Saturday, April 24, 2010

Get Your Own Blue Castle

I am somehow catching up with everything. I can't believe it! My online classes are in order, discussions are posted, all papers are graded, everything is ready for the upcoming weeks, all e-mails responded to... it has been a very productive last couple of days.

Okay, so I haven't made a single edit to my play, and I need to do that. Miryam, the director of my staged reading coming up in a little over a week, is going to kill me if I don't get the revisions done (and I have no desire to die, by the way). But I now feel inspired to get my play done, soon... as soon as I finish a book.

Just since last night I've been reading a truly lovely book. It is L.M. Montgomery's lesser known book The Blue Castle. And I like it so much I'm already almost finished with it. In fact, I like it so much that once I'm done I might very well start at the beginning and read it all through again (once I've added pieces to my play and made Miryam happy).

Had I found it when I read all the other books by the same wonderful author--most famous for her Anne of Green Gables series--I might have moved out of my parents' house several years earlier. Honestly, I kick myself that I missed it then, for now it's like a kindred spirit coming out of the pages, reminding me about what I left behind all those years ago, reminding me why I am now so happy, and why, then, when I was still at home, I was so miserable.

Thank God I left. And thank God for L.M. Montgomery, who wrote this fabulous book to show how happy we are when we act to make ourselves happy, and not just in fear of what others will think. I feel like ordering 20 copies of it and giving it out to all of my friends.

Perhaps, when I order one book, I'll just get three copies... one to keep, one to lend out, and one to send out to anybody interested. The book may only speak to women out there--male readers are notoriously priggish about reading books with female protagonists living in the feminine world--but it speaks to me on more levels than I can possibly tell you.

Anyone interested?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grading Does NOT Equal Writing

I am SO sorry I haven't posted in more than a week. Many of you have probably noticed my absence on your own blogs, as well.

Unfortunately, my blog is several items down on my priority list:

1. Getting my kids to/from school (with clothes on, showered, fed, etc.)
2. Grading papers
3. Preparing for class (writing out assignments, rereading, writing quizzes/tests, online discussion)
4. Eating regularly
5. Sleep
6. Cleaning the house to the non-pit level
7. Exercising
8. Writing

Lately, #2 and #3 have taken most of my time. In fact, I've jumped you up momentarily, but in just a few moments I need to finish grading--four more papers to go before classes this morning--so even this entry has to be short. It typically try to return papers the very next day, but always within the week, even if I have several batches of them.

Even worse, writing on this blog is not my first writing priority. I have a staged reading coming up a week from Sunday, and my full-length play needs a few rewrites, which I'm sure the director wants yesterday. I hope to get to these tonight, since this will be the first day in quite some time I do not have 3+ hours of grading to do.

Sorry if I sound like I'm complaining, readers. In reality, I only write this now to explain why--and to let you know (in case you were wondering) that I had not died.

I have not died.

I will be back in full force, I promise, when classes end in June. Until then, I will post as much as I am able, and I will check your blogs with every spare moment I have.

Too bad I don't have more spare moments.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gardening = Writing

Yes, despite my busy schedule, I spend several hours this week pulling the weeds out of my just-about-to-sprout garden. As in the past, gardening always reminds me of writing, and just as I posted last year about these connections, more similarities have occurred to me. Most involve revision in some form, since I'm the great reviser, but all reflect my belief that each writing, like each plant, follows a natural order.

See if you find anything useful:

1. A good scene is like a lilac. It's smell is heavenly, but it doesn't bloom for too long. Lilacs only bloom for a week or two, and then they are gone, and their smell with them. Then again, if they bloomed from March until September, we'd get sick of the stench. Any good scene should know when to end itself so that the magic of the scene isn't lost in boredom (SNL could do well to adhere to this rule).

2. What looks pretty at first may turn out to be a weed. You might find yourself putting some event or character which seems awesome, yet somehow the rest of the work gets gummed up around it, faltering or falling flat. Know when a gimmick is just that--a gimmick--and don't hold onto something that may end up destroying your work entirely.

3. Others can give you advice about your garden, but only you know what you really want it to look like. Everyone has an opinion, and yet you should strive, above all, to make your work into something that you yourself would like to read. If you don't feel your heart behind it, most others won't either, but if you love your work, you'll be happy, even if you never sell it.

4. When in doubt, plant first, then move the plants once they grow beyond seedlings. If you like various elements, get them down on paper. You can always move them around or change their details once they are in your document. Without seeing them set in the text, they will be harder to evaluate and rearrange. Once they are on paper, and you can see how they relate in context, your task will be easier.

5. There is a season to plant, and a season to prune. Don't mix them up. If you are on a writing roll, and pages are spilling out almost faster than you can write them down, don't backtrack. Instead, let your right brain have the freedom it needs to generate what is coming. Then, when your right brain is exhausted, switch gears and go back to revise, to add to, or to shred your generated text. Turning on your left brain too early or too often can inhibit what your right brain will do.

That's it for now. Remember, too, that these are just my own observations. Happy gardening--I mean writing!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Caught Up

I do love you all, but right now I am up to my eyeballs in work. I knew it would happen.

I have a play to finish THIS WEEKEND.

I have grading to catch up on.

My house is a pit.

I have two dresses cut out--one for me, one for my daughter--that need to be sewn.

I need to keep exercising (sorry, health comes first!).

I have a cold to get over.

As you can see, beloved friends, I'm swamped. I will post again when I have more than a spare minute to drop you a note.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Creative Groups

How many of you belong to a writers' group? A painting group? A music group? How many of you attend a weekly/biweekly/monthly poetry slam or open mic?

Most artists recognize the need to get with other artists, share their work, and get feedback (especially the writers among us). I've started three different writers groups (only one still running), and I've been part of all sorts of other groups for creative types. I currently have a spectacular group of playwrights I meet with a few times a month, and our interaction has certainly helped my playwriting develop more effectively than if I had gone it alone. I've moaned a few times about not having a similar group for my other genres of writing, and I'd LOVE a group where I could go and paint while other artists are also creating art.

This past weekend's writers conference introduced another idea to me, however. Instead of forming a group for critiquing work--so that we can bring in poetry or short stories, read them aloud, and figure out ways to improve them--several presenters were part of what they called a "creative group." Rather than bringing and sharing material, these people meet several times a month so that they can talk about the writing/painting/drawing/singing/music/etc. creative process. They share their fears about their own work, their goals, the struggles holding them back, stress, rejection, successes, etc.

They do not share and critique their work. In fact, the people in these groups come from every creative pursuit. Some are band members, some painters, some photographers, along with several kinds of writers. The creative genre isn't important. The pursuit of some sort of creative venue is all that is required. One of these groups has lasted more than 20 years!

So, what is the benefit of such a group? Consider what we do online right now, only in person. Support. Understanding. Reaching out and communicating with other people who are trying their hands and creative things. My husband loves me, but he doesn't understand my goals. He actually compares my writing pursuits and goals to his playing fantasy football (yes, that's as close as he can get, poor guy).

Oh, but to have people who may not go about their creative adventure in the same way, but who are on similar roads... that would be wonderful. When I felt like I should just give up writing, I'd have people who understood my misgivings. When I was elated, I could share that joy, too.

Hey, wait a minute! Am I a moron or what? I already have that! It's right here, right now, with all of you...

Bonus! (Now if you just lived around the block, life would be perfect!)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just Say No

I can't do it.

I hear that phrase everywhere--and though I could certainly turn down somebody offering me drugs, I can't seem to say no to students.

They poured into my classes this semester, too, hoping desperately to get any free chairs in my classroom. I had 15 waitlisted in one class, eight in the other. I'd prepared myself, steeled myself against the onslaught. I'd told myself that I'd had two very hard terms already, and spring needed to be easier or I was going to go insane. I had to just tell them all no, tell them all to wait until fall and try to take one of these classes.

Did I tell you they were desperate? Don't believe me? Think I'm just a softy?

Well, I am, and I don't deny it. But never in my 17 years of teaching have I encountered such desperation. Students cried, in person and on the phone. One student offered to pay me per class session if he could just be let in. Another got on one knee and pleaded with me.

I do not joke. I do not exaggerate. And I couldn't say no. So now I have 5 over the class limit in one course, and six over the class limit in the other. I am going to be swamped, but I can't help it. How can I turn down somebody who wants to be in my class? I know the truth, too, that these students who got in will try so hard, will attack the class with as much energy as they pled to get in. My classes will rock with energy, and these students, though adding to my work load, will make the semester spectacular.

I just hope I don't drown under all the papers to come. Why, oh why did I not become an art instructor?