Saturday, February 23, 2013

Golden Advice: The Mystery of Omar Khayyam

Hi folks, this is the last in golden advice series. I've been keeping to the ancient paths this year. I'm trying to stick to thoughts that have stirred me up as a writer. This week I will dip into the poetry of Omar Khayyam. I'm not calling his genius, wisdom, but instead, mystery.  He saw how  unknowable the world is and celebrated it.

Omar was a Persian astronomer, philosopher, mathematician and a poet.  It always astonishes me the kinship I feel with him. A Texas Writer Mom is about as far as you can get from Persian Poet Philosopher, and yet I feel we are as close as friends who can always pick up a conversation even if they have not seen each other in years. How startling it is to open the pages of poems written a thousand years ago and find someone who sees what I see and knows what I know.

I first read Khayyam's Rubaiyat (trans. Edward FitzGerald) back in junior high, and it has stayed with me. The listed stanzas below all come from the Rubaiyat. I'm going to chat about each plays into my writing life.

Some for the glories of this world; and some
Sigh for The Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the cash and let the credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum.

People have a ton of reasons to do what they do.  Many want the fame, the acolades, the money, whatever. Others look to the holy and sigh for the unseen. The next line makes me laugh every time. Take the cash and let the credit go.  This is such a simple, true thought to me.  Don't disparge who you are right now, what you do right now, what you have done up to this moment.  No one may have ever noticed what you have written up to this point, but cling to the cash value of saying something and saying it well. Let go of all those glories and sighs.  Don't march out to that far off drumming but dig into the here and now and live it fully. Live. Write.

Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

Yes, I'm here. A tiny dot in an expansive place. I don't know why I love stories. Water bubbles up and flows to the sea. Stories bubble up and flow out to myriad minds. There is no way to predict the journey stories will take. They come and flow and go. I feel like shouting, "Go! Go! Go!" Write like that. Write like your stories will reach the ends of the universe.

Yesterday This Day's Madness did prepare;
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

Each time there is another Madness -- murders of the innocent, 9-11, Sandy Hook, the drug war in Mexico, I could list a thousand things for this week -- I remember that yesterday was setting us up for today. What will happen tomorrow is all about yesterday. A storyteller sees what leads to the next thing.

You must practice being aware.  In that awarness, don't freeze up, but drink!  Don't curl up and say it's too hard to unravel, it's too difficult share.  Dig into the whence, the why and the where. Dig into the passion and reveal this mad journey that always leads to silence, triumph, or despair. Be fearless as you create -- line on line, bird by bird, brick by brick -- however you roll.

Revel in the mysteries. I hope you have enjoyed this series and will come back next week!  Seize the day!

Here is the doodle for the week: "Direction".

One last quote to keep in your pocket.

A hair divides what is false and true.  Omar Khayyam

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Golden Advice: Wisdom from Socrates

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series on the ancient paths to see what I can glean for us. Socrates was one bold-thinking dude, and I have been a major fan since I was in high school.  I can see him, sort of a lazy bum, moving from one group to another in ancient Athens. It's a place of beauty and he's an ugly guy. I believe he gets the irony. He dresses like a homeless person. He won't take money for his philosophical teaching, because he feels that the second you take a red cent for what you think then, blah, they own you and every thought you share.

Instead he's a blue collar guy, and makes his cash as a stone mason (I like to think this is true but it's not verified) when he needs to eat. He's the gadfly of Athenian society, a biting fly that can direct a horse. He doesn't go with popular opinion and always sticks with his own opinion. His whole attitude finally causes the leaders of the city to put him on trial. They ask him what should be his punishment and he has the cheek to say a pension and free food for the rest of his life. He's convicted of the terrible crimes of "corrupting the minds of the youth" and "causing those kids to question their current gods and their government." Huzzah! Of course, he's given hemlock to drink and put to death for his heresy.

So what, writerly stuff do I take from the original "marching-to-my-own-drum" guy?  Well, yeah, let's corrupt young minds!  And add this on, let's do our part to cause kids to question their current gods and their government. Add that into your writer's toolbox and I'm pretty sure the content of your writing is going to get interesting.  You may spend some time out in the cold in terms of publishing though because you don't jump on vampire-fantasy-dystopian-suspense-thriller bandwagons. You will see lots of notes that say, wish there was room for your original stuff in this tight market. When your books come out, finally, the storm stirred up by people who find you subversive won't be pretty. But don't let that stop you.

I'm going to wrap this up with a favorite Socrates idea. Don't just believe stuff. Turn over every stone. Don't live an unexamined life, not just for your writing but for yourself too.

Hope this little story lights a fire under you.  You go ahead and stand up for what you believe, even if its not politically-correct or popular.  Seize the day, creative folk.

This week's doodle is called: "Tangled Hearts."

This quote is Plato's account (old Soc knew how to pick friends) of how Socrates felt about being put to death because he was willing to think his own thoughts. I hope we will all be swans.

From Plato's Phaedo: Socrates said and smiled. . .
I am not very likely to persuade other men that I do not regard my present situation as a misfortune, if I am unable to persuade you, and you will keep fancying that I am at all more troubled now than at any other time. Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans?

For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the god whose ministers they are.

But men, because they are themselves afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold, or hungry, or in pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow, nor yet the hoopoe; which are said indeed to tune a lay of sorrow, although I do not believe this to be true of them any more than of the swans.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Golden Advice: Wisdom of Solomon

Hi, folks, I'm continuing my golden advice series. This is an exciting time for me as a writer. After several years  of working on my current book, I'm about to send it out to agents.  I'm seesawing between manic joy and and quaking fear. 

It's hard to put yourself out there. I leave a lot of myself on the page and who wants to find out that their ms doesn't suit needs, doesn't connect, or the worst, there's no room for your brand of storytelling in the market right now.

A person needs a serious anchor to  stay steady in the storms.  I like ancient paths. It's just hardwired in me. This week I'm turning to the wisdom of Solomon to face the road ahead.

I like the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. (I'm no scholar and many feel that Solomon didn't write this book, but the folk way is he did and I'm a folk.)  Anyway, ever since I heard "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by Pete Seeger back in my munchkin days, it's stayed with me and kept me on task.  So this week I'm sharing the writerly version of "to everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under heaven. " 

There is a time to write, and a time stop writing; a time to start a new manuscript, a time to send it out and snag an agent, an editor and an audience.  There is a time to throw a manuscript in the circular file; there is time to pull out a manuscript and finally, finally fix it; there is a time to delete whole chapters from your WIP; there is a time to add a stack of new chapters. 

There is a time to weep when you think you won't succeed. There is a time to laugh when a new idea comes. There is a time when you get really close to succeeding but it doesn't work out. There is a time when you finally succeed and, yes, you put on some disco and dance. 

There is a time to start sending out a new manuscript. There is a time to start writing a new manuscript. There is a time keep working hard even though you feel you are not making progress. There is a time to put a WIP up on a shelf for a while.  There is a time to get an agent and a publishing contract. There is a time to lose both.

There is a time to rip up a book and donate it to other stories; there is a time to let a good story idea percolate.  There is a time to plan what you will write; there is a time to say the things you've never been brave enough to say. There is a time to love what you have written and fight for it.  There is time to really hate your book.  

There is time when you must fight to find time write.  There is a time when it all comes together.

I hope you understand the times and the seasons this week and that this golden advice stays with you.

This week's doodle is called "Happy Blue Blobby."

And a quote for your pocket. I know I keep this one in my pocket. 

Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is due to the triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Golden Advice: Wisdom from Delphi

Hi folks, I've been sick with a virus so this week is going to be short. I like to seek the desirable in the middling area. I find the golden in the place between the left and the right, not the dead center between these two places but with a leaning one way or the other. I'm find the golden in a place of unending tension. I find the golden is the heart of balance, beauty and grandeur in writing.

How does my thinking play out in my everyday writing? Think about the balance within your writing. I talked about the golden ratio in terms of pacing a couple of years back and that may be of some interest to you. Now I will think of the golden in terms of philosophy. I've read if you enter the temple at Delphi, there are two sayings on the Doric columns: "Know thyself" and "Nothing in excess." Well, that is some fab writerly advice. Know what you are good at.  Be aware of your weaknesses. With that knowledge in hand, now dip into Shakespeare: to thyself be true.  Next, look for excesses in your writing and round the corners. Is you main charater too extreme of a character, have you gone crazy with too much description, do your actions scenes just go on and on? Cut every excess in your book. Don't forget to look at each word and ask yourself, does my story need this word? 

Yes, I'm a fan of the ancient pathways. I hope you are too.  Bring the old and the new to your writing this week. See you next week.

Today's doodle is "Green and pink."

In many things the middle have the best / Be mine a middle station. Phocylies