Thursday, January 31, 2008


Storytelling doesn't have to be done with words. Words are certainly one of the main tools of the writer, but a story can be told without them. Visual artists use pictures, sometimes literal and sometimes symbolic, to represent what they want to say.

Here are two stories created for outdoors setting; no words or sentences - what we commonly think of as language - were used. There are links related to each picture to learn more about them.

The above story was created as part of
"Art in the Forest" in 2007.

The picture at right is the German artist,
Wolfgang Folmer,
at work on a different piece in his studio.

If you collaborated with an artist on a story, what medium would you want to use? Would you want your created work to be indoors or outside? Would you want to include words? sentences? What would the story be about? What genre would you use as vehicle?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


"Asian Pear" by Serena Barton

Recently the subject of brevity has come up several times, including at my current writing seminar. Our facilitator challenges us to take the 10-page short story and make it something like, oh, maybe 800 words! It reminds me of the television program, "Name that Tune." The goal was for the contestants to guess the song correctly with as few notes as possible. Similarly, we're being challenged to see how concisely we can make our point.
At the recent writing seminar we wrote for 30 minutes with three random words picked from bowls: a noun, a verb, and a color or smell. I wrote a short story. When the three-minute warning bell rang, I decided to see if I could dash off a short poem with the same three words; below is the result.

by Dot.
stars like sponges
providing escape
from the jet black of night.
"the brevity of resonant drifting" by Steve Roden

I was curious what other artists have done with the concept of brevity or simplicity. All of these images are different conceptualizations of that idea.

rock sculpture: Absolve
bird of paradise: HouseOnAHill
Sam's Flower Drawing: HouseOnAHill
"Simplicity": Chris Larkin

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Poetry Play

A few months ago I discovered the Etheree poetry form. I was deep in a writer's block and had decided to read; also an important task for a writer, but not the task I was craving.

I was reading a writers' magazine when an ad caught my attention. A few seconds later the word, "Etheree" in block letters, drew me from the Promise Of Publication to a simple way to - perhaps - break through my block.

I tried it.
I like it.
I offer it as a way to break out of pattern and try something new, especially if you're stuck.

The Etheree is a one subject, 10-line poem. with increasing syllable count for a total of 55. It was invented about twenty years ago by Etheree Taylor Anderson, an Arkansas poet. The formula is simple:

line 1 = 1 syllable
line 2 = 2 syllables
line 3 = 3 syllables
... each line increasing by one until ...
line 10 = 10 syllables.

It's a challenge and a freedom to work with something so small and compact. It's kind of like a Haiku, only bigger.

Here is one example:

an Etheree by Dot.

ablaze with

floating islands
made from a thousand
writers’ discarded poems –
sonnets, metered verse, haikus –
shaped into origami boats
set afire, then released on rivers,
returning inspiration to the world.

Origami boat by Crafti-n-est

TOP: Temoku pottery bowls by Dot

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Movement as Story

"Movement is as necessary to mental and physical development as food." -- Grace Nash

As writers, we are frequently on the lookout for and open to the possibility of inspiration. We observe what is around us. Anything can be fodder for the next poem, short story, essay, or freewrite - regardless of genre. We take the visual, the aural, the auditory, everything coming in through our sense organs and express meaning and experience through our words. Fact or fiction, nature-based or relationship-centered, everything can be conveyed through words. We paint and dance and sing on the page -- or write it in unexpected places. (For an example of an unexpected place, check out the "juxtaposition of wildness and urbanity" by the January '08 South Waterfront Artist-In-Residence, David Oates.)

For writers, our artist's colors are words and spaces; the page (be it paper or electronic) is our palette; and the writing instrument (pen, pencil, keyboard) is our brush. We convey movement and distance and timing through rhythm and flow of language.

The video link below shows a trailer for Normal and Happy, a dance performance by tEEth. This video gives a good sense of the overall piece, which I saw at PICA's TB:A:07. Their performances tell story through movement, color, light, sound, and interactions of the unexpected. Their work is inspirational in the cohesion and strength of the performers and their message.

What do you notice about the different types of movement in this piece? Write about how the movement of the opening pair of dancers feels in your body. How would you translate the dialogue of their bodies into words? Who are the two women in the kaleidescope box? Or the bumpy pink people scratching their stomachs? What else catches you in a visceral way? Can you find something with which to develop a character?

[If you are unable to view the video from this page, click to visit the tEEth video page.]

I have a confession

I have a confession. I am a writer and, until recently, I wasn’t writing every day. I wanted to; I planned to; and it didn’t happen. I am not only a writer, I said defensively. I do other things and my day job sometimes starts before the sun rises and ends some twelve to fifteen hours later. Not that I get paid for every one of those hours; it includes driving from place to place which is unpaid, and searching for parking, and everything that goes with this type of work. Self-employment is grand and, sometimes, the hours required to make a few bucks are long.

But I digress.

Over and over I’ve heard that, in order to write, you have to write every day. Because of several failed attempts at daily writing, I committed to writing most days. Some weeks that worked and then, “most days” became, well, four days is a majority, right? Then it was, well, this week was only three, but that’s all I could do. Really. Then that slipped into thinking “maybe next week I can write.”

Several years ago I went through The Artists’ Way with a small group of friends. I did manage to do my morning pages every day and it was helpful. Then one day slipped, then two days. And soon, with a change of careers which meant going back to school, that was dropped. I thanked the Morning Pages for helping me find the new career and told them, “Tata for now, I’ll see you when I come out on the other side of this river of courses and cultural adjustments and have built my new career.” Which I assumed meant two years of college and maybe one to two years of getting established in the new profession.

That was thirteen years ago.

Over the last couple years, I started going to writing workshops and groups again. When I go, I write more. Not surprising, because it helps to be around people who assume I’m writing. I know it’s not really them holding me to my commitment, it’s me. But having a place and people to interact with keeps it higher on my priorities list.

Having a writing partner helps, as well. Two weeks ago I met with my writing buddy and he, fresh from a three week vacation in France, announced that we must Write Every Day. He was reading a book I gave him a couple months ago, which was touting the necessity of daily writing. Yeah, yeah, I agreed. If only we had the time. Yeah, he agreed. And we said we would try to write most days, when we could. We also share the other profession.

Three days later I started this blog. I awoke that day knowing it was time to stop saying, “I will” and change it to “I do.” For whatever reason, I have a blog ethic: if a person is going to do one, you have to keep it up. And for writing – that means to write.

This blog – in addition to my desire to share my experiences and inspirations with the hope they are useful to someone else – is my commitment to myself to write every day. Not everything I write is posted here. My other writing includes revisions, pieces of poems, freewrites from a spark of inspiration – and I’ve been visiting WordLush to gather the list from the Daily Word Spittoon and writing something from that. I have been posting those creations at The Writing Vein Playground.

When I let go of having to sit in one place and write at the same time every day for a specified amount of time or number of pages, guess what happened? I’ve been writing every day! Sometimes it’s 15 minutes, sometimes it’s two hours. Sometimes I’m working a new story or revising an old one. And sometimes it’s this blog and the word spittoon game.

Look folks, I’m writing!

"Black scribbler" by Dot. 1992
12" x 48" silk painting

Friday, January 25, 2008

from the mouth of the Spittoon

In case you haven't visited it yet, I thought I'd give you a taste of what can be found at WordLush, a website with word games. My writing, generated from the Daily Word Spittoon's word list on 1/24/08:

"flailing through time"

As he tossed feverishly in his bed, sheets and blankets threatening to choke or strangle due to flailing limbs, his voice suddenly shot out. Suspended between the crying cat’s howling in the window and the ringing of the telephone, the acronymic words, guttural and raw, wafted down the stairs to the guests sipping tea in the living room. Their host emitted an uncharacteristic onomatopoeic utterance, excusing herself from their presence, to check on her nephew hollering from the guest bedroom on the second floor. She couldn’t remember why she had agreed to let herself be saddled with this boorish lout. Placing one foot in front of the other, she laboriously climbed the stairs, his shouts growing louder in a cacophony with the crazy cat and his Blackberry screeching on his desk. As she entered what used to be her study, the inscription on the doorway sent her back to the day she agreed to take in her sister’s only son.

“Your debt is paid; bless you sister.”

[The word list: *unruly, *saddled, *suspended, *acronymic, *feverish, *onomatopoeic, *inscription].

To see the word list for today, hop on over the WordLush and take a peak. You never know what is going to be found in the spittoon!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fiction or Non-Fiction: is that the question?

When I emailed my story to the writing group last week, I did not identify it as either fiction or non-fiction. This was deliberate. This story most likely falls into the category my friend, Alexander, says is a ridiculous concept: creative non-fiction. Alexander’s perspective is that all fiction is creative non-fiction; well, most, anyway. Regardless, there is some obvious-to-anyone-who-knows-me truth from my life in the story and there are parts I edited for the sake of a better read.

My purpose in submitting the story to the group was to get feedback on whether it did or did not work. Some people thought it was fiction; some thought it was non-fiction. One person said he wished he would have known it was non-fiction, because he would have looked at it differently.

I did not hide the genre out of any ill-will or mean spiritedness – I wanted honest feedback. This piece tends to bring out the pity filter when people think it’s all true. I wanted their opinions based on what they read, not on how much of the narrator’s story is mine.

Regardless of the category writing needs to hold together. The readers need to feel drawn in to a story and it needs to be well written. Should we excuse so-so writing because it was a personal experience? Should we evaluate writing more harshly because we think it was all made up with no feelings attached? The answer to both is, No, of course not. With some exceptions, I’m sure; pretty much everything has exceptions, so why should writing be any different?

I did receive useful feedback and people in the group were honest. But this question of whether or how much of it was “true” and how that affects giving feedback has been rolling around in my thoughts like a marble in a jeans pocket in the dryer.

It’s a story. Do you want to read it or not? Why or why not?

"Sum of My Life"
collage by Dot. c.2007

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Play with the Pros(e): a writing exercise

Pick a book, nearly any book will do: your favorite author; an ecology textbook; how to paint landscapes. Open the book randomly to a page in the first half of the book.

Starting with the page you’re on, write down the first complete word on every fifth page until you have a list of about twenty words.

Write! The list of words may appear as a poem with very little additional words needed; or a story may jump out at you from off the page; or it's the sketch for a character. See what’s there, move the words around, and see where the words lead you. Enjoy!

pen and ink drawing
"Dot's Desk" by Dot. c. 1994

Saint or Martyr or just plain numb?

On Sunday I attended the ongoing writing group I recently joined. I emailed my piece earlier in the week so everyone could read the entire story, since we would only focus on one portion. The story concerns a dying parent, and the adult daughter and her partner, who are involved with the end of life care. I chose a middle section of the story to work on with the group; I feel the opening scene is strong and the end is what I want in essence, with a little tightening up needed.

Much of my current prose writing is about the everyday: who we are, where we work, what we notice, riding the bus, walking down the street – momentary slices of life.

The narrator is the daughter’s partner, who, in this small slice of the event, is in a “doing what needs to be done” mode. This means observing what is in the scene, reminiscing and changing the dying mother-in-law’s diapers.

Although it was not the point of the story, one of the main discussion topics was the narrators demeanor. My intent was to present the narrator as observer, without judgment or resentment, because the narrator is there in the moment to support the partner and the father-in-law and help take care of the parent who is dying. The lack of conflict within the narrator or between the partners was a sticking point for the writing group.

Is my narrator truly a saint, with no feelings about what is happening? Or is the narrator a martyr, trying to rack up points to call in at a later date? Or, could the narrator be in a place devoid of those emotions at a conscious level, while being present with the person who is dying, without resentment toward the partner who is still in the early stages of grief and unable to perform some of the required tasks? Narrator = Saint? Martyr? Or merely numb?

I am still mulling over this – and the other – feedback. I will try some of the suggestions and see where they lead. And I don’t want to change my narrator into a judgmental martyr *grin. I’ll keep searching for that magic place between the oppositions and see where the characters want to go. I also want to think about what it is I want the narrator to convey and if I have done that.

Or perhaps I didn’t pick the best section on which to focus!

The painting at top of the post is
"St. Caterina of Bologna" c. Serena Barton

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Find what inspires you & a prompt

As writers, our inspiration can come from any or all of our senses. Sometimes it is a sound, a glimpse of color, a glance from a stranger, the smell drifting out the neighbor’s window, music carrying us to another time and place.

Part of this blog will be sharing sense experiences for you to try out, and discover where they lead.

This photo is by photographer Serena Davidson. Her photographs are full of life and movement. I first discovered her photography in relation to PICA’s TB:A festival. This is from her new “Performance” web album. These photos are from "Show Me The Body," a dance work by Tere Mathern Dance in 2007.

Writing prompt: As his face turned to the source of the sound….

Join me on a creative adventure!

This blog is intended to share writing experiences and reflections, and to provide inspiration and guidance. There will be exercises to help you get started or approach revisions. There will be photographs, drawings, writing samples, links to resources and other people's creative pursuits - whatever I come across which inspires me and I hope will inspire you.

pastel drawing "Blue Shadows" c.1992 by Dot.