Monday coffee: Creatives in their Summer Shoes

Childe Hassam - Summer Sunlight (Isles of Shoals) - Google Art ProjectWow, it’s summer. One minute I’m putting away New Years’ party hats, and the next minute Spring has one foot out the door and that foot’s in a sparkly, beach-worthy sandal. Posted word counts on a favorite writers’ groups are rising as if reaching for the sun; Facebook and Twitter are filled with exuberant verses about newly-fledged orange-throated finches, nights of stars and cicadas, and tip-toes rushing over hot sand.

Eudocimus Ruber Wading KL

InOurBooks is also jumping into summer. We’ve got a special event for the Brighter Light challenge participants. Wednesday connections are in the works; we’ll be posting info on places to send work over the summer. AND we’re fortunate enough to have some unbelievably fun interviews with writers including novelist and Stanford teacher Ellen Sussman and writer Joan Hamilton, courtesy of guest blogger Margaret Young (@MargaretYWrites on Twitter).

But most of all:  we’d love to hear about what you’re planning for your creative life this summer; we’d want to blog about what’s most on your summer-mind. Our poll is below, so put on your favorite summer shoes (even if that’s no shoes!) and let us know what’s upcoming for you! ~ ina

" 12 - ITALY - Ice Coffee 2

Monday Coffee: A little wisdom from Calvin and Hobbes

Almost from the moment of its first national publication, “Calvin and Hobbes,” the comic strip about a little boy and his “stuffed but very real” tiger had a huge fan base. Part of its popularity was the really thoughtful access to childhood that Watterson provided to his readers, no matter how far back our childhoods were. But part of the comic’s popularity, I suspect, was its insight. Hobbes, stuffed tiger or not, got to the heart of matters simply and plainly (as when Calvin chides him for his lack of ambition and Hobbes points out that while Calvin is annoyed, Hobbes is happy in the sunshine). Sometimes Calvin plays that role – sad that adults can’t see that in tearing down forests to build human homes the animals in the forest lose theirs, or suddenly aware of how playing “war” is, in the end, kind of boring.

Cappucino

by Ashleee

So it’s unsurprising that any graduation address Watterson would give would be something special. As the lovely article at BrainPickings reminds us, in their brief overview of Watterson’s graduation speech to the Kenyon College class of 1990. Much of Watterson’s advice is advice that artists, especially those of us in the “budding” stage of our artistic careers, could use. The whole article is here, but I’ll leave you with a quote from the man who took five years of rejections before being offered a chance to publish one of the best comic stripes in the English.

“Drawing comic strips for five years without pay drove home the point that the fun of cartooning wasn’t in the money; it was in the work.”

The fun…is in the work. A good thought for Monday, I think.

~ Ina

Monday coffee: A Little Jack Prelutsky this morning

Cappuchino latte art

By Blanka Novotná

My son loves Jack Prelutsky. I can’t blame him – I love Jack Prelutsky, too. One of my top five of his poems is “My Dog May Be A Genius.” If you don’t know it, you might want to go and borrow or buy the book of the same name (if you’re embarrassed to buy a kids’ poetry book for yourself please feel free to tell the clerk it’s for my kid 😀 ). So in honor of National Poetry Month and the man who, after Shel Silverstein, has done so much in recent decades to keep poetry alive for kids, I give you my off-the-cuff poem about Spot.

My Cat Is Not a Genius
After Jack Prelutsky’s My Dog May Be a Genius
SpotHelpsMom
My cat is not a genius;
of that there’s little doubt.
As soon as I have let him in,
he wants to go back out.

He has fresh food right in his bowl
but prefers all human cheeses,
even though he throws them up
and emits such nether breezes.

He sheds black fur on my white shirt
and white fur on black jeans.
He won’t attack his knit toy mouse
but bats stray coffee beans. ‘

But when he sits upon my lap
and covers me with fur
I can’t help merely loving him
just for his rumbling purr.

So, yes, he sheds insanely
and he makes an awful mess,
but we love him very dearly
though he’ll never master chess.

Happy Poetry Month, friends – Love from ina

Monday coffee: Writing “happy”

Mahlzeit für einen Binturong

By 4028mdk09 CC-BY-SA-3.0

This silly looking beast is a Southeast Asian Bear-Cat. Otherwise known as a binturong.

Binturongs are distant relatives of civets. They walk low to the ground, have prehensile tails and are the size of a very large dog. They waddle like raccoons, except when they leap straight up in the air (all four paws off the ground) to jump on ducks. No, not kidding. I had the pleasure of meeting one at the San Diego Zoo – he was one of their “Animal Ambassadors.” He did, as binturongs are reputed to do, smell exactly like Fritos.

20130311-150354.jpgI often hope that Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) got to meet a binturong. With their funny tufty ears, their habit of hanging upside down from tree branches to sleep, and their spray of whiskers, they are as close to a Dr. Seuss animal come to life as anything on Earth.

Our friend, Linda, is having a terrific contest in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The contest ends on the 16th of March. If you haven’t joined in yet, please do – even if you’re not “a real poet.” Dr. Seuss is for everyone.

I haven’t, myself, written a poem for the contest yet. My six year old has, but I haven’t been able to. Why? Partly because I’ve been overworked, but mostly because I’ve been a bit blue – a delayed effect of a lot of kind of yucky stuff from the past couple of months finally sitting down on my head.

Young pet bear cat in Taman Negara Malaysia

By Bart Van den Bosch CC-BY-SA-2.5

Until today, I have been waiting to “feel happier” before trying to write my Seussian poem. Which is why I ended up looking up pictures of binturongs. And it was when I found this little guy that I realized that…as a writer, you can’t always wait to be happy before you write. Because sometimes it’s the act of writing, the being at one with your creative nature, that is happiness. I’m happy when I’m writing – even when I’m grumpy about what I’m writing or even just bored. So instead of waiting to write until I am happy, or trying to jolly myself into happiness, I’m going to write myself happy. In fact, I’m going to do it now. This post is just by way of thank you to Linda H., and all the other writers I know (at PA friends, and HMPDYWT, and Posted Asides), for reminding me, however indirectly, that to be happy, writers…we write.

Monday coffee: Glorious words, or The Secret Life of Twitter

Blue Dacnis, Dacnis cayana - Flickr - Lip Kee (1)

by Lip Kee cc2.0

First, a note, and then, a sort of confession. The note: Linda, one of our writing friends, posted a great question (as in, really great question) for those of us who participated or followed along in the Brighter Light Challenge. Please stop by so we can share our experiences!

And  now, pleasant duty over, it’s time for that little confession. For someone who lives right in the heart of Silicon Valley – like 10 minutes north of Adobe and 15 minutes south of Facebook – I was very slow to create a Twitter account. I just could not see the point of it. Sometimes, people described Twitter in a way that made it seem like being mute witness to lonely shipwrecked folk helplessly throwing messages in bottles out to sea from millions of individual deserted islands. Other times, I imagined that it was like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station yelling at every passing patron while each of them yells their thoughts into the big, echoing chamber as we passed one another. Either way, it sounded less than appealing.

What finally forced me to get a Twitter account was an acceptance of a  poem by an online magazine that asked authors to include in the bio 1) a web address and 2) Twitter “handle” (what you’re called on Twitter). Well, then. So I gritted my teeth and did it.

And…like most things I balk at, I am enjoying Twitter immensely (this willingness to balk at enjoyable things is, I’m told by those who know, related to my astrological sun sign). There is lots of great get-started advice for writers on creating a Twitter platform for yourself (among the ones I can recommend: Robert Lee Brewer’s starter advice, Debbie Ohi’s writer’s guides, Nathan Branford’s how-to which makes me wish he was still with a lit agency so I could write something he’d want to agent). But what can get lost in all the technicalities (though all 3 blogs mention it) is how RELAXING Twitter is.

Déferlement St-TugenRelaxing? Yes, actually When I first created my Twitter account, I found people I love to read (Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Richard Blanco, Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry  to name a few) and signed up for their tweets. And now, when I need a break, I just log onto Twitter and read. It’s not like being overwhelmed by random people yelling at you. It’s more like standing at the edge of a cool ocean of WORDS as the tide’s coming in, feeling clean air and fresh, blue water, washing over you. These are people I chose, for their wit, intelligence, and vocabularies, with interests and causes and I get to just…listen. As Humpty Dumpty says, “That’s Glory for you.” And it is – it’s glorious. It’s like a private word-concert. If you’re on twitter, or if you’re about to give it a try, and if you are/do please let me know – I’d love to follow your wonderful words, too.

Monday coffee: In which I celebrate many things

My family celebrates a lot of winter holidays.We’re pretty muchPopof in celebratory mode from November 1st until January 2nd. After which, I spend the next few weeks putting away candles, sweeping up the confetti and  trying to remember where I’ve put the spare keys.

We celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving, Diwali, Chanukah,Christmas and the New Year. I used to celebrate both Kwanzaa and Yule, but the loved ones for whom these were special holidays now live far away so I can’t celebrate with them except in thought.

Today I have something new to celebrate. Remember the Burning the Midnight Oil contest which Andrea helped so many of us enter? While people were submitting their poems, Andrea showed me a poem she’d written and was thinking about submitting. I cried a little when I read it – poems about the realities of war always make me sad and this poem is vivid, short, and ends with – well, a short line that just tried to tear my heart right out of my chest.

I am so delighted that her poem “The Grass is Green” won*.

This also delights me: the top 10 poems and the hon. mentions included a lot of people who hang out with us at this blog, including (but not limited to, and please forgive me if I missed your name) Linda Hofke, Sara McNulty, SE Ingraham, and Mariya Koleva.

To celebrate the gift of others’ voices is something I find myself wanting to do more and more often. I wonder if, as one writes more and more, one appreciates the good writing (the good reading!)  of others more. Regardless, congratulations to Andrea and to the others in the contest : what a  lovely way to head toward a new year ~ ina
Cone and holly

*I am waiting to hear if Andrea’s poem will be posted at Write Helper. If not, I will certainly ask her if i can share it here.

Connecting Over Monday Coffee: “The Next Big Thing”

Wilhelm Schreuer Kaffeekränzchen In our previous post, we mentioned that we were invited to participate in a blog chain called My Next Big Thing.  This blog chain isn’t a chain letter but a chance for writers to connect with with one another over the blogosphere – and isn’t connecting what writing is all about? I want to say “thank you” again to our lovely friend Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik for this chance to share what one of us is up to these days. Please check out Pearl’s Next Big Thing at this link. And after you’ve read Andrea’s description of this *amazing* project she’s working on, please stop in and say hello to the talented people with whom we’re next sharing this chain! – Ina

The Camino near Burgos

The Camino, near Burgos

Andrea’s Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book or project?

AH: The Tartan Pillow Lead

What sparked the project/book/work off?

AH:I walked the Camino in Spain in 2006 – and why did I? I needed to explain to myself why I did it but after I did it, I most of all wanted to preserve a beautiful picture of the wonderful people I met on the road, The Camino.

The Camino! The Way! People from all over the world walk the Camino every year, and we are following a trail of hundreds of kilometers up north in Spain. There are around 25 kilometers in between the towns and the beds where you can sleep, so for many people the options make it possible. A lot of men wrote about their external sufferings and inner revelations walking these hundreds of kilometers, and I don’t understand this because the majority of people I met on the Camino back in 2006 were women. Women from all over the world losing weight.

I never intended to walk the Camino, but a friend of mine wanted to go there. She had breast cancer, and in a hospital bed without breasts, she cried, “Now I can never walk the Camino.”

And I said, “Of course you can.”

And she said, “Will you bring me?”

And I said, “I’ll carry you all the way if necessary.”

My friend recovered, and every now and then she reminded me of my promise, so one day we were there. “Hello 500 kilometers ahead of you,” I thought one day in Burgos in Spain. It turned out to be a painful nightmare for the first couple of days because I did not know anything else than walking these 500 kilometers (approximately 300 miles) to reach the airport in Santiago to get safely home to Denmark. How would I ever succeed?

I got lost from my Danish friend after two days. Only I met a lot of other people. People from all over the world. People from Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada, America, Australia and yes, all over the world.

I walked all those hundreds of kilometers mostly with three Australians, but I met my Danish friend after 19 days in Santiago. When sitting in a restaurant with my Australian friends, whom I walked with for what felt like a lifetime, my Danish friend asked me, “Andrea, why do you speak in English?”

And what did I say? Likely that it was important for me that everybody around the table understood what I said – only the fact was that I felt more or less Australian. I become “a mate.”

When I returned to Denmark, I started writing about all the experiences with all those hundreds of people that I’d met. I wrote in English, and after three months I ended up with a book manuscript of 72,000 words, now wondering:

Who doesn’t need to follow a long-haired, American anorexic pilgrim walking out there with her plastic bags?

“Being a Franciscan believer doesn’t allow me to own anything,” she said. Only I for one would have loved to buy a rucksack for her. Listening to her endless packing and unpacking of her noisy Spanish plastic bags at 5 o’clock in the morning was hell.

“Sorry, but I need to arrange all my stuff right,” she said.

Or the polite British pilgrim who wore his trekking trousers inside out, explaining to me that the trousers belonged to his dead friend who had wanted to walk the Camino.  He promised this dead friend’s wife that he would wear these trousers along the entire journey, and there he was, “saving” these trousers for Santiago where he would put them on right.

“What an odd promise,” I said.

“Yes, you might say so,” he said, “but that’s how she wanted it, and I do it because she promised me his old car when I return to England.”

How would you describe your project/book/piece of work?

AH: I guess my problem is that I don’t know how to describe it. When you just write like a mad for 3 months and then polish, polish and polish – then you end up wondering what you wrote.

Only basically the genre is non-fiction. I describe poignant incidents but most of all I hope that I meet my fellow pilgrim, Susan, who said: “On my first Camino, I cried – on my second Camino, I laughed.” And I met Susan on her second Camino, luckily, and it should be impossible to be mistaken about cathedrals, towns, roads – but we went lost all the time – in fact we found a cathedral which turned out to be a flamingo dance hall.

And why did we get lost all the time? Because we were two middle aged women who had long lives behind us and needed to tell each other all about them so we missed towns, cathedrals and the arrows on the road because we were so engaged in our conversation. We didn’t see a thing until it was kind of dark or the road, the trail, suddenly stopped.

Only wherever we went, we always were rescued. We, I, were part of a team and we followed Susan who had a tartan pillow so when we saw that pillow in the hostels, we knew that we found the right place, so we booked and stayed there together.

How long did it take you to find your own style and voice?

AH: I love a short and fresh style and I love when I can break it when I need something poignant to be added. And how did I find it? I guess it’s just me like I’m born with this style of mine.

In what ways do you think ‘writer you’ differs from or has similarities to the everyday you?

AH: These are two different characters, sort of. Being a writer, I’m a lot of things but most of all, I’m sharp. In my everyday life, I’m not. Once I wanted to be but life taught me that I’m just a very ordinary kind of quiet person but when I’m writing, well, I’m normally nice but I can be horrible. You see when writing, I am completely honest.

 Who or What makes you pick up that pen or start typing at the keyboard?

AH: I guess that you, the reader, make me want to write. When I was twelve I wrote an ongoing story for a school magazine and when my fellow students protested when the editor wanted me to stop my ongoing story, I felt fine.

I don’t know, really. I’m not much of a speaker, so I guess that writing is a way for me to express myself and when I created something, I always feel fine.

Imagine someone waved a magic wand and you were only able to write one book in your lifetime and you knew it would be perfect and say exactly what you intended and be understood and appreciated by everyone; what would you write about?

AH: I always wanted to create the perfect love story. I’d say “The Tartan Pillow Lead” is a kind of love story so maybe I already wrote it.

So yes, a love story.
Photograph of Coffee Break at National Archives and Records Service (NARS) Conference in the Late 1970s

And  with that perfect ending, here are InOurBooks’ pings for the My Next Big Thing blogger chain:

  • Regina Swint, author of The Other Side of 30
  • Amy Harke-Moore author of poetry, short stories, and non-fiction and editor at The Write Helper [click her link for more info]