First of all, I will make a list of ten things I want to explore and since Ray Bradbury was a friend of my mothers, I will use his example of creating a list of nouns that will lead to exploring potential writing ideas. So here goes:
1. The cake class
2. The art gallery
3. The garden
4. The shelter
5. The frosting
6. The flowers
7. The tile
8. The family
9. The music
10. The books
Now this is a list with possibilities that I can live with for awhile, ponder, reflect and cradle. Beginning with “the cake class,” I saw today, during my first class, that there is way more to cake decorating than first meets the eye. There are trick of the trade, just like any other profession, that make it easier for those who know them to accomplish the task and make it look spectacular. The first trick I learned today was to “crumb coat” the cake in order to seal in the crumbs. Allowing the cake to slightly harden in the freezer for a few minutes creates a nice hard surface on which to spread the fluffy icing.
Making creative swirling lines of colored piping takes the trick of dragging a wooden toothpick horizontally through the vertical colored piping lines. The border, consisting of swirling frosting shells connected by border lines connects the cake to the serving board. Of course the butterfly needs antennae and a cute face. The cute factor is a big part of this cake and the final, beautiful touch is the edible glitter lightly sprinkled over the entire cake.
Since my youngest daughter and I did this together, our two butterfly cakes rest silently in the refrigerator almost too pretty to cut. Notice I said, almost for as if on cue, daughter number two arrives in the living room with the question, “Does anyone want to try cake?” Writing, and frosting; both are essential!
I am feeling pretty good about my devotion to finding 15 minutes at night to sit down, draw a card from The Observation Deck, read the description in the accompanying book and ponder how it relates to me. To my life and to what I want to say in my Blog. This evening as I sit comfortably in my leather office chair, fan on to simulate a breeze on this hot summer night, staring out the window at the reflection of the pool, I am thinking about finding my need. What is my need that I am suddenly devoted and inspired to write nightly when for years I have struggled to find the time to take the time for myself? Naomi Epel (author of the Observation Deck) writes about identifying one’s own needs as a writer in order for the writing process to serve a deep purpose inside of one’s self. I think that this is the reason at this point in my life I am able to devote the time to writing.
What are my needs? I want to nurture my creativity and develop and expand my opportunities by seizing all creative opportunities that come my way. By being open to anything, I am creating space for new creative ventures, such as the exploration of mosaic, to enter my life. Creativity can develop when you use all of your senses to explore because it can embrace your being fully. I am exploring mosaic art which involves creating and touching, I am writing which involves creating and seeing, I am listening to new music, new recordings of affirmation, I am taking a cake decorating class, tasting, and smelling, and all are connected to creating.
The creative process was always fascinating to my mother. She thought a lot about it when planning lessons for her 9th grade creative writing and honors English classes and she often explored the creative process on her own by reading, watching interesting television shows, going to movies and lectures and doing stimulating sight seeing around the Los Angeles area. It was my mother that introduced me to the Adamson House in Malibu famous for the amazing tile work, the Skirball Cultural Center exhibits and lectures, the Laemmle Theaters showing unique and foreign films and of course books! I remember her talking endlessly about a movie she adored called “Why Man Creates” that examined the need for people to create. It had such an impact on me that I was determined, as a teacher, to allow my students plenty of opportunities to use creativity in their art, their writing and their play.
As one who has so often given to and supported others’ creativity, it is now officially my turn to explore and to find out what I have inside of me, what I can offer and where my creativity will lead me.
“There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.” ~Thorton Wilder
Listening to the conversations of others can be enlightening, as I discovered while at freshman orientation at my daughter’s future university. There is plenty of mingle-time scheduled in, allowing for parents to meet each other and feel connected in some small way to the much bigger world of the university. Eager student volunteers meander throughout the crown asking if we have concerns or questions and offering uncensored answers to our questions. Direct dialogue doesn’t always give the hidden answers that eavesdropping allows though, and the one common thread of conversation most heard was the proud parent’s introduction by way of their children’s’ accomplishments. I always wonder why parents feel the need to live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments and though we are, for the most part, proud of our children, it seems a bit sad that that is the way we identify our own accomplishments.
Parents often feel the need to mention, GPAs, SAT scores and the numerous scholarships offered and college acceptances their children have. The motivation for this is questionable. Is it to make others feel inadequate, to boost their own egos or simply the inability to remember how to talk about anything but their children? Now that my own children are heading off into the world of adulthood I find myself confronted with a mirror of my life and the reflection of 20+ years of energy and focus in a single direction, or I should say, in three closely related direction; my three daughters. It is now time to step back, shake myself off a bit and redirect my energy inward and in doing so, I find comfort in quite, peace in solitude and creativity springing from new sources.
Today’s card, Set Limits, offers the suggestion of actually limiting either the time or the type of writing in order to provide a structure that enables a piece to be reasonable. It makes sense to me and I am allowing the limit of writing on Blog entry each day and spending 15 minutes to do it. I confess I skipped yesterday because I was at my lovely relax and renew yoga class until 9:00 p.m. and basically collapsed after class, so I guess I will say I will write approximately every day.
Setting writing limits reminds me of organizing, which is one of my favorite activities as in organizing households, my classroom, a story or a mosaic. Creative writing is similar to creating a mosaic, created of small bits of glass, reflective, sparkling, sometimes muted, all unique and when you put them together, a new and better piece is created. Attaching them to a solid foundation is the precursor for a strong piece. Once the glue is dried, the tiny pieces are set, but still vulnerable so grout is applied. The grout can be neutral or colored and must be chosen with consideration to the colors of the little pieces. It is possible to use a variety of grout colors for an artistic flair, and when dried, the grout enhances the colors of the tiles and glass, making the small details pop out.
Some might wonder: why create something out of old or used pieces? But the charm is in taking something, that might be thought of as worthless by itself, and combining it with other small pieces in order to give it a new life; a life that can bring beauty, knowledge or simply another perspective.
Writing is a dream, fantasy and passion for me and I long for time to write, something to write about and the ability to do it well, but at the same time, I have lately been drawn to artistic endeavors and I find that indulging in these opens the spickets of creativity and makes writing flow more freely. Co-teaching a mosaic class this summer has allowed me to explore a medium that is new to me and I am finding that spending time in the studio is a muse for my creative brain. I enjoy sitting, examining lovely tiles, creating designs and using new tools and materials. I enjoy translating the language of mosaic into understandable language for children, helping them discover their own ideas and gently guiding them to stay focused and create a work of art that instills pride. I have never pictured myself as a visual artist and don’t have much talent for painting or drawing but mosaic works for me. I can play with shapes and colors; I can create thematic lessons revolving around mosaic styles including ideas to transfer the knowledge through visual, oral, and kinesthetic manners. It is interesting to me that my involvement with the mosaic classes has brought me back to my creative self.
I realized today the importance of having a creative outlet when Gary and I went with artist Karen and her husband Barry, to a homeless shelter in Boyle Heights to assist with a mosaic project that Karen does monthly with the residents. We brought along two of my mother’s dear friends, Helen and Libby, who grew up in Boyle Heights. We were all impressed by the dedication the residents of the shelter demonstrated when it came to painting and designing their tiles. They focused for 2 hours and beamed with pride while showing their completed projects. I ended up playing with the children while their parents painted tiles. We played Candyland and read stories and talked about taking turns, patience and treating people nicely. There were about 10 children in the little room stocked with donated blocks, dolls, games and books and the age range was from two to seven. It was both draining and exhilarating but by 6 o’clock, as we cleaned up and left to grab a bite at a local, age-old Mexican restaurant, we all felt a camaraderie and sense of purpose doing something of value, something creative, something to help others create and to give, without expectations.
“I well remember how sure I was of myself when I was in my teens. I’m not critical of teens today.”
Loretta Young (American Actress, 1913-2000)
Today’s exercise is to write about someone by becoming the other person and it is a coincidence because just this morning, at about 8:00 a.m., I jotted down an idea that popped into my head as I watched my middle daughter get ready to leave for her unpaid internship: “the reluctant adult.” It is a jump over a tremendous chasm, the jump from independent teen to becoming a member of the adult working world, and there is a lot to contend with. Being a teen allows one to sleep through the morning and into mid-afternoon as the sun forces it’s way between the blinds or between small slices of shutters. No one expects a teen to get up early, or for that matter, to talk, much before noon. So it is almost a crime against nature for a 20 something, barely out of the luxurious teen bubble, to accept the responsibility of waking to an alarm, forcing a small amount of nourishment down, packing (yes, packing, because with an unpaid internship comes the realization that spending money to eat lunch out really does not make a lot of sense) lunch, and facing the morning commute.
The reluctant adult gives up the days of sunning, shopping and lunching with friends funded by a part time retail job in a store with ear-splitting music and air perfumed with the scents for sale. The reluctant adult realizes that by 11:00 p.m. one who works all day is actually tired, and needs to sleep in order to get up with tomorrow’s alarm. The reluctant adult is thrilled that it is Wednesday, with Friday in view. Though the reluctant adult is slowly learning how to function in the adult world, the summer evenings still beckon and the weekends hold the promise of a chance to slip back to the carefree days, if only for a few short hours.
Ex Libris is a Latin phrase, meaning literally, “from books.” It is often used to indicate ownership of a book, as in from the books of… or from the library of…
The writing exercise is to reach into a drawer and use whatever you first touch as the impetus for writing so I reach into the drawer of my mother’s beautiful old roll-top desk and grab the shiny gold box of bookplates, one of four. I open the box and read the phrase. I don’t remember these though I remember the ones with the antique map of the world and those with the small fairy, given to me years ago, but this phrase, what does it mean? I look it up, Google of course, and read the definition. Ahhh, of course! “From books.” how appropriate as I sit here, surrounded by books, sorting through books and treasuring them.
How can I have five books going at once? I start one, a self-help type of book and I really enjoy it, but then that novel is calling and I want a little escape, until I see the philosophy book offering deep thoughts and lessons to ponder…. but then The Last Lecture, how profound, every chapter a great lesson from one who has learned so much upon reflecting on life from the edge. Then of course, the books about writing-my muses, my inspiration and the setting for my new writing office. They are props meant to inspire, and they do.
My mother was the one who started the tradition of “from the books” as a book lover spreading the disease to me. I feel a physical connection to certain books and love them like children. The stories from the depths of childhood, the novels that sustained me through those teen years and the books of interest: Los Angeles, cultural Judaism, and politics. The books of dreams: gardening, decorating, exotic cooking books (binding in tact) and promises of an enticingly improved life. Advice books rest in groups on the shelves filled with someone’s good ideas and my hopes for an easier path. My mother taught me that being surrounded by books was to live in a nest of knowledge so home is a room with high book cases, tables stacked with books, books waiting beside my bed and the books I keep in the car, just in case I end up stuck waiting somewhere.
The new electronic book carriers are amazing, holding 200+ books and containing the ability to instantaneously order others. Books on tape offer a dramatic presentation often acted or read by the author, which is handy if you are stuck in traffic, but there is just something about the smell of a book, the feel of the pages in your hand and opening up the book for the first time, reading the book jacket, the acknowledgements and hoping for a picture of the author and perhaps a little bio.
There is something about seeing a bookmark peeking out of the top of a book, beckoning me to open it up and pick up where I left off. Come back, continue the journey, think, learn something, and drift off.
I am my mother’s daughter, Ex Libris.
The urge to write has been hiding in the recesses of my mind for years and excuses to avoid the inevitable first step, of sitting down to write the first page (or in this case, blog) have been rampant. I have arrived at the decision that it is time I took the reins and made the commitment to complete what I have started so often but being a little apprehensive, I decided that I would start writing with the inspiration of The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel with the hope that these little motivational idea cards will give me the catalyst I need to take the leap into the writing world. I welcome you to accompany me on this journey.
Comments are welcome!