Sound, Silence, Listening
In this week's Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, we focused on listening and sound -- dissecting that sense throughout our 90 minutes together. We started by reading "The Sound of One Fork" by Minnie Bruce Pratt.
The Sound of One Fork
BY MINNIE BRUCE PRATT
Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honeybee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.
While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.
Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.
And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday, afternoons
on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night
will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.
My family, my children live in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper,
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.
In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Still, we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turn yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank,
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.
Read the poem once. What do you hear?
Read again. What else do you hear? What else do you notice?
What else does this poem say to you?
John Cage talked about the other half of sound being silence.
I’d like us to take some time now to listen and let silence speak to us,
so that we can be ready to really notice sounds in our next step.
For the next few minutes, please don’t write, read or talk,
and try to keep your movement/sounds still.
Set a timer for yourself for 5, 10, 15 minutes.
From this quiet place, listen to your breath. Listen to your organs.
Listen to the other listeners. The room. To what’s outside the room.
If you can, close your eyes. Otherwise, let your focus be soft.
After your timer goes off,
you can take a moment to jot down what you heard.
Next, we’ll be going outside. Bring a sheet of paper with you or a sketchbook.
Grab some colored pencils or markers too.
We’re going to make sound maps in the area around our residence.
This can look like many different things, but mainly the process is:
Go to an area outside. Wait there, listen.
Draw or briefly describe what you hear
in a spot on the page that symbolizes where you are.
Then go to another area.
Repeat until you’ve captured the sounds all around your building
(or inside your building if you prefer not to go outside).
Instead of a map of what you see, this is a map of what you hear.
Take about 15 or 20 minutes to do this. Take your time, go slow.
Back inside, we can incorporate the sounds into a new piece.
You can do this in several different ways.
Maybe you travel through the sounds as a journey, describing them.
Maybe you write a story that incorporates all the sounds.
Maybe a poem tried to define all the sounds.
Maybe a scene blows the sounds up into giant noises a character has to overcome.
Maybe you're a composer and create a new tune or song from the sounds.
Maybe something completely different.
Any way you’d like to incorporate the sounds writing something new is good.
You can use "The Sound of One Fork" as a model or push in the opposite direction. Use your life. Use your interests. Use what you hear around you.
During the workshop, I played additional music
(tracks from Gnarly Buttons by composer John Adams).
You can play music (preferably instrumental) and incorporate those sounds too.
Write for at least 20 minutes. Share your work with someone.
After we wrote for about 25, 30 minutes,
we created short poems out of our longer texts
and everyone had a chance to share --
some hauntingly beautiful stuff came out of that session!
Thank you for writing and listening with me. Enjoy your spring!
What Fuels You?
Happy New Year! At Tuesday's Drop In Writing Workshop, we wrote poems, short stories and essays based on the word “fuel” that we could revise and submit to The Cabin's Writers in the Attic anthology.
Every year, Writers in the Attic is an opportunity for Idaho writers to get their work published, inspired by a theme word. This year, the word is "fuel". Learn more about Writers in the Attic (including submission guidelines) HERE.
First, we wrote in list form, coming up with ideas:
What is everything you think of when you hear the word “fuel”?
List all the words, ideas, images, memories, dreams, characters, stories...
Anything you can think of.
What does “fuel” mean to you? What fuels you? What do you fuel? What is fuel?
Ten ten minutes and get out all the possibilities, warming up your creative brain.
Next, we brainstormed as a group.
Let’s share some of the ideas you came up with.
I’ll write them on the board.
When I say “fuel” what comes to mind?
Share ideas you came up with, but you can also build on those, add to them.
Get inspired by the room’s ideas and build some more.
Note – whatever you share is fair game to steal, generously*.
But don’t worry – your interpretation of your idea will still be wholly yours, unique.
*As in -- all artists are thieves, but we take several ideas from many heroes,
put them in the blender as core ingredients and add in our own ideas,
rather than lifting whole ideas from another artist.
We came up with a lot of great word/idea associations with fuel as a group, like:
the open road
(to name a few)
I like how some don't make literal or cognitive sense to me right away.
Now, how do we turn these ideas into something bigger?
Let’s look at other writers’ use of the word “fuel”.
We’ll stick with poetry, because it’s easier to get variety with short poems.
But you can write a short story, persona essay or something else.
Third Poem for the Catastrophe
BY JOYELLE MCSWEENEY
melting rainbow that embrace this roof
giving us nothing, leaves its muck in the water
expects us to be knocked out by its fine colors
weren’t you nothing too, weren’t you
crunched down into fuel
and when that eggshell roof busts through
mama’s gonna buy you
a rainbow ride for free
an illumination, an inflammation
hyperion flame headdress
dream pins in the fuel
balloons of Koolaid burst down to cool
the sticky baby’s head
plus a credit card a glock a new bible
a princess dress
a mermaid princess dress
so you’ll be twice submerged
or an erased Indian princess
pajama set now go to sleep
BY EMILY BERRY
In the nighttime house I don’t know where you are
My allegiances could change
How can I stop my allegiances from changing?
Morning is a gown put on at midnight, but no one’s coming
I don’t know what your secrets are
You say you have no secrets but I can feel them,
they’re bumps under the blanket
You do not let me in
This mood kept me up all night, like stars in my face,
like the burning fuel of dead stars burning right through my face
So now I have my own secrets
This voyage at nighttime, these burning holes
I can’t take you with me —
I don’t know who you are
You say it’s me, but I’m dreaming,
I can’t recognize anything except someone else’s song,
which sounds like a kind of siren,
it’s calling me, it puts a light on
Give me three reasons
Oh, you think I test you?
You think I work you too hard?
You think it’s too much to make you master the task
on your blue-black knees at 3 am?
BY CATHY PARK HONG
I can no longer blush. Half-face towards the starchy scape.
Birds limn the spindle trees, their Listerine-hued eyes dart
as they trill mechanical dirges tabulating not again, not
again / I can no longer blush. The flat arctic sky
boundlessly jogs to another hemisphere / She grows!
Or her pectoral grows or all her pectorals grow / A drop of body
oil the size of a water balloon splooshes down on a man as a graceless
anointing, atomizing into tears / How delicate the sounds are from
her height! Glottal roses wink out of their throats: their voices
tine/ Now I am blushing / Swamp moss draped over the arcades / Oh
she’ll topple. She’s making for the welkin / swamps massage
the plywood foundations of our houses / And speaking of / she shoots
up not like a beanstalk but a city erected quick-time / and speaking
of, I blush blood / Roiling up past 200 ft, dizzy from all that phosphagen / I
be damned where she gits all that nylon, the size of wedding tents!/ She
flexes for her audience / Naugahide. Fuel injection. A sawed-off
shotgun will do you nothing just the rat-a-tat-tat / Rabelaisian
bullhonkies hunker and tinker tents around her / Roiling,
flexing / are louts without a law to bless them / a shadow
overcast / a footstep is a swamp in which gators pop up like whack-
a-mole carnival games / what are they saying? do they marvel?/ I am
hemorrhaging flames! / she aims with her thumb.
After reading these poems aloud, we talked about how they use the word fuel
And how we might use these poets tactics in what we write.
How many ways do these poets use the word fuel?
A nd also...
What is surprising or interesting about each?
What are the tools, pairings, images, structure they use?
What would you want to steal, generously?
What would you want to do differently?
Next, we wrote:
A story, essay, poem, or multiple poems using the word “fuel”
Use your ideas from your first listing. Expand on them.
Add in other ideas, images, from the group brainstorm, and other resources.
Use images and inspiration from the poems,
even if you’re writing fiction/nonfiction.
You can title something using “fuel” and then the body springs from there.
You can use the word in the text as a metaphor, an image, dialogue.
The whole piece could be about fuel. You decide. Write, walk away, come back to it.
After you write a draft, come back and revise it.
We wrote for 25 minutes.
You can write for as long as you like.
Do this with a friend, share your work and offer feedback!
Invite others to share what resonates about each share.
And one thing the writer could work on before submitting.
How did that go?
Submission deadline for Idaho Poets is February 4 at noon.
Happy writing and good luck!
Consider Everything an Experiment
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, where we explored ideas, processes and words by Sister Corita Kent and Marie Howe, using them to experiment with our intention, focus and questions in creating something we need to make right now.
We started by reading Some Rules for Students and Teachers, which is often accredited to Merce Cunningham and John Cage, but was originally developed by the nun and artist Sister Corita Kent, who used art and teaching as a way to make the world better.
It's the start of the fall school semester for a lot of us.
These rules help me think about how we can be life-long teachers and students.
And how writing is a way of being a perpetual teacher student.
Is there a rule here that reverberates especially with you today?
As an artist and writer in general? What speaks to you about these rules?
Right now we'll focus on some of my favorites:
“Consider everything an experiment.”
“Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time.”
And: “Save everything.”
Corita Kent had her art students cut out "finders":
Out of pieces of cardboard.
"Kent encouraged all of her students to carry a 'finder,' or a piece of cardboard with a rectangular hole cut into it. The inexpensive tool, which can be made by anyone with cheap and accessible materials, acts like a lens to home in on specific facets of a given environment. 'You can then view life without being distracted by content,' the book explains. 'You can make visual decisions—in fact, they are made for you.'"
Take a sheet of paper (or cardboard), fold it in half, and cut a small box in it.
Smaller than your eye or than a glasses lens is good
But you can experiment with the size of your box too.
Spend 10 minutes looking through your little box at the world
Or spend 20 minutes, an hour, whatever you want/have.
Look through your box inside as well as outside. Look close up, far away.
Don’t so much look FOR something as let the world impact your seeing
And let the frame impact your way of seeing.
Write down everything you saw.
Let yourself be surprised by what you remember, what you write, how you write it. What you saw, how you saw.
Let it go from there too – how that seeing impacted your body/mind/heart,
What you felt, observed from other senses,
What it made you remember and discover and wonder about…
No censoring yourself, no editing, no analyzing...
Let the observations guide what you write.
Write for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.
SINGULARITY by Marie Howe
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
--when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock
was liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming
with is is is is is
All everything home
What do you see here? What do you notice? What hits you?
Read again. Read it out loud.
Consider what you saw in the finder frame as you were looking.
Consider what you wrote and what you saw as you read.
What does this rereading cause you to think about what you saw?
Notice how questions guide this poem, how the images come from big questions.
Consider one of the rules of Sister Corita Kent.
Use that as an intention as you write your next thing.
Consider your questions for the world. Big questions.
What do you want to ask the world?
Consider the images you framed in your walk.
Bring all of these together
As you write a poem, a story, a reflection, an unnamed ungenre-ed thing.
Allow yourself to break all the rules
And write/create the thing you most need to make right now.
Use everything. Save everything.
Write for fifteen, twenty minutes, more...
And maybe at the end, find a few phrases that stand out especially,
Maybe these become the tiny framed image, the molecule, the haiku
Of everything else you wrote.
Share what you wrote with someone.
Thanks for writing and exploring with me.
Contact me if you have questions, thoughts, ideas.
Share your writing with me if you want!
Memory: No Metaphor/Metaphor
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, writing a memory in different ways to discover two, three, 20 ways of seeing the same moment.
We started by reading from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which was part of my fun summer reading this season.
From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
by Mark Haddon
I find people confusing.
This is for two main reasons.
The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.”
Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose, it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry, and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.
The second main reason is that people often talk using metaphors. These are examples of metaphors
I laughed my socks off.
He was the apple of her eye.
They had a skeleton in the cupboard.
We had a real pig of a day.
The dog was stone dead.
The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it
comes from the Greek words μετα (which means from one place to another) and φερειν (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.
I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.
My name is a metaphor. It means carrying Christ and it comes from the Greek words χριστος (which means Jesus Christ) and φερειν and it was the name given to St. Christopher because he carried Jesus Christ across a river.
This makes you wonder what he was called before he carried Christ across the river. But he wasn’t called anything because this is an apocryphal story, which means that it is a lie, too.
Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.
What do you think about Christopher's idea of metaphors? That it’s a form of lying. Is it? To you? I'm not sure I agree, but it's an enjoyable perspective.
I love hearing about metaphors from a neurodiverse perspective.
Is a metaphor a lie that tells the truth? What else do you notice and pull from this short chapter?
Take a moment to find yourself in a memory.
This doesn't have to be the first that comes to mind.
Maybe it’s the third, maybe it’s buried.
Make it a strong memory. One that brings an emotional response.
Might be a favorite, might be a very difficult moment.
Might be a long time ago, might be very recent.
You can close your eyes and put yourself there.
See all around in this memory.
Notice everything you hear and feel and smell and taste.
Look forward, backward, up, down.
Pay attention to everyone there, every moment, walk yourself through this time.
Once you have this moment fully in you,
write about it in a way that Christopher might approve.
Use no metaphors. A simile might be okay, but try avoiding figurative language.
As much as possible. Metaphors, personification, hyperbole, idioms.
Try instead for very specific detail. Sensory detail. Exactitude.
Don’t leave anything out.
You can include emotions, but be sure to capture every moment.
Every moment and everything you can see, hear, taste, feel, smell.
A moment-by-moment, accurate, even objective view of everything.
Write for 20 minutes.
Great. Now let’s try for the opposite.
Take that same memory and write about it completely in metaphors.
Line by line.
The entire thing might be a metaphor, or maybe you try for one after the other.
A list of metaphors.
There can be other kinds of figurative language too.
The whole thing might be a giant fabrication, exaggeration.
You might create the myth or fairy tale version of your memory.
Or an apocryphal story.
Don’t be afraid to offend and confuse Christopher completely.
Write for 20 minutes, or as long as you can.
Which version do you prefer? Why?
Did you prefer the process of writing one version?
Do you enjoy what came out of that same writing or the other version more?
Now, write a version that blends the two, in a dealer’s choice way.
Write a new memory that’s mostly metaphor but a bit of exact detail.
Or one that is full of exact detail with a few bits of figurative language thrown in.
Two truths and a lie? Two lies and a truth?
Or take parts of what you’ve written already and combine into something new.
A blended poem or a very short bit of prose or fairy tale, based in truth.
You can use the same memory or a new one.
When you read back over what's been written, or share it with a friend,
What do you hear in what you wrote? What is meaningful? What resonates?
What is useful in this process?
What can you discover in seeing the same memory in multiple ways?
Thank you for writing with me!
Heads up: the first play of the Boise Contemporary Theater Season is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, based on Mark Haddon's great book.
This past Tuesday at The Cabin's Free First Tuesday Drop In Writing Workshop, we built our dream worlds, creating new worlds using our biggest-heart-melting desires, metaphor and animal instincts.
We started by reading an excerpt from one of Tina Rowley's fun and fierce weekly newsletters: Weekly Zephyr #42: The Feast of Anna Perenna, March 15th, 2018. Click on archived Zephyr link to read #42 and subscribe to her lovely newsletters!
Using Tina Rowley’s prompts, we started designing a world:
Your ideal planet. Some of you may have done this for fiction projects.
Here, create the world you would want to live in right now.
If you could change the world, what kind of world would you make?
Design your new planet or region or place. A world.
You pick the parameters. You pick everything.
The shape of the world, even. Name that shape.
And: Who lives there,
What it looks like (and use all the senses to describe)
What are all the people like (use very specific traits)
What are the natural laws/weird rules?
What’s the government? Is there one? What kind?
(Use Stephen Chrisomalis' extensive list linked from Rowley's letter!)
What makes this place so slammin’?
Start with lists of details. Try not to leave anything out.
We wrote for about twenty minutes.
Then we read and discussed Rebecca Solnit's excerpt from Book of Migrations:
From Book of Migrations
by Rebecca Solnit
It’s no coincidence that the books and posters we use to learn the alphabet from are most often animal alphabets, from aardvark to zebra, for animals constitute the primordial alphabet. I grew up with a Dr. Seuss book called On Beyond Zebra, which coined new letters for the alphabet and fabulous beasts to go with them, as though you couldn’t have innovation in one area without the other, a proposition that made perfect sense to children. Medieval Irish manuscripts are notable for their animal ornamentation around the capital letters, as though the alphabet were turning back into beasts. Like alphabets, animals constitute a finite group that can describe the whole spectrum of possibility; animals are themselves a language for describing both the bodily forms and range of dispositions of human beings. In the Middle Ages, bestiaries were a popular form of literature, occupying a niche somewhere between field guides, fairy tales, and alphabet primers. The bestiaries, and the animals they described, were part of a system in which everything had an allegorical meaning; the whole world has a text waiting to be read by those who knew its language. Elephants, for example, signify Adam and Eve in Eden, because they are supposed to conceive their young innocently, by sharing the fruit of a certain tree; they also signify the Hebrew law, because when they fall they cannot get up again. Wild goats, because they constantly seek higher pastures, signify good preachers. The Bible and the world were two equal forms of the divine text, so that animals were almost literally an alphabet, rather as they were for Aesop, who made them illustrate so many aspects of human character and conduct, with his dogs in the manger, his virtuous ants and sybaritic grasshoppers. In either version, animals make the human world clearer, give tools and emblems with which to describe and understand it. Even as recently as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, animals served as emblems of human tendencies, so that the horses in his allegory were honest workers, the pigs corrupt conspirators.
The majority of figures of speech that make the abstract concrete and imaginable are drawn from animals, human bodies, and spaces, from the wolf at the door to the arms of chairs and shoulders of roads to the excavation of buried memories. It’s the animal world that makes being human—catty, dogged, sheepish—imaginable, and the spatial realm that makes action and achievement—career plateaus, rough spots, marshy areas—describable. Sometimes it mixes: along the Cork-Kerry coast are the jutting formations Lamb’s Head, Hog’s Head, Cod’s Head, Crow Head, and Sheep’s Head. But most of the discussion about nature and the environment emphasizes a purely physical or spiritual need for it, not its imaginative role. Not long ago, I noticed an art magazine misspelling the bridle reins of the phrase on a tight rein as reign, because although they understood royalty, they had no clue about horses and their harnesses—so even the world of domestic animals was lost to them as a way of describing the human and the phrase was becoming meaningless on its way to becoming extinct. (More recently, I found myself going to ride a horse with a few carrots and a stick as aids, and the phrase became resonantly literal again.) I wonder if generations of being without contact with such spaces and beings will eventually strip down English into a kind of newspeak. After all, how many people now know how a mule kicks, or have seen bees make beelines? And when speech goes blank, imagination will have preceded it. The Natural History Museum is a museum of language, symbol, metaphor, and imagination, of the creatures that once inhabited our lives and our now fading even from our speech.
The complete development of the world as a human-only zone—the paving over and flattening of the landscape and the elimination of all creatures but food animals sequestered in factory production sites—threatens to take away not only the imaginative solace of a world beyond us, but the very language of the mind. Metaphor is a Greek word that literally means to transport something from one place to another; and in Athens the public transit system is called the Metaphor. There one can literally take the Metaphor to work, or take the last Metaphor home, though in the rest of the world metaphors serve only as a medium of imaginative travel. They are, in fact, the transportation system of the mind, the way we make connections between disparate things, and because the connections are intuitive and aesthetic, they are the essence of the ways in which we think that machines cannot. Metaphors navigate the way things span both difference and similarity; they describe a world of both dizzying variety and intricate relationships. Without metaphor the world will seem threateningly amorphous, both boringly identical with ourselves and utterly incomprehensible. Animals, with their inherent resemblances and differences, are where metaphor begins.
The essayist John Berger writes, “The first subject matter for painting was animal. Probably the first paint was blood. Prior to that, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the first metaphor was animal. Rousseau, in his Essay on the Origin of Languages, maintained that language itself began with metaphor: ‘As emotions were the first motives which induced man to speak, his first utterances were tropes (metaphors). Figurative language was the first language to be born, proper meanings were the last to be found.’ If the first metaphor was animal, it was because the essential relationship between man and animal was metaphoric…What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them.” Language is humankind’s principal creation, a pale shadow of Creation, and one that needs to come back again and again to the nonhuman world to renew itself, to draw strength and color. It requires contact with the natural worlds of the landscape, the body and the animal kingdom to connect its creations to Creation, and makes contact by metaphor.
We talked metaphors, animals, driving metaphor trucks through our worlds…
Consider the place you just created. Is it a metaphor for something?
Is there a metaphor you can insert into this place?
If you were driving a metaphor truck there, what would that be?
Do certain animals live there? Certain human bodies, spaces, that can be animals?
And we wrote scenes or poems or stories or essays or memoirs
located in the worlds we created.
As you write your ( ) in your brand new world, consider metaphor.
As though you are driving a metaphor truck through your new world.
Dig hard into this metaphor – the deeper you explore, the more real it will seem.
Consider the animals. Consider everything. Create your utopia.
Share through all your details and metaphors why this place is so important.
And why we should all live there, go there, create this place.
We wrote for almost twenty minutes. But you can write as long as you like.
Then share it with someone.
Thank you for writing with me!
Mashed Image-Text Splat
This past Tuesday at The Cabin's Free Drop in Writing Workshop, we dug out characters, story, landscapes, poetry and scenes that spawned from drawing exercises, from observations and poetic inspirations, and mixed them together for some cooked juxtaposition – looking for connection out of disconnection.
Amanda Palmer in The Art of Asking defines the artmaking process as collecting, then connecting, then sharing and invited an exploration of that -- especially the first two steps.
Start by writing a series of observations.
Everything you’ve noticed today.
Write for 10 minutes -- try to keep your hand moving, not editing as you go.
Now, switch gears.
Consider different ways of seeing.
And the stuff our bodies can create when we’re not thinking too much.
Take five pieces of paper (you at home can grab up to 20).
In one minute, make a drawing on each of these sheets.
Don’t think. Don’t worry about thoughts like, “but I can’t draw” or “I’m not an artist.”
Pay less mind to drawing "something" at all.
Instead, get some lines on every page.
Allow the lines and curves to speak for themselves.
Use a tool that can really move fast -- Sharpies are my go-to.
See into the drawings:
Now spend five minutes adding to these drawings.
Maybe one shows you a landscape. Another a character.
An object? Yourself? An idea?
Give the image more shape, more texture.
You can focus on several, a few, one that really speaks to you.
Now, Walk Away
Step aside from your work right now and take a walk.
Maybe it’s around the room.
Maybe you go outside and enjoy what’s there.
As you walk, observe. Collect what you notice.
Take notes in your head .
We walked for 5 minutes, but you can take as long as you like. Maybe 15, 20.
As we reconvened, we noted a few things we observed so far in our time together.
Some noticed aloud, others to themselves.
Switch gears again.
Recently, I got some bookmarks from AROHO (A Room Of Her Own Foundation*).
These bookmarks contained inspiring poems and art by women.
We read three of them.
One at a time. Unlike most workshops, we didn't discuss these.
Instead, I invited us to feel what’s in the poems.
Here, you can do the same.
Let your gut, heart, spirit, body respond, more than mind.
Then write for about ten minutes after each.
You can of course write more if you want.
*Consider joining their Circle project, creative women!
won’t you celebrate with me
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
After: "won’t you celebrate with me?"
Write what you’re celebrating today. It needn’t be joyous.
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing
in the dense forest of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
Write what you’re trying to save. What you shouldn’t try to save. What not to do.
Every Revolution Needs Fresh Poems
Every revolution needs fresh poems
that is the reason
poetry cannot die.
It is the reason poets
go without sleep
and sometimes without lovers
without new cars
and without fine clothes
the reason we commit
to facing the dark
resign ourselves, regularly,
to the possibility of being wrong.
Poetry is leading us.
It never cares how we will
be held by lovers
or drive fast
or look good
in the moment;
but about how completely we are committed to movement
both inner and outer;
and devoted to transformation
and to change.
After: "Every Revolution Needs Fresh Poems"
Write everything else a revolution needs. Write the reason poetry can’t die.
After reading, writing:
Do you notice any unexpected connection between what you wrote here,
What you drew,
What you noticed walking around,
And what you wrote in the beginning?
Look for pieces and strands that can connect.
Or maybe parts you don't think belong together -- might they anyway?
Put some of your words and images together.
Match up one of the images and the text you created.
Or maybe all the images can fit together on one page.
Maybe you write on the back,
Or paste little images onto another sheet paper, and write there
Or write directly on the images.
However you pair text and image, don’t worry about what fits or makes sense.
Embrace juxtaposition – connecting parts that don’t seem to go together.
See what each pairing teaches you, how it inspires new connections.
Do characters, landscapes, images from drawings connect with the writing?
Do some of the words work well with the images, even if their meanings don’t fit?
Use text from our first writing together, as well as observations from your walk.
Spend some time finessing, adding color, more words here and there.
We spent 10-15 minutes doing this, just starting.
You could spend all day on it if you like.
Or longer. Maybe it becomes a whole new project.
How can this process help in a current project?
What did you learn?
How can you use this to continue working on something you’re writing now?
Or, did you find a character, image, word, paragraph, anything emerge,
That may become a pivotal part of a creation, or even a brand new project?
Share your work with someone!
Here's something I came up with that night.
It's definitely a beginning, a sketch of an idea.
I can't tell you what it means yet -- maybe you can tell me.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to write and draw with me.
There are now TWO Free Drop In Writing Workshops per month at The Cabin! |
The regular First Tuesday Drop Ins led by me or Danny, alternating months
(plus a guest teaching writer here and there)
Are joined by the NEW Third Thursday Drop Ins (Words In Action).
So the next Drop In Writing Workshop is on February 15!
Very good things happen at The Cabin.
Songs for Right Now
Maybe it's because I live and partner with a musician, but lately music has been a big influence on my life. Song lyrics are creeping their way into my plays more than before.
For this month's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, I brought that interest into the room. Using song lyrics and instrumental music as inspiration, I invited attendants to generate lyrical material from their own perspectives or one of their characters.
Why songs for writers? Why songs right now?
If you celebrate holidays, original songs can be an interesting gift.
Or a different way of celebrating.
If you have trouble with holidays or winter in general,
Songwriting can be a way to cope.
Also a way to protest, to find joy, to share love, to invoke action, to heal…
If you play an instrument, it makes sense to find your songwriting voice too.
Songwriting can help your poetry or give a fictional character a new voice.
This tool can be used investigate your memories differently.
Can be used as a true expression of emotion.
The Cabin put out a call for poetry, fiction and nonfiction work in their yearly Writers in the Attic submissions with a 2018 theme: SONG. You might write something that can fit into that contest.
What are your reasons to try writing songs, song lyrics or write inspired by music?
Read and dissected song lyrics.
Starting with "Soothing" by Laura Marling and moving onto "Every Single Night" by Fiona Apple, on Tuesday we read lyrics that feel thick with images and also have contrasting structures.
We read each aloud twice, everyone taking a section, moving down the table.
by Laura Marling
Oh, my hopeless wanderer
You can't come in
You don't live here anymore
Oh, some creepy conjurer
Who touched the rim
Whose hands are in the door
I need soothing
My lips aren't moving
My God is brooding
Drawn in chalk across the floor
You made it yours
Your private door to my room
May those who find you find remorse
A change of course, a strange discord resolved
I need soothing
My lips aren't moving
My God is brooding
I banish you with love
I banish you with love
You can't come in
You don't live here anymore
Every Single Night
Every single night
I endure the flight
Of little wings of white-flamed
Butterflies in my brain
These ideas of mine
Percolate the mind
Trickle down the spine
Swarm the belly, swellin' to a blaze
That's where the pain comes in
Like a second skeleton
Tryin' to fit beneath the skin
I can't fit the feelin's in, oh
Every single night's alight
With my brain, brain
I say to her, Why'd I say it to her?
What does she think of me?
That I'm not what I ought to be
That I'm what I try not to be
It's got to be somebody else's fault
I can't get caught
If what I am is what I am
'Cause I does what I does
Then brother get back, 'cause my breast's gonna bust open
The rib is the shell
And a heart is the yolk
And I just made a meal for us both to choke on
Every single night's a fight
With my brain, brain
I just wanna feel everything
I just wanna feel everything
I just wanna feel everything
So now I'm gonna try to be still now
Gonna renounce the mill a little while
And if we had a double-king-sized bed
We could move in it and I'd soon forget
That what I am is what I am
'Cause I does what I does
And maybe I'd relax
Let my breast just bust open
My heart's made of parts
Of all that surround me
And that's why the devil just can't get around me
Every single night's alright
Every single night's a fight
And every single fight's alright
With my brain, brain
I just wanna feel everything
I just wanna feel everything
I just wanna feel everything
I just wanna feel everything
After reading each, we broke down the words.
What do you hear in these lyrics? What do you see? Feel?
What makes up these song lyrics? What are the ingredients?
What are the differences between each piece of writing? The similarities?
Now what could the steps be to create something like this?
Many musicians start with the music first, but some don’t.
First let’s try from words first.
Imagine whose perspective you’re writing from.
Your own? A character’s? A person you’re researching? A place?
What are the biggest things on this person’s mind and heart?
Tap the source. What are you trying to say?
Then, what do you want to do with this song?
Is this to praise, give love, protest?
Is this to make an active statement, ask forgiveness, find hope?
What is the imagery that comes? What verbs, what nouns?
The musicality? The repetitions, the arc, the flow?
As you write, you can sound out words, how they land aloud.
Or don’t worry about any of that and write from that character’s perspective (you or someone else’s) about whatever you want to get out right now, and then afterward you can assemble your material into something more songlike.
Questions? Write for 10 minutes, write for an hour, whatever feels right.
Listen to Songs:
Now let’s listen to the songs that go with these lyrics:
Every Single Night
What does the music add?
Next, let’s start with music.
This time, you can write in song form or it can be something totally different.
Play some instrumental tracks.
Here are some artists I played excerpted tracks from on Tuesday:
Penguin Cafe Orchestra, David Shire, John Coltrane, Philip Glass, J.S. Bach, Ludovico Einaudi, Augusta Read Thomas, Brad Mehldau, Tourmani Diabate, Vitamin String Quartet.
You may have your own artists you prefer, or you can start with this list.
You can play songs whole or switch them up partway.
Line up these artists on a playlist or put in your favorite instrumental CD.
Play music for at least 15, 20 minutes.
Write what you hear.
Maybe your words come out as lyrics.
Maybe you prefer writing the story of the music.
Or drawing what you hear, and writing what you see in that drawing.
Write the images you pull from the sounds.
Write the ideas, the hopes the dreams, anything.
Now, prepare your work to share with someone.
You can look through everything you've generated today.
Add some more.
Combine phrases, delete the mess.
Use repetition, make new discoveries.
Compact into choruses, verses. Find some melodies, harmonies.
Or let this new non-lyrical work find special musicality.
How did that go?
What was useful or interesting to you about this process?
What was difficult or challenging?
What was fun?
What would you do differently next time?
Thank you for taking time to write with me today.
Remember WITA Song Contest Challenge!
PS: I've been slow to post lately. I know it. My next tactic is to merge blogs, to try for something more regular. I'm thinking about discontinuing the 50 Shades of Kraay blog and posting here the scribbly writings I would post there (where I've been slow to post as well).
If you have strong feelings about these thoughts, feel free to let me know.
What is Pulling on You? Writing Action
This Tuesday at The Cabin, we combined a search for our own personal urgencies with tools to excavate active language, in order to build our personal manifestos. You can take part in what we did on your own time, and add in your own flourishes.
Write Your Urgencies: Consider everything that’s on your mind. Everything in your personal life. In your community. Everything going on in the world right now. The biggest things pressing on you right now. What has been pulling on you? What is that pull asking you to write?
Now, write what you’re afraid to write, what you can’t write, what you’ve been longing to write, needing to write. Write for ten minutes.
An American Lyric: We then read a series of short pieces from Claudia Rankine's An American Citizen, and discussed them. Here is one we used:
At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you are speaking with that you will come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself, he blurts out, I didn't know you were black!
I didn't mean to say that, he then says.
Aloud, you say.
What? he asks.
You didn't mean to say that aloud.
Your transaction goes swiftly after that.
I encourage you to find Rankine's full book of hurricane strength pieces like this one. We talked through some of these questions after reading:
What is urgent here?
What is speaking to you?
What is the hidden world underneath?
What questions are these pieces asking you?
What questions do you have for these stories?
What is active here?
What calls you to action?
And we discussed how writing can help us deal with the world.
How writing can bring a call to action.
How we can be active in our writing.
Active as in Verbs...
We used this delightful exercise from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones:
Divide your paper up into two columns.
List one to ten on both sides
On one side, list a bunch of juicy nouns.
Objects, occupations, places, types of people, animals…anything.
No need to connect them or make sense of them. Make them specific.
Hairbrush, professor, Bermuda, singer, leopard...
On the other side, in the second list’s heading, write an occupation. Any job.
Below that, list all the verbs that job does. Active verbs.
A cook cuts, slices, boils, steams, washes...
Once you have your lists, make pairs between items in each list.
Draw lines between them like a kid's matching game.
Mix and pair. Nouns and verbs. Don’t aim for logical groupings.
Write sentences based on these pairings.
You can change present tense to past. Keep it playful.
The hairbrush sliced through brunette strands...
After writing your ten sentences, choose your favorite.
Write a story starting with that sentence.
Can all your verbs burst with that same active energy?
Write for at least ten minutes. Keep going if time and space allows!
Active as in Making a Stand
Having a better sense of strong verb potential isn't the only kind of action...
We can also use active verbs to create a different kind of writing.
A personal manifesto.
These writings can take many different forms.
Perhaps yours is made up of observations that call your readers to take action.
Like Rankine’s meditations on race in Citizen.
Perhaps it is a specific call to action.
Perhaps it is a list of everything fundamentally important to you.
Here is a manifesto from my dear friend and amazing performer Sarah Gardner:
Now write yours, perhaps bringing in an attention toward strong active verbs.
Can be manifesto about your writing
About how to live
To yourself, how you’d like to be
To yourself and others, how you’d like everyone to be
To the world.
Remember what is urgent for you write now.
What do you have to say? What are you afraid to write? What do you need to write?
Try for a ten, fifteen or twenty minute writing session here...
After you've written this piece, share it with someone!
Then, reflect. What was useful or interesting to you about these exercise?
What was difficult or challenging?
Thank you for taking time to write with me today.
Creative Limits - Beyond the Boundaries
This is a mashup of what we did this Tuesday at The Cabin's Free Drop In Writing Workshop and the workshop I brought to the inaugural Puget Sound Workshop Workshop last week. I included the reading from the Drop In and reintroduced the interdisciplinary art focus from PSWW (an absolutely incredible experience, by the way -- and they just opened up registration for 2018!).
Objective: We will investigate our personal limits as creative people, and then utilize those limits and additional boundaries as an avenue to generate new artistic material across disciplines that breaks our expectations.
Intro: I believe our limits help show us who we are as artists and people. Working within boundaries breaks open creativity. Our failures shape our greatest art and our mistakes create the style that makes our work stand on its own.
This workshop inquiry came about following the enforced stillness and silence this spring brought about from acute laryngitis wiping out my voice and an oncoming car wiping me and mobility out on my bicycle. Those sudden informing limits gave me intense frustration and some all-too familiar depression as I couldn't get everything done I wanted to when I had hoped for a productive spring, but also got my inner resources simmering on the value of such restrictions.
Read/Discuss Oliver Sacks' excerpt: Recently I read Oliver Sacks' fascinating study on music and the brain, Musicophelia. Many of his essays deal with intensive, sudden limits thrust on people that resulted in unexpected change. This one deals with musicians facing dystonia, which is a condition much like an intensive writer’s cramp caused by repetitive movement that prevents musicians from playing – sometimes for life.
Sacks says: “The term ‘dystonia’ had long been used for certain twisting and posturing spasms of the muscles such as torticollis. It is typical of dystonias, as of Parkinsonism, that the reciprocal balance between agonistic and antagonistic muscles is lost, and instead of working together as they should—one set relaxing as the others contract—they contract together, producing a clench or spasm.”
Here's a focus on one particular affected musician:
From Athletes of the Small Muscles: Musician’s Dystonia
By Oliver Sacks
Recently Leon Fleisher came to visit me a few days before he was to give a performance at Carnegie Hall. He spoke of how his own dystonia had first hit him. “I remember the piece that brought it on,” he began, and described how he had been practicing the Shubert Wanderer Fantasy for eight or nine hours a day. Then he had to take an enforced rest—he had a small accident to his right thumb and could not play for a few days. It was on his return to the keyboard after this that he noticed the fourth and fifth fingers of that hand starting to curl under. His reaction to this, he said, was to work through it, as athletes are often told to “work through” the pain. But “pianists,” he said, “should not work through pain or other symptoms. I warn other musicians about this. I warn them to treat themselves as athletes of the small muscles. They make extraordinary demands on the small muscles of their hands and fingers.”
In 1963, however, when the problem first arose, Fleisher had no one to advise him, no idea what was happening to his hand. He forced himself to work harder, more and more effort was needed as other muscles were brought into play. Bu the more he exerted himself, the worse it became, until finally, after a year, he gave up the struggle. “When the gods go after you,” he said, “they really know where to strike.”
He had a period of deep depression and despair, feeling his career as a performer was over. But he had always loved teaching, and now he turned to conducting as well. In the 1970s, he made a discovery—in retrospect, he is surprised he did not make it earlier. Paul Wittgenstein, the dazzlingly gifted (and immensely wealthy) Viennese pianist who had lost his right arm in the Great War, had commissioned the great composers of the world—Prokofiev, Hindemith, Ravel, Strauss, Korngold, Britten, and others—to write piano solos and concertos for the left hand. And this was the treasure trove that Fleisher discovered, one that enabled him to resume him to resume his career as a performing artist—but now, like Wittgenstein and Graffman, as a one-handed pianist.
Playing only with the left hand at first seemed to Fleisher a great loss, a narrowing of possibilities, but gradually he came to feel that he had been “on automatic,” following a brilliant but (in a sense) one-directional course. “You play your concerts, you play with orchestras, you make your records…that’s it, until you have a heart attack on stage and die.” But now he started to feel that his loss could be “a growth experience.”
“Suddenly I realized that the most important thing in my life was not playing with two hands, it was music…In order to be able to make it across these last thirty or forty years, I’ve had to somehow de-emphasize the number of hands or the number of fingers and go back to the concept of music as music. The instrumentation becomes unimportant, and it’s the substance and content that takes over.”
And yet, throughout those decades, he never fully accepted that his one-handedness was irrevocable. “The way it came upon me, “he thought, might be the way it would leave me.” Every morning for thirty-odd years, he tested his hand, always hoping.
Though Fleisher had met Mark Hallett and tried Botox treatments in the late 1980s, it seemed that he needed an additional mode of treatment, in the form of Rolfing to soften up the dystonic muscles in his arm and hand—a hand so clenched that he could not open it and an arm “as hard as petrified wood.” The combination of Rolfing and Botox was a breakthrough for him, and he was able to give a two-hand performance with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1996 and a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in 2003. His first two handed recording in forty years was entitled, simply Two Hands.
Botox treatments do not always work; the dose must be minutely calibrated or it will weaken the muscles too much, and it must be repeated every few months. But Fleisher had been one of the lucky ones, and gently, humbly, gratefully, cautiously, he has returned to playing with two hands—though never forgetting for a moment that, as he puts it, “once a dystonic, always a dystonic.”
Fleisher now performs once again around the world, and he speaks of this return as a rebirth, “a state of grace, of ecstasy.” But the situation is a delicate one. He still has regular Rolfing therapy and takes care to stretch each finger before playing. He is careful to avoid provocative (“scaley”) music, which may trigger his dystonia. Occasionally, too, he will “redistribute some of the material,” as he puts it, modifying the fingering, shifting what might be too taxing for the right hand to the left hand.
At the end of our visit, Fleisher agreed to play something on my piano, a beautiful old 1894 Bechstein concert grand that I had grown up with, my father’s piano. Fleisher sat at the piano and carefully, tenderly, stretched each finger in turn, and then, with arms and hands almost flat, he started to play. He played a piano transcription of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” as arranged for piano by Egon Petri. Never in its 112 years, I thought, had this piano been played by such a master—I had the feeling that Fleisher had sized up the piano’s character and perhaps its idiosyncrasies within seconds, that he had matched his playing to the instrument, to bring out its greatest potential, its particularity. Fleisher seemed to distill the beauty, drop by drop, like an alchemist, into flowing notes of an almost unbearable beauty—and, after this, there was nothing more to be said.
Think about other artists you know (or know about) who’ve faced unexpected limits.
How have these boundaries affected what they've made?
And what about you?
List and Reflect: Now, list ways that you find limits in your own artmaking/creativity.
Physical, mental, emotional limits, others…?
Time, space and money are some of the most common. Start there and then go deep. Consider all your limits. Conditions, boundaries, restrictions…
List for about 5 minutes.
Then reflect on every way your limits have gotten in the way of your art or productivity.
But what if these limits have unexpected benefits? Can they help you understand why you do what you do? Can these limits help you create something remarkable?
We’ll come back to this part later…
Adding Boundaries Exercises: Consider how you work as an artist. What additional boundaries can you impose? Can these added boundaries inject new life into what you make?
First Exercise: Impose a real, physical, imposing boundary that impacts what you do.
If you’re a visual artist, you’ve lost the use of one eye, or are completely blind.
If you’re a musician, one of your playing hands is no longer functional.
Or you have lost your voice.
If you’re a dancer or physical performance artist, you’ve lost one or more limbs.
If you’re a writer, you can no longer use a language that you know well.
Or you can’t use a letter of the alphabet. Or your dominant hand.
If you’re an actor, you’re paralyzed from the waist up.
These are examples – if you there’s a limitation that excites/scares you more, go for it.
Use these examples to get ideas flowing.
A lot of these limits are interchangeable between genres.
Now, create something new.
It can be about anything – you can start with something you’re working on already.
Something about the room you're in, or someone nearby.
About someone you love, where home is, what your limits are. Anything.
But whatever you create needs to impose this one specific limitation.
Spend about a minute deciding your limitation.
Then take 4 to 8 minutes brainstorming what you want to make and how your limit could change or challenge you. If you're already stoked to dive in, you can use this time on the creating itself.
Now spend 10 to 15 minutes working on your thing.
Use any arts material available that speaks to you!
Now hold onto that…
Second Exercise: Building on the last piece, now do the genre you don’t do.
It’s time to create a new piece.
But you can’t use your preferred medium.
It can be a variation of the last piece, or something else.
But if you’re a writer, make a dance about it.
If you’re a musician, express this as a painting.
Endeavor into the artform that feels riskiest for you.
If you feel comfortable in all genres, awesome.
Then go even further outside the box – how can you make this as a culinary recipe? As a stand-up routine? As a phoned in message to the President?
Again, spend about a minute choosing your genre.
And 4-8 minutes brainstorming, if that's helpful.
And 10-15 minutes (or as long as you want, really!) working on your thing.
Then you deepen it, go further, do some revisions, even some polishing...
How far can you go with this new piece?
Reflect: How did that go?
Think again about your limitations you wrote down earlier.
Can you think of ways you could use these limits in your artform that you aren’t already?
Now Share your new piece(s) with someone!
Images Out of Thought into Meaning
This week, we created powerful pieces out of image banks based on abstract words.
I’d like us to start today by writing, in list form, in free form, however works best for you, all of the images from your day, from the moment you got up to this moment.
Warming up the mind/heart/body/spirit in this way, writing without stopping, and without a lot of talk or explanation, about everything you’ve seen, heard, tasted, felt, smelled, experienced, noticed. Be specific and go deep into each moment as much as you dare. Show us your day from your perspective, as though you carried around a video recorder from the moment you woke, one that captures all the senses and has a perfect memory.
How did that go? Let’s keep those detailed, concrete images swimming through our consciousness as we read Mary Oliver's essay from Upstream, Bird. Pay attention to what you notice, what words or phrases stand out, and especially what sensory images hit your gut and skin. Read it out loud if possible.
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: