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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Be submissive to everything. Open listening - Jack Kerouac

I found these "List of Essentials for Modern Prose" by Jack Kerouac that are some real gems. They seem to apply to today's modern prose as well.

Scribbled secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy

Try never get drunk outside your own house

Be in love with your life

Something that you feel will find its own form

Write what you want bottomless - from the bottom of the mind

No time for poetry but exactly what is

Remove literary, grammatical and syntaxical inhibitions

Accept loss forever

Believe in the holy contour of life

No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge

In praise of character in the bleak inhuman loneliness

Composing wild undisciplined pure, coming in from under - the crazier the better

You're a genius all the time

Allen Ginsberg and I were born on the same day

This video speaks to who he truly was. A good reminder that faithful dedication and persistence are the keys to any worthwhile pursuit.

Rave on, Allen

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My spiritual writing teacher...

I've been stumbling around with my project, trying to write stories and feeling out of sorts about it all and getting poorly developed ideas down and finishing nothing.

poorly imagined

..and more

But I returned to my roots. I listened to an old audiobook I had on my ipod by my spiritual writing teacher Natalie Goldberg. The book is actually her speaking at a writing seminar somewhere. In just 20 short minutes into the talk, she revealed that when she was preparing to write her novel, Banana Rose, she had been in a terrible writing slump for months. She was trying to write in some formulaic method like she'd learned in high school English class, trying to attack it from an overly organized approach. One day she finally said to hell with it and went to a coffee shop in Santa Fe and did what she'd taught herself and what she'd been preaching to the rest of us: let it rip. Put the pen to paper, don't stop writing, don't edit - let it rip. In that two hours she came up with the persona of her main character, and she wrote the rest of the novel in that way.

Of course! That's it! The same thing I'm going through! So I did that. Went to my writing place - a secret little coffee shop where I do my best work - and let it rip. Two days of that and I now have two of the richest stories I know on paper in raw form that reads well unedited and is the momentum I needed to move this project along.

And it feels great....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The lyrics of Byran Ferry... always take me there...

When the samba takes you
Out of nowhere
And the background's fading
Out of focus
Yes the picture's changing
Every moment
And your destination
You don't know it...


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"The worst crap I ever wrote..." - Me

Today's writing is the worst crap I ever wrote. Yeah, yeah I know I'm supposed to avoid judgment of my creative work, but this ain't judgment, it's reality. The poetry I wrote is so disjointed even I can't make hide nor hair of it. The story I wrote sounded like it was written as a war propaganda narrative, the likes of which you'd hear in one of those 1940s newsreels.

That's not bad though. At least I have enough taste to recognize they're crap. The big question is: can I edit them so that they express what I really want to say in the way I want to say it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Up in that room I decided I would write one story about each thing I knew about." - Ernest Hemingway on his writings in Paris

I have mentioned here previously that Sylvia Beach is my muse. However, Hemingway is my driver. His quote above is what I am doing. Writing story after story about everything I know. It's good writer's work and is providing structure in my efforts, but also a kind of cleansing. I guess this coincides well with the last Hemingway quote I posted here: I am sitting at the computer and bleeding (my niece Christina pointed out the dated term of using a typewriter in Hemingway's days).

So I'm cleansing and writing and bleeding.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed - Ernest Hemingway

Canon of Writing Continuity

*Fear is an inevitable part of any creative process. Recognize it but don’t let it get to you. Plow through it.

*The only way to prepare for writing is, undoubtedly, to start writing.

*You can’t expect to flawlessly spill the whole novel onto the page in just one take. Don’t be intimidated by the imperfections of a draft.

*Write, even if you feel you have nothing to say at that particular moment. Stop worrying about structure and trust the pieces will eventually fall into place.

*Be specific about what you want to write about.

Today a very astute classmate in Make Writing A Happy Habit posted the above synopsis of wisdoms she's gathered from thoughts shared on the class blog by our writing coach Cynthia Morris and the other students. They are a perfect gathering of precepts to keep our writing craft moving forward. I am adopting them as my canon, and therefore am calling them my Canon of Writing Continuity.

Thank you Claudia. I have learned so much from you already.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mindmapping experiment....

Above is a photo of an incomplete mind map I worked on this evening. Since I've decided that my primary project will be either my memoir or a fact based fiction, I'm both chomping at the bit to dig in and a bit bewildered by the monumental task ahead. I have only had one experience with mind mapping to sort out some other writing issues and to be honest I don't think it suited me well. But considering that I might just need some additional practice at it, and feeling the need to begin sorting out my ideas (ergo the work to be accomplished) I thought I'd give it another try.

I have to say it seems more to hinder than to help. Of course I've not had any real training in mind mapping, but I have read a bit about it on several websites online and from Wiki, as well as watched several Youtube videos about it, some of which were by the alleged guru of mind mapping in the UK - Tony Buzan. It seems straightforward enough - engage the right and left brains in collaboration of tackling the organizational and artistic undertaking in order to come up with a product that is sorted out in a manageable way.

So far I'm not impressed. There is far too much info to include on even the largest size poster board I could find. Rather than helping to sort things out, I end up feeling like I am confined by the 7 rules of mind mapping and the illustration itself. It feels like perhaps the artistic side of my brain is getting in the way of my organizational side.

Shall I try it again or move on to something that may suit me better without having to learn some obtuse technique?

Ira Glass on Storytelling #3

Cynthia posted this video by Ira Glass on our MWHH blog today, and it is brilliant. Wonderful inspiration that will help me to keep plodding along even when my stuff ain't good.

Monday, May 10, 2010

So today's assignment in MWHH is to identify our gremlin. I knew this part of the class was coming and didn't relish its arrival. Not because I don't think it's a good idea to know who and what our gremlin is. It's just that because it portrays struggle and perhaps some nasty ugliness did I really want to confront it if I didn't have to?
Well the answer to that is of course - only if I want to be a productive and happy writer. So there's my answer and I took on the task.
Cynthia recommended a 15-minute free writing exercise, whereby I should identify my gremlin, discover its characteristics and even give it a name - become more familiar and intimate with it. I scratched my head on this one for about 5 or so minutes, then it began to come to me in a flood. I'm not going to rewrite the exercise here, but I will say that shame, embarrassment, and a bit of impostor fear is at the heart of my gremlin. So I've named him Shameus. A right good Irish name at that, eh? It's a good name for my gremlin and fits quite well.
I was really flying along with writing and identifying it and was able to write for about 20 minutes before I had to leave for an appointment. I feel like I could write more about Shameus and how he affects me and my writing, and probably other areas of my life. I'll squeeze in a little more writing late tonight.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

For some reason it's been an arduous internal struggle but I've come up with my list of 10 priorities for writing projects. I'm listing them here, but I can see that they will need some tweaking in the near future. The biggest news is that the memoir that's been gnawing away at the back of my artistic cave has been brought to the list, and quite near the top of the list.

It was a bit of an agonizing process, not sure what that's about. But it's here. Now that it is, my mind is burning up with ideas - ideas that smack of lots of creative effort and harrowing.

I plan top mind map this on a large piece of butcher paper and see what comes out.

Anyway, here's the list (the top 5 are on equal priority):
  1. Daily free writing
  2. Daily blog
  3. Weekly poetry
  4. Fire service memoir or fact based fiction
  5. Finish writing short story currently under way - Pam and Dennis
  6. A series of fire service novels, each depicting a different protagonist
  7. Short story - several incidents at the beginning of my career
  8. Short story - personal trauma event (write it as a fiction)
  9. Short story - Incident commander on the Harris Fire
  10. Write about my dad
There is a lot of pent up.... stuff in that list.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Poetry Meetup

I'm having a bit of trouble writing today's writing class assignment. Mostly I think because it's late and I'm tired. I've had a full day dealing with the real things in life - things outside my writer's world. So I thought I'd list the two poems I'd written for The Poet's Table poetry Meetup that I missed on Thursday. This week's poetry prompt was Water, Water Everywhere. I didn't get a chance to read them to the group, so here they are.

It’s Raining and I’m a Long Way From Home

the mizzle begins

to wet our faces

and my t-shirt

i stop the old Harley

beneath the underpass

before i make the long winding trek

into the rockies and beyond

shall i stop or shall i go?

a question i’ve asked

a hundred times

as if tlaloc

will answer me

i gaze upward

to find some clue

to what the future holds

for two open-air travelers

who have but one raincoat

yet all i see

is an evergreen mountain

regal and powerful and tall

whose peaks i cannot see

for the sinister black raincloud

has chopped off its head

we wait

and we laugh

to fend off our fear

which we must not show

for surely then the mongrel

shall envelop us in its deluge

and eat us.

she snaps shut the rain suit

and mounts the pad behind me

with a hug that’s tighter and different

i point the old bike into the blackness

like a sword

Somewhere Beyond the Sea

when i stand at the sea

and look westward

something ancient

and organic occurs within

an essence of promise or hope

of something else out there

that’s richer and purer

and beckons me

if only i will come

i have never been saddened

by the setting of the western sun

rather tears of joy in the knowing

that my sunset is the sunrise

of another shore

silently and powerfully

i am beckoned

by the blissful warmth

of what lies beyond

the rolling cold of the sea

and if i look just right

i can see and feel

a thousand ancestors

in two perfectly endless rows

one row looking seaward

the other gazing back

like standing alone

between two mirrors

then it comes to me

i am their proxy

they have stood in this place

and felt what i feel

as they yearned across the ocean

to the setting of the western sun

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Today's lesson: Ideal Writing Conditions

I'm quite familiar with my druthers for making my writing environment right. I've spent a lot of time finding the right time, place and implements for it. (When we moved to this new neighborhood las November, I literally drove around for several days covering many miles to find the right coffee shop to plant my butt and write! - and I'm glad I did)

I do not enjoy writing at:

early morning or late at night

any other time is good with me

I like to write when:

I have just eaten or I am neither hungry nor full

I get a lot of writing done:

at home on the veranda

at my desk

at the library (I haven't done this in a long time, but I like to write here)

at my favorite coffee cafe

while on a motorcycle road at night at the end of a day's ride - good chronicling happens here

I write best:

Either after exercising or immediately after having had morning coffee and a good read in the New Yorker

I write best with one of my several Cross medium nib fountain pen with ink converter (for longer time between refills) filled with BLUE ink. I dislike writing with black ink as it seems too impersonal and utilitarian. It's interesting how distracting this is to me. Even in my many years as a fire chief, any ink pen at my desk or in the pocket of my uniform shirt would have blue ink.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I'm writing so well on my new netbook - it was a fear that I'd never be able to have the same flow or mental connection I do with pen and ink. I think that because I can take it to places where I like to write (see above), it seems more free. This is about to get even better for me, because I've just ordered a new Smartphone that will be a 3G wifi hotspot - internet connection wherever I go. This technology constantly blows my mind.

I write best:

In complete silence and solitude, but also do well at my favorite coffee café. Definitely among strangers is best in any away from home setting – writing among friends or family is much of a distraction (love you all, but I gots to concentrate!)

I sometimes like to write with 50s bebop jazz: John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk or later stuff like Pat Metheny or Jeff Oster – something pleasing but not intrusive. Anything that has lyrics is too distracting – I will find myself trying to make sense of the story in the song. Even at that, I find that the tenor of my writing will be influenced by the drama or tension in a musical passage, so I try to avoid music if I can.

I can typically maintain a good writing session for 3-4 hours unless I’m not in a good mental space, but it also depends what I’m writing. Free writing, after 1/12 to 2 hours, I’m pretty spent. I have had times where I have written for 5 minutes and called it a day. I’ve also had times when I do that, but then end up free writing about why I’m unable to write.

When I write, I like to have:

A clean workspace, my netbook (for internet research), my Kindle (which has my Oxford American Dictionary and WordNet3 English Dictionary and Thesaurus loaded), coffee, iced tea or water – no snacks – too much of a distraction. But I know that these things aren’t completely necessary, because I’ve found myself someplace on a road trip in a small town in the middle of the Wyoming prairie and I can just about always find a small notebook and a funky ballpoint pen and still write for quite a while.

So whattaya think: am I in touch with the places, spaces, implements and environment that makes me a happy writer?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My muse and my inspiration...

Pictured here is my muse, Sylvia Beach. Sylvia was an American expatriate who arrived in Paris in the early part of the last century and lived there for the rest of her life. She was an important promoter and supporter of future American, English, Irish and French literary greats. With meager means, little to no resources, little thanks from Joyce, and little recognition she published the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses from her little Montparnasse bookshop, Shakespeare & Company on the rue de l'Odeon. Her story is a fascinating one, but more importantly she has touched me in ways I would never have guessed.

Making Room

Today's writing lesson is an interesting slant on yesterday's lesson: Making Room to Write

Make a list of things – obligations, attitudes, extras – that you will set aside for the month to make room for your writing.

I hope I’m not being too naïve here, but I think I have things arranged properly so that I don’t have to put much aside. Here’s what I did when I knew that I was committed to this class. I made my spouse aware of the fact that that my writing is going to take up a substantial amount of time. The really great news here is that she is supportive of my passion. As a visual artist, she is aware of how important it is to have adequate time for expression of my art.

I also made the deal with her that things in our day-to-day life won’t suffer, especially as relates to our relationship time. In preparing for this class, there have already been a few brushes with time management. So far all has worked out well. I feel confident that this will continue with communication and making adjustments while keeping writing as a high priority.

Addressing this early is actually perfect because it is my intention to continue to continue daily writing time indefinitely! Getting myself, my family and eventually my friends conditioned to the fact that during certain hours of the day I am unavailable. But afterward, bring it on!

I am a Hemingway fan, and I always admired his commitment to his writing day. Up at 5 am, write through the morning, swim laps in the pool afterward, then rejoin the land of the living! Sounds perfect doesn’t it? (I won’t go into his unfortunate excessive drinking afterward, but you have to hand this to him – as deep as he was into alcoholism, he never drank during writing time). It also won't be 5 am for me, but it will be an early morning writing with a bit of additional time late in the evening in case I need a little more time to finish ujp or perhaps write some poetry.

What makes my happy about setting these things aside?

What makes me happy, no, ecstatic about setting all of this up is that now I’m writing! Every day. There is little I want to do more than that. Well, perhaps my other passion - long distance motorcycle trips. But I’ve got time carved out for that as well, so no worries there. It has been a dream of mine to have daily writing time and now I’m doing it! So I guess you could say that that is my marathon. I may not be the fastest one in the race, but I’ll be in the race.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fear of writing...

A part of today's lessons was to write about fear. Here are some fears I have about writing:

Writing the truth will be harmful or upsetting to others.

My writings are sometimes exposing parts of my inner self that I may not want to have exposed to others.

I will be criticized: for my thoughts; for spending time writing rather than doing things that others may feel are more important; for putting so much energy I may not have a real talent for; I'm sure there are others...

Fear of embarrassment

An old fear connected with my father: You're not good enough! (a voice I hear)

Fear of failure - (failing what... or whom?)

Fear that my love of writing and poetry will be seen as non-masculine

Stage fright: having to read my writings to others

Fear that I may not write well or properly - grammatically or the use of proper English

Fear that I may not meet others' needs - or that they perceive I am not meeting them (desires rather than true needs)

I have had these fears for a long time. It has kept me from exposing my writings to others for more than 20 years! The good news is that I seem to be working through this. I've noticed this in the last couple of months. My behavioral changes indicate this. Joining this wonderful writing class is one. Finally going to a poetry Meetup group last week and actually reading my work was another - I have belonged to this group as a "lurker" for more than four years! I am also more protective of my writing time. This is a big one. Why should I have to put this aside for others' desires? I understand that some things that others need may occasionally take precedence by necessity. But not always.

It feels good to be working through these fears and advocating for myself when it's the right thing to do rather than always putting others first. I am comfortable with the fact that I do a lot of positive things for others. It may not always be what they would like from me, but attempting balance while still trying to meet all of our wants and needs is a perpetual - but it's worth it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dreams of Mexico

As poetry is once again flowing from within, I thought I'd post a series of poems I wrote some years ago about memories of my time as a teen and later as young man along the Baja coast. These are my favorites and express something deep within me.


i have dreams of mexico

being with friends

making our way

down the baja coast

stopping occasionally

from point to cove

to play in the water

and laugh like children

and hugging a woman

as we gaze out

at emerald sea

feeling her love

and her heartbeat

and the smell of her hair

molten sun

sinks to mother sea

our hearts beating slower

as our life and our love

are honored and celebrated

with the movement of our earth

around the sun

the chill of the moist sea air

drives us under the blankets

to hold each other and warm each other

we make love to the pulse of the splashing sea

water into foam at the shoreline

me into her in our bed

hard loving kiss

grasping embrace

our day has ended



nowhere to be

except here


no place else exists

only the warmth of the sun

on our sea-salted backs

a clarity of soul

our nostrils breathe in

the light moist air

as our hair dries

with the cool onshore breeze

I close my eyes

and feel it

really feel it

the sand stuck to the backs of my legs

cool drips of water run

over them

from my cold wet trunks

we are here

we shall never be here



a cliff

looking westward

on cool breezy morning

jackrabbit scrambles from brush to briar

i stand and I watch

a dozen chocolate-skinned boys

as they hold their kites

leaning in toward the sea

the smell of strong coffee

and burning driftwood

as she tends to the fire

Lesson 1 - 15 minute free writing exercise

So here is the raw, 15-minute free writing from the first writing exercise on day one of Making Writing a Happy Habit:

Make Writing A Happy Habit – Lesson 1

Free writing exercise

I write because….

I write because of several reasons. The expression of my thoughts and feelings is so satisfying! Painting a picture with my pen and seeing it flow out onto the page in a form that’s well-written is marvelous. Sometimes when I read what I’ve written I can’t believe it was me that wrote it! It gives me a mirror of a part of me that I imagine others see of me, which is sometimes startling, but often times satisfying. I have always felt an affinity for the written word, even though I was a miserable student in high school and hated any English class I was in. (I know now that it wasn’t English, nor the class that I hated, but that I was in a tumultuous time in my life and wasn’t going to like anything I was supposed to do).

I write because I feel like I have some talent for it. Of course it’s so difficult to know what that talent truly is as an observer of myself, but hopefully through exposing my writings like I will now through writing class and poetry Meetup, I can begin to get a better snapshot of what others see – positive or negative – in my writings. Then I know that it will be so important accept criticism and use it as necessary to hone my writer’s craft. And yes, it is a craft! That alone makes me happy. I have a craft. But not just any craft, a writer’s craft! I’m a writer! I know that being a writer is much different than being a published author. But I sometimes wonder – do I really want to be a published author? Or will I merely be happy writing as a hobby? I remember learning a valuable lesson in my martial arts days: what’s important is to do it. Day in and day out, without judging, without labeling my efforts. But make the effort! That is the true value of your art or your craft. Doing it. Expressing it. If I write, then I am a writer, no?

There feels like such joy and such dignity in just being a writer. And by not exposing it, there is little ego involved. At least no exchange of egos and no need to consider whether others will praise me for it (boosting my ego!).

Another reason: it makes me feel good! Even if I’m feeling like crap, or dreading the subject matter or even dreading the writing itself. Afterward I can’t think of a time when it didn’t help me in some way after I’ve written.

I write because I like to read well-written stuff. I like writers! I like to read about writers. I love those who promote writers! I like the idea that writers are a slice of humanity that comes from all walks of life. EVERYONE has something to say and the good news is, that in a free society we get to express our opinions, desires, loves, likes, dislikes, whatever!

I write because it brings me dignity and joy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

OK, so now I've created my blog. Writing class with Cynthia and the rest of the group starts Monday, May 3. Ready to dig in!