Category Archives: poetry

Mental Health and the Creative Mind

The arts can be a lonely profession. So many hours of solitude, reflection, tapping into what’s deep in our hearts, and trying to channel our inner voices and create works that reflect our true values. Every day, no matter which direction we look, we see a world that is becoming more and more hostile, more divisive, and more violent. In response, we try to create a bubble around ourselves, shielding us from the anger, the injustice, and the fear. However this, in turn, can lead to feelings of isolation and detachment.

Creative people on the whole are much more sensitive to these external forces. We feel the pain of others, the negativity, the excessive bullying and the criticism. This so often can lead to self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and hopelessness.

It is in these times of uncertainty that it is most important for writers, artists, poets, photographers, and all other creators to speak out, to make our work, to dig deeper, and use our talents to speak out against the ugliness, the screamers, and the hatred, and to remind ourselves and everyone around us of the beauty and life that still remain and still belong to us.

All too often, it is the creative souls that are crushed by the loneliness, the mental anguish, and the feeling of having nowhere to turn. Sometimes just writing down your thoughts surrounded by people in a café or a library can help, or having a weekly phone call or cup of coffee with a friend to just check in. But sometimes, nothing seems to help, nothing seems to be enough. If you’re struggling with depression, isolation, excessive anxiety, or other mental health problems, there is no shame in asking for help.

Please, if you or anyone you know is suffering alone through mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, call one of the numbers below for help.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline

1-800-662-4357

Crisis Text Line

Text “HELLO” to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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Inspiring Quotes to Accompany You On Your Creative Journey

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Daily Routines of a Few Creative Minds

The following are excerpts from the book Daily Rituals-How Artists Work by Mason Curry. He has researched and documented the rituals, routines, and daily practices of some of the greatest creative minds in history, from Benjamin Franklin to Beethoven, from Silvia Plath to Picasso. We all have our own individual ways of summoning the muse, of flexing our creative muscles, of getting our brains and bodies aligned to do our best work. Here are a few examples of how some well-known creative individuals spent their time.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995)

The author of such psychological thrillers as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley was, in person as solitary and misanthropic as some of her heroes. Writing was less a source of pleasure for her than a compulsion, without which she was miserable. “There is no real life except in working, that is to say in the imagination,” she wrote in her journal. Fortunately, Highsmith was rarely short of inspiration; she had ideas, she said, like rats have orgasms.

Highsmith wrote daily, usually for three or four hours in the morning, completing two thousand words on a good day. The biographer Andrew Wilson records her methods:

Her favourite technique to ease herself into the right frame of mind for work was to sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, ashtray, matches, a mug of coffee, a doughnut, and an accompanying saucer of sugar. She had to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible. Her position, she noted, would be almost fetal and, indeed, her intention was to create, she said, “a womb of her own.”

Highsmith was also in the habit of having a stiff drink before she started to write- “not to perk her up,” Wilson notes, “but to reduce her energy levels, which veered toward the manic.” In her later years, as she became a hardened drinker with a high tolerance, she kept a bottle of vodka by her bedside, reaching for it as soon as she woke and marking the bottle to set her limit for the day. She was also a chain smoker for most of her life, going through a pack of Gauloises a day. In matters of food, she was indifferent. One acquaintance remembered that “she only ever ate American bacon, fried eggs, and cereal, all at odd times of the day.”

Ill at ease around most people, she had an unusually intense connection with animals-particularly cats, but also snails, which she bred at home. Highsmith was inspired to keep the gastropods as pets when she saw a pair at a fish market locked in a strange embrace. She eventually housed three thousand snails in her garden in Suffolk, England, and once arrived at a London cocktail party carrying a gigantic handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails-her companions for the evening, she said.

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

“I usually go in shifts of three or four hours with either naps or, like, you know, fairly diverting do-something-with-other-people things in the middle,” Wallace said in 1996, shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest. “So, like, I’ll get up at eleven or noon, work til two or three.” In later interviews, however, Wallace said that he followed a regular writing routine only when the work was going badly. From a 1999 radio interview:

Things are either going well or they’re not going well…I’m working on something now and I just can’t seem to get it. I flounder and I flounder. And when I’m floundering I don’t want to work, so I invent draconian “All right, this morning I’ll work from seven-thirty to eight-forty-five with one five-minute break”- all this baroque b.s. And after five or ten or a dozen or, you know, as with some books, fifty tries, all of a sudden it will just, it will start to go. And once it starts to go, it requires no effort. And then actually the discipline’s required in terms of being willing to be away from it and to remember that, “Oh, I have a relationship that I have to nurture or I have to grocery shop or pay these bills” and stuff. So I have absolutely no routine at all, because the times I’m trying to build a routine are the times that the writing just seems futile and flagellating.

David Lynch (b. 1946)

“I like things to be orderly,” Lynch told a reporter in 1990.

For seven years I ate at Bob’s Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate milkshake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee with lots of sugar. And there’s lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It’s a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. It was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob’s.

Lynch’s other means of getting ideas is Transcendental Meditation, which he has practiced daily since 1973. “I have never missed a meditation in thirty-three years,” he wrote in his 2006 book, Catching the Big Fish. “I meditate once in the morning and again in the afternoon, for about twenty minutes each time. Then I go about the business of my day.” If he’s shooting a film, he will sometimes sneak in a third session at the end of the day. “We waste so much time on other things, anyway,” he writes. “Once you add this and have a routine, it fits in very naturally.”

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,” Auden wrote in 1958. If that’s true, then Auden himself was one of the most ambitious men of his generation. The poet was obsessively punctual and lived by an exacting timetable throughout his life. “He checks his watch over and over again,” a guest of Auden’s once noted. “Eating, drinking, writing, shopping, crossword puzzles, even the mailman’s arrival-all are timed to the minute and with accompanying routines.” Auden believed that a life of such military precision was essential to his creativity, a way of taming the muse to his own schedule. “A modern stoic,” he observed, “knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same time every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”

Auden rose shortly after 6:00 A.M., made himself coffee, and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. His mind was sharpest from 7:00 until 11:30 A.M., and he rarely failed to take advantage of these hours. He usually resumed his work after lunch and continued into the late afternoon. Cocktail hour began at 6:30 sharp, with the poet mixing himself and any guests several strong vodka martinis. Then dinner was served, with copious amounts of wine, followed by more wine and conversation. He went to bed early, never later than 11:00, and, as he grew older, closer to 9:30.

To maintain his energy and concentration, the poet relied on amphetamines, taking a dose of Benzedrine each morning the way many people take a daily multivitamin. At night, he used Seconal or another sedative to get to sleep. He continued this routine- “the chemical life,” he called it-for twenty years until the efficacy of the pills finally wore off. Auden regarded amphetamines as one of the “labor-saving devices” in the “mental kitchen,” alongside alcohol, coffee, and tobacco-although he was well aware that “these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the cook, and constantly breaking down.”

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Top 10 Websites For Writers 2022

There are dozens of websites for writers out there, many of which pertain to specific genres, publishing and marketing advice, jobs and submission opportunities, courses, etc… Here’s my list of favorite general writing and creativity websites that offer tips and tools, advice, prompts, creative inspiration, and writing communities to connect with. Most are free to join, and some ask for a small contribution to help keep their sites going.

1. Creativity-portal.com. For over 20 years, Chris Dunmire has been providing inspiring articles, ideas, prompts, and exercises to bulk up your creative muscles. The site covers a wide range of topics on a multitude of creative outlets and makes for a great browse if you’re having a little trouble getting started or just need a shot of inspiration. There is a $5/year subscription fee.

2. Nanowrimo.org. As you might know, NaNoWriMo started out as National Novel Writing Month, where you are challenged to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Since its inception, it has grown into a multi-faceted organization providing year-round challenges, advice, inspiration, pep talks, and local groups to connect with. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of, and a great help to get you moving towards finishing (or writing) that book.

3. Writetodone.com. A comprehensive collection of articles, tools, tips, and resources for both fiction and non-fiction writers. From headline generators and blogging advice to master classes by David Mamet and James Patterson, it covers all the bases. One of my favorites for their lists of resources.

4. Themarginalian.org. (Previously known as Brain Pickings) Maria Popova has collected over 15 years of interviews and writing by some of the best literary giants of our time. Book reviews, poetry, current topics, and newsletter subscriptions to keep you up to date on all that is going on in the literary world.

5. Thewritelife.com. A huge assortment of information for everything writing-related, from freelancing, productivity, publishing, blogging, and finding inspiration and publishing opportunities.

6. Almostanauthor.com. Another general resource guide, especially good for those just starting out. From writing the first draft to publishing options, chat rooms, resources, and links to many other writing-related websites.

7. How to Be An Artist. Jerry Saltz’s 33 Rules on How To Be An Artist on vulture.com. This isn’t a website, but a fantastic list and insight by New York art critic Jerry Saltz. Words of wisdom on how to live a more creative life.

8. Writing.com. A community of thousands of writers sharing and offering advice. You can upload your work for reviews, or just enjoy reading what everyone else is writing about. A very supportive and thriving environment with a great library of resources.

9. 99u.adobe.com. This is an excellent site for anyone in a creative field, especially those freelancing from home. From managing anxiety and isolation, developing creative routines, and dealing with self-doubt, I highly recommend checking this site out. Articles, interviews, videos, and tools to help you be your best.

10. Writermag.com. Inspiration, articles, publishing opportunities and contests, tips and advice for all writers, as well as links to other resources. A great spot for general information, copyright laws, submission guidelines, and answers to many questions for those just starting out.

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10 Good Things This Week

Joan Didion 1934-2021

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.

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