Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whew! I made it!

My goodness, September has been an adventure; I managed to keep my commitment to blog daily throughout this month. It's been a roller coaster; some days I was eager to write, others I thought this was the dumbest idea I've ever had. I managed to do this with only a few temper tantrums and generally without spilling too much paint. Or verbage. I think.

Things I've enjoyed about blogging daily:
  • The process. Thinking about writing feels great. And moving through world thinking, "I could blog that!" is pretty cool
  • I've gotten to meet people I never would have otherwise
  • My writing habit feels much more ingrained, which was the whole point of this exercise
  • I had to stretch to find something to say some days. This is good, it made me think and explore
  • It's forced me to look at the world with new eyes, finding new things to say, hoping I'm not repeating myself too much
  • It's also helped me think more clearly about different kinds of creativity. I've always written, but I need to remember to feed myself creatively in many ways; writing about it has helped me remember how important it is.
  • It's helped me clarify some of the things I care enough about to want to write about, rather than just rambling for the heck of it.
Things I've not enjoyed about blogging daily:
  • My god, I am just not that interesting. Since the start of third week I've been struggling to find things to say, I've not wanted to talk about myself or navel gaze anymore.
I'd be really interested in any thoughts you'd like to share about this past month. Please post them in the comments so I can share them with everyone.

Blogging is a communal experience. I find this kind of writing compelling because it's as close to storytelling, or audience-based writing, as I have yet come. It helps me write more and write better if I know the audience is more immediate than, say, when I'm working on a piece that may only merit a rejection letter or, worse, writing in my journal.

I'm no longer going to post daily (as I said, I'm tired of listening to myself) but I am going to try to post at least once a week on cookpot stories and three time a week here. I'm considering this structure, though it's open to debate:
  • Wednesday: Storying the world. Observations on living the life of a storyteller, how stories shape us, meaningful stories, etc.
  • Friday: A ramble, observations, thoughts about something I care about, etc.
  • Monday: Living the big life. Creativity challenges, guerilla kindness, etc.
What do you think? I'd be really interested in your thoughts.

I hope you have found something of value in this month of posts. I hope you look at the world a little differently now, take more joy in the overheard, stretch yourselves creatively just a little bit more. Thank you for listening to me and participating in this experiment. I hope you keep creating and living with joy. And yes, the little girl in the picture is me. I never was good at painting within the lines.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Repentance and joy

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. While I am not a deeply observant Jew, I do pay attention to the big holidays; I'm maybe one step up from a Christmas and Easter Christian, if that makes any sense at all.

I spent 4 hours in Temple yesterday, praying in community for forgiveness for our sins over the past year. Part of what moves me about this service is that we do it all together; no one person has to claim responsibility for their own sins, we all claim responsibility for everyone's sins. Sure, each individual knows what they did, but since we're all doing it together it becomes much easier to name the unfortunate acts and move on from there. By the end of the day the slate is clean; we have a chance to try again and try better in the coming year.

We are asked to try to forgive others for those acts they may have committed against us. The things that have hurt us. Coming into Yom Kippur this year I found that I was carrying around a couple of hurts that I really needed to work to let go of. It was hard. Ultimately, I found I needed to forgive myself for clinging onto these wrongs before I could let go of the wrong itself; once that was done it became much easier to move on.

We all do this, of course. We all hold onto little grudges that become giant boulders on our backs. It's not worth it. I don't need to love the people who have hurt me, I only need to not hold onto the hurt they inflicted and allow them to move through the world as I move through the world, doing the best I can. As I will.

At the end of Yom Kippur, a fast day, I broke my fast with friends and family. I wrote about it here. I believe everything tasted so much better, the figs were sweeter and the wine richer, not because I was hungry, but because I'd let go of some of my bitterness. It seems a shame that this is something I practice only once a year, maybe this will be the year that I remember to try more often. Because really, life is much richer if I only carry my own baggage around, I don't need anyone else's. I'll send it all off to lost luggage and instead learn how to dance.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday beauty

A few minutes of beauty for Monday. If you enjoy this check out Blu's site.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday links

A quick list of yummy links for you:

Chowhound, people as passionate about food as you are ever likely to meet.
Amuse Bouche, a delightful cooking blog.
Practically Edible, a food encyclopedia.
101 Cookbooks, anther food and life blog, mostly veg.
Food Porn Daily, exactly what it says.
Food origami. Play with your food.

Have fun! Creative Commons License

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday bravery

On Saturdays I'm posting original work. My original work. This is sometimes really hard; I know I can write a decent essay, but some of the other stuff? whew, that's scary. That being said, I believe life is best lived facing the demons, doing the scary things from time to time.

Leda, grown old, to Helen
(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

Oh, my daughter

How could I have known your birth would be our greatest curse?
As if it were not enough that you were conceived
in a rush of wings and an unwelcome mating:

When I found myself imprisoned in feathers I could only think
"But this is the stuff of story. Why else would this swan betroth itself to me?"
I should have known your fury while in my womb.

There was never a more perfect baby
even covered in blood
your radiance filled the room

And as you grew I should have known that my Helen
conceived out of story
could be nothing less than story herself.

Your beauty eclipsed mine from your first touch at my breast.
I did not begrudge it to you-
beauty can be such a burden.

But now I wonder, if I had known of all the blood
and death
that would fall from your name,

If I had known your father's intent in your conception
(how we mortals make the gods laugh)

If I had known the cost of your beauty,

would I have left you on the rocks or
broken your tender skull
as soon as you crawled from my body?

What is the price of beauty?

Oh, my daughter
if I could undo what has been done,
take back the blood of your birth

I would do so

and let the poets tell different stories.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, September 25, 2009

The walls have ears

A selection of the observed and overheard.
  1. "We're all interchangeable pawns." Overheard in the corridors of a tech company.
  2. Bartender 1: That's white of him.
    Bartender 2: What did you day?
    Bartender 1: I said, that's white of him.
    Bartender 1, laughing: You gotta love the South.
    Over heard in a bar in North Carolina. I was initially stunned then cringed at the stereotype.
  3. Overheard, while walking across street, "No death for us!" My first thought: ever? How boring!
  4. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spreading a conversational meme. I was talking with an acquaintance about the relative merits of twitter and facebook. Within a few minutes I heard one conversation near me about facebook, then another about twitter. I guess I'm not the only one who eavesdrops...
Hear anything good this week?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two last September tips for creative living

As you know by now, Thursdays I've been exploring creativity. Blogging daily throughout September has been an extended creativity exercise for me and I hope the suggestions I've offered throughout the month have been helpful. Next Thursday is the last day of the month and I'd like to devote that post to thinking about this month-long blogging experiment, so I wanted to offer you two tips today.
* * *
Take your time. Don't forget you have senses other than sight. Close your eyes. What does this moment smell like? How does it feel in your hand or belly? What are the sounds around you? And if right now were scent, what would it be?

When we use the full range of our senses the world becomes that much bigger and we become more connected with the world. In turn, as the world becomes broader and our connections deepen, we can breath in more of it and recreate it in whatever our own medium may be.

* * *
And don't go it alone. Find someone who will listen to you without interrupting and tell them your story, tell them why the painting, the dance, the work matters. Tell it to them and let them just drink in your light. All they have to do is give you the chance to listen to yourself; they don't need to criticize or ask questions, their whole job is to give you the chance to see the art inside of yourself. We so rarely have the chance to just hear our own brilliance, give yourself that gift from time to time and you'll be amazed at how your creativity blossoms.

I'd love to know how your journeys go. I expect I'll continue blogging about creativity and artistic process, it's something I find endlessly fascinating. Send me your tips and thoughts to share. We're all in this together, after all. It is by supporting each other that we become better artists, change agents, dreamers, builders.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A story

The Strawberry
A Zen Tale from Japan

There was once a man who was being chased by a ferocious tiger across a field. At the edge of the field there was a cliff. In order to escape the jaws of the tiger, the man caught hold of a vine and swung himself over the edge of the cliff. Dangling down, he saw, to his dismay, there were more tigers on the ground below him! And, furthermore, two little mice were gnawing on the vine to which he clung. He knew that at any moment he would fall to certain death. That's when he noticed a wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. Clutching the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other and put it in his mouth.

He closed his eyes as the sweetness filled his mouth. "Ah, delicious."

* * *

I love this story. Take from it what you will.

What is delicious in your life, in this moment?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hanging between worlds

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, the moment when time and light stand in balance. Last night was as long as today and, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it marks a shift from extended light and the hope of more warmth to creeping dusk, to the time when trees whisper of digging their roots in deep for the winter, to the worried glances of squirrels as they forage for one more acorn.

I love these shifting kinds of days. They give me pause to consider the passage of time both personal and global, and my own smallness against the monumental cycles of the planet.

Taken further, in general I love the places and times that are between worlds. Twilight, doorways, the micro-environments that spring up in the cradle of an exit ramp. I love not knowing what's around the corner; in all likelihood it's the familiar, but the possibility of the other is alway there.

The places and times that are between worlds suggest such possibility. In this moment, on this day, we are reminded that we are part of a cycle so much larger than ourselves. We are reminded that we don't know what happens next, that there is a universe of possibility in front of us, in the next moment. We are reminded that we have such opportunity to decide if the dark is ally or foe, if the doorway is an exit or entrance, if the thicket of trees holds wolves or wise old women. We decide if the stranger offers us gifts or thievery.

The Equinox gives us the chance to remember that we are here, in this moment, between light and dark, that this life is but one moment in the life of the world, and isn't that glorious? The world has existed forever behind us and will go on long after we do, so we may as well live our brief time as best we can, in the best balance that we can.

Today, on the Equinox, I will take a moment to think about the balance of my life, the choices I have made that have led me to this moment, and I will imagine my foot on the path forward, walking in balance between light and dark, between this world and the next. I'll see you along the way.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday delight

This is wonderful! Made me laugh out loud and spill my water...

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Four things you could do today

Alright, so it's another Monday, so that means a few more reasons to go out and fight dragons.

There's a low-level thread going around twitter right now called boycottmonday. People are coming up with silly reasons to say no to Monday. Instead, why not make Monday the day when you go through the world with an open ear and mind. Try one of these tricks instead.
  1. Tell someone a dumb joke. One of my favorites is:
    What did the fish say when it swam into a wall?
    See? It's so dumb that most people can't help but smile.
  2. Make an origami crane and give it to a stranger. It's a sign of peace.
  3. Take a walk. Make a map of the route you took, labeling the sounds you heard while you walked. Mail the map to yourself and take the same walk next Monday, so you know now you'll have something to look forward to in a week.
  4. Ask someone you meet to tell you a joke. Pass it on.
Any other ideas? If you try any of these I'd love to hear what happens. And send me your jokes!

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday sightseeing

Today's set of links focuses on travel from in front of your screen. I love the way the net lets us dream the world more easily.

Atlas Obscura explores the stranger corners of the world. Cataloged by both locale and type of curiosity, the Atlas encourages you to plan your next trip not only for pleasant breezes and cultural exchange but also for curiosity and wonder.

Creepy Russian Playgrounds is exactly what it describes. It makes me grateful for the playground of my youth.

Scouting New York is a wonderful blog that explores hidden places in New York City. I refer to this blog every time I go to NYC.

Top 10 abandoned places list ten wonderful places I hope to visit. You may have noticed a theme here; I love abandoned places, the sense of what has been, the hope that lingers in the corners.

And lastly, the online Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Because it's nice to not be in this world sometimes. Heck, I spend a lot of time out of this world.

Have a good trip!

(c) 2009 Laura Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Psychic Hairdesser Returns, part 2 (fiction)

And now, more insights and commentary from the seer of shears, the trimmer of truths, the mirror of our lives, the Psychic Hairdresser!

I hate it that my hair is so straight. I want a perm.
Sweetheart, perms are merely momentary and the change I see coming into your life is, well… do you have life insurance? Oh, what the hell. Let’s do the perm. Don’t worry about a thing.

Dye it black. Black like the night. Like death. Like my soul.
Don’t you know that there are real, bad things out there that you just shouldn’t be calling to yourself? Death comes to all of us sooner or later. Honey, I know it’s fun to think you’re shocking your father with the tattoos and piercings and so on, but this is what you need to know: Go home. Look in the back of his bottom dresser drawer and get over yourself. You’re a pretty girl underneath all that eyeliner. Stop rolling your eyes, someone had to say this to you eventually and it might as well be me. Now, do you still want that dye job?

My mother said she’ll throw me out if I don’t get a hair cut.
There is no way I’m cutting this gorgeous hair more than an inch. Are you really that much of a momma’s boy? Oh. I see. One buzz cut coming up.

I’ve heard you’re psychic! Can you read my palm?!
But I can tell you if you keep using those home perms you’ll be as bald as a baby in no time. My price list is right here.

Send your questions to the Psychic Hairdresser by emailing or posting comments below! Free answers with a wash and style! The Psychic Hairdresser knows all!

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Watch what you say!

This was a good week for keeking.

- A one way dialogue between two women in a shopping mall lot. One woman said to the other, without pausing for breath, "Do you know what's hard? I'll tell you what's hard. What's hard is..." Sadly, I never got to hear what was hard. I'm hoping she said, "...granite."

- Out for a walk in a wealthy suburban town, I saw a mom and her children walking a goat and three kids on leashes.

- In a large, chain hardware store with orange branding. One associate talking with another.
"Man, working here sucks."
"It's a job and it's better than sitting at home."
"Whaddya mean?"
"You get paid to pretend you can fix shit here. At home I gotta pretend for free."

- Three little girls running through a park with their arms spread, blowing raspberries. I think they were airplanes. This made me grin for days.

What have you seen or overheard lately?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Missing muses and flying monkeys

Today is the day to write about creativity and, I have to admit, the muse is missing. I've spent most of the day tracking down some computer issues, making other people look good while remaining invisible and this makes coming up with something creative, let alone possibly inspiring, challenging. Which leads me to today's topic.

There is a creativity teacher named Jill Badonsky who calls blocks flying monkeys. She includes little devils like procrastination and taking yourself too seriously in the category of flying monkeys.

Today I have felt like an animated character with a halo of flying monkeys about my head. I find when I'm having a day full of these charming friends that if I name them, notice them and invite them to leave, it helps. By naming the little problems I realize just how small they are.

This is my list for today:
  • I have a headache. So take some medicine!
  • My computer is being weird. So I got some help, fixed the problem and things seem to be okay. It really wasn't the end of the world, just slowed me down some.
  • I did something for someone and someone else was credited. So what? If I dwell on it that makes it worse. I can choose to speak up or let it go. It's not worth dwelling on.
  • My desk is messy. Oh, come on. There is a lot to be said for good, creative workspace, but it's not an excuse to not work.
You see what I mean? Each one of these flying monkeys is ultimately a small and insignificant excuse for not sitting down and working.

Which leads me to the last thing I want to say tonight. Creativity isn't a bolt out of the blue. You can't sit around and wait for it. Creativity comes from practice. Instead of hoping that I'll have a magical moment when I can finally write, if I can get past my flying monkeys, sit down and give myself the opportunity to create on a regular, routine basis, I am much more likely to create. It's like exercise. You get strong by using your muscles even when you don't want to.

And that's what tonight's post is; it's my exercise. I'm all sweaty with creativity now. Now it's your turn, go out there and work up some creative sweat. Tell me what you come up with.

(c) 2009 Laura Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fine. So they make me hyperventilate. Still.

On Wednesdays I'm writing about other people's work. So far I've touched on poetry and painting, today it's music. One band in particular.

I grew up listening to classical, jazz and folk music. When Elvis died I didn't know who he was, but I could tell you if a symphony was by Mahler and which one it was within a few bars. I was a nerd. When I was ten I met Esther, who thought all this classical stuff was great, but couldn't believe I'd never heard of The Beatles. She played some of their records for me, showed me who was who (Paul was the cute one, John was the one with glasses, Ringo was the one with the big nose (sorry Ringo, we were 10) and George was the one with the eyes. I've never gotten over those eyes) and my world has never been the same. Just like it's never been the same for millions of other people.

Their music got me through every turbulent moment of my adolescence, even though they broke up years before. They sang to me, talked to me, comforted me. I can still quote most of their movies line-for-line. Sure, there were other musicians who helped me along (a CD of my stories to the first person who can name the singer of this line: I'm not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with potential of a superman.) but I always came back to the boys.

I'm sure most of you know all about this and have your own Beatles love stories, your own little smiles as you think of what they meant to you. Or some other musician who played the same kind of role in your life. I'd love to hear those stories.

Let me tell you about one recent Beatles moment that still makes me grin.

I've known that Paul McCartney toured, but never wanted to pay the exorbitant prices he was asking for tickets. This year I finally broke down. Maybe it had something to do with George dying a few years ago, knowing half the Beatles are gone. Maybe it had to do with issues of my own mortality. Maybe it had to do with knowing that Paul and Ringo are much closer to my parents in age than they are to me and thinking will I have another chance to see a Beatle?

35,000 other people made the same decision. It was the best sign-along I've ever been to and one of the very best concerts. We all knew all the words to every Beatles song (at least 75% was Beatles material), many of us were playing air guitar, everyone - from the five year olds to the 85+ year olds - was dancing. No one cared if they looked foolish, everyone was happy. It was as though we each were having our own, personal relationship with Sir Paul (as we were) at the same time that we were with 34,999 of our best friends.

And I realized that's what the Beatles did and are still doing, almost 40 years after they broke up. They bring us together. They remind us of the potential of a shared dream and that we all have at least this music in common, even if our personal experiences of the music are different.

Music is powerful, it shapes us and inspires us. Neuroscience has established the music effects our brains on a grand scale (classical music especially so) and, in this case, the music of the Beatles kept me from going crazy when I was a kid. And now? The Beatles remind me of who I was and that I am the product of all my years. My current favorite Beatles song is In My Life with its love and nostalgia and sense of we have all felt this. We have all been here.

I'm still a proud nerd; I still love classical, jazz and folk. I also love a wide range of modern music in all different kinds of genres. And I will always turn up the volume on the radio when I hear the Beatles and start singing along. Care to join me?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Action vs inaction

Two anecdotes.

1. Late last week I was at the gym, swimming laps. While I was resting in-between sets I overheard a man in the hot tub say to the other men in the hot tub, "Hey! I've got a rabbi joke for you!" It was a variant of this joke or this one, only he clearly had no idea how Judaism works, because he ended the joke with the Rabbi talking to St. Peter at the pearly gates.

I began to fume, but decided to be polite and swim a few more laps to cool down. When I finished and was again resting, the guy said to a few new arrivals in the hot tub, "Hey, I've got a rabbi joke!" and told it again. I looked at the other men in the hot tub. Some were laughing (it is a funny joke) while others looked put off.

This is a gym with a multicultural population. Black and white people, asian people, latino people, middle eastern people and many different faiths. It's in a neighborhood that at one time had 4, count 'em, 4 synagogues. I bet he wouldn't have told jokes about women while I was there. Who knows what religion those other men were? We don't have to wear stars anymore.

I had enough. When I got out of the pool I sat in the hot tub for awhile (things got quiet once I settled in, I think having a woman there changed the dynamic) then, before I left I approached the jokester and quietly said, "Two things. It's a good joke. I've heard it with a minister, rabbi, iman and Jerry Falwell. And just so you know? Jews don't meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. We have an an express line." I walked away without looking back.

2. A couple of days later I was at an amusement park with my sweetie and a friend. At the house of mirrors we saw a little girl crying her head off. At first I thought she'd just gotten scared, but upon looking again I saw she was bleeding. A lot. She had clearly been running inside the maze and slammed into a wall. Blood was pouring out of her nose, was all over her hand and her shirt.

Her parents were no where around. There were two slightly older girls with her who looked as though they were about to burst into tears; they clearly didn't know what to do.

The amusement park attendant was just standing there. Other adults nearby were watching. No one was doing anything to help this screaming kid who kept trying using her bare hands to try to stop her nose from bleeding.

I asked my sweetheart for tissues (he always has some) and gave them to her. She knew exactly what to do, this clearly wasn't her first nose bleed. I told her she was going to be fine, told the two girls (her cousins, as it turned out) to call her parents. They said they tried but no one answered. I suggested they try again and sent our friend to get water so we could wash off the girl's hand, as she was clearly upset by seeing the blood on her palm.

She calmed down. The cousins calmed down. The other unrelated adults stood and watched or wandered away. A park EMT finally showed up and helped her just as her mother arrived, so we left. There was nothing else to do other than find a bathroom, wash my hands and enjoy the rest of the day. Which we did.

* * *

In neither of these cases was I being heroic nor doing anything that I consider out of the ordinary. I was acting in situations where I believe action is warranted. And that's what I ultimately find upsetting - I wasn't the first person there, it's likely I wasn't the first person to be distressed by what was happening, yet I was the first person to do anything.

It doesn't take much in the way of courage to act in these small ways. You can safely and easily make a difference in the world by quietly letting a bigot know it's not okay (ever hear of Stetson Kennedy and frown power? He is one of my heroes) or offering comfort to a child.

When we stand up in a civilized manner for what we believe is right, when we intervene to help the weak, we are making an impacting in that moment and modeling behavior that may inspire others to stand up for what they believe in. The current tone of incivility in American discourse serves only to make me more determined to act with kindness and integrity when I have the opportunity.

I don't know if the man who told the joke at the pool learned anything or will tell that joke again. I do know that I could have embarrassed him by chastising him loudly or embarrassed myself by yelling. I hope he will consider where he is and who might be listening before he tells it again.

I don't know if the park personnel will consider trying to comfort the next screaming child, at least offering her a napkin so she isn't covered in blood, nor do I know if other adults might consider being kind to children other than their own. I do know in that moment she needed someone to tell her she would be okay. I hope her older cousins consider being kind when they have the opportunity.

I also know I could not have remained inactive in either of those circumstances. Perhaps that makes me a busy-body. I've certainly been accused of that and worse. But overall? I'd rather act and risk offending, taking a chance that I might effect change, than choose to do nothing and let the world slide further into inaction, incivility and apathy.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Monday, September 14, 2009

Three things I like about Mondays

  1. It's a chance to reset. Just like most working people with a standard North American schedule (M-F, 9-5ish) I love weekends. They give me a chance to recuperate from the week, catch up on the things I didn't get done and play a little. This weekend I rode roller-coasters for my play. But Mondays give me a scheduled opportunity to take a deep breath (try it. Right now. I'll wait.... There, wasn't that nice?), look at the week and start again. I can see what I didn't accomplish, decide what's important enough to take another shot at and what I don't really need to bother with. It's an opportunity to pare down to the essential and let go of the chaff.
  2. It's a chance to goof off. Because Mondays are the Moon's Day, as I mentioned last Monday, I inevitably spend some time daydreaming. I love daydreaming. I also try to amuse myself on Mondays, to start the week out right. This site takes random quotes from twitter and, well... you just have to see it. If that doesn't amuse you add a link that does in the comments!
  3. And it's a chance to remember that things could be much worse. I have a home, ample food and friendship, an abundance of gifts. Sure I have aches and pains, my own small tragedies, but it could be very different. On Mondays I try to take a moment to remember that this is another week with another opportunity to make a difference in the world. Here. You can too.
Have a good Monday. Life is a gift.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sundays are for sharing. Science edition.

As you know, on Sundays I'm sharing a few of the links that I enjoy. While I'm not a scientist, nor do I play one on tv, I enjoy good science writing and the way it makes me stretch my mind.

Mindhacks is a link aggregator that explores the newest research about the mind and brain. It never fails to fascinate.

ScienCentral is a video production company that creates science content for a wide variety of venues. Their videos are accessible online and cover a huge range of topics including Why Naps Make Us More Creative and Climate Change in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the Public Library of Science is an open publishing venue for scientific research. Imagine is scientists were encouraged to share their work instead of hoarding their results for the next grant? What kind of innovation would that foster?


(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Seeing the world

I don't particularly like having my photo taken, but I enjoy seeing the world through the camera's eye. Here are a few of the photos I've taken in the last year or so. Some are available as notecards through zazzle along with some other things I've designed.

All images and text (c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Friday, September 11, 2009

The observed world, part 2

Today is September 11th. You know that already. Eight years ago today, just like everyone else, I watched the world change. Sometimes I imagine what the world would be like if someone had said, "Stop. What are you doing?" just a bit sooner. Would things be any different? I don't know.

The observed world, in the last 24 hours. Two moments.
  1. At about 8:45am EST this morning I was coming off of an exit ramp from the highway. I noticed a flag at half-mast and thought, "Why is that flag - oh." At the bottom of the hill was an older man wearing a military uniform, standing with his hat over his heart.
  2. Last night around 5:30pm I was in line at the grocery store. The man behind me had a bag of tomatoes, another of potatoes and a dozen eggs. I smiled at him and mentioned it looked like a great dinner. He said, "We're breaking our fast soon. You know, for Ramadan." I wished him a happy Ramadan and we talked about the merits of spiritual fasting. I told him I'm Jewish and have fasted for a day as needed, but nothing like what he's doing. And he smiled, told me God smiles at all of us, and invited me to come break fast with his community.
The world has changed. In some ways I believe it has changed for the better. May this day and may all days bring us a greater chance for peace.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Creation stories

Let there be light...

When the world was created, whether through a cosmic explosion out of nothingness, through the word of God, or through some other incomprehensible event, all of the matter that ever was and ever will be was born

My parents met at a party. My mother was invited by the bald man on the bus, my father went with a friend...

Our own creation, out of this ancient material reformed into flesh and mind, is no less miraculous than the creation of the universe.

In the beginning there was only darkness. Suddenly a small bearded man, the One Who Lives Above, appeared rubbing his eyes as if just awakened. The man, the Creator, rubbed his hands together and there appeared a little girl, Girl-Without-Parents. The creator rubbed his face with his hands and there stood the Sun-God. Again Creator rubbed his sweaty brow and from his hands dropped Small-boy.

Creation stories are a deep and powerful part of our psyche. Regardless of whether they have spiritual significance for you, the stories of our beginnings, collective or singular, help us understand who we are and where we come from. That's their job, it's what they do.

My mother was in labor for almost 24 hours when I finally decided to come into the world. I was a breach baby, presenting the world with my bottom first, which may explain a thing or two.

When we explore our own, personal creation story we can learn things about ourselves we might never have known. We may discover unexpected paths and avenues. We may find out that we are not who we expected to be.

When we explore the creations stories of the world we find ourselves hidden in the gods.

* * *

I have come to believe that exploring the act of mythic creation, both personal and global, helps feed our entire creative being. I wrote yesterday that there would be a contest today; I'm sorry, but I am rescinding the offer for today, I'll give you one later in the week. I instead would invite you to write or draw a piece of your own creation story. If you feel as though you don't have a creation story, here are some starting points:
  • How did your parents meet?
  • What was the weather like when you were born?
  • Did anything dangerous happen to you as a child? How did you survive?
  • What was a defining moment, when was a time when you really knew who you were?
  • How did you meet your mate?
When exploring any of these topics, feel free to expand upon it. Make it mythic. It wasn't drizzling the night you were born; a rare, inland hurricane was lashing the land. You may have met your mate in high school, but you battled for their affection against wicked enemies. You get the picture.

I'd love to hear or see anything you come up with. These don't have to be long stories, it's a chance for you to explore your own mythical past. Don't we all deserve a creative once-upon-a-time?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What the eye sees

I grew up in Philadephia and was lucky enough to have parents who took me to the Philadelphia Art Museum on a regular basis. I was exposed to a lot of art at a young age and, quite wonderfully, my parents didn't censor what I looked at. If I had questions they did their best to answer them. I remember giggling at nudes when I was quite young; my mother enjoys telling stories about this.

My parents gave me permission to love art. I still do. While I am not a visual artist (though I dabble in collage and assemblage) the right painting or sculpture can make me cry. Maybe it's somehow related to the mechanics of vision, the light reflecting off of the object irritating my optic nerve, but somehow? I doubt it. You know the truth.

For your viewing pleasure, a few pieces of art I love that have moved me to create.

Andrew Wyeth's work always suggests action beyond the frame. His paintings have influenced my writing and storytelling. I've written about his work at greater length here.

Love in the Afternoon, 1992

Omen, 1997

As much as Wyeth has influenced my narrative, I've discovered I have a knack for some real, physical art as well, influenced by the work of Joseph Cornell. A rabid collector and assembler, Cornell created small, unexpected worlds that bear close examination. I love his work and the sense of mystery and possibility that pervade his every piece. I think my earlier of love of Marcel Duchamp (thank you, Philadelphia Art Museum) primed me for Cornell.

Bebe Marie, early 1940s

Pharmacy, 1943

The Pink Palace, 1948

How can I not love this stuff? The implied narrative, whimsy and whiff of danger are irresistible.

When I'm feeling brave enough I'll post photos of some of my assemblage and collage pieces. In the meantime, tune in tomorrow for musings on creativity and another contest.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

And it's time, time, time...

Well, my September post-a-day challenge has been going on for a week now. The structure (as you may have figured out if you've been following along) is:

Tuesdays - a ramble, the kind of post I've done all along in this blog
Wednesdays - other people's work, something I find inspirational
Thursdays - thoughts on creativity
Fridays - the observed world
Saturdays - an original piece of my work beyond the usual boundaries of this blog
Sundays - sharing. Links I love
Mondays - tips, pointers, suggestions and links to make the start of the week a little easier

I'd love to know what you think of this so far. All of that being said, let's move onto the ramble.

* * *
There's a song called Time by Tom Waits, one of my favorite musicians, on his album Rain Dogs. Like many of his songs, it's wistful and poetic and obscure and fills my heart with a longing for a broken down life that I probably would never really want. For the chorus Mr. Waits moans, "And it's time time time/ and it's time time time/ And it's time time time that you love /And it's time time time."

He's right, we do love time. As much as we curse it, long for it, waste it and kill it, most of all we love it. Time is what we have and our most precious commodity. I think about time a lot, especially about how time flexes and changes according to our needs.

I'll leave the science of time to physicists and its ethics to philosophers. I'd like to examine wonderfully flexible personal time, with four different examples of thinking about it discussed in order of increasing abstraction.
  1. Time as a measure of distance and ease. When we travel someplace we are rarely asked, "How many miles is it?" as an estimation of the distance. While that may be more factual - I traveled 350 miles - it's far less useful. We are asked, "How far is it?" and reply, "Oh, it's easy, about six hours." What we're really answering is "How long did it take you get there?" I know, this is obvious.

    But this six hours is variable. I don't think 350 miles is too far to travel to visit a friend. It's close enough that I can drive down for a weekend every couple of months. However, if the friend were instead the love-of-my-life then this six hours would be interminable, the time-as-distance becomes far longer and more painful. If the traffic had been bad and it took me ten hours to drive then the same 350 miles would have been a much longer road to travel and I would reconsider flying, which would take four hours, cost more and be less comfortable than riding in my own car. I'd be less likely to see my friend as often; the currency of time wouldn't make it worth it.

    A hundred years ago that same 350 miles would have made a weekend trip all but impossible, while two hundred years ago it would have been a perilous journey of several days; the currency of time would require an extended visit.

    Time, distance and the economy they create are woven together in our vocabulary and thought.

  2. Bodily time. Ask a five year old how old she is and she may very well tell you she's "five-and-a-half." Ask a 95 year old how old she is and it's unlikely she'll mention the half year. The six months of the -and-a-half is a significant portion of the five year old's life. She's likely to have a much-sharper recollection of everything that's happened to her in that last six months than the 95 year old, not necessarily because of age-related memory issues, but because she has so much less, in general, to remember. Her sense of time is immediate, while the older person's sense stretches out over a longer span.

    We retain that sense of time in our bodies, learning how to tell how much time has passed by how we feel. As someone who hasn't worn a watch in many years, I usually have a pretty good sense of time, because my body knows about how long an hour is, or about when 3:30 might be. I also know I am feeling the cumulative passage of time in my life by a greater accumulation of aches and pains. Bodily time.

    We mark time by the changes in our bodies, some clearly marked (the onset of adolescence) and others less so. I saw my mother recently after a gap of several months. After she hugged me she began to stroke my hair; I thought she was trying to tidy it. She was instead startled by how much gray I now have. I hadn't noticed the change because it's been gradual, but to my mother this was a dramatic shift in bodily time, reminding her of the passage of time as we both age.

  3. Before and after. There are instances that define us, a single moment that has such a powerful effect we are never the same. It's as though the brief experience that may last one minute or five or maybe an hour colors everything else. It becomes the dot on our timeline that creates before and after. Think about it.

    In one moment your whole life changes. I know I have those moments.

    - Before I knew had cancer (one sentence). After I was a survivor (one bike ride).
    - Before I told my first story in a performance venue. Afterward, eight minutes later, when I knew this was what I was born to do.
    - Before I found myself stepping between my lover and the assailant, offering calm words to defuse the situation (one second). After, when I realized both how fiercely I love (no one hurts someone I love) and how deeply I believe in alternatives to violence.

    These moments are so brief and so clear. They help us know who we are, but they take so little time, for all that those few minutes have more than their seconds worth of value. What are your before and afters?

  4. Books. This is perhaps the most abstract and most curious instance of personal time on this list. Everytime I read a book, especially fiction, I am reminded that books are physical representations of at least four kinds of time co-existing in one moment, in one physical object.
    - The author and editor devoted considerable time to create the narrative bound in my hand. This time has already happened but is now physically represented by the book;
    - The narrative described within these pages has its own sense of time, whether it's a single night (A Christmas Carol), a lifetime (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) generations that see the creation and collapse of a culture (Cloud Atlas) or an epic (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings);
    - I, as the reader, will spend my own time experiencing this narrative. That amount of time will vary depending on how long I take to read it and whether or not I'm enjoying it ("The time flew by!" or "It took me forever to read.");
    - and lastly, the book itself exists as a physical object moving through time as well as space. Old books have their own stories to tell by their type, their binding, their smell, annotations or objects left by previous readers. Time becomes a physical presence in the book itself.
These example of personal time barely scratch the surface; Alan Lightman explored many variants of time in Einstein's Dreams, so if you're interested in playing around with these ideas more you may want to check it out. I'd be interested in your experiences of personal time, how you measure the seasons or your life or any other places where time becomes particularly intimate.

It is, of course, time that we love. Not time the abstract concept, but what we do with it. The people we share it with and the experiences that create us.

Tomorrow I'll be looking at two artists I find particularly inspirational. I promise, the post will be nowhere near as wordy as this one! In the meantime, thank you for your time.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday, Monday...

I know Mondays can be hard. I often find the beginning of the week hits me like a brick wall I wasn't expecting, even though I had every reason and every reasonable expectation to assume that yes, Monday was going to happen. Honestly, it's not as though the kinds of things that happen to me on Mondays are so terrible, just that it's the shift from weekend life back into the more regulated and scheduled work-week that I find so challenging.

On Mondays throughout September I'd like to try to lighten the Monday load a little, soften the blow just a touch and maybe offer a tool to make the week seem a tad less overwhelming.

Here goes.

Remember. Monday is, quite literally, the Moon's Day. There is a reason you are still dreamy and drifty on Monday, you're still half in the realm of starlight and hidden answers. According to the old nursery rhyme, "Monday's child is fair of face," so today you are especially lovely (yes, I know I'm distorting the meaning of the rhyme, but work with me here). And Monday won't last forever. It's only one day.

To pass the time. Part of my challenge with Mondays is regaining focus. To help myself come to wherever and whenever I need to be, I often write lists. So here is your Monday challenge:
Write a list of three things you'd like to accomplish by the end of the day. Only one can be practical, the others have to be joyful, silly, or otherwise intended to help remind you that this is only one more day in your life. Because that's what it is - a day in your life. How cool is that? Feel free to post your list as a comment to give yourself a little bit of accountability, then send me an email for follow-up.

Here's my list:
  • Drive home from the house of stories with minimal whining (the one practical thing).
  • Take at least three pictures while on the drive.
  • Once home, lie down in the backyard and admire the sky. Or the rain. Or the stars. For at least five minutes. Afterwards write down a few of the wonders I saw today.
Don't take yourself too seriously. Laugh a little. Here's a site that reliably makes me chuckle. Please note, this isn't for kids. Old Jews Telling Jokes.

Have a wonderful day. The Moon and I are both rooting for you.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sundays are for sharing

September Sundays are for sharing. Here are a few of my favorite places on the web, I hope you enjoy them.

  • Keri Smith is an illustrator who has influenced my beliefs in creative play. I love her work.
  • PostSecret saves lives and encourages us all to be a little braver through art and the anonymity of the web. I've blogged about it before here.
  • Sur la Lune is my favorite fairy tale site. It's not the most academic nor the most lyrical, but for my money it's the most passionate and loving I've come across.
  • And last, but not least, my thirst for odd knowledge is often sated by Mental Floss.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, September 5, 2009

When I'm not writing...

As mentioned in a previous post, I love stretching creatively. I do this with more or less success, but I usually find that these stretches help me become a better writer. I've also discovered just how much I love creating, whether it's visual arts, writing, cooking, or something else entirely.

Throughout September, Saturdays will be my day to (gulp) share some of my other creative endeavors with you. It might be mixed media arts, a poem, fiction or something else entirely. I thought I would start with this.

I made this in response to a collaborative art challenge, where I had to make collage then give it away. I decided to make one about something that distresses me so I could send it away, out into the world and then not see it again.

It helped.

And if you don't know the words, look them up, they're some of my favorites.

Collage is a particularly functional art form for me, since it gives me permission to build narrative into a visual form without having to worry about my non-existent drawing skills. I've become adept enough at it that I'm going to have a few pieces in galleries in the coming months. I'll let you know when that happens. No doubt you'll hear some about the creative panic it produces. This collage is an early piece, but one of the first I loved enough to be willing to share.

I'd love to see some of your art. Feel free to post links to pieces of art you made in response to challenges in your life, art that helped you work through and release problems.

* * *
In response to the contest on 9/3, Old Gaming Mamma, John, Colleen and Tim all win prizes. If I've not contacted you for your address please email me.

I'd love to see more responses to the question of what feeds you creatively, how you stretch. We all need all the help we can get.

And come back tomorrow for a mishmash of links that I love, a goulash of the web. How's that for a terrible metaphor?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Friday, September 4, 2009

The observed world

As you know by now, I'm blogging daily throughout September. To make this a sustainable practice I've come up with a structure for posts. Thus far it is:

Tuesdays - A ramble. An essay of some sort or another, the kind of thing I've been doing all along.
Wednesdays - Work by others that I find inspirational. Poetry, visual arts, music, etc.
Thursdays - Feeding the muse. Creativity boosters and challenges.
Fridays (that would be today) - The observed world. The overheard and seen a.k.a. my life as a voyeur. Not the creepy kind.

I've written before about how much I love keeking (if this makes no sense to you read this). Observing the world, of it but not quite in it, is where I try to live. I love liminal places, where I can linger and pretend I'm watching the best movie ever.

* * *

Walking through a local shopping district this week, I overheard the following exchange between a middle-aged woman and a somewhat younger man. Both were white, missing some teeth and dressed casually in clean clothing.

She: I'm not saying do it for me because I'm your mother -
He: I'm not living large here!
She: You have a kid! You have to take care of her!
He: I'm going nuts with this shit everyday.
She: Oh, you have it so hard, shrimp every night, you come over and clean out the fridge -
He: Fuck you!
She: Would you say that to your kid?

Later on that same walk I saw two older black women, well dressed in neat, out-of-fashion, well cared for dresses. One was much taller than the other and very thin. She had a beatific expression on her face that may have been because she was wearing a truly glorious, large hat. She and her friend were walking slowly through the crowds of the homeless, of the iPod wearing oblivious, of the harried commuters. They were holding hands.

Who have you seen today? What did you hear?

Tomorrow, Saturdays, are for original creative work. Come back for a surprising glimpse into my strange, skewed world.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Feeding the muse - some thoughts and a contest

On Thursdays throughout September I'll look at feeding the muse, how we can best serve our creative selves. This is entirely selfish. I'm undertaking this blog challenge to give myself a creative boost and I've been developing a workshop on creativity and play, so writing about it once a week gives me a chance to organize my thoughts with the hoped-for side effect of giving you, the reader, something fun to think about or do.

I struggle to remember myself as a creative person. In the midst of work and commuting and day-to-day life it can get really hard. The deeper I get in the struggle the less creative I feel and the more likely I am to forget that it's when I do something, when I stop complaining and just act, that I remember who I am. I remember the writer, the storyteller, the keek, the assemblage artist, the listener, the cook and so on. We are what we do, not what we say we are. We are defined by our actions.

When I get into one of those stuck places I sometimes try radically different things to push me into new territory. I try something new with the mindset that I can't fail, all I'm going to do is play.

I've become a great proponent of creative play. It feeds me in so many ways, helps me feel revitalized and alive when I might otherwise feel lifeless and limp. By approaching a task or activity as play I have permission to go in any direction without judging myself and it's that voice of judgment that so often turns into a creative roadblock.

This is a sampling of some of the things I do for creative play. Note that I try to get away from words when I'm playing, since much of my usual creativity is around language:
  • draw on construction paper with crayons. I deliberately use a medium from childhood so I don't worry about that the medium might drive me to try to be "better." These drawings are terrible - I have the drawing ability of a first grader. It doesn't matter. I'll just play with color and shape. Sometimes I'll draw out story elements and find out something I never knew about the narrative (did you know giants have golden hearts?).
  • creative destruction. I'll take several pages from a magazine, rip them up at the same time, then reassemble them into new pages and try to figure out what the new articles, ads and images might mean. It's been a great leaping off point for stories and collage.
  • write notes on sticky pads and leave them where others might find them. They say positive things like, "Don't worry. You are beautiful." I feel really good about leaving these notes where I'll never know what happens to them.
  • make things to give away. Little things like bookmarks (I cut the blanks out of watercolor paper), snip out an image or two, laminate it and leave it somewhere. Or tiny little alters made from matchboxes or other things I can just leave with a note saying, "free." Since I know it will be claimed by someone I will never meet, presumably by someone who likes it since it's just sitting there and is free, I'm freed from constraints of audience and skill. I can play with the medium knowing it's just something joyful I'm sending out into the world.
This is just a sampling of my creative play. I do these kinds of things when I'm feeling fruitful and especially when I'm not.

So, here's a challenge for you. The first three people who comment on this post with a list of at least four things they do for creative play (ways they get a creative jump-start) and a little bit about how that helps them will receive a tiny present via US Post. It might be an emergency creativity kit or a piece of micro-art or something else entirely. All you need to do is comment with what helps get you out of ruts, how you stretch, how you feed your muse.

I reserve the right to disqualify disingenuous posts, so don't just cut and paste my list or one you find on another website. Make sure I can contact you somehow so I can get your address. And most importantly, have fun. Even if you're not one of the first three, share your ideas. I'd love to see them. I'm sure we'll inspire each other.

Friday we'll take a look at the world around us with a little bit of eavesdropping. Who knows what evil (and humor and love) lurks in the hearts of men (and women)?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What inspires me - poetry

On Wednesdays throughout September I'll be looking at other's creative work that I find inspirational.

This week I'd like to look at a few poems. Next week, the 9th, I'll look at a few paintings. We'll see what comes after that.

When I read the right poem at the right time a couple of things happen.
  • I feel a deep and aching resonance with both the written word and the world. I feel recognized.
  • I feel a need a to write, to at least try to capture this sense of recognition on paper.
This latter phenomenon means I have written a lot of bad poetry in the style of various poets. I'm hoping my loving family will burn this, unread, when I die. At a minimum I hope it makes them chuckle.

Here are a few of the poems that I have found to be particularly moving in the last few months. These are well known, oft-spoken poems, but they have been an anodyne in the midst of chaos.
* * *
I have needed kindness lately, in my own heart, for myself and for others. This poem helps remind me.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
* * *
And this poem helps me to remember to move through the world with my eyes open. What better way to live?

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

* * *

So, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? When have you known kindness? And what poems move you to tears and joy?

Tomorrow I'll be thinking about creativity, so check back in. See you soon!

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Building a better blogger - we can make her better, stronger, faster

The blogger in question being me.

I've been struggling with my vision of myself as a creative being lately. There have been a multitude of external pressures that I've used as an excuse to not write/not tell/not create and I'm getting annoyed. I'm sure this is a recognizable lament for some of you while others are rolling your eyes and have no sympathy.

In an effort to get off my creative butt (boy, that's an image we don't need to explore) I'md giving myself the challenge of a blog post a day for the month of September. This, obviously, is the start. I've registered at NaBloPoMo though I'm not yet sure how much of a difference this will make. I decided to undertake this challenge a) because NaNoWriMo has really worked for me in the past - I've written two 50,000+ word novels as a result - and b) my friends Elsa and Anna said if I blogged daily for a month they would too. You can find Elsa' blog here and Anna's is here.

To make this an achievable goal I've set up a schedule where I'll post on a different topic for each day of the week. Some topics will require more thought than others, so I will theoretically have lighter writing days and heavier. Tuesdays, today, are for the longer kinds of essays I have typically written here on this blog. You'll have to come back tomorrow to find out what Wednesdays are for.

I really miss writing regularly, I miss having a writing practice. I miss feeling like a creative person, it's as though part of me has been in hibernation while I've been working/taking care of others (not taking care of myself)/doing everything but what I say I love. I'm hoping this will help. If you get interested in this project and want to encourage me I'd welcome comments and cheers. Regardless, I'm looking forward to seeing what this month will bring.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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