my work has value. I’m not talking about financial value. Sure, I wouldn’t turn down a big advance and a million dollar book/movie deal–I’d be lying if I said that fantasy hasn’t popped into my head in quiet moments. What holds me back is the concern that I am just contributing more meaningless babble into a world inundated with blog posts, words, “art”, etc. I want to produce work that makes some kind of difference, that inspires, that changes perspectives, that encourages people to think/dream/be/create, whatever.

I’m not afraid of putting my work out there anymore, but I question the value of my own work.

How does one know if you’ve made a difference? Does making a difference even matter? Should I just create for the sake of creation?

Do you ever find yourself struggling with a reason to create?

Buy from
An Unlikely Story

 

Connecting the Dots of Inspiration

A sketch of how all my projects intersect.

It’s the middle of the night. I wake up suddenly. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was one of the usual bizarre dreams that walk the fine line between fascinating and terrifying. Or perhaps it was the raucous call of an animal (a turkey? a fox?) in search of something. Jasper wakes up and rushes to look for the creature out the window. The cries sound desperate. Is the animal alone? Horny? Scared? Eventually the strange sound fades away leaving me to the silence of 2 am. Jasper returns to the bedroom and lies on the floor in front of the door. He will let nothing disturb me.

Except . . .

Inside my head a song begins to play over and over. The lyrics resonate. This is a song I need for a specific moment in the play I am currently directing. Beyond that, it is a song that speaks to my personal journey of the moment. I don’t want to forget it. I stumble out of bed and go into the kitchen, unwilling to turn on a light because I know that will end any hope of me going back to sleep any time soon. In the ambient light from the window, I find a piece of paper, but don’t know what is on it. I find a pencil. I flip the paper over, and write with unseeing eyes.

{If you are brave, you can click below to hear a bit of the song I so desperately wanted to remember.}

I return to bed and eventually to sleep.

I share this story, not to torture you with my singing voice (although that was kind of fun) but to illustrate the mysterious way the world provides signs and inspiration when you need it most. Sometimes, though, you have to interpret things. You have to let go of what you think you know and discover something else.

Some of you may have noted that I haven’t been writing here as often lately. There are many reasons for that, but perhaps the biggest thing holding me back has been doubt about my next step. I hit the wall of where to go next in a world where simply publishing one book is not enough; where you can’t just do good work and then let it find its own audience; where the only way to succeed (by other people’s definition of success) involves making lots of money, getting lots of publicity, and basically spending every waking moment working on “success” rather than creating.

I was struggling. I still am.

Yet, as is typical, the universe is filled with possibilities and messages if you are willing to see them. To follow them. To be open to them. To absorb them. To breathe them in and let them lead wherever they go.

I’m trying to do that now.

In my world, it seems, the universe doesn’t like me working on one project at a time. If I plant the seed for one creative project, it blooms into a field of wildflowers that are interconnected but also unique. It seems I thrive and achieve more in that kind of situation than any other. That is when my senses are most open to the unexpected, the surprising, the possibilities.

Flowers in Canada

As exhausting as this can be, it is exhilarating to welcome the unknown into your life. To embrace the unseen sent to you from the universal pool of creative energy that we all have access to if we only allow ourselves to dip into it.

Water Energy

It always fascinates me as my mind makes connections between one project and the other. How an idea for one thing might inspire a new discovery for a different thing. Just like life, inspiration does not move in a straight line, but is rather this incredible web of flowing energy that somehow comes together to create something new.

That’s the journey I’m on at the moment. It’s messy and confusing. At times it is overwhelming and I feel like I will never actually get anything done.

A sketch of how all my projects intersect.
A sketch of how all my projects intersect.

But then I remember that I always get things done . . . and meanwhile I need to focus on the journey not the destination. That is where I find the most joy. That is where I discover the connections that amaze and inspire me. That is where life thrives.

 

Where do you find inspiration? Does the universe ever send you hidden messages?

Where do you find your P.O.W.ER?

Celebrating Our Unique Powers: The Gift of Inspiring Others by Kate Johnston

WU quote for blog

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I think I first met Kate at 4am. Literally. I was wandering through a period of insomnia while I struggled to figure out how writing, creativity, and dreams could fit into my life when I finally gave up and sought solace in the world of blogs. That’s when I found my way to 4amWriter. I found in Kate a soul sister of words–someone on her own journey to fitting the dreams of her childhood into a life that doesn’t always honor or respect those dreams. She offers simple words of wisdom and guidance for anyone who ever doubts they can be (and are) a writer, but she also shares the powerful gift of language and storytelling that joins us all together. I am thrilled to be able to support her as she launches her series of Handbooks for Emerging Writers and celebrate her own unique power which has been a gift to me and many others. My own path is shifting again (more on that later this week) but I am glad that I can count Kate as a supportive voice as I figure it all out.

The Gift of Inspiring Others

WU quote for blog

Back in 8th grade, my Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Whitbeck, allowed free time to write. My favorite time of the school day. As an awkward, shy, unpopular tween, hanging out in nether worlds while at the horror show known as school was crucial to my survival.

I was a big Nancy Drew fan, so I wrote murder mysteries. One of the nosier kids started reading one of my stories over my shoulder, and saw that I had included a few of my classmates as part of the cast.

“Hey,” he said loudly, “I want to be in your story!”

This drew attention I didn’t want. Before I knew it, everyone in my class asked to be in the story. Some wanted to be the murder victims. Some wanted to be on the PI team. Many wanted to be the killer.

Before long, the story was completed, with all 20 or so kids playing various roles. They wanted me to read it out loud, but I was more than a little reticent. Mrs. Whitbeck, though, encouraged me. I remember to this day what she said: “Kate, do you realize how many of the kids started their own mysteries since you wrote one? Kids who used to goof off instead of write. You showed them that writing can be fun.”

I was stunned. Me, the kid with braces who’d never seen the movies E.T. or Star Wars, actually influenced a group of popular kids who’d rather debate who was a better athlete, Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson.

So, I read it aloud, and something strange happened. Kids came to me for help on their stories. Asking me to read them to see if they were any good. Asking me for ideas, or how to describe characters.

I’d forgotten about this experience until several years ago, when a friend asked me for help on her writing. I hadn’t written professionally yet, but I’d been taking writing workshops and honing my skills. After one afternoon working together, her spirits soared. She was writing with confidence again.

That’s when I realized my passion to write is kinda contagious. I’m so enthusiastic about it that I have the gift of inspiring others to follow their writing dreams.

I love reading what other people write and highlighting the beauty, power, and magic in their words, or guiding writers through the black holes we all encounter in our projects.

I started blogging with this in mind, sharing my love for writing in hopes of motivating others. My Writer . . . Uninterrupted series is an extension of these blog posts, e-books that delve a little deeper into what it means to be a writer, what it takes to be a writer.

Writer ._. Uninterrupted ebook cover

The first book of the series, A Handbook for the Emerging Writer, published in July 2015, helps writers understand the importance of owning their writer identities, the key to unlocking the doors (such as finding time to write) standing between them and their writing goals.

The second book of the series, A Handbook for the Productive Writer, is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2015.

For more information about Kate’s Writer . . . Uninterrupted series or if you’re looking for a writing coach, you can contact her at her blog: http://www.4amWriter.com or email her at k.johnston@comcast.net

To purchase Writer . . . Uninterrupted, A Handbook for the Emerging Writer, you can find it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Writer-Uninterrupted-Handbook-Emerging-ebook/dp/B012D5KX7O

Follow Kate (and she’ll follow you back, but if you have pizza, that could be dangerous):

Blog: https://www.4amWriter.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/4amWriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/4amwriter

 

The Power of Being Me: Learning, Creating and Becoming

Then and Now

Over the past few weeks many of my college students (especially the ones coming closer to graduation) have been coming to me panicked that they don’t know what they want to do with their lives, and haven’t figured out a plan for what comes next. One is freaking out because her grades are not good enough for grad school in a field that she no longer feels passionate about. I have some asking how to make their capstone projects good enough that it will get them the perfect jobs as soon as they walk out the door. I have some melting down because their hearts and passions are leading them one way, but the realities of living in a world with loans, rent, bills, and family pressures say they should be doing something else.

“You can’t plan for everything,” I say. “You have to be open to the journey.”

They look at me like I’ve grown two heads.

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It really isn’t possible to explain to these 20-somethings that life is very rarely a straight journey from point A to success (however you define it). It’s more like a crazy roller coaster that twists, turns, adds obstacles, opens new paths, and sometimes threatens to dump you out without any warning.

I know I was like them though, when I first faced the daunting reality that school was over and I was expected to become an adult. In some ways, I think, my continual pursuit of degrees was less of a reflection of my passion for learning, and more of the reality that I felt safe in school. Academia was my security blanket, where I knew I could succeed as long as I worked hard. It is possible that I stayed in that world–as a student, as an instructor, as faculty–because stepping outside of it and forging my own path was simply too terrifying or unpredictable.

That changed, though, when the academic world began to reveal it’s darker side. It is a vicious world in many ways: where politics rules over logic; where egos overwhelm fairness; where backstabbing destroys lives; and more and more these days, where money overpowers the love of learning and the needs of the students. I could go on and on about this, but this is not the time or place. I still make most of my living in this world–out of necessity more than anything else. But, as the complexities of life in academia threw more and more obstacles  in my path, I discovered a new reality.

My mantra: life on my own terms.

The challenge then became how to live that mantra. I only began to embrace it a few years ago, when life again sent me spiraling in unexpected directions.  I more fully embraced it the day I joined author Andra Watkins for a short while on her amazing and inspirational walk along the Natchez Trace. (For more about her journey–including a tiny glimpse of me–buy Not Without My Father). As I took clumsy and hesitant steps on those amazing days, supported by the friendship of two amazing women, I found myself on a new part of my journey–one that is still confusing, unexpected, uncontrollable, and sometimes downright terrifying but is becoming more fulfilling than anything I’ve done before.

I took the first true steps into learning, creating, and becoming the me I want to be.

Then and Now
Then and Now

In the short 14 months since that trip I have: lost 40+ pounds; published my debut novel; taught and created workshops for heArtful Theatre Company; presented workshops as an author; published articles in journals and on other websites; been invited to direct (which I will do in the fall); been invited to create a special program (working on it); started collaborating on a non-fiction book; mentored other inspirational women; and opened myself to other opportunities that may or may not come to fruition.

Do I know what comes next? No. Do I have all the answers? No. But, I’ve learned to value the journey and not worry so much about the route.

I have days, weeks, and even months when I struggle. I feel hopeless and defeated, and lose sight of what I hope to happen. Like my students, I begin to wonder if there is one path and one shot at success; and if, perhaps, I strayed to far and now am heading to my doom.

But then I remember, I am the only one who can define what success means to me.

Too bad that’s not a lesson that I can really teach–but it is one I hope my students someday learn.

What lessons of life do you wish you could help people learn? How do you live your life as your authentic self?

A Letter from My Brain on Creativity, Writing, and Achieving Dreams

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Dear Lisa,

Stop! Stop thinking so much. Stop trying to control your creative process, and give yourself a break.

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You know, deep inside, that the creative process can’t be forced. When have you ever been able to lasso those imaginative forces and wrangle them into control? Never, that’s when. Your creativity comes from being inspired, when the energy of imagination swarms around you with unseen sparks.

The energy of creative chaos.
The energy of creative chaos.

I know you best. You’ve relied on me for a long time. I love our relationship, but I also know when it is time to let go.

That time is now. I need a vacation and so do you.

I need you to take me to a place where the sun shines, the water is warm, the flowers are colorful, and music fills the air. I don’t mean a real place (although that would be nice) but that place inside you where you believe in magic, possibility, fairies and they mysterious energy that feeds all creativity in this world.

When you allow yourself to dip into that energetic pool, without an agenda, without fear of failure, without comparing yourself to others, then you do your best work. You know that. I know that.

Stop thinking about what could go wrong, and make things happen. How often have you surpassed your own expectations? How often have found your own answers by letting go of comparisons to others? How often have you simply followed an idea and discovered something new and unexpected?

I’ll be honest, though. I’m partially to blame for your struggles. I love to think. I love to ask difficult questions and make you agonize over the answers. I thrive on making you search for understanding of things beyond comprehension. Sometimes I get so caught up in feeding you new information and ideas that I let my guard down and allow the enemy in.

Who is the enemy? You know them well. They live inside you and whisper messages of failure. Ms. Self Doubt–who tells you that you will never be good enough. Professor Failure, who reminds you of all the places you have failed to achieve the goals someone else expects of you. The Green-Eyed Monster who reminds you that you never will be like all the people who are better, smarter, faster, more beautiful, more popular than you. Creature Critic who makes you harder on yourself then you would ever let anyone else be on themselves. Dr. Regret who haunts you with all the Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s in your life. The Symphony of Suck who has mastered your personal song of failure.

And sometimes, I confess, I am your own worst enemy. I make you think too much. I’m sorry about that.

But I want to tell you, that group is made up of liars. They are all determined to stop you before you begin. They all live hidden in my crevices, and sneak out when I am trying to encourage you, and challenge you.

Stop listening to them!

Just Stop!

And if that means you have to stop listening to me sometimes, do it.

You also have another enemy, that manages to bypass me and stops you cold. Emotional Overload loves to make you react rather than do, or to freeze you with nightmares that I cannot control. You’ve been letting her win all week, after the loss of your dear friend. Enough of that. MacKenzie would not want her to win. She would tell you to get back to work.

So I am saying it for her. Stop thinking, stop feeling, stop making excuses and get back to work.

Instead, listen to the beat of your heart. Listen to the characters who clamor for your attention. Listen to your passion and your dreams, and know that you will achieve them even if the path is circuitous. Picture yourself diving into that warm pool, under a thundering waterfall, surrounded by dancing fairy lights.

Go on, dive. Don’t worry about whether or not there are rocks at the bottom–that is thinking too much.

Stop thinking, and start living your journey one step at a time. After all, that journey has taken you to places you have never expected and introduced you to people you would never have met. It has led you on a path to discovering purpose, hope, inspiration. It hasn’t always been easy, I admit, but it has filled you with the tools you need to create.

There is no one path to take. There is no one definition of success. Just because you have done one thing (such as write a novel) doesn’t mean you are confined to only do that one thing forever and ever. You can write more novels, or not. You can write a non-fiction book, or not. You can write articles, or not. You can direct shows, or not. You can and should do whatever feels right for the path you are on now.

Together we decided that your new goal in life was to live life on your own terms. Why are you fighting against it so much? Because you are thinking too much. That’s why. Stop! I love thinking, I confess, but sometimes I want to rest. I want to breathe. I want to go with the flow.

So, dear Lisa, I’m telling you now, you can rest. We can rest. It won’t make us dumb, it will give us the freedom to fly.

Ready to jump with you,
Your Brain

 

Lessons of an Independent Author: The Power of Inspiration

Cape Elizabeth High School 3

This post might also be subtitled:

Lessons I Learned from Andra Watkins-Author

I confess that I haven’t been to a lot of author events or book readings, unless you count my attendance at two SCBWI conferences.  I have attended a lot of talks and presentations by theatre people who write, but rarely do I attend things that are specifically about one person’s book or books. On those rare occasions of attending book readings and author presentations I’ve seen a gamut of styles, which can be broken down (in my opinion) in the following way:

1. Ben Stein Presenters: people who read their own work in a monotone voice that motivates their audiences to sleep even if the words are wonderful

2. Wonders of the World; people who talk about their own work as if they are the emperor of everything (the work rarely lives up to their own hype)

3. Facts and Only Facts: people who have important information to share but leave their personalities at the door

4. Story Weavers: people who inspire by honest storytelling, enthusiastic presentations, and the desire to connect rather than sell (even if selling books is the ultimate goal).

Andra falls under the last group–she is a Story Weaver.

Last September, I had the privilege of becoming an Andra groupie as she did a whirlwind tour of Massachusetts. I know she thought I was crazy following her around from presentation to presentation, as her talk doesn’t change that much from venue to venue (depending, of course, on the type of group). Sometimes she hits the dirty jokes more, sometimes she glosses over the shocking stuff, but generally she covers the same material each time she presents.  So it seems a little strange to see the same talk several times over a four-day period–but there was method to my madness. I wanted to learn from the best. I wanted to discover the secret of creating a presentation that inspires people on many levels, not just on the level of wanting to buy her books. I knew that–if I ever got the opportunity to present myself as a published author–I didn’t want to be one of the people who bored, or the egos who boasted, or the experts who quoted facts. I wanted to become one of the authors who inspire.

No pressure. 😛

Yesterday, faced with the reality that I was about to make my first ever author visit at a high school this morning (as part of Cape Author Fest 2015) I suddenly went into a panic attack. I have no clue what to say, I told myself. I have nothing to offer them maybe I should just do a reading but if I do a reading what part of the book do I read that won’t make them want to fall asleep what if nobody likes it what if they sit there and laugh at me or worse stare at me with those blank teenage stares that say so much in their silence how can I inspire them I can’t do this AAAUUUUGGGGGGHHHH!  {Note: my panic self often seems to talk in run-on sentences}.

Even though I didn’t want to just read from my book–because I honestly find that to be the least interesting kind of presentation unless someone is a fabulous performer (I can act, but I don’t know if I would be that fabulous)–I figured I should at least plan out a selection just in case. Still, I had no clue what to pick, so I turned to the hive mind of readers on Facebook, and there I received the gift of guidance and a reminder that I could do this.

Presentation Conversation

As I worked on the slide show, it made me think about what message I really wanted to share with this group. Sure, I could talk about publishing in general, but I am such a newbie that I don’t know that I can offer much in words of wisdom. Plus, to be honest, unless I had a group of writer wannabes, no high school student would really have any interest in that. That kind of presentation seems to fall under the “Facts and Only Facts” style which bores me to tears.

Then I thought about Andra’s fabulous “Make A Memory” campaign which is part of what makes her presentations so wonderful. Andra inspires people to live life to the fullest, to make memories now rather than later. That’s an incredible gift she gives with every presentation. I realized that, to some extent, I can do that as well with my “Celebrating Our Unique Powers” campaign. I can invite my audiences to celebrate themselves, and to uncover the powers that make them special. So I did.

 

In Search of Inspiration: Thoughts from a Coffee Shop

Victoria Station

Why do we write? Why do we create? Why is my life guided by this nebulous passion to share stories through creative means, when there is (minimal) hope that I will ever get rich or anyone really cares?

Any creative person goes through these periods of doubt at times. The doubt consumes us  and we find ourselves wallowing in our inability to express ourselves in the ways that make us most comfortable. I’m not talking about writer’s block, exactly, but a deeper questioning of purpose, of goals, of dreams that makes every word you write, every image you create, every project you start seem unimportant compared to those who are out there changing the world.

Their lies fallacy.  For stories and art help change the world.  The individual stories of our lives create an incredible web that joins us despite cultural/racial/religious differences. If we could only recognize the universality of the arts–the power of artistic and creative expression to bring people together–this world would be a much happier, more peaceful place.

Sometimes I need a reminder of that though.

Where does one go for those reminders? Sometimes I wander through botanical gardens, looking for the beauty that exists in nature and inspires so much else. But I live in the part of the world that this year seems to be trapped in never-ending winter (it’s snowing again as I write). Sometimes I’ll go to an art museum or a bookstore, looking for inspiration in other people’s creations. More often though, I head to a coffee shop. I look for coffee shops that have atmosphere, and provide cozy seating. I look for places that serve drinks in actual mugs, and where you might (if you are willing) find interesting people to observe and perhaps even talk to.

Today I came to my favorite place, Victoria Station in Putnam, CT.

Victoria Station

The place looks empty in this shot, but you can see the man to my right playing the piano, as I sit on a cozy couch loaded with pillows. I’ve chatted off and on with this man, and a friend of his who was here playing for a while. Although this was the first time we’ve talked, they’ve noticed me here before. It is somewhat quiet today, which I prefer, but some days this place is filled with fascinating people. There was the man who one day decided to tell me stories about riding the bus across country. There are the people who sit and have loud conversations about life that inspire me to write or dream or think. The music from the piano floats through my head making me think of shows that I’ve done, people I’ve met, songs I’ve sung. Being in a place like this, surrounded by people who live separately from me and yet have rich stories to tell inspires me to find the connections that unite us beyond the coffee shop.

In the online Introduction to Theatre class that I am currently teaching (yes, I know, strange concept but somehow it works) I have my students research a theatrical tradition (Japanese Theatre, Chinese Theatre, Indian Sanskrit, Puppetry around the World, Commedia dell’arte, and Carnival) and share the information with the rest of the class. Then they are supposed to have online discussions about the different forms. As I was grading the discussions today, one students comment stood out for me:

“Evidently, one can draw an overwhelming multitude of parallels between the six theatrical traditions which we have sought to encompass in our presentations.”

The parallels exist across cultures, time periods, belief systems, and difference. The parallels exist because all the performance traditions have one root in common, the desire to share our stories and our interpretation of what it means to live in a creative way. The root of theatre is story. The root of art is story. The root of writing is story.

And story is . . . indeed . . . what connects us all.

Where do you go when you need inspiration? Why do you feel the urge to create?

Life on My Own Terms

Two summers ago I met my friend Terry Berliner when she came out to direct a play for Okoboji Summer Theatre (our “summer home”). Terry and I hit it off immediately, first on the three-hour drive back from Minneapolis where I picked her up at the airport, and then on long walks where she motivated my lazy butt to keep going despite the agony in my legs. She told me that, growing up, her father had always insisted that they never walk back on the same path, which led to marathon walks as you try to circle around to return home. She almost broke me the first time that motto turned into what must have been a 6 mile walk.

[Side note: This past summer she returned and we took that same walk many times, and I could have kept going. What a difference a couple of years, almost 30 lbs, and a new attitude make.]

Terry, Sarah, and I ready for one of the end of the season parties this summer.
Terry, Sarah, and I ready for one of the end of the season parties this summer.

I took that message to heart, but during that summer we also ran into times where we had no choice but to turn back–duty called. We decided that, at whatever point we needed to turn back, we would pick something to make a wish on or have a moment of hopeful thought.

This year, I walk as often as I can. But, where we live, there are limited options for making a giant circle without walking on a very busy main road. So I have taken to stopping before I turn, choosing something to pause over, and making a wish. Lately, although sometimes I vary it slightly, I say one thing: “Life on my own terms!” I may add to that by including: “Where I feel fulfilled, happy, and successful according to my own definitions of success.”

It’s not always easy for me to live up to that wish, as anyone who has followed me for any length of time will know. I am always struggling with the battle between societal definitions of success and expectations for who I “should be” and the reality of what makes me feel fulfilled in life. I still feel (sometimes) like I have failed because I don’t have the title or the name or the bank account that go along with my expectations of myself and my education.

I refuse to fight this battle anymore. From this day forward I plan to live life on my own terms–joyously, enthusiastically and with a song in my soul.

Last week, while following Andra around, I met an 80-something year old woman who was a power house of energy. She rows. She was the force behind Andra coming to speak. She exudes positive energy and joy. She introduced us to some of her friends, slightly younger women but still incredible in their choices to really live life. Throughout that meal, I found myself thinking “This is how I want to age. I want to live life every day with joy and enthusiasm.”

Today I read a book by Loretta Laroche that I had spontaneously borrowed from the library a couple of weeks ago. She is an example of a person who, it seems, truly found herself and her passion after she reached middle age. If she can do it, why can’t I? She writes:

“When someone asks what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, tell them that you don’t know, because at any given moment, whatever you’re doing could be replaced with something you like even more.” (Loretta Laroche, Kick Up Your Heels . . . Before You’re Too Short to Wear Them)

You might ask, what exactly does this mean? What am I going to do to live life on my own terms?  My answer, I don’t know. It means I’m open to the future. It means I don’t want to look back on my life and live in the “shoulda woulda coulda” zone. I do that too often and it is time to stop. So what do I want to do? Here are things that I would love to happen, even if I can’t imagine yet what form they will take:

  • I want to write more and more and get words out there that I can be proud of in the form of books, and articles, and maybe even talks.
  • I want to find a way to do more work internationally, with people from different cultures, and help make this world a better place.
  • I want my academic (adjunct) teaching to become the side job, rather than the main focus of my life.
  • I want to be open to opportunities that I have yet to imagine.
  • I want to take a dance class, just because. Maybe even cooking classes, pottery making, Nia, or . . . the list goes on and on.
  • I want to learn another foreign language fluently.
  • I want to wake up believing that anything is possible on a regular basis.

I am on an adventure that will only stop when I do,

Read about what could happen in a world where people are not allowed to live life on their own terms  in P.O.W.ER.

For each book sold, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to causes that support women and children around the world.  

Learning Literary and Life Lessons #NESCBWI14

This picture was taken at NESCBWI, after some dramatic activities that inspired writing. It may not look that chaotic here, but this is a writing break between crazier moments. Note that the chairs aren't in their neat and tidy rows.

“Because I wasn’t mad I saw something beautiful. I saw a color I had never seen before.” (Peter Reynolds)

In his keynote address at the NESCBWI conference yesterday, Peter Reynolds–award-winning author and illustrator of North Star, The Dot,  and Ish–shared his philosophies on writing, life, art and the way he creates. The above quote comes from a story he told about his (then) young daughter pouring water over his entire paint set thereby creating a color he could not describe. That color, eventually, made its way into his book, The Dot

.

His talk resonated with me on so many levels. From his idea that there are “two kinds of adults in the world”–adult adults and child adults–to his attitude that he is “a gentle rebel. Rules are suggestions . . . ” I felt as if he was speaking to the person I have always been, but at the same time the person I have always been afraid to be.

I am an adult who will always look through the heart of a child. I am a gentle rebel who has been afraid to fully embrace the world as I envision it–which in many ways goes against the expectations of society.

The past two days have made me realize that following my own creative path is the way to live my life in a manner where I truly enjoy the journey in all its unexpected variety. I thrive in an environment of the surprising–where thoughts and inspiration strike when you look somewhere else. The call of a bird outside makes me look up as I write this, although I am not wearing my glasses so cannot see clearly. I note a streak of bright yellow but cannot see the form .Instead I imagine it is not a bird, but a golden fairy dancing to welcome fairy garden which is slowly growing in our back yard. By looking beyond what I see, I see a world that others may only catch a glimpse of–and that is the world where anything is possible.

I'm sure little magical creatures are hiding out there.
I’m sure little magical creatures are hiding out there.

If I can learn to embrace this attitude fully–and let go of the need to be validated by outside forces–I will have lived my life successfully, whether I ever succeed in the eyes of the establishment. I am thrilled to live in a world with colors of my own making.

On Friday, I presented my workshop, “From Stage to Page: Using Creative Dramatics to Inspire Writing”. I was nervous, as I always am before presenting to a new group, but especially this time as I brought two of my passions in front of a group of people who may have all been more experienced writers than I (By experience I mean already having books published–because let’s face it I AM A WRITER who has been writing all her life. That’s a lot of experience.). My nerves lessened as people began to enter the room in advance of the workshop, and were so kind and open and pleasant.

“I can do this,” I said to myself “I know my stuff.”

The results, if I do say so my myself, were amazing. Sure, there were a few people there who seemed a little reluctant to fully take the plunge and participate–but even they got something out of the workshop. Some of them arrived late, because of huge parking issues at the hotel, so I can’t blame them for being intimidated as they walked into a room that was filled with creative chaos.

It may not look that chaotic here, but this is a writing break between crazier moments. Note that the chairs aren't in their neat and tidy rows.
It may not look that chaotic here, but this is a writing break between crazier moments. Note that the chairs aren’t in their neat and tidy rows. You can almost see the creative energy shooting through the room.

Although workshops at these conference often include activities, because of the nature of what I was doing the activities were different from those you will usually find. The first thing I did was ask everyone  to move chairs into some semblance of a circle. (My only complaint was they put me into a room far to small for a workshop that was based on drama activities).The following is a slight breakdown of the activities I did:

  • As a warm-up and getting to know you exercise, I asked them switch places in the circle based on their responses to comments and statements. (I am a writer. This is my first conference. I am nervous. I am excited. etc. ) This meant leaving their writing tools behind, which was a challenge for some.
  • I asked them to walk through space as different characters or with different types of emotions and sensations, focusing on feeling in their bodies how their body and mood shifted.
  • I led them through a guided visualization about a room, and a journey. I asked that they show what they were thinking and feeling on their bodies and faces. I wish I had pulled out my camera for this because there were some magical moments that only I could see:

The man who reached out in front of him, took a cup and drank from it.

The woman who cradled a baby in her arms.

The woman who smelled something very unpleasant.

  •  After this activity, I gave them time to write their journey down. I had a few people share and it was amazing the variety and creativity that came from one simple prompt: the person who sat in a library and had a drink from a bar that I could practically taste; the person who was in a prison cell and trying to escape; the person who started out afraid and ended up safe. (In an interesting side note, several of them started out afraid and ended safe–perhaps this reflects their personal journey into this activity.)
  • Next, and perhaps the most popular activity of them all, I had them hot seat characters they were working on. I asked them to embody the character, and then answer questions given to them by their group. Many of them learned things they didn’t know, or discovered thin s they need to learn. They then wrote either journal entries or letters in first person, from this character’s perspective.
  • Finally, we did a kind of freeze tag, where they got to play a character they wanted to explore while someone else played a character of his or her own. So, the teenage wealthy girl in search of adventure interacted with the troll from someone else’s story, or an energetic boy conversed with an alien. One of my favorite moments was when several different characters had to communicate with some kind of creature (I thought it was a bull) who only spoke with grunts and eyebrow motions. I asked them to write a dialogue based on these interactions as well.

I believe most of the participants walked away from my workshop with ideas and inspiration. I hope they did (and if any of them read this I would love to hear more in the comments below). One thing I know for a fact that they walked away with, because I talked to a participant about it yesterday, is an instant group of friends who went through a strange little journey together. Conferences are places to meet people, but this workshop made them interact in new ways which formed a connection which, I hope, they won’t forget.

I learned many lessons over the past two days (some which I will share in later posts) but I think the most important one came from realizing that I need to follow the path of the unexpected. Many years ago I would never have thought that I would be presenting workshops at writer’s conferences, and now I want to present more. Many years ago, I never thought I would have two novels under my belt, one which I will have available for readers everywhere in the very near future, and a third underway.  A few years ago, I was unsure that I would ever create a career out of my patchwork life–but now I realize that my patchwork life is my career.

Peter Reynolds says, “follow your own North Star.” Jane Yolen, who spoke on Friday night, encouraged us all to “give birth to shooting stars.”

I plan to do just that. How about you?

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