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Week 12: The End of the Walk

16 Apr

Well, they took 12 months instead of 12 weeks to finish The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and that’s how long they took to finish Walking in This World, too. For the past year, the 4 Chicks have walked and talked their way through this second book together. To celebrate this completion, and in the spirit of Cameron’s many excellent creative exercises in her books, I inspired the 4 Chicks to hold a “Letting Go” fire ceremony, burning their fears, frustrations and other negative feelings that might otherwise block their future creative paths, as well as a whimsical “Dream Planting” activity, articulating their top three creative dreams for the future and giving them fertile ground in which to grow.

If I, the Muse, inspire you as well–be it writing, illustration, music, drama or any other artistic endeavor–consider bringing together three fellow sojourners and continue further down your own creative path today.

 

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Chicks Chat About Authenticity – Week 11

4 Apr

 

In the end, an artist’s life is grounded in integrity and the willingness to witness our version of truth. There are no set markets that assure us of safe passage.  This week focuses on personal responsibility for our creative caliber and direction.

– Julia Cameron

Sticks and stones can break my bones…

10 Feb

Actually, I never liked that saying. Why would I care about names hurting me if someone’s breaking my bones? But there is a point: people who are throwing the proverbial sticks and stones and names can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.

I have an inner circle of those I can trust and an outer circle of everyone else. And levels within those circles. In Walking in this World, Julia Cameron talks about camaraderie (a word that I can never spell correctly the first time, incidentally), and the importance of having the “right” people around you. Those who know how to be supportive while offering constructive feedback. Here’s an exercise to see which of the following people should be allowed into your inner circle of trust:

Scenario: You just finished your first novel and you show it to your friends/critique partners/family members/whoever for their thoughts. You know that it’s only a first draft and it needs editing, but you want their initial thoughts.

Candidate A: “Hmm. It’s okay. But it’d be better if you’d do a story about sheep castration, since you grew up on a sheep ranch. You should write what you know. Did I tell you I wrote a story once?”

Candidate B: “This is a piece of crap. I know you can write better than this.”

Candidate C: “Hey, I like where you’re going on this project. I think if you weave in some of your personal experiences with xxx it will make this piece stronger.”

Obviously, in this situation, Candidate C is the ideal choice (although it’s not a bad idea to keep the occasional Candidate B around to kick us in the butt when we need it–kidding!).

What it comes down to is trust. I’ve had plenty of exposure to people who’ve had little snarky comments to make about this or that, looking like they’re happy for you but really trying to find a way to get in a dig somehow.

Here’s how you deal with it. Keep those people —————> here. As far away from you as you can shove them (figuratively, I hope).Image

That doesn’t mean that other people can’t try to hurt you. They can. But it is up to you to keep these “you-aren’t-good-enough-aren’t-smart-enough-aren’t-talented-enough” naysayers at bay.

I’m lucky to have several wonderful people in my inner circle of trust, starting with my fellow Chicks. If it wasn’t for these girls, I would’ve been too chicken to venture into the outer world of writing. I have a wonderful critique group as well. Do I still hear comments from Bitter, Party of 1? Of course. But I just smile and say, “Okay,” (in my head it translates as, “whatever dude”) and move along. I don’t think about them again. It doesn’t bother me at all, because those comments don’t filter through to me.

Don’t let them filter through to you.

Chicks Chat About Camaraderie – Week 10

31 Jan

Despite our Lone Ranger mythology, the artist’s life is not lived in isolation.  This week focuses your attention on the caliber of your friendships and creative collaborations.  Loyalty and longevity, integrity and ingenuity, grace and generosity – all of these attributes are necessary traits for healthy creative exchange.

What’s waiting for YOU?

31 Dec

As a writer, I try my best to avoid the clichés (you know, “tall, dark and handsome,” “dark and stormy night”). Okay, those aren’t the best examples. But here’s the tired old catchphrase I hear every year at this time: What are you waiting for?

Many of us aren’t sitting around, “waiting” for anything. We’re out there, pounding the pavement (sorry, another cliché), submitting our work and making necessary edits and revisions. We’re doing this while running our households and working our “real” jobs as well.

So, to start 2012 out on the right foot, I decided to ask myself this question instead: What’s waiting for you?

Too many people get discouraged from a few rejections or because they suddenly feel their work isn’t “good enough” for publication. Rather than put the work into the revision process and making the manuscript stronger, they give up. I have read so many stories of this happening early in a writer’s career, for some to find out later that they did in fact have something wonderful that maybe just needed a little editing or perhaps just the right agent for it. But they gave up. And regretted it later.

I will follow the creative muse and write. I will continue my learning journey with the help of writing conferences, critique partners and the hundreds of helpful blogs. I will edit until my fingers turn raw (or keyboard falls apart), because there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s just waiting for me to find it.

What’s waiting for YOU?

Don’t forget to come back on Monday, Jan. 2 to check out the debut of our 4 Chicks music video. What’s waiting for you could be a brand-new Kindle!

What’s Your Block?

29 Dec

I'm somewhere under this monstrous pile, sewing the joining seams on my Mom's quilt in 2009.

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Three)

In the past, the assembly of a quilt has been by far the most difficult for me. It seems easy enough in theory to join together the three layers: pieced top, backing and middle batting. But in practice, I’ve tried sprays and pins each time but ultimately been forced to manual basting–sewing loose lines–as the only effective way to prepare the layers for actual quilting.

Quilting connects us to women throughout the centuries before. Jen and I go way back, but not quite that far.

Additionally, for these final connecting seams, I’ve always selected patterns that allowed me to stitch in the ditch. (That means you simply sew the three layers together along your top seam lines.) While perfectly effective, this limits your joining pattern to simple squares and rectangles. The only alternative would be to hand-sew a decorative pattern one taut quilt hoop at a time, the way my Great Aunt Jo and women throughout the ages used to do.

I, however, have an irrational fear of this level of hand-sewing and the incredible additional work it must involve. I salute those who have done it this way, much as I admire women past and present who have been able to give birth naturally. Nevertheless, the process involved even to machine sew for this last phase in the past has proved traumatic enough to prevent me from enthusiastically taking on a new quilt. In short, assembly had become my block (pun intended), that is, until last fall.

After recently moving to a new city, while on a paint run to Sherwin Williams, I stumbled upon an unassuming quilt shop window. Something beckoned me to look inside. When I did, the first thing that caught my eye was a giant machine humming busily in one quadrant of the store. I instantly recognized its purpose and nearly shrieked at the nearest shop employee, “You can assemble quilts!” I was so excited at this discovery that I resolved to make my dear friend Jennifer a quilt in that very moment.

Call me lazy. Maybe this IS a big cheat. But back to the birth analogy, I had two C-sections; does that make me less of a mother? And while I happened to breast-feed, if it hadn’t worked out, would I have starved my child? No, of course not. If I had needed to bottle-feed, whether by choice or necessity, that would have been okay, too. What’s important is ensuring your baby gets the nutrition and sustenance it needs, right?

The completed quilt top!

Creative babies are no different. The important thing is to keep them alive. Might a modern Michelangelo have used computers to assist his Sistine Chapel paintings? Verily!

Nevertheless, my personal guilt was not alleviated until I learned of the long queue of quilts awaiting their turn at the long-arm Gammill Statler quilting machine. Not to stereotype, but I’m pretty sure most of them were put there by far more veteran quilters– women (and some men!) who were savvy enough to utilize the latest technology while freeing up significant chunks of their time and creative energies.

The finished quilt should be ready in 6 weeks.

When I ventured back to Cornerstone Quilt Shop, the girls there (as their emails are signed) reminded me of Designing Women, interspersed at their stations in the shop. To get a photo, I had to explain how I had been blogging about the process. One beautiful white-bobbed sewer looked up from her machine, seeming amused. “Welcome to the club,” her warm smile said.

“You’ve done well,” the lovely woman who was walking me through arrangements reassured. After picking out the joining thread and stitching pattern, I asked my helper’s name (partly to be sure in whose hands I was leaving my baby). “Jenny.” The name of my lifelong friend, the quilt’s soon-to-be recipient.

So it is that the quilter’s hoop has come full circle. This final, painful phase has been turned over to experienced midwives. And I now need only wait for our shared baby to be fully delivered.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One) and Pieces of Us (Part Two).

Chicks Chat About Resilience – Week 9

23 Dec

There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like this: Fall down seven times, stand up eight. That ancient writer might have gained that wisdom from me, the Muse. The Chicks are in the process of learning it now. In any endeavor, whether you fear and fail is not as important as whether you try and try again. I am beckoning you. Keep seeking me, and the worry, fear and self-doubt you feel will not be roadblocks but signposts along the way.

Join the 4 Chicks as they chat about Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World: The Practical Art of CreativityChapter 9: Discovering a Sense of Resiliency.

Happy Holidays to you and here’s to a creative 2012!

.                             .                            .

Apricot Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Italian Sausage-Rice Pilaf

Ingredients

  • 4 Cornish game hens (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced carrot
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced orange zest
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons toasted almond slivers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups apricot jam
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • KICKED UP DAN VERSION:   ADD ½ CUP COINTREAU

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook until the fat is rendered, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of the orange zest and sweat for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook stirring continuously for 3 minutes. Add the raisins, almonds, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and place it in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove the rice from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Place the rice on a sheet pan or a platter to cool.

Combine the apricot jam, orange juice, COINTREAU and remaining zest in a small mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Place the glaze in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Allow glaze to cook until reduced by half. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

Season the hens with the remaining salt and pepper on the insides and out. Stuff each hen cavity with about 3/4 cup of the cooled rice and place in a roasting pan. Use a pastry brush to spread the glaze on the hens and place them in the oven.

Roast the game hens for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and spread another layer of glaze over the hens. Return the hens to the oven and roast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the hens from the oven, spread the glaze over the hens, and return to the oven.

Continue to cook for 30 more minutes, or until an instant read-thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 160 degrees F, and inserted into the rice registers 140 degrees F.

Serve the hens with any extra rice pilaf.

Pieces of Us

21 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Two)

My 17th birthday. Jen shared in my excitement over my OWN cordless phone.

Selection, cutting, piecing and assembly. These are the four main phases in the fabrication of a quilt. Or a friendship. Over the long course of each, great care (and luck) with the first two phases affect the rest.

These pairs of strips were cut to form the smallest "stair" blocks of the pattern.

I’m always reassured when I still love my chosen fabrics throughout and beyond the tedious process of working with them. Some become favorites, like the most cherished characteristics of a longtime friend. Others serve to bring harmony and balance–in color, pattern and scale. I like a mix of each.

For this quilt, my fabric selection included red as base (and backing). This is the primary color of both the elementary/middle and high schools to which my friend Jennifer and I attended together, which despite such extended exposure, remains the dominant hue in both of our home interior color schemes. The shimmered gold sun fabric was an exciting find, which I opted to employ as the “stairs” in the pattern. It reminds me of our coinciding faith in a saving God, who has always been and remains our ultimate shared fire escape.

A quilter's tools: rotary mat, cutter and edged ruler.

Precise cutting is critical. As I plodded through this repetitive phase with my handy-dandy quilting tools, the numbered inches on my rotary mat took me back to well-grooved positions in the timeline of my and Jen’s lives.

  • 2: We, the inseparable pair in high school. Two siblings in each of our families. Our marriages. We each have two kids.
  • 6-1/2: The age we first knew each other. Carvel ice cream parties. Our well-loved first-grade teacher, Miss Highland.
  • 12-1/2: Middle school drama. Bible confirmation. Our well-loved eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Marsh, who taught us both how to write.
  • 18-1/2: College roomies first semester. Jen made me a neat-freak. We part ways to attend different schools.
  • 26: Jen has her first son, and I become a godmother. We’ll switch roles two years later.

The piecing stage takes the longest, although in my opinion, it’s the easiest. If you’ve cut right, sewing pieces together is pretty straightforward. If you watch this video, you’ll get the picture of how it goes. And goes.

Iron out the wrinkles and lay seams flat as you go along.

Right sides together, always.

As with any sewing, most everything in a quilt happens behind the seams. The pretty fronts that the world sees are placed together, face to face, and pinned at intervals along straight edges.

So, too, of a deep friendship. The real action takes place over hundreds of points of connection–those humorous, awkward, painful, inspiring stories behind the stories–conversations and confidences known only to you.

Preparing for the final seam, joining together the two sides.

For ease of sewing my 10 pieced columns, I decided to first attach the lengths within the two groups of five before combining the resulting two big pieces. I realized, in doing so, one more eloquent attribute of this pattern. The quilt can be divided in half, with the vertical patterns of the left repeating, though in opposite order, on the right.

I smiled again at the fortuitous symbolism. Jen and I: two halves of one enduring friendship.

Look for The Big Reveal next week in Part Three.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One).

Killing off my darlings

20 Dec

I don't know what this picture represents, but aside from the near-miss on the moon shot, I thought it was pretty cool.

I hesitated to put that title because I didn’t want FBI showing up at my door to make sure my family is still alive (they are, and as loud as they can be, I’m sure our neighbors can vouch for that). But it’s how I felt when I made what I consider pretty major changes to my manuscript.

I was hesitant, even resistant to the changes. But someone(s) finally took a hammer to my head (kidding, kind of) and convinced me to make the adjustments. I finally realized they were right. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it because the book is so much better because of those changes. In chapter 8 of Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World, the task is to perform an “exorcism” of the creative demon. She suggests throwing it over the gorge bridge or burning it. Too extreme for me. I decided just to cut them and stick the extra “babies,” those pieces I thought were necessary until I realized they weren’t, and pasted them into a document I’ve titled “pieces and parts.”

Of course, I won’t go back to those pieces and parts. They were cut for a reason. They lay in their virtual grave, to only be revived if needed for a reminder to myself or to others close to me that getting rid of those little darlings can be good.

Hard, but good.

 

Slow Down and Feel Strong – Week 8 Task

18 Dec

In this chapter of Julia Cameron’s book, Walking in This World, one task in particular spoke to me.  The title was: Slow Down and Feel Strong.  Even though my work is finally slowing down at year end, I still feel myself in a rush.   It’s almost like the end of a 100 yard dash, where you’ve crossed the finish line but the momentum keeps your body moving forward and you just have to keep moving your legs so you don’t fall flat on your face.  Actually, a better analogy would be a small child who, at the end of the day is exhausted, yet they get even more wound up and are literally running mindlessly in circles. Yes, that’s what I feel like at the moment.  So, if I’m truly to enjoy these holidays, I need to slow down. 

The task is to write down a list of 5 areas in your life where you feel a sense of haste and pressure.  Then, to determine if your urgency is misplaced or if you can reset your timeline, and ultimately to slow down, be more in control and not make yourself crazy!  Here is my list:

1.    Reading.  This one is odd.  And a little sad.  Reading is one of my very favorite activities.  I couldn’t wait until the end of the semester so I’d have time to read some books for pleasure.  But am I finding it pleasureable?  So-so at best.  Why?  Because I am literally racing through them.  Just let me get to the end so I can see what happens.  Oh, and check it off my list.   That’s the subliminal refrain I can hear if I slow down for just a moment.  I’m skimming, not savoring.  Ugh.  

This one I definitely need to change my timeline on.  And go back to enjoying reading.

2.   Home ‘refurbishment’.  I know why I’m feeling skitchy about this one.  Because we just finished a major project but there are other, smaller ancillary projects that spun off of it.  You know how it goes – you remodel your kitchen, then it’s obvious the living room needs painting.  And the dining room, and the den.  And then, oh, those window coverings could use a little perking up.  And on it goes.   And I just want it done because I’ll be hosting for the holidays and I want everything to be just right.  

Okay, if I’m being realistic, this is one I can change my timeline on, too.  The truth is, my guests will have a good time no matter what color my living room wall is.

3.   Holiday cards.  I usually like writing and sending holiday greetings.  But I’m rushing through it this year and to be honest, it’s not doing anything for my holiday spirit.  This one I can’t change the timeline on if I actually want people to receive their cards before Christmas.   I’ve already blown the beginning of Hannukah deadline, but I can still make it by the end of the 8 days.  

I could just say ‘forget it, I’ll make them New Year’s card instead’.  But I’m not going to.  This timeline stays.

4.   Eating.   Now, this one sounds really odd, but with everything else going on, I find the very last priority in my day is eating.  I sometimes literally forget to eat lunch or breakfast.  This has never, and I mean never, been my m.o.   Not only do I get painfully hungry and grumpy if I don’t eat often,  I truly love good food.   The thing that makes me such a picky eater is the same thing that makes me go all When Harry Met Sally over the perfect heirloom tomato salad or lemongrass risotto – I can taste every flavor x10.  But now?  I’ll realize among my working, painting, cleaning, making meals for everyone else, rushing to the store and drycleaners and so on that I never made time to eat.   And when I do eat, I just shovel it in.   But don’t worry about me.  I’m not wasting away.  I’ve actually gained 5 pounds in the last few months. 

This is a basic self-care issue.  I need to and I will slow down, make sure I eat, and enjoy my meals once again.

5.   This blog post.  I know, this one’s a little bit of a cheat.  But since it’s 5 minutes until midnight and I said I would get this out “today”, I have to make a choice. 

And, the choice is…no pushing back the time.  Finish it and hit ‘publish’.  And that’s what I’m going to do.

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