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:

Nicknames

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”.

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.

Rachel

 

Optimizing Your Writing Space

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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.

Psychological Safety and Creativity

Mom and son at La Jolla Shores
Mom and son playing on the beach at La Jolla Shores: trust and fun.

This morning, I was reading a study published in Harvard Business Review about how high performing teams need psychological safety to perform at their best.

This made me think about creative people: I think a majority of creators need psychological safety to perform AT ALL and certainly to perform at their best.

What is Psychological Safety?

The article defines psychological safety as the belief that you won’t be punished if you make a mistake.  I liked these quotes from the article:

Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off .”

“Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking — the cognitive process underlying creativity.

Psychological Safety in the Classroom

As a creative person and a creative writing instructor, these quotes make me think about the importance of safety for creative writers.  I think it’s important to create an atmosphere where students can take risks with their writing without fear of embarrassment or humiliation, but still benefit from valuable feedback to help them continue to grow as writers.

So, what is the sweet spot and the most effective way to give feedback while preserving creativity?

I think the answer is in the second quote above: building a classroom setting that prioritizes trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration so that students feel safe first…and then work towards resiliency, motivation, and persistence, all important attributes for published writers.

I’ll keep working on a way to put this thought into practice and will share in a future post.

Journal, if you wish:

How do you create your own inner atmosphere that allows you to feel good about creating? What elements are part of your own safety zone?

Write about a time when a teacher helped you feel safe about creating.  Why did you feel that way and how could you replicate it?

 

 

Through a Glass of Chardonnay

chardonnay window

If creativity is seeing things in a new way, what do you see when you look through a glass of chardonnay, sparkling water, or lemon-lime soda?

If you choose, journal about what you see when you look at a scene through two layers of glass.  If there are bubbles involved, how does it change your view?

Here, I was fascinated by the fact that I could see the scene through my glass of wine and that I could see the people on the beach watching the sunset.

And because I like choices, you could also consider these journaling prompts:

  • Take a series of photographs through different windows.  Describe the view from both sides of the window.
  • Journal how you feel before and after that first glass of chardonnay.  How do your perceptions change?  I’m going to link to an experiment that a photographer did with this friends on this topic.

 

 

 

Making Waves

me 1
I took this photo from inside a wave at La Jolla Shores beach in California.

There’s nothing more beautiful than the ocean waves.  Except maybe being inside of one.

On one self-expression Saturday, I decided to explore the waves from the inside out.

As you know if you’ve ever gone to the beach, the experience of being inside a wave is completely different that observing the waves from a distance.

There’s a physical energy within the waves that you can only experience by being inside of one.

 

If you choose, journal about something from outside of it and from inside of it.  How is the experience different?  What do you see, hear, feel from both vantage points?

I recently did this creative writing prompt with students in one of my classes.  We had fun exploring what it’s like to be inside and outside of a street fair or local event.  You can use this as a starting point if it works for you.