Here’s What’s Working #NaNoWriMo2020

A Beautiful Misty Morning by Maria L. Berg 2020

My first day of November started with this lovely scene of a conflicted sky. Dark vs. Light: Thick fog fighting clarity: All the makings of a great story.

What worked on day one:

Prep really helped me out on day one. For once, I have a physical timeline, an outline and a Scrivener file full of ideas, so when I was feeling frustrated about life in general on day one, I still had plenty to type away, slowly, all day and made it to over 2,000 words.

Waking Up Early Was Worth It by Maria L. Berg 2020

Not pushing too hard on day one and going to bed early-ish paid off on day two. I woke up early to this amazing morning and went straight to my morning pages as planned.

What worked on day two:

As I said plenty during NaNoPrep, publishing my goals here on Experience Writing helps me focus on them and accomplish them. That really worked on day two: I woke up early; went straight to my morning pages, had my butt at my desk by 9:30am; took a walk; and read: wrote 2200 words.

Because I hadn’t been as excited and motivated on day one as I would have liked, I started by going back through what I did on day one and added as much sensory detail as I could muster. By doing that, I discovered a new scene I hadn’t imagined before. I like how that inspired me.

Another thing I did was type some scene ideas in orange text within my writing as I went to get to the next day or later.

How is your writing going? What is working for you?

#NaNoPrep 101 Week Three – Construct a Detailed Plot

finished scene cards

This third week of NaNo Prep 101 is titled Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline.

The exercise provided is a fun quiz to figure out what kind of plotter you are. I was not surprised to find that I am now equally 9-Step Plot Dot and Plot Rollercoaster.

How I’m Plotting this year

Last month while I participated in Writer-in-Motion, I wrote a post about how I approach plot: Playing with some plots. In that post I showed examples of how I plot with tarot, use the plot-o-matic, use Rory’s story cubes and other fun tools, I even stumbled upon the Virgin’s Promise plot for the first time while I was writing the post, so I won’t re-hash that here. Instead, I will follow the path I forged last week and start with a review of materials I’ve collected and then plan my actions for the week.

Review of Plot and Structure

Over the years I have collected many writing references and almost every one has a chapter or more on plot and structure. I thought this week would be a good time to review the materials I have and select exercises and ideas for this project.

Books

  • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer states that a traditional plot includes Reversals – setbacks for characters
  • Discoveries – characters find things out about selves, others and world
  • Complications – the central problem is not easily solved and grows more complicated
  • Resolution – a conclusion that satisfies the reader and resolves story problems

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – The second section, chapters 13 through 24 are about Plot Development. The main idea is things can always get worse. Raise the stakes. Throw more problems at your main character. Think things are dire? Make them worse.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron states that a story needs to follow a cause-and-effect trajectory starting on page one. She agrees with Mr. Maass that you need to make things worse going so far as asking “Does everything your protagonist does to make the situation better actually make it worse?”

Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – Every sequence, scene or action moves the story from hope to fear or fear to hope. Make the story unpredictable with plot twists. Set up (at least) three major subgoals for the protagonist to achieve her main objective then describe what goes wrong, so these goals can’t be achieved.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot by Arwen Lynch – There are exercises to explore each step of the hero’s journey uses the symbols of the cards. I like this method because it gets me thinking about the character’s emotional journey as well as external and internal events.

Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham includes A Scenic Master Plot that goes through possible scenes chapter by chapter.

Building Better Plots by Robert Kernen guides the reader through creating and organizing scene cards to create the story arc. It has some great “Quizes” to help you evaluate your scenes.

Youtube Videos

Pixar in a box collection has some good videos on story structure.

My Plan for this week

Listing my plans for the week is really working. Last week, I created my protagonist, a peer/possible love interest, a friend, and the antagonists.   Writing short stories exploring some of my ideas is helping me visualize how my characters will interact with technology and their environments in my future world. I’m so glad I started early. There’s so much more to think about.

I think narrowing my focus to specific elements of my story, so I can focus my research and extrapolations, is wise at this point.  Here’s my plan:

Brainstorm plot points and scenes: I’m going to set a timer for fifteen minutes and write as many ideas for scenes, events, actions and reactions as I can. Choose my favorites then put it away and read for a while. Then I’ll do it again. Once I have come up with lots of fun ideas, I’ll organize them into beginning, middle, and end.

Put scenes on index cards in Scrivener

Evaluate scenes with Kernen’s Quick Quizes

Explore plotting with Tarot: I will use Lynch’s exercises to flesh out my plot further.

Fill in Outlines in Scrivener

Put scenes into Bickham’s Scenic Master Plot and explore which outline or combination of outlines I want to use during NaNoWriMo.

Play around with structure: I’ll try re-ordering the scenes to find the most exciting way to tell my story.

Free-write raising the stakes: Once I’ve explored the stakes and conflicts, I’ll free-write about how to make them worse.

Interview characters: As I choose scenes and plot-points that I think should be included in my novel, I’ll ask my characters about them. Hopefully, this practice of involving my characters in the planning of the plot will keep me immersed in the story as I work.

How do you plot and outline?

Do you have specific resources and tools you like to use?

Happy Reading and Writing!

#NaNoPrep 101 Week Two – Creating Characters

Four characters sitting around a table: a teddy bear, a blue-faced woman, a woman in a wrestling mask and wood-sculpture faced man

This second week of NaNo Prep 101 is titled Create Complex, Believable Characters .

The exercise provided includes character questionnaires that you may find useful, but the final three questions are the most important:

  • Want
  • Need
  • Internal/External obstacles

Where I begin my characters

Weeks ago when I began the Writer In Motion Challenge, I talked about the Character Creation Spreadsheet I’ve created as a tool to spark my stories. Through my experience with quick-deadline short stories, especially participating in The Writer’s Games, I’ve learned that creating well-rounded, interesting characters inspires an interesting plot with conflict and purpose.

I am reading Mastering the Process by Elizabeth George and in Chapter 3 “Digging Deeper into Character” she gave me some ideas for new columns to my spreadsheet.

1. Core Need: This is the underlying motivation for everything the character does. The character may not be self-aware enough to know their core need, however, they will be by the end of the story. Elizabeth George gives some example of core needs as: approval, perfection, to be right, attention, etc.

I put the core need column right after the name columns in my spreadsheet and went searching for more (which reminds me, I need to add to my names columns. It may be time to weed out some over-used names as well). My search led to many articles of 6 core needs, 7 core needs, up to 10 (of course) human needs, but   I wasn’t attempting to dilute the idea to an easy list, so I have 31 so far and will keep adding.

2. Psychopathology or “Pathological maneuver”: Here’s where it gets fun. We all have moments where we are stunned by our own words and actions. We sit there asking ourselves, “Why did I do that?” Our actions are contrary to our needs and desires. Sometimes we even self-sabotage.

Elizabeth George calls these actions “pathological maneuvers.” In her list of these behaviors she includes: showering for hours, kleptomania, hoarding, and bullying. She also includes all manias and phobias, obsessions, and compulsions. In my column, which I put directly after the core needs column, I looked up lists of manias and phobias and will keep adding.

I already have a core fear and secondary fear column on my spreadsheet, but they are more about the underlying beliefs than the manifestations in actions. It will be interesting to see what comes to mind when the fears and behaviors collide.

With these two aspects of the character influencing thoughts and behaviors every scene will have an agenda and tension. I’m excited to try out these new additions to my Character Creation tool and see who is coming to play in my next story.

The Future and My Character Creation Spreadsheet

I started thinking about specific characters for my NaNoWriMo Novel and realized I needed a new Character Creation Spreadsheet. Naming trends will be different, as will occupations, hobbies, causes, maybe even fears. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to create a science-fiction-specific character creation spreadsheet.

Review of Character creation and development

Over the years I have collected many writing references and almost every one has a chapter or more on character creation and development. I thought this week would be a good time to review the materials I have and select exercises and ideas for this project.

Masterclass

I got myself a full-access pass to Masterclass.com in 2019 and really enjoy it. Each class comes with a workbook. I thought I would take a look through some of my favorites and see what they have to say about character.

Margaret Atwood had an interesting chart that she uses to reference her characters in time. The chart has the months on the left and blanks along the top for years. She begins by charting the character’s birthday. Then she charts dates of major events that influence that character.

Neil Gaiman likes to find his characters through listening, so his character development is about condensing speech and interviewing your characters.

David Mamet says there is no character, only actions. This idea correlates well with this video from Pixar in a box:

Joyce Carol Oates encourages getting to know your characters as if they are people you have met in real life. She says it’s important to choose characters who fascinate you. Write an exploration into why exactly they are so important / unique to your perspective.

Books

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer explores four main approaches to characterization:

  1. Obsessive Immersive – includes stream of consciousness to be fully inside the character as if living inside a brain
  2. Full (rounded) – interior thoughts and emotions, but the thoughts of the character do not define everything
  3. Partial – characters remain mysterious to some extent. Idiosyncratic/ Type driven.
  4. Flat – folk tales/ fairy tales. Archetypes existing on symbolic and literal level.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – The first twelve chapters are Character Development. Almost all of the exercises are about increasing stakes and conflict. Once I have created some characters to play with, exploring these exercises will definitely help me come up with some plot points.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron focuses on the importance of the reader relating to the protagonist to have a visceral, emotional reaction to the story. What moves a story forward is the protagonist’s actions, reactions and decisions (agreeing with Mamet?). Character bios should concentrate on information relevant to your story.

Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – Anything that makes it easier for you to create your characters is a good tool. Explore the public, personal and private lives of your character. Find your character’s dramatic truth. Characters’ actions under duress demonstrate who they really are (this is sounding familiar).

To produce active characters ask:

  1. What does my character want?
  2. Why does s/he want it?
  3. Why can’t s/he get it?
  4. What does s/he need?

Identify protagonist’s inherent weakness that creates a psychological need. The inciting incident causes the protagonist to want something and take steps to get it. The action of the inciting incident reveals the protagonist’s weakness.

List physical, psychological and sociological aspects of your character. Use these aspects to create contradictions through contrasting details.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot by Arwen Lynch – The first chapter of the book is about using the court cards to answer some questions about your character. Chapter two explores your character in his/her ordinary world.

Youtube Videos

I made a creating characters collection of some videos I found on youtube

Pixar in a box collection has some videos on character

My Plan for this week

Last week I noticed that listing my plans for the week helped me see clear, actionable goals and get things done. I started reading comps, immersing myself in related, movies and shows, collecting futurist signals specific to my project and more.  This week I hope to create a cast of characters to start getting to know.  Here’s my plan:

Random Number Character Creation Spreadsheet: Once I have created my new sci-fi specific spreadsheet, I will use a random number generator to create characters to populate my future world.

Explore my characters with Tarot: I will use Lynch’s exercises to flesh out my characters further.

Fill in Character sheets in Scrivener including images: From my randomly generated characters, I will select my protagonist, antagonist and other main characters and fill in the rest of their Character sketch sheets. Once I have solidified some ideas about my characters, I’ll head over to my Pinterest board of possible characters and find images of how they look.

Free-write about characters: After I have a fuller picture of who my characters are, I’ll do some timed free-writes. First from my perspective. Then in their own voices.

Interview characters: I will look through my resources and collect questions that I think will help me get to know my characters better, trying to make them as story-specific as I can. Then I will imagine that I am having a conversation with my character, asking them the questions I’ve collected and writing down their answers, noting their physical reactions and body language.

During NaNoWriMo 2017 I wrote a blog post every day. One of the things I included was a section with questions to ask your character. Many of those questions came from the Great Questions List that is part of StoryCorps.org ‘s project to record humanity’s stories.

Physically act out walk, body movements, and voice of main characters: While reading Voice Acting by , I recorded myself reading the script to put yourself into your character. Like a meditation, it guides me into putting myself into my character and becoming them to explore how they sound, how they hold themselves as they speak because that influences how the voice sounds. Yesterday, while I was collecting Youtube videos about character, I found this video with a similar technique. (starting 14:40)

Start thinking about my characters’ actions and reactions in possible story scenarios and writing exercises from the Breakout Novel Workbook.

How do you create and develop your characters?

Do you have specific resources and tools you like to use?

Happy Reading and Writing!

#WriterinMotion – the brainstorm

rahul-pandit-CDrP01O2n-w-unsplash resized

prompt photograph by Rahul Pandit

After my first thoughts, I printed out the image on a nice piece of matte photo paper. The colors printed even more vibrantly and got me thinking about color meaning and how I will use the colors in my story. I recently talked about specifics of color naming and thought I would start there.

The Colors

I explored interesting color names over at Sherman-William’s paint colors and explored color meanings at Canva color meanings and color symbolism on Wikipedia.

Names

Red: Stop, Showstopper, Tanager, Poinsettia, Habanero Chile, Peppery, Stolen Kiss, Beetroot, Wild Poppy, Cayenne, Cherry, Tomato, Burgundy, Blackberry,  Brick

Orange: Obstinate Orange, Knockout Orange, Determined Orange, Raucous Orange, Husky Orange, Rhumba Orange, Adventure Orange, Serape, Invigorate, Navel, Carnival, Sun Salutation

Yellow: Gusto Gold,  Goldfinch, Lemon Twist, Daisy, Forsythia, Icy Lemonade, Pineapple Cream, Sunny Veranda, Cheerful, Goldenrod, Citronella, Lively Yellow,  Confident Yellow

Green: Center Stage, Electric Lime, Direct Green, Envy, Lucky, Greenbelt, Jitterbug Jade, Verdant, Grasshopper, Olive, Gecko, Parakeet, Organic Green, Pickle, Julep, Lark Green, Frosted Emerald, Emerald, Mesclun Green, Picnic, Frolic, Romaine, Kiwi, Reclining Green, Oakmoss, Artichoke

Blue: Turquoise, Aqua, Splashy, Teal, Calypso, Dynamic Blue, Bluebell, Sky, Celestial, Mariner, Fountain, Freshwater, Aquarium, Periwinkle, Indigo, Navy, Powder Blue, Adrift, Mountain Stream, Moonmist

And that’s just to name a few. Looking at how many of the color names come from flowers and foods, I thought about how my characters might choose color names from their surroundings: perhaps red is foxtail and yellow is butterfly, green is fern or tree frog or unripe berry.

I also see this as the beginning of a word collection. There are some vivid words in those color names like “obstinate”, “determined”, “invigorate” and “raucous.”  As I chose color names, connections and meanings began to form, but now I want to look at some traditional meanings for the colors in the image.

Meanings

Red: vitality and celebration, evil and destruction, love, passion and lust, anger/wrath, power, violence, aggression, danger, heat, good luck, happiness, importance

Orange: fresh, youthful and creative, activity, energy, socialization, healthy, attention, safety, warmth, excitement

Yellow: sunshine, joy, cowardice or fear, caution, optimistic, playful, happy, mental clarity and intellect,

Green: nature, healing, soothing, fertility, renewal, growth, relaxing, money, greed, wealth, prestige sickness, jealousy, inexperienced/new, youth, zest

Blue: trust, cleanliness, loyalty, tranquility, serenity, stability, inspiration, wisdom

Most of these colors can have conflicting meanings. That could come in useful to show differing viewpoints and how perception can completely change an image.

Characters

For a while now, I’ve been working on a tool to help me quickly brainstorm characters that are unique, interesting and multi-dimensional. I call it The Character Creation Spreadsheet.

While I was reading The Playful Way to Serious Writing by Roberta Allen, her exercises inspired me to start a spreadsheet of possible occupations, physical character traits, hobbies, fears and minor mishaps. I liked the idea of creating unique and interesting characters through randomizing different traits and finding how they fit together.

I started by making columns of last names then first names, followed by occupations, hobbies, physical traits and fears. My spreadsheet is ever-growing and now includes religions, philosophies, causes and countries. I can choose to include as many or as few of the columns as I want. For each column, I use a random number generator to select the aspects of my character. When I’m done, I evaluate how that character may or may not work in my story. Let’s give it a try. My first column, last names, goes to row 241, so in my random number generator I enter lower limit 2, upper limit 241 and get 3 = last name Grabner.

  1. Grabner, Alyssum, herbalist, the youngest of way too many kids, she became an aunt early in life, dropped out of school, but got her G.E.D.; she has always been disobedient; she has a club foot and a hooked nose; her hobbies are coloring and collecting teabags; her fears are ego-death (losing herself) and clowns; she has a mishap becoming drenched in a storm which leads to the epiphany that the journey is more important then the goal. Her story emotion is wariness. 

    Sometimes the random selections don’t work together,  so I just keep hitting enter to get another random number until I get a selection that seems to work ( for example Alyssum’s occupation took three tries).

    Sounds like an interesting character, someone who could possibly live in that small dwelling or happen upon it while trying to find some particular herbs. At this point, I will look up the name meanings and history to glean more possibilities for her genealogy, family and history: Grabner – German to dig (especially “a digger of graves or ditches”). Alyssum is the name of a group of plants. The flower is said to symbolize beauty, but I like the meaning from the Greek alyssos meaning “curing madness” because it was thought to cure rabies in dogs.

    All sorts of neat stuff there. I’m liking her name, her hobbies, surprising character traits and her occupation bringing her to discover the little house. I’m already hearing distant echoes of Goldilocks and Snow White.

  2. Luckman, Josette,  youngest of three, online degree, takes self too seriously, can’t keep a secret; she has false teeth and a shaved head; she enjoys table-top and role-playing games and collects flowers; she fears mutilation and animals; she bangs her head leading to an epiphany that you aren’t what people say you are. Her story emotion is Eagerness.
  3. Palmberg, Eugene, single father, greasy vast guru, used to be a customs officer, gloomy, unconfined;  he is covered in freckles and has shaky hands; his hobbies are swimming and fencing; he fears separation and books; he steps in dog poop which leads to the epiphany that Beliefs are nothing to be proud of. His story emotion is amusement/denial

A good step at this point is to look up the characters’ story emotions in The Emotion Thesaurus and think about how the characters will physically show those emotions. Do they have little ticks, physical habits, do those emotions come out in the way they speak, habitual phrases?

POV

Now that I have some idea of who my characters will be, it’s a good time to think about my possible points of view. Who do I want to tell this story? My three adult characters will be equally important in the action of the plot. Though the plot is focused on the child character (Eugene is a single father), he or she will be talked about or around, the child won’t have a say, or will s/he? Point of view ideas:

First:

  • Point of view of Alyssum: the character who discovers, stumbles upon, the cataloger, the reporter.
  • Point of view of Josette: the instigator of change, the representative of society, normalcy, expectation, government intervention.
  • Point of view of Eugene: representation of free will, leaving societal norms, parenting outside of social norms, doing the best he can with what he has through a difficult situation, standing his ground.
  • Eugene’s child: the unseen, unheard subject of all of the conflict.

Second:

  • Outside narrator: Imagine you live in this idyllic setting . . .
  • or Imagine yourself a single father . . .
  • or Walk for a moment in Eugene Palmberg’s shoes, now slip into Alyssum Grabner’s boots . . .

Third:

  • Omniscient: Maybe the hills tell the story, or the land/ nature tells the story, the ferns are omniscient or get some info from the whispering green ash?
  • Close: same considerations as first. I think the contrasting/ not completely reliable/ biased viewpoints of either Alyssum or Josette will be the most interesting.

Surprisingly, I like that last second person POV idea, and the telling in first person from   Eugene’s child’s POV could be powerful, but I’ll probably tell this story from Alyssum or Josette in first or third.

Time to start journaling and letting them talk.

plotting with tarot for writer in motion

Plot

The moment I randomly selected Palmberg, Eugene, single father, my story idea became clear. I can picture my three main characters and how the conflict of a life-changing moment for all of them will present itself. I can see how my characters’ occupations, hobbies, and fears will escalate the conflict, so instead of pulling out all of my plotting tools, I think I’ll see what Plotting with tarot brings to the table.

Using  Mark Teppo’s interpretation of the Celtic Cross for plotting from Jump Start Your Novel, here’s my plot:

  1. The Protagonist: Five of Swords
  2. The Opposing Factor: Page of Wands
  3. The Root Cause: Death
  4. Immediate Past: Ace of Swords
  5. The Goal: Wheel of Fortune
  6. Immediate Future: Temperance
  7. My intent: The Fool
  8. How the outside world sees protagonist: Three of Wands
  9. The guide: The Hierophant
  10. The outcome: The Empress

My interpretation: My protagonist card indicates engagement in conflict and suggests disagreement with others that leads to hostility and tension. Despite the fact that my protagonist thinks s/he has won, s/he may still lose because s/he has annoyed or hurt the people argued with, creating a path to isolation. The opposing factor, the cause of this conflict, is someone who believes they have made a discovery. The root cause of the situation is not a literal death, but a major life change. My protagonist’s life has been turned upside down and s/he is trying to make a new start with the little left. My protagonist is facing the reality of the situation with a goal of wisdom and self-understanding and trying to see hope in the fact that the wheel of fortune turns and its time for the bad to turn to good. However, the immediate future is someone arriving to create balance through a union of dualities. My protagonist’s ability to let things go and be amused by others’ hang-ups which is the only way to cope at the moment, becomes a conflict with those that see balance differently.

My intent for writing this story is to come to the page and the project with unlimited potential. I want to be open, joyful and accepting of every aspect of the experience and grow through each step of the journey, returning with the elixir that will improve all of my stories.

The outside world sees my protagonist as a man on a cliff looking at distant mountains, as someone opportunities would widen horizons in many areas. They think s/he could open his/her mind and embrace change.

Traditional values and institutions, an embrace of the conventional, a certain desire to follow a well established process, adapting to certain well-established systems and beliefs leads the entire story to connect with beauty and happiness of life, femininity, expression, creativity and nurturing are the culmination of this story.

My reaction: I love how card one defined how the story will open in action and conflict. I now have a better understanding of my protagonist, antagonists, the conflicts and perhaps the resolution. The affirmation of my intentions for joining this project was a nice bonus!

I now have so much to let simmer in the brain-pan.

Tomorrow, I’ll share more plotting and outlining. For me, today proved that beginning with creating characters leads to easy plotting.

 

What color is your portal? Change it with online paint chips.

I opened a portal

I opened a portal (2020)                 bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Yesterday I started a new Coursera course: Songwriting:Writing the Lyrics with Pat Pattison through Berklee College of Music. One of the first lessons conceptualized a song as three boxes, stacked with the smallest on top. The top box fitting inside the middle box and both fitting in the bottom box. He used this imagery as the build and progression of the song.

I liked how he used “the boxes” and thought it would be a good way to approach a poem, so I thought I would take a look at what was going on at #dVerse Poets Pub to inspire some words to put in my boxes.

I felt like the #dVersepoetics prompt presented by HA: About Portals, was perfect for my poem. I talked a bit about portals and doorways while I was Excavating my mind. The prompt inspired me to open a portal in the side of the house and capture some photographs of the dimensions on the other side.

Where we can see the virus

Where We Can See The Virus (2020)    bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Where there are tiny dinosaurs in the trees

Where There Are Tiny Dinosaurs In Trees (2020) bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

I thought I would combine my portal ideas with Linda L. Krushke’s Paint Chip Poetry Prompt. I was looking for interesting color names a couple weeks ago for a poem, but didn’t find what I was imagining. The paint chip poetry prompt got me thinking and I searched again. Sherwin-Williams color families is exactly what I was looking for, so many creative color names with history and symbolism and oddity. It’s great. I can also explore Behr’s colors.

Armed with great inspiration, I lost all energy and interest 🙂 But I came back to it this morning, so I’ll call that a win.

The poem

Portals to here

Doors block and stop
when closed and locked hold
secrets and mysteries, create
yearning and discomfort, force

vocal expression out of context
the imagination runs rabid,
but when the key is found
and the door creaks, cracked

upon its hinges, it becomes
but a frame, lines and angles
to accentuate or break
the nouns within

Portals are but separators,
organizations to define
yours from mine from ours,
space from time, earthly from divine

find the vibration to pass
through the membrane,
concentrate, believe, transform
pass through to here

How long will it take to
notice the subtle differences
What color is your portal now?
Is it the drab aloe vera of the desert house

where I shaved my head
for the first time, or is it marine
like the flap of my tent I call the hurricane
that accompanies me on all my travels

did you walk through the door
that glowed like a sunset behind
the intricate carving of the head of Medusa
that I continued to visit every day in Venice

or is your portal no color at all
a carved opening in a cliff dwelling
showing the complete eclipse
where you look down through infinity, trapped

Excavating the Mind Round 2 Day 5: Observing with American Sentences

trees in the zoo

Trees in the Zoo

  • Neighborhood trees are in cages; I throw meat at them, but they don’t move.

I am working on a week long photography and poetry challenge inspired by a prompt from Poets & Writers called Excavating the Mind.

Today’s Enrichment and Time Engulfer

This morning, I was excited to see that one of my library digital holds came in, so today I get to explore Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio.

Here she is talking about the book:

Her first prompt in the book is “american sentences,” Allen Ginsberg’s take on the haiku, a sentence of seventeen syllables. He introduced them in his book Cosmopolitan Greetings. If you would like more information, Paul E. Nelson provides a PDF called American Sentences Workshop. I thought it was fun that he talked about juxtaposition creating tension.

Chapter 17 is “three observations.” I skipped to that chapter to see how Ms. Addonizio approaches her observations and translates them into poetry. She says that when she’s trying to use up some time when waiting, she tells herself to look for three things that are “striking or unusual” and make a note of them.  I like the idea of combining these two exercises. I will attempt to find three striking and unusual things to observe and create american sentences to describe my observations.

Day 5 notes and observations

Poets are people who notice what they notice – Allen Ginsberg

With that in mind, Levi and I set out to notice three striking or unusual things. We stumbled upon the first unusual things right away. Levi pointed out a flower that had fallen, but I focused on a small piece of crumpled foil in a place it had no business. The mystery foil led me to some worrying thoughts and my first american sentences.

  • This foil whispers secrets of teens doing drugs in the night, left behind
  • A small bit of crumpled foil on the walk so out of place like drugged teens

For the next unusual thing, we looked slightly beyond our usual trek around the house and ventured past the end of the driveway. We found this oddly broken and separated rock.

  • This rock, solid and strong through aeons, not cracked, nor broken, but apart.
  • A canyon created, mysterious geological event.
  • Moss and detritus of trees collect on and in your new surfaces.

Our final striking thing was a shocking pink giant rhododendron mingling with the trees.

  • Her shocking cotton candy petals betray her; she wants to fit in.
  • The relationship falters when she blooms; her strength and beauty overwhelm.
  • In a world of gigantic rhododendrons, this flower became tree.

There you have it, the last day of the second round of pictures and observations. I’m glad I repeated the exercise for a second week, so many different and unique observations. Tomorrow the drafts and on Sunday a new poem.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Excavating the Mind Round 2 Day 4: Music’s Influence

music to influence observations

I am working on a week long photography and poetry challenge inspired by a prompt from Poets & Writers called Excavating the Mind.

Today’s Enrichment and Time Evaporator

Nature Photography

This morning I found some great nature photography posts to enjoy:

CAS Big Picture Natural World Photography Competition

Underwater Photographer of the year 2020

and for laughs

12 Funny Wild Animal Pictures: A Comedy Wildlife Photography Award Preview

Poetry

I headed back to the Rattle Poetry Youtube Channel because I enjoyed it so much yesterday and found this wonderful poem by William Trowbridge “Oldguy Superhero, Counterterrorist.” It made me laugh.

Day 4 notes and observations

Last night I watched Jericho Brown, this year’s Pulitzer-Prize winner, interviewed by Alphonso David, president of HRC Human Rights Campaign. It included so much great information. I especially enjoyed this great quote:

Poetry is the genre of investigation and discovery – Jericho Brown

So let’s get to investigating and discovering.

I thought I would use Visuwords again to create today’s frame. I let it provide the original word which turned out to be tonal. One of the word associations was music. When I double clicked on music, I broke the program! The screen filled with words incredibly quickly then the mass of words and lines danced back and forth across the screen and never stopped. This, in itself, brought to mind how music is a universe, a broad framework that flavors every observation.

Since it’s another rainy morning and I’ll be observing inside, I decided to select a variety of records from my eclectic collection (four albums I have not listened to yet on the new record player) to spice up my observations. I also played with some different lighting: a full spectrum bulb on a stand with a shadow box and Prolite Electronix RTL 30 as a spotlight.

First influence: Anna Moffo – Heroines From Great French Operas (1975)

Anna Moffo

Her voice put me in the mood for more romantic lighting, so I grabbed those thumbtacks I observed in juxtaposition and put one in a previous hole I found in the wall then stung some blue lights and turned off all the others. I enjoyed how the blue reflected on the album cover and matched the glow of the display of the record player.

The spotlight on the plain wall made me want to make shadow puppets. Because the light I used was made of many small lights, It created an interesting effect.

 

Since I was playing, I decided to put on KLAPP och KLANG (1969), a Swedish language record of children’s songs, as the next influence.

Klapp och Klang

I instantly found myself bobbing side to side in my seat and snapping my fingers to the music. I took down the blue lights and turned on all the others. I was drawn to some tiny figures that have been on the hearth since before I moved in. Then I felt like exploring for more toys.

I just looked out the window and two geese swam by with their brand new fluffy babies, so I quickly changed my lens and ran out to capture a couple picks of goslings.

They swam away quickly this time, so back to it. Next up we have Ahmad Jamal- All Of You (1961). This light piano-led jazz has me moving in the same way as the children’s songs: bobbing and snapping.

Ahmad Jamal

Notes:

  • music makes me contradictory: I want to sit contemplatively, but I have to move
  • the mood of the music changes my lighting preferences
  • an object, like a certain microphone, can symbolize the person who uses it
  • the roll of the sleeve on my jean jacket has been preserved through all space and time like an ancient artifact in a museum

Today’s final selection is Alla Pugacheva in Stockholm (1985). This is amazing. A Russian pop star, singing in English, recorded in Sweden and yet, so distinctly ’80s. Oh that saxophone! I remembered that I still have the jean jacket with the pins on it that I got in Sweden and Leningrad.

 

That was fun. I really enjoyed how the music influenced what I observed and how I observed it. Still one more day to go, but I can see how this week’s poem will be very different from last week’s.

It’s Open Link Night over at dVerse Poet’s Pub. Head over and share your favorite poem you wrote this week and read and comment on all the other great works.

Now to play with Kari McElroy’s Musical Alphabet Coloring Pages and explore the music of all the artists she has drawn.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Excavating the Mind Round 2 Day 3: Framing my observations with word association

I am working on a week long photography and poetry challenge inspired by a prompt from Poets & Writers called Excavating the Mind.

Rattle scheduleToday’s Enrichment and Time Eraser

This morning I got an email from Rattle magazine telling me about the videos they are creating on youtube. I enjoyed listening to Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer who posts a poem every day on her website A Hundred Falling Veils. Not only is she a poet with twelve published books and a new book coming out in the next few weeks, she is also a linguist who gave a TED talk called The Art of Changing Metaphors.

“Don’t think of an elephant!” Now you’re thinking about an elephant. Her ideas on framing inspired me to explore a frame for today’s observations.

Yesterday, Trish Hopkinson wrote a post that caught my eye about word association tools. I decided to try out Visuwords with my frame for today’s observations, inspired by my first look out the window “Wet.” Once I figured out that double clicking on a word expanded the associations, and I could move the clusters around, I had a lot of fun. Here’s what I came up with for the word “wet”:

Wet word association visuwords

 

Armed with inspiration, a frame, and some great words, I headed out to observe my world.

Day 3 notes and observations

To my right, blue sky peeks through. To my left, dark clouds roil.

I enjoy how one lovely camellia, far from its bush, punctuates the pavement.

The drips create a metronome.

Notes:

  • a sky half full or empty?
  • surfaces shine with a wet gloss
  • the gloss enhances textures
  • the air is full of rhythmic drips
  • tapping time with invisible dancers
  • or microscopic dancers within the droplets
  • wet makes the world reflective

There you have it, the third day of the second round of pictures and observations

Happy Reading and Writing!

Excavating the Mind Round 2 Day 2: Odd Juxtapositions Come to Light

an odd collection

I am working on a week long photography and poetry challenge inspired by a prompt from Poets & Writers called Excavating the Mind.

Day 2 notes and observations

The last time I took pictures in the house, I made a quick note about juxtaposition. I wrote, “I find how objects end up together in space intriguing.” I have never been a stickler for putting things in some designated rightful place. And during quarantine, I have enjoyed pulling things out of the closets. Thus, my home is full of interesting object placement, creating juxtapositions of objects that could create wonder. I thought I might play with artificial lighting while exploring the house, observing my odd juxtapositions.

*Note: None of the objects in these photographs have been moved, arranged or organized in any way. I am observing. This is how I found them.

I started out in the closet to get my clip lights. Levi joined me, but stepped through the looking glass. I didn’t realize until later, that he was sucked into the bass drum. I continued my exploration and observations alone.

I immediately began noticing strange juxtapositions right there in the closet. On one shelf, a small burlap sack rests atop an old newspaper with fascinating headlines. On the shelf on the other side of the closet, a blue fuzzy head buddies up with a container of thumb tacks.

After these initial observations of naturally occurring unusual juxtapositions, I dove into exploring subtle changes with lighting of one odd juxtaposition at a time. I started with some orange lenses I bought a couple years ago for using with my computer before bed. They are supposed to help me sleep. I find it ironic that they ended up hanging out with my books. The lighting changes: room light, no room light one clip light, no room light two clip lights.

Next, a bottle of hand sanitizer and some two pound weights on top of my bookshelf

I left my room and found some interesting juxtapositions on the counter of the kitchenette.

Notes:

  • observing the same things with different lighting from different angles turned my mess into a series of still lifes
  • clutter disappears when not paid attention too, but comes alive under observation
  • groupings of objects tell a story
  • observing how and where I leave things is the true excavation of my mind
  • blur and shadow add suspense to a still life
  • the mini-vac from that angle looks like a dismembered robot foot

I really enjoyed the shadow of the faucet in that last picture of the button jar.

There you have it, the second day of the second round of pictures and observations

Happy Reading and Writing!

Excavating the Mind Round 2 Day 1: Cat’s Eye View

I am working on a week long photography and poetry challenge inspired by a prompt from Poets & Writers called Excavating the Mind.

Day 1 notes and observations

Today, I thought it would be fun to let Levi be the leader in our morning game of follow the leader. I attempted to let him lead me and see the world from his point of view which entailed many squats, sitting, kneeling and lying on the ground, so I also got a nice workout. First, we observed Max then the bases of trees.

From there, Levi led me into my garden plot that I need to tend to. I was excited to see squash starts in my compost.

squash starts

Levi squeezed through the steps and under the porch. I could not follow, but took some pictures.

Notes:

  • Levi does not understand that he’s the leader, he keeps stopping and waiting for me to go somewhere
  • He also keeps walking up to me when I’m trying to take his picture from a distance
  • there are plant starts in my compost. Yay squash!
  • there’s a whole world under the porch
  • kitty is pouncing on something I can’t see in the grass

Trying to observe the world from Levi’s point of view helped me pay attention to things I might not have seen otherwise, like the plant starts in my compost, the individual rocks that make up the old fireplace, the little piles of dried leaves on the steps, and the lowest branch over the water. I think it’s supposed to rain for the next few days. I look forward to whatever creative ways of observing will come tomorrow.

the bottom branch

There you have it, the first day of the second round of pictures and observations.

Happy Reading and Writing!