Coming in 2013: Achieve your dreams with my new workshop!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m launching a workshop series for 2013. Starting in December (to kick the new year off right), I’ll be guiding students through goal-setting, weathering setbacks, and accomplishing their creative plans.

Achieve Your Dreams 2013

What are your creative dreams for 2013? Do you want to write a book? Get a piece published? Or are you just looking to complete that first draft, taking the first step into a fulfilling artistic life?
You have the desire, and you have the drive, but setting goals and sticking to them can be a challenge. With this yearlong course, you’ll get at the heart of your goals, figure out a plan, and work through obstacles in a supportive online setting.

In this course, you will learn to:

  • Articulate not just your goals, but what they signify for your overall creative life
  • Set realistic plans for the year, month, and week
  • Manage setbacks without guilt
  • Recognize that goals change over time, and adjust accordingl
What you get:
  • One two-hour monthly seminar via Google+ Hangout (see below)
  • Weekly check-ins with me via email or video chat (your preference)
  • Exercises to do at home to help you get inspire and stay focused

Check out my Workshops and Coaching page for more details, including pricing and sign-up information.

The Artist’s Way, Weeks 4-5

The last Artist’s Way entry was illustrated with a marginally-relevant yet absolutely adorable dog photo. It would be wrong of me to favor Max and not let Simon have his internet glory.

So I survived the week of no reading. It was tougher than an entire month of unprocessed food. I need reading way more than I need artificial preservatives and white flour. It was a pretty frustrating week, because my primary method of relaxation was just gone. I realize the point of the week was to focus on trying new things and different forms of relaxation, but I basically felt on edge the entire time. It was such a relief to read again.

Week Five was a lot of fun. Most of the exercises involved visualization as a component, as well as collecting images of what we want and what inspires us. As a result, I ended up joining Pinterest, and creating a board for images I collect related to The Artist’s Way.

Halfway through Week Six, I’m noticing that I love the odd-numbered weeks, and having less fun with the even-numbered weeks. The even-numbered challenges are frustrating, or they seem harder to balance with work, writing, kung fu, and my social life. But I take it one week at a time. I’m still enjoying the overall process.

The Artist’s Way: Week One

 

I’ve been hearing about The Artist’s Way ever since I moved to Austin, and saw it on the shelves on a regular basis when I worked at BookWoman. I have to admit, for the past four years, I thought it looked incredibly hokey. I knew lots of people who had done it, but I couldn’t get past the apparent cheesiness. But then, this summer, a poet I admire mentioned she would be doing The Artist’s Way again, and it wouldn’t be her first time. So I finally decided to give it a shot, no matter how cheesy.

So far, I have to say that the book has surprised me. In the first week, I have already been challenged, already made to think. Writing morning pages has allowed me to resuscitate a journal writing practice that has been stagnant for several years. Writing out daily affirmations doesn’t actually feel all that hokey. In fact, it’s refreshing. I’m also surprised, as I’m working on my affirmations, all the inner resistances and criticisms I have toward realizing the full potential of my creativity. It’s been worthwhile just to realize all the little ways my inner critic comes out.

I’ve also realized, while working through these exercises, that I have far more people in my life who support my work than I have people who create negative energy. I am very lucky to have so many wonderful friends, teachers, and supporters in my life.

The artist date is also a lot of fun. For this exercise, you go and do something fun all by yourself for a few hours. This week, I went out to Mount Bonnell and took a bunch of photographs. I hadn’t been out there in over two years, and had a great time wandering. The image at the top of this post is from some graffiti I found there; I found it particularly apt.

Speaking of photography, one of the exercises this week made me realize that I want to be more serious about my photo practice. So I’ve looked into workshops and joined some Meetup groups. I’m excited to see where this particular creative journey goes.

The one thing I have done differently is a slight tweak in terminology. Cameron uses the term “The Creator” in affirmations and in essays. When writing out my affirmations, I use “the world” instead. As an agnostic, I don’t feel comfortable writing out affirmations that invoke something resembling a deity. But “the world” is something that is larger than myself, and is something my skeptical mind accepts as real.

I did the reading for Week Two this morning, and I’m already looking forward to doing the exercises, going on my artist date (possibly the Elizabeth Ney museum, but I’m still deciding), and seeing where the week takes me.

Notes on form: Haiku

Lately, I’ve been perusing Jane Reichold‘s essays, insights, and wisdom about haiku. I’ve especially been inspired by “Some Thoughts for Rethinking Haiku,” which posits a series of questions about the form. Since haiku often result as part of my small stones practice, I decided it would be a fun exercise to respond to these questions on my blog. So without further ado…

Should there be a better term for poetry written in English that is the result of admiration and emulation of haiku?

Not one that I can think of.

Is the so-called “haiku moment” any different from the seconds of inspiration that occur with other works of art?

For me, it is. The haiku moment seizes me very suddenly when it happens. It’s a moment of clarity that forces me to stop and write. Even if what I put on paper isn’t a haiku in the proper form, it’s the impulse, the words themselves, that matter. With a standard poem, there is less of a triggering moment. Other poems come to me gradually, over time. They’re less sudden. (I would love to hear from other writers as to their answer to this question.)

It is traditional that a break occurs between the two phrases of a haiku; either after the first line or after the second. Do you miss this in haiku that read as a run-on sentence?

I do. I find myself very attached to line breaks, and less engaged when a haiku is written as a run-on sentence.

And haiku one-liners; how do you feel when you read them?

It’s harder for me to focus when the haiku is just one line. I like the tiny build of three lines. I like the way my brain responds to line breaks.

What about those where a break happens at the end of each line? Or the phrase breaks are mid-line?

This is the way I prefer to read haiku, probably because I have spent so many years reading poetry with line breaks, so my brain expects things to be a certain way.

Do you feel haiku need punctuation? If so, where and how much?

Sometimes a comma, semicolon, or em-dash might be necessary, but it depends on the poem. I definitely think haiku should have as little punctuation as possible for the poem to make sense.

While reading haiku can you see a link between the images in each one? Are there two “poles”, pulling your mind in opposite directions before the “snap” of the spark that joins dissimilar things?

In a well-written haiku, yes. This is something I actually try to achieve in all of my poems, not just haiku. (I often say that I’m primarily inspired by haiku even though I don’t write in the form all the time; I like the compression, and the way connections are expressed in such a small space.)

What makes a haiku different from other three-line short poems?

Honestly, I think the syllabic requirements, and not much else. I call many of my small stones haiku even though they don’t meet form requirements, though often change that designation when submitting work, because editors don’t always agree with me.

Do you miss a reference to nature or is that less important than the way the linkage works?

I think the linkage is most important. Nature is part of traditional haiku, and still has a place in contemporary haiku, but from my personal aesthetic, I find the linkage more compelling. The expanse of nature is not the only thing that can be expressed in a confined space.

Do days go by when you are too busy to write haiku until a pressing deadline forces you to look! and there they are haiku all around you?

At this point in my life, I’m glad to say that I’m never too busy for haiku (or small stone, depending on your definition). No matter how busy my day is, I am able to carve out a few minutes to reflect and write one of these brief poems. Haiku are all around me, no matter how busy I am, though they seem to be more easily observed before noon.

How often have you thought of a good haiku and neglected to write it down?

Probably fairly often in the past, but since I neglected the moment, I’ve forgotten about it entirely. These days, I don’t care what I’m doing. I whip out my notebook and jot it down. If for some reason I don’ t have paper and pen available, I type it into an Evernote document on my phone. I no longer make excuses for missing a moment.

Do you miss the time you are not open, searching for the crack in the reality of this world where you can slip in to find haiku?

I’ve become adept at taking time no matter what, though on busy days, when I can spare at most ten minutes, I feel frustrated that I don’t have longer.

What activities bring you into a state of awareness where haiku occur?

Seated meditation. Walking outside. Dancing, or watching people dance. Watching my dogs run around and play.

Would you like to spend more of your day in that consciousness?

Most definitely yes. The 40-hour workweek is not conducive to it, though.

What can be changed to accomplish this?

Setting up a meditation ritual, and sticking to it.

The new Texas Poetry Calendar is here!

When I went to my poetry group on Monday, Scott Wiggerman handed me my contributor copy of the 2013 Texas Poetry Calendar. This is my second year appearing in the calendar, and I’m thrilled to be included again. My poem appears the last week of May this time around, sharing a page with the lovely “Crossing” by Elena Lelia Radulescu.

“290 West, Top Down” was inspired, of course, by the highway mentioned in the title. It was written in mid-September, after a late-night drive back to Austin after spending a day in Houston participating in one of the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar readings, and then going dancing. I did a couple of late-night, post-dancing commutes last year, and it was thrilling to drive for several hours with the wind blowing around me and the stars bright above. Certainly a scene fit for inspiration. Perhaps I will have to make another drive like that soon, and see what transpires.

Exciting Things!

Many awesome writing things happened to me over the course of last week. So here is a post chock-full of good news!

First, I have a piece of flash fiction, entitled “Eulogy,” up at the San Antonio Current. Meaning I’m making progress on my fiction list! I love this feature, and I’m excited to have work there for the second time. (Side note: Editor Lyle Rosdahl is always looking for new work to include in this section, so if you have some work you want to share, definitely feel free to submit.)

Second, I’m poet of the week over at Poet on Poetry, a blog run by Austin writer Sheree Rabe. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share some of my favorite poems and discuss my work. Go over and check it out!

And finally, the Austin Poetry Society held its annual award ceremony this past Saturday. I was unable to attend because it conflicted with my sister’s graduation ceremony, but I’m thrilled to announce that I garnered two first place awards and one honorable mention for my poems.

  • “Enter Here” won the Mary Oliver Award, sponsored by APS president Elzy Cogswell
  • “Seeing in Longhorn Caverns” won the Salt of the Earth Award, sponsored by Nancy Taylor Day
  • “Season Pass to Barton Springs” took an honorable mention for the President’s Award, also sponsored by Elzy Cogswell

Plus, two of my poems that didn’t win, but came close, got some feedback from the judges, which is always appreciated.

“Enter Here” and “Seeing in Longhorn Caverns” will be published in Best Austin Poetry 2011-2012, a chapbook featuring the winners of all the APS contests. I’m thrilled to be featured in it, and can’t wait until it comes out.

I hope your own writing weeks are full of productivity, success, and fun discoveries.

Writing habits

Via Kelli Russell Agodon, the Tin House blog has a post about the habits of highly effective writers (Kelli also did a similar post of her own). It’s pretty interesting to see how different people work. I’m currently not writing full-time. But even though writing doesn’t happen at all hours of the day for me, I’m still very aware of the habits of my writing life:

  1. I write every day.
  2. Except when I don’t. Sometimes, you really do need to let your brain just rest a bit. I didn’t write for about for days after I came back from Round Top. I spent so much time getting inspired and being around brilliant people, my brain needed a couple of days to settle. But then I drafted three new pieces yesterday, after things had coalesced. So, in general, write every day. Just learn how to tell when you need a break.
  3. During the weekdays, writing happens on my lunch break. This is pretty much just enough time to get down the first draft of a poem, sometimes two.
  4. On Saturdays, Jon works, and unless I’m traveling, I have the whole day to myself. This is pretty much when my revision happens. I like to read poems aloud, but I prefer to do that in isolation. It’s kind of nerve-wracking to attempt to read an unfinished poem to hear where the problems are, and know that someone is listening. No, I don’t spend the entire eight-hour day revising, but usually 3-4 hours of my Saturday are spent honing poems.
  5. When I revise, I usually have a cup of tea or glass of water, but otherwise, I don’t need anything else. Sometimes, I want silence. Sometimes, I want music, and that music is almost always Patti Smith, Dessa, or The Mountain Goats. Other than that, I pretty much just need my chair, my laptop, and electricity.
  6. On Sundays, I usually draft a poem or two early in the morning, but in general, that’s my worst day of the week for getting work done. Sunday is almost always a day for getting outside, or going to movies, or generally anything other than sitting and working.

That’s about it. I feel pretty lucky. As far as writing habits go, I feel like I have it pretty easy. Even at my busiest, I can usually find 30 minutes, a notebook, and a pen.

The kind of poetry I write

Over at Harriet, Rachel Zucker wrote a post noting that it’s important for poets to define the kind of poetry we write. She then did a two-part post (Part One here; Part Two here) in which various poets described (or attempted to describe, because it’s difficult) their kind of poetry. Because I believe this is a fruitful exercise, I decided to try to define my own work, and I’ve been pondering it all weekend.

First, I started with what I don’t write about: current events and politics. Which, admittedly, I sometimes feel guilty about. Why aren’t I using my words as sources of protest, to inspire change? Should my work be so disconnected from the world. Except that I’m not an especially political person. Whatever activist impulses I have, I’d rather not channel them through poetry. If I did, poetry would become less enjoyable for me. Also, although I have been dancing for twenty years (longer than I’ve been writing!), for whatever reason, I don’t write poems about dance. I really don’t know why.

From there, it was pretty easy to come up with the themes that recur in my poems: landscape and geography (especially Texas); travel (related to landscape and geography, but different enough that I consider it a separate theme); the interplay between agápe, éros, and philia (I distinguish between these three words because I think the term “love” is too generic and ambiguous); and family (both biological and chosen). I’ve also been writing poems about math and physics lately, but it’s too soon to tell whether these will become enduring themes. I’d say of the themes, travel is the most common, though the others definitely pull their weight.

But I also wanted to see if I could condense it further. And after much consideration, I think the kind of poetry I write is poetry of ambivalence. Even when I’m writing about things I love, ambivalence and conflict show up. I was at a reading in Houston in September, and realized that none of the poems I considered my best were unilaterally unambivalent. I’ve written reams about Texas, a state I adore, but nothing completely flattering. The one love poem that made it into my chapbook manuscript has enough juxtaposition in it that there are undercurrents of ambivalence. And ultimately, that’s because I don’t like writing poems that are simply positive or negative. That’s not as fun. That’s not as challenging. I can write a sonnet skewering something that annoys me, or I can write a laudatory ode, but as a poet, I prefer to write pieces that can’t help but find the negative and positive coexisting. I like to write poems that can’t have blinders.

It will be interesting to revisit this idea every couple of years. The poetry I write now isn’t necessarily going to be the same ten years down the line. These themes and ideas seem very essential to me now, but I imagine that sooner or later, I might be done talking about them. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Illegible Map [IndieInk Challenge]

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, littlewonder2 challenged me with “Write 42 words about a character lost in the dark.” and I challenged lisa with “Write a piece in which the entirety of the plot takes place in a fast food restaurant.”

Illegible Map
I know I’m doomed because the bright stars can’t provide me any guidance. Think of all the travelers who learned how to use them. If only I had taken time to understand the symbols, to decipher the messages, to decode the meanings.

 

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On Second Thought, Call an Exorcist [IndieInk Challenge]

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Wendryn challenged me with “‘All our kids are screaming but the ghosts aren’t real’ U2, Get On your Boots” and I challenged Dara with “‘That’s what livin’ in the city does, man. Stick your song in your throat.’ — George Carlin”

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On Second Thought, Call an Exorcist

We’ve called the specialists — psychics and hunters. They’ve brought crystals, Geiger  counters, incense, cameras. All they find is a dead zone. Normal electronic activity. Fine china still on display. Television working just fine.

What does a soul weigh? Is the total more or less than bones, muscle, lungs, skin? Can the tensile strength of tendons support two of them?

We’ve been hunting in all the wrong places. We’ve searched the cold rooms and rough corners, but perhaps ghosts seek warmer homes. Perhaps the heart can stretch to hold another life. Perhaps the brain could make an excellent backup facility.

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