Thursday, October 28, 2004

Lunar Eclipse Party

I'd like to say that I had a fabulous lunar eclipse party on the balcony of my West Side Manhattan duplex overlooking Central Park, joined by several chosen artsy friends, a reflector telescope and eight bottles of French wine -- one to taste every fifteen minutes while we caught glimpses of the moon as it fell under the seductive shadow of the earth and turned red with anger.

Rather, I only imagined that party, but really didn't have a half-bad real time under this once-in-a-while total lunar eclipse, as viewed from my Chicago deck. Every fifteen minutes my husband and son took turns with me to spy through mini-binoculars we usually reserve for musical performances and plays needed for our nosebleed gallery seat vantage points. I made a salad and looked at the moon. I typed my husband's portfolio materials and smiled at the moon. We phoned friends from around the country and down the street to partake of the moon.

My Chicano husband warned me that, according to tradition, the rabbit in the moon (not everyone thinks it's the man in the moon!) was being eaten during a lunar eclipse and you need to wear a hat when you stand outside so spirits don't land on your head. It was a little difficult to juggle the straw hat on my head, take off my glasses and readjust binoculars to match my myopia. But I'm sure I did it a lot more deftly than if I'd had eight glasses of wine on that New York balcony.

But I did attend two parties at once. The real one and the imagined one.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Letters That Can't Be Delivered

In my journal writing workshops, I guide participants in writing "Letters That Can't Be Delivered," which are letters written to a close friend or relative who recently passed away, to a favorite neighborhood tree, to an ongoing illness or even to a bout of blocked creativity. We can't expect an answer. Or can we? Every good conversation isn't a one-way experience. The best part of the dialogue is, indeed, the answer that comes back. And of course, the answer doesn't really come from the loved one, or the tree, or the illness, but from deep inside. And what we have to reveal to ourselves is often surprising.


Monday, October 25, 2004

Gather Your Seeds While You May

I'm not the world's greatest gardener, but I like to borrow seeds, ideas or just moral support from others' gardens to add punch to my own. Last weekend, I took a stroll through a special garden of a friend. I realized I was actually following Julia Cameron's advice in "The Artist's Way," but without really trying -- to make an artist's date with yourself on a regular basis to enhance your writing or artistic expression.

I soon realized the garden's rich pallette of sights, smells and stories stood forth to be preserved before the deep freeze of winter erradicated their beautiful images, leaving a blank slate and/or an empty journal page come spring thaw.

So there I was, among those fortunate enough to be surrounded on a sunny morning, husband in hand, with amazing verdant splendor I didn't think possible at the end of October. A long, leafy plant vined in and out of the fence topped here and there with lovely lilac-colored variegated flowers alternated with plump, purplish seed pods the shade of eggplant. It's a Hyacinth Bean, our friend told us. But don't hyacinths only bloom in the spring? It gets its hyacinth name because the flowers smell like hyacinths, although they're just impersonating them, he said. He let us twist off a couple of pods to dry over the winter and plant in April. Each will grow to about 20 feet, he told us. Not high, but long and curling over land otherwise dirtied with ever-present weeds I longed to push out of my garden and my life. I once wrote a series of haikus about the summer I nurtured a long, luxurious butternut squash vine alongside a rented garage formerly littered with broken beer bottles. I looked forward to the hyacinth bean's own story, starting sometime next spring.

Our friend next urged us to step onto his front porch. Last summer, he said, I told everyone I'd give $500 to anyone who got a mosquito bite. I had no takers, he boasted. His secret? A plant called Tansy that he grew in pots and placed here and there along the porch. He broke off some leaves, crushed them in his hand and raised them to my nose. They smelled deeply and exotically of lemon verbena.

You like it? he asked. Well, the mosquitos don't. He suggested we could grow our own tansy by purchasing small plants at the garden supply next spring, as tansy is rather impossible to grow from seed and doesn't root from cuttings. Just make sure they don't give you pansies, he warned. Spell it out for them. T-a-n-s-y.

Duly noted. If I don't remember come April, that's what this page is for.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Are You Creative? Take a Quickie Quiz.

If you feel you are creative, you probably are. According to studies, you often tend to display the following traits if you are a creative person:
-- You can enjoy silence.
-- You connect with and appreciate nature.
-- You can remain centered and function in the midst of chaos and confusion. You trust your feelings.
-- You are often child-like. You enjoy fantasy and play.
-- You are self-referring. You have a high trust in your own consciousness.
-- You are not rigidly attached to any point of view. While passionately committed to your creativity, you remain open to new possibilities.

Does any or all of the above apply to you -- at least some of the time?

Journaling helps explore and expand the possibilities which may already lie as seeds within your consciousness.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Writing the Seen and the Unseen

Deena Metzger, in her book "Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner World" suggested, "When you think you have nothing to say, when your life feels dull and tedious, try writing: Things I didn't see today." The things we can't see are often the most important. A Turkish poet who spent a number of years as a political prisoner, Nazim Hikmet, wrote a poem entitled "Things I Didn't Know I Loved," while looking out a Prague-to-Berlin train window.

...night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain...
I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors...
I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts...
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks...

As a journal writer, you don't need to write a poem, but simply write your own "things I didn't see today" or "Things I Didn't Know I Loved."


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Choose Your Weapon. Then Write!

Journal as object -- which type you choose is a matter of personal preference. Some are large and scrapbook- or sketchbook-like with unlined pages waiting for random entries, doodles, rubber stamps and glued items. Others have elaborately-decorated or sculptured covers with cooly lined paper inside waiting for heated phraseology. And what could be more kitsch and sentimental than the black-and-white mottled composition books from our childhoods -- with a special magnetism for our pens. Some who like to edit journal entries or add and remove pages might go for a planner-style looseleaf journal with small three-punch pages of every color. And you can always rotate multiple journals -- for personal journaling, creative ideas, or a wine or film log, as examples -- each with its own individual look. For those who love to trade the latest personal sagas with friends via e-mail -- just print all those e-mails stored in your "sent" file and voila, there's your journal. And last, but not least, blogs. Not as private, by a long shot, as a journal tucked inside your nightstand, but what fun! ◦

Monday, October 11, 2004

Rubber Stamps Add Personality to Your Journal

Rubber stamps can make an individual impression on your journal's pages. No longer merely functional oddities that mark bills "Paid," rubber stamps have now arisen as performance artists in their own right, arriving in every shape, size and theme. These "printing presses in the palm of your hand" are available at paper stores, bookstores, gift shops and through special rubber stamp catalogs and websites. I use oatmeal cylinders covered in Japanese or European art paper to house my growing collection of rubber stamps. Each one seems to mark a particular aspect of my personality. And I usually find at least a couple to match my current mood to stamp alongside a journal entry. Use a single color rubber stamp pad for the stamp itself and then fill in blank areas like a coloring book by using a rainbow of fine markers. You'll transform your journal into a modern-day illuminated manuscript or a charm bracelet of images to admire as you turn your journal's pages. Blog writers can use JPEG art images just as effectively. ◦

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Revisit the Street Where You Lived

I stopped by the old Chicago neighborhood hot dog stand near Higgins & Harlem, Parse's Red Hots -- one of the places where my elder sisters, and later, my Taft High School friends and I would hang out after attending class or on weekends. This stand, along with the now defunct Canele's Pizza across the street and Bill's Snack Shop a half-mile away, were inspiration for Jim Jacobs' dramatic snack shop in the musical "Grease."

I spoke with Parse's original owner who was still working there, and in the midst of dressing hot dogs with mustard and relish. He was happy to talk about "Grease" and of the decades his place had stood the test of time. He told me how he had rented the flat tar roof of the one-story building next door for a short while. It served as extra seating for Parse's by means of picnic tables reached by a side stair.

This immediately brought back a flood of memories from my early childhood. Yes, I remembered standing with my sisters and seeing teens dining high up on the roof. How I had longed to be in high school, more sophisticated and having such a great time as they had seemed to. I had completely forgotten about the roof garden until the words streamed out of the owner's mouth.

Revisit the streets of your childhood and speak with storeowners, the old timers and other passersby to give your memory an exciting jolt for journal entries and creative writing subject matter. ◦

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Haibun--A Japanese journaling bento

A haibun is a Japanese form of journaling involving a journal entry followed by a haiku poem. The haiku serves as a distillation, an associated thought or an epiphany to the actual journal entry. The Japanese poet Basho and the beat poet Jack Kerouac worked in the haibun form. Remember, the classic haiku poem is 5-7-5 -- meaning three lines of poetry; five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line and five syllables in the third line.