Plucking words from the universe and dancing with my muse

radiolab muse elizabeth gilbert

Click the photo to go to Radiolab.org and listen to the podcast.

I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, OH. I attended in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and then last summer, while at St. David’s Writing Conference, I met three women and talked them into going with me this year.

I’ll write more about the actual conference later, when I’ve recovered from four days of cheesecake, teaching, and social interaction. It was, as expected, fabulous. But I wanted to share one thing with you now.

As I drove from Rochester to Dayton, I binged on past podcasts of RadioLab. One in particular stood out: “Me, Myself, and Muse.”

If you read my blog, I often lament about having great ideas that I don’t follow through with, or about book ideas that I don’t write and then see someone else has written them.  I get stuck, and overthink, and talk a lot about things I want to do but don’t, and it’s been going on for while. Too long. Like, if this whining was in a plastic container of leftovers in my fridge it would have not only gone moldy long ago, it would have sprouted a civilization that developed a cure for cancer.

I’m even on deadline, right now, right this minute, for a book I’m contracted to write that is just completely stalled, and I’m spinning my wheels creatively.

One of the reasons I was back at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop was to get my creative self back into alignment. Some time ago, I went from a very successful stint as a music blogger, with regular paying freelancing gigs, and lots of paid blogging and writing, to walking the dogs and binging on Netflix and bemoaning the fact that I offer nothing to the world. To be fair, things had changed in the music and publishing industry, and magazines and newspapers I’d been writing for were sold, which meant those paid writing gigs were gone. And I got jaded and lost my passion, for life and writing. (And there was also that stalker, too, who caused me no small amount of aggravation and was the last straw in the camel’s backpack that led to my taking a break from regular, serious writing for a while.)

The last few years have been a process of stopping, starting, reevaluating, doing well, crawling under a rock, taking stock, and emerging with wings that aren’t quite unfurled. Other parts of my creative life have emerged – improv and, most recently, stand up.  But the writing is now in a different climate, from a different perspective on life, and amidst a great deal of disorganization in my creative life. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk wondering if I have any words left and, if I do, where I’d find them under this pile of folders and books and notes and dog toys.

So the message of this podcast has really stuck in my head and heart, particularly the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“I kind of believe the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces, ideas and creativity, that want to be made manifest. And they’re looking for portals to come through in people. And if you don’t do it, they’ll go find someone else. And so you have to convince it that you’re serious and you have to show it respect and you have to talk to it and let it know you’re there.”

It haunted me the entire drive. And then the first workshop session I went to at Erma was with Alan Zweibel, who among many, many, many things, was an original writer for Saturday Night Live. He told us that the secret to writing is to write, and that we should focus on the process, not the product. There there are words out there, he said, and they just need to be plucked out and put down.

There it is again.

I’d never thought about my ideas or creative inspiration being something outside of myself. I always felt like creative inspiration was supposed to be inside of me, and if I wasn’t feeling it, it was because I didn’t have any.  But what if ideas and creativity are constantly swirling around me, like bits of the universe that I can reach out and catch, if only I open my hand? Well, that’s another story. Because then, what I’m lacking isn’t the creativity. What I’m lacking is the work. And I have total control over that.

So the takeaway, from the podcast and the sessions and the whole conference? It’s all there for the asking. All of it. ALL OF IT. The only thing that’s required of me is the work. The muse will join me in this dance of creativity once she sees me out on the ballroom floor and believes I’m going to stay there for the entire song.

Food for thought I wanted to share with you.

There’s so much to say about the conference, which is still digesting in my soul, and I’ll write about that in a separate post. But right now? I’ve got some work to do.

My stand up debut at Firehouse Saloon

 

One of the goals that I had for 2015 was to write and perform 5 minutes of stand up material. I’m not sure where I got the notion that this had to be on my proverbial bucket list, but there it was.

Maybe because my humor column often starts out with me musing aloud, and then I write it down and adapt it for the reader. Maybe it’s part of my quest to be Carol Burnett, and I figure learning to stand alone on stage and talk just strengthens every other part of my humor experience. Maybe it’s because I tried and loved improv and need to up my investment, the way people start out using marijuana and end up addicted to heroin.

Whatever the reason, last summer I met with a local comic named Allish that I know from improv, and he walked me through some of this methods for writing jokes. He even convinced me to come and watch an open mic night. It was intimidating but not completely impossible for me to imagine doing it. I never took the extra step to write and perform but I kept thinking about it.

Stand up is different from improv in that with improv, you’re not alone on stage. You have partners and a team who are there to support you. Your job is to work with your partners, and while it’s all off the cuff, you know that you’ve got each other’s backs. There’s no wrong answer, no judgement, all support.

Stand up? While there might be support before and after, you’re on your own on stage, with no one to step in and pick up the ball if you fumble. Continue reading

Going for gold in my sleep

My dog Bailey, demonstrating an advanced napping position.

My dog Bailey, demonstrating an advanced napping position.

Today is National Napping Day, and to celebrate, here’s a column that ran in Refreshed Magazine in February 2014, and was adapted from a piece in my book, “What The Dog Said.” I would have posted this earlier today but I was, yes, napping.

I’ve never been known for my athletic abilities, but after watching the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I went into training with the hope that my favorite sport would be added in time for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Known as extreme napping, this highly technical event mixes skill and determination to honor the competitor with the ability to sleep the longest and most soundly amidst the greatest number of distractions.

Alas, my pleas to the Olympic Committee have gone unanswered. I don’t know why. Extreme napping is as thrilling a sport as, say, golf. In fact, from 1912 to 1948, Olympics medals were awarded in the fields of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. If you could watercolor your way to a gold medal, why not nap?

Think you’ve got what it takes to be an extreme napper? Then start training! Here are some things you’ll need to ensure success: Continue reading

Writing in Real Life

refreshed magazine mar 2016One of the misconceptions people have about writers is that we loll around all day in our pajamas while brilliant prose magically pours forth from our fingers, usually minutes before deadline. We don’t work, therefore we’re always available for lunch, errands or babysitting. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and we make gads of money doing it.

OK, yes, sometimes I work in my pajamas, but most of the time I get dressed. (Yoga pants and sweat shirts count as getting dressed, right?) And yes, I am free during the day to run errands and have lunch with friends, and I used to babysit (we all know how that story ends). I also grocery shop and cook and do laundry and pay bills and answer the phone and let in repairmen. And I would clean, if I was the kind of woman who cleaned.

In between real life, I write. [Click to continue reading at Refreshed Magazine]

Mama Mia, Don’t Break The Pasta

Refreshed feb 2016 pasta

Over the holidays I noticed a new product on my grocery store shelf: half-sized spaghetti. It’s basically plain spaghetti, but half the length of regular spaghetti and touted as the “perfect size for any pot” because there’s no need to break it in half.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, have we become so lazy as Americans that we can’t break our own pasta in half?

I posted that sentiment, along with a photo of the box of spaghetti, on my Facebook page. My intent was to generate discussion about the way we rely on convenience items and technology to do everyday things we really should be doing ourselves. I’m not even talking about things like relying on GPS instead of reading a map. I’m talking about using electric staplers and wearing self-tying sneakers.

The little rant made sense to me, so imagine my surprise when instead of people talking about the laziness of half-sized spaghetti, I was hit with a barrage of replies that all shared the same message: Never break the pasta.

Yes, dear readers, the fact that we’re too lazy to break our own spaghetti is a far less serious offense than the fact that anyone would dare to break spaghetti in the first place. [Click here to read the entire column at Refreshed Magazine]

This old (falling apart) house

Refreshed jan 2016 home repairs

The problem with talking about things you would like to do is that someone might overhear and make your wish come true.

Apparently, God reads my column. Some months ago, I wrote about how darling husband and I were watching home remodeling shows on Netflix and making a list of things we’d like to repair in our 88-year-old house. Then a pipe in the upstairs bathroom burst, causing Niagara Falls to cascade into the kitchen.

Once the culprit was found—ancient cast iron pipes that literally caved in on themselves—we were left with holes in the walls where the main stack had been replaced, as well as a gaping hole in the kitchen ceiling and upstairs bathroom floor.

That provided an interesting new system of communication, to say the least: you could sit on the upstairs toilet and talk to someone standing in the kitchen below.

Entertaining as that might be, it got old pretty quickly. We needed to fix the holes. [Continue reading at Refreshed Magazine]

50 thoughts on turning 50: #31 Forgiveness

Click the image to watch the video on the CBS News website

I warned you that doing a list of 50 things I’ve learned about turning 50 might take 10 years to finish. It’s a year and a half after my big day, and here we are, at #31. Hey, I’m farther along than I thought I’d be. I’m not as big a slacker as I thought! That makes it a fitting time to share a video I saw back in 2010 that resonated with me: Ben Stein, talking about forgiveness.

“You’ll be amazed at how much sunnier and roomier it is in your head and in your heart if you just get rid of everything’s that’s blocking the light,” he says.

He’s right. I remember a Bible study leader talking once about how in Greek word pictures the word forgiveness is an image of the person wronged carrying on their back the person who wronged them. Unforgiveness is futile, and we’re only hurting ourselves.  Or maybe a better illustration is a quote that’s been attributed to everyone from Buddha to Anne Lamott: ““Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

As we end 2015 and head into another year, maybe it’s time to clean out our hearts of resentments and anger, and start 2016 with a fresh attitude towards other people. As Stein adds, “I like doing it, and it’s really a gift for me.” And, like Stein, I think it’s time to forgive ourselves – for past sins, for not being kind to ourselves, for not being perfect humans, for shortcomings big or small … like not keeping up with writing projects …

You can see the entire video by clicking the image or visiting the CBS news website.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.