Practices

I have been doing various daily practices for many years and they have been instrumental in my artistic and spiritual growth. For over 20 years I’ve been doing “morning pages” (from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) which is doing 2 to 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing in longhand each day. For almost 20 years I’ve also been writing one haiku every day, which means I have a lot of haiku by now. And for about 5 years I’ve been doing what I call my “daily draw” which means I draw or paint or sculpt an image from the day before, sometimes illustrating the haiku I just wrote, or something I saw on my daily walk, or something I remember from a conversation, or whatever appears from my hands.

None of these writings or drawings has to be good, although sometimes they are excellent. But quality is not the issue, and despite the mounds of paper I now have filled with scribbles, poems, and drawings, neither is quantity. The issue is practice. In practice you are allowed to make mistakes, to be a novice, to admit your failings. Practice teaches you to love and appreciate yourself, in all your flawed and silly glory.

Practice makes me happy. Every day.

Orphan Book

Recently a small literary press agreed to publish one of my new manuscripts. I was happy – until I read through their Facebook and blog posts, which were full of political opinions that were opposed to my own. Then I became uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be associated with these political opinions, and I did not want any profits made on my book (even if the profits were tiny) to go to promote and market books that espoused them. So I did not sign a contract after all. This was particularly disappointing because my book is a strange, genre-free, odd-ball story. It won’t be easy to find another publisher. So today my weird little book is still an orphan with no home.

Sigh.

Flying Pigs

Taking a short hiatus from blogging. I’ll be back in April. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook. You can friend me on Facebook or like my Facebook Author Page. For instance,  here’s what I shared on Facebook a few days ago:

Flying Pigs

I used to have doubts that I would ever be a full-time writer – after all, for years I was a single mom with a demanding job in a high tech industry. I wrote “on the side” when I had time. (Like I had any extra time.) So yeah, I’d be a full time writer “when pigs fly” – right?

Then one day I was at a street fair with my youngest daughter and spied this glass pig with wings at a booth. It called to me. (Evidently it was not only a flying pig but a singing pig as well). This flying/singing pig still inhabits the windowsill right above my desk – where I have written many books over the past 20 years, working as a full time writer. Pigs actually do fly. I have proof.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #4

3d coffinFor the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter Three’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter Three:  Caskets to Roads

In 1937 Armond was 19 and in common with many adults as well as teens, could not find steady work. Although he had gone back to school for a short time after returning from his railroad adventure, he quit a year before graduation in order to go to work to help support his family. The only job he could find was as a janitor and apprentice carpenter in a casket factory. He didn’t like the work, but he figured a casket factory was safer than other jobs – after all, just as many people were dying during the Depression as they had before.

and

Armond: The Ditch Digger Poet

I didn’t like leaving home and my mother, even though I was almost 21. That sounds like I was a mama’s boy, and it is true that I loved my mother, but the reason I didn’t want to leave her was because she took care of everyone, but no one took care of her. I had tried my best. Now it seemed like the best I could do was leave. The CCCs paid $30 a month, and $25 of that would be automatically sent to her. Twenty-five dollars bought a lot of groceries. The thought of that $25 made me feel good, like I was at last helping put food on Mother’s table, even if I would not be there to help with all her other chores.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #3

Nels Bruseth0001For the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter Two’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter Two:  In the Shadow of White Horse

Seventy-five miles northeast of Seattle, thirty miles northeast of the small town of Arlington, and about five hundred feet of elevation into the Cascade Mountains, is the even smaller town of Darrington. Nestled amid thousands of acres of dense forest, Darrington is encircled by the unruly Sauk, Suiattle, and Whitechuck rivers, and six thousand feet overhead looms the town’s ever-present snowy guardian, White Horse Mountain. It was, and is, a wild, rough, and beautiful place.

and

Lois: The Postmistress’ Daughter

I guess I was kind of spoiled. In Darrington I was almost like a celebrity, and so were my folks. We knew everyone in town and everyone knew us. It was an idyllic life. I knew times were supposed to be bad, and I knew Mums and Daddy worked hard, but in Darrington you didn’t need much money, and everyone worked hard. I was happy.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #2

Retro toned rural railroad tracksFor the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter One’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter One: Going Somewhere

Armond Delos Pearson was a skinny kid of seventeen in 1935, just beginning his growth spurt to his full height, which one day would be almost six foot two. Despite his fancy name, he was from a working class family who’d been dirt poor even before the Depression.

and

Armond: Riding the Rails

It was a day in late spring 1935 that I kissed Mother goodbye and told her I was going off to look for work. I didn’t tell her where I was going to look. She gave me some bread and cheese and a couple of dimes, and didn’t ask.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #1

Wedding Day portrait0001For the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here’s the opening paragraphs of the Introduction, in my voice:

Introduction: The End

After our parents died, Mom first and Dad two years later, my brothers and I cleared out the house they’d lived in for 45 years. Their deaths were not unexpected – Mom was 87 and Dad 94. To die at 94 cannot be called a tragedy. It is a triumph. But it is also an emptiness.

I would not have called my father a sentimental man – he was a realistic hardheaded businessman who liked to discuss (we won’t call it argue) politics, economics, business – you know, topics for “real men.” Yet in his bedroom closet, way in the back, we found scrapbooks of memories and boxes full of his letters to his brothers, nephews, and old army buddies, as well as battered notebooks full of written musings about life, love, romance, babies, art, poetry, nature, religion – what he would have categorized aloud as “mushy.”

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Free the Creator

free-creatorNext year I’ll be teaching a new class on writing and visual art, titled “Freeing the Creator Within,” with my good friend and amazing mixed-media artist Gwen Delmore. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ll be covering in this 4-week class. If you’re interested, let us know and we’ll let you know when and where the class will be offered.

Through a variety of exercises and techniques, this class helps participants access, explore and share beliefs beneath beliefs. They learn to by-pass internal editors and critics and find the poetry and beauty within themselves.

Each of the four 2-hour classes consists of introductions to new techniques, many choices of in-class writing and art exercises, voluntary sharing, and non-critical feedback. Participants will take home a notebook filled with vignettes, poetry, sketches, paintings, and collages created in class. All materials provided.

Class One: The seven non-rules of writing exploration: controlling the editor and trusting yourself. Play with printed images as you explore who you are.

Class Two: Original details and sensory specifics: it’s a daffodil, not a flower. Explore how concrete images can illustrate emotions and desires.

Class Three: Exploring absurdity and the forbidden: why be polite, politically correct or logical. Tear down your art and build it back up again.

Class Four: Mining & Springboarding: where do you get your ideas? Discover where your inspiration comes from.

Let us know what you think. Would you be interested in a class like this?

Dreaming the Ridiculous

Closeup Face Headshot of Pug Dog Crying with Tear in Right Eye, studio shot over white background

Recently I had a vivid dream, one of those dreams you think are real when you wake up, until your rational mind kicks in and lets you know you are ridiculous. But what if I wrote down my ridiculous dream and made it into a story? Then it would be real – a real story with real letters and real words, printed by a real printer onto real paper. So here is my now real and ridiculous dream:

I went to a cannabis store, which is legal in my state. (In real life I have never been to one, but this is a dream.) The store was staffed by officious bureaucrats whose mission in life was to keep a stick stuck firmly in their ass. In order to even get into the store, I had to pass through a series of doors that led to anterooms where I had to fill out paperwork and show my ID and explain to a miniony bureaucrat why I wanted to buy some cannabis. I went through at least ten of these anterooms, and at the last one (I knew it was the last because through a glass door I saw a profusion of green leafy plants) the dream took an even stranger turn.

The bureaucrat guarding the plant room told me I could not take my dog into this room, and instead I had to stash him in their doggie day care room, handily located through a small side door. I was reluctant to do so, because I loved my dog and didn’t trust the bureaucrats to care for him. (Why I had my dog with me the dream did not explain.) My dog was a Pug puppy whose name was Pepe. (In my waking life I do not own a Pug dog; my “real” dog is a terrier mix, and his name is Alex, not Pepe. If I did have a Pug, which is unlikely, I would certainly never name him Pepe. But I digress.) Anyway, the bureaucratic minion did not care about my love for my dog and insisted. So against my better judgment, I let her lead Pepe away to the doggie day care.

I went into the plant room and after filling out yet more paperwork, watching minions scrutinize my identification, and answering more questions, I was allowed to buy an ounce of cannabis. I then made my way back to the anteroom where the doggie day care was, and asked for my dog. The minion let me into the dog room – but Pepe was not there!

I frantically ran around the room, calling Pepe’s name, but there was no pug in the room. The doggie guard just shrugged when I screeched insults and breathed fire into his face, and then he called the police to come and get me.

I woke up crying, and for a brief moment I was sure I had lost Pepe forever. I even sat up in bed to look for him. Luckily Alex was there and brought me back to real life.

Could you make a story out of this dream? I’m not sure I can, but I’m going to try.

Worry

beautiful 35 year old woman stands in front of the windowAlthough it had been my dream since childhood, I did not become a full-time writer until I was middle-aged. It was a scary decision, and many co-workers, acquaintances, family, and friends thought I was completely bonkers to give up a well-paying job for a nebulous dream. Even after I proved that I could indeed support myself by writing, they thought I was nuts to continue with it. “I’d never do that,” said my former co-workers. “Are you sure you can keep jumping over all the hurdles, especially at your age?” said one of my helpful aunties. “Aren’t you worried about the future? What will happen when you get old?” asked one of my closest friends.

Ah, those hurdles. They are there, you know. But I found that the hardest hurdles to jump over were all in my own head. Worrying about whether I’d spend all my savings and end up on welfare, worrying about pleasing my clients, worrying that no one would hire me, worrying that I’d embarrass myself and my family by failing, worrying worrying worrying.

I’m not sure you can ever banish worry entirely. It seems to be part of who we are as humans. But I have learned to replace much of my worry with trust. On good days, and even on average days, I trust that the universe wants me to succeed. I trust that if I do my part, the universe will do its part.

But I confess that on bad days I might revert to worrying. There have been days when I’m sure the proverbial bag-lady is hanging out in my closet, waiting for me to fail so she can lend me her shopping cart. I start to think longingly about handy things like salaries, medical benefits, 401Ks, sick days, and vacations days—you know, all those “guarantees” that I used to have.

And then I remember that the word guarantee represents a total illusion. No amount of worry will guarantee success. Worry does not work. One of my favorite quotations about worry is by Peter McWilliams: “Worry is interest paid on a debt you may not owe.”

I also remember those people in my life who have supported me in this crazy dream. Especially my two grown daughters, who have been kind enough to tell me they have been inspired by my mid-life leap, and when they get to middle age, they will know how to do it right. It is comments like these, from people I love and respect, which remind me that we are all teachers for one another. We’re not here for ourselves.

BTW, none of my worries came true. What a waste of time worry is.

The above is an excerpt from my ebook Ghost Stories for Real Ghosts, which is part of my online course “Learn to Ghost.” If you’re interested in becoming a ghostwriter, check it out here.