Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Creativity of cycling

This summer I added cycling outdoors to the various ways I like to stay active. Though I started spinning classes four years ago, I couldn’t figure out how to negotiate highly trafficked roadways with cars, trucks, motorcycles even scooters zipping along the streets. It seemed an impossible and daunting quest so I removed it from the fore of my thoughts and laid it to rest in the furthest corridors of my mind. In other words I fuhgottabout-it!

At the end of last year I sent my novel “Eleven Light City” around to publishers and agents. I got responses like: “Lovely.” “Great characters.” “Oh—what a great voice!” A well-known writer friend of mine tells me that any positive response from publishers, agents, and/or a contest is a “good thing.” I believe that. But as one agent said to me, “It is lovely but ultimately I didn’t fall in love.” After reflection I thought, “Ahhh! Now I have something to work with—falling in love.”

This year I set out to find an editor to work with me on ELC. I targeted four writers. One came through. It only takes one. The editor I was introduced to is seasoned with many years of publishing experience. After reading ELC she said: “The words feel alive.” “Deliciously lyrical.” “Beautiful parts.” “But there is no narrative arc, only a series of events. No building to the climax, no resolution.”

Needless to say my heart wanted to stop but I listened carefully and I knew she was right. I asked the question that weighed heaviest, “Do you think I need to rewrite the novel?” She replied quickly, “Oh—no! Just round up all the chapters and eliminate any part of story that doesn’t drive the narrative. Pare down the dialog and sharpen your authorial voice, it can fill in the blanks.” Then she said what helped the most. “A novel only needs to be as long as it needs. Three hundred and fifty pages can be come two-fifty and be a better novel. It’s still

a novel.”

Over the last few months since we spoke, I’m getting it. I can cut out or take away words, dialog, characters I’ve come to love over the years and still have a great story. I can say less and in that less the story can blossom and I can fall in love with fewer words and with newer words. I can like what ELC will become as much or perhaps more than this version.

In my spinning class I heard of a fundraiser and bike tour. The idea of it excited me but even after I got my bike prepared for the road it was the last minute that I actually decided to go on the tour. My reasons were: “It’s too early in the morning.” “Is forty dollars too much money?” “The other riders are probably more seasoned.” I ended up riding thirty-six miles and I kept up the entire way. I was tired when I got home but the ride but that journey has altered my life. Now several times a week I ride from my house to the Berkeley Marina and back home. I always stop at the Marina and look across at the Golden Gate Bridge— the sun sprinkles light if it has burst through the fog. I am working on bursting through the fog of words, the re-write, characters, authorial voice of ELC to get the heart of the novel, all while I hold on to the love of the novel. The way I see it navigating the unknown, breaking through to the other side of the writing are the acts the can help facilitate the readers to fall in love with the story much like I fell in love with bike riding on the busy streets of Oakland, California.

The key to biking and writing is beginning!

Friday, May 08, 2009

The voice of Creativity

Last summer my wife and I honeymooned in Sydney, Australia. Her version of the story is I honeymooned while she worked. True. Still we were there for two weeks and got to go around together on her days off. And truly the Opera House is as picturesque as it appears in photographs or on TV. While Kathy worked, I wrote, explored the city’s botanical gardens, museums and Aquarium. In general I soaked in the energy, astrosphere, the interesting blend of people and the culture. In Sydney essays burst through my hands out my fingers and onto the pages of my notebook. From outdoor cafes I look out to Sydney and it fed me back energy to which I’d scribe for hours. And in those moments, and now as I reflect back, no negative thoughts hovered in my mind, looking for entry eating away at my peace. The negative voices never spoke to me; I stayed in a hopeful productive space with regards to my writing and my writing future. Dreaming and living in Technicolor became my motto though at the time I hadn’t considered it.

Without trying, I’d reconnected to the beginner’s mind in Sydney. And without the sights and sounds of the city I live in I innocently open myself to something new. This newness sparked my brain, fired up my synapses to simply write without a past and unfettered by the future.

Recapturing the beginner’s mind has been one tool I now use to stay positively connected to my writing life. I am a little more fearless with coaching perhaps because I am a beginner. In my neighborhood there is a rose garden that I’ve always loved. Roses of all colors and sizes reside there. After Sydney I adopted the Rose Garden as my personal botanical garden where I’d often take walks, jog and photograph the landscape, sometimes recording the changes that occur. A month ago a huge tree fell and over the course of it lying on its side, I photographed its stunning grace and its ultimate removal. Something about recording the progress of that tree and my movements in the rose garden has taken me back to Sydney. I’m learning even walks in my neighborhood can clear out the negative self-talk. And in a way I’ve decided to make friends with those voices. When they say we can’t do this or that I take them for a walk in the Rose Garden, to photograph flowers, to see how the sun light create shadows through the trees in the late evening hours. Sometimes a single picture can combat a hundred negative thoughts.

Creativity has many voices.

The Oakland Rose Garden

Sydney's Opera House

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Stuff of Life

Shit happens to good people. A year ago my niece-in-law had an aneurism and was first rushed off to the Crawford Long Hospital then on to Emory University hospital where the surgery was performed. Cynthia happens to be a person I simply like, because to she is likable. Over the years of her being married to James, my nephew, I’ve mostly lived away from Atlanta. But I’ve come in and out to visit even living there for a brief time 1998-99. Back in ’91 Cynthia and James plan to marry in the fall. Mama died in the spring of that same year. And though I loved James a lot, the need to escape Atlanta and Daddy was much stronger. Yet I always felt heart sick that I’d didn’t stay for the wedding. Cynthia was never cross with me about not attending. Though before I left she said, “I wish you could be there but I get you have to go.” I left Atlanta for California on a hot fall day. A lot of fall days are hot in Atlanta. And the day Cynthia had the aneurism it was hot. Heat didn’t cause the aneurism doctors don’t really know why. But they suspect some of us are born with smaller blood vessel than others. And at birth, unaware, we are born with factors that may cause this condition—it nobody’s fault. I like to think that stuff happen in our lives because we simply are alive and I’ll take the muck that happens in life over death any day. This street art photo looks nothing like my niece-in-law Cynthia but it is a representation of what I've imagined a head feels like after it's been cut.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Creativity de-mystified

These days I’ve found myself with the old African proverb, “She who teaches also learns,” flowing through my mind as I contemplate helping others and myself on the creativity path.

It’s interesting even though I’ve spent many years in and around creative environments i.e. teaching art, working as graphic designer, architectural draftsperson, editing curricula in Children’s Television and presently writing fiction, I often feel the difficulty inside myself to simply allow myself to be. And not feel compelled to explain my creative motive, my creative existence to those for whom creativity is a nebulous blob. And while I feel everyone can add creativity to any job there are many for whom being creative is for children and adults who haven’t decided to grow up.

Usually these folks that I’m introducing the creative process to are new friends, or friends of friends who’ve over heard me say, “I’m a writer.” This simple stated fact makes most questions the ends and outs of writing.

One small thing I do to support my creative life as well as my sanity is I’m learning that these folks are mostly curious, and while I not always in the mood to answer I’ve learned to use these opportunities to practice delivering quick pitches. What is your book about? It’s a coming of age novel about growing up and coming out the South. And there it is.

Boom, mostly this satisfies the average person. I add more if it is appropriate. But I’ve also learned to change the subject, deflect if I don’t want to engage that person any more or just want to change the subject. In the past I felt (sometime still do) the need to answer all questions. But I’ve discovered what I need most is to take care of my creative spirit. It’s also fine to say, “Well that’s my summary for tonight, what about you? What do you do that’s creative?” And let the other person say or runaway from the subject. Sometime they literally run away! That’s great too.

Small things are truly worth trying. Recently I’ been reading Steven King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And I’ve introduced back into my writer’s life writing four to five days a week and getting in touch with the characters of my second novel. I’ve tweaked it for myself in that I write for at least thirty minutes. And while I’d love to come up with the thousand words a day that Steven suggests for beginners, I’m more focused on the regularity of writing consistently. Often I write for two to three hours, which I find, is plenty. Still one day I’d like to write the two thousand words Steven puts I everyday but for now I’m good.

Red roses aren't a mystery just filled with beauty and creativity

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Era

I don’t consider myself a religious person but I have taken it upon myself to prayer for Barack Obama, to consistently imagine a lavender light of protection surrounding him at all times. I've taken this on because of the nay sayers and the ones that wish him harm and ill will. Sending that positive lavender light can only help.

Baaa-rock Hasein Oooobaaama, what a great name, it rolls off the tongue nicely.

My mother Susie Mae Beasley, would be ecstatic over his presidency, she passed away in 1991 at the age of 73. In her day she’d seen some changes. From the disappearance of white only water fountains, to gaining the right to vote, to Dr. King’s raise, rule and ultimate assassination. Onto the growth of the black middle class, to black mayors like Maynard Jackson and Andy Young running Atlanta to Arsenio Hall's talk show. Mama thought Arsenio was the bomb, the best since slice bread. At night she’d stay up late to see at lest see his opening monologue. Often touting, “Now he’s somebody.”

If mother lived to see Senator Barack Obama become President Barack Obama it would have made her happy to know that somehow in ' 65 hosting the student group SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in her living room, like countless others, aided in the birth of the black middle class, the voting rights act, southern black mayors, and the first American president that looked a lot like those colleges students protesting from over forty years ago.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

California Academy of Sciences-Fish in the Aquarium

On a first time visit to the Aquarium at the new California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park I was reminded of why it's important that I go beyond the walls of my office to experience the out doors, nature, fish even bus rides that travel off Market Street that took me to the museum. Writing is all about outputs but one needs inputs to write.

Creative Life

Albert Einstein wrote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
For me these days my overall goal is to allow my imagination to soar beyond my wildest dreams and let it overflow into my writing life and my consulting life.

It’s so easy for us to get mired in the day-to-day challenges of blending life, work and creativity even if our lives and work are enmeshed in a creative life style. The pulls to get it all done right now, get it to an audience right now, and get paid right now are factors that drive our larger society, even those of us whom move creatively.

I’m feeling the need to step back, to breathe and allow a fresh pair of rested eyes to see the long view of my creative life. What will it look like ten years from now? This week I felt a modicum of success because I heard back from each of my clients. There were several hearty exchanges from two and the one less so. Still each seemed genuinely excited for us to work together. One goal I have for myself in reference to my clients is to read their goals as if I my eyes could hear them speaking. It seems to implement an extra sensatory can only aid in my ability to really hone in the real stuff that might block their creative progress.

Perhaps this same process can be applied to my own goals of 1) finding multiple consulting gigs, 2) not being to hard on myself when I sit to write for three hours and produce one page, 3) to chalk up to experience that one poorly managed nonprofit doesn’t equate all, 4) to see past my fears and ask everybody I know if they need my services. Okay—not EVERY ONE, but lots and lots of ones.

For now—perhaps just this moment, I’ve decide that my imagination will serve me, it will comfort me, help me see with unimpaired eyes to hold a vision of creativity far beyond the abilities I house. Is there a better place to live?