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Posts tagged ‘inspiration’

Communities of Learning…live curious

One of my mottos in life is “Live Curious.” In fact, I still have it on my list to track down one of those National Geographic “Live Curious” t-shirts.  Some of my most exciting moments as a child weren’t in a traditional classroom setting, but in alternative classroom experiences where I was learning to make a pin hole camera, or discovering that “King Peter Can Order Free Green Snakes” is a fabulous mnemonic device for remembering the taxonomic groupings of individual organisms in biology.

I’ll admit it – I love to learn and to exchange ideas with people who have really big brains. I have always been a person who wished she could have lived in the days of the salons of revolutionary France or the bars of Greenwich Village when the Abstract Expressionists held their impromptu salons fueled by booze and blowhardiness.  The reason?  In the midst of this blowhardiness was the desire to learn… to live curious… to continually challenge oneself and others with new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas.

In college I was in heaven.  College provided a forum for intellectual salons. Fueled by cheap beer and our own blowhardiness, a few hours spent deconstructing how quantum physics may support the idea of reincarnation felt exciting and like a great way to spend time.  As an adult, with a job and kids and responsibilities, those hours felt indulgent.  The closest I could get to these gatherings of intellectual exchange were my book club or a writing critique group.  But in the midst of life’s minutiae, book club is more frequently spent deconstructing how third grade girls have become obsessed with chasing the boys on the playground. (When did this happen?  As the mother of a third grade boy, I’m not ready for the chasing and the crushes and the kissing.  He’s still my little boy.)

So, as an adult my “living curiously” has become mostly an independent pursuit:  voracious reading, an admitted addiction to NPR’s “Radio Lab” and a love affair with the internet because at any hour of the day I can find out details about obscure happenings. (For instance, did you know that in 1918 the residents of Gunnison, CO barricaded all roads in and out of town during the Spanish influenza epidemic. Train conductors warned all passengers that if they stepped outside of the train in Gunnison, they would be arrested and quarantined for five days. As a result of the isolation, no one died of influenza in Gunnison during the epidemic. This served as partial inspiration for the novel The Last Town on Earth.)

As a parent, I am watching my children’s education unfold.  It physically hurts me to witness the monotony of public education’s mandates.  Let me say that both of my kids attend public schools and they have some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen in action.  However, no matter how great a teacher is, our country is evolving into a “teach to the test” society.  I still see those moments of pin hole cameras and taxonomic mnemonics made fun, but the moments are fewer and farther between all the time.  I wonder what sparks of learning excitement my own children will carry forth into adulthood.

For all of these reasons, I was inspired by John Green’s Tedx called “The Paper Town Academy.”  If you have 18 minutes, you should watch it.  He talks about learning communities – both traditional and non-traditional – which foster an excitement about knowledge.  Many of his ideas surrounding learning are steeped in the use of technology (YouTube specifically). I don’t know that I am quite as convinced as Green is about the interactive nature of YouTube.  However, I do admit that channels like Minute Physics and Vsauce and Crash Course are providing a lot of intelligent presentations and sometimes interaction for those who like to live curious.  They certainly aren’t as interactive as discussing art over a beer with Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock at the Cedar Tavern.  But they are probably a lot more fact-filled and a lot less haze-filled than the latter.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of learning and the establishment of these online learning communities?  How can our children live more curiously inside and outside of the classroom? How can we find or establish our own learning communities as adults?

Writing and Memorial Day

Memorial Day Flags

Memorial Day for many means a day off of work or school, backyard barbeques with friends and summer just around the corner.  It is all of those things, but this annual federal holiday means so much more, too.

Memorial Day is a day of remembering.  A day to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day, which originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

Yesterday, while driving past a cemetery packed with people placing flags into the ground near headstones, I explained to my two boys (aged 8 and 5) the meaning of Memorial Day.  We talked about their relatives and friends (some distant and some immediate) who served or serve in the armed forces. We talked about war—and the shades of grey which color our government’s decisions regarding our freedom and our country’s role in the world.

As my little guys processed this complicated information, I was reminded of a conversation with my oldest.  His elementary school annually participates in the One School One Book program. The book for 2012 was Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  This book is beautifully written and deals with complicated subjects like divorce, alcoholism and war.  It was a mature book for my first grader to process, but it provided excellent fodder for family conversations about our world.

In the book, the main character, Opal, befriends the town’s librarian who shares great stories about her past, including a tale about her great-grandfather, whose family members died while he fought for the South in the Civil War. Grief-stricken after his return from battle, he decided he wanted to live the remainder of his life filled with sweetness. Thus, he invented Littmus Lozenge candies that tasted like a combination of root beer and strawberry with a secret ingredient mixed in—sorrow—which makes anyone who tastes it taste sorrow.

I will never forget my seven-year old staring up at me with big eyes and saying, “That’s how I feel, Mommy.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“When you explained war to us. And when you were talking about the hard decisions that the President has to make. I felt like I was eating those lozenges.  I tasted sorrow when you talked about that.”

Wow!  From the mouths of babes, right?  This, my friends, is the power of literature.  It is why I read and why I write.

Saturday’s post contained a quote by English playwright and screenwriter, Alan Bennett.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is.  Set down by someone else. A person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

This was the case for my son.  Across miles and pages, Kate DiCamillo had taken his hand.  Yesterday as he sat with his face pushed against the car window watching those people adorn the cemetery with flags, he was sucking on one of those Littmus Lozenges again.  He didn’t say anything, just nodded and listened.  But I could tell that Memorial Day was a palpable concept for him. Thanks to Kate DiCamillo, my son could taste the sweet and the sorrow.  Thanks to great writing, he could put words to his complicated emotions.

So while I’m cranking out my own words this morning and then enjoying some laughs at our neighborhood cookout, I’ll be sucking on one of those lozenges too.  And I’ll have Kate DiCamillo and thousands of other writers to thank for helping me find the words to describe life’s complicated emotions.  Happy Memorial Day to you.  I hope you taste the sweet and the sorrow.

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The Best Moments (as a Reader and a Writer)

This happens to me all the time. It gives meaning to reading, writing and life…

The Best Moments

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20 Best Gifts for Writers

It’s that time of year again.  The time of year you start giving gifts to the writer in your life.  Gift giving? What? Shouldn’t this post have been back in November before the holidays?  Well, yes.  But think about all those gift giving opportunities on the horizon.  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, June birthdays (I don’t know about you, but I know so many people with birthdays in June.  Maybe people just get frisky when back-to-school rolls around.), and teacher appreciation gifts.  Then there are summer vacations.  I’m always looking for great hostess gifts for the multiple friends who house us on our annual summer road trips.  See, anytime is a good gift giving time!

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for the perfect gift to put a smile on your favorite writer’s face.  I’ve compiled a list of my Top 20 Best Gifts for Writers.  Enjoy and be sure to let me know if you’ve received any writer’s gifts that have knocked your socks off.  I’ll add them to my list.  If you use Pinterest, you can check out my post on Pinterest for Writers here and you can check out all of these gift ideas on my Pinterest board “Gifts for Writers.”


Bamboo Custom Carved Keyboard and Mouse Combo – $89.98  I can just feel my fingers gliding over this sleek looking keyboard.  It’s an earth-friendly keyboard which connects to your computer via USB.

2.  USA Literary Map – $19.94  An original hand-lettered poster which features 226 geographically connected authors.

3.  Conceal Bookshelf – $16.09  Make books float on your wall with this gravity defying bookshelf.  I can picture my office covered with stacks of books hovering from the walls.


“Writing is Rewriting” Cuff Ring – $13.95 is one of my favorite places to find one-of-a-kind gifts.  This ring is hand stamped with the phrase “writing is rewriting.”  It will serve as a daily reminder that the hard work doesn’t end the first time you write “The End.”

5.  Gift certificate to for 50 Mini-Moo Business Cards – $19.99  These cards can be custom designed with multiple images.  They would be great to feature quotations or images from that new novel your writer friend has coming out.

6.  Hand-Painted Business Card Holder – $48.00  Speaking of business cards and speaking of, this San Francisco-based Etsy artist creates beautiful works of art on metal business card holders.  Your favorite writer friend will feel proud to pull out this holder when networking at the next writer’s conference.

7.  “Shut up and write.” Canvas Totebag – $25.15  We all need a reminder now and then.  Filled with groceries or library books, this tote will serve as a constant reminder to the procrastinating writer.

8.  Writer’s Flask – $20.00  We all need a little liquid courage sometimes.  Regardless of what it’s filled with, this flask will give your favorite writer a laugh (and maybe the courage to fight back that inner editor) every time they sip from it.

9.  Pop Art Edgar Allen Poe T-shirt in Pink or Black – $26.99  The image of Edgar Allen Poe on this t-shirt is created out of the words of his famous poem, “The Raven.”  If you follow me on Facebook or Pinterest, you know I love fun t-shirts.  This one will definitely find its way into my closet.

10.   Stick-Up Weekly Calendar – $10.00  What better way to remind yourself of those weekly wordcount goals than with a self-adhesive calendar stuck to your computer monitor.  Remember appointments with your doctor, your friends or your keyboard with these handy little Post-It note calendars.

11.  Bracelet made from Vintage Typewriter Keys – $85.00  Many writers love the nostalgia of the good old days.  This bracelet harkens back to a time when writers were hunched over their Remington keyboard clacking away.  Made from real typewriter kays, this bracelet is a must-have for the writer’s jewelry box.

12.  Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own Teatowel – $14.67  The Literary Company has a wide selection of teatowels, posters and mugs imprinted with original book covers by the world’s favorite authors.  I also love The Great Gatsby poster and the Slaughterhouse Five mug.

13.  Magnetic Poetry Writer’s Remedy – $13.60  The gentle relief of Writer’s Remedy helps with all writers block.  The bottle has over 200 magnetic tiles with words like “beauty,” “pickle,” and “confess.”

14.   “Please don’t make me mock you in my novel” T-shirt – $18.95  This shirt comes in men’s and women’s sizes with all different colors to choose from.

15.  “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Necklace – $22.50  This wooden pendant hangs from a sterling silver chain.  The quote by Lord Byron perfectly captures the feeling that many of us have that if we don’t capture all of those thoughts on paper, our minds might explode or go mad.

16.  Virginia Woolf “Orlando” Totebag – $15.78  You can never have enough totebags, and the Virginia Woolf quote on this one is particularly fitting.   Not only does it capture the frantic life of many writers, but it hits a chord for me on days when I’m juggling family, work, friends and writing.  This jumbled mass of humanity (with or without the gin and the birthing in the next room) is sometimes the perfect (and only) atmosphere for my writing.

17.  Edgar Allen Poe T-shirt – $27.00  You can’t go wrong with Edgar Allen Poe gifts for writers.  This t-shirt is printed with one of Poe’s most ominous, albeit true (in his case) quotes.  “I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.”  Some days just feel like that, don’t they?

18.  Ampersand Earrings – $8.00  I, like many writers, am a sucker for typography.  These simple acrylic earrings make me happy every time I see them. Not only is the ampersand a beautiful piece of typographic art, but I love the possibilities that a lone ampersand (or a pair of them) provides for life.  And… and…  and…

19.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” Sterling Silver Cuff – $97.00  This adjustable wrist cuff is stamped with a quote from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  And what better way to sum up the world of writing than with this wise and poetic sentiment?  Writers truly are such stuff as dreams are made on.  How else could we keep plugging away at it everyday?

20.  F-Bomb Paperweight – $45.00  Sometimes, there is nothing better than an appropriately shouted (or stifled) f-bomb.  This paperweight makes me giggle everytime I see it. Yes, it’s crass.  Yes, it’s irreverent.  Yes, that’s what I love about it.  Aren’t we all just the tiniest bit crass and irreverent sometimes?  That’s why we’re writers, right?

How about you? Have you received any perfect writer’s gifts?  I’d love to have this list up to 50 ideas by November, 2012 – just in time for the next round of holidays!

Words of Inspiration for Writers

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer. – RAY BRADBURY


The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home. – JOHN CAMPBELL


Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. – ORSON SCOTT CARD


Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it… – MICHAEL CRICHTON


One of my standard — and fairly true — responses to the question as to how story ideas come to me is that story ideas only come to me for short stories. With longer fiction, it is a character (or characters) coming to visit, and I am then obliged to collaborate with him/her/it/them in creating the story. – ROGER ZELAZNY

Words of Inspiration for Writers

It is the writer who might catch the imagination of young people, and plant a seed that will flower and come to fruition.- ISAAC ASIMOV


Unless a writer is extremely old when he dies, in which case he has probably become a neglected institution, his death must always be seen as untimely. This is because a real writer is always shifting and changing and searching. The world has many labels for him, of which the most treacherous is the label of Success.- JAMES BALDWIN


Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.- BARBARA KINGSOLVER


The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak.- FREDERICH NIETZSCHE


Begin with an individual, and before you know it you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find you have created – nothing.- F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

The Music – Writing Playlists can set the mood and get you out of a rut

Music is very Pavlovian for me when I’m writing.  I can’t start a new work without creating a playlist.  Once created, that playlist drives my writing time.  I pop on the headphones, crank up the playlist and I’m immediately transported to the world I’ve created in my WIP. Months later I can hear a song from the playlist and my fingers get itchy to type.

We were driving in the car the other night and my iPod stumbled upon my Sliver of Souls playlist.  Commenting on my DJ’ing skills, my husband told me I was in a very Emo mood.  It made sense.  I didn’t create the playlist with those characteristics in mind, but Maggie (the MC of SoS) is kind of an emo chick.  She’s the best kind, though.  She has all of the melodramatic teen angst without the poser wardrobe and affected melancholy.  Rather an ironic Emo if you think about it.  The Emo sub-culture is ironic to begin with in their angsty posturing.  Maggie unintentionally embraces all things Emo, so doesn’t that make her an Ironic Emo?  Now we’ve coined two phrases for a new line of t-shirts.  “Sublime Fools Unite” and “Ironic Emos Unite.”  I’m ditching this writing thing and going into the t-shirt business.

Here’s a look at the Silver of Souls playlist.  I shoot for a play length of approximately 60 minutes because I write in one-hour bursts.

  • “Staplegunned” (Remix) by The Spill Canvas = 3:11
  • “Dismantle.Repair” (Acoustic) by Anberlin = 4:34
  • “Cross the Line” by Ruth = 3:40
  • “Tiffany Blews” by Fall Out Boy = 3:45
  • “Idlewild Blue (Don’t Chu Worry ‘Bout Me)” by Outkast = 3:24
  • “That Day” by Poe = 2:41
  • “T.V. Family” by The Rocket Summer = 4:13
  • “Swandive” by Ani DiFranco = 6:30
  • “My Junk” from the Spring Awakening Broadway recording = 2:28
  • “September Skyline” by Single File =  3:15
  • “As Lovers Go” (Ron Fair Remix) by Dashboard Confessional = 3:29
  • “Shooting Up in Vain” (T-Ray Remix) by Eagle Eye Cherry = 4:51
  • “Some Say” by Sum 41 = 3:26
  • “Typical” by Tickle Me Pink = 3:15

Today, I’m working on a playlist for my WIP.  No working title yet.  I don’t pick the songs based on lyrics or titles.  I just listen to my gut.  If they give me a certain feeling that fits with my MC, they make the list.  Funny enough, once I dig into the playlists for months at a time, I find hidden meaning in the lyrics which seem to fit certain scenes or certain writing days.  Here’s the latest list:

  • “Thief” by Our Lady Peace = 4:01
  • “25 to Life” by Eminem = 4:01
  • “Falling in Love” by Lisa Loeb = 4:07
  • “Not Coming Home” by Maroon 5 = 4:21
  • “Kids” by MGMT = 5:02
  • “The Only Difference Between Martrydom and Suicide is Press Coverage” by Panic! At the Disco = 2:57
  • “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam = 5:00
  • “Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel = 4:44
  • “The Zephyr Song” by Red Hot Chili Peppers = 3:52
  • “Devil Boy” by Seven Mary Three = 4:24
  • “The Grocery Store” by Single File = 2:59
  • “Nightingale Song” by Toad the Wet Sprocket = 2:03
  • “Winter” by Tori Amos = 5:42
  • “Hands Held High” by Linkin Park = 3:55
  • “Let It Be” by The Beatles performed by Gospel Choir of the Cascades = 3:48
  • Bonus Song: “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri = 4:45

Take a listen and let me know what you think about my new MC.  I’ll give you a hint… she’s a 16-year old girl.  What type of person do you think she is?  What is she going through right now?

Do you write to music? Or do you need it perfectly quiet?  Any good playlists or songs that have inspired your writing?

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Words of Inspirations for Writers

First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere. But rarely for extended periods, for paragraphs and pages—I think poets must have more access to this state than novelists do. – DON DeLILLO

An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself. – CHARLES DICKENS

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? – GEORGE ORWELL

To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.

May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise.

Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. – RAY BRADBURY

What’s the Word? – One Little Word Project

Ali Edwards is a mother, photographer and documenter of life.  I’ve followed her blog for some time. Her digital scrapbook layouts are inspiring without being cheesy, and I could only dream of finding the time or inclination to document my own world quite so beautifully. In 2006, Ali began the One Little Word project – choosing one word for herself each January.

a word that I can focus on, mediate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life. I invite it into my life. I live with it. I let it speak to me. I might even follow where it leads.

Ali says, “Choosing a word each year came about as an alternative to a list of resolutions. I wanted something I could hold close and actually develop a relationship with over the course of the year.

Some years my word has made a major difference, and other years it’s been a more silent companion through the challenges and celebrations in my life.

The action of choosing a word (or having a word find you) is full of potential and possibility. And here’s one thing that’s totally interesting: sometimes a word pops into your brain and it doesn’t make any sense right now. Give it some time. Let it percolate a bit. I have often found that our hearts speak to us in very unique ways. Maybe it’s a word you need to hear, but you just aren’t ready for it yet. Again, be open to the possibilities.

Your word can be tangible or intangible. It can be a thought or a feeling or an emotion. It can be singular or plural. It might be silly or serious. It might be something you want to bring to your life. It might be something you want or need to change.”

A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting, or rich and soft and slow. The key is to find something that has personal meaning for you. This is not your mother’s word, or your spouse’s word, or your child’s word – this is YOUR word.

I thought I’d choose my own word this year.  Something simple to carry with me and reflect upon.  I chose:



Adjective:  Done on purpose, deliberate

Synonyms:  Deliberate, wilful, willful, purposeful, intended

There are days when I feel like I’m floating through life – sucked up by the immediate needs of others (my kids, the school, my husband, the dog, the house) or the hedonistic needs of my psyche (sleep 30 more minutes, eat one more cookie, it’s too cold to go for a run.)

In 2012 I want to live with intention.  I want to write with intention, parent with intention, take care of myself with intention and take care of others with intention.

I want to get haircuts with intention so that I don’t look like Mr. American Apparel.  I don’t have a problem with emo-chic.  But seriously, have you seen my photo?  I can’t pull off that haircut.

What’s your word for 2012?

Why do you write…in six words or less?

I was driving up the mountain last night after a meeting in Denver and listening to NPR.  It was just about the time the BBC News was on.  I’m a sucker for BBC news.  I especially love the human interest stories. Something about the dry British wit of the reporters has me chuckling in my car every time.  Last night’s story was a take-off on a project that’s been happening for several year.  In the mid-2000s the online magazine Smith asked readers to write a memoir in six words or less.

Smith based this experiment on an old story. Supposedly Ernest Hemingway was asked to write a full story in six words or less.  His response:

For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Smith magazine took a page from Hemingway and has since published a book filled with six-word memoirs such as:

Fifteen years since last professional haircut – writer, Dave Eggers

Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs – singer, Aimee Mann

Well, I thought it was funny – comedian, Stephen Colbert

The British reporter last night put a slight spin on this concept.  Her challenge was to answer the question, “Why do you do what you do?”  This was from a professional perspective, so in essence, why do you participate in your chosen career.  Her point was that many of us fall into our professions without too much thought.  Maybe astrophysicist didn’t work out so you became a banker.  All the stripper poles were full, so you were forced to become an award-winning writer.

This challenge got me thinking.  Why do I write?  I took a stab at really analyzing how I became a writer.  Here are the best four:

Telling people’s stories well is rewarding

Followed husband’s job; writing travels well

Perfect descriptive phrase makes me giddy

Always wanted to. Finally realized how.

Now it’s your turn.  Leave a comment and tell me in six words or less “Why Do You Write?”  I’m sure we’ll have some great responses. 

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