A Rose By Any Other Name*

roseIn Life, we are given a name when we are born (sometimes before and sometimes a little bit after), and this name is usually the one that becomes our official name.

This name is often recorded on a birth certificate, which is our first official document.  It’s the first piece of paper that declares that we are real, where we became real and to whom.

Although our birth certificate records our official name, we have other names, too, some of which represent ourselves expressing ourselves.

Think of all of the names you have and what they mean to you:


Over the years, I had nicknames like “Kitten,” “Butterfly,” and “Light Foot,” from my parents. My brothers call me “Rach” or “Sis.”  And my friends used to call me “Rags” which was the shortened version of Ragnohailt, which we saw was the Scottish version of Rachel in some bizarre baby name dictionary. Boyfriends tried to call me “Hun” which I can’t stand, or “Baby Doll,” which I also didn’t like very much.

Play Names

My friends in elementary school and high school were imaginative, smart, and creative. We were always pretending to be one person or another (this was before computers and cell phones, so we had to have some way of amusing ourselves.)

My pretend names included the professional receptionist Linda Starr (you always choose that name!), Lechar (Rachel spelled backwards), Ray (elementary school boy name–sure my fourth grade teacher loved it when most of the girls in our class changed their names one day.) When we’d play “Little House on the Prairie,” I was usually Mary.  There was also “Guiniviere” who was around during our King Arthur phase, and “Ace” who helped me pass 9th grade algebra.

Changing Names

People sometimes change their last name when they get married, and don’t always change it back after they get divorced.

I have friends who have changed their names because they didn’t feel like the name suited them, including one friend who legally changed her last name to her mother’s maiden name.

In the recent Netflix Original movie, “To the Bone,” the main character changes her name at the suggestion of her counselor, from Ellen to “Eli.”

Sometimes writers will use a pen name, or people will adopt a name for other reasons.

And I know several people who change their names at coffee shops because they feel like their original name may cause confusion and/or jokes.

Journal, if you wish

What names have you used to express yourself over the years?  Do you have a coffee shop name?  Do you have nicknames that you like or dislike, and is there a reason why?

A Rose By Any Other Name*

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a popular reference to William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her family’s rival house of Montague, that is, that he is named “Montague”.

Small Changes

Tonight I sat on the beach and snapped photo after photo of the sunset. At first glance, all my photos look the same.

But if you study each one, you’ll notice small differences. The sunset is vibrant, alive, and dozens of other things are changing as the sun dips into the horizon. People move into the frame. A flock of birds swoops overhead. The tide thunders in. The light subtly changes.

Self expression can be one minute change in the big picture. You don’t always have to create from nothing. Sometimes, you just need to observe.

The Woman in the White Shirt and Blue Jeans

memeMy phone recently stopped holding a charge. I knew there was a problem when I could watch the battery icon going down when my phone was charged into a wall socket, but still, I hoped that I wouldn’t have to deal with this problem until later.

The universe intervened, and I woke up to a phone with no power, so I got up and got and went to the Apple Store.  I got there early, so I could join the line of the others who were without power–the power of the phone–and were left in line without anything to do but stand there and look around. This puts a new spin on the meaning of powerless, doesn’t it?

So, stand around and look I did, and I thought of all the photos I wasn’t taking and all the comments I wasn’t recording on social media.  The length of the line.  The blueness of the sky.  The comments from two men who were at the Apple store to look for interesting people to talk with about life (no phone, no problem.)

When a super nice Apple employee came to talk to me about my phone problem, he asked me for my phone number so he could text me when it was my turn for phone restoration. Unfortunately, a dead phone receives no text messages (perhaps the 25 will do this in the future), so my new number became “the women with the white shirt and blue jeans.”

What an unfortunate day to wear a white shirt instead of a pink one.  If you’re looking for me today, don’t text.  Don’t call. Just look for a woman in a white shirt and blue jeans.

I’m sure there’s only one.


Journal if you wish: what would people call you if your cell phone number wasn’t working? Write about the power that a cell phone gives or takes away.

Story Space: Frosted Room

frosted glass

Story Space: “When you look at me, you can’t see the frosted box inside my head. It’s a high-security type of glass, and it’s not clear.  I guess I would call it frosted, but not in a happy holiday or sweet dessert kind of way.  It’s like someone took a photo of a window pane during a rainstorm and turned that photo into a piece of glass.

This glass is not meant to give 100% visibility, but they demanded being able to see out a little bit.  This was my compromise with them.  They are allowed into the frosted box from within, but that’s as far as they can go into my mind.  At one point, this was enough to make them happier, but they still want out, especially the one, Q.  The rest, including the 1940’s fighter pilot, Ace, are not as insistent on freedom.

She’s there today, and she’s knocking on the glass, like it’s a door leading to somewhere. I can see her knocking, but I can’t hear her yelling.  I can only see her lips moving and the angry look on her face.  Like a little pounding and an angry look is going to suddenly change my mind after all of these years.

I have a secret that I need to keep from her, and that’s this: the pounding has started to bother me.  Although I can’t hear the yelling, and I can dismiss the angry face and mouth indicative of yelling, I cannot dismiss the vibrations caused by all the pounding.

I guess my resulting headaches are literally what someone more normal than I am would classify as a “pounding headache.”  I think that all of the pounding on the box over time has slightly shifted it to a place where I feel the vibrations.  The easiest solution would be to shift it back to where it felt better, but in the shifting, I risk their escape…and with escape…..well, that’s a story for another day.”

**Story Space: a place to creative snippets of fiction.


The Rules of Creative Writing

once-upon-a-time-719174__340Creative writing is what it is: creative.  And what that means to me is that there are no rules, except there are actually many.

Make a List of Creative Writing Rules

Stop for a minute, if you wish, and make a list of all of the creative writing rules you can think up.  How many on your list?  What are they? Where did you learn these rules?  Which ones do you follow, and are there any that you deliberately break?

My Creative Writing Rules

Here are the first three rules that came to my mind when I asked myself this question:

  1. Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  2. Every character must have a complete bio (if you don’t know your characters, how can you write about them?)
  3. Every story should start with a conflict.

And I could keep going.

Queen of the Writing Rules Hands Over Her Tiara

I’m the queen of process at work.  I keep detailed notes, I’ve created style guides in former lives, and I’m good at following them.  I’m not the very best editor that I know (I know lots of very smart people) but I know how to reference a style guide.  But that’s for writing non-fiction.

I think it’s time for Fiction to have a new Story.  (Yes, I just broke some writing rules with odd capitalization in the prior sentence.)

The new Story is that it’s okay to write something creative that is only a beginning, middle or end.  It’s also okay to write the ending or to write about characters who you know nothing about–yes, I’m granting myself the freedom to not take my characters out for a blood test before they appear on the page.

As part of my self-expression, I’m going to start writing the stories that start in my mind but don’t have a clear end.  In the creativity that is called life, you don’t always have to know the end before showing up at the starting line.

Journal, If You Wish

Choose a writing rule, and break it. It can be a big one or a small one.  Join me in writing story beginnings, middles, or ends that exist on their own and characters who you haven’t background checked.



Optimizing Your Writing Space


As a creative writer, there are many layers to your work. There’s the actual writing process, and there’s your writing place.  Today, I’m going to talk about how I optimize my writing space and give you ideas on how you can optimize your own.

Where do you like to write, and how do you optimize your space?

My Creative Space

I like to go to a coffee shop on Sunday afternoons to work on my classes.  It feels good to get out.  On my walk there, I can think about whatever comes to mind.  I like the coffee there, they have free wifi, they have outlets so I can plug in my computer, and they have treats if I get hungry.  Oh yeah, this place is Starbucks.  Because while I enjoy supporting my local independent shops, this is just the best place in the area to work.

The one thing I can’t stand at this Starbucks is the music that they blast LOUDLY in the store. It’s mostly awful with an ok song thrown in once in a while.

So, I have a Spotify account, and comfortable headphones, and I write/work to loud 80’s music and sometimes hip-hop or rap.  This puts me in a good place where I can mentally focus and enjoy the process.  There may be some secret dancing thrown in for good measure.

Now that I’ve learned that I like to have headphones on while writing, I’m transferring this trick to my work at home.  When it’s Tuesday night and I’m grading papers, I can pour a glass of wine or pop up a cold club soda, put on my headphones, and get engaged in a really good grading zone, where I’m enjoying learning from my students and giving them quality feedback.

Creative Writing Teachers

Creative writing teachers, what can you take from this for your students?  I know that I have some students who are barely comfortable doing an in-class brainstorming exercise, but that they’ll do it if they know that they don’t have to share.  How can you encourage your students to find a comfortable writing place in class or out of class?

Your Optimal Writing Space

What’s your preferred writing environment?  If you don’t have one yet, I think you should try a few different ones.  Try different seats (couch, bed, desk chair?), different places (living room, office, coffee shop), different types of music or none at all.  Think about how you feel in each space, how much you enjoy or dislike the writing process in the different spaces, and look for the common denominators.

Journal about what you currently do that works or journal about your discovery process.

A Caveat

Don’t let the “lack” of the “perfect” writing space stop you from writing. Your writing has value, and you can write from almost anywhere.  You don’t need the perfect song or the ultimate desk–those are just tools to help you.

Self Expression: The Color Green

img_7207Today’s journaling is inspired by the color green.  First there was the spider plant brightening up my space at work.  Then the palm tree fronds reflected in the window behind me, the leaves on my disposable coffee cup, and even the exit sign letters.

I think in the color green sometimes, and I’m not sure why.  Is it because of my enchantment with the Emerald City (all those Frank Baum books) and the Land of Oz?  Is it because I see through blue-green/green-blue eyes?  I imagine the air-conditioned cold air of a Pacific Northwest forest, and I see a wide patch of lawn with marigolds planted in a circle.

Green is:

Green is the color of a room or two.  Green is the color of Clifton Court.  Green is the color of a long-ass car.  Green is Snackwells and avocados, tight shorts, and a matching striped top. Green is the color of the stuffed animal who did it, and green is the junior uniform worn with a gold trefoil pin and a sash of empowerment badges.

Does the monster have green eyes?  Why is mint chip ice cream white?

Green is touch and green is go.  Green is a color in the sea sometimes.  Green is individual blades of grass, and green is a four leaf clover, a grasshopper, and the blue-cheese stuffed olive in a potent martini. Green is the money you put inside your wallet.

Journal, if you wish:

What do you gleen from green?  What’s your green scene?  (Or write about any color!)  Have some fun with it.  Make up rhymes, be specific or be vague.

Self-Expression: Art Therapy Activities

Art therapy with crayons
Art and a sketchpad

“The simple act of creative expression connects us with an inner-self of vitality.”–Doreen Meister, MA, MFT

Meister is an expressive arts therapist who practices out of Oakland, Calif.  I recently read an article where she discussed the benefits of art therapy and gave three techniques that you can try yourself.

The article “3 Art Therapy Techniques for Anxiety” talks about the importance of art for calming the nervous system and allowing people to work through things that may be troubling them.  Says Meister: “when we’re focused on creating, our minds shift from worrisome ruminations.”

Art Therapy: Another Tool for Self-Expression

I happened to have a sketchbook and box of crayons on hand, so I decided to modify one of the activities from the article: select a crayon, draw a squiggle across the page, flip the page over, decide what the squiggle reminded me of, and turn it into some sort of drawing.

For someone who doesn’t draw, this activity was fun for me.  Starting with a squiggle is easy…and there’s no pressure to draw “real art.”  I turned my squiggle into a ghost family holding hands by a river. I think they must be fishing in a forest because I think the brown lines filled in with green represent a wooded area of trees.  There’s grass on the other side of the river, and they’ve all signed their name: ghost, ghost, ghost, ghost, and ghost.  img_7200

I also had fun just coloring on a blank sheet of paper.  If you haven’t colored for a few years, give it a try.  Even writing your name in crayons or drawing simple shapes can turn into a hour of self-expression!

Journal, if you wish

If you want to take it one step further, you can journal about what your picture means to you or how it connects to your daily life.

Read 3 Art Therapy Techniques to Deal with Anxiety at Psych Central for specific ways to use drawing with crayons as ways to deal with anxiety.

Self Expression Activities: Drawing

I’ve decided that an important part of Self-Expression Saturday is sharing a variety of self-expression activities with you.

Although I’m not an artist in the traditional sense, I know several people who are, including my daughter. In this post, I share her thoughts about drawing as a form of self-expression.

Her self-expression:
A collection of sketches of empowered women.

Why drawing?
I find it difficult to journal. It feels like a homework assignment to me.

Her inspiration:
I was looking for something productive to do. I wanted to draw women of different shapes and sizes. Empowered women who were taking charge in their lives. Women who could express themselves and be feminine yet strong at the same time. All of the women who I drew for the collection are a little bit like me.

Three tips for others who want to draw as a form of self-expression:
1. A blank page feels defeating for me. Start with an inspiration. I used to find things to sketch as a starting point.
2. Feel comfortable with your materials. I like to be able to erase and undo. My preferred pencil for many years has been the PaperMate Sharp Writer #2. Keep your materials with you so that you can draw when you feel inspired.
3. Be in the right head space for drawing. Don’t force it. My drawings are always more inspired when I am enjoying the process.

Learn more about Jaeme: Instagram: jaemethomae


Sand Expression

Sand can be a beautiful tool for self expression and grounding for those people who don't mind touching it. I personally love sitting in the sand because it just feels good to connect to the earth. I also enjoy the feeling of scooping up sand, drawing in it, holding it, and letting it drift through my fingers.

Here are a few self expression activities related to the sand:

  • Draw letters or shapes in the sand with your fingers or toes.
  • Feel the difference between how it feels to skate your fingertips over the sand versus how it feels to pull them through the sand.
  • Use the sand like clay to build a little house or dimensional allusion to something else.
  • Feel your feet on the sand. How does it feel to stand with your feet closer together? Further apart? On your heels? How about on your toes?
  • Dig down into some wet sand. Make an imprint of your hand or foot.

Journal about your experiences or make the beach your journal and leave a word or image behind. You could choose to practice letting go as the tide is the ultimate eraser, proving fresh start after fresh start.