Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Six Steps for Dealing with Rejections

This week, Publications Chair Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen touches on a subject we’re all painfully familiar with — and one that inevitably comes with being a creative woman.


The worst rejection letter I ever received came from a small Colorado-based “literary” magazine that billed itself as prime literature for the doctor’s office waiting room.

 

I’m going to let the above line stand alone and sink in. Consider for a moment, if you will, the plight of the writer. Good writing doesn’t just happen; it takes time and effort. Querying literary magazines to get the writing published, thereby validating said expended time and effort, takes even more time and effort. The higher profile publications receive hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories each month. Competition for placement is fierce, and refusals are many.

 

Rejection-free indie publishing has removed some of the sting, but even these authors will admit they’d rather have someone accept and publish their work “traditionally,” which is the only reason why we continue to subject ourselves to the often soul-crushing process of querying.

 

This, of course, brings me back to my opening sentence. The rejecting publication was not The Paris Review. It was something people read while waiting to get their tonsils swabbed for a strep test. Moreover, it was spreading streptococcal bacteria to the next unsuspecting reader/patient, and then to the one after that.

 

What I’m trying to say here, gently, is that I wasn’t aiming all that high.

 

Even so, I’d done my homework by reading the publication and developing a feel for what the editors liked. I selected a story that fit their style. After drafting a professional query letter, I mailed out the still-warm manuscript out first class. For a few days, I basked in the pleasant possibility that another one of my stories would be published.

 

Less than a week later, a S.A.S.E. arrived in my mailbox. At once, I knew that a single sheet of paper was inside—never a good sign.

 

Sighing, I tore it open, expecting the usual: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel it is right for our publication. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. These form rejection letters are unsigned and grainy from years of having been photocopied off other yellowing photocopies of the first form rejection letter ever written, no doubt penned and printed by Gutenberg himself. Like most professional writers, I’ve received more than my fair share of them.

 

What I found inside, however, was something altogether different. In my hands was the same query letter I’d mailed out only days earlier. Right underneath my signature, the editor had written in two-inch-tall block letters with a red Sharpie marker: NO!

 

It’s difficult to describe what went through my mind and in what order. I remember an initial flash of mortification, looking around to see if someone was filming my reaction for an updated Candid Camera series, and finally, righteous indignation. Would it have killed the editor to have been polite? After all, he’d solicited submissions in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Why respond like I’d shown up selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door just as dinner was being put on the table?

 

Rejection sucks in general, but it especially blows when delivered by sucker-punch from a decidedly mediocre publication. My good friend, Erin, a talented poet, shared her own frustration when her work was rejected by another “literary” magazine that was—I kid you not—printed on typing paper and then crookedly stapled with such amateurish aplomb that it made me, a former print production manager for a Fortune 500 company, want to throw its editors into a cage and spray them with a fire hose until they screamed for mercy. At least they’d had the decency, however, to be polite to her.

 

This is where I (hopefully) impart some creative inspirational wisdom as a takeaway from this mock-horror story. Another good friend and connoisseur of ironic meditations, Tim, posted a meme on Facebook a few months ago containing a variation of the Latin phrase “Illegitimi non carborundum.” Loosely translated, it advises not letting those not-so-nice folks succeed in discouraging one’s efforts—good advice, even if stated in a somewhat mysterious and indelicate way. (Google it for the actual translation, but not in the company of those with fragile sensibilities.)

 

Here are some practical steps to take with your own rejection letters, based on my ample experience:

  1. Read them.
  2. If they say something useful, consider the advice. Such feedback is rare!
  3. If they don’t say something useful, shred them.
  4. Better yet, line a cage with them and allow a bird to “critique” them.
  5. Or ceremoniously burn them, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  6. Then, for the love of all that’s creative, move on! That’s what I did.

 

Illegitimi non carborundum, folks. Keep on creating!


Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen, M.F.A., has had work published in several literary magazines and anthologies. Her book, Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget, was published in 2014. An NLAPW member at large, she teaches literature and writing at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. This post is an adaptation of another published on October 1, 2014, at her author blog.

 

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Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The Written Words of Women

This week, Connie Spittler encourages women to crack open their worlds—on paper.


 

The poet Muriel Rukeyser asked, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” Her answer: “The world would split open.”

 

We hold a universal knowledge within us. Telling it, sharing it, writing it down sets the commotion in motion. Like a breakfast egg, we crack open the sphere that is our world and find our truth, the simple wisdom that comes from our life stories.

 

We belong to an ancient tribe of storytellers, a long line of ancestors who washed clothes down by the river and remembered, who sewed at quilting bees and talked of the past, who cooked for harvesters and shared stories, who held children on warm laps and whispered true tales. Today in shopping malls and beauty shops, on cell phones and during coffee breaks, women talk of life’s unfolding events. No matter where it happens, this is storytelling, one of our oldest traditions. Our stories become a lasting tribute to the fact that we were here.

 

Since time eternal, women have told and retold family stories while we stir soup, wipe little noses, and comfort oldsters. We’ve accomplished great things, led countries, discovered radium, protected the environment, founded colleges, crusaded against birth defects. Think Indira Gandhi, Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Mary McLeod Bethune and Virginia Apgar, M.D.

 

Closer at hand, we soothe teething babies and clean mineral deposits off faucets, make paste from flour and water in the morning and gravy thickener from water and flour in the afternoon. We know facts and events unknown by scholars and historians, possessing a tantalizing mix of information to offer others; family stories and heartbreaking secrets, like the reason cousin Maria doesn’t talk to cousin Edith, the medical history of miscarriage in our family, the reasons I was beaten as a child by my daddy.

 

Whether we’re thirty or 100, passing on the story of our lives—the wisdom we’ve discovered—is important. Remember Muriel Rukeyser’s question, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” I visualize the earth reacting gently to one woman’s story, unfolding her reality. Then the world reverberates to the buzzing of hundreds—why not millions of women?—telling the truth of their lives. The globe moves to the magnificent hubbub of happiness, sadness, love, laughter, grieving and anger as women’s words sing out, each story separate, yet connected. I imagine their words on paper, the sphere trembling in anticipation as pages go flying faster and faster, spinning and turning, cream into butter, straw into gold, life into stories, until Mother Earth splits open from the pure joy of it all.

 

Take up your pencil and paper. Turn on your computer. Crack open your world. When the writing is finished, say, “Yes, I was here.” Your stories can last as long as the paper that holds them and as long as the people read them. Long live this endless paper trail of women’s wisdom.

 


Connie Spittler’s literary mystery The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies won 2nd Place in The Eudora Welty Memorial Award in NLAPW’s Biennial Letters Competition 2016. She also has received recognition from The Chanticleer International Mystery and Mayhem Contest and Wishing Shelf Book Clubs in Great Britain and Sweden. Her essays appear in twenty anthologies alongside The Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu, Barbara Kingsolver, and Terry Tempest Williams. The video series that she wrote/produced is archived in Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. She is a member of Omaha Branch NLAPW.

 

“Abstract Colour Pencil” image by tigger11th/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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Creative Inspirational Wisdom: What is Creativity?

This week, Dr. Patricia Daly-Lipe asks the question and ruminates on an answer.


 

What is creativity? To find out, we can pursue two avenues. On the one hand, we can follow a systematic, methodical mode of rational thought. On the other hand, the search can be approached irrationally or non-logically, a non-linear mode of thought.

 

On the rational side, we begin with words. To form a description of creativity, we need a vocabulary. Or do we? Here, the right brain (the non-rational side) kicks in and challenges the left’s (or rational side’s) attempt at analysis. Is part of the essence of creativity beyond definition? If this is the case, can we think (and thus experience creativity) without words?

 

Are language and the naming of things equivalent to thinking? According to Webster, to think means “to have the mind occupied on some subject; to judge; to intend; to imagine, to consider” and “to believe.” Can we imagine without imaging something? Can we believe without believing something? Prior to naming things, is man thinking?

 

Thinking involves knowing, and what follows is the possibility that knowing does not need an image. Perhaps to know requires that we recognize how much we do not know. To paraphrase St. Thomas: “The more that I know, the more I know how little I know.” Etymology or the study of the derivation of words can assist and enhance our search for the origin of thought. The word “recognize,” for example, comes from “re” (again) and cognosere (Latin), meaning ‘to know.’ Thus, if we recognize something, it is because we knew it before. But when did we actually begin to know? And, therefore, when did we begin to think, since thinking and knowing are mutually supporting? Again, we look at words. How do we “know,” understand, and “recognize” (know again) the following words: love, hate, envy? These are words but they aren’t objects; they cannot be visualized. They come from within. These are called emotions. Our primitive ancestors probably anthropomorphized word pictures to express feelings; adjectives came later.

 

Metaphor pairs two images thrown into relief but intact, each unto itself. There is a definite psychological mechanism used in the processing of a metaphor. “Metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man,” wrote José Ortega Gassetin in 1948. For Ortega, life was an intense dialogue between oneself and one’s environment. “Things are not me and I am not things: we are mutually transcendent, but both are immanent in that absolute coexistence, which is life.” (Unas lecciones de metafisica, 1966) “Yo soy yo y mi circumstancia – I am I and my circumstances.” Metaphor transcends the obvious and the visual, and translates man’s relation to his environment on another level—a “transcendent,” unique or creative level.

 

Another linguistic aspect of creativity might be observed in Descartes’ definition of the essence of man: “Je pense, donc je suis.” (I think; therefore, I am.) which occurs in his Discourse on Method (1637). Philosophical thought expresses both the potential and the limitations of human knowledge. It demands that we attempt to think beyond reality.

 

But how did man jump from naming names to ‘understanding’ them, from depicting observed images on the walls of a cave to developing philosophical insight? The answer, I believe, occurred when we became conscious of the difference between us and other; when we understood that we were ‘seeing’ this or that and we were somehow involved with what was “out there.” Could it be that our awareness of ourselves in the world as other than the objects came before words? If so, the words, even the painted images, followed thought. And if this is so, thought comes before words. Man can think without words. I am; therefore, I think. So, the depiction of what we observed and the development of a language to express our relationship with the observed were preceded by something beyond words.

 

The root of the word imagination, is image. To imagine something in the mind’s eye, we must have seen it in the “outside” world. The object is on the outside; the thought of the object is on the inside. However, the two sides are not separate. Sensations follow the same logic. We can feel/hear/see/smell; there is no hearing without sound, no sense-perception without an object to provoke it. Again, it is a question of the person knowing that he knows, being aware that he is aware. First there is the thought and then there is the thing. The inevitable question follows: If there were no thought of it, would the object not be there? Is an object/sensation a thing unto itself without a person’s perception of it? Does thought exist before words?

 

Science can contribute facts; however, the philosopher (from Latin, philos, meaning “loving,” and Sophos, meaning “wise”) in his wide intellectual pursuit knows no boundaries.

 

The word ‘create’ means to bring forth something new as an artistic or intellectual invention. The moment preceding the act of spontaneous creativity has been described many ways. Dancer Isadora Duncan called it a “state of complete suspense.” This non-verbal excitement, dreamlike, vague, and ambiguous is also experienced in the other arts: painting, writing, music, and sculpting. Author and poet Stephen Spender expressed it succinctly and pointedly as “a dim cloud of an idea, which I feel must be condensed into a shower of words.” In painting, I have often experienced what Cézanne described as “an iridescent chaos” when the painting and I compete for dominance. Paint stroke by paint stroke, the colors sit up on the canvas, and the adventure begins as I attempt to come to an agreement (or image) while the painting seems to have a mind of its own. This sounds like nonsense, but for me it sets in motion my subconscious. Mesmerized, I watch as something new manifests itself on the canvas before my bewildered eyes. The same happens in creative writing, when the words take over and I am amazed.

 

But it is the art of music which represents a plane of consciousness beyond form and epitomizes creativity at its most abstract and pure state. In its acoustical and physical manifestation, music is imbued with mathematics. Pythagoras (c. 582 B.C. – 497 B.C.) was considered an early “scientist” and was thought to be the originator of the theory of harmonics. Fascinated with numbers and their manifestations as chords, Pythagoras is supposed to have “cured” his ailing disciples by playing music. In ancient times, music was inseparable from science mainly because of its source, mathematics. Recent studies have shown that the music of Mozart strengthens the neural connections that underline mathematical thought. So, the ancients were on to something after all. The etymology of “mathematics” is from the Greek, mathema, meaning what is learned. Perhaps this should convince us of music as a source of creativity outside of the visible but well within the norm of analysis?

 

Digging into the consciousness, letting loose associations and the confines of sequential constraints and expressing an ah-ha moment or creative vision is not confined to the artist. Were it not for the free ranging of his imagination, Einstein could never have formulated his laws of relativity. It was in a dream, he said, that he “discovered” the basis of his insight into relativity. “Inspiration,” he wrote, “is more important than knowledge.” The free-roaming mind allows the scientist to “discover” things he surely would miss if he were locked into pure rationality.

 

To summarize, “creativity” may be viewed in this new age of fiber optics and cyberspace as an oddity, half-feared and half-distrusted but surreptitiously peeking its head out, demanding attention. The sixth sense needs to be heeded. Perhaps that is the most important function, the goal of the artist, to “transport the mind in experience past the guardians—desire and fear—to the…rapture of seeing in a single hair ‘a thousand golden lions’” (Joseph Campbell). As Alfred North Whitehead concluded, “Nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process.” And equally, understanding creativity is itself a “process.” Answers are not required!

 


Dr. Lipe is a past president of La Jolla Branch NLAPW and DC Branch NLAPW. She is the author of nine books including Historic Tales of La Jolla, published by The History Press last January, and Helen Holt, Memoir of A Servant Leader. Patricia is the recipient of numerous awards. An artist as well as a rescuer of thoroughbred horses, Patricia shares her love of nature and animals with her husband, Dr. Steele Lipe, at their farm in Virginia. Please visit http://www.literarylady.com.

“Brain in Electric Bulb” by digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The End of Something

For this week’s creative inspirational wisdom, Sara Etgen-Baker spins a tale of rejection and revision…


 

The End of Something

 

In a village called Aerendyl there once lived an inexperienced but talented elfin scribe named Lessien Nénharma.

 

Now it happened one day that Lessien came upon an email message from an editor at one of the major scribal presses. With bated breath, Lessien opened the email.

 

Dearest Scribe:

I’ve received your synopsis and the first two chapters of your novel. Although your scribing and story line show great promise, your characters are flat and lack humanity. Your subplots are intriguing but seem disconnected from the major plot. The narrative arc is weak, and your story has no clear ending. So, I can’t accept your manuscript at this time.

Sincerely,

Amroth Súron,

Senior Editor Drannor Press

 

Lessien threw down her scribal quill and Skyped her instructor, Lady Telemmaitë.

 

“Lady Telemmaitë, whatever am I to do?” Lessien fought back tears. “Tell me. Is this the end of my scribal career?”

 

“No, my fellow scribe. Rejection doesn’t mark the end of your career. Rather, rejection heralds a new beginning.”

 

“You speak in riddles, Lady Telemmaitë. I don’t understand!”

 

“Tis quite simple, my accomplished apprentice. Toss out your old manuscript.” Lady Telemmaitë leaned forward. “This time begin with the ending in mind.”

 

“So, I focus on how the plot ends, right?”

 

“No, scribe, no! Focus on your characters; for your characters, their motives, and their development drive their actions and set the plot in motion—not the other way around. Begin with where they will end up.”

 

“I understand, Lady Telemmaitë, but I feel so overwhelmed and am afraid to begin again.”

 

“Begin one chapter at a time. Its end will determine the next one’s beginning.” Lady Telemmaitë smiled. “Take heart. Chapters begin and end, but fear thee not thine own endings, for they are but beginnings in disguise. Now grab thy quill and begin your next chapter!”

 


Sara’s love for words began when her mother read the dictionary to her every night. Her manuscripts have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, My Heroic Journey, Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, and The Santa Claus Project. When not writing, Sara spends time with her husband of 34 years, Bill. Sara has been a member of the Dallas Branch NLAPW since 2014.  She enjoys the support and fellowship her affiliation with NLAPW brings into her writing life.  She may be contacted via email at: sab_1529@yahoo.com.

“Feathered Quill” by Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Arranging a Personal Work Zone, Part II

Last time, guest blogger Tricia Pimental explored the merits of a creative garret. This week, she provides tips for maximizing its potential for inspiration.


 

“Mary Tyler Moore in Mafra”

 

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”

– William Faulkner

 

Last time we talked about finding a physical location—your very own garret—for creative endeavors. Now, here are seven tips to help you shape it into the perfect place of inspiration:

 

1. Find a suitable work surface

Whether it’s a table, desk, or counter, something solid is required. Your lap is for children and cats, puppies and pillows, and your laptop—but only for brief periods of time. Checking your email? Fine. Writing a key chapter in your mystery? Probably not.

 

2. Sit in a comfortable chair

Sounds obvious, right? But there’s more to it. What’s your mindset? An office chair that swivels, has armrests, and good back support can make you feel official and in charge of your writing session. Maybe you are more at home in the efficiency of a straight back chair. Are you having trouble committing to getting something on the page? Maybe the temporary nature of a stool will help you dip your toe into the literary water. Whatever you choose, make sure you have an ergonomic match to your writing surface.

 

3. Clear the clutter

Even if you subscribe to the “messy desk is the sign of genius” philosophy, your mind will be clearer if distractions are at a minimum. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo helped me enormously. You’ll never look at “stuff” the same way again.

 

4. Keep things within reach

My cell phone sits in a stand on a section of my L-shaped arrangement because I don’t want to hunt for it when it rings (assuming I haven’t turned it off). I also have three baskets at hand: one for notes on works in progress, another for electronic accessories like extra chargers, cables, and, because I live overseas, adaptors. The third is for vitamins, protein bars, and yes, chocolate.

 

5. Light up your life

Remember Tom Hanks in the opening scene of Joe versus the Volcano? Forego fluorescence and use full-spectrum light bulbs that emulate the sun. You’ll feel happier and more energetic. Similarly, because extended time in front of the computer screen is taxing, consider investing in a pair of tinted glasses designed to reduce eyestrain.

 

6. Bring on nature

Fresh flowers rejuvenate your space. The colors of yellow and orange are especially effective in stimulating the senses. Plants help counteract the energy drain from electronics like your desktop or printer. I opted for orchids, enjoying both living greens and colorful blooms in one unit.

 

7. Sights and sounds

First, sights: Open the windows, not just for fresh air, but to get inspired. I have a view of the Mafra National Palace from my office at home. It always transports me. Have you won writing, speaking, or other recognition? Put these on display on your wall or book shelf. Remind yourself that you have been, are, and will be an achiever. Don’t have any awards yet? Set a goal to get one.

As for sound, this choice is so personal, there is no rule. I have trouble with background music because I start remembering when and where I first heard a song. It’s the worst with oldies. But I have the TV—news, movie, whatever—on almost all the time. I feel like I’m missing something otherwise. I think I’m in the minority on this one, and would love to hear what you think about it.

 

I hope these suggestions will help you construct a new, or improve an existing, creative zone. If your area is public—a corner in your local library or “coffee-ing hole”—then your control over that space is obviously more limited than if you have a dedicated space in your home. Either way, you can do a lot to facilitate your process.

 


Tricia Pimental is the author of three award-winning books. Articles, short stories, and poetry have appeared in The Florida Writer, A Janela (the quarterly magazine of International Women in Portugal), International Living, and anthologies compiled by The Florida Writers Association, NLAPW, and others.  A member of FWA, NLAPW, and SAG-AFTRA, Ms. Pimental is also a former Toastmaster. Follow her on Twitter: @Tricialafille. She blogs on her website: www.triciapimental.com.

Photo provided by Tricia Pimental

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

 

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Musings of a Struggling Novelist

This week, Sara Etgen-Baker shares how she began a new chapter in her writing life by letting go.


 

When I began writing in 2010, I was especially comfortable and adept in writing memoirs about the people of my childhood and early adult years in my native Texas. I became known for my ability to connect with readers by giving them authentic, familiar characters, a sensitive narrator, and a keen sense of place—but in 2014, I turned to fiction writing and began the rather daunting task of writing my first novel.

 

I was the first to admit that I knew little about writing fiction or writing something as major as a novel, but I had an idea birthed from a real-life family situation. So, I began and painstakingly put words on pages hoping to create convincing characters, scenes with emotional value, and a believable storyline that would engage and captivate readers. Oh, how I labored over my characters and scenes!

 

The months passed. Words slowly became pages, and pages became chapters. By December 2016, I was deeply into writing Chapter 15 (of approximately 20 chapters). When the new year arrived, however, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my story and disillusioned with my ability to complete my novel. Honestly, I simply wasn’t motivated.

 

I’m not a quitter, though, and flatly refused to give up on a project begun so humbly years ago. I began losing sleep and often laid awake at night thinking about my characters—their strengths, their flaws, and their humanity. During the early morning hours, I played with the story line, scenes, plots, and subplots. With the lack of sleep, I became even more muddled and confused.

 

January gave way to February.  Sunless, harsh days prevailed; winter’s blue dreariness settled over me, further stifling my creativity. March arrived, bringing the warmth of the sun’s rays, but I was still unable to write.

 

Last week, I sat down at my desk with the sole task of making some sense of my collection of notes and putting some order to my rather haphazardly organized files. I hoped that task would ground me, but alas, it only served to further muddy the novel-writing waters.

 

So, I took to power walking a couple of hours a day hoping that the fresh air and open space would broaden my horizon and give me perspective. At this point, I’m quite certain my neighbors, amazed as they are with my persistence and dedication, questioned why I walked for so long.

 

Then, I took to pruning flowers in our garden, pulling weeds (symbolic? yes), and working myself to the point of exhaustion, believing that exhaustion would surely help me sleep. Still, sleep alluded me. Something about my novel was haunting me—but what was it?

 

Then yesterday, I had an epiphany of sorts. I am a vastly different person now than I was when I began writing my novel, yet I was trying to write and create from my old perspective. My characters had become unauthentic, and my scenes evoked no emotions—they were ineffective, extraneous, and disconnected from the overall story line. Every word I’d written seemed flat.

 

So in desperation, I re-read my synopsis and each of my completed chapters. Then came the stark realization that so many novelists face: This was my “shitty” first draft. No doubt about it. What I’d written thus far wasn’t that good at all. Disappointment and mild panic set in. For the first time since I began writing, I actually feared beginning again.

 

Before opening my laptop to begin anew, I literally marked through anything that didn’t enrich the story, eliminating so many words, paragraphs, pages, and even entire scenes and chapters. Now, I’m left with only about six good chapters, and I have huge gaps in my story line and in my character development.

 

Ah, where to go from here? I shall begin at the beginning and start anew, knowing that I’ve not failed at novel writing. On the contrary, I’ve been tremendously successful and gutsy. I’ve been on a learning curve—and a huge one at that!

 

The most important lesson I’ve learned is this: To grow as a person, I had to let go of old truths, old thinking, and old habits. I had to relinquish my control of expectations and outcomes and allow my life to unfold naturally.

 

To grow as a writer, I must let go of old words and unproductive writing habits. I need to relinquish my control of a specific outcome then let my story unfold, for it’s in the unfolding that my story will develop naturally. It’s in my letting go where the heart of both life and story lie and where creativity truly dwells.

 

I returned to my laptop, opened it, clicked on Microsoft Word, and began a new chapter in my writing life. And, yes, I’m exhausted—but oddly I’m refreshed.

 

I bet I’ll sleep better tonight!

 


Sara’s love for words began when her mother read the dictionary to her every night. Her manuscripts have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, My Heroic Journey, Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, and The Santa Claus Project. When not writing, Sara spends time with her husband of 34 years, Bill. Sara has been a member of the Dallas Branch NLAPW since 2014.  She enjoys the support and fellowship her affiliation with NLAPW brings into her writing life.  She may be contacted via email at: sab_1529@yahoo.com.

 

“Pruning Fruit Tree – Cutting Branches at Spring” by adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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We Are What We Create: The Memoir of a Latter-Day Saint

In this week’s guest blog post, Laura Walth shares how love for her brother and her religion inspire her creativity.


 

“Out of the bad comes the good” is a phrase my brother Phil often liked to repeat during our Sunday morning phone conversations. Phil so desperately wanted me to finish my memoir, to know what life was like for the eight years before he was born. He felt mine was a story that needed to be shared.

 

He had no idea about the struggles I put myself through to get to where I am today. He wanted to know it all. He instinctively knew he didn’t have much longer to live but denied death to hear my story and know how it was going to end.

 

Phil and I were never very close growing up. He annoyed me to the point where I didn’t like being around him.

 

When he was in 2nd grade and our parents were out of town, I got so mad at him I kicked a hole through his bedroom door and knocked his pet, Myrtle the turtle, to the floor. I felt sorrier for my grandmother, who was taking care of us; she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to explain what had just happened. It scared both my brother and me.

 

After that, we just left each other alone. I found out much later in life that he was afraid of me yet always admired me as his big sister.

 

In 1995 I received a call from my sister in South Dakota. Our brother was in the VA hospital and not expected to live. He had been diagnosed with AIDS and had pneumonia. We all went to say our goodbyes.

 

We were prepared for his death, but he didn’t die. He later told us it was the love he felt from us that gave him the desire to live.

 

We had to find a place for him because we weren’t prepared to have him live with us in his condition. We found him a group home to stay in until he decided to move into an apartment with someone he’d met at that place for the terminally ill. They weren’t ready to die. They moved to Arizona, where his partner died several years later.

 

My brother moved to Florida, where he lived with AIDS for many years. He survived cancer, a staph infection that could have killed a healthy person, and pneumonia several times throughout his life. It was a stroke that left him unable to walk or talk and took away his quality of life, yet he chose to hang on. Ten days before he passed away, my sisters and I let him know it was okay to let go. We expressed our love for him over the phone. I made a promise to finish my memoir and then wondered what good that would do if he wasn’t here to see the finished product.

 

Having faith that there is life after death gives me the belief that his spirit lives on and my story needs to be shared. I feel him smiling as these words appear before me. Making that promise to him made me believe that he’d be the muse I needed to create a life story for a book.

 

That’s how I arrived at the title for my memoir.

 

I have wanted to be a Saint since childhood, but I was not born into the Mormon faith. My husband and I moved from North Dakota to New York in 1974. In 1982 a Jewish friend of ours and his Christian girlfriend discovered something that they said “just changed” their lives. We were curious to know more, and we found what we were looking for. They didn’t join the LDS Religion, but we did. Mom joined about seven years later.

 

Phil was very concerned for us. He thought for sure we’d joined a cult and convinced Mom to join as well. Then he saw positive change in Mom. She no longer needed a drink to calm her once-troubled soul. She found peace and joy in life without the alcohol. Later, he told me it was the best thing that ever happened to her.

 

The conflict taking place in California between the Mormons and the gay community was what brought my brother and I together. It was called Proposition Eight and regarded same sex marriage. A commercial was made that depicted Mormon missionaries in a very bad light. It bothered me so much, I called my brother to ask what he thought about what was said about Mormons in this commercial. He said he was upset that the gay community was wasting good money that could have been spent on far worthier causes than bashing Mormons for their beliefs.

 

That phone call changed our relationship for good. We found a common ground that let us open up about past experiences that kept us apart for so many years. We discovered that it was fear that kept us from communicating: He was afraid of me because of what had happened when he was a child, and I was afraid he’d seek revenge for what I’d done to him.

 

We became friends. He called me on Sundays before I went to church. When I was teaching Sunday school, I would share my lesson with him, and when I was asked to give a talk at church, I would share that with him. He would give me feedback.

 

While looking for photos of my brother, I found the two below. On the left is my father, and on the right is my brother.

I never realized how much Phil looked like our father until I saw these pictures. Like me, Phil also felt he could never please dad no matter what he did, including joining the 82nd Airborne.

 

One time Phil told me I’d brought tears of joy to him because he finally understood that my religion is about service and compassion. He felt my love for him, and he understood that it was more about love than being judgmental of others.

 

So, Jack and he visited an LDS church service in Florida to learn more. Phil then shared how much he’d enjoyed learning more about the religion through the Sister Missionaries he invited to his home. He wasn’t ready to make a commitment to membership, but at least he was willing to find out more. Whenever anyone in the gay community would start Mormon-bashing, he defended the faith. He was proud to tell them that his sister was a Mormon.

 

At first, I thought it a bit presumptuous to think of myself as a Saint. My life experience has helped me see how I used to be an overachiever, attempting to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. Writing my memoir has helped me to change my mind. I can replace negative thoughts with positive ones about the image I want to create. It’s not easy living the life of a Saint, but it’s a fun challenge.

 

To fulfill this calling means being a person who is good, kind, and patient. I can be recognized as a Saint because of the way I live the rest of my life. If we are what we create, then I will truly strive to be a Latter-Day Saint. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect; it’s just something to aspire to before the end of my life on Earth. It’s a work in progress.

 

We Are What We Create: A Memoir of a Latter-Day Saint won’t just be about the Mormon religion; it will be a story about the life experience that led me to where I am today. My goal is to have it published by Pen Women Press in time for the 49th NLAPW Biennial in Des Moines, Iowa, which I volunteered to host in April 2018 because I believe I can handle the challenge.

 

Phil always encouraged me to run for a political office. He liked how I listened to both sides of a story and didn’t judge others for their beliefs. My brother would have been thrilled to hear about my involvement with the National League of American Pen Women.

 


Laura Walth is President of Des Moines Branch NLAPW. She also serves as Outreach Chair for our National society and as Chair for the coming NLAPW Biennial in 2018. Photos appearing herein are from her private collection.

 

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The Call

In this week’s post, Mary Joan Meagher advises listening to your inner voice on your special day. 

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What did you do on your last birthday? If you became 40 or 50 years old, you probably had a stressful day. A comedic cousin, friend, or even a spouse might have thought that it would be fun to tease you about your age.

 

Perhaps someone threw you a surprise party at work. Everyone showed up wearing black clothes. They gave you a cake with black and white frosting that featured a grave with your name printed on a headstone emblazoned with the initials “R.I.P.” Everybody laughed and thought it was hilariously funny… until it happened to them.

 

Birthdays are hard enough without someone else taking them over and telling you how to feel. We all mark the passage of time in different ways, but it is always a time of account-keeping. We think about our faces and bodies, and we measure them against what we remember we looked like at sixteen or twenty.

 

This exercise is usually detrimental. Your spirits sink as you consider wrinkles, gray hairs, and double chins, or notice the effect that too many fast food stops have had on your waistline.

 

One saving measure to take at zero birthdays (when you enter a new decade) is to do another kind of accounting. Take a measure of how far you have moved in getting closer to your goals.

 

Dean Koontz, a best-selling novelist, says he writes and edits ten pages each day. What are your goals? Have you kept your promise to yourself to write or create something new each day? Have you finished a chapter of your novel?

 

You need to get in touch with your inner self.  You need to listen to your inner voice. For this exercise, set up a quiet space of time on your birthday. Get up earlier than normal. Find a quiet peaceful place either inside or outside, in the house or in the park, in the library or in the woods. This is your day. Find your place and time.

 

When you learn how to listen to your inner voice, you will know what you are called to do at this time in your life. Each stage of your life has a different calling. If you are too tuned-in to the voices of others constantly deciding your fate each 24 hours, when can you ever know what is right for you? Go back to your youthful dreams. What were you called to do then? What were you looking for? What were you going to be?

 

Your birthday can be a wonderful experience if you use it to launch a new enterprise, to take the first step to improving your relationships with others, to listen to the voice within calling you to be all you can be. Cyril Connolly, critic and editor, said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

 


 

Mary Joan Meagher, a member of Minnesota Branch NLAPW, taught English and Speech at Regina High School in Minneapolis for 24 years. She also taught journal writing at Bloomington Community Education and was script writer there for The Time of Our Lives Show for 20 years. She is a poet, a watercolorist, and an essayist.

 

Image above courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Swimming Upstream: Creative Solutions to Mental Health Issues

This week’s guest blogger, Bonnie J. Smith, shares how a challenging life experience inspired her creativity.



In 1999, I suffered a work-related injury. Being told that I might never be active on my feet or work the job I so enjoyed again and that I would have to use a wheelchair was a shock I didn’t handle well.

 

Having to sit 100% of the time in 2001, I decided to take a quilting class. I thought creating a few heirlooms for my family would be a nice gesture. Well, quilt I did—and to the frustration of my teacher, I could not stay within the pattern. My thought was, why do I want to create something that looked like everyone else’s?

 

Having moved to a new home with a lot of empty walls, I informed my husband that we’d purchase no new art; I would create art for our walls. Create, I did. My work has now traveled the globe, been juried into the prestigious Quilt National, and is held in private collections—and I feel like I’m just warming up.

 

For many years, I wondered how to translate that unrelenting horrific situation of my work injury into my artwork, but always avoided the subject in my art.

 

After I sat and let my body heal, the doctors said, “You can start exercising.”

 

“How about swimming?” I asked.

 

Thereafter, I swam every day.

 

One day, my youngest daughter Shara purchased me a pair of swim fins. Well, I had my doubts. Within about eight months, however, I witnessed a remarkable change in my feet. I then realized that those fins were probably the best physical therapy I could have had. The fins forced my feet to rebuild the muscle. I knew I was on my way.

 

While enjoying my swims, I would imagine what an artwork of myself swimming would look like. Could I create it? Would viewers accept my minimalist creative style or reject my work?

 

I rarely shy away too long from taking on a task, so I created Swimming Upstream:

 

  Swimming Upstream by Bonnie J. Smith

 

I looked at the finished work for a long time. It came to me that the artwork was not just about myself; it’s about everyone trying to navigate through life. For some, it’s hard to pick up the pieces and keep swimming upstream. For others, it’s just about trying to survive life.

 

Ideas keep coming to me for new works. Some show how we have days when we feel strong, and then other days when we need to pull back, maybe feeling just a little too much hubris. This series has been fun to create and visualize how I feel about myself moving onward and upward. People have gravitated to this work, as swimming is an iconic image that most of us can do or try.

 

I tell those who want to swim but say they can’t to just float or hold onto the side of the pool. One day, you will get the courage to let go and feel your body enjoy the stability that the water—or the world—can offer, depending on how you see it. Even if you never try swimming, you can always imagine yourself swimming upstream through life. Just imagine!

 

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Bonnie Jo Smith, textile artist, is a member of Santa Clara Branch NLAPW. She attended IUPUI, Indianapolis Campus; Indiana Central College; and has taken Master Dyeing Classes under the direction of Prof. Joan Morris of Dartmouth College. Her most recent installation, “Swimming Upstream,” provided the inspiration for her book Swimming Upstream: A Memoir. The “Swimming Upstream” installation will be exhibited at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK, during the summer of 2017. Her web site is bonniejofiberarts.com.

 

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: A Creative Journey

In this week’s guest blogger post, Carol Mann shares the joy of her creative collaboration with former fellow Pen Woman Lynn Centeno.


 

I recently made a creative journey culminating with the publication of the book All Ways a Woman, a collection of art and poetry celebrating women, done in collaboration with artist Lynn Centeno. As Lynn and I worked on the project, we recognized the uniqueness of every woman’s life. However, we also realized a universality of experience. Women inspire and encourage each other with their strength, their resolve, and grit; with their vulnerability and ability to give; with their talents. We wanted to capture this story, these feelings.

 

The book, published by AquaZebra Press in hardcover, became available on Amazon in January 2017. Within its pages, we walked a woman’s path, gave voice to her life song, and honored her journey. We celebrated being in all ways a woman, always.

 

The collaboration began in 2011, but we didn’t know it. Lynn and I participated in an Ekphrasis (EHK-fra-sis) program for writers and artists, sponsored by the Palm Springs Branch NLAPW.

 

Branch artists submitted their art online, and branch writers selected a work of art about which to write. I chose Lynn’s watercolor “I Care Not.” For the final program, each artist’s work was displayed and the writer read her accompanying piece. By the end of the event, a calm could be felt in the room. The women in attendance, whether they knew each other or not, seemed to feel what can only be described as a palpable closeness, a bonding of spirit, and a sense of well-being. The Palm Springs Branch repeated the event in 2013, and I again chose one of Lynn’s watercolors to write about: “Girls’ Night Out.”

 

Girls’ Night Out by Lynn Centeno

Both watercolors and poems are in the book.

 

Three years passed. In the summer of 2016, Lynn casually suggested we do more. We each went through our body of work, searching for everything “woman.” Themes came to life about thoughts, loves, and lives. Some poems had been previously published in literary journals; some watercolors had been in juried shows. We also created new work. We had a story—a woman’s story.

 

As with any endeavor, we discovered a few tricks along the way that apply when involved in a collaborative effort:

 

  1. Come prepared.
  2. Meet commitments.
  3. Respect each others’ work and ideas.
  4. Don’t compete with each other.
  5. Respect each others’ process. People have different ways of arriving at a mutually desired result.
  6. Negotiate when visions differ.
  7. Compliment.
  8. Listen.
  9. Be flexible and stay focused. Discoveries may be made. Plans can change.
  10. Recognize that during the creative process, stress and tensions may develop. Remember numbers three and five.

 

Our creative journey taught us about collaborating and creating an enduring work of art. It inspired us. We hope women will become inspired by their own journey.

 

 

Come …

walk with us

wonder

explore

For together …

we grow

we discover

we become

– from All Ways a Woman,

by Lynn Centeno and Carol Mann

 


 

Carol Mann is a Letters member with the Palm Springs Branch of NLAPW and co-author of All Ways a Woman. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Buffalo State College (SUNY) and a Master of Arts in Theatre from California State University Fullerton (CSUF). Her short stories, personal essays, and poetry have appeared in literary journals and magazines such as Six Hens, Bloodroot, RiverSedge, Phantom Seed, Dual Coast Magazine, Coachella Calling, and The Sun Runner Magazine. Her blog can be found at carolsmann.com.