Tag: creativity

A Special Sort of Patience

Thirty years ago, I was a young mother with two preschool children, one of them less than a year old. The necessities of life transplanted me to a tiny house in a tiny South Dakota town, where I was lonely and exhausted, with a touch of the postpartum blues. There were cloth diapers to wash, a home to maintain on a shoestring, cheap meals to prepare, a baby to nurse, kids crying and laughing, me crying and laughing and not one friend within a 500 mile radius. Life took a special sort of patience, then.

It was a good, messy, joyful and hard time, and I sensed even then that my children would bring me a lifetime of rewards. Yet, in the midst of it all, something was missing, specifically the creative writing process that inspired me as a college student. In a life-changing moment of temporary insanity, I resolved to add fiction writing to my hectic days.

So at five a.m., while everyone else slept, I would seclude myself in our little enclosed front porch. There were no heat vents out there and the chill poured off the old storm windows, requiring socks, sweaters and, if memory serves me, a blanket over my shoulders. I wrote for a while by hand, then bought a used typewriter (a major investment in those lean days). Between ideas, I’d sit looking at my reflection in the glass (which is all you can see at five a.m. in South Dakota in winter, in case you wondered) and make up stories. Some were long and some were short, and few were notably good. But I knew I ‘d learn, if I didn’t give up.

In order to have something else to look at besides my own ghostly pre-dawn image, I took a 3×5 piece of notepaper and wrote on it a quote from Gustave Flaubert.

Talent is a long patience.

I taped that quote to the woodwork between the windows above the typewriter. Of course, the day I copied it down, I didn’t imagine how long my patience would need to be, to become the writer I hoped to become. And yet, I was already a writer from those first days, because I was putting down stories, editing them and sending them out.

This was back when we ambitious, wordy folks with delusions of publication typed stories on paper and sent them through the mail. With stamps. You know, to publishers and editors, who sent back rejection letters. If you remember, you probably did it, too. I looked forward to the rejections and those mostly-kind editors sent many, but I kept writing. I took pride in having been gently, even personally, rejected by some of the best publishing houses in New York. Yes, a personal rejection with a note of encouragement went a long way, in those days. I even had a close call, coming a hair’s breadth from having a short story published in Redbook. An agent represented my second novel manuscript, and I felt discouraged when that story didn’t become a book. Now I’m glad it didn’t. It wasn’t ready and neither was I! But I kept writing, and more short stories and novel manuscripts followed, along with skill and confidence. They were just the practice I needed.

Because practice didn’t put bread on the table, I pursued other lines of work, some quite happily. I went to grad school, studied writing and medicine, ran a home-based writing and graphic design business, learned about the world from different viewpoints and raised my family. Writing fiction and telling stories ran through it all, like an underground river, coursing unseen while sustaining me.

The tools changed . . . I graduated from typewriter to word processor to computer, from dot-matrix to digital printing and from typed letters to email. Publishing changed, too . . . it opened to everyone, even as it became more challenging to land a book contract with traditional publishers.

an occasional payment for words

an occasional payment for words

Inevitably, I changed, as well . . . there were personal problems, life problems and health problems. Unforeseen interruptions appeared to veer me off track, then turned out to be the stuff of life and writing. It’s been quite a time, the past thirty years. Good news, though. Everything got better! (Everything that matters, anyway.) Even my writing skills, apparently, because a few stories found publication in journals and in an anthology, The Arduous Touch: Women’s Voices in Healthcare. Every now and then, a check came my way. I went out on a limb and embraced publishing my own novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account, in 2013, a grand adventure because talent isn’t only a long patience, it’s being willing to take a risk now and then. I have two more novels sitting on my desk right now. One is en route to an editor, and the other, its sequel, is a completed first draft.

In thirty years, some things haven’t changed, perhaps most notably that I’m still writing. I enjoy research and growing stories out of what I learn, about life on the Great Plains and in the West, history, family life and health. That scrap of note paper with its message is constant, too. Eleven different apartments and homes have housed me since I first taped up that quote. Everywhere I’ve gone, it’s followed. The tape’s changed so often, the paper’s upper edge is tattered as if someone’s been chewing on it. It’s a little wrinkled, too, like me. We’ve both proven ourselves in ways that the twenty-something girl I was wouldn’t have expected, and may have terrified her, had she known.

Talent is a long patience.

 As I write this, I look up and it’s there, between the windows in my workshop, over my desk. The words still inspire me. After all this time, I don’t intend to lose them.

Vin Downes’ Strong Music, Never Far from Me

Today I’m writing about a musician, an acoustic, fingerstyle guitarist, Vin Downes, whose music means a lot to me. I’ve never met him, unless having him post a personal guitar lesson video for me on YouTube counts as a meeting. I think it must, almost, now that I put it that way.

vin downes

vin downes

Vin Downes’s music came into my life via the internet. I stumbled upon his talent as we do in this online world, hopping from link to link, sampling the world. That was my lucky day. I bought his first CD, Skies and Openings, not long after I reached out of debilitating, daily pain to reconnect with my old, classical guitar. I instantly loved his music and as I reminded myself how to play, I struggled to learn a piece from the CD, “So She Spins,” which Vin provided as sheet music. It took a long time to learn that piece, as if I were not only learning it, but also how to learn music, struggling from note to note. The performer I admired became the teacher I needed. When I got stuck, he generously posted that private YouTube video to get me through a rough patch. When it came time to learn and memorize another piece, I studied “Skies and Openings.” Still hungry, I began working on the title piece from his second CD, What Falls Away, and as I refine that, I hope to begin another, as soon as possible. I think it will be this one, “Never Far From Here.”

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Vin’s compositions form a repertoire for me, but more importantly, I’ve enjoyed them as a sort of process, a way to deepen my latent musical self, find relief from pain and uncover some hidden personal strength through music.

I’m not a musician, but a writer with roots and experience in visual arts. Having had a few years of classical guitar lessons as a teenager, I’ve played my guitar for a few people in my family, but I think I lack a serious performance gene; these hands, so steady on a keyboard, shake uncontrollably in front of an audience! I doubt if I’m unusual, though, as an artist who needs to cross over, via emotion and discipline, from one creative continent to another.

what falls away

what falls away

Rhythm, tone, color, volume, intensity…these are more than metaphors for artists; they signify the language that precedes expression, the sound before the music and the organic structure of our creations. So we learn from one another, whatever our media, and a sort of synergy develops among musicians, writers and visual artists as we consider one another’s work. For example, after these years of connection, Vin has honored me by reading my novel and has spread the word about it over in Bayonne, NJ, where he teaches, performs and composes. We artists depend on each other, it seems. Not to mention that it’s a lot of fun to cheer on another brave artistic soul.

Vin is producing his third, soon-to-be-released CD with an amazing array of professionals at Imaginary Road Studios. We who know his music are beyond thrilled, eager to hear and experience a new level of his talent. I invite you to sample his work at http://www.vindownes.com/. Find him on Facebook to learn more about his work-in-process. Listen. Feed your soul. You’ll be enriched.

Toys and the Children We Are

Baby Pattaburp from dollreference.com

If your mother was like mine, you didn’t constantly hear her say, “You’re such a great kid, you’ll rule the world someday,” or “You’re such a beautiful princess,” or “You’re so special…I want you to feel good about yourself.”

Don’t get me wrong. I could tell when I was behaving myself and when I was acting like a bad person. I developed a useful conscience and had only temporary delusions about ruling the world. The only person who ever called me “Princess” was one of my Grandpas.  As for being special and feeling good about myself, that came in time. It may be controversial to say so, but my parents made me earn self-esteem and I think they were right to do so.

But back to your mother. Maybe she was like mine and said some of the most loving words a mother can say:

 “Go out and play!”

It seems that most children today, if they play at all, do it indoors. That would explain the “Play 60” campaign on television, showing famous athletes modeling outdoor play with kids. We see a rise in childhood obesity and an entire generation of young people who will probably need thumb joint replacements by the time they’re fifty because they play with so many video games and cell phones. (Yes, I have a cell phone and I am jealous that I can’t thumb-type to text).

When my kids were young, I was one of a generation of mothers who became fearful of what could happen to our children if they weren’t constantly supervised. After watching the news, we had nightmares of abductions and worse. I hope I didn’t keep my kids on too short a tether…you’d have to ask them.

Jollie’s Jacks

“Go out and play!” If you were as fortunate as I was, your mother said this to you often. Sure, she had ironing to do and wanted to get you out of her hair for a while so she could watch General Hospital and As the World Turns. But that doesn’t negate the gift she gave you. She was telling you to occupy yourself and develop an imaginative life. The best toys do both of those things, occupy and develop imagination, whether a child is indoors or outdoors. This post is the first I’ll write on toys–a grand topic beyond one sitting that deserves attention and remembrance.

I’ll start with toys of the 1960s and 1970s. This was my heyday and it was a great time to be a kid. Companies like Mattel, Marx, Ideal and Wham-O induced us to nag our parents so they’d buy us those toys from the very loud Saturday cartoon commercials. That was back in the day when Saturday morning was the only time we could watch children’s television. There weren’t any special channels for kids. Most of my inspiration for the toys I wanted came from those cartoon commercials and the Sears Catalog.

My most memorable toys were always dolls; Barbie, who gave me glamorous but unrealistic ideas about what my body should look like…Penny Brite, who fit in my pocket…Baby Pat-a-Burp who taught me how to deal with colicky babies…Chatty Cathy who made me realize I’m an introvert and, of course, Cheerful Tearful, who introduced me to bipolar personality disorder. I had an entire collection of Liddle Kiddles and assorted micro-dolls. Doll-related items were also important; clothing, bottles, a miniature metal kitchen and a metal doll house that somebody sat on, denting the roof, furnished with small wooden furniture. I had so many dolls my parents finally cut me off, cold, when I turned ten. It was probably a good decision.

photo by LoveButlerVintage on ETsy

Miscellaneous: Tiny red crystal radio. Jacks. Etch-a-Sketch. Finger paints. Bubbles. Jump rope. Chinese jump rope. My Girl Scout utility knife (still have it). The black Motorola transistor radio my grandma Laura gave me (still have that, too.) Chemistry set. Creepy Crawlers and Fun Flower Factory. A gray-haired troll. I made houses out of shoeboxes, complete with furniture and cloth curtains. The best ever house was made from a refrigerator box. I had a toy iron and ironing board, which failed to inspire me to love ironing. A kite or two, which I couldn’t seem to fly. Superballs–black, red and sparkly ones out of vending machines–by the boxful which all ended up in the rain gutter or under shrubs. My pedal car and, of course, my bike.

When I was a girl, there was a lot of gender sorting, as far as what girls or boys played with, but most of us crossed the lines to borrow and try out lots of things. “Boy” stuff I loved: Boys’ Life magazine, the Boy Scout Manual (honestly, they had all the good information and merit badges), wood burning set, marbles, GI Joe, Hot Wheels and the bright orange racing track that looped the loop, plastic army men, toy guns, an old army canteen and a compass.

Channel Craft marbles

Toys I wanted to swipe from other kids: A complete collection of Dr. Seuss books (there was the first hint of my rampant literary nature) and the boy next door’s new birthday bike. I also wanted to steal any stuffed bear or animal I saw (because of allergies and asthma, I couldn’t have them). As Goodhusband put it, toys gave us our first lessons in “thou shalt not covet.” From the toys I couldn’t have, I learned not to steal, to have self control and to appreciate what I had. I learned that some kids’ parents spoiled them rotten. Only years later did I realize this was a disservice and not an advantage. I also learned that I couldn’t have everything I wanted. These were very useful life lessons. Toys were also the means to learn about sharing. Not a fun lesson, either, but some of us learned it. Some clearly didn’t and you know who you are…

When we see our old toys in the attic, at a flea market or on a website, adrenaline jolts us back into feeling young. It wouldn’t surprise me if endorphins flow, too. For generations, kids have cherished, worn out, misused and used up their favorite toys. Some have been passed from sibling to sibling or bought and sold at garage sales. Some adults become serious toy collectors, perhaps to recapture memories from toys they had, or to soothe the pain of the things they didn’t.

Toys shape reality. As children, we use them to practice for the grownups we become; as adults, we look at them with longing, seeking to reconnect with the children we still are, inside. When we give toys to children, we make important choices for them. Not only are we concerned with toxic paints or safety, but we might consider that some toys lead our children to be more or less creative, healthy, compassionate and intelligent.

Here are more links to vintage toys. Channel Craft is a great company building retro toys for today’s kids.  TimeWarp Vintage Toys is one of Goodhusband’s favorites, as is RetroPlanet.com. I have no association with these sites and I’m not endorsing them as vendors or authorities. I provide links because their sites might knock loose some memories.

our kite

As you look, remember that it’s not over for you, with toys. Why, just two years ago Goodhusband and I bought that amazing six-foot kite in the picture and I actually flew it!

Today I’ve been self-indulgent, listing my favorite toys, hoping to jump start your memory. What were your favorite toys? The ones you lost? The ones you couldn’t have? What toys do you buy now? In posts to follow, I’ll look at other aspects, uses for and eras of toys. Make suggestions in your comments, please…then, go out and play!