Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A.A. SLOGANS EVERY WRITER SHOULD BE FAMILIAR WITH

post by Lynn 

September is National Recovery Month, a celebration of the reality of recovery from addiction. During this month people in recovery, their family, friends and allies go all out to celebrate, educate and be the voice of hope for those who are unable to speak from their addiction.

First, a little background

My sister, Laura Griffith, is a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism. She hasn’t had a drink for over 12 years, and I thank God every day for her recovery. I can speak openly about her alcoholism because she does, and because she has made helping others find long-term recovery her mission.

About five years ago, Laura founded a nonprofit called Recover Wyoming, which serves people in and seeking long-term recovery. RW also provides information and services to the broader community – family members, employers – basically anyone whose life has been impacted by addiction.

Laura’s decade-long slide into alcoholism was hell for me and my family, I won’t lie about that. But I grew along the way. I learned a lot, and those lessons have helped me in my own life. I also became familiar with various aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous, including the slogans that members of this twelve-step family share with each other constantly.

I think Recovery Month is a good time to think about how AA slogans can apply to the writing life. Starting with…

One day at a time

Affectionately known as “ODAT”, this slogan is a bedrock one for many people in the fellowship. It speaks to the issue that it can sometimes be too difficult to imagine being sober for the rest of your life, and it’s better to focus on remaining sober one a day at a time, even one hour at a time. It also reminds people that addiction is a disease, and like any disease, it must be treated daily.

I invoke ODAT frequently when I get impatient with my writing progress and when my ambition gets ahead of my skill set. I must manage my writing life for the long term, but I do it one day at a time.

Just do the next right thing 

Trying to stay sober can be overwhelming. When people are rebuilding their lives from the chaos of addiction, they are often dealing with health, legal and financial issues as well as the mending of relationships. It’s easy to fall apart under the stress.

Just do the next right thing is a mantra that leads to productive progress in the right direction.

Writing can also be overwhelming.

This slogan comes in handy when I feel myself starting to get frantic. When I have too many projects, deadlines, demands on my time, I can end up running in circles. Just do the next right thing reminds me that the only way I’ll get anything done is to take it one task at a time. Thinking about the next right thing to do ensures that I’ll check in with my priorities, because often the thing that is clamoring for my attention in the moment may not actually be the most important one for the development of my writing.

Progress not perfection 

This slogan is pretty self-explanatory. In A.A. meetings people will pull this one out when somebody is being too hard on themselves or has unrealistically high expectations. They know that too often perfectionists take a “if I can’t do it perfectly, I’ll just give up” mindset that is not compatible with sobriety.

I use this one a lot. For me, it’s a slap up side of the head that says: “Stop it, Lynn! As long as you are learning and improving your writing skills, you are on track.”

I’ve learned that when I get hung up on my still-not-perfect prose, I stall out and that’s no good.

Fake it ‘til you make it

This one is all about attitude. For people seeking recovery, it addresses the “imposter syndrome” problem, when somebody might not really feel like they have earned the title of Person in Recovery yet.

They are encouraged by members of the A.A. fellowship to “act as if…” and do the things that sober people do. Longtime sober people know that acting is all part of the deal, and eventually your self-image will catch up to the reality.

For me, fake it ‘til you make it means that I should not get hung up on whether or not to call myself a writer. I should ignore those pesky questions in my head, like “Do I qualify?” and “Is it presumptuous to call myself a writer until I publish something big?”

Instead, I should just act like a writer, which to me means that I write daily, read a lot and study the art, craft and business of writing. I also keep submitting my work for publication and accept rejections as they come along as growing proof of my status as a working writer.


If you keep going to the barber shop, eventually you’ll get a haircut

This slogan is basically a warning to those seeking recovery that if they hang out in the same places with the same people as they did when they were using/drinking, they’ll relapse. It's also one of the reasons that places like RW's Recovery Center (1603 Capitol Avenue, #405 in Cheyenne) are so important--people newly sober can go there and be with people who are very serious about their own sobriety. It's kind of a recovery barber shop, you could say, where people get the right kind of haircut.

I think of the slogan in positive terms as it pertains to my writing life: if I keep showing up at the computer, ready to write, something will get written.

This pays homage to the importance of creating writing rituals. For me, morning journal-writing and regular sessions in my writing room is where I create the writing habit. It also encourages me to hang around people who are serious about their writing, and participate in writing groups and organizations like Wyoming Writers, Inc.

There's wisdom there

I hope you’ll find some of these slogans to be useful in your writing life. There is wisdom there for us all.

Oh, and if you are curious about Recover Wyoming and would like to learn more about what this organization does, please visit www.recoverwyoming.org.

SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITY

While I’ve got you here, I want to announce a new project. I am going to serve as editor of an anthology. All the pertinent information is spelled out below or you can visit the publisher’s website at www.tuliptreepub.com.

If you are a person in recovery (or a family member of one), I hope you will consider submitting. If you know a writer who is in recovery, please share the information with them.

This will be my first time editing an anthology, so I’m going to have to fake it ‘til I make it.

Wish me luck!

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS 

TulipTree Publishing is currently accepting submissions for: 




 “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; 
 they just stand there shining.”
- Anne Lamott 

This anthology will include stories and poetry about recovery, written by people who have lived it or witnessed the journey of a loved one.

Submissions must be received by January 9, 2016. Contributors will receive a free copy of the anthology.

No anonymous entries will be accepted. If you have questions about protecting Twelve-Step Program anonymity, visit www.facesandvoicesofrecovery.org and read their brochure on “Advocacy with Anonymity.”

Proceeds will benefit Recover Wyoming, a Recovery Community Organization based in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

For additional information, visit www.tuliptreepub.com.

Note from the Editor:

We are looking for quality writing from all points of view. The focus is on recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Family members are encouraged to write about their own recovery journey.

Our goal in gathering these stories is to allow them to “stand there shining” and show the world the reality of recovery.

 --Lynn G. Carlson



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Terrified? Don't Neglect the Scenery

by Susan
Black Canyon of the Gunnison: I wouldn't bring
small children here if I were attached to them.

I spent the week after Labor Day peering over the edges of cliffs, stomach quivering. I never thought of myself as afraid of heights before, but I had vertigo overload. At night, in the hotel, post-precipice anxiety fits.

The man in my life and I first went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 1,700 feet deep, stark walls, seemingly straight down. Pictures do not capture how terrifying it is. I clung to the fence rail on the overlook, light-headed.

Then to the Colorado National Monument. It wasn't as deep, but they actually warn you that if you're afraid of heights you should drive it from Fruita to Grand Junction, not Grand to Fruita. Guess which direction we drove first, at the end of a long day of driving. Switchbacks on a cliff edge where you turn sharply right on the edge. Every other curve felt like we were about to drive off into space.

None of it unnerved me, though, as much as the Forest Service road we went down: Lands End Road, or Lands End of the World Road, as I called it. Let's take a look, shall we?


Image: Google Maps
Note the wicked switchbacks, the rapid loss in elevation. The road, only wide enough for one car in spots, picks its way down the edge of the Grand Mesa along sheer, rocky dropoffs. It was marked as a scenic drive on the Colorado map, and the intel from the locals at the German restaurant in Delta was that it could be done in a car. They neglected to give us any details beyond that.

I didn't want to go down it. My husband did. He was driving...

And it was gorgeous. At the end, my husband said, "That was a once in a lifetime drive, wasn't it?" He was right. It was amazing.

Sadly, I had been too wrapped up in my own fear to truly experience it. I didn't even take photos.

What does this have to do with writing? Or anything, really?

Writing terrifies me sometimes, quite frankly. I stare anxiously at the screen. I write a sentence, then delete it, thinking it's lame. Write, delete, write, delete. Wash, rinse repeat. There's a reason I do all my first drafts with pen and paper -- I can't delete them down to nothing before I even get going.

All I could think of on that road was falling. All I can think of when I write is failing.

And when I get that way, there is so much joy in the journey I'm missing. I'm missing out on the feeling of making something, whether it's worthy of public consumption or not. I miss the joy of finding the right word. I miss the play of consonants and vowels when something just sounds right. I miss giving credence to my thoughts, my ideas.

The joy of writing is in the writing. Don't miss the scenery.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

READY TO GET COOKING?

post by Lynn

One of my guilty pleasures is watching reality shows like Top Chef and Chopped.

I know there are people who will judge me for this. Number one, it’s TV, which we all know is not on the list of “approved activities” for a writer. Number two, it’s Reality TV, which is at the top of many “waste of time” lists.

Whatever.

I put myself through college by waiting tables, so I’ve spent a bit of time in a restaurant kitchen. It’s a remarkable world. Maybe that accounts for my fascination with chefs.

But I don’t think so. Mostly, I am fascinated by the creative process. In reality shows I get to observe people in extreme circumstances as they combine skill with creativity to produce a product, and then get judged instantly on the results. This, to me, is a quick way to view the creative process in action.

Recently, these reality shows have me thinking about mise-en-place, and how it pertains to my writing life.

MISE-EN-WHO? 

Mise-en-place is a French term that translates as “put in place.” It refers to the way that chefs prepare for dinner service so that they can put together quality, well-presented food in the cauldron that is a restaurant kitchen.

But it's really more than that.

During a segment on NPR’s “The Salt”, Melissa Gray, a student at the Culinary Institute of America, had this to say about mise-en-place:
“I know people who have it tattooed on them. It really is a way of life… a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at the moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.” 
According to Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, “Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks… As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system… The universe is in order when your station is set.”

A bit more involved than how you dice your onions, it seems.

ELEMENTS OF MISE-EN-PLACE

Professional chefs call it “the Meez” and it has a number of elements, including:

Preparation mindset

Chefs have their own work stations and before dinner service starts, they make sure their knives are sharp and the implements they use (tongs, spatulas, whisks) are close by. They check to see that the meat is cut, the fish deboned, the vegetables sliced, and the herbs, spices, oil and butter are within easy reach.

Chefs have trained for many years to perfect their skills. They know everything about how food reacts to heat, how to combine flavors and how to best showcase fresh ingredients. They know not to overwork their dishes. They know, I mean really know, their stuff.

Working “clean” 

Mise-en-place proponents clean as they go, keep their work stations picked up and make sure the ingredients are fresh. This is obviously a health issue (a dirty kitchen could lead to food poisoning) but it’s also a way to combat clutter and confusion. It’s a mindset that, according to sous-chef Greg Barr, is...
“… a very Zen-like thing for me. It’s so in the moment that like, you don’t have stuff from the past… Everything’s been cleaned down. All my knives are clean. Clean cutting board. Clear space to work. Clear mind.” 
Slow down to speed up

Good chefs have learned that it’s best to work in a controlled manner. In the middle of a frantic rush, they have to take a moment, slow down and refocus. If they work in a mad dash, the odds of putting out an undercooked steak or an overcooked salmon increase. The dish gets sent back and they have to cook the dish all over again--a big waste of time and food, and something that could dampen a restaurant's reputation.

All of this behind-the-scenes work (as much as six hours of prep for a three hour dinner service) is not visible to the diner at the table, but it definitely shows in the food on the plate.

Chef Dwayne LiPuma, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, said,
“The world is a giant gerbil wheel right now. I think if we just became a little bit more organized – a little more mise-en-place – understood what we really need and only do what we really need, I think we’ll have more time.” 
MISE-EN-PLACE IN THE WRITING LIFE 

So, how can I practice a version of mise-en-place in my writing life?

First off, I should embrace the preparation mindset by acknowledging that writers have their own version of prep work. I need to stop thinking that the only time that counts as writing time is when I am actually putting words on a page.

My version of prep work includes:

  • Reading, anything and everything 
  • Researching 
  • Brainstorming 
  • Journaling 
  • Thinking about concepts, characters, images, etc. while I pull weeds in the yard and do the dishes. 
  • Expanding my vocabulary by stopping to look up the full meaning of words that I am unclear on. 
  • Reading up on craft topics like point of view, characterization, punctuation, etc. 

I should get it through my head that it will take years of training and practice to hone my writing skills and abilities. I should have faith that all this behind-the-scenes prep work will eventually show up on the page.

I should work clean by keeping my desk clear of everything except the materials that pertain to the project I am working on. Stay off Facebook and Pinterest, answer emails outside of writing time and leave my cellphone in another room.

When it comes to those looming deadlines (WritingWyoming blog post has to be up on Tuesday morning!) I should slow down to speed up by organizing myself to work toward the deadline, in short increments of time if that’s all I can get, and not thrash around at the last hour. 

I should also get over this idea that I have to write it all, right now. Frantic is not conducive to good writing any more than it is conducive to good food.

I can also mise-en-place my attitude by prioritizing and tackling one project at a time, leaving thoughts of all those other projects I have to/want to write out of my mind.

I should take Melissa Gray’s advice and make it a habit of, “… concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment.”

FOCUS, Lynn!

Okay, then, I am ready to apply the Meez to my writing. My list is in order. My desk is cleared off.

I'd better get cooking.

Maybe I need one of those white coats… 







RESOURCES:

For this blog post, I drew quotes and information from the following:

For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef,” NPR’s The Salt, by Dan Charnas

Mis en Place” The Reluctant Gourmet, by G. Stephen Jones




Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Need to Create

Two afghans I've crocheted.
by Susan

Yarn over hook,

draw through two loops.
Yarn over hook,
draw through two loops.
Yarn over, insert hook in next stitch.
Yarn over, pull loop through.

Stitch upon stitch – hundreds of them.
Hook flashes metallic green rhythm in lamplight.
Yarn turns fabric in my hands.
With each stitch, I think of you.
In each stitch, a prayer for you.
  
-Susan Vittitow Mark      

My family makes things.

My father was a carpenter. When I was old enough to be trusted with a hammer and nails, but not yet with a saw, I sat in the sawdust under his workbench and cobbled together a trapezoidal dollhouse from scrap wood.

My sisters' credo:
"She who dies with the most fabric wins."
One brother followed in Dad's footsteps. Three sisters work in yarn and fabric: two of them quilt, one knits. The fourth is a visual artist, her walls covered in chalks and watercolors she's done.

Sister #3 took me with her to crochet lessons at Sears when I was 10. When I was 12, she taught me how to sew, how to run the tracing wheel down the darts and set a 5/8 inch seam. My sophomore year of college, I spent a week running on Jolt Cola sewing an '80s-style puff-sleeved dress of midnight blue satin in time for the homecoming dance.

Recently, Cheyenne held an artists' fair. As I wandered from booth to booth admiring the pretty things and choosing a few gifts here and there, it dawned on me that I didn't want to buy art. I wanted to make it.

I don't have too much yarn.
I have too few storage tubs.
I found myself digging through the four tubs of yarn I own, much of it scavenged from thrift stores. I pulled six colors of secondhand rug yarn out and crocheted a rug.

I didn't need a rug. What I needed was to make something. Something physical, preferably, even if it wasn't terribly useful or practical. The drive to create is strong.

I would like my drive to create to be fully satisfied by words, but it is not. I am too physical a person. I don't come back to center through meditation, only through movement.

I keep a schedule busy enough that one of my bosses teases me, saying I need more hobbies. Oddly enough, I do. Even with limited hours in the day, I need my physical hobbies because they feed the creativity that fuels my writing. They give me an outlet where my mind can wander and grab snippets that it brings back to my notebooks and keyboard.

When I put down the yarn and hook, I'm better able to write. Creativity benefits from a kick from a different direction. Think of it as cross-training for the brain.

I get antsy if I go too long without making anything concrete. I get antsier if I go too long without writing. Sometimes a little crochet time is exactly what I need to jolt myself back into words.

What about you? Do you have other creative outlets that feed your writing?




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

LET'S CELEBRATE!

post by Lynn

Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated.

- Osho

I’m in the mood for celebrating, and why not? There are so many great things to celebrate, like…

Rose Hill being named Wyoming’s new Poet Laureate.

I gravitated toward Rose when I first attended a Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference because, well, because Rose is just such a genuine person and so approachable.

That was before I even heard her read her poetry.

Rose makes her art from daily things like chocolate cake, family dinners and country mud. No ivory towers for this woman—she writes her poetry in the middle of her life, not at the edges. I’m betting the drafts of her poems have always been speckled with flour, the doodles of kids and grandkids plus a few of her own tears.

Rose’s poem, The Gift, which focuses on her mother’s loss of sight due to macular degeneration, hit home for me because my mother also has macular. Rose’s words, honoring her mother’s resiliency in spite of encroaching blindness, match exactly what I feel in my heart as I watch my mother struggle and persevere.

I know Rose will bring to her new job the same grit, common sense and wisdom that inhabits her writing.

A toast to Rose!

AWARDS

I’m also celebrating the fact that some great writers I know have received recognition through the 2015 WILLA Literary Awards.

These awards honor published literature for women’s or girl’s stories set in the American West. Librarians, historians and educators make the selections, so you know they pick the best of the best:


Alethea Williams (a.k.a. Chris) was a finalist for her book, Walls for the Wind, in the Original Softcover Fiction category. Congratulations, Chris!

Mary Beth Baptiste’s book, Altitude Adjustment, was a finalist in the Creative Nonfiction category. (Mary Beth wrote about the writing of this book in a blog post.)

Laura Pritchett’s book, Stars Go Blue, was a finalist in the Contemporary Fiction category. (Read about Stars Go Blue in this post.) My summer reading list included Laura's book, Red Lightning, so her dynamic, straight-to-the-heart writing is fresh in my mind.

BACK TO SCHOOL TIME

I’m also celebrating the fact that I’m starting an online writing class soon: Writing the Personal Essay. The class is offered through Creative Nonfiction, and I’m excited to be a student this fall.

I’ve got my notepad ready, my pencils sharpened and I’m planning on sitting in the front row of the virtual classroom so I don’t miss anything my teacher (Barrett Swanson) has to say. I stocked up on paper, too, since I know I have a lot of rough drafts in my immediate future.

If you are looking for opportunities to be a student, or some ideas on where to submit your writing, don't forget to check out the Writing Opportunities page on Wyoming Writers, Inc. website.

POETRY THRIVES IN DRY AIR?

I’m also celebrating the recognition of a batch of outstanding Wyoming poets.

Constance Brewer, Kathleen Smith and Carol Deering are the recipients of Wyoming Arts Council creative writing fellowships in poetry. Honorable mentions go to Cara Rodriquez and Leah Schlachter.

Obviously, poetry is alive and well in our fair state.


CLOSE-TO-HOME LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

And then there’s the upcoming Literary Connection, at Laramie County Community College, October 2nd and 3rd, 2015.

I look forward to this event every year, because I get to spend some time with fascinating writers, film makers and fellow creatives in a small venue. They always share a lot about their creative process and hand out plenty of advice and insights.

This year’s presenters are:

Allen Kurzweil, author of the nonfiction book Whipping Boy (Harper) and a journalist, novelist, teacher and inventor.

George Bilgere is a poet with a list of awards too numerous to mention. Bilgere’s poetry is heard frequently on Garrison Keillor’s NPR program, The Writer’s Almanac. Bilgere teaches literature at John Carroll University.

For more information about this event, visit the Literary Connection website.

HOMECOMING

Last, but certainly not least in my world, I am celebrating the fact that my big sister, Sally, and my brother-in-law, Jim, are coming home to the U.S. soon.

After five wonderful years in Switzerland, they are returning to their beloved Philadelphia.

Philly may not be that close to Wyoming, but it’s a lot closer than Baar, Switzerland!

And while it was a thrill visiting them (twice, once in summer and once in winter) in that beautiful alpine country, it’s going to be good to have them stateside once more.

Plus my odds of getting a Philly cheesesteak “wid” go up dramatically!

Wow—so much happening.

What are you celebrating today?