1. I started reading Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris, which is a follow-up to his book Theft by Finding. He’s an American humorist, author, and essayist, and one of my favorite writers. These two books are collections of his journal entries and observations on his life, family, and friends. His method of documenting his life is what got me started on my own path of taking notes all day on what I encountered, observed, overheard, and thought about. Austin Kleon clearly details Sedaris’s process here.
2. I finished reading Mary Oliver’s American Primitive. She was an incredibly prolific poet and writer, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for the above title. Her works explored the concept of who we really are in relation to the world around us, and I read a poem a day of hers for the last month. Poetryfoundation.org has many of her poems online as well as much more information about her and her philosophy.
3. Virtual museum tours of the Van Gogh Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Not quite the experience of being there, but as it doesn’t look like I’ll be doing a lot of international travel in the near future, this certainly fills the gap. The Norton Museum of Art here in South Florida had a wonderful exhibit of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera recently that was amazing to see in person.
4. A little late to the party, but I finally watched The Peanut Butter Falcon, originally released in 2019. The story follows Zack Gottsagen, a man with Down Syndrome, as he runs away from a nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Amazing performance by Zack, as well as Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
5. Had an outstanding dinner with a friend at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant. The food, service, and atmosphere were worthy of five stars, and the Malbec was the best I’ve had in many years. Highly recommend if you’re in the US and looking for a great dining experience.
6. Found a great new blog/newsletter by Ijeoma Oluo called Behind the Book. She’s a bestselling author, essayist, and editor with a remarkable, honest, and relatable blog about writing and the writing life. She’s realistic, and also has a great sense of humor.
7. Adam J. Kurtz has a new book out titled You Are Here For Now that’s at the top of my to-be-read pile. He’s so honest, creative, relatable, and encouraging that you can’t help but feel better about life after reading his books. He also makes pins, stickers, journals, and all kinds of things you can find on his website.
8. The weather here has finally cooled down just a little bit, so I’m able to take a walk again and not have to be back inside by 8 am in order not to melt, although mid-afternoon still feels like July. Not complaining, it’s just nice to be able to open the windows now and then and get some fresh air.
9. I reread Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. She is truly one of America’s greatest writers, and such an interesting and unusual soul. Sadly, she left us on December 23, 2021. I highly recommend this and all of her books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her interviews in The Paris Review are a wonderful read, as she lets us in on her process and challenges in continuing to take on the world through her writing.
10. Live Earth Cams. I think I lost about half a day traveling from Bourban Street in New Orleans to New York City, over to London, Paris, and Dublin, then to Pattaya, Thailand. Just really cool to look at and explore.
Just some fun and interesting discoveries from this week…hope you all had a chance to exercise those creative muscles, and if not, there’s always tomorrow. Every day is a good day to start something new.
For many years, I spent the end of December reflecting on what I’d accomplished, what I didn’t, and how it reflected the goals I had set for myself. It often left me feeling negative, overshadowing all the accomplishments and leaving the lingering unreasonable goals I had failed to meet.
What I discovered is by focusing on what worked and what didn’t work, what I wanted to accomplish versus what I felt like I was supposed to accomplish, it has brought me a much greater sense of satisfaction, motivation, and excitement. I constantly look for new sources of inspiration and additions to my daily routine or creative process to capitalize on this.
Life is all about change, about being open to new ideas, new opportunities, new methods. What worked in the past may not still work today, as we really are all a work in progress. The goals may be clear and defined, but how we go about reaching them can change with the tides and our unpredictable world.
The first week of the new year I ask myself one question…What would make me feel good about myself and what I’ve accomplished by this time next year? I then break those goals down into small steps, by month and then by week. I’m terrible with a daily to-do list, so I pick and choose from a weekly list. It allows me some freedom and helps me maintain some level of excitement about what I’m doing.
No matter how you set your goals or what path you take to accomplish them, show up every day, surround yourself with things that inspire you, and embrace your creativity and let it shine. Take note of the small things, always be on the lookout for new inspiration, and bend like a willow when life gets in the way.
It’s about progress…not perfection.
Wishing each and every one of you a very Happy, Peaceful, and Successful New Year!!
As we approach the end of yet another challenging year, many are gathering with family and friends to celebrate their respective holidays and welcome in the new year. These past 2 years have reaffirmed our need for social interaction, as well as spending time with those we hold close to our hearts. Our gatherings may be smaller, and many of our old traditions have been replaced with new ones, but their importance and significance have grown even more.
Life is ever-changing, and time goes by so quickly, it’s even more important to remember and cherish these occasions, documenting them as we go. Our memories of the past serve us well, but as time goes on, we forget many of the smaller details, the stories, the faces, the little bits and pieces.
After the events of the season, write a little about them. Use all of your senses. Who was there, what sounds and smells did you experience? Are there always multiple conversations going on at the same time, the sounds of laughter, children tearing open presents with excited cheers? Are holiday songs playing in the background, or is the football game on in the other room? Is there the smell of that special holiday dish cooking on the stove that hits you when you walk in the door, or the fresh scent of the Christmas tree in the corner? Is your favorite Aunt wearing that light-up sweater she wears every year? How is this year different from past celebrations? What has become a new tradition?
Taking lots of pictures and spending a few minutes writing down these future memories solidifies these special occasions. Embrace new traditions, whether you choose to spend the holidays with others or on your own. Remember those who are no longer with us with joy, and appreciate all those that still are.
I wish you all a joyous, peaceful, and safe holiday season!
If you could map out your perfect day, what would it look like? Would it include a walk in the first light of the morning, a breakfast of cappuccino and croissants, and hours of uninterrupted writing or studio time? Maybe an hour or two reading blogs, or a great book with a cup of tea by your side? Sitting in a café in the afternoon, writing poetry and listening to your favorite music, or lunch with a friend, catching up and ranting about the state of the world? Would it include a lovely dinner prepared by you or someone else, paired with the perfect wine? An evening binge-watching Netflix, or a great movie, alone or with a friend?
How close is any of your perfect day in relation to your reality? Life doesn’t allow for us to live every day in perfect harmony with our wishes, but how can we adapt our dreams and desires to better fit that reality? Life is fluid, always presenting hurdles, obstacles, changes, new responsibilities, and difficulties, and we have to work extremely hard to adjust. All too often, what we really want to do gets pushed to the bottom of our never-ending to-do lists, and the day ends before we get there. The day always ends before we get to the end of the list. And it always will.
What would it take to add the elements of your perfect day to your life? There always will be things we absolutely have to do, but don’t we deserve the opportunity to spend some of our short time here doing the things we enjoy, fostering our creativity, making things, connecting with other people, giving ourselves a reason to be excited about starting the day? Isn’t it time to put some of those things closer to the top of the list? Maybe a walk three times a week, or a trip to the café once a week, Friday night movies, and however much time that can be blocked off for creative pursuits every day. Whatever we can do to incorporate the components of that perfect day.
“How we spend our time is how we spend our lives.” I’m betting no one’s last words were “I wish I spent more time on Twitter”. Our time here is short, and you really don’t have to go out and slay dragons every day or be completing tasks every minute. Think about the things that are truly important to you, things that you would regret not doing. We have no control over time, but we do have control over how we spend it. Just be yourself, and make time for who you want to be.
Now’s the ideal time to unwrap one of those notebooks you’ve been hoarding because it’s “too nice to use” and start filling it up. They look even better when they’re being used. Or just grab a cheap composition book from the drugstore. I’ve discussed the importance and value of keeping a notebook in a previous post, so I’ve compiled a list of ideas to do just that.
I personally don’t like having multiple notebooks going at the same time, so I just throw everything together and use one at a time. It makes for good reading and inspiration when the well is running dry (or I’m procrastinating), and I always find a surprise or two along the way that I had forgotten about. It also gives me insight into what I was doing and thinking about during that time span. Some people like different notebooks for different subjects or use index tabs to keep things separate. Others like Travellers Notebooks, where you can use multiple inserts and band them all together. Whatever is comfortable for you and makes it as easy as possible for you to write things down.
1. Quotes. I collect quotes from books I’m reading, websites, blogs, social media, TV shows, signs, podcasts, and pretty much everywhere. Just remember to note who it’s from and where you found it. A favorite quote is also a great way to break the ice and use it on the first page.
2. Books I’ve Read. Helps me make sure I’m doing enough reading, and I then add a 2-3 sentence summary and a rating of 1-5 stars.
3. Books I Want to Read. I always keep several books stacked up on hand, and this list makes sure there is no lag in reading material.
4. To-Do Lists. Current lists, soon, and someday.
5. Journal. You can make these entries as long or as short as you like. Even a simple sentence summing up the day. These help me keep track of my days, my work, my life, and my goals. I try and do a short paragraph on average 6 days a week at the end of the day. Some days I ramble on, some days it’s just a sentence. Even just a weekly summary will show you where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to.
6. Ideas for blog posts, articles, and books. I may think it’s the best idea I’ve ever had, but if I don’t write it down there is little to no chance of remembering exactly what it was. I’ll remember part of it, but not that perfect combination of words.
7. Every single dumb idea that pops into your head. Inventions, book titles, movie pitches, fan fiction…You can decide later whether it really is dumb or worth exploring further. Maybe a character in your next book might be thinking that same thing?
8. Recommendations. A list of books, articles, authors, websites, blogs, places to go, etc… Anything that sounds interesting that you want to get back to at a later date.
9. Words you really like, or a combination of words that sound poetic together. Like Sushi and cigarettes, or plastic personality.
10. Ideas for new creative hobbies. You don’t have to take them all up, or even try them, but it does give you a good insight into what might be missing from your life.
11. A list of everything you have that you love. It can be a close-knit family, a friend, the best pet in the world, a great neighbor, or material things like a really cool fountain pen, an awesome car, a super comfy couch, or a great sense of humor. Similar to a gratitude list, but much more specific.
12. Random interesting bits of conversation that you overhear or have had.
13. Goals. Short term and long term. What would make you feel really good about yourself by the end of the month or next year at this time? What would you like to accomplish?
14. Subjects that you would like to study. Anything you would like to research, know more about, or even become an expert on.
15. Things you would like to do for fun. A weekly poker night, a weekend exploring museums in New York, a trip to a Caribbean Island, or a week in Paris getting lost in bookstores. Like a bucket list, but there’s no commitment. It doesn’t need to be realistic.
16. A List of everything you’d like to have. From material things like a new coffeemaker or a new laptop to a greater number of close friends, or a mentor, or a significant other.
17. Every project that needs to be done around your home. Include what’s needed to get it done, and the steps involved. Get it out of your head and on paper.
18. Character Sketches. Keep a list of interesting quirks, physical characteristics, accents, names…
19. Submission list. Keep track of all work you submit anywhere, whether for pay or not, including date and copy.
20. Everything you can do to boost your self-care and be kinder to yourself. Don’t depend on anyone else to make you feel good.
21. Things you pay attention to. What gets your attention? Is it an image, a certain word or phrase, a setting, a type of musical score? What makes you stop what you’re doing and look or listen?
22. Things other people don’t notice, but everyone sees. From front doors to what people put on their windowsills, to stickers and flyers stuck to signs. What can you write about, or photograph, or draw?
There is an endless amount of information you can stockpile in a writing notebook, some of which isn’t outwardly related to writing. It’s a collection of bits and pieces of yourself, your life, your dreams, and your ideas. It can inspire you, help you stay on track to reach your goals, give you a jumping-off point for that next project, and maybe even teach you a few things about yourself.
I still believe that art can change the world.
I still believe creativity is the answer to living a better life.
I still believe that small acts of kindness can make a difference in the world.
I still believe that words are our most powerful tool.
I still believe in the inherent good of most of humanity.
I still believe embracing our differences does not divide us.
I still believe education is our hope for a better world.
I still believe that love is eternal.
I still believe there can be change if we stop being afraid.
I still believe that laughter helps us heal.
I still believe our differences bring us together.
I still believe that the energy we put out into the world is reflected back on us.
I still believe we can exist and respect our planet simultaneously.
I still believe that we can pursue our own happiness and peace without infringing on anyone else’s right to do the same.
I still believe that we are all equal regardless of our differences.
I still believe.
So many of the books written on the creative process try to convince you that there really isn’t such a thing as “writer’s block”. They’ll quote established writers from Ernest Hemingway to Stephen King, Agatha Christie to Joan Didion. All you need to do is show up every day, and just start writing. Sometimes it’s just crap and ends up in the trash, and sometimes there is some good in there that’s worth mining and exploring further. And I believe this to be absolutely true. Louis L’Amour advises “The water doesn’t flow until the tap is turned on.”
And there are many things you can do to stimulate the creative juices…establish a routine, take a walk, switch to a different medium, or read the work of others you admire. I’ve written previous posts about how to get that creative spark lit, about reinspiring yourself and training your brain to know when it’s time to get going.
But sometimes you hit that wall. And you hit it hard. You stare at that blank screen or page, you’ve tried all the tricks, you’ve rearranged and poked and prodded, you’ve begged for cooperation, you’ve paced and squeezed, and nothing. You can type words on the page. They’re flat and uninspired. There is no flow. You have no interest in what you’re writing, and neither will your readers.
I call this condition “creative constipation”. Forgive the analogy, but no matter how hard you squeeze, nothing is coming out. It can be traumatic when you write original content for a living, but there are times when you cause more harm than good by digging for gold in a mud puddle. It can also be tricky knowing the difference between “I don’t feel like working today” and “I can’t find the words”. Only you can tell the difference. When you’ve tried your best, when you’ve reached down to your very soul, when you’ve pushed yourself to your limits, and still nothing, it’s ok to just admit it’s not working right now and go do something that makes you feel good.
Taking the pressure off and walking away from the performance anxiety relaxes those overworked creative muscles and allows them to loosen up and recuperate. Writing every day without a doubt strengthens those muscles, and I’m a firm believer in pushing through most blocks. But just like any kind of exercise, knowing when you are doing more damage by pushing too hard can cause irreparable harm. It can make you avoid it because of fear and anxiety. It can keep you away for too long. It can make you question your abilities and your strengths.
Sometimes journaling (for your eyes only) can help you discover an underlying reason why things aren’t working. Are there distractions you need to attend to or feelings that you’re not addressing? Are you just feeling burned out?
Let the light back in and give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Fill that creative well back up again. Relax your brain. Read magazines. Plant something. Watch a funny movie. Take a day off from social media, which I highly recommend doing anyway, at least one day a week. Don’t waste precious time feeling guilty. Creativity is a fragile beast. It can be whiny and fickle and uncooperative. Show it some love, some attention, and some appreciation. Realize how lucky you are to have it. That wall you’re hitting is only right in front of you. You can keep trying to smash through it, you can try and scale it, or you can simply take a few steps back, give it the finger, and walk around it.
“You are free to do whatever you want. You need only face the consequences.”-Sheldon Kopp, American Psychotherapist
How do you define yourself? Are you a Writer? A Photographer? A Sculptor, a Poet, a Painter, a Potter, a Yoga Master, a Chef? All too often, we describe ourselves awkwardly and tentatively, with a combination of explanations and disclaimers. It’s as if we don’t feel we deserve to use those labels. Our experiences have shown us that using them usually leads to being questioned with “Oh, have you written a book?” or “Have you had a show?” or “Do you have a YouTube Channel?” As if these were the milestones we need to reach in order to be considered worthy of the title. Imposter syndrome kicks in, and we suck those words right back up.
You have to want it, believe it, and own it. Who do you really want to be? Who are you now compared to that? What steps can you take to bridge that gap? What’s holding you back from being that person? You certainly don’t need anyone else’s permission or validation to be anything you want to be. There are obvious things that we cannot change, but we can change how we react to them. There are some changes that may take some time, but are you moving in the right direction? Can you envision yourself being that person and living that life?
Our capitalistic society is always pushing us to be more productive, accomplish more tasks, buy more material possessions, and fit in. The result is often anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and low self-esteem. Just maybe our to-do lists should include being authentic, being kinder and more supportive of other people, and respecting and valuing our own self-worth instead of just getting more tasks done.
You are the greatest piece of art that you’ll make in your lifetime. And each of us will always be a work in progress. Life changes and changes us in the process. Priorities shift, lessons are learned, goals are adjusted. Be careful not to lose yourself in the waves. Stay true to yourself, and it will show in your work. Create the person you want to be.
I’ll wrap this up with one of my favorite quotes from my mother, who always encouraged us to be whomever and whatever we wanted to be…
“Don’t be normal…normal is so boring.” -Selma Bersin