Filling the Well

The last two weeks were difficult for me and for those I love. Two deaths to commemorate. And another loss for someone I love. My soul felt clogged up by the mud of grief. I needed a reprieve, a solace, a nourishing…


So I went to an art exhibit that has currently been showing in Auckland.

The Body Laid Bare| Masterpieces from Tate [On view March 18 through July 16, 2017]

Encounter the human form—in all its complexity—in “The Body Laid Bare: Masterpieces from Tate,” Auckland Art Gallery’s major exhibition for 2017. Beautiful, sensual and at times provocative, more than 100 artworks from Tate, London, tell the story of the nude and trace artists’s captivation with the human body over the last two centuries. Journeying through time, from the classical, biblical and literary subjects of the 1800s to the body politics of contemporary art, “The Body Laid Bare” brings together masterpieces by renowned artists including JMW Turner, Auguste Rodin, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas and many more. At the heart of the show is Auguste Rodin’s marble sculpture The Kiss which—although celebrated worldwide—is travelling beyond Europe for the first time. Other renowned works include Picasso’s Nude woman in a red chair (1932) and Bonnard’s The bath (1925).

This was both an exquisite and confronting exhibit. There were pieces that were raw and erotic, pieces that were heart-breakingly beautiful, pieces that were confronting and pieces that simply awed me. But each piece had its own place in this one of a kind exhibit. I went for Rodin’s “The Kiss” but I was transported on a visual journey that filled the hollow parts of me. The exhibit was everything and nothing that I anticipated.

So let me share with you the three pieces that absolutely entranced me and for a moment filled the dark hollow spaces with a hopeful light.

Keep on reading!

The Cost of Creativity: Unblocking the dam before it breaks me

*Warning: This post is messy and doesn’t sugar-coat the ugly truth and is a personal confessional of sorts*

Writing is hard work. Writing is especially difficult when you are expected to plumb through the dreck, muck & mire in real life dramas to find a spark of creativity. Non-writers who think that writing a story is easy have obviously never tried themselves. Life is no easier for a writer than it is for a non-writer. There is no “escape” from real life dramas. Real life is Messy at the best of times and at the worst of times it takes all your strength to keep swimming to keep yourself from sinking and drowning. Sometimes the mess that is LIFE drains all the energy – both physical and mental – out of you and you are as creative as a dried-up sponge with all the water squeezed out of it. It is so tempting to stop swimming and just let the tide take you. You tell yourself “It is not giving up. It is just giving in to the inevitable.”. You wonder what the point of fighting it all is for. Why bother to keep swimming if the tide is going to overpower you and wash you out to sea eventually?

The thing is LIFE is a journey and not a destination. Nobody said it would be a vacation. Nobody said it would be fair. Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said there would be enough good to balance out the bad. Creative people are by nature more emotional and more sensitive. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and with every tear and every scar from our lives we flesh out our characters, shade our stories with emotional truths and try to make sense of the MESS. But sometimes real life truths are too painful to plumb for a creative spark and a kernel of inspiration. Sometimes the last thing we want to do is rehash real life in a story. Even fiction has an underlying element of emotional truth. And sometimes it is easier to believe the white lies than face the truths. This is when writing is hard for me. This is when I go into hiding from my own creativity. This is where I have been living for the past two months. Although ‘living’ is an optimistic term because really all I have been doing is ‘surviving’ at the best and treading water just keeping my head clear enough to gasp out a few breaths at the worst.

Usually writing helps keep me sane. Only 3 times in my life have I been in hibernation from writing and now is one of those times. I look at my screen and the flashing cursor mocks me. I take out my notebooks and try to write down words, any words at this point will do. But the words don’t come. It feels like I have a dam inside me just about bursting through the walls of my heart. I know I should let the dam wash through but I am scared the heaviness of the waters will pull me under. So instead I tamp down on the dam’s strength, I build the walls higher and bolster them with false euphemisms, easy white lies I tell myself. Every time I look at the screen or open a blank page of my notebook I know what I want to write but they are not good words, not a creative spark. They are dark thoughts, heavy emotions and poisonous threads that will weave themselves into a cobweb around my words and my creativity.

As I write this post I realise though that I am a writer and words are my way of dealing with crap that I don’t want to deal with. Which is why the cursor mocks me, the blank note-page empty of ink splotches mocks me. Because I am fooling nobody but myself. I don’t want to process the dark emotions. I want to hibernate from everything but especially words. Because one thing I cannot do is write a white lie to make things easier. That is just not how I am built. My words are the truest part of me. When I want to take a vacation from my real life I escape into the world of stories. I realise I have been blocking myself. I am my writer’s block. Hibernation and not writing is easier but it kills me a little more inside. I am the dam wall holding back the words, keeping the emotions at bay. Life should not be about surviving. It should be about LIVING and that means the dark shades are as important to colour in as the light shades are. Perhaps the darkest shades are the ones we need the most because if there is no dark there need be no light. I am ready to un-dam those waters and let the dark words out so the spark of a match will lead me back to my creativity and back to my place of sanity: writing. I have to remind myself  that even the rubbish words are still words. As scary as it is, it is time to un-dam the words. Otherwise I may as well just give up now. I am too stubborn to give up yet.

I am reminded by an old saying that some parents tell their toddlers: USE YOUR WORDS. 

How do you find the creative in the dreck of real life drama?

Have you ever felt like you were your own wall, your own block?

How did you work through it?

I leave you with the advice of one of my heroes: F. Scott Fitzgerald. A man who knew the darkness and wrote a way out of it.

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

*Aside: For my writer friends out there, this is a great letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald about the price one needs to pay to be a successful writer. 
A little background, in late 1938, eager to gain some feedback on her work, aspiring young author and Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull sent a copy of her latest story to celebrated novelist and friend of the family, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before long the feedback arrived, in the form of the somewhat harsh but admirably honest reply seen above.*
[Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald, via. Globe Bookstore and Cafe (facebook)]
***
The greatest creative minds don’t waste time telling white lies and don’t waste words sugar-coating the ugly truths. They dive into the deepest tides of that sinking mud and they get messy with the truth. They embrace the dark to give the light a canvas to shine from.

Related articles

Cover me Irresistible

Cover me irresistible

First Impressions Count

In life everything we see makes an impression on us. Both the really good and the really bad stick in our memories. We also make impressions on others. But there is only one first time, there is only one first impression. It is true that if your first impression was not that good, you may have a chance to make a better second impression but the first impression is the one that will also stay in the memory bank.

You wouldn’t go on a first date looking “regular”. You wouldn’t go on an interview looking “average”. You take the time to look your best for “first impressions” in your daily life. You take the time to look your best for “professional first impressions” in your daily life. But often you want to go a step further and look better than all of your competition. You want to look the best in a crowd. You want to stand out from a crowd.

What is the first thing you see when you browse a book store, traditional or online? What makes you stop in front of one book rather than look at the one beside it? What attracts your attention enough for you to pick up the book and read the back blurb? What is your first impression of a book controlled by?

Cover me Irresistible – You had me at first sight

Time and time again I pick up books because of their arresting covers. I might never have heard of the book or the author but if the cover wows me, nine times out of ten I will buy the book. The cover is a book’s greatest first sales tool. It is the packaging of the writer’s project. It is the silver platter that your work is presented on. It can make or break your sales. It can win you new fans and lose you potential readers. Covers are what people buy when you are a new author or an unknown talent. Bookstores will decide on the shelf placing of your book by your cover. Readers will want to know more about your book and pick it up off the shelf if your cover arrests their attention.

Traditional publishing companies pay departments of art and sales people thousands of dollars to make a cover as irresistible as possible in order to make your book a bestseller. Books covers count towards sales. eye-catching covers can make an unknown book a bestseller and bad covers can make well written books difficult to sell.

In Indie publishing – both small press, self-publishing and e-books – covers can make or break a book. Poorly designed covers can make a book look boring, uninteresting, unprofessional and uninviting: all of these points are negatives in selling the product = the book.

So what makes you love a cover? What makes a cover stand out from hundreds or even thousands of similar covers in the same genre? What makes a cover stand out from a crowd of covers?

If there were a golden rule of thumb I am sure many writers would make millions and follow it to the letter. But choosing books is a subjective industry. It is based on personal opinion and personal preference. A cover that i would love might not appeal as much to Jill and a cover that Jill loves might not appeal as much to Joe. There is no “perfect cover” but there are a few key points that the best selling books use for their cover art and cover designs.

  • Colour – Bright colours or dark/bold colours
  • Colour Palette – Not too many colours on one cover and using colours that complement each other
  • Cover Art – Suitable to the genre and must give some sort of “visual blurb” of the story
  • Cover Art – Simple without confusing someone, so pick one main image instead of a complicated and crowded image with so much going on that it is difficult to figure out what you need to focus on
  • Cover Art & White/Black Space – Well spaced design and placement
  • Title – Easily read type font, bold and standing out on the page, should also match the cover art
  • Author’s Name – This should also be easily visible and not disappear into the cover art (Remember, you want the reader to know who wrote the book)

These are some of the top selling covers over the last few years. Let us see if they match all the above points.

Goodreads Best 100 Book Covers 2011

Goodreads Best 100 Book Covers 2010

These are some of my favourite covers that had me enticed…

Stieg Larsen – The Millenium Trilogy
Alice Sebold’s “Lovely Bones”
Andrew Smith “the Marbury Lens”

So tell me which are your favourite covers that have made you pick the book from a hundred others?

Why? What attracts you? What makes a cover irresistible? 

Why Blog?

Blogging Readiness

Image by cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

I am often asked two questions:

  • Why do I blog?
  • How and where do I find the inspiration for my blog posts?

A year ago I would have answered that I blog because I want to build a network and get my name out there on the world wide web. It was a way to build a readership and to connect with potential readers. It seemed to be the thing to do as a new writer. It was what more experienced writers advised me to do.

Six months ago I would have answered that it was to connect with other writers and other bloggers. Share and learn in experiences.

Now my answer is still both of the above but I also blog for my own benefit now. Yes I blog to connect with readers. Yes I blog to connect with other writers and bloggers. But more than ever I find that I am blogging for myself.  As for the inspiration part of the question: I blog about the topics closest to my own writing, being either quandaries or difficulties I am facing and moments of epiphanies.

When I blog, it is like first having a conversation with myself trying to work things out and then I invite in others to the conversation and hear their points of view. I also blog to create inspiration for myself. We all have those moments and those days when for whatever reason, we battle to drag ourselves to the computer to finish that next scene or untangle a plot element. Sometimes we just need a break from the current WIP. That is when I blog. Blogging still means I am writing. It is a way of “getting back on that horse” inspirationally and creatively speaking. The most important part of committing to writing is doing the actual writing: inspiration can be a fickle mistress and can come and go as the wind direction changes. It is in these times of inspirational lows that I like to blog. It keeps the thoughts churning and strangely enough blogging usually unlocks a hidden kernel of inspiration which leads me hand in hand back to my WIP.

Of course it could be argued that there are other forms of writing like journalling. I still journal. I also write Morning Pages, inspired by Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. But because blogging is in a public arena, one si held to a higher standard of writing. So blogging can be a teacher for your other forms of writing.

Blogging is also a reward system in of itself. When you write a post that connects in some way with at least one person and they are kind enough to comment, there is an automatic uplifting encouragement for the Blogger. One favour: If you do read a blog post that you connect with, comment on it. Let the blogger in question know that their post made you think or feel or just made you smile. It is also a great way to build online friendships and connections with like-minded individuals.

Blogging can also be a challenge tool. You can challenge your own beliefs, practices or thoughts by posting about different topics. Don’t limit yourself to just one rule of topic. Expand your horizons. Do research by reading other blogs. You may be surprised by what you learn from other bloggers and what you may be able to share and thus teach someone else. I have found the most useful resources through reading someone else’s blog. Blogging can be great research.

Words are powerful tools. They can be wielded for both good and bad. When we publicise our thoughts and share our experiences we cannot but help to touch another person either through informing them, inspiring them or finding points of empathy. It is up to us how we choose to wield this powerful tool. These are the questions we should be asking ourselves before we voice our thoughts whether it be in blogging or whether be in our own works…

  • Will we turn it into a positive or a negative?
  • Will we use our words to inform or hide?
  • Will we use our words to entertain or insulate?
  • Will we use our words to inspire or alienate?
  • Will we use our words to create or destroy?

So why do you blog? If you don’t, why do you read/follow blogs?

Blog responsibly knowing that what you write will be read and remarked on by other writers and readers. Be honest but remember to stand by what you blog. Even if it feels like nobody is reading your posts, people are. It is in the eye of the public. Your posts will be judged. But learn from each post, each comment whether the commentator agrees or disagrees. Reply to your comments and do the courteous thing by linking back to others’ posts. In this way you become  part of building a community.

Now: I blog for myself as well as connecting with readers and writers. I blog to understand my own thought processes when they have entangled me in a web of chaos. I blog to create inspiration for myself when inspiration seems veiled in the fogs of moods and emotions. I blog to inform and entertain. I blog to learn and share about the craft of writing. I blog to share my epiphanies and my Eureka moments. There is one rule I follow through on every time and that is to be transparent in honesty and truth. For me, a writer without truth is a fraud and a con-artist. For me words are art. Art is about finding the truth in life. Art is about creating simplicity from the complexity that is Life. For me, to be  a writer is to be a seeker of truth.

What is writing for you? Why do you write at all?

The better question is: Why not?

Kim

My Animal Muse | Creative Creature | Furry Friend

Four Muses, by Caesar van Everdingen

Famous writers and their dogs  – Pictures of the Canine Muse

Famous writers and their cats  – Pictures of the Feline Muse

Cats and Dogs as Artists and Writers – A Humorous article with a spin on our canine         and feline muses.

A couple of weeks ago I ran two informal polls in my online writing groups. I had read two blog posts about creative animal companions. The two major contenders were pups versus kittens, pooches versus moggies. It led me to wonder whether one of them was better than the other as a creative animal companion. So I ran a poll asking my writer friends to tell me which was their choice of writer companion and why that choice may outweigh any other.

Although cats got a fair number of the votes, the  majority results in both polls were that the favoured creative animal companions were “man’s best friend” = dogs. Other creative animal companions listed were goats, rabbits and fish.

When I asked why dogs, the answers were as follows:

  • They needed daily walks so the human companion gets some time away from being cooped up in their writing cave as well as getting some good rumination time going well out on said walk.
  • The dogs also came out tops in that most dogs don’t tend to like lying on their human writer’s keyboard / laptop making it difficult for the writer to write.
  • The dogs also needed less physical affection from the writer human meaning that the dog would wait faithfully while its human got some much needed words down.
  • For those who chose cats as their creative companion, they liked the independence of the cat personality.
  • Also cats are the obvious choice due to necessity of the environment space – if you live in a city apartment, cats are easier to keep as companions.
  • Cats were a choice for those who want a lot of physical affection and want a “lap” companion. (Although small dogs are a winner in this category and the above one.)

So this brings me to who my choice of creative companion is…

He is just over 1 year old, white and black, has a face that resembles a butterfly, is full of energy, does not believe he is small but only short…His name is Jazz and he is a Papillon. Jazz adopted me in August 2010. I had no choice in the matter. I took a walk into the local Animates pet store and while browsing heard this mad barking. I went across for a closer inspection and there in front of me was this dancing ball of black and white fluff that was trying desperately to get my attention. It worked. Within a heartbeat, my heart belonged to him. I called him Jazz because ever since the first day, he loves to dance and although his style is more “disco”, Jazz suited him better because he has the eyes of an “old wise soul”.

Since that first day he has been my companion and shadow. He is the happiest little dog you will ever meet. Although he likes his dog friends that he knows from his beach walks, he is very much a human-dog and loves the company of his favourite people around. Papillons are incredibly smart and range no.9 in intelligence of all the dog breeds in the world. Although small dogs, they are not known for a lack of courage or confidence..they are very much Alpha-dogs. Jazz has no tolerance for other small dogs (except for other Papillons) but loves the company of much larger dogs. He even has a Husky girlfriend who is quite taken by his french charm.

Papillons are a very old European dog breed named after the French word for butterfly because their faces resemble a butterfly. The informal name for Papillons is: “Dog of Kings“. They were featured in many famous aristocratic and royal portraits during the Renaissance era by painters like Rubens, Titian, Largilere, Magrid, Fragonard, and Boucher.
They were companions in the french Royal families for generations and were a favourite companion of Marie Antoinette. Jazz reminds me every now and again that his ancestors were royal companions and therefore he expects nothing less than royal treatment. A good thing for me about Papillons are that although they love talking or singing, Jazz often has conversations with me, they are not “yappers” like a lot of other small toy breed dogs.

Famous Papillon Owners:

  • Marie Antoinette
  • Madame de Pompadour
  • King Henry II & King Henry III
  • Lauren Bacall
  • George Takei
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Yuga Tegoshi
  • Justin Bieber

Meet Jazz – My dancing Papillon aka Creative Companion aka My best friend and furry shadow

260327_102800039815128_438637_n 261462_102799419815190_7583148_n 262203_102799739815158_6962712_n 264473_102802879814844_3214216_n 264601_102799209815211_4170706_n 268646_102802619814870_3831290_n

 “Mom, can we please go for a walk once this photo is taken.”

“Mom, can we please play…photos make me mischievous.” 

 “Ssshh…don’t tell Mom, I am borrowing her laptop to surf the web for some animal stuff.”

 “Phew…this writing stuff makes me tired…”

 “Time for a nap I think…every pup needs a nap after helping Mom write.”

“I know I am very handsome…My Mom thinks that I am the most handsome little man in the neighbourhood.” 

 “Now tell me you would not pick me as the perfect creative companion.”

“Ah…playtime….always have time for playtime. Mom gave me a new toy today because I was so good with photo-posing.”

Writing without words…

LesCorsetsLeFuretParis18cutA
Image via Wikipedia

…I know you just saw the title of this post and ???????  filled your mind…

Of course you and I both know that writing defines words. Or does it? Is it words that fill your mind before you start writing? Or is your mind assailed by images, emotions,instincts, sensory stimulation?

I believe that text-book writing is filled with words both in the conception and the birth of the product. But is poetry / prose / fiction filled with words? How do you picture your imagination – in essence, how do you imagine your imagination? Is it words you see?

Maybe it is. But for me writing inspiration is not made up of words. Indeed sometimes I battle to find the words to convey what I see, hear and feel in my imagination. For me, my poetry in particular is not formed of words. Although words in a poetic form are the final birth product of my conception, words are not how those poems begin. For me poetry is music, emotion, passion, heart, sound, sight, taste, feel and instinct. Words don’t come into it. But to convey what I feel, I must use words. Because we are verbal creatures. We speak with words. Words give my poems a voice. But my poems could easily be a music composition, a sculpture, a painting or a photograph. All of these would convey the feelings and emotions that are in my poetry.

What about fiction and prose? Surely those come under “writing with words”? Do they? For myself my stories come through sensory and emotional stimulation. I write best with music. This is common to a lot of writers. But for me the music I am listening to leaks out and inspires my writing. If I put a name to it, I could call it The Fountain head of Music and the water that flows from here is the inspiration behind my stories.

Which part of the human brain is the home of creativity? The right side of the brain or the Right Brain is. The left side of your brain dictates logic, thought and speech. The right side dictates emotion, fantasy and creativity. Aha!

So why do we end up writing with words? We choose to write with words so that our right side of our brain can communicate with our left side of the brain. We choose to write because society finds words easier to interpret and understand than a painting, a sculpture or a music composition.

The talent of a writer is to interpret those feelings, emotions and senses into words and sentences that the average Joe can understand and appreciate. It is a worthy gift that holds a weight on the shoulders of a writer. As writers we are the bridge between logic and emotion, we are the bridge between fantasy and understanding.

So when we feel blocked or battle to get past a point in a story is it because we have dead-ended inspiration? Have we lost inspiration? No, I don’t believe we have. Speaking for myself, I get blocked when I use too much of my left brain and over-think a story / character / scene. I use that time to peel back the layers of my story and try to refocus on what the original conception was. It might have been a dream I had. (I often get my story ideas from dreams – a visual smorgasbord of random sights and sounds.) It might have been from a piece of classical music I  hear. It might have been inspired by something I saw. I start refocusing with my right side of my brain and that’s what unlocks me. I don’t like the term “blocked”. I prefer the term “locked”. All you have to do sometimes is retrace your imagination’s steps and find where you misplaced the key so that you can unlock the story again.

The epiphany of the day is that the key to interpreting your imagination and your inspiration through words is to refocus the right side of your brain. You need to write without words….

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning