Archives For inspiration

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[Today THE RUMPUS will publish a visual essay I wrote about what it was like to make a painting every day, featuring a number of this year’s paintings as illustrations. I’ll update this post with the link when it goes live.]

In 2018 my non-resolution was to make 50 pounds of art (metaphorically) by making a painting every single day (literally). I did it – I painted or sketched or made a comic every day this year – and it has utterly transformed my creative life. The idea was to focus on quantity and process rather than on perfection and preciousness.

I’m a writer and professor of creative writing, and while I’m incorporating more and more visual material in my storytelling (especially comics and collage), visual arts are not my primary focus. Which means painting can be a space of exploration and experimentation. With writing, I rarely share work that hasn’t been revised, vetted, edited, and published by someone who is not me. With painting, I just make a thing and then post it on Instagram in its often imperfect form.

I’ve learned to see in new ways, not only as a human in the world, but as a story-teller. In a written story, certain visual specifics can be eclipsed by atmosphere and the rhythm of sentences, and I’m starting to realize how much I’ve done this–avoided details that didn’t feel necessary. This is true in a comic as well–that you choose what to include and what not to–but you are also forced to answer certain questions, like: okay, you’ve drawn a nightstand: what’s on the nightstand? what kind of lamp? Or, what color is the house? what is the character wearing?

I’ve also found new artists I admire and whose work inspires me. I participated in Inktober this year (the challenge is to make an ink drawing each day of October), and I learned how use ink in ways I’ve never tried before (like the sketch of my journals on this post!). Then I participated in National Novel Writing Month in November and made over 30 pages of a graphic novel about my great-grandmother from Ireland.

And I filled so many journals! Like most people, I typically buy a journal, write or paint in a few pages of it, then abandon it. This year I filled 13 journals (with paintings on one side of each page) and 3 art portfolios with loose sheets of watercolor paper.

Yesterday I was carrying the heavy stack of journals and portfolios I’d filled in 2018 to make the above drawing, and my daughter said, “Weren’t you going to make 50 pounds of art or something? How much do those journals weigh?”

So I weighed them: 22 pounds. Then I weighed a larger painting I’d made on a wood panel; with the frame it was 7 pounds. Then I weighed one of the three a 30×30″ canvas I’d painted: 4.8 pounds (x 3 = 14.4 pounds). Then I weighed the 30×24″ canvas and the 36×24″ canvas and the 36×36″. And a few other smaller wood panels. And then next thing I knew, it was over 50 pounds. Turns out I made a painting every day AND 50 pounds of art – literally!

Click here for my first post of the year where I describe the 50 pounds of art idea for 2018 – and where I have links to the last several years of non-resolutions.

Click here for 12 thoughts after I made it to the 3-month mark.

Click here to see my daily posts on Instagram.

 

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It’s been a busy and inspiring coupla months. Here’s a little recap of things I saw and did, starting with the AWP Writers’ Conference in Washington, DC, where I was on a couple of panels, did a reading, and got to sign some books at the Rose Metal Press table. Those are my books on the left side of the sign:

My colleague and friend, David Dodd Lee had a book release and art show at Lang Lab. Here he his reading from his latest Ashbury erasure book, surrounded by his fans and collages:

I was thrilled to have my visual essay, “Empty Nest/Emptiness,” published (in full color!!!) in the latest issue of Passages North. It’s 14 pages, something I made when my daughter left for college:

Speaking of my daughter, I got to see Mamma Mia in Bloomington, IN with her and her bestie for her birthday. The next morning I saw the whole cast and crew in the lobby of my hotel!

Colson Freaking Whitehead came to my campus, Indiana University South Bend, and I got to sit in the almost front row. Here he is talking to Darryl Heller of the Civil Rights Heritage Center:

I invited the comic artists Marnie Galloway and Scott Roberts to visit IU South Bend, and the room was full for their artist talks:

Then the poet Steve Henn came to talk to my classes about his new book by Wolfson Press: Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year. Here he is showing off his “tour” T-shirt:

Another visual/collage essay published in Quarterly West!

I already blogged about being the guest author at Butler University’s Litfest and doing a workshop for the Indiana Writers Center, which was an honor and a blast.

And over the weekend, Wordman and I headed to Chicago and saw Lambchop at Lincoln Hall:

Then I got to read at Sunday Salon Series with amazing fellow readers and a fabulous crowd. Here’s Howard Axelrod reading:

Got some partial views of the Navy Pier Ferris wheel from the hotel window:

And made it to the Bean for the first time, and took the requisite selfie:

Mexico City Magic

August 3, 2016 — 2 Comments

I’m just back from three weeks in Mexico City, where I studied some Spanish, worked on a new project, visited old loves like Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, and found new loves like Lilia Carillo, the painter, and Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god.

Here’s Leonora Carrington’s Cocodrilo on Paseo de la Reforma (and my quick watercolor sketch of it):

I almost didn’t go to Frida’s Casa Azul again (here’s a link to my 2014 visit), but I’m so glad I did:

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I love her amazing collection of retablos, amateur paintings made to thank the Virgin of Guadalupe for interceding at life-threatening moments:

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These influenced some of her most famous paintings, and the museum juxtaposes small reproductions of her actual paintings with the retablos that inspired them:

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At the Museum of Modern Art, I got to see Dos Fridas in person for the first time:

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This painting was made after one of her breakups with Diego and represents two sides of herself, one as a comfort to the other. She is dressed in European attire on the left and in her classic Tehuana dress (which Diego preferred) on the right.

In all my times of viewing the painting online, I’d never noticed that the heart on the left is gray and withered:

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And I discovered the beautiful abstract paintings of Lilia Carrillo:

We saw an outdoor film at the Monument of the Revolution:

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about this guy, Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god:

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…who was removed from his original site in Coatlinchan and relocated to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The film, La Piedra Ausente (The Absent Stone), tells the amazing story of the removal of the stone amidst the town’s protests and its celebrated/contested arrival in Mexico City.

[More Mexico City magic: The night before the film, we went to a birthday dinner for a friend and met a woman named Sandra. After we’d talked for a while, she said, “I made a film; it’s screening tomorrow night at the Monument of the Revolution. You should come!” So we did. It was awesome.]

At the Palacio Nacional, we saw the journals of the artist Francisco Toledo, which were part of an exhibit of — get this — art that Mexican artists give to the nation as payment for their taxes:

These inspired a couple of my own journal sketches:

I thought I saw a Dirty Dancing sculpture, but it was just a strange sculpture that happened to have an ad for Dirty Dancing, The Musical behind it:

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Finally, I should mention that there was a tree hanging in the center of our airbnb apartment building:

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Every year I have a theme. No resolutions, which I’d just break by tomorrow and hate myself for the next day. Just a guiding principle, a phrase to think of when faced with laziness, lack of focus, or a looming decision (or, more likely, indecision).

Last year it was Live Lovely because I really needed a fresh way of thinking of life after turning in my tenure dossier. The year before was Put Yourself Out There because I needed to be brave when my first book was published.

Sometimes I have subthemes for certain parts of the year. Like during my sabbatical this fall it was Finish the Fucking Novel. Which I basically did.

This year the theme is Dig Deep because that’s what I need to do. In my writing and thinking and reading and blogging, even my cooking with my daughter. We’re armed with lots of new kitchen tools and cookbooks. I’ve got essay ideas brewing and notes for blog posts. I’ve started reading Les Miserables, and I’ve finished 87 of 1463 pages.

And in Digging Deep, I hope to do what Neil Gaiman wished for us all this past year:

Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Happy New Year to all my blog readers, and here’s to all of the glorious and amazing mistakes we’ll make this year!

I don’t make Top-5 lists. Because that always means leaving out so much awesomeness. But luckily for me, this one made itself.

I call this the International Version because none of them are from the U.S. and because that gives me a chance to do a separate Top-5 U.S. Women Writers if I want to. Only one of these women writes in English, so a huge shout out to translators everywhere!

Who are your top women writers (international)? Please share in the comments. I love to discover new authors!

In alphabetical order, then, because I cannot bear to rank these woman against each other, here they are:

1. Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington, Self Portrait

Her Words: “I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse. . . . I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.”

When She Lived: 1917 – 2011

Where She Lived: Fled debutante British upbringing to go to France where she was with Max Ernst until the Nazis arrived. Fled to Mexico where she thrived for over 50 years.

What She Wrote: My favorite of her stories is “The Debutante,” about a girl who doesn’t want to go to her debutante ball and sends a hyena in her place. The hyena disguises itself by using the face of the maid. In order to get the maid’s face, however, the hyena had to eat the maid. (Note the hyena in her Self Portrait above. The painting and story were written at about the same time in her life.)

More Reasons to Love Her: She was a major painter and artist, and a fiesty old lady who gives interviewers a hard time. (See video, the first few minutes tell it all.)

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2. Clarice Lispector

Clarice Lispector

Her Words: “So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.” – The Hour of the Star

When She Lived: 1920-1977

Where She Lived: Born to Jewish parents in the Ukraine, taken as an infant to Brazil where she lived most of her life

What She Wrote: In the short story, “Looking for Some Dignity,” Mrs. Jorge B. Xavier gets lost in Brazil’s large football (i.e., soccer) stadium and lost in the streets to her home and all of this echoes the way she is lost in the labyrinth of her aging mind and body. The story culminates in a fantasy of a love scene with a contemporary pop star. Lispector’s novella, The Hour of the Star, is similarly heady and dreamy.

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3. Herta Müller

Herta Müller

Her Words: “I’ve had to learn to live by writing, not the other way round. I wanted to live by the standards I dreamt of, it’s as simple as that. And writing was a way for me to voice what I could not actually live.”

When She Lived: 1953-present (she lives!)

Where She Lived: Born and raised in an ethnic German minority in Romania, endured rule of Ceauşescu, now lives and writes in Berlin.

What She Wrote: Her story collection Nadirs has mind-bending flash fictions that play with time and space. And the lyrical, wrenching novel, The Appointment, which I wrote about here.

More Reasons to Love Her: She won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, making her 12th woman to win in over 100 years!

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4. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Her Words: “Russian literature has been a kind of religion in this country–a religion based on the moral position of writers, on their suffering. All our greatest writers have been sufferers and saints.”

When She Lived: 1938-present!

Where She Lived: Russia. Many of her relatives were rounded up during Stalin’s Great Purge.

What She Wrote: I’ve only read her collection of stories, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, and the title pretty much tells it all. These are fairy tales set in Socialist housing units.

More Reasons to Love Her: She was banned by the Soviets.

Main source: The Nation

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5. Virginia Woolf

VWHer Words: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

When She Lived: 1882-1941

Where She Lived: Britain, purebred

What She Wrote: Only the best novels of the 20th century! Mrs. Dalloway! To the Lighthouse! Orlando! The Waves!

More Reasons to Love Her: Not to mention A Room of One’s Own! Her takedown of the patriarchal systems that privilege the male perspective, literary and otherwise. What if, she asks, Shakespeare had a sister? What if her name was Judith? She would have been “as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as [her super-famous brother] was. But she was not sent to school.”

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Honorable Mention: Božena Němcová (1820-1862)

Božena Němcová

A Czech writer of Austrian and Bohemian parents, grew up knowing Czech and German. I’m working on a collage-biography project about her. I am as captivated by her story (her life story, full of affairs and death and disease) as for her stories (her fairy tales and famous book, The Grandmother), which are as dark as they are quaint. She’s hard to learn about without knowing Czech, so I’ve tried to learn a little. Czech, that is.

I wrote more about her here.

[Most basic source info taken from/confirmed by Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.]

Writing is like breathing.  We all breathe and think we know how to, but only a few of us pay attention to it.  I teach yoga as one of my many jobs and much of the practice of yoga is about breathing.

Joanne Avallon is a freelance writer living in Rockport, Massachusetts. She was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize from Wellesley College and received an M.F.A. from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Sundog, The Norton Anthology of Microfiction, Smokelong Quarterly, FictionNow, BlinkInk, and other online literary sites. She has read her poetry on National Public Radio. Joanne also teaches American Literature at North Shore Community College and consults for the Clean Air Task Force. She is married, with two children and a 70-pound dog.

Read more by and about Joanne:

Flash Fiction: “All This” & Interview

Flash Fiction: Beauty, Bridge Mix, The Game of Life

Flash Fiction: Mice Cube

Flash Fiction: Kapha

Interview: Smokelong Quarterly

How Joanne Avallon Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Joanne for saying yes!

1.  Why did you want to become a writer?

I don’t know that I had a choice; as soon as I could write, it seemed to me that I should write.  I was a sensitive child and sometimes, for reasons I didn’t understand, I felt my heart was about to burst.  I wrote to find out why.  Poetry fit that purpose because I could ponder one idea – a few lines of verse – for a long time.  When I hit my teenage years, or they hit me, I discovered that I had a knack for telling stories.  When I was sixteen, I remember telling a story to my father – a voluble and busy man – and I had him stuck to his chair until I decided to end the story.  Now that is power.

2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

I majored in literature in college with a focus on creative writing.  I thought then, and I still think now, that it makes no sense to be a student of literature and not write.  There were so many English majors in my class who had never actually tried to write what they studied so assiduously.  When I graduated, my parents told me that I would starve as a writer and that they would only pay for a graduate degree that would get me a job.  So, I followed the steps of Carlos Fuentes and went to law school and became a lawyer.  I practiced law long enough to earn the tuition for my MFA in Literature, Writing and Publishing at Emerson College.  In the middle of all of this, I got married and had two children.  I was pregnant or post partum for most of time I was studying for my MFA.  I defended my thesis when I was seven months pregnant with my son and endured endless puns and double entendres about that fecund period of my life.  I am glad I got my law degree.  It helped to me be a better writer and has come in handy when I needed to earn some money.  I did find it hard to write with small children and decided those years would be my “stockpile” years where I would develop my writing without worrying too much about publishing.  I am just beginning to get back into the publishing world now.

3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

Frank Bidart, my poetry professor at Wellesley, was tirelessly encouraging and went over my senior thesis, a book of poems, word by word.  That thesis won me the Academy of American Poets prize.  At Emerson, Pam Painter opened my eyes to the world of flash fiction, which I consider the perfect storm between poetry and prose.  In her class, I wrote “All This,” which is in MicroFiction:  The Norton Anthology of Short Short Fiction.

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

My favorite piece of short fiction is Eudora Welty’s “The Wide Net.”  I had the pleasure of listening to her read it while I was at law school.  When she was done, the reading organizer presented her with a chocolate pecan pie and she said, “A pie is the best payment I ever got for this story.”

I love that story because it is a retort to all the male writers of her generation writing male adventure/journey stories.  That story is about a husband’s journey to find and understand his young wife.

Eudora lived in her hometown or nearby for a good long time.  I grew up in Beverly, Massachusetts and just recently moved to Rockport.  Many of my good friends I knew as children.  There is wisdom to be gotten in letting yourself grow old where you once were young.  I appreciate Eudora’s eye on small town life and on the way time passes.  She also has a wonderful hand with character, drawing them deftly with a few well-written sentences.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer? 

Dear Friend,

You have no doubt already faced the blank stares of friends in response to your announcement that you are a writer.  Writing is like breathing.  We all breathe and think we know how to, but only a few of us pay attention to it.  I teach yoga as one of my many jobs and much of the practice of yoga is about breathing.  When you focus on your breathing – the simple inhale and exhale – you begin to notice how it makes you feel and how controlling your breath can help control your emotions.  And then you start wondering about breathing itself and about what it means to be alive.

Such a simple thing leads to huge insights.  Writing is simple, too.  Almost everyone in our culture is literate but few stop to focus on writing as a craft, to understand the power of it or the importance of it.  If writing does nothing else for you than force you to lead an examined life, then it’s a fair trade: work for insight.  Be brave and continue.

The other response you will get when you tell people you are a writer is the dreaded question, “are you published?”  This is a rude and inappropriate question asked by someone who doesn’t understand your art.  Always answer “yes.”  If they ask you where, say “The New Yorker” and then ask them what they do for a living.  No doubt they will talk happily about their careers, forget your name and walk away thinking they just had a wonderful conversation with a talented writer.  Do nothing to disabuse them of this notion.

Life is long.  Sometimes writing will come easily; other times it will not.  Be patient with yourself, keep working and remember, the journey is the reward.

Namaste,

Joanne

Writer and professor Cathy Day has a terrific blog post that is framed as her last lecture of the semester. It’s about the relationship between publishing and the question her students really want to know: But am I a writer?

Here are a few exquisite tidbits from her post:

In my experience, a writing apprenticeship is about 5-10 years long. The timer starts the day you start taking writing seriously—meaning you stop thinking of writing as homework and start incorporating it into your daily life.

The apprenticeship period is key. I have addressed my own ten-year apprenticeship in a previous post: Get Back to Me in Ten Years

And other writers in my interview series have also set 10 years as a crucial developmental period. Check out Robert Flynn’s interview here, and Molly McCaffrey’s interview here.

The Great American Novel
Jenksinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant, NJ
summer 2012

Day continues to quote from and respond to her students:

You say things to me like: “I just want to publish a book and hold it in my hand.” Are you sure that’s all you want? Because these days, you can publish a book and hold it in your hands fairly easily. What I’m trying to talk about are all the different ways to publish. Only you can decide what it means to you to be meaningfully published.

This is one of my favorite points from the post. How it’s not just about being published, but deciding for yourself what it means to be “meaningfully published.” And the thing is, this will change over time. As soon as you have reached the level you wanted to achieve, you’ll set a new level.

Day, who has published two books and achieved lots of acclaim for her writing, closes with the following point:

I’m 43 years old, and I thought that publishing a book meant I was a writer, but I was wrong. Convincing yourself each day to keep going, this means that you are a writer.

Read the whole post here: http://cathyday.com/2012/04/30/last-lecture-am-i-a-writer/

And keep an eye out for my interview, How Cathy Day Became a Writer, coming this fall!