inspiration

Slowing down for magic

On a recent evening we were walking on our rural road, my mother and I, when far up ahead we saw a whitetail deer crossing the pavement. A shadow nearby, her newborn fawn, no larger than a cat, born that day or perhaps the night before. We stood still, watching from afar as it followed its mother into the safety of the brush, spindly and unsure and looking wholly exhausted with the world.

We marveled at the deer’s tiny-ness and continued with our walk. We had been too far away to see exactly where they had entered the woods, but we gazed beyond the branches and greenery as we went to see if we could detect a sign of the mother deer and her unbelievably small charge. At one point we stopped completely and stared into the woods, trying to see past the leaves.

We were looking in the wrong place. I touched my mother’s arm to get her attention, because at the exact point we had stopped, a minuscule spotted bundle curled motionless in the tall grass next to the road.

To exhausted to follow, the fawn had lay in that spot, waiting for its mother to return. What reason or energy or strange ultra-accurate unconscious calculation had caused us to stop in that very place, we don’t know. I say it was magic or some earth spirit or higher force saying, look at this. Be connected to this beautiful moment. Stop and look.

There are some writing retreats that focus on craft, on critique, on the expertise of authors.

We stop and look.  

Can you remember the last time? Is it hard for you to remember that time when you were a child and you were bored?

Magic happens at a slow speed. We step outside of our lives so we can slow down.

What can you find? What will you see? It’s waiting to be discovered.

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A Meditation by Eline Van Wieren

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When I meditate, I sometimes imagine I’m on a tiny string connected to my crown that leads all the way up to a to a gigantic golden ball hanging somewhere between the roof of the house I live in and the clouds.

That might be a weird thing to do, but my yoga teacher says that gold is the color that represents love. I imagine the string being a like a leaking tap where it connects to my crown and the gold drips into my body. It fills up my feet toe by toe, all the way to my ankles. I get distracted by thoughts. Probably something about something I wanted to do yesterday but forgot.

When I get back to the leaking tap, the gold is already reaching up to somewhere around my knees. I hear a car drive by and I think about the children in the backseat and the radio station they’re listening to. For some reason whenever I think of people in cars, I imagine them singing along to a Tracy Chapman song.

I think, this is a strange thing I’m doing. Shouldn’t I be sleeping in until way past noon and drinking gin tonics and maybe sleep with some guy I care nothing about? Shouldn’t I be doing things that will turn in to stories that I can tell to make me an interesting person? But the gold has already found its way to my belly button.

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I sigh. The air I draw in reaches down all the way to where my panties start. When it leaves my body I sink a little bit deeper into my meditation cushion. A few days ago, a guy asked me why I sometimes wear make-up and I told him it’s so I can feel like a real girl. A soft and hairless girl. My aunt says I shouldn’t call myself a girl anymore, I’m a woman now. But most of my socks have holes in them and I often forget to change my bedsheets before they start to smell stale. The gold spills over my armpits into my arms.

Last week I went to a yoga class where at the end we sat in a circle to tell each other the things we had on our hearts. If you wanted to talk, you pressed your hand palms together before your chest and bowed forward. Then you waited until the group had bowed back to you before starting your story. In the middle of the group was a vase with half-withered flowers. Nobody was allowed to respond to what you told them.

When the class was over, one of the women in the group came up to me and asked me if she could give me a hug. I told her she could. I held on to her tighter than she held me and I was aware of it. Everywhere I go I look for mothers. I wasn’t sure how long the hug was supposed to last, so I tried to let go in phases. When our upper bodies were no longer touching, she placed one hand on my waist and the other on my shoulder. She said, ‘Don’t forget you’re a beautiful person.’ We looked straight into each other’s eyes and I hoped she thought my face to be pretty. I asked, ‘Can we do another hug?’ We said we could. She was soft.

I am almost filled up with gold. All of me is glittering and there’s no one here to watch. I don’t really know what love means, but at least I can imagine all this gold and glitter. All the weight of this body has sunken into the laminate flooring. As the last drop reaches my skull, the bell of the timer I set dings. I open my eyes and the gold is gone. I move on with my day.

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Take me back to Isla Holbox, please/by Eline van Wieren

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It is a Wednesday afternoon and I’m floating in the ocean. My ears have filled up with water. I can only hear the soft beats of the waves against my eardrums. Every once in a while, a piece of seaweed brushes against my calves. My body isn’t weightless, but I’m being carried.

I once read that believing is like being on a train with heavy bags. Once you’re on the train, there’s no need to keep carrying the bags. You can set them down on the floor or place them in one of the luggage racks. The weight is no longer yours to carry. It would even be kind of weird to keep carrying the weight even though there’s a larger vessel to which it makes no difference whether you carry it or whether you leave it to the floor.

Floating in this ocean, I’ve set my bags down on the floor and everything around me is different shades of blue. My belly moves with the water. The sun has put its warm hands on my face. The school of needlefish have accepted my presence here. They come closer. They swim in my shadow.

The moment is spoiled when I start to think. I think: I could keep doing this forever. I could soak all of this up and hold on to it with clenched fists and take it home with me.

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But it’s not possible to turn your backyard in to a sandbank for your morning walking meditation. No matter how tightly you keep your eyes closed. The birds sing different songs here. There are no iguanas on my front porch. I don’t even have a front porch.

A pelican flies by. The pelicans here are different than the ones I saw in the zoo when I was younger. They were soft pink and sat around all day waiting for their next meal, ignoring the constant stream of families walking by and pointing. The pelicans here are brown with yellow feathers on their head and bright white eyes, diving down beak first into the water sometimes lucky enough to catch fish.

I keep my fists clenched all the way home. All through my eleven-hour flight, the two hour train ride, the last ten minutes on the bus, walking up to the front door, opening the front door, standing in the hallway. I open my hands.  

I think: Come on, Mexico writing retreat fairy dust, sprinkle your magic into my daily life. Bring me daily uninterrupted writing sessions. Give me silent breakfasts during which, while I put another piece of buttery soft mango into my mouth, brilliant sentences spring from my toes, rising all the way up through my body, waiting to be put on a page. Beam Dulcie and Nancy to my kitchen table to whisper positive feedback on my newest piece.

Nothing happens. The straps of my backpack are starting to form little pits in my shoulders. I take a deep breath. I take my backpack of and set it on the floor. I take a shower. I get in to bed, under my ocean blue duvet covers.

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Writing Prompts and Writing Retreats

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What’s the deal?

Why is it that we say we love to write, we want to write, we NEED to write and then, we don’t even sit down to do this thing that we love and want and NEED.

Or we sit down to do it, the writing that we love and want and NEED, and we don’t know where to start?

I have many ideas of what I want to write about, stories that have nagged at me for as long as I remember. Stories about shoes by the side of the road. Stories about the woman who lived in a tree.  Stories of the places that dead people go. And I’ve started many of them…

And then I don’t finish them.

We are just about the funniest things I know, us writers. Us people.

I’m not saying that all writers are like that. In fact, there are some writers that just hole up and forget to eat or smoke or straighten up their pen pots. I’m not one of them and I don’t hang out with them but I know they exist. I’ve read about them while I’m eating and smoking and fiddling around with my pen pot, trying to find the stream of inspiration to jump in.

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So I think the biggest reason that I created writing retreats is because I need help with writing. And it turns out that I am not alone – I’ve never gone to a writing retreat (either one that I created or one that someone else did) and been the only one there. And I’ve not been the only one who needed help holding still, help getting started, and help finishing.

Sometimes I like to be different. But when I am feeling insecure about something I want to do, feeling as though I am one of a glorious bunch of creative is like a divine boost.

Thank you to those who joined me in Tuscany.

I am so grateful for your help.

Finding inspiration

“You have treasures hidden within you … and bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think small.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

One of the first questions people often ask writers is “Where do you get your ideas?” They’re rarely satisfied with the answer, because truthfully, I don’t know.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed in a collective unconscious, a source of archetypal characters that we as humanity carry with us. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book on creativity and inspiration, Big Magic, believes creativity exists on a level of enchantment, something mystical and magical. She says ideas exist independently and may visit you, and if you’re not ready or open to a particular idea, it will visit someone else.

Gilbert tells the story of a very specific plot line she developed for a manuscript but did not carry through. Soon after, she met author Ann Patchett, who later told Gilbert about a book she was writing that essentially had the same, very specific plot line as Gilbert’s original idea. Nobody had shared (or stolen) an idea. Coincidence? Gilbert believes the idea wanted to come into existence and had moved on to another author to make it happen.

Sound a little “woo-woo”? Well, creativity is mysterious. You can chalk it up to coincidence or shared experience. But I’ve seen happen frequently firsthand, either in ideas or elements. For example, a writer friend and I swapped manuscripts and discovered we had both created a character with exactly the same name. A lot of it naturally has to do with being a part of a culture that’s exposed to similar kinds of stories, news and events. But a lot of it’s downright spooky.

The mind wants to be ready and available to capture ideas. But most writers and artists go through dry spells. This winter I’ve felt stuck – lacking inspiration, meh. I opened my works in progress and don’t feel much like working. I think creativity can go through cycles, too, just like the seasons. I feel like winter has descended on my ability to create, too, slowing things down just a bit.

When that happens, how do you “unthaw”? How do you draw creativity out of the ether and onto the page?

1.     Acknowledge that you’re feeling creatively blocked. It sets in motion the intention to be unblocked, and it tells the universe that you’re ready to work and you would like an idea, please.

2.     Hang out with other creative types. Their mojo can rub off, and more likely than not, they know what it’s like to get stuck. Solidarity helps you feel less solitary.

3.     Cross-pollinate. Find another creative outlet. See a concert, go to a wine-and-painting night, take a dance class, make a construction-paper alligator with your child. It all comes from the same place.

4.     Recognize a response from the universe when you see it. Example: Without my bringing up the idea of feeling blocked, a new acquaintance mentioned that sometimes creativity suffers when the mind is in a state of confusion. Determining the source or learning to accept the state of confusion can help shake things loose. The idea that a distraction was blocking me was worth exploring, and helped move my mind around the obstruction.

5.     Recognize potential sources of inspiration or seek them out. I’ve had a lot of success with writing prompts, which can come from a number of sources, including single words that evoke memory or feeling. Try flipping through a book of poetry and reading a single line – write about how it makes you or your character feel. Choose a word from a newspaper article. Ask a friend what’s been on his or her mind and see if you can relate it to what a character is feeling and thinking. At a recent dinner gathering of other creative types, I asked each of the guests for “an interesting word” with the intention of using some or all of them in a writing exercise. (It’s also a fun way to start discussions and learn what might be top of mind for your friends.) They offered up the words “riveting,” “empowerment,” “lyrical,” “Mississippi,” and the invented “bulbalicous,” referring to a proliferation of tulips in the spring. (Yes, you can make up words.) How do you use the words? Any number of ways. Can you use all five words in one paragraph? Can you write a poem that is both lyrical and bulbalicious? What does empowerment mean to you? Do you remember learning to spell the word Mississippi in school? What would your character feel riveted by? Which word evokes the strongest emotion in your character?

6.     Get out of your element. Take a writing retreat. Put yourself in a change of scenery: It can do wonders for your creative mindset. We have two retreats coming up this year, Writing in the Wild at Borestone Mountain in Maine, and a Tuscany writing retreat, Tuscany: A Retreat for the Senses. Getting out of your element on your creative mindset: You don’t have to believe in magic to make it work (though it helps).

Remember, the mind wants to be creative. Why not see what it can do?

An earlier version of this blog post appeared first at http://millwriters.org/finding-inspiration-in-winter-by-nikki-kallio/