Visual Writing Prompts – Day 2

Note: I have set up a private Facebook Group for people participating in the daily prompts to share their work and receive constructive feedback in a safe space. Please click HERE if you would like to take part.

Good morning. We’re traveling the timelines today for a visit with Saturnino Herrán.

A Mexican painter and muralist from the late 19th and early 20th century, he is among those of the indigenismo movement who worked to celebrate Latino culture as the precursor to the revolutionary spirit of mid-century Mexican art, including having taught greats such as Diego Rivera.

The piece I share with you today, La Ofrenda, hangs in Museo Nacional de Arte INBA in Mexico City.

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Painted in 1913, it exemplifies Mexican modernism with its allegorical allusion to life’s journey. A punt boat in a canal is filled with zempasúchitl flowers (a marigold that is traditionally associated with death) meant as offerings for the dead. This is a reference to ofrenda, a tradition deeply connected to Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Each character is represents a different stage of life.

Please take a moment to admire this incredible work by clicking through: http://munal.emuseum.com/objects/341/la-ofrenda?ctx=10fce3f5-35ee-46c6-8921-9a42d7ff90fb&idx=16

Of course, your interpretation doesn’t need to follow Herrán’s intention.

Instructions: Allow the mood and colours of the painting to influence your writing today. What is the story of those in the boat? Is there one character through which you can convey all of that rich emotion? Do they ponder? Or is this a quiet moment before the business of the city? Let whatever comes flow from your emotional reaction to the painting and write that. Don’t edit.

Enjoy your trip to 1913 Mexico.

Visual Writing Prompts – Day 1

Hello, fellow time travellers!

Are you longing for a bit of a solitary creative refuge in the middle of this quarantine?

Many of us continue to remain holed up in our homes across the globe. These many weeks of solitude (or sharing space without any breaks) leave us struggling with our sense of peace each day.

One of the ways I work with my writing groups to help ease anxieties and create space right now is through flash fiction using famous artworks as inspo.

My obsession with beauty, passion for museums, and love of storytelling led me to it, and students have adored the combo.

So, in celebration of art, support of museums, and an offering of solitary creative space, I’ll be posting a visual writing prompt each day along with light instructions to help guide you in this sweet process.

To kick things off, let’s go with Thomas Cole’s The Journey of Life: Youth. I love this painting for its ethereal quality and room to create your own interpretation. It hangs in the American National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Be sure to take some time and linger on this beautiful painting in high definition and with a bit of historical context at: https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.52451.html

Instructions: Pick a character from the painting (or make one up) and lead them on a journey through it.

Things to consider: What do they discover? Who do they meet? Is there a conflict that makes this adventure a bit more exciting? Do they find what they thought they would?

Have fun writing! No pressure! No masterpieces needed! Just dream on paper. xo

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Pandemic, Day 3 – Manifesting Happiness

woman-with-sad-unhappy-face-holding-mask-fake-smile_88813-245Day 3: What is it with all the “your attitude needs to be gratitude” being shoveled at us by the be-happy crowd these days?

I have to tell you, I find this whole find-the-good-in-everything jibber-jabber is really irritating when everything has gone into the sewage pit of a crap day or a crap series of days—or in the case of 2020 so far, a crap year.

We’ve all had them, this brutal, soul-squelching run of nothing but negative. Getting out of the hole is nothing short of miraculous.

Or is it?

Like I said yesterday, I’m big into manifestation. The curious part is, it goes both ways. We joke around our house that it turns out I AM the center of the universe (ha). However, the reality is that when I am focused on human flaws or my own insecurities when I worry about things I cannot control or am running around the house stomping my feet, things get ugly fast in my little pod of peeps. I actually create more negativity. It’s like, well, a virus.

Does that mean I have the power to offer a mending sensibility when it comes to this already crap year? Hmmm, that seems like a lot of pressure.

No time for wallowing, because the answer is yes.

I’ve always known this. For whatever reason, the energy of the family is mine to maintain. I can send others to war or negotiate peace.

Again with the pressure. Can’t I just wallow without being nagged about these kinds of responsibilities?

I complain, yet, when I step into thoughtful dialogue and compassionate contact, hmmm, amazing, everyone is chill. When I lose my shit, well, you can imagine the tsunami.

The other morning, I read this article on the art of being grateful on the hardest of days. It got me right where I needed it because, well, these last few weeks have been a whopper at our house well beyond the coronavirus.

I’d started to descend into the fear and anger of it all—snarky, distant, demanding.

War was brewing.

Waking up proved harder and harder. Those be-happy people became incredibly irritating once again. I tore up my lists of all the things I love and ripped down all of my little post-it notes with “go slay this day” sort of quotes that dot spaces in the house where I regularly go.

I am, on the good days, one of those be-happy people. I stretch into it and slather myself with a dig-in mentality about keeping in the flow of goodness. When it gets hard, the mask gets ripped off. Be gone, easy happy tasks. Life was pissing me off and being grateful proved stupid.

Then, I watched what was happening around me while I was on fire. Kids=snarky. Husband=distant. Friendships=quiet. The bigger my flames grew, the bigger the pile of crazy that manifested.

“Um, dude, are you like seriously this sadistic?” I asked myself. “Change your approach, woman. See what happens.”

The observation, after I chilled the hell out, reconnected with several of my most favourite people, and focused on my house full of beautiful humans proved, dare I say it, that I could single-handedly manifest happiness.

The wee one started making movies, the big kid reconnected with old friends who have been out of her life for ages, Ken started a new personal project that he’s been delaying for a year.

Well, dammit, it would seem that the art of gratitude on the hardest of days is all about the choices we make in the midst of those challenges.

It’s not for me to say to you, “Go make a list of what you are grateful for” or anything like that because gratitude and that satisfaction with life is manifested in so many different, beautiful, and impactful ways.

My challenge to you is to simply go manifest something beautiful during these really hard days.

I see it in people such as Robin Blackburn who posts gorgeous architecture and photos of the majesty of the human body every day.

I’m in love with the topics Kate Schofield Beem is having that bring forth prescient issues that require contemplation and conversation.

Elisabeth Rae Collett took us all on a tour through her Italy yesterday that brought me to tears with its beauty and personal connection.

We don’t have to fake happy. This time in our lives is hard. However, we can be the center of our universe and raise the energy of that universe up, giving others a bit of relief.

I’m going to go celebrate the fact that everyone in my house is still asleep and I can go work on the novel for another hour or so.

Go rise, my friends. We got this.

Pandemic, Day 2: Where Do You Find A Moment’s Peace?

Where do you find a literal moment’s peace in the midst of fear and anxiety?

For me, it’s the songs of the heavens. I find it strange to write those words because religion and I broke up a long time ago as I searched for my own connection to the Beyond.

I’ve been, at times, an angry agnostic—the collective mindset of religion and its history of believe or be banished is not my thing and often it was easier to think it wrong rather than see it as a different entry point into the mysteries than my own.

My experience in France last year shifted that perspective beyond what I ever imagined.

I find it wonderful and synchronistic in that it happened at that same time I immersed myself in a deep exploration of the potential of collective conscious. Could I, as part of the collective, expand the larger ability to create by understanding my own ability to generate personal consciousness? Could I heal myself and my family with self-compassion? Could I change the energy and the perspective of those around me just by working on how I contribute to the collective?

Yes, my friends. Oh my, big oh my, yes.

That whole concept of what you put your energy into is what multiplies in your life is real. Manifestation is fast and absolutely magical when directed to a single point and combined with doing the necessary work. Just ask Jason Rivers​ or the light-bringer Elana Epstein​, or my provocative, thoughtful friend Lindsey Lewis​. They are vessels of the power, showing us that getting in the driver’s seat of your life and believing in yourself means the possibilities are endless—if you are open to them.

The songs of the heavens, which alighted upon me during a powerful day of observed silence at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud​ in France, brought all of my exploration around collective consciousness into perspective. It and the deep power which the abbey held opened me to the real potential of human energy and how we as a collective can rise above that which seeks to drain us.

It is through the echo of these majestic voices that I stepped away from the anger attached to my agnostic search for meaning. Collective prayer, sacred space, those places where the connection to the Beyond are profound, are crucial to driving the energy of the Earth upward and into the realm of deeper awareness of who we are. One is not better or stronger or righter than the other, they are deep sources of our ability to seek out and multiply that which we have forgotten is our OWN light and how one person’s growing light illuminates for others.

Illumination is not the easy path. In fact, self-examination and the true creation of light is one of the most challenging paths any of us will ever take. However, the songs of the heavens give me space to see, for a moment, the value in that work and the illumination that awaits all of us if we come together and rise.

I return to this brief song as often as I need to—after a crazy morning with the kids, in the middle of the night after my dreams take me beyond comfort, when I require a portal in time to write, when communing with the Beyond offers me a necessary sojourn.

Whether your path looks like mine or not, I hope this hymn brings you a bit of respite from the rest of the world today.

Here’s to driving ourselves in the direction of collective illumination.

The Writer’s Studio – Personal Sovereignty

My brother said something to me the other day, “Robin, you have to really look at your sovereignty and ask yourself why you are letting XX affect you this way.”

I’d been complaining to him a lot, irritated by people who we like to call petty tyrants—those who exert their control by forcing what they know is a habitual reaction from you in order to manipulate.

He, however, was having none of it and told me so. I found it impossible to debate the merits of his assessment. I’d given my personal responsibility away and blamed it on another person.

I’d been procrastinating and whining about not having enough time for the things I love for a month. It definitely had to be because of all of these tyrants.

Over the course of the next few days, as I grew increasingly short-tempered in a wide range of areas related to freeing myself of these damned tyrants, I heard his bellowing voice in my head, “Why are you giving away your authority over the way your life plays out?”

My aggression with others grew and grew. My mind offered no willingness to bend to things I’d, before that point, conceded to for any number of reasons.  I blamed others for my limited work on my novel writing, for frustrations at work, for situations that left me without things I needed, for communication that never quite communicated what I desired.

The funny thing was life didn’t get any better with all of this standing up for myself. It actually devolved. 

Intolerant and thoroughly pissed off at others, I’d reached my  boiling point. Everyone received my venom. I’d become a tyrant in defense against tyrants, lost myself and my productivity in the ugly circle of fury.

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That’s when my husband stepped in.

“Robin, you control how you work and create and move through the world. Set the parameters, walk away from that which does not serve who you really are, and go from there.”

At that moment, my husband’s sage words sparked a deeper realization of what my brother meant—how I’d been taking the hatchet to myself thinking I was standing up to others. How I could make my way back to my creative, productive, communicative, centered self.  He wasn’t telling me to go kick some butt. He spoke of sovereignty in terms of responsibility for how one reacts to others as they move into and out of your life.

It wouldn’t take days or even hours. It took about ten seconds to step into that responsibility and say, “I will choose to serve the health and well-being of me, my sweet family, and what we need to live our best, most purposeful lives. I will react in a way perpetuating such purpose.”

Understanding that my ability to navigate through life is first and most significantly impacted by the mindset going in shifted my perspective and sparked a renewed sense of purpose.

So, as August dips out of sight and the start of Fall descends upon us, I’m going to dig in and live with more purpose through the simple yet incredibly demanding act of personal sovereignty—taking responsibility for how I respond to the ebbs and flows of my life, and determining through my own actions how it all plays out.

In The Writer’s Studio – August, The Dead Month

Just about every writer who submits their work to agents knows that there is one month every year when nothing happens.

Don’t prep a manuscript, write a query letter, reach out on Twitter, or check in with an agent who has your partial. It’s not gonna work out for you because everyone is at least pretending to lounge on a New England beach.

The rest of the year is stupid crazy busy. August means time for a bit of radio silence.

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For me, it has traditionally proven the month to hunker down and log big hours in the writer’s studio, plotting and crafting.

This year, however, my brain took a break along with everyone else. You can read about my angst surrounding this unplanned standstill HERE.

Today, after a long chat with an editor who just returned from vacation herself, I found myself breathing a bit easier. The conversation revealed her own startling loss of an entire month and her shock at how often lately this similar chat has played out. Apparently, August was a wash for at least half the known universe, and we are all scrambling to realign priorities, carve out time, and make tangible progress on writing projects.

For me, this is all about removal of external distractions.

I’ve planned the hell out of my research trip to France and refuse to plan even a minute more.

Classes and curriculum, mapped out.

Coaching training, done.

Schedules, made.

Now, to snuggle in and get the love letters between Francesco and Aesmeh mapped out.

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Then, to make sure my modern-era antagonist is fully formed and well-rounded. I actually quite love him, such a provocative character motivated by what he is convinced is the only possible road to truth.

Finally, before I get on the plane to start the research and writing marathon in France, I’m going to nail the sequence of the story down and finish the plotting. That way I can move through my time there with exceptionally focused purpose instead of scrambling to figure out story foundations.

I’m coming out of the Augustine black hole, people.

Finally.

On Being Distracted

So, I sat down fifteen mornings ago with the intent to pen a tome on the reality that I’m about as focused as a light breeze meandering through the desert these days.

I’m exhausted.

My head is spinning.

I’m almost late for everything (on time is late for me).

My patience for crazy is wafer-thin.

I have lists for lists of the lists I haven’t completed because I forgot to make a list.

My mind drifts and lingers in useless places like the social media dark universe and daydreaming.

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Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

I re-opened this draft today and realized the “On Being Distracted” headline proved so valid that I couldn’t even get around to finishing a blog post on the topic.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask myself, beginning the misguided self-talk that leads me deeper and deeper down.

On one side, I am remarkably busy.  My writing coaching business is booming, and I work with students all around the globe almost every day.

I also work with students all around the Lower Mainland almost every day, which means I’m spending a crazy amount of time on public transit. That level of contact with people, in and of itself, is enough to unsettle even the most chill of souls.

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Photo by Hugh Han via Unsplash

There, boom. The coaching part of my life is mapped out and accomplished with only the normal bumps in the dealing-with-other-humans road.

However, in the rest of my writing life, the lack of forward motion proves startling.

I sit down to edit, query or work on the novels – nothing.

I sit down to read (I haven’t read ANYTHING all summer that wasn’t for work) – nothing.

So goes the flow of being, and I recognize it as just that. Sometimes, you can’t squeeze more juice out when one side of your life is at full-speed and requires all of your attention. I will get back to a balance which gives me the time and energy to focus, probably sooner than I think.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like I am failing myself as a novelist.

Where’s the devotion?

Where’s the getting up every day and writing no matter what?

Where’s the “Do whatever it takes” required to make anything of yourself in this world?

I have beaten myself up without end for these times when I am tapped out, and I genuinely believe that I have to figure out how to honour them rather than let them steal pieces of me away.

Meanwhile, I’m still busy berating myself for choosing to finish three seasons of Outlander rather than write, or talk to friends on social media rather than read or research or focus on the craft in personal ways.

I suspect my head is waiting for the novel research trip, which is less than six weeks away. At least I can guarantee a bit of an endpoint for all of this foolish distraction.

 

 

 

Slow Travel

I’ve been circling around this concept of slow travel a lot lately.

It’s not shocking to anyone who has spent literally even one day with me that I am a bit of a doer. Chilling is not my thing.

I’ve got lists and then lists for the lists.

I survive on accomplishment alone.

It’s my insecurity, I get it.

To do is to have a purpose. To chill is to, well . . .

Yet, upon reflection, I’ve begun to understand how my urge to do, do, and then do some more is based almost entirely in the fear that I will somehow be thought of as less, miss out, that I only get one shot at things, and that everyone else is staring at me thinking I’m an idiot unless I am superwoman mounting the to-do list like the queen of everything.

This leads me to France and THIS ARTICLE from Quartzy.com.

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I am taking myself to France in October to, well, chill.

No, do.

No, chill.

No, do.

See, it’s a problem.

I am taking myself to France in October to research The Woman On The Wall. For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa that is half epistolary love story and half Indiana Jones-style thriller.

I know, in my head, I am going to Paris and Amboise to chill and get to know the places where the novel is set as well as possible in 14 days. I’m not going to play tourist.

Then, the other part of my head goes bananas. I have like a billion to-dos in Paris in my Google Maps. I can do 12 hours a day in the first two days I get off the plane, right?

This article killed all of my need to do Paris (in a good way), giving me permission to just wander through my quick 72 hours there.

Yes, me and La Gioconda are hooking up.

We’ve already texted.

She’s expecting me.

However, I have now basically just thrown my crazy to the wind and decided that everything else in Paris can just happen.

We’ll see how I fare.