findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Hunger

Oldest story in the world: top of her class, distinction at uni, hired then poached by ever better-known firms.  Youngest to make partner.  Tipped for wealth and greatness. Travel, exotic foods, white villa with Ligne Roset furniture.  Then cutting back as one adorable toothless grin, then two, then three captivated her heart.

‘Not pasta again!’

‘Don’t want to wash my hands!’

‘Staaaaarving!’

Husband off again, something about bringing home the bacon. He was trapped by long hours, but she was the bacon.  Right there: cauliflower crumbs in her hair, stained with sauce, scoffing remains, falling over muddy gear.

‘I’m sick of you all!’ she screeched.

Grunts subsided, six eyes looked up.  Was the fear in their eyes a reflection of hers?

Later: ‘Did you know, Mummy: pigs can’t look up at the sky?’

Nor oxen either.

They never found out why she thought that the funniest thing ever.

And in case anyone thinks that there is a recurrent theme in my work and that I hate or resent children: this is fiction!  But what interests me is that tension between the creative best version of self and the everyday workhorse. Stanley Kunitz talks about the poet’s need to find the taste of self, which is ‘damaged, wiped out by the diurnal, the cares, the responsibilities that each day demand one’s attention… but the day itself cannot be construed as an enemy; it is what gives you the materials you have not only to contend with, but to work with, to build…’

Circus in Three Rings

Image: greenphile / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

I don’t care where in the world I am

If my lair is cosy,

Well-stocked and well-connected.

I can hibernate year-round

Among familiar smells

Velvety warmth of comfort habits

Foods tried and tested -

Make mine a ham and cheese sandwich-

Yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever –

If the world comes to me through my screen

Why need I go seek it out?

 

I seek the wind to sail me,

Adventure to toss me.

Even in the face of fear and discomfort

I need to earn warmth and plenty,

When muscles are weary

And brain is saturated.

I need to try newness,

Quench those thirst-filled questions

Too numerous to waste time.

No lifetime is enough -

I’ve got world to conquer.

 

So one wanders off

Outside the magic circle,

The other firmly within

But absent of mind.

Not much anger but not much laughter either.

We know not which to follow,

As they tear off in opposite directions.

Developing the Creative Habit

The Creative HabitI am currently reading Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’ and I think of it as my own personal creativity coach.  Twyla Tharp, of course, is a dancer and choreographer, but her principles and suggested exercises are applicable across a wide range of creative disciplines.  And here we have that key word ‘discipline’, which perhaps only a dancer truly understands.  But let me use Ms. Tharp’s own words:

‘It is the perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on  your brow that allow you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.  … I come down on the side of hard work…. Creativity is a habit and the best creativity is a result of good work habits…. In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.’

In other words, in order to reach the highest pinnacles of achievement that you are capable of, you need to do your warming up exercises.  You need to put in the practice and talent will find you (and she gives Mozart as an example, the hours and hours of practice and study that he put in as a child, the 24 symphonies that he wrote almost as a ‘draft’ before he finally wrote a good one).

For a long time, I was of the opposite school of thought.  Because I had moments in my teens when I was suddenly struck by flashes of inspiration, I thought that all I needed was a quiet place and enough time to commune with my Muse.  Inspiration would come again.  Some automatic dictation would occur.  But as I grew up and life got more complicated, the opportunities for introspection became limited, as did the time I could dedicate to creative writing.  I fell silent for far too many years, waiting for that flash of elusive inspiration.

Still, still, I stubbornly clung to the belief that an hour or ten minutes or 500 words or whatever daily routine I would try to establish could have no value.  Me?  Write without being inspired?  Good heavens and all evidence to the contrary, no!  And then I found my teen-age diaries and began to realise that my ‘moments of genius’ (as I thought of them back then, no matter how my overblown poetry makes me cringe now) were surrounded by utmost focus on literature.  I was reading huge amounts daily (and really analysing texts, too), I was writing for hours in my diary, letters, book reviews, prose and poetry.  I was learning new things every day and exploring them through my writing.  I am astonished at just how productive and hard-working the 15 year old Marina was.

So I have now converted to Twyla Tharp’s school of thought about hard work.  Yes, I now have a lot more obligations and preoccupations than a fifteen year old, but I still have to do a vast amount of practice, whether I like the results of those training sessions or not.  I have to make creativity a daily habit.

Or, as Pablo Picasso put it even more succinctly: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’

Then and Now

Dense treeBefore, you were the enemy,

much loathed,

feared for remaining elusive,

hanging aloof,

evading and retreating,

after your initial brief attack.

I hunted you in dense jungles,

while you burrowed in deserts dry.

In leafy canopies I screwed up my eyes to seek you,

while you slithered underground.

Mocking my paltry attempts to spear you,

you strung me up

and snuck away.

But now I’ve some to see you

as an ally or a guide.

Drunk on your beauty,

I follow wheresoever you might lead.

Brief glimpses keep me in love,

alluring, bewitching,

I know the pleasure of succumbing.

We could almost be friends.

Who Is It For?

I will be honest with you.  I started this blog without any thought that anybody would actually read it.  I only told two people about it (or that I was thinking about it).  It was more like an online diary, a place for experimentation, a means of holding myself accountable for writing every day.  I would not post every day, because some things take longer to write, but I would know if I was working or not.

It was to be a place of searing honesty.  Somewhere where I wouldn’t be able to hide behing my professional mask, my deadlines, my other multiple roles.  It was to be me vs. myself in the ring, two sumo wrestlers trying to outface each other. Only the opponent counted.

And then I discovered that I was being watched, that there are people reading this.  Complete strangers, some of them.  Who take the time to comment or ‘like’ my outpourings.  I had never dared share my writing before.  I had always been afraid of … being told that I can’t write, shouldn’t write, should stick to the day job etc. etc.  I feel raw as a newly hatched chick, I shiver a little in anticipation.  I am honoured and humbled.  Thank you, dear readers.

Winter Haikus

Winter Pass

Soft swish then silence

No traffic out my window-

Snow has come at last.

 

Steady trickled drip.

Drainpipe thick with icy coat.

Downward flash of mouse.

 

Frozen carrot nose,

Twigs in perfect puffy spheres.

Ours is best of all.

 

Lego bricks scatter.

Damp circle in flattened grass,

Where proud snowman stood.

 

Spit out weak coffee,

Collar up, I venture out

in the toothache cold.

 

With enormous thanks to Quirina, who reawakened me to the possibilities of the haiku.

The Storyteller

This is a short story that I edited right down (much against my better judgement) for a flash fiction competition.  Needless to say, it did not win, although it was published in a now defunct web magazine called ‘The Brevity Thing’. Someday, the original version will be improved and completed.  For the time being, here is the short version.

I can write.  I can make something out of anything.  The old lady who showed me the way to the tax office.  Her limp now a wheelchair, eyes harbouring a sinister gaze, twitch taking over her features.  And is that a slight cackle as she points me to my doom?

I carry my notebook with me everywhere, scribble in it all day long.  A thought, a quote, a random person in the street…  How I swoop, whir, flutter in like a vulture.  To dissect, examine, pin down.

I do not love words, no!  I analyse them, pour over them, roll them about like slave girls, prod them with my pen as if undressing a coy lover.  Quite frequently, I hate them: with their wriggly, slippery ways, their lack of nuance, for daring to resist me and my art.

One day I’ll write her into a story too.  Ever since I first saw her, I have not ceased to attempt to describe her.  Blushed peach skin.  Flicking back that silky hair.  Nostrils flaring as she invokes, ‘ Cappuccino for you, sir!’  The spell she casts, with sound, with touch.

For weeks I’ve been trying to nail that butterfly into its case.  She brushes against my clumsy fingers and flies into the summer sky. Each time she escapes, the taste grows bitter.  Like truant words, her essence escapes me.  My soul becomes enraged.  I know she laughs at me.

Witches, old and young, someday I’ll show them all!

How do you find time to write?

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, finding time to write anything other than To Do lists and professional reports can be a bit of a personal challenge for me.  So, for a fun Friday activity, I thought I would compile a few of my favourite writing tips from well-known and respected writers.  Those who have ‘cracked’ the dilemma of ‘but I don’t have the time…’.  Here’s to hoping it will give me wings for the weekend, although most of them sound quite stern.

Work according to the program, not according to the mood! (Henry Miller)

Nobody’s making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine! (Margaret Atwood)

Write.  Put one word after another.  Find the right word, put it down. (Neil Gaiman)

Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. (Jeanette Winterson)

Don’t keep waiting for the right moment or you’ll wait forever, but accept that there are some stages in life when it’s next to impossible to pull off a book. (Kate White)

The way to write a book is to actually write a book.  A pen is useful, typing is also good…. The first twelve years are the worst.  (Anne Enright)

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. (Jonathan Franzen)

Here are three somewhat kinder ones:

Defend yourself.  Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative. (AL Kennedy)

Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly. (Andrew Motion)

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research. (Roddy Doyle)

Oh, that’s all right then…  No, hang on a minute!

 

Insomnia

Every night at four

I startle awake,

like a doe sensing danger in the forest of my dreams.

Trees come up to charge me,

transform before my eyes

to endless reams of paper

unleashing lists in the dark:

invoices, accounting, due dates.

All their screeching pleas

reproachful looks

mouths gaping with urgency

like babes unfed.

How can I divide myself in enough parts to please them all?

 

I’ve read all the books

on expanding my brain and ensuring eternal happiness.

I breathe deeply and visualise,

think of colours, tastes and smells,

let my limbs grow lank and sleepy,

start leaving tasks in each room of  my memory mansion

but never get beyond the ground floor.

Then I panic

breathing shallow

heart flutters that extra wriggle

which tightens my abdomen.

I rush again and again through identical rooms

circling like an inept crow.

 

Too much to know

take in, remember,

too much to search, gather, understand.

Too much choice

yet nothing is new under the sun.

Nothing captures me, nothing remains.

Tomorrow the novelty will be submerged in fresh newness.

My voice surely too will drown in all that noise.

 

The fractal geometry of our lives

the ruthlessness of passing,

I feel maimed

dislocated from images and sounds.

 

Fragility poises for bare second on my finger

Then butterflies off

To a world of vulnerable memories.

 

My pain is not depth but the shallowness and width.

 

Anti-Valentine

Once were heroes

once knew flight

the heady air of freedom

the giddy brightness of the sun.

 

Once there was a glimmer

and then we lost.

There was a brief ambition

drowned in nice but empty words.

 

First we had coherence, the fullness, the whole

but we heeded it not

we mocked

thinking the circle is easily closed once again.

Then we were left with snippets

odd scraps to fight over

all but forgot.

 

There was once love.

Now its waxen wings melted

and its feet ground to dust.

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