Friday, February 29, 2008

Prompt: A New Community Writing Workshop

Write Around Portland has a new program: a workshop designed for writers in the greater-Portland area who want to take a Write Around workshop but may not belong to the traditional communities we serve. This provides long-time supporters a chance to write in community with others following the Write Around model while also providing support to writers who might not otherwise have access to writing and community.

All proceeds go directly toward funding Write Around Portland programs, including workshops for people affected by HIV/AIDS, veterans living with PTSD, those with physical or mental disabilities, and others in Portland without access because of income, isolation or other barriers.

Meets weekly for 10 weeks April 8 through June 10, 2008
Powell’s Books, Burnside
Tuesdays 7-9pm
$285 (includes free parking, snacks and access to the “bowels of Powells”)
Facilitator: Natalie Serber

Join them for a weekly seminar devoted to generative writing and the transformative power of writing in community. Based on the successful Write Around Portland model, this dynamic workshop incorporates many of our favorite exercises designed to inspire the writing life, including free-writing; group discussion; imagery, character, plot and poetry development; and early-draft revision. Group-members will have an opportunity to read their work at a local reading to cap the course. Natalie Serber holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She has been short-listed for Best American Stories, and is the recipient of the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction and the John Steinbeck Award for Fiction. Natalie is a seasoned Write Around Portland facilitator and board-member, and also teaches through Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools and Community of Writers.

Want more information? It's available on the Write Around Portland website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stories That Move

Story can be related to another being in practically unlimited ways. Or "limited only by our imagination," as the saying goes. Stories come from all around us and within us; they can be expressed in writing, in pictures, in movies, in symbols; they can cause us to laugh or cry or reflect.

One category of storytelling is "spoken word." This can be poetry, fictional stories, political statements, theatre, and more. It may be entirely written out in advance or completely extemporaneous, or a mixture.

I am fascinated with the genre of spoken word. I had one of those synchronous moments about 18 months ago. I was in New York City for two and a half weeks, working. I was nearly done with treatment, which included massage, for an auto accident. But the plane ride, the subways, sleeping on an unfamiliar bed, all of those factors combined meant it would be a good idea to get a massage while I was there . So my massage therapist here gave me the name of a massage therapist there, who just happens to be a spoken word artist: Juliana Luecking. (She is a wonderful massage therapist with very healing hands.)

After I returned home, I decided to track down some of her spoken word work. I found a three CDs and bought one, "Big Broad," from Kill Rock Stars. It has 30 tracks of stories of people, everyday kind of people and extraordinary people. I also found her on YouTube, with a video project underway, called "People Are A Trip." This is real-life storytelling and spoken word art.

Juliana continues to put herself out there with her art and her camera and her microphone. She puts her passion and her politics and her art out there for others to see and participate. I find her energy infectious and inspiring. Below are a couple of introductory videos, with links to more!

After viewing a couple or a few of her questions and responses, try picking a couple and writing a response. If you were to make a video of your response, where would you film it? What would be your vision for your response to her?

Queen Juliana: "People are a Trip, Introduction"
" 'People are a Trip' is a series by Juliana Luecking, a spoken-word artist on Kill Rock Stars. The premise is simple: she asks people blunt questions, and they answer with the truth of the moment. They are hilarous. No, poetic. Well, maybe they're quite philosophical. The interviews include subway prophet J.R., Johanna and Kathleen of Le Tigre, Ropstyle of Semiautomatic, and people on the streets of NYC. And you, since she encourages you to post your own video answer, or add to the comment section. What fun!"

A couple of my favorite responses to a question or two, or three....
Ginger Lee, #22
Toby from the UK #32

Juliana moved to MOLI near the end of 2007, where she continues the "People are a Trip" project and has other projects in the works. (You can still see earlier responses on the YouTube site.)
"Queen Juliana on!!"

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Writing has temporarily taken a back seat. Necessarily, I say and yet I wonder. I survey my surroundings and check my appointment book - a PDA now instead of a book and it weighs only four ounces. Yes, I've been busy with work. Yes, I had a show this week, was out of town on the whirlwind surreal trip to planet Las Vegas last week, and have various homework assignments to grade. *And* I did manage to some writing.

I'm not getting very far with revisions right now. But I know that will come.

Thinking back to my original goal of writing every day - I'm nearly there, even with the income-generating work dominating my schedule. That's good. It's progress. I have a bunch of new material and, soon, I will have time to work on revisions.


I may not be revising my writing, but I am re-visioning my priorities. When I'm done catching up with the grading of homework for my in-person students, I will start back on revision of some new pieces and a couple pieces I've been working on for a while which feel nearly done.

Sometimes when I've felt a little stuck for how to start writing when my brain is swirling with plays and grades, I've gone to WordLush and used the random list to prime the creative juices. Below are today's words. If you haven't been there - go take a look. They have a Daily Word Spittoon which spews seven words; you can also see previous creations from other lists. The intent is to write something using all of the words. A couple characters have surfaced in some of my spittoon writings, which I plan to revisit when I start my revisions. Today's words are:
* miser
* for profit
* assonance
* sputter
* snout
* perfidious
* medusoid

Cowmmedia d'ell Arte by Serena Barton
as part of the Kows for Kids project

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

travel and synchronicity

I believe synchronicity happens more often than we realize. We are often so wrapped up in our responsibilities, our increasingly busy lives, and the details of what is immediately in front of us that we can easily miss the unexpected or surprising moments which may link what can feel like disparate pieces.

As I was preparing to write, I decided I wanted to have it center around Cirque du Soleil's "O", which I saw in Las Vegas last week. I wasn't sure of the exact focus of the piece, other than my decision to go to show was the right one. The factors of whether to go or not were primarily cost and needing rest versus desire for pleasure and inspiration. Pleasure and inspiration won.

I started searching for an online clip to link to for a taste of "O." I found many; some authorized, such as Cirque du Soleil's "O" webpage, which is also found on the Bellagio website, the hotel and casino where "O" resides; and some not, such as this one which is the opening of the show, which was amazing and had me hooked right away (the power of it is not conveyed in this low quality clip - but it gives a hint of what it looks like). I did find this longer trailer. It is a small sample of just under two hours of joy which kept me entertained and inspired from the minute it started dropping from the sky. I was entranced by flying things, water, fire, physical skill, and amazing theatrics.

And the synchronicity? Here it is. As I was searching the videos, HAO2Darts, who posted the longer trailer, wrote:

When you open the souvenir program of O, You will see message from them.
"Travel far enough away,my friend, and you'll discover something of great beauty: your self."

I bought the souvenir program while I was there and had only opened the book to show my partner when I arrived home. I hadn't yet seen the quote. The next video I looked at online, started with that quote scrolling across the screen.

One of my thoughts when I was in Las Vegas, a strange and repelling yet compelling place, was that sometimes I simply need to get out of town to find inspiration. To leave the familiar and habitual and see something new. I wrote about going somewhere new, somewhere with energy, after I arrived home, which you can read on my previous post.

And here it was again: travel and discovering beauty. Right in the place where I found it last week. Another circle has been made and I will wait to see where the next unexpected moment arises and how it connects to something I'm experiencing now.

Pay attention to the moments and see where the intersections happen. It might happen at home, it might happen away and it probably won't happen where you expect. Stay open.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

opening up the box

...this post was started 2/14/08 in Las Vegas... my first trip to the city without clocks and I was there for work; really ...

I never thought I would go to Las Vegas; it was not on the list of places I wanted to visit. In November, a person I was working with mentioned that there are five Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas. She found herself down there - also not of her own volition - and was pleased to discover the performances. I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil and thought, well, maybe, someday, if I have nothing better to do, I might possibly think about going to Vegas just to grab the opportunity to see two or three different Cirque du Soleil shows. And that was the extent of that thought.

Until a month or so later, when I was offered the opportunity to represent the program where I am adjunct faculty at a regional meeting in - tada - Las Vegas. It felt like fate. My flight and hotel would be paid and I could surely squeeze in a performance while I was there. Which I did and it was fantastic - but that is for another day.

So, on Valentine's Day I found myself flying to Vegas. I arrived at the Orleans Casino and Hotel and entered through one set of gigantic glass double doors, with a crocodile eating its tail as a door handle. Immediately, I knew I'd entered another world and I wondered if it was the wrong world! All I could see in front of me were rows and rows of banks of electronic slot machines, with a coffee bar and an ice cream cafe area along one side. Slots as far and wide as I could see, but no registration desk. I spotted an "invited guests check-in" sign and headed that way, thinking it might be a cute way of saying registration. Then I noticed a regular check-in counter behind the little wall of the entryway off to my right. Whew - I did go in the correct doors.

It was an amazing sight. I'd heard about Las Vegas; I'd seen it represented in movies or on TV; but I'd never been there. It was just like the stereotypes I'd seen, as were many of the people. I was repelled and fascinated at the same time. There were many sounds: of the machines turning and clicking and clanging; of areas of types of machines trying to attract visitors; of music from the main casino floor and the high stakes area competing; and giant wall-mounted TVs with the sound on, announcements, people talking, kids crying and running and playing, and hawkers and cocktail waitresses (and I mean to use that gender specific label - there were no male waiters in skimpy-barely-dressed outfits serving drinks). And lights flashing from the machines being used and waiting for gamblers and out of coins and minor winners and advertisements. Whoa.
(If you want a taste of what it was like, here is someone's video from a different casino.)

I ate lunch in my room, wanting to savor a little alone time before being inside a meeting room I was sure would have no windows with an unknown amount of people of whom I only knew one. I showered for the second time that day and headed down to the Seattle's Best coffee shop on the periphery of the casino for my daily soy latte.

I sat sipping the coffee and people-watched. It was great. I had my journal with me, so I wrote some things down; but mostly, I watched. I was afraid I'd miss something interesting and I wanted to soak up the experience for the short time I had until the meeting started. I felt inspired and wanted to write. Ideas sprang into my head: ideas for a story or a character or what possibilities lay before me in this strange-to-me land.

And as I sat there, I realized that I needed to get out of my box of private practice work and teaching and mentoring and my everyday sameness. If I hadn't made this trip to Las Vegas, I might never have known that some of these things were real! I was thinking that I might actually plan a trip to Vegas someday for the purpose of doing some character studies and to just write (and sneak in another Cirque du Soleil show, I'm sure).

I realized that sometimes we probably all need to step outside of our boxes to find a piece of inspiration. Try something new by going somewhere new. My suggestion is to pick a place you don't really think you want to go and plan a trip there. As I thought about it, I think the key is to pick a place that has some energy attached to it for you. I don't think a place where you just think "oh, that wouldn't be very fun" would have the same impact. And I don't think picking a place you really, really want to go to would do the same, either. If you really want to go, I think you can become focused on it being perfect and miss important other moments; or, if it turns out to not be what you hoped or expected, then you are faced with only disappointment.

But, if you pick a place where you approach it with energy, then, I think, from it energy will flow. Try it. If a trip is not possible at the time, pick a new restaurant or try a new type of book.

The point: do something new *and* unexpected. Be open to being surprised and maybe even delighted. Do it. See what happens.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Plant One Seed

I'm a volunteer for Write Around Portland, where one thing I do is facilitate writing groups. This week started my second group facilitation and the first time facilitating a youth group. There were some obvious differences between the first group of all adult women ranging from around 25 to 65, and this one with mixed genders, though more homogeneous in age. They're so obvious I won't even go into them. *smile.

It was one of those situations where the training and the theory are known and yet the experience in the moment is more powerful than just the words can convey. The advice about bringing double the number of prompts I'd normally use in that time period and having to be a little more directive than with adults were played out in 3-D living color. Despite a couple of disruptive participants who decided to not come back after the break, everyone wrote when given the prompts. Most of them shared and were able to give each other some feedback.

I felt good about how it went and a little exhausted from the extra energy required for facilitating the meeting with the teens, which I wasn't quite mentally prepared for - even though I knew. I cleaned up, packed up my things and left.

Driving to my next appointment, I thought about one participant who had said he wouldn't share his writing. He wanted to write, but wasn't good with public speaking. I encouraged him to think about sharing later, but assured him he would never be forced to share his writing. On the second prompt and every one after, he had read what he'd written. That one step of bravery and willingness to try something new pushed aside all of the stress of the first half of the group.

The next day I checked in with my support staff about how it went. She listened, offered some ideas, and gave me good feedback about decisions I'd made and how things went. That's one of the wonderful perks of volunteering with Write Around Portland: the staff. They are some of the most genuinely caring, compassionate, and supportive people I have ever been around; their honest passion for what they are doing is evident in everything they do. And they are completely there for the volunteers and workshop participants. An amazing group. I felt comfortable with how things had gone on the first day and ready to make my plans and get back in there with the teens for the next one. My direct support staff was great. The kids were great. I was great. And this would be another awesome experience.

Today I received a call from the contact person at the site. There were a couple things we needed to discuss. And she wanted to let me know that she has heard great feedback about the first meeting from all of the teens who stayed for the whole time.

And the best information was that one of the participants is hiding his journal (each participant receives a journal from Write Around Portland) in the desk. He takes it out several times during the day and is writing. That little gem, along with the one who read his writing in spite of his protestations that he never would, makes it all worth it. It would be worth it, anyway. But I can already see the seeds germinating.

I realize they may or may not take root this time around. But the seeds are planted. And, at least for now, there are two teens who are expressing themselves who might not have been otherwise. I was there as witness to their process and will be there to see how they grow.

This is the reason I volunteer. To even see the change for one person, or two - to be able to provide resources and a place that is safe for someone to reach out a little.

So it's a little more challenging! Life isn't always easy and a little challenge keeps me from getting bored or frustrated by monotony. I'm being challenged to step out of my comfort zone and my usual circle of interaction, too.

Think about one seed you have planted recently and write about it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Meeting Poetry

I'm on the road. Sitting in a kaitan sushi restaurant watching colored plates rotate before me, wondering which one to taste or what it is. As the flow of customers slow, I take up two spaces: one for me and one for the winter issue of Tricycle, splayed open on the counter space beside me.

With a half-eaten plate of dragon rolls before me, my breathing stops, followed by a deep inhale. The words on the page have leaped directly into my body and gone straight to my heart.

I whip out my Blackberry and, as the sushi continues to swirl on the belt and my dragon roll cools past room temperature, here is what I read.

"For a person to meet with a poem, or any deep expression, and make no response, is to have no heart, no nervous system. It is to show oneself 'uncooked,' a mere barbarian, with the shabbiest of table manners or bedroom etiquette.". Andrew Schelling writing about Murasaki Shikibu's belief in the article, "Whirling Petals, windblown leaves." Murasaki was a Japanese writer around the year 1000.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

finding time

It is just after midnight. I want to write. I realize my last post was Tuesday and now it is Friday; technically it is Saturday although I have yet to go to bed, so I'm running on extended Friday time.

This week has been a challenge to writing time and walking time. This is one of my ultra busy times at my mortgage-paying job; what someone recently called the "big girl job." Meaning? It's a "real" profession in which I show up and (eventually) get paid to do that thing I do. And this week I'm doing more of that because, well, that's where the work falls. Being a freelancer means sometimes I have to take the work when it comes because a couple weeks ago it was slow. And sometimes the "big girl job" where one hour work equals one hour pay and the "I love to do this" work (for example theater, where I put in at least five hours work for each hour of pay) fall at the same time as the homework of the students of my adjunct 3-D classes and the assignments of the virtual students. That is this week. Oh, and today was my triennial adjunct faculty observation and review, where the department chair comes into a class and watches me teach, then writes up a formal evaluation to submit to the dean of the department, which goes on my permanent teaching record.

In the past this has stopped all writing. All creative pursuits, except for the theater and even that is me interpreting the director's and actors' interpretations of the script - so my creativity is not really my own, but interpreting what they have created. Which isn't bad - it just isn't mine.

Today the teaching observation and one of the plays came to fruition and those are off my list. They went well and I am glad to have two less things to be nervous about and two less things pulling focus.

It is also important for me to notice that I did manage to do some writing this week - although, admittedly, less - and post to my blogs, also at a reduced pace. And I still did it.

Tonight I am pushing myself to post this. To put something up and keep that creative thread connected. Even something simple like this keeps writing physically, mentally, and energetically in the field, which, for me, can be a challenge when there are high expectations or needs elsewhere.
What type of thread to you fear letting slip through your fingers ? What have you done to maintain the connection and not give up on creativity?
Reaching Skyward by Dot

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I have had a couple of unexpected positive challenges in my current writing group. One has been working in a different writing group format than I tend to do and a structure different than I expected; the second is that the predominant genre of the group is not mine.

In previous writing groups, everyone writes outside of the group and brings something every week to share. The writer passes out copies of the piece, reads the work out loud, and gets on-the-spot feedback. With one group, since people were writing longer pieces, we didn't get to everyone every week, so we took the stories home we didn't discuss and started with those stories the following week. We usually did hear and give feedback on at least four or five pieces per week, sometimes more. We didn't create any new writing in the group; we did that individually and brought what we were working on. I know there are many other styles - and this was the one I was familiar with and preferred. The writing workshops I tend to do are of the Natalie Goldberg variety. These are the workshops where the writing process actually happens for a large portion of the time together, with time for discussion and some sharing.

My current writing group usually does crit for about an hour of our time together with a focus on two writers. The writers who are up email their piece during the previous week so we have time to read it more in-depth and are able to provide more in-depth feedback, as well. The writer does not read his or her piece; we just discuss it. The rest of the time is spent talking about writing, doing check-in, and talking about some writing samples from other authors, which the facilitator brings, and other writerly topics. Sometimes there is a class-like feel to the discussions - and I've let that be okay, too. At first, I wasn't sure if this was the format I wanted; I had expected it to be more like what I was used to, with the writing being done outside and everyone bringing something every week to share. And I wasn't feeling the need for a class.

Once I let myself be open to that structure, I found that I was being exposed to other writers and gaining perspectives that are different than my own - a good thing for life in general, and a necessity for a writer. One of my intents with doing this writing seminar was to try some new ways of writing and ways to inject some new energy into my writing. This is what the facilitator is bringing to us and it's probably good to try a new structure now and then *smile*.
photograph by Janey Garnet

The other unexpectedly good challenge is working with a couple of writers who work in a genre I don't write and I rarely read. This has been mind-opening and I'm thinking about things I haven't really considered previously because they haven't crossed my path. More questions are raised than answered - but isn't that the purpose of interactions, anyway!

Our group is pretty varied, especially considering our smaller size. And I am enjoying reading the different pieces and hearing others' perspectives. And I'm learning about a genre I have pretty much ignored. Insight into their hurdles and take on situations has been good, because it has pulled me out of my same old mental grooves.

And I had to step out of my own way to let these nuggets of experience and information get in. I could have gone with my initial reaction and not returned to the group - but I would have missed what I have now. I would have missed the connection with these writers and I would have missed the opportunity to read some styles I may have never picked up. And this "is all good," as the saying goes.

Writers need exposure and information. We can't get that if we keep our door closed and ignore the differences which make us uniques, which make us complex beings with stories to tell.

I wonder what I have missed during the times I've been too busy doing things my way.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Unique Voice

"Voice" has many conceptual applications. In writing, as in singing or playing a musical instrument, a general definition is the unique way that each individual expresses herself. The "voice" a reader experiences in writing is not necessarily the opinions or personality of the author; it is how the writer conveys her main character or the narrator, how the visual and emotional landscape are expressed, and so on.

This video is a wonderful example of one musician, Lucia Micarelli, who has found her creative voice through her instrument. Her passion and alive-ness come through her music and her presentation. And Ian Anderson doesn't fare too badly in the creative voice realm, either!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Who Am I?

A face provides us much information about a person. Sometimes we're wrong about what we think it means and sometimes we are right. This sculpture is by Portland artist, Michael de Forest, who is also a faculty member at Oregon College of Arts and Craft. His spirit and sense of color come through in all of his work, whether woodworking sculptures, paintings, or functional art furniture. His use of icons and symbolism, the relationship of the parts of his creations, the milkpaint application, can give us inspiration and clues to a story. What is blue on the side of his face? How does that affect what we feel when we look at him? Who and what do you see or sense when you look at this face?
Write a story or a poem based on this sculpture.