The Summer of Stories

I didn’t manage to post anything on this blog all summer long, but I did manage to write this summer. The credit goes to my ten-year-old daughter. Story Club was her idea.

Story Club met on Friday afternoons this summer, usually in our backyard. It was just the two of us with our notebooks sitting in the sunshine. My daughter decided how it would go: guided meditation to relax, poem collaboration to get started, a reading of writing advice or a particularly good bit from a book, then ten minutes of free writing.

It was simple. The whole thing usually only took about an hour, though sometimes we got really into the poem and went long. But it was the best thing about my summer. Easily so.

I won’t lie. When my daughter put forth the idea of Story Club, I went along with it for her. It’ll be good for her, I thought. She loves to write, and I don’t want her to lose track of that while school is out.

It probably was good for her, but it was even better for me. I used to love to write. I wrote almost constantly. I was always scribbling in my journal or clicking the keys on my computer. Somewhere along the way I lost track of that. I still kept a journal, but the little books took longer to fill. I still collected story ideas, but the ideas never went anywhere. Those Friday afternoons in our backyard changed that for me. Story Club reminded me of something that I truly loved. And it gave me a chance to share it with my daughter.

Perhaps I still don’t write as much as I used to, but the creative energy I found at Story Club this summer led me to tabling at the Twin Cities Zine Fest this year, which I hadn’t done in a few years. Plus my daughter joined me at my Zine Fest table with her own zine this year. We spent the day surrounded by writers, artists, and zinesters, and we left buzzing with ideas and excitement for what we might do next. So many people who came by our table encouraged my ten-year-old to keep writing, keep making zines. They would tell me to support her in whatever she did, and I would think, Is it strange that she is helping me stay creative as much I am helping her? I don’t know the answer, but I’m glad we have each other.

Writing My Story

whywewriteNot long after this post in 2013, I decided that I would try to write a memoir.  Two years later, I have read a wide array of memoirs–from memoirs in verse to graphic memoirs to picture book memoirs–and I’ve read books about how to write memoirs, including Handling the Truth and Use Your Words. All that reading, and I have yet to write a word of anything memoir-like beyond the occasional personal anecdote on this blog.

Most recently, my dream of writing my story found me in a memoir writing class.  After five weeks of writing exercises, idea exchange, and encouragement, my only progress was adding more titles to my to-read list, including recent memoirs by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sandra Cisneros, and more.  And I’m already on the library waiting list for Why We write about Ourselves: 20 Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, which doesn’t published until January.

Who has time to write when there are all these compelling stories to read?

Until I get all the books read, there’s always this blog, I suppose, for memoirish writing here and there amidst the book recommendations.

January Book Pick: Handling the Truth

handlingthetruth“Memoir is a strut and a confession, a whisper in the ear, a scream.”

–Beth Kephart in Handling the Truth

I sometimes think I have a story to tell about my life, but then I’m not entirely sure I’m ready strut, scream, or, worse, confess.  If there is a book that can turn off my doubts about my story, it is Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart.  The book ranges from practical to motivational, and I finished reading it feeling like I’d received a crash course in the art of memoir.  Not to mention I had a huge reading list of all the memoirs referenced and quoted in the book.

There was so much in this book that went beyond writing, beyond memoir.  It was a book about seeking truth and love, about telling stories in a way that connects readers and writers.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in telling true stories.  Perhaps you will find your strut in its pages.

Find this book at your local library or indie bookstore.

Friday Finds: Loose Ends, Mustaches, & Creativity

Local Love:

Thoughts on Creativity:
“The creative process, and the creative life, is mostly full of moments between the idea and the being done, the spark and the blazing fire, the shimmering magic and the finished piece. We’re always living in the gap between our vision of what could be and what might be, and what is.”
  • This video looks at what deadlines can do to creativity.  You can’t rush art.
And it’s all about me:
For more interesting stuff, find me on Facebook,  Twitter, and Google+.

Thank you, Dessa

As Kerri Miller’s interview with Dessa started playing, I quickly reached for paper and pen.  I found myself scribbling quotes, notes, and ideas throughout the interview.  I was doubly grateful for the songs.  I wanted to hear them, but I also needed a moment to catch up.

I was particularly struck by what she had to say about authenticity.  She came from slam poetry to rap, and she felt like she was faking it for a while.  Her journey–her attempt to find a place for herself in music–is fascinating and inspiring.

photo by Stacey Schwartz

She asked, “How many times can you tell a secret and mean it?”   It’s an interesting question for performing artists searching for originality and a way to communicate with their audiences.  Musicians perform the same songs again and again for different crowds (or local artists often end up playing over and over to basically the same crowd), and they have to bring as much energy to each performance as they can.  I am impressed by this.  I’m not sure I could.

She also spoke to her own creative process.  I was fascinated by her coffee table inspiration: Aesop’s Fables, a guide to Greek and Roman myth, and a King James Bible.  She’s not religious, but she is searching for stories in these texts that connect people to one another, our pasts, and our cultures.  I have been thinking about where I get my stories, what texts might be behind what I write.  What is on my creative coffee table?

Read more about Dessa:

“Dessa’s CD-release party at the Fitzgerald Theater on Friday night was about as far from a rap show as you could get. Backed by an excellent chamber group and back-up singers, and with her Doomtree pals tucked neatly into one of the balconies overlooking the stage, Dessa took the opportunity to cast aside all of her other titles — writer, poet, teacher, rapper — to to focus squarely on her expanding talents as soulful singer and engaging, downright hilarious storyteller.”
“I write slowly, with great effort, and lots of cursing. The feeling I get from crafting a perfect metaphor, or planting a clever seed of subtext is a very powerful feeling. There’s the thrill of personal accomplishment and there’s also a brand of awe—the recognition of a connection that had been previously hidden. But it’s not easy and it’s not really fun, at least for me.”
Thank you, Dessa, for reminding me to take creative risks.

For the artists and writers out there…

Lynda Barry is my new creative crush.  I just finished her hugely inspiring book What It Is, and I am filled with possibilities.  The book is part memoir as she tells us the story of how she came to be an artist and part creative workshop as much of the content is based on her creativity workshop, Writing the Unthinkable.  Peek inside What It Is with this preview from the publisher.

A few links for your reading pleasure:

Finding Inspiration

Are you living life to the full?

The Ghost's ChildI guess I’ve been exploring this question lately without really thinking about it. It started with a simple fable: The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett.  This slim novel was published for teens, but the subject of looking back on a life as an old woman hardly seems to have teen appeal.  It did, however, have Mindy appeal with its magical exploration of happiness. Beautiful.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're DeadIt wasn’t long after I finished that book that I picked up Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.  It was just what I needed.  Gore, the writer/zinester behind the Hip Mama zine, gives plenty of practical advice about getting published, but she also boils it down to the most basic of basics.

Do you have a story to tell? Tell it.

Do you want to publish it? Do it yourself if you have to.

Do you want people to read it? Get out there and promote the hell out of it.

Her tone is encouraging and persistent.  I could not read this book without being inspired.   Here I am, hitting the “publish” button and planning for more.