write. play. repeat.

from joy to joy to joy

New Feature: Thursday Poetry

Following up on last week’s post, where I did something scary and posted a poem, I’ve decided to start my first weekly feature on the blog. From now on, Thursdays will be for poetry. Sometimes that means I’ll post a poem, other times it means I will talk about poetry I like or discuss the actual writing of poetry. Please let me know in the comments what topics surrounding poems you are most interested in!

Today, I’m sharing another one of my poems. I mentioned in my post on ways to spur creativity that giving yourself constraints is a fun way to try to get things going.    This poem came out of an exercise I gave myself that had a couple of different constraints.   One was to take two seemingly unrelated words and relate them, and the other was a metric constraint.

 



 
Saturday Night In Buenos Aires

JULIANA FINCH

“The tango is the direct expression of something that poets have often tried to state in words: the belief that a fight may be a celebration.” – Borges

Being a natural blond,
you shine like a golden pennant
in this Argentine dance hall.

Though you are but a novice,
you will attract the attention
of Raul, tango master.

(If you lived here you would know never to look a man in the eye unless you mean to challenge him to a dance, but you don’t live here. You are from Wisconsin and thought it would be quaint to take an authentic dance class on your vacation between collecting local crafts and complaining about the hotel.)

He will march across the room
with the other men falling in
behind him on the dance floor

and you will find you have been
pushed up to the female frontlines
to face off without armor.

It is expected that you
will try to resist, so he will
meet your stare, press his large palm

across your back, and as the
violins start up you will learn
the beauty in surrender.

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

That directive is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, and lately, I’ve been trying to do it.
I’m not talking about things that make me fear for my personal safety (I will not, for example, be trying any of the activities currently being aired on the Winter Olympics any time soon) but rather things that make my stomach flutter when I think about them, things that feel just a little bit risky.

I have a feeling that just outside the border of my comfort zone is a whole lot of opportunity for growth. If I can edge past my safe bubbles even a little bit, I think I might discover some things about myself.

One of the first “scary things” I’m going to do is publicly post some of my poetry.
I’ve put poems up for others to see in the past (in workshops, classes, and on Livejournal when I used it) but those were always closely filtered environments where I still felt pretty safe. By posting some of it here, I’ll definitely be stretching out of my bubble.

So, without further ado…(but possibly with some nailbiting and nervous twitching)…


 

I May Not Be A Real Poet

JULIANA FINCH

 

It has been brought to my attention
that I may not be a real poet.
Most of the poets I know would
describe themselves as night-owls, working
full menial days and then
burning the proverbial oil
well past dark.

Why then, my morning ritual of
coffee and a banana
and most importantly, a pen?

Certainly I am no ‘morning person’.
I would never be allowed back into smoky
poetry readings if I said out loud that
I felt my art was fueled by weeding the garden
and sunlight coming through the damp leaves
instead of vicious midnight heartbreak,
and swilling bourbon, and the stubble
on frustrated male chins.

Surely I am not so simple
as to write from my own desire
to smell the pages of a journal
at the start of each day.
What fraud!

Let me rail against injustices,
rage with the worst of nighttime rhapsodists.
Let me drink only espresso, black
and ingest only the smoke from my own
cigarettes and crawl to bed on the low mattress
in the disastrous studio
of the truly inspired.

On the other hand,
the sun has yet to stop rising
each day, the cardinals have yet
to stop hopping along the bird feeders.
Looking through the kitchen window,
I with my single morning cup
still find it worth noting.

One Year Ago

A year ago today, I tentatively dipped my toe into the blogging water.

I wasn’t really sure what w.p.r. would become, but I’m so, so glad I just started.

If I had waited until I had a concise plan,

waited until the coast was clear of criticism,

waited until Steve the Internal Editor told me it was a great idea…

Well, we’d all still be waiting.

The same goes for you.  I know there’s something in you that wants to make something wonderful, but you’re waiting for conditions to be perfect before beginning.   You are missing so much by doing that.   Please, simply begin.  You will be rewarded.

 



 

 

So much of what I do relies on support — from family, from significant others and friends, from fans, patrons, and from you out there (yes, you!) reading right now.

 

Thank you so much for being on this journey with me and helping me grow.  I look forward to what another year will bring!

 

 

(If you haven’t already, please find me on Twitter and Facebook.)

Five Great Ways To Spur Your Creativity

Ok, so you’ve done all the prep work needed to get the ball rolling, and you’ve gotten started… but then you reach a point where you just feel “stuck”.  You show up every day to work on your project and nothing seems to bubble to the surface.     Believe me, I’ve been there.

Here are some things that work for me when I need a little kick-start.

1. Get Out!

Psychologists, doctors, and your Grandma have all been telling us for years to go outside and play. It turns out, they’re on to something.

Being outdoors has benefits far beyond your physical health — it has fantastic effects on mental health and for some it fosters a deeper connection with spirituality.  It’s ALSO great for your creativity.

On days when I’m working on a song or poem, I like to take a long walk outside.  It’s better for me if it’s in a natural environment, but a walk in the city can work, too.  The key is to make it a long walk (not just down the driveway to get the mail) so that my mind has time to work through the daily stuff it usually worries about. Once that crap is out of the way, my mind starts doing that magical thing that songs are made of: it starts wandering.

Observing the natural world may inspire a thought, which leads to another thought, which may lead to a bizarre connection I didn’t think of before.    By the time I get back to work, I can’t wait to scribble down (or type up) all of those new thoughts.

2. Explore Unfamiliar Territory

Sometimes I like to get out, waaaay out, of writing altogether.   I once stayed up all night playing with clay, and ended up with a pretty cute little sculpture – I have zero sculpting training or experience outside of this incident.   If you’re feeling like you just can’t move forward on your current project, take a break and try out something new.  Get some crayons or paint, learn to fold an origami swan, make up a silly song about your dog…anything goes.

It’s also easy to get into a rut when you aren’t exposing yourself to any new ways of doing things within your own medium.  Occasionally, I’ve been surprised to discover that something I thought would become a non-fiction piece is actually headed toward poetry.  Maybe you have a notebook full of short bursts of story that you can’t seem to get together into that novel you want to write.  Could it be better suited to a comic book?  Or perhaps a series of short stories?

Consider that there are other options and that, when you least expect it, the project can shape-shift on you.

3. Communing: Not Just for Hippies

Nothing makes me feel more full of  sparks than having conversations with other creative people.  My ideal afternoon is a long, leisurely lunch with some crazy, creative friends (and yeah, a little wine).  When I leave a date like this, I want to run, not walk, back to my work.

Communing with other artists is actually what drives my “inspiration wall” on this site (and the one that will go back up soon in my home office.  I collect quotes that I love and put them together in one spot in my workspace so that I can be encouraged by what other artists have done and lived through.   Even the Greats have been stuck, they just didn’t let that stop them!

Chances are, you’ve got a few friends around you who are working on some pretty interesting projects of their own.  Try to find a time to sit together, have fun, and talk about it.   Discuss your passions and brainstorm together – you may be pleasantly surprised at what comes up!

(For those of you who don’t have a bunch of creative folks around, or live in a very rural area, Twitter and other blogs are incredible resources for building virtual community.  I firmly believe every creative person should be on Twitter*, but especially those who don’t have ready access to an in-person creative group.)

4. Constrain Yourself

The idea of constraints can seem counter-productive to releasing a flow of creative energy, but it’s not.  Think of it more as a method of harnessing energy and consciously directing it, rather than having it spread out all over the place with no cohesive pattern.

Writers have been working with constraints for a long time by using different forms and “rules”.   When I have an idea, but I’m struggling with how to start, I like to try to write in a specific form, or assign myself a random “rule” to follow within a piece.

This is the reason I like writing prompts — not because the ideas in writing prompts are particularly good or original, but because the constraint of the “assignment” often generates ideas.  Human brains love problem-solving, so giving them an equation to work with can be a great way to get going.
Here’s one I like to use:  Write two columns of random nouns, then choose two seemingly unrelated words and write something that ties them together.

(Constraints work really well for writers, but can be great for other types of artists as well.  If you’re a visual artist, try creating a piece in a monochrome or with a color you hardly ever use, or make a very tiny piece of art!)

5. Cultivate “Child Mind”

Children are naturally curious about other people and about the world, and they often learn by playing.   I like to try to tap into that place and look at something as though I have never seen it or experienced it before.   How would a child approach this topic?  What is the first thing they would notice?  How can I ‘play’ with this more?

If you try all of the methods above and still feel like you got nothin’, you still have my permission to take a nap.  But seriously, you may just need to take some time away from your project.   Go back to removing the blocks from your life and recharging, then come back after you feel rested and ready.

*while you’re at it, come find me on Twitter! I’d love to talk to you.

Momentum

One of my lovely readers (I’m lookin’ at you,  kid!) suggested that I tackle a post about how to keep momentum going on a creative project when you have, well, life happening.

It’s definitely tough when we think we have to have enough energy “left over” at the end of a long day of working, meeting with people, taking care of a home and/or kids, and running errands.    There is so much in our culture that demands our attention that many of us are completely drained at the end of a normal day.

In physics, we know that the momentum of an object is unchanged unless (say it with me kids) “acted upon by an outside force.”

Ask yourself what in your life is acting as that “outside force” right now?

Is it the clutter in the place where you usually work on creative stuff?   Is it that you don’t have any alone time?  Is it that you are so exhausted you can’t manage to do anything but order pizza when you get home?

If so, those are the blocks to your momentum you need to address first.

* Clean up the workspace and make it an attractive place to spend a few minutes.  Make sure all the tools you need are there and easily accessible.  If you live with others and don’t have a designated workspace, try to find one in the house — preferably with a door.

* Plan out a little bit of time that is just for you in the day.  Make it an appointment, just like any other work meeting or obligation.  Even 20 minutes will be a tremendous help.   For those of you who don’t think you have ANY time at all — take a good look at your schedule.   Take a couple of days and keep track of what you are actually doing. You might be surprised to find that you spend 3 hours online, or 2 in front of the TV, or 1 puttering around the house worrying about stuff.   Carve out some of that type of time (which is actually draining you) to just be with yourself and your creative ideas.

* If all you want is a pizza, first let me say I feel your pain.   Next, I’m going to tell you something you may not have heard since elementary school:  It’s ok to take a nap. No seriously, if you are utterly exhausted and can’t manage anything creative at all, your body probably actually does need a little extra power nap.  Use the time you carved out above to take a quick snooze.   Once your body feels better, you can work on the other stuff.

Once the daily blocks to your momentum are cleared away, you can start to adjust the way you think about your creative project.  Instead of thinking of it as a leftover (something you’ll do when you get around to it or feel like it), make the project a priority.

I know how that sounds.  And no, I am not telling you to quit your day job or tell your kids to walk to school (uphill! both ways!).   What I am telling you is that the reason you give so much of your energy to those other items is because you feel like you have to.  Those things must get done in order for the daily systems of your life to keep running.    Make your creative project one of those things you must do.   When it stops being a leftover, you stop making excuses for why you can’t or shouldn’t do it.   Allow this to be important, and you won’t have to justify spending time on it.

In my next post, I’ll talk about ways that I get going (and keep going) on a new project.

Show review – GARR

One of my readers and Twitter followers requested that I start adding performance reviews to my blog (Hi, Nancy!) which I think is a cool idea. Most of the time, show reviews in magazines or on websites come from audience members and critics. We hardly ever get to hear how a show went from the performer’s perspective. I’m going to start posting short reviews of how shows went under the category “Show reviews” (big surprise) so you can find them all in one place if you ever want to look back on them.




Earlier this week,  I had a performance that was out of the ordinary.  It was not a scheduled show, but rather one song that I played for a small group of people gathered together in a support group.

I attend the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry’s monthly group for people involved in the adoption triad (adoptees, adoptive families, and birth parents).   I am an adoptee and have recently been reunited with my birth family.  It’s been an incredible ride so far and I’m sure it will continue to be.     I look forward to these meetings where I can share all of the emotions involved in adoption and spend time in friendship with people who understand better than anyone not involved in adoption can.

On my album How to Take the Fall there’s a song about being adopted that I wrote for my parents, long before I ever thought about searching for my birth family or attempting a reunion.  The song is called “Love Like You” (you can hear it here if you’d like) and it is essentially meant to be a little love letter to the amazing people who raised me.

One of the other members of the GARR support group had heard this song and it touched her very deeply.   She and several other members urged me to bring my guitar to the next meeting and play it for them, so on Tuesday evening, I did.

Something that I think most writers strive for is connection with an audience.   We want to communicate something, bring up memories or emotions, form a bond (even a fleeting one) with the person on the other end.  We want to be relevant.

I can honestly say that I have never performed that song for a more emotionally connected audience than the group at GARR.  Talk about relevance!!  There wasn’t one person in the room who didn’t have some grasp of what I was talking about. Everyone could identify on some level with at least part of the song.

Usually, I am good at keeping my own emotions under control while I’m performing.  I do stay connected to the emotional place the song comes from, but I don’t get so “into it” that I can’t direct anything outward to the audience.   In fact, that goes contrary to my performance philosophy (which I’ll have to go into in another post).

This time, it was all I could do not to cry like a baby.  I did manage to make it through the song, but when I looked up the first person I saw was my mom, who blew me a kiss, and then I saw the faces of the other men and women in the room, many of whom were wiping away tears… and I lost it a little bit.

I have so much love and compassion for these folks, and so much gratitude for them.  It fills my heart to the brim to have been able to offer them that song.

(for more information on the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry, visit http://www.ga-adoptionreunion.com/)

If you could choose one word…

I started reading Christine Kane’s blog about a year ago.  Earlier this decade I took a songwriting workshop from her that was wonderful and since that time, she’s developed wildly successful coaching programs and retreats, in addition to keeping an excellent blog about creating the life you want to live.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the blog lately has been reading the guest posts of people who, instead of making long lists of New Year’s Resolutions, chose a single word to hold with them through the year.   One word to remind them of their intentions, to create new possibilities, and remind them of who they want to become.  I absolutely love this idea, and so I’ve chosen a word for myself for 2010.


Have you ever taken one of those questionnaires online that asks you things like, “If you were stranded on a desert island, which three records would you take with you?”    One of the questions is inevitably, “If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be?”  Several years ago, I was convinced I had my word:   Hungry.

I was hungry for experience, for knowledge, for sounds, textures, words… and of course, food.  I felt like that one word covered it all.  (If you are familiar with the Enneagram, I am a classic 7.) Now I know that the word ‘hungry’ conveys not just a lust for life, but lack.   Hunger comes from a place of not having enough, of never being satisfied.   This year I am releasing that hunger.



My word for 2010 is…

Nourish.




I love this word because in many ways it is the opposite of ‘hungry’.  It’s also a verb, which implies and creates action.

Instead of hungering, I choose to use my present experiences to really give back to myself, to heal my body and grow my spirit.

Instead of looking for new experiences, I choose to be fully present and aware of how my current experience is feeding me.

This word applies to many aspects of my life, from my interactions with food and my body to the things I want to surround myself with to my relationships with friends and family.

In 2010, I choose to nourish my body.

I want to be more aware of the nutrients I’m putting into my body, of how to create healthy and satisfying meals.  I want to take more time to myself to go on walks, to do yoga, and to explore what my muscles are capable of.

In 2010, I choose to nourish my mind.

I want to spend more time reading things that interest me, and less time being overloaded with information online.  I want to create a home office that inspires me and allows me to write comfortably at home.  I want to take classes in subjects I haven’t been brave enough to study before.

In 2010, I choose to nourish my relationships.

I want to spend more quality time talking to my family, and less time defending myself.   I want to have more real, one-on-one interactions with my friends rather than only seeing them at parties.  I want to continue to learn what it is to be a partner to someone in every sense of the word.

In 2010, I choose to nourish my spirit.

I have spent a lot of time trying to find out what I love.  Now that I have a better idea, I want to explore those things in-depth and go out of my way to be in touch with the divine in everyday life.  I want to create more moments of real joy rather than instant gratification.  I want to become aware of the times I need to take care of myself so that I can be more available to others.

A well-nourished person looks, feels, and acts much differently from a hungry person.  By asking myself every day whether my choices and actions are nourishing me, I hope to reach the point where I can not only nourish myself, but extend that gift to everyone around me.


Do you think have discovered your word for 2010?  What is it?


Holiday Gifts for the Writers in Your Life

Writers can be tricky folks to shop for.  While the typical gift card to a bookstore or moleskine pocket notebook are usually welcome, there are some things that I think could serve our writer friends better this holiday season.   Here’s my list of great gifts for writers that you may not have thought of yet.

* The Gift of Time

This will always be at the top of my list, and it’s the least expensive gift.  Most of the writers I know long for some extra time to sit and just write.  No chores, no obligations, nothing to do except their work.  If you live with a writer, you might not realize how often you’re accidentally distracting them when they’re “on a roll” just to ask a question or have them do something around the house.  Perhaps you can make a coupon (or several!) for a couple of hours of uninterrupted alone-time for your scribbling sweetheart.

* WD My Passport external hard drive

I have one of these and I absolutely love it.  In addition to an online backup, an external hard drive is a great way to protect that novel or screenplay in digital format. If your computer crashes, you’ve still got this handy drive with your files saved.  The passport is very small and light, so it’s easy to carry around and transfer files to and from different computers.   They’re also very affordable and go up in price based on storage size.

* Archie Grand Notebooks

I know I implied that notebooks are a little overdone, but I think these are just adorable.  I especially like “Poets I Met and Liked” and “Chefs I Met And Liked.”  These are a great way to keep lists or doodles, too.

Archie Grand Artists Notebook

*Lunch With Richard

Richard Nash has just announced he’ll be offering private consulting services in the form of a lunch date! At My Lunch With Richard,  you have 90 minutes to pick his brain about your project, independent publishing, or anything else of your choosing.  $250 is a small price to pay to talk with someone who loves good books as much as Richard does.  A great Q&A with him and three other editors from Poets & Writers earlier this year can be found here.  If you don’t live in the New York area, you can also redeem your “lunch date” via Skype.

* Funky and Creative Bookshelves

A writer is almost always a voracious reader.  When I start running out of space for all my books, my first thought is not to get rid of the books, but to buy more bookshelves!

This article has some very attractive and fun bookshelf designs.  I especially love the idea of the Bibliochaise, a bookshelf AND reading chair in one:

bibliochaise

* A Writer’s Soundtrack

Some writers need total silence in order to get anything done, but many others have “soundtracks” for their work.  Depending on the type of project, they may need some upbeat techno, some moody pop, or straight up classical to listen while they type.  iTunes gift cards, CDs, or homemade mixes would be a welcome gift to help expand their collection of “writing music.”

* The Gift of Retreat

This one is a splurge, but if you’ve got a writer in your life who just needs that last polish on a project, or some time dedicated to work that exceeds what your alone-time coupons can provide, a trip to a writers retreat might be just the thing.    Writers conferences, workshops and retreats happen all over the world in a variety of settings, from urban gatherings to solitary cabins to horse ranches.   There’s sure to be one out there that matches your writer’s style.  Shaw Guides has an extensive list online.

In closing, one of the absolute best things you can do for your writer friends this holiday season is

*Support Them.

If they have a book, album, or chapbook out, buy it.  If you already own it, get a copy for a friend or encourage someone else to buy it.  Nothing fills a writer with warm and gooey holiday spirit like knowing the rent will get paid and that someone out there is reading.


Got other great suggestions for gifts?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Bloom where you're slanted.

Several years ago I moved back home from college and lived with my parents for a little while.  It wasn’t my first choice, and it took me awhile to get over having to be there, but it’s what I needed to do at the time.

There is a small town square where they live that has some little boutique stores in it.  One day I was looking around the shops there, I came across a votive holder with a daisy on it.  Along the side the candle holder read, “Bloom where you’re planted.”  I immediately bought it and placed it on my nightstand at home.

I’m actually not a fan of the phrase “Bloom where you’re planted.”  Especially at that point in my life, that phrase implied that there was little I could do to change my circumstances and that the best I could do was deal with what I was given.  That was not acceptable to me.

The reason I bought the candle holder is because the phrase was engraved in a very curly script which, strangely,  made the ‘p’ in ‘planted’ look like an ‘S’.

Bloom where you’re Slanted!

Now this is a phrase I can dig.  I love the idea of focusing on the parts of myself that are a little off center.  Those ‘slanted’ parts are where the greatest opportunity lies.  You may have a skill or a way of seeing things that no-one else does.   Your obsession with candy, or action movies, or reading the dictionary could actually be a guidepost to a career or creative endeavor that would be perfect for you.

Where are you slanted?  Is there anything about you that people have found strange in the past but that you now use in your professional or creative life?