Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Recently I’ve been re-reading my blog posts, and the one thing that stands out for me is how often I use the phrase “Have fun.” “Just have fun.” Which made me wonder, what exactly do I mean by “fun”?
Obviously fun doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For some people it’s taking as many rollercoaster rides as possible in one lifetime while raising tarantulas in the living room. For others it’s spending years and years painting, and repainting, one perfect and extraordinarily life-like bouquet of tiger lilies—an activity that would have me tearing out my hair and run screaming for the hills. Just like trash and treasure, fun is all in the eye of the beholder, or in the actions of the doer. Whatever it is for each of us, though, I think it’s a very important part of the creative process. Because if you’re not having fun, you might also be:
  • Avoiding the work.
  • Agonizing about avoiding the work.
  • Resisting any opportunities to show or submit the work.
  • Apologizing for the work when you do show it.
  • Unfavorably comparing your work to others—others you are convinced are immeasurably more brilliant, talented, and capable of having much more fun than you. Which is just plain silly.
So how do you bring more fun to the table when you sit down to work on your latest creative project? I’m sure there’s a fascinating range of answers, from putting on theme music, to drawing cats in pajamas in your manuscript margins, but to me “having fun” means the following:
  • Not taking myself so seriously. Note I didn’t say “not taking the work seriously.” But whenever I think there is some absurd “writerly standard” I must live up to, one that for instance involves never smiling when I talk about my writing because I am a “serious writer,” or one where I have to consider myself as a “person of literature” if I’m allowed to even call myself a writer, I know I’m in trouble.
  • Risk taking. Asking the “what if” questions and then following through. “What if I paint black gesso all over this board? What if I rewrite a fairy tale? What if my character goes to prison and my entire plot changes—for the better?” Yes, why not? Fun to me is all about surprise—making each step of the journey the equivalent of opening an unexpected birthday present and finding the perfect gift—or joke—inside.
  • Art supplies in all the wrong places. I write with plum fountain pen ink, paste stickers on absolutely everything, and doodle in glamorous journals. So what if manuscript submissions have to be on pristine white bond paper, double-spaced and printed in a sharp black font? That doesn’t mean I can’t write them in mud and lemon juice if that makes me happy during the first draft stage. I can even add cats in pajamas if I want—so there.
  • Writing or creating what you love. It seems that in every creative person’s life there comes the golden opportunity to work on something you hate—either for money, a much-needed byline, or a chance to get your foot in the door. And it’s awful! Even with the-very-good-reason to take on the job, it’s something I recommend you only do once, or twice at most. That’s why it’s so important to write what you love to read, or to create the kind of art you’d want to see in your own home or favorite gallery. Anything else isn’t fun—it’s torture.
  • Putting the thing to sleep. Not every idea is a great idea. Sometimes they’re not even passably good and the day you’re willing to say, “Hey, let it go,” can actually be one of the happiest (and most fun) days of your life. Abandoning a project that doesn’t pan out or doesn't make you happy isn’t the end of the world. The time you spent on it is no different from time spent taking a writing or art class, or completing the exercises at the end of a how-to book. The important thing about all of these activities is you’ve practiced your craft, you learned from the experience, and you discovered what you do think is fun. So move on already. Life is too short to spend it polishing and rewriting and suffering through what you know isn’t your only idea. I bet you’ve got an entire filing cabinet of much better ones—ones that are downright serious fun.
Tip of the Day: What current work-in-progress is keeping you from having fun? Why? What can you do to make it more enjoyable? Do you need to put it away for awhile and start something new that’s a lot more interesting—and fun?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vacation Time--Texas Style

Wouldn't you know, just as soon as I tell you all I plan to blog twice a week, I not only miss that goal entirely, but I then don't even blog for days on end.  My excuse is that I took a rather sudden and somewhat unexpected trip to Texas, visiting both Austin and San Antonio.  When I travel I like to turn off the Internet and just go back to the "old days":  no phone, no blogging, Twitter, or Facebook... 

So thank goodness for the wonderful Javid Suleymanli who was kind enough to keep the ball rolling by posting an interview with me yesterday on his own blog.  I felt incredibly honored that Javid would take the time to ask me his very thoughtful and interesting questions, and I encourage you to get on over to his blog not just to read about me, but to read his other great posts as well. 

On the subject of my vacation, I had a great time, especially in San Antonio. 

I loved visiting the Alamo in particular as it's one of the few things I remember learning in grade school (I was a terrible student--"daydreams too much" on every report card...).  But "Remember the Alamo!" has stuck with me ever since, so it was quite a moving experience to walk through the grounds of such an important part of American history.

We had planned to only be in San Antonio for the day, but we enjoyed the city so much we decided to stay overnight.  We lucked out because it was also fiesta time.  Our hotel was right on the River Walk giving us a fantastic view of the Texas Cavaliers' annual barge parade.  

As twilight descended over the city, we could see from our windows the little boats, all decorated and ferrying rock bands back and forth and up and down the river.  Absolutely incredible!

Later that evening we went downstairs and were able to witness the excitement close up. As you can see from all these photos, I don't think I'll be making my living any time soon as a photographer, but this last blurry shot does give you some idea of what it was like.

The next morning we were among the first people on one of the regular tourist barges and got to travel the length of the River Walk ourselves.  Again this was a trip I had always wanted to make, mainly because when I cut up travel magazines for collage and writing prompts, I'm always coming across happy scenes of tourists taking in the exact same sights.  The pictures were accurate to say the least--the River Walk was one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. 

So thank you San Antonio, and thank you Javid Suleymanli!  It's been a great break and with any luck I'll be refreshed and eager to start that "two times a week" blogging thing ASAP.

Tip of the Day:  Where have you always wanted to go on vacation?  Start a "vision board" collage.  Include not only pictures, but stories, poems, and journal entries imagining yourself (or your characters) there.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Altered Book; Moving Right Along

Six Colleges and Four Girls, my first attempt at making my own altered book, continues--page by page and insight by exciting insight.  So far the biggest thing I've learned (besides how to completely dye my hands with wet blue tissue paper--not my favorite lesson) is why I like this kind of work so much.  It's the puzzle solving that intrigues me and keeps me wanting to learn more. 

Finding solutions to filling the blank page, hovering here and there, brush in hand searching for "just the right place" to add a photograph or a scrap of color, is just so--well, gratifying.  I think it's the same thing I like about writing, too:  teasing out the various words and phrases of my manuscripts to find exactly what they're trying to say, or how to get my characters out of all the terrible jams they insist upon jumping into head first.

As I've been working on this current collage project, puzzle solving has been uppermost in my mind, especially my concerns over how I was going to approach writing the text.  I couldn't decide if I should just write a story in the usual way, i.e. from beginning to end, and then paste it into the book somewhere, or should I be more cryptic and have little bits of text stuck in envelopes and other unexpected places throughout the pages?

Last night I was thinking about all this, as well as about how April is National Poetry Month, and then it hit me:  I could use found poetry.  Of course!  How could I have missed something so obvious?  I already have some very comprehensive "word pools" from which to draw my material, as well as dozens of magazines I can cut up as soon as I'm ready to tackle this part of the project.  I think it's going to be a good solution to the "puzzle" and one that will fit me just right.

Here's where I am in the book so far and as you can see there is a lot of space for me to add text.  The writing that is included here, as well as in the photo at the top of the post, is part of an old letter I wrote and never sent.  I tore it into strips, painted it with various watercolor washes, and then just glued it onto the pages:

From a "blue and red" theme, I moved onto yellow:

If you look closely, you can just see the title of Six Colleges peeking through the paint.  I'm not sure if I will be leaving this, or covering it up some more.

Yes, I'm having a good time. 

Besides sharing my latest pages, I thought for today's post I would list some of the materials I'm using.  So far this includes:
  • Watercolors and acrylic paint.
  • Gesso, both black and white.
  • Glue sticks, Mod Podge, acrylic gel medium (soft gloss).
  • Collage sheets provided in old issues of Somerset Studio magazine.
  • Magazine cut-outs from my files of "People, Places, Things."
  • Mulberry, tissue, watercolor, calligraphy, amate papers.  (I've also got a great piece of papyrus I'm waiting to use.)
  • Scraps of printed, flocked, and embossed papers from India I purchased as a big "grab bag" from Michael's.
  • Printed scrapbook papers sold as individual sheets.
  • Stickers, die-cut doodads, adhesive borders, "vintage" postcards all purchased from craft stores.
  • Junk mail.
  • Old watercolors, drawings, and handwritten manuscripts all from various exercises and journal entries that I kept for sentimental reasons.  Now I'm shredding, painting, and recycling them in all kinds of new ways.
So that's where I am right now--gluing, and solving, and taking my time to be as playful as I can with the whole process.  More pages next week, stay tuned.

Tip of the Day:  Having trouble puzzle solving your latest WIP?  Collaging any story or work in progress is a great way to free up the imagination and let your "right brain" (versus the "wrong brain..."  Okay, altered books make me very silly) help you to find the perfect answer.