Friday, July 16, 2021

Small Things with Great Love

Hi, readers! I’m jumping in here today just to update you with what’s going on in my writing life.  The journey to here has been epic and at the same time.

Currently you can find an excellent conversation with me and Janet Lee Carey about creative courage  To be honest, we go on to just talk about all courage. If you want candid, open thoughts, this is the place for you: Dreamwalks: Creative Courage. 

I have started sending my epic FOR THE LOVE GOD to agents  Wish my bread to come back on every wave.  

My alter ego, Cece Barlow, has been up to all kinds of mischief. I want to check out my newest work, please follow the link: The Four Winds: Regalia of Power   . This YA fantasy serial will appeal to readers who love speculative fiction/historical mashups! Oh, and dragons, magic, ether, the Salt City, caravans, the Great Library of Constantinople, powerful magicians of Egypt...definitely not traditional Western fantasy.  

Last, I will leave a quote for your pocket.  
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Mother Teresa

Sunday, January 17, 2021

How to Create Art in a Mad World

The world feels like it's being shattered like glass on concrete. Covid rages but selfishness abounds, so many refusing to stop its spread. Homegrown terrorists calling themselves patriots have stormed the White House. The current president represents the worst of us, duping half and thumbing his nose at the other half. Families are splintered in all kinds of directions. Blame games are played at every level of society and the idea of "everybody getting together and trying to love one another, right now," a popular anthem performed the year I was born by a folk band called the Kingston Trio, seems impossibly naive. How do you stabilize yourself in such a world to create art? 

The thing is that the naive anthem mention above has carved into my creative psyche through the years. The only way to move forward is to cast aside fear. Personally, I've never lived in a more fearful time. All you have to do is whisper a vague possibility of an unclear threat to send people skittering in every direction. The grocery store was stripped of items again and no wondering is necessary, many whisper that next week will lead to blood running on the streets of  "the greatest country on God's green Earth." Picking up your pen and writing your words this week will be hard. Playing your music, hard. Creating your art, hard. But choosing your inherent ability to create is siding with the angels of this world. Turn off the discordant voices and be a voice of peace. Make a stand against fear. 

As fear sounds off every mountain, stirring up hate, you have the opportunity to shake off the madness. Use your art to stamp on fear. Dance until you can't breathe anymore. Slip through the portal into your other world and take down those baddies however you see fit. Isekai your way to something better. Art is the chance to be reborn. Let yourself feel the creative forces of the universe and watch the paltry fear fade into a distant haze. Stare into the light of good. Sow goodness and mercy morning, noon, and night. Don't sink into apathy. Heavens above, even though it feels like your veins are filled with sludge, don't let the monsters of this age steal the treasure of your art.  

In this time of "look at me, hear my voice," listen for the quiet voices that don't bring the hurricane, that don't bring fire, and that don't bring earthquakes. Remember the madwoman who saw fame as a fickle food that men ate and then died. Think of the Gallilee carpenter who spoke of the blessed souls: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted. A motley crew, basically a band of flotsam and jetsom. Join the blessed with your art. Create the stuff you will be insulted for. Create the stuff that you will be persecuted for. Create the good, good stuff that you will be called evil for. 

The image of the creator is within us all. Remember that as you look at each face. Do the work of sanity in the madness around us. Keep talking. Feel what you need feel, but then work. Still struggling? Find a solid tree to sit under. Trees never get to take a step, but in their own way are arguing with their neighbors and reaching for the stars. Lean against that rough bark and think about the rough bark protecting you. Think about the roots holding this tree to the ground. Think about the gold leaves of spring that furl into the green leaves of summer, and fade back to gold leaves of fall to stark branches of winter. You are the art tree. If a windstorm, snowfall, or mudslide has taken you out, you will lay on your side and every bit you will be used to enrich the next forest to spring out of the seeds you scattered before you fell. Cling to what lasts in the mad, mad world and work. 

Now take on kindness. What kindness can you swirl into the patterns you create? Let go of your anger and animosity. Stop belittling humans with your fear-driven hate, regardless of the hate they are flinging at you. Open the doors you have shut. You have something to add to the creative canon. Nothing kills creativity like grudges and ill-will. Do yourself a favor and go to the ocean and cast a stone into the sea. Now see imagine an ocean without end, one of love. No matter how hot you are about whatever has happened to you. The sea will put out that fire. It will polish the dull surfaces of you. That love will make what is broken right. That ocean is deeper than infinity. 

It's time to let go. You know the debts you have accrued in this life. Time to take your ledgers and burn them in the woodstove. Know the Logos that brought us into the light for this moment and this time has covered all the debts. The universe is counting on you. Your art springs out of the ether of imagination. Your art is bigger than madness. Set it free. Good news, art comes with wings. Wheel high above the mortal earth and fly. I hope these words help you steady yourself. Take what you need to stabilize your craft. 

Here is a quote for your pocket.

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell

Monday, January 11, 2021

Gearing Up for a New Year - Creativity

Art for your heart from my picture book Magic Carpet Night. 

It's January and folks are outlaying mucho moola on new planners, apps, and coaching classes to get the mojo juice flowing for 2021. We all know that most will fail. How do you keep yourself out of that group? Here's some advice: while everyone else is making new year's resolutions that will ultimately bomb, you can gear up in ways that will ensure success. The road map outlined here will help you energize your creativity and ensure that your work is popping, crackling, and snapping 

Creativity doesn't just happen. Don't listen to anyone who says you are a creative person; a chosen one imbued with this mysterious force. Creativity comes through hard work, experimentation, and vulnerability. These pillars are needed to keep the cauldron from being stagnant. Do you want to kick your production to a higher level? Do you want to do more than you have ever done before? Do you want to be standout original?  I'm going to break down these three pillars to help you on your journey. 

The first pillar is hard work. Sit butt in chair and hustle. You must layer effort with endurance. Ask yourself what is something you have worked hard for. Think about what led to your success and repurpose anything useful. For me, I make my bed every day. It gives me a win every morning and it also shows I can endure for freaking forever as long as I "KISS" it. Yes, you must make sure you keep it simple, Stupid. Endurance depends on small steps with reps. If you sit around saying you going to write that novel, paint that picture, sculpt that sculpture, knit that blanket, but watch TV and drink mimosas instead, you are going to create a big pile of nothing. 

So let's get downright practical. Write down a list of five short term projects that you want to take to completion and that you have the skills and knowledge to do. Be sure these projects are very specific. Write a rough draft, not write a book. Books come in stages: prewriting, rough draft, revision1, revsion2, revision3, final draft. I'm trusting you to list out ten reasonable short term projects. Now, until these five short term projects are complete, don't start anything else. Put any new ideas on the next projects list. (If you don't have a system to shut down distractions, you are going to be distracted.) Now, how to approach each project. Estimate the time it will take you to do it. You may need to do some research to make a good estimate. Block out that time in your schedule. Set a deadline. Now get a partner on board to check in with. Turn off the feeds!!! Finally, work, work, work.  

The next creativity pillar is experimentation. Get out of your comfort zone. I mean it. Think of something absolutely bonkers from your perspective to try. Learn a new language, dip a toe into ballroom dancing, try learning a martial art...whatever seems out of your reach but that you would like to give it a go. Experimentation welcomes failure. Study new methods and try them out. Open up to some new ideas. Put yourself in somebody else's shoes. Let your curiosity run wild. Learn things for the joy of learning them. If you don't block out time for experimentation, you are not going to have ah-ha moments this year, not one. 

Here's some nitty-gritty experimentation implementation. Pull out your calendar and fuel it up. Find the event in the local newspaper, message board, coffee shop...get yourself to any event that interests you and looks like it takes skill to make it happen. Challenge yourself. Watch a show that folks are flocking to that is not your thing,  and then think about why people are interested in it. Cook stuff in the kitchen. Grow stuff in the yard. Paint stuff on the walls. Go for walks and observe and think. Try the road less taken, at least by you. Bottom line. get out there and experiment, at least a few hours of your week need to be dedicated to experimentation. If you don't shake things up, I promise you will be stuck in a rut. 

The last creativity pillar is vulnerability. You must come out of your safety zone into exposed places.  Yes, you must deal. Go to therapy. Attend a self-help group. Join a community of faith. Begin a gratitude journal. Anything that you know will emotionally crack you open is a good idea. Most of us have things festering, and if you are not dealing with them, that stuff will choke your voice. You might need to off-load something in a relatively safe place, i.e. totally anonymous. There are tons of websites out there where you can share secrets. Have that conversation you keep putting off. Face your pain. Be brave, and you will soar. 

Being vulnerable is about knowing your weaknesses. Perhaps it is time to admit a few things about yourself. Are you a lazy one? A mean one? A disorganized one? Whatever. We all have our hangups. You want to change, but the last 4000 things you tried have failed. Feel your feelings, but then dust yourself off and try again. Vulnerability is naming your kryptonite and then keeping away from that stuff. If you are wondering about where to start, choose someone who knows you and loves you, and then ask them what you need to work on.  After you are finished being pissed about what they said, really think about it. One of the most vulnerable things you can do is listen. 

I hope I've stirred you up. Get into gear. This encouragement and right now is a great place to start. I love to jump into the deep end of the pool. The feeling of sinking deep into the water and then clawing my way back to the surface for the big breath. Some like to go into the pool one step at a time, slowly, until they get used to it. Gearing up your year is your journey. Do it your way. Be creative.

Here is a quote for your pocket. 

Creativity is contagious, pass it on. ~Albert Einstein

Monday, January 04, 2021

Dsylexia. Dylesxia. Dylexia. Dyslexia.

I don't know by looking which word in the title is spelled right. Welcome to my life. 

I was the reader in church on Sunday, and suddenly the words turned into a bunch of deconstructed letters. I didn't know my place, and I am suddenly back in my elementary school self. My teacher is asking what the next word is. I don't know. My class is laughing at me. I fold my shoulders in. Tears roll down my face. 

A page of text can become a puzzle to me in a second. The words will reappear if I wait. Sometimes it takes up to a minute for me to see the separate words again, instead of a page of jumbled letters. But this was something that I didn't know how to communicate with my teacher. She never did try to figure out what was wrong with me. She thought I was a subpar student who refused to try. I was sent to remedial reading to fix the unfixable. It's a battle not to think of myself as a failure even to this day. 

After church people came up to me. "We all make mistakes." I'm thinking, I didn't make a mistake. "Were you having a mental breakdown?" You seemed to be laughing and crying at the same time. I said that's what I meant. Long ago, I learned that this is me. I don't apologize for it, even if I am a train wreck. 

I love the written word. Stories are my jam. My first stories were picture books because there had fewer words on the page. I remember being laughed at in the fifth-grade for trying to check out a stack of picture books at the school library. The librarian suggested I put them back for the younger kids. I put some back, but I'm still pissed about it. 

I read every day, and I'm a writer. Dang, my love for stories is a problem. I just send out the emails and manuscripts and know, yeah, there may be a word or two or three or five or more missing. I blow up the text on novels to picture book size and read away. (Thank God for technology).  I'm going to be told that I don't care sometimes, and I don't try sometimes, and that I need to clean up my manuscripts all the time. I won't apologize. 

My dyslexia rips into everything I do. There is no way to avoid it, but, as a human being, I want to do something. So I tell my stories. Some days I can't write. The words are a mess and I can't sort them. I call these stagnant water days.  Other days I have a few problems. The words flow like mountain streams, clear and fast. So my problem is variable. Tricky. 

I am slower than everyone, but I do understand things. I love to learn, but I hate school. Those many Fs for things that I could not help really sucked and have left me with more than a little PTSD. We move forward shattered if we must. Only a few people have really been on the inside of my struggle enough to know what I'm facing daily. I am so grateful when the chose to love me and not fuss when I am continually struggling. 

I consider dyslexia a dent-and-scratch disability. I am serviceable. I can get a job done. Don't expect type-A fervor from me. I'm type keep-my-head-above-water.  

I hope that reading this makes you understand yourself better or see that quirky person in your life in a new light. Perhaps you can see the beauty of how they are dealing with the winds of this world.    

Seize the day!

I close with a doodle for your soul.  My interpretation of petroglyphs from Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico. 

Here is a quote for your pocket. 

I cling to my imperfection as the very essence of my being. Anatole France

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Power of Thankfulness

Hi, folks. Welcome to 2020 on Seize the day. This year has been a gift to my inner introvert.  That extroverted side of me has taken the passenger seat, and the book worm, star gazing gal is doing the driving. I've thought about Issac Newton a lot this year. He was at home during an epidemic when he connected the ideas of an apple falling and the moon being held by the earth, leading to the law of universal gravitation. Whoa!

I feel that Newton has set the success-during-a-pandemic bar high, but I have been giving my creative self the reins in what I am calling my "Magnum Opus" year. I'm grateful for a year to slow down and take time to breathe and write the hardest book I've ever attempted. If you have struggled this year, I hope my journey helps you reframe that rickety house you've built around yourself. 

Thankfulness is a weird sort of thing. So many want to capture it, believing if they pile enough stones on the pile that that will show how thankful they have been. Nothing wrong with listing out what you are thankful for, nothing at all. I particularly like lists, but for me, thankfulness is like an updraft, unseen and moving me along at all times. Along with updraft is this other wind, unthankfulness, the downdraft, that can hold me down like a butterfly pinned to a board.  If I want to soar, I gotta jump into the updraft. 

Imagine a pillar of air shooting up out of the Earth with enough force to send you above the clouds. It's not going to be an easy jump. Add to the thought experiment that you stand in a downdraft that will hardly let you stand. The downdraft pins you to the Earth. You can't move much, but you don't have to worry about falling. You're already on rock bottom. It's going to be a battle to get out the downdraft. You will claw and crawl your way to the edge and then, ploop, you are tossed into the updraft. 

Claw and crawl your way out of unthankfulness. Reframe your thoughts. Start with breathing. If you are reading this, you are breathing. Your lungs suck in oxygen all day long without a hint of help from your active brain. Breathe and be grateful. Get into this moment. Meditate. Let go of worrying. Be grateful for the body that holds your brain. Be grateful for the brain that allows you to think thoughts. Think about any mindless repetitive chores you do most days: sleep, brush your teeth, make your bed, sweep your floor. Think about the good people in your life, what gifts they have given you. Note, you are probably going to cry, have revelations about life, and forgive a whole boatload of stuff and write a magnum opus. This is a side effect of thankfulness, as far as I can tell. 

In a bit, you will notice that the gloomy cloud is lifting. You will soar. So here is the drill claw and crawl. Whatever it takes. Then soar.  If you find yourself back in ungratefulness, do the drill. 

I hope this helps you. Check back for the next bit of carpe diem.   

Here is a quote for your pocket.

I've never had a policy, I've just tried to do my best every day. Abraham Lincoln. 

A doodle for your joy.