When I was a girl and traveling around the world on a freighter with my family, we sailed through the Straits of Malacca and paused in Singapore to unload our cargo of copra. There we took a sampan into the city and found an elegant, red-and-gold restaurant where we ordered the specialty: sarang burung, or bird’s nest soup. […]
January 2012 – It’s time for a paradigm shift. How often have you looked at a sunset and said, “I love that sky!” Or you listened to the radio and said, “I love that song!”
Recently, I realized that it’s time to experience this differently. These past few weeks, walking on the beach early every morning, contemplating the years past and the years ahead, filled with intense emotion, relentless thoughts, and focusing on the steady rhythm of my bare feet on cool sand, I continued to long for stillness, peace, and even joy. It all seemed so
They say that the Sami people, who live in the land closest to the Arctic Circle, have over a thousand words for snow, but none for just ‘snow’ – as we refer to it. I’ve often felt that our word ‘love’ could use at least 1,000 words to replace how we generally use it, and yet the closest I’ve discovered for a more specific meaning is when I heard someone ask, “Do you love him or do you love-love him?”
We could do better! […]
WriteSpa – An Oasis for Writers
As I was conversing with a WriteSpa client, and we were discussing assignments and goals, I asked her where she wrote. She hesitated, then said, “It’s a bit problematic…I don’t have a laptop and my computer’s in the living room. I don’t really have a place for it.”
From the way she spoke, I could tell that using “the computer” was for her a chore, a bit of a nuisance, something that she ‘should’ turn on and use, like a vacuum cleaner, perhaps. I knew that for her to have a satisfying relationship with Mr. Write, the ambience surrounding the area where she worked was crucial. […]
I loathe conflict, which, for a novelist, is a terrible thing. This summer I tried to appreciate conflict by playing chess, after many years’ hiatus.
Here’s how Manly Hall describes chess (I’m paraphrasing – check out his book): “The chessboard consists of 64 squares alternately black and white and symbolizes the floor of the House of the Mysteries. Upon this field of existence or thought move a number of strangely carved figures, each according to fixed law. The white king is Ormuzd; the black king, Ahriman; and upon the plains of Cosmos the great war between Light and Darkness is fought through all the ages. […]
One of my grandmother’s – and my mother’s – favorite tenets in life was this: “Don’t let your possessions possess you.”
Traveling as they both did, during tumultuous times, when you could count on very little, and yet both of them owning some of the loveliest items in the world (an antique Renaissance dining table, exquisite Victorian glassware from my grandmother’s grandmother, rare Florentine leather-bound books, signed paintings from aspiring and famous artists), it must have been hard to know what was important to keep and what was important to let go.
When my mother was ten years old, she and her family were living in a tiny fishing village in Caldes d’Estrach in Spain. When civil war erupted in the late 1930’s, they were ‘rescued’ by a British destroyer that moved into the bay to evacuate them, since they were the only Americans residing in that area. My mother and her brother and sister were told they could only bring three things with them: a bathing suit, a sweater, and evening dress. […]
“Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.” Mae West
A few years ago I read Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow, where he writes about a growing movement that encourages savoring the time you have rather than trying to use it to further another goal – especially in the case of raising our children. He made some powerful points (although he admits he got a speeding ticket while he was researching the book). The Slow Movement has been growing much faster than you might think from its name – and I hope it continues to do so. […]
Against the great panorama of the Middle Ages, when brave knights wore shining armor and rescued lovely maidens in distress, and castles loomed before one then disappeared in gray mists; where a crucial quest awaited anyone adventurous enough to seek it;; where the qualities of chivalry, honor, loyalty warred with desire, greed, and dogma – a powerful novel emerged: Parzival, the tale of a boy who longed to become a knight and serve King Arthur. […]
How do we write about kissing and kisses and all the delightful pleasurable possibilities that accompany one of the loveliest activities in the world?
Now, I’m not necessarily just talking about kissing on the mouth, or having fun with tongue! What about those extraordinary moments when a stranger kisses your arm with a fingertip? Or the spring sunshine kisses your eyelids? Or a lover you thought you knew well surprises you with kisses on the back of your knees or the underside of your wrist? […]
I heard that when the Dalai Lama was asked what he would do if he had fifteen minutes left to live, he replied, “I would meditate.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and his words have changed my own meditation practice. There’s something bigger and more infinite happening when we meditate, not just a quietening of one’s being for a short while. […]
February 2 is a turning point. The new moon falls halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. In Celtic history this festival was known as Imbolc; the Christians changed it to Candlemas, and the Irish celebrate it as St. Brigid’s Day. Imbolc signifies pregnancy and spring, and is honored with fire, foretelling, and remembering through storytelling. The day is also used to assess what the weather is going to be like in the coming weeks till spring.
This year, the new moon is also the first day of the 4708th Chinese New Year. This is going to be the Year of the Golden Rabbit. Why golden? It’s not actually golden, but metal. There are twelve Chinese year animal signs, but there are also five elements that each of these animals circle through (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). Each animal goes through an annual cycle of these five elements, in two forms – one yin and one yang. This means that a complete cycle is sixty years – and the last one we encountered was in 1951. […]
A phrase that troubles me when I’m either taking or giving a creative writing class is when someone blurts out about a piece of writing: “But that really happened,” or “But it’s true.”
When anyone says that, I get the feeling that the writer believes that real life – or faction – is in some way better than fiction. They believe that if something is true – in the sense that it actually occurred – the importance of the writing is elevated.
Fiction is to non-fiction what a painting is to a snapshot. The reason fiction writing is so glorious, so universal, so powerful is that the entire human experience is elevated through story. Characters are richer and deeper because we understand their feelings and motivations. Descriptions matter more because we see not just through our own eyes, but through the eyes of an artist. Our deepest emotions are tapped and brought to life. We enter into worlds that are otherwise invisible to us. We laugh, we weep, we descend into horror, we are brought to ways of thinking we simply could not on our own. […]
Today I read something about BRANDING that caught my attention. When I think of branding, I usually picture cattle. So I’ve avoided it. But a “brand” has other meanings as well: a company brand, for example, is something that identifies the work you do in a concise, easily identifiable way. […]
When you make a wish, where does that wish really come from? Where does it go?
Imagine that you really did find that magic lamp, or the talking flounder, or a mysterious ring … and you were able to wish for whatever you wanted. What would it be?
You might begin with the desire for something personal and important to you in the moment. A new car, or a good job, perhaps.
Then you mull and mull, perhaps you sleep with the lamp under your pillow … and you wake up reflecting on the fact that […]
When my brother and I were young, my parents took us to museums. Often. As art critics and lovers, they would stand in front of just one painting, sometimes for several hours at a time. We would listen to stories they would tell us about an artist or a story surrounding a particular scene, or we’d roam the rooms of paintings on our own. But, eventually, we always ended up on a museum bench, watching the people.
One of our favorite games was to lower our hats over our eyes so that we could only see a person’s feet. Looking at the shoes they wore, we would try to imagine what the person’s face looked like. It was surprising to us how often we were wrong. People, we learned, don’t select shoes to match their faces, and often they don’t even seem to match their personality. […]
Although Thanksgiving appears to be a uniquely American holiday, the mood now all over the world feels hectic, festive, familyish, planning ahead to the end of the year – and it sometimes can feel dark. Very few holidays are not based in some way on seasonal or pagan rituals – whether they are secular, as is Thanksgiving, or religious. In northern climates (in days long ago), this might be the last time you could see families and friends till spring. In agricultural civilizations, it’s the celebration of the end of harvest. It’s okay to feast now; by February there may be very little left. Nowadays we don’t have that worry; instead the anxiety has crept inwards, and emerges as family-related issues: passionate reunions, guilt, or nostalgia. This time of year can be fraught with tension, excitement, friendliness, food, warmth, light, depression, and so on. […]
Your sense of smell is possibly the oldest of the five primary senses, and, fascinatingly, it is most intimately associated with the formation of memories. In those old days (a million years ago), it was crucial to forming our experience of food and sex; but by now it’s evolved to an art of perfumes and fragrances. […]
Every few years I play this game with myself: If I were on a deserted island, and could have with me only twelve objects for the rest of my life, what would they be?
No, no one else is around and unlikely that they will be.
Food and drink are not necessary – essential nourishment is supplied. (But you might choose a cup from which to drink the fresh water from the spring, if that matters to you.)
No electricity or other energy – so leave your laptop and car at home. They won’t work. […]
WriteSpa – An Oasis for Writers
Just as in life itself, there are three key components to every story, no matter how short or long, or simple or complex: People. Space. Time. In other words, characters, situations, events. For a story to work well, all three of these have to connect with each other in a relevant way. If you include an event that has nothing to do with the story, it is obviously disposable. The same with dialog: Wherever you include dialog, it has to be relevant to the unfolding of the story. If it’s not relevant, cut it out.
Last week you listened, you eavesdropped – you were surprised by nuance, misunderstanding, flow, pitch, tone… Now it’s time to write purposeful dialog. By ‘purposeful’ I mean dialog that
- illuminates characters
- moves the story along
- and is fun (or harrowing) to read.