Archive for the ‘being real’ Category:

Go Where the Longing Is

20150408_113351Perfectionism is a thief of time. I used to be plagued by this wily thief—I’d let it into my mind and give it full access. There it would scold and prod and criticize. And I would go slower and slower as my muse slogged toward mirages of excellence. After all, isn’t excellence what we are after?

It took me a long time to learn that excellence and perfection are not the same thing. Excellence is full of imperfection. We cannot begin with a finished product. And any creative work is a work in progress, even when it is finished. It’s not that the completed work is “bad,” but that we’ve chosen to capture it and hold it at that one moment—to bring it, just then, to the world.

Art is about longing. The goal is to go where the longing is. The other day I read a friend’s account of his wife’s slowing due to Alzheimer’s—how she becomes more distant day by day. I wept when I read it, and I wept as I wrote a response. After that I didn’t feel fit for anything but to play the violin. I notice that music responds to sadness because it creates longing, the same way writing does. Is it because when I open myself to the longing, I know that there is something to long for? Not wealth, or even happiness, but something undefinable? That I will spend my life trying to describe some small piece of it? And that the effort is its own feast?

That is what I want to offer the world.

To offer is not to guarantee reception. I offer because it is in me to offer—because the act of offering is its own celebration. I play, I sing, I write for the still, small voice within me. That it is imperfect is inconsequential. I do it because it opens me to the Mystery. I could say I don’t do it for awards and acclamation, but that’s not because I disdain those things. I create because when I am fully in creation I can’t do anything but create. I give myself to the act of creating in all its imperfection. This is what it means to be alive.

Come be imperfect this weekend! It’s not too late to register for the Full- Bodied Novelist. Use the discount code FBNRETREAT75 to save $75. The retreat cost includes lodging, meals, classes, a massage, and a one-on-one consultation on your manuscript.

Meet our massage therapist, Rene Pinkham on the retreat page, just below the event description.

The Violin Diet

Katherine violinWith the Full-Bodied Novelist Retreat coming up this weekend, I’ve been playing the violin again. There is a connection, so stay with me here.

I usually let months go by without my music. I play only to prepare for performance, thinking I need an “excuse” to play. But lately I have played for the sheer joy of playing with no audience but the Universe. I work on a piece that is hard for me, but attainable, or I just make something up. I let the music come up from my feet; I close my eyes and listen to the strings, letting my fingers find their way. It makes my neck hurt, using these muscles I haven’t used in a long time—but the muscles remember how to cradle the instrument, how to make it sing.

After I play, I sit down to write, and I’m open enough for the wind of word and emotion to blow through me. I’ve needed that. I’ve also found that I don’t eat as much on days when I play. I’ve satisfied some deeper hunger.

What do you do that is physical? That takes your entire concentration? It might be running or gardening or painting. Do it. A little every day. Even if you’ve let it go for a long time, find that thing you used to do that you are longing for and give yourself to it until you are back in your body. Then write.

It’s not too late to register for the retreat! Use the discount code FBNRETREAT75 to save $75. The retreat cost includes lodging, meals, classes, a massage, and a one-on-one consultation on your manuscript.

Meet our massage therapist, Rene Pinkham on the retreat page, just below the event description.

When It’s Hard to Relate

DSCF1569As a writer you know you must allow your characters to live through you as they unfold on the page. But what if the character feels unlike you? A character you can’t relate to is hard to, well, relate. But you WANT characters who are different from you–whether they are sympathetic, antagonistic, or simply “other” because they are outside of your community or life experience.

When you find the connection point with such a character you expand your empathy, a characteristic sorely lacking in our culture, but one that is essential for a writer.

I call the following exercise “Dressing Like the Enemy,” though the character may not be a villain in your story:

    1. List some of your political/cultural/religious values. “I believe…”
    2. List some activities you do not, will not, or cannot do. If you just want to get your feet wet, it could be something like mountain climbing. To take the plunge, choose something that you have a visceral reaction to. Don’t automatically jump to something extreme like murder, but try for something that makes you uncomfortable.
    3. Write a scene in the first person that includes the following:
      • The viewpoint character is one who would ordinarily feel “other” to you: different race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, economic situation, political party, religion.
      • The character is doing an activity you can’t see yourself ever doing, or making choices you would never make.
    4. Before you begin, imagine yourself sitting in your chair as that character, relating your story. Watch out for authorial moralizing, and let the character express themself in a way that is authentic and allows room for the reader to relate to at least some of it.
    5. If you have difficulty “getting in,” see if you can think of or imagine an equivalent situation in your own life. “What if my own child had died and my closest friend had just said something like that?” Spend some time inside that situation until the feeling “clicks,” then continue with your scene.

If you’d like to post a link to your scene in the comments, it might be fun to see what unfolds for different people.

We’ll continue with more of these in Cultivating Complex Characters, Wednesday evenings at Bellevue College. Feel free to enroll, even if you miss the first session. You won’t be “behind.” Check here for other classes this quarter.

 

Wordless Times

DSCF1561

I lost my father in July. Then in August, my husband underwent a high-risk surgery. And then last week, I had surgery to determine whether I have cancer. (It looks like I do not.) Now everything that has always felt certain is entirely up for grabs. We have been so well-loved and supported by friends and family that I am not frantic or filled with dread. In fact, the time feels distilled. But I am wordless.

Usually, if I sit very still, the words for what I believe and experience will slide into place. There’s a “click” and I know that the sounds and meanings I’ve gathered say what I want to say. But now is a time of half-completed phrases, of writing one word and replacing it with three more, none of them right. It’s a time of short, stiff journal entries.

Instead of writing, I am reading: Madeleine L’Engle’s A WIND IN THE DOOR, which I hear from childhood in my Nana’s voice; the stream-of-consciousness poetry of Jorie Graham’s OVERLORD, which made no sense to me ten years ago and now makes me weep without explanation; Mary Doria Russell’s THE SPARROW, which my husband and I read aloud, and are still unpacking. Right now questions are more nourishing than answers.

I think that I am lying fallow—resting and waiting to plant new words: lush and vibrant ones that will emerge when it is time for harvest. Deep underground my hidden story waits. I’m going to trust it to come when it’s ready.

I’d love to see you on Wednesdays, at Bellevue College North Campus, starting September 23 for fall classes: Writing the Hidden Story, The Plot Thickens, and Cultivating Complex Characters. Sign up ASAP to insure a spot.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing the Hidden Story

SpyI love those “aha!” moments when a character sneaks up on me–and I suddenly realize I’m not writing the book I thought I was writing. It might mean big changes, but it invariably makes a deeper and more authentic story than the one I started with. This is just as true for memoir as it is for fiction

As I prepare for my fall writing classes, “Writing the Hidden Story” and “Poetry and Healing,” at Bellevue College, I’ve been contemplating what leads to “aha!” moments.

The keys are sinking, blinking and linking.

Sink

A hidden story is subterranean. To get there, close the door for uninterrupted time. Sit in a comfortable position, slow your breathing, and focus on a scene. “Going in” feels like literally sinking down, down, down. Keep going until you begin to see through the eyes of your character (or your younger self, as the case may be.) Where are you located in the setting? How do you feel emotionally? How is your body responding? More than once I’ve been surprised to find my palms clammy and my breath quickening as my character takes me to a difficult encounter. When I begin to write, the words that come out are strikingly full-bodied and true. I’m often astonished, later, that I wrote them.

Blink

This would seem to be the opposite of sinking—but it’s not. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink talks about world-changing decisions that were made in microseconds. To “blink” is to capture and use that fleeting thought at the edge of your subconscious. One way to do this is to write a series of questions and answer them as quickly as you can. Examples are “Who would I like to read my book to?” and “What must I never write about?” We did this in a writing class by “becoming” our characters and asking each other surprise questions. When a student asked my character, “What are you most afraid of losing?” I blurted, “My brother.” Up to that point, the brother had played a significant, but not key role in the book. “Blinking” led to rethinking.

Link

What if you are writing a character and a story so different from you and your world that they seem to have no connection? This happened to me when I wrote The Legend of the Valentine, whose protagonist, Marcus, is a black child in the South at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Since I’m northern, female and white, I strongly questioned whether I had a right to write the story. Finally, a wise education director at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga challenged me to sink into my 8-year-old self and see Marcus across the classroom. Only after “being” that younger self with her curiosity, biases and naïveté could I begin to link my own experiences to Marcus’s. I did know what it was like to have a storytelling grandmother, and to face a bully, so I sank into that, and Marcus came to life.

 

Here are some fall classes and writing events. I’d love to see you there!

Writing the Hidden Story

Thursdays beginning September 18 at Bellevue College, North Campus (Note that the print catalog description is incorrect and describes the Plotting and Scheming class instead of Hidden Story.)

Poetry and Healing

One-day workshop, Saturday, September 27 at Bellevue College, North Campus

Epicwrite in the Park

One-day Live-Action Roleplaying and Writing event Saturday, September 20 in Carnation.

Epicwrite Overnight, “Nefarious Nemeses,”

October 10-11 at Cornet Bay Retreat Center, Whidbey Island

TEENWrite: Advanced Fiction Writing

Tuesdays, October 21-December 16, location TBD. Teens and college-age, limited enrollment, apply with a writing sample. Deadline: September 26.

Game of Poems

Young woman dancing

Dancing on the Razor’s Edge

You speak in riddles because

You ache to speak.

You ache for space

To expand and contract.

You cast your words into the chasm,

To be caught by one

Whose breathing holds your breath.

 

When your foot finds the brink

You ask the air

Questions.

© 2013 Katherine Grace Bond

Poetry is dangerous. The instructor urges extreme caution. Bring paper, pens and words (caged if necessary). Hear the work of young poets, published and unpublished and then let your own words out. Cut through the steel bars and let loose what you really want to say.

Teen Poets is part of the Bellevue College Summer Teen Program’s writing classes. I’d love to see you there!

Register for Teen Poets

Okay! Let’s play a game!

This is what poet Shane Guthrie calls an “infection set” of poems.

If you are the first commenter, write a poem that begins with the first line of the poem above: “You speak in riddles because”
If you are the second commenter, write a poem that begins with the second line: “You ache to speak”
…and so on.

Don’t worry if you finish your poem and someone has already commented ahead of you before you can post it. Life is made of such happy accidents. Ready, set, write!

Image by © Blue Jean Images/Corbis

Can We Talk?

I have not shared any of my work-in-progress here because it has felt too close to the bone. It’s a YA. It’s about art. And it’s about time-travel. It’s about a girl who feels responsible for keeping someone else alive, and how she goes back in time and thinks she wants to stay there. It’s a verse-novel, so it’s made up entirely of poems.

But it’s time for some mutual sharing. I’m looking for a small group of young people (high school/college) and some art. We’d all need pens and notebooks and maybe sketchpads. I’m going to share part of the book with you and then we’ll talk about the girl in the book and maybe about ourselves, too. Then we’ll need the art, because art has this amazing capacity for healing. We’re going to each choose a piece of art–on a gallery wall, maybe, and sit with it for a while, and write. The fancy term for this is “ekphrastic poetry” (a term I like very much).

That’s about it.  The workshop would be free (I got a 4Culture grant for it), so all I need is the people and the art. I could take a max of maybe a dozen. If you know someone who doesn’t usually get to do this kind of thing because of money, let me know. We’ll figure out the dates when we’ve got the people, but I’d like to do it in the summer. The only constraint is it has to happen in King County. Who’s in? Who can find us some art?

Here’s an excerpt from the book. In this poem, Alice, the main character, is staring at a Jackson Pollack painting at the Seattle Art Museum.

Jackson Pollack--Sea ChangeSea Change

I could get lost here

In the tarry black of the Pollack.

It spiders me in,

Webbing faces, flames,

The sails of ships.

 

When I’m here,

I’m not there,

Not home,

Alert to every change

In his cadence.

 

If I climbed into this painting,

Tumbled

Into the starry depths

I would land somewhere

Quiet.

 

What would it be

To stop the ringing fear

Inside my head?

To lose my footing

And fall, no way

for anyone to reach me?

 

I would land in a hall of mirrors,

Each self beckoning me

To follow in and in

Until all I could hear

Was my own abandoned voice.

©2014 Katherine Grace Bond, from Looking-Glass Girl, manuscript in progress

 

I Held Poems

Those most beautiful

I couldn’t read for a crowd.

When Sexton, blind with love,

Saw her daughter’s life stretch out,

When Thomas sang in his chains like the sea,

And refused to mourn–

 

Once I was in that cold embrace

They carried me along and up and down the peaks of waves.

I was in thrall.

They made me pull in my breath.

My throat ached its resistance.

 

And sometimes in my search for words

I felt my face draw shut

When an image opened,

Tender as a wound in my mouth.

 

Sometimes I wrote about my father,

Discovering, even after fifty years

The fresh mark of his inscrutable rage,

And reading it as loss,

Even though I knew he was across town

Nursing the clock on his wall.

“Don’t be an absentee,” he’d said the last time,

As if I must remember to vote

Before the polls closed.

 

Once I took him out

And brought a book of poems.

He complained

About the slowness of the coffee,

Barked at the waiter for not knowing

That Belgian waffles have strawberries,

Not peaches, goddamnit.

 

I read him a poem by Shelley,

One that wouldn’t bring me to shame,

And another by Hopkins that almost did.

 

“Now you,” I told him, sliding the book across.

He turned the pages and began,

Stopped,

Began again,

Then, in midsentence, closed the book.

“Can’t,” he said, and looked away,

My father,

Bearing my unshed tears.

 

©2014 Katherine Grace Bond

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Rights Teen Writers Deserve

…and teen non-writers deserve them, too.

hayden

Teens have taught me a bunch about writing over the last couple of decades–both the teens who have already written five novels and the ones who would rather scrub under the refrigerator than pick up a pen. For a lot of teens, writing was ruined for them by third grade. For others, dutifully writing their five-paragraph essays, their love affair with writing is made up of clandestine moments, stolen from their more “important” term papers and college applications.

The needs of these writers are simple, but those needs often can’t–or won’t–be accommodated in school. They come down to two basic principles: ownership and community. Here’s what I think most teens ask of their parents, mentors, friends and teachers when it comes to their writing.

1. I have a right to secret writing. I may keep a private journal. It may have poems or stories in it; it may have letters I never send; it may have just random thoughts. But it is not for public consumption; it is not for anyone who wants to check my spelling or penmanship; it is not even there so you can read my poetry, celebrate my talent and understand me better. When and if I want to share it with someone, I will. In the meantime, do not ask.

2. I have a right to choose what I write about. I know I’ll have assignments for school that I don’t choose; I get that. But I have a right to channel my creativity in a way that rocks my world–even if my song lyrics make no sense to you or my spokenword piece might shock Great Aunt Betty. I have a right to create my own body of work.

3. If I am part of a writing group or class, I have a right to either share my work or not share it. Sometimes sharing my work with a group is helpful and feels good. But sometimes the writing isn’t yet ready to share. And some writing will never be ready to share. I have a right to know I can write from a deep place inside of myself, or that I can experiment and the teacher will not demand to have the work read.

4. I have a right to accept or reject critique. If I choose to get feedback on my work (and I can choose not to), I am not obligated to change the work in the way the critiquer suggests. Even if the person giving the critique is my best friend. Even if it is my mom. Even if it is an award-winning author. I have a right to decide what is useful to the piece and what is not, and to base my revisions on the advice believe best serves the work.

5. I have a right to be listened to, encouraged, and respected. If I can find a group of people who feel like my “tribe,” because they are just as strange and quirky as I am, I may show them my secret writing–misspellings and all. I may share my spokenword piece with them and hear theirs. I may write weird, experimental collaborations with some of them. I may listen to their critique and weigh it carefully, because not only are we all becoming stronger writers, these people know me. And the real reason I write is to know and to be known.

 

If you know a teen still looking for a “tribe” of creatives, we’d love to have them at our TEENWrite EPIC overnight May 17-18 at Camp Huston. Our 10th anniversary Summer TEENWrite EPIC camp will be July 8-12 at Fort Casey.

 

The Sweetness in Fearless Writing

Dad 2004

“Some days I feel the ground shifting beneath me, the revelations bursting like fireworks over my head,” I wrote a few days into inviting the bogeyman of Dad’s mental illness onto my blog.

“I’ve thought that too much introspection was keeping me from my work. But I’m noticing that I’m suddenly finishing things and embarking on new ones: I graded all my papers yesterday, wrote to an editor about some work, took an assignment from another one, nailed down dates for my spring classes, got my open mic poets lined up. It’s as if sending this locked-up part of me into the illusory world of cyberspace has opened me. It’s still terrifying as hell.”

The rest of the post was about a night out with my dad. It’s a favorite of mine because it’s not about mental illness, it’s about us–our yelling, singing, hillbilly, opera-going father-daughter selves. And now that he’s had two strokes and is so much quieter, I miss the sweetness of that.

Read “Opera Night”…