Tag Archives: writing

Stop the Block by Writing About the Block: A Resolution

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As the song says, it’s been a long time since I rock and rolled. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of literal rocking and rolling on the drums. I’m speaking figuratively about the kind of rock and roll that typically manifests itself in poetry, fiction, and right here on the blog site. Inexplicably (or not), I have hardly written a word since September. I don’t like it. After awhile, it gets under the skin and begins to itch. Left untreated it can fester and come out sideways. So without an idea in my head, I start writing today just so I can say that I wrote something. Here I am writing words, stringing them together to form sentences, stringing sentences together to form paragraphs, the first of which ends right here, on December 25, Christmas Day, 2019.

The only way to stop the block is to write your way through it. I get that. I believe it. I tell my students this. So allow me to write my way through the block. What the block represents, I hope, is simply a lull, a fallow period before an enormously stupendous harvest. What the block represents, I fear, is a faltering of creative powers, a diminishing of skill, a kind of inspiration death. The latter possibility is too terrible to consider and I find myself fighting a mighty battle against it. After all, I’ve had dry spells in creativity before and I’ve always come out the other end and continued to create.

Perhaps, as I believe that creativity feeds more creativity, I have found myself over the last several months wanting in several of the activities or conditions that inspire productive periods for me, and engaging in too many activities that don’t.

Things I know feed my creative spirit that I have not been doing:

  • Writing regularly and consistently, anything, poetry, fiction, blog entry.
  • Reading: Freely reading, NOT the kind of reading I do in preparation for teaching.
  • Making original music, writing songs: Playing drums in a cover band, while fun, exhilarating, and somewhat lucrative, somehow does not do the entire trick.
  • Being in community with other creatives: Socially or artistically–facebook don’t cut the mustard, and convening with a writing community once a year ain’t enough.
  • Meditating.
  • April: All of the other months of the year that aren’t April, they’re just not April. I need to do more April.

Things I’ve been doing that don’t help.

  • The opposite of all of the above descriptors.
  • Facebook.
  • Generally speaking, the internet.
  • Feeling abjectly depressed about the gov’ment, fearful of another four years of said gov’ment, and unable to resist the “what horrible shit went down today on the clown car” impulse.
  • Allowing anxiety about certain monumental and impending life choices to paralyze me into making no choices about anything whatsoever, related or not.

‘Tis the season to make the resolutions, yes? Do more of the stuff that feeds the creativity and less of the stuff that doesn’t. Can we get specific? Can we find some small achievable goals that will build on each other over time so that 2020 becomes a year of productivity and creative health? Okay, then, let’s try a thing. Let’s make a damn list. Here’s a list of achievable stuff that, if I accomplish, would make me feel pretty great about the new year:

  1. Write a thing, at least one thing, once a week. It doesn’t have to be a finished thing.
  2. Read for pleasure, at least one book a month.
  3. Write an album’s worth of songs. For almost a decade I wrote six songs every month. This should not be a problem.
  4. Make arrangements to speak to people who will help me–therapist, financial advisor, friends, my courage community–toward optimum discernment regarding these monumental and impending life choices.
  5. Meditate more often–and generally speaking, take better care of my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. Regular exercise, anyone?

That’s a good list. It seems within reach, reasonable. It’s a positive list. I noticed that I didn’t list things that began with the words “stop,” “don’t,” or “resist.” It’s all “do more of” rather than moralizing about what I should do less of. I’m going to make a copy of this thing and post it somewhere where I can see it every day. Maybe I’ll make myself a chart. Get all Benjamin Frankliny up in here. I’m pretty pleased with myself. I’ve written my way through the block and have decided upon some resolutions. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, and to me. Let’s do this.

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Stuff, Stuff, Stuff; the Excavation and Removal (?) of Stuff; Holding On To or Letting Go of the Record of Me

A burst pipe (circa 1930) in the basement necessitates the removal of 40 some years of accumulated stuff buried in a storage closet we fondly refer to as “the scary room.” There’s a bunch of shit in there, we know, that needs to go, stuff that’s doing no one any good. Now that we’ve had to move it out in order to remove an old slab of water-soaked, rotten linoleum, we’re given this opportunity to check this stuff out, to finally look at what has hitherto been, you know, out of site and out of mind:  Old photos we never look at, in frames, in albums, in boxes, photos of René and I over the last 32 years, photos galore of our beautifully photogenic progeny, a whole lifetime of photos from my parents and their parents, super 8 family movies from cousins, storage crate after storage crate of holiday crap, boxes and buckets of various memorabilia, original packaging for gear and electronics and doodads back to which these various things will never return, and, of particular annoyance to my wife but of a kind of introspective curiosity to me, is tons and tons of old writings and art projects of mine: my first attempt at fiction as a 6th grader, album art for imaginary bands I was in, a couple of pieces from high school English, but tons of writings, almost everything I’ve ever done quasi-seriously, from 1984 to the present day, literally reams of college essays, research projects, writings about teaching, and boatloads of poetry, abandoned novels, and short stories. I posted on to facebook the question: why can’t I toss this stuff out? And someone replied (a former student of mine, if I’m not mistaken), that these things are my extra limbs.

I think she’s right, to a certain degree. Someone very wise once said that we are not our writing, but rather, our writing is a record of moments moving through us. Fine. I get that and agree with that. No longer limbs, they are vestigial limbs, part of my evolution as an artist, a snapshot of me throughout various stages of my life, much more vivid and certainly more revealing than a photo. And yet, will I read this stuff ever again? Well, I read some of it today and it both embarrassed and impressed me. The 6th grade fiction was clearly terrible, but perhaps not for a 6th grader. This kid wrote like 400 pages. The stuff I wrote very early in college was perhaps more embarrassing, because I saw myself there as a very silly young person who was preoccupied with his own overblown sense of cleverness. Maybe not until I’m 20 or 21 do I start to develop some skill, I start to develop something of an authentic voice, I begin sketching the outline of the issues and themes that would become my obsessions and wouldn’t find themselves into novels of somewhat mature fiction for another 15 years. Some of the poetry I wrote when I was 20 I still think is pretty darn good.

So I decided today, for the most part, for better or worse, to hold on to the record of me. Interestingly enough, and maybe not at all surprising, is that the academic stuff I had very little difficulty discarding. I tossed report cards and transcripts. I tossed my CBEST and NTE results. I tossed essays about books I was studying as an undergrad. I tossed blue books. I tossed creative work that I had done as exercises in response to books I was studying. The original fiction and poetry, however, and the journals, I could not toss because I found those held a much more indelible impression in my memory of self, like, yeah, I remember these pieces. I’ll keep these. And maybe that’s what it’s about. For as long as I live I have a record of my life and my thinking unlike the record that most people have, which is primarily photographic and, even less reliable, residing only in the memories of people whose lives they touched. At some point in time, all of that disappears. I have no narcissistic delusions that the written detritus of my past will be of any value after I’m gone to any number of people, but while I’m alive it might be of value to me in my never-ending pursuit to know this strange individual that inhabits my body a little bit better. And I can’t imagine what it might be like to discover a similar trove left by my father or mother. They left me nothing of the kind–maybe a few letters, a couple of love poems. But my son will have a field day, if he’s interested. And he may not be. It’s a chance I am willing to take.

It’s spelled “juvenilia,” I discovered just today. 

The LC Review: my first published work of note

I think I kept this one. I’m embarking on a career! 

It never ends. 

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Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

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Last year, I remember talking in my classroom about the terrible news, the deaths of two British cultural icons, both personal heroes of mine, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both dead at 69. And from that discussion, this has remained in my memory: a student actually said these words to me, “So you’ve got about twenty more years to live, then.” Even though I probably should have been, I was not offended and I laughed the comment off, even sort of went along with the gag. Sure. That may be true. At 69, I too, might shuffle off this mortal coil–that is, if I get sick, or if I have some terrible accident. I don’t plan to do either of those things, but, as I understand it, these kinds of things aren’t really planned.  So, whether it’s likely or not that I’ll only live another 20 years or less, the deaths of David Bowie, and days later, Alan Rickman moved me to a surprising degree, and got me thinking, as I am still thinking, thinking seriously, about mortality and impermanence, about living a life, and about what might be learned about dying from the passing of these two giants.

My youth, as is true for most all of us, was punctuated by the deaths of celebrities. The ones I paid closest attention to were the deaths of musicians. Elvis. John Lennon. Bon Scott. These are the ones that come immediately to mind. And I know, that as a young person, these deaths shook me, saddened me, especially because all three of them were tragic, senseless, preventable. But I moved on, as young people do, and things would return pretty much back to normal for a long long time. The deaths of people I know, mostly family, mostly well into their 80’s when they died, stay with me in my vivid memories of them tied directly to experience. My father died at 83, 7 years ago now, after a year long recovery from a cardiac arrest, and while I mourned his death more deeply than any other, my memories of him are a constant presence for me. I feel him with me all the time, most powerfully, sometimes happily and sometimes not, in the ways that I realize I am so much like him, in the various and spooky ways I feel I AM him or have become him. With Bowie and Rickman I have no genetic connection, but insofar as their work has been with me off and on for 30 or 40 years, they too, feel like family; they too, feel like a part of my genetic make-up. As I am my Dad, I am also Bowie and Rickman.

In a way, especially for musicians and actors and writers, they remain very much alive: we have a tangible record of their artistic lives and we can revisit that record over and over again on our turntables, our televisions or computers, in our libraries, and in our memories.  My dad left no recordings. He left no writings, or at least I don’t think he did. He left me his wedding ring. He left me two brothers and a sister, he left me half of my own genetic self and 45 years of example through his parenting and husbanding. So while I can keep Bowie and Rickman spinning in the exterior world, my father must remain inside. But all of it will be with me so long as I can operate the audio-visual equipment in my house and the audio-visual equipment inside my head. I’m going to try my best to keep both in working condition past my own 69 years.

And finally, in our current state of affairs, culturally and politically in this United States of America in 2017, I feel more than ever a deep need to keep exposing myself to and attempting to create the ineffable, the deathless, the lasting, humanizing record in art of our existence. I feel now a kind of urgent need to listen to more music, make more music, write more poems and stories, to read more, and to live more deeply in the world. Bowie made music until the end. Rickman made films until the end. My friend Carlen Arnett kept contributing her art until the very end. I hope I can do as much in my own humble way. And so I begin with this little meditation that I have titled after this exquisite and famous poem by Dylan Thomas. I hope you enjoy both.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

 

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#190: Wheels

For day #2 of napowrimo, I offer up a found poem, a poem that steals its text wholesale from some other non-poetic source, say, a newspaper article, or a sign, or the print on a cereal box. While the general rule of thumb is to find text that is innocent of even remotely being like poetry, I’ve chosen to steal from something more literary: Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Like yesterday’s poem, this is an activity I also foisted on my students, a group of which just finished studying this particular play.

wheel-invention

Wheels (from Tom Stoppard)

Wheels have been set
in motion,
and they have their
own place,
to which we are . . .

condemned.

Each move is
dictated by
the previous one–
that is the meaning

of order.

If we start
being arbitrary,
it’ll just be shambles:
at least, let us hope so.

Because

if we happened,
just happened to discover,
or even suspect,
that our spontaneity
was a part of their order
we’d know that we were

lost.

We do on stage
the things that are
supposed to happen off.
Which is a kind of integrity, if you
look on every exit
being an entrance 

somewhere else.  

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#189: Writing A Lune With My Students

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Well, hello, and welcome to the annual poetry writing extravaganza in celebration of National Poetry Month during which suckers like myself attempt to write and publish a poem every day during the merry merry month of April.  My first outing follows the instructions (optional as always) found on the National Poetry Writing Month website, where each day of the month, not only do we get a prompt for the day in case we are stuck, but other goodies as well, such as links to featured participants’ websites and this year, links to poems in translation. How cool is that?

Just in case you’re joining me for the first time and are confused by the number 189 (that was not intended to be a rhyme), I have been numbering all of the poems I’ve published on my blog site, and so this, my fourth consecutive year writing a poem each day for National Poetry Month and a bunch of loose poetry change, finds me today writing my 189th poem for the blog.

Today’s poem is a lune, an English language variation of the haiku, and I am writing my lune with my Creative Writing students, who I am forcing to also write lunes. Here I have attempted a poem in three stanzas, each stanza is a lune (5, 3, and 5 syllables, respectively).

Writing A Lune With My Students

Text messages go
wrong, await
a stupid response.

I assumed the loon
would be the
easiest thing. Fool.

Didn’t turn out to
be: mostly
notebook chicken scratch.

 

Postscript: I realize after initial publication that I’ve got the wrong lune (loon) in my poem, but decide to leave it as is. Seems to go nicely with the other bird reference in the last stanza. Maybe I’ll try to get a bird in the first one as well in a subsequent draft.

Got it:

Writing A Lune With My Students

Text messages go
wrong, await
a cuckoo response.

I assumed the loon
would be the
easiest thing. Fool.

Didn’t turn out to
be: mostly
notebook chicken scratch.

 

 

 

 

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#188: On A Birthday Weekend Alone

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“Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way?”—Henry David Thoreau

My brother asked me
through a facebook comment,
are you spending the weekend alone?
And I wasn’t sure what the question
meant, whether or not it contained
a sub-text of surprise or dis-belief:
really, on your birthday, you want
to be alone? I could just be reading
that in, because my brother the pastor
must understand how the creative
work we do needs the quiet
of solitude to bring it forth; but
perhaps, for him, a quiet study is
enough without miles and mountains
between himself and the world.
I tend to require the miles and the
mountains. Mountains aren’t
necessary, but miles, yes. It helps
to have distance, to have a space,
a space that is unfamiliar
and possibly even beautiful. Here,
after a weekend of heavy rain,
on the morning of my departure,
finally the sun peaks through,
beckons me outside before it’s time
to pack up and leave this place
after a birthday weekend alone,
not lonely, on a planet in the Milky Way.

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#186: On Writing Retreat

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On Writing Retreat,
December 5, 2015, L. L. Stub Stewart State Park, Buxton, Oregon

It’s raining so hard here,
it would be unthinkable
to go outside for a walk.
So I am stuck in this cabin
without internet access
and there’s only a few
things to do: listen to
music, meditate, read,
eat, or, the thing that I
have come here intentionally
to do, write. I am writing.
I will break now and then
to listen, breathe, read
from the one book I brought,
Labyrinths by Borges,
grab a bite to eat, and at
night, I will drink some
wine and write straight
through until I can’t do it
anymore. There’s no one
to talk to. My neighbors
in other cabins stick to
themselves and I rarely
see them. I am happy to
be able to stand myself,
to be in my own company
and not feel bereft or alone.
That’s a good sign, I think.
And on retreat I find
the necessary and absolute
lack of distraction and
freedom from responsibility
to be the crucial
ingredients that make it
possible for me to really
come to the page, to be
present with language
and thought in a way I can
never be or rarely be
in the routine of the
day to day. So here,
on a cliff that looks out
on to the mountain range
that separates the Willamette
Valley from the Oregon Coast,
in Buxton (a town in my
own state I never knew existed),
half way between Banks and
Vernonia, I forget about the
difficulty of getting here, and
I write about work,
I look into my new novel,
plan a course of reentry after
a months-long absence,
and I write this poem
in praise of solitude, in
thankfulness to my beloved
who made it possible,
and in wonder at having
another 24 new hours
to myself .

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In Celebration of My 100th Blog Post

It’s a milestone, don’t you think? It seems so to me. This blog post right here, the one I hope you are currently reading, is the 100th blog entry by Michael Jarmer. It took me two plus years to get here. So help me do the math. What is it? 50 posts a year? That’s 4.166 posts a month–but that wouldn’t be accurate, really, because there have been months at a time when I posted not a thing, and I’ve never posted less than a whole post, a fraction of a post, unless you consider a poem as something somewhat less than a full post, but then you’d be in some hot water with the poets. I wouldn’t want that for you.  But, to be truthful, the 45 poems I’ve posted, 30 of which were composed one-a-day as part of National Poetry Writing Month in  April, did enhance my numbers, productivity speaking. So, suffice it to say, I’m pleased with myself and I hope you are too–and to all of you who have made this blog site a regular stop of yours, I thank you from the very depths of my being.

Other than just to make a celebratory statement about my 100th blog entry, I’m not sure what to write about here.  Perhaps I could just muse a little bit on the effect blogging has had on my life and on my writing.  That might be good.  Perhaps, I could talk about the pros and cons of blogging.  At the very least, there may be some learning about the whole process that I could discover and then articulate for your reading pleasure, that is, if you find that kind of thing pleasurable.  Let’s have a go at that, shall we?

Blogging has made me more productive.  I’m a fiction writer, primarily, but I find that to write fiction, I need sustained amounts of time to immerse myself in the fictive dream, so to speak, sustained amounts of time that don’t occur for me on a regular basis–so my fiction composition is as slow as mud;  it took me ten years to finish Monster Talk and probably another ten years before the start of that project to finish my first novel, the one that’s been sitting in a box on my desk now for the better part of the last decade, yeah, the one about Spontaneous Human Combustion. Outside of my fiction writing, before blog (B.B.) I’d find myself writing poems every once in a while, sometimes in flurries far and few between, and sometimes I’d write a little bit of something in the context of my teaching for my colleagues, and whenever I could I would write alongside my students. But never could I say, that over the course of a year or two, that I had “finished” 100 pieces.  I’m still writing my fiction, slowly, I’m still doing odd writings here and there at work for colleagues and students, but on top of that, I have completed 100 blog entries. Perhaps, embarking on this endeavor, I have written more, finished more short pieces than I ever did B.B.

Blogging has widened my repertoire. I’ve written here essays about teaching, essays about parenting, essays about music, essays about writing, essays about fashion for crying out loud (thanks to Betabrand), autobiographical essays, cultural criticism essays, and blogs about blogging.  And I’ve written poems about 45 different things.  First off, my non-fiction output has shot up from no thing to 100 things! And secondly, none of those things are the things for which I think I am truly skilled and for which, as evidence of said skill, I have a piece of paper and a book! So blogging is helping me come into my own, I hope, as an essayist.

Blogging is spontaneous, improvisational in nature, at least it is for me, and that’s helpful because it has enabled me to explore things about which I have questions.  I choose a blog topic simply by intuition.  I’ve got lists here and there, but I don’t often refer back to them.  Rather, an inspiration will hit, stick with me for a day, an hour, or a few minutes, and I kind of know right away, I get a kind of temperature, and if it’s hot, if it sticks with me, if it compels me to sit down and begin typing, I go for it.  I rarely abandon a piece that I’ve started writing.  So blogging has also brought me a level of commitment toward finishing the things I start.  I appreciate that.

Are there any negatives in my blogging experience?

There’s a part of me that says ANY writing I do is a good use of my time.  Writing is something I want to do, so if I’m doing it, that’s a good thing.  But I have to ask myself, if all the time I devoted to creating blog entries over the last two years had been spent on fiction writing, how much further would I be toward the completion of a new novel–and wouldn’t that have been a BETTER use of my time?  My gut response is to answer no to that question.  When I think about the pleasure I have found in blogging coupled with the productivity and the way I feel like it’s broadened my writing, I am glad to have started the blog site and glad to have kept at it for two years.  I wouldn’t want to undo that progress in exchange for a draft of a new novel.  And what’s to stop me from blogging progress on the new novel?  What’s to prevent me from blogging fiction?

Now this is a difficult and dicey proposition, one that I have explored a little bit in an entry I wrote after National Poetry Writing Month.  There’s something scary and negative and offensive to me about drafting fiction in public.  I’m not sure exactly why–but I kind of feel like it demeans it somehow, and I’m guessing real poets feel the same way about publishing poems on a blog site.  I’m not sure I consider myself a real poet.  No, that’s not true.  I’m as real a poet as any other poet. Maybe it is that I have a different relationship to my poetry than I do with my fiction.  My poetry is kind of offhand, not meticulously crafted, and doesn’t have behind it a piece of paper and a book.  I know that and accept that about my poetry, so I’m not as guarded about it or as protective.  And the comment earlier, that I’m not a real poet, is only an effort to honor those poets who are guarded and protective about their work,  who feel like publishing their poetry in a blog post would somehow be demeaning or disrespectful to the work.  I’d love to hear other writers’ takes on this.  Ultimately, I think it’s all in my head.  That’s the truth of it.  And that leads to another potentially negative aspect of blogging.  This stuff in my head, emerging, not quite perfectly formed, sometimes even faulty, frail, wrong–it’s all right here on my blog site.

Blogging has made me a kind of statistic blip addict.  And that’s not a good thing. It’s something I want to work on–not being so needy about that. Part of the beauty and conversely the danger of blogging is the experience of instant publication and often instant feedback. How many visitors, likes, new followers, new comments, did that entry receive and what does it all mean?  This is something bloggers should be interested in, I suppose, but not obsessing about.  Only once have I obsessed–and it was terrible. Long after its original composition, a blog entry I wrote entitled “English Teacher Math: Teaching 200 Students How To Write” was posted and roasted on the Reddit social network  site.  It resulted in the busiest single day or two ever on my blog, and it resulted on Reddit in some pretty good conversation, some of it smart and helpful, but it also resulted in a number of absolute looney tunes posting comments after that blog entry on my site–all of which culminated in a near complete and total TIME SUCK in my life and in my head.  You know, hatred from strangers will have a tendency to do that–unless you have developed a strategy for dealing  with it, which I had not. I was a complete basket case for three days.  I got over that, and I have never had a repeat performance.  If another one comes up, I hope I will deal with it more effectively.  Blogging should not be a stress producer–and I’m thankful to say that exactly 99% of the time it has not been!

So there you have it, for now.  A meditation on my first 100 blog posts.  If you got this far, I thank you.  If you have been a regular visitor or a follower, I thank you.  If you would purchase my novel Monster Talk, I would be forever grateful.  It’s been a good trip, thus far.  I think I will continue doing this thing.  Cheers.

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Forced Creativity Experiences (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

April concludes and the new month begins with my successful participation in the National Poetry Month challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.  I’m happy to say that I missed not a single day and that all 30 poems are posted here at michaeljarmer.com for your reading pleasure.  I thought I would take a few moments here at the end of that process to take stock, to reflect on some key observations, and to speak generally about the strategy of these kinds of Forced Creativity Experiences, the good, bad, and the ugly.

Mostly, it’s good.  If there is a creative thing one wishes to be doing and one is in constant turmoil about  NOT doing that thing enough or at all, a Forced Creativity Experience is a good strategy.  I think National Novel Writing Month in November and National Poetry Writing Month in April are simply about kickstarting that impulse.  And, it seems to me, only four conditions are required. First, a desire to do the thing.  Second, an invitation from the universe to do that thing.  Third, a specific but intensive goal around the thing–to be accomplished over a short period of time. And four, a supportive community in which to do the thing.

NaPoWriMo is not the only Forced Creativity Experience I have encountered or participated in.  On the music front, my wife (my songwriting partner) and I have participated since 2004 in a kind of power-songwriting circle called Veronica Lodge, wherein we commit a single day of each month of the year to writing, recording, and mixing SIX new tunes. Six new tunes in a single day, once a month, since 2004 has yielded us over 500 new songs.  Before our participation in this Forced Creativity Experience, we would have been lucky to write ten new songs in a single year.   And becoming parents in 2005 was likely to inhibit our output even further. This thing worked wonders for us.  Desire + Invitation + Specific goal over short period + Supportive Community.

Anyone who ever takes a creative writing class because they want to is having such an experience–and as a young English major I took as many of those babies as my schedule and my degree would allow.  And, too, anyone who goes into a writing program of any kind is also willingly participating in a Forced Creativity Experience–and that impulse got me motivated to enroll and finish an MFA program in fiction writing.  But these things cost a lot of money, and then once the classes are over and a degree is won  –then what?  Especially when the rigors of a career and family life take hold–how does one find the motivation and time to write?  And for those of us who are similarly compelled, what are the consequences of not writing? Writer’s Groups can work for a time. I’ve been involved in a few–all of which forced out some productivity, but all of which fizzled eventually–some after a pretty good run, others not so much. I think Writer’s Groups often fizzle because they lack perhaps that third criteria that I have arbitrarily invented–they lack specific and intensive goals and they tend to go on and on and on.

Only recently have I become aware of such a thing as the November National Novel Writing Month or the poetry equivalent in April. These are both wonderful developments–but as much as I would like to be able to write a complete draft of a novel in a single month–I could not see how it would be possible to write 2.000 words every day for thirty days. I’ve got some fathering and husbanding to do, and my part of the housework to finish, and a full time job, and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  It’s just not in the cards, especially in November, for crying out loud. But poetry! (and again, I don’t want to offend my friends who are serious poets, because I have a hunch that they work a hell of a lot longer and harder on their craft than I worked on my 30 little poems). Poetry can be written daily–poems can be finished, or at least drafted, in a single sitting.

Six songs, or 2,000 words, or a single poem.  Whatever floats your boat; all of these activities designed to enhance creative output have these things in common: they depend on a desire for productivity, they come with a kind of public invitation, they have a specific, intensive, time sensitive goal attached to them, and they all, perhaps most impressively, surround the participant in a supportive community of others who are engaged in the same process.

I’d like to close with some comments about this supportive community.  Unlike in a class, or in a program or workshop, where conflicting pedagogies, artistic temperaments, and pure ego can sometimes get in the way or undermine creativity and confidence, I find that in our songwriting circle and in my NaPoWriMo experience, it is never about receiving “feedback” or “critique” or even the euphemism of “contructive criticism.”  It is only about encouragement along the way and celebration in the face of completing the task.  It’s just a big ol’ love fest.  And it frees people up to do what they need to do, to make their art without fear and without thought of pleasing others or reaching some critical acceptance or approval.  I don’t mean to say that critique is never valuable–only that during the initial creative process of making new stuff, it’s detrimental. What we need instead is a space to work, some cheering from the sidelines, and at the end, after our 30 poems or 6 songs or draft of a novel, some appreciative nods and smiles.  Maybe a thumbs up.

I realize I haven’t said anything about the bad or the ugly side of a Forced Creativity Experience.  Maybe that’s a question for a future blog entry–but right now, even though I could probably think of a couple items, I’m tired, happy, and last night’s episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report await me somewhere in cyberspace.

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