Category Archives: words

Writers are inspirational … we support & encourage each other!

Thanks to my friend Ellen Prewitt for inviting me to join in Luann Castle’s Writer Site conversation on the creative process. Yes, we’re breaking more rules here .  .  . while I am a writer, I also create many other things as part of what gives my life meaning. These days, what I’m creating is my own shop: Uptown Needle & Craftworks (please “Like” my FB page), so I wanted to share with you a little about the process.

First, I want to share a little (well, a lot, actually) about how I got to this day.

I have not posted on my blog in a while. I stepped off one train and jumped on another in my life vocation. After many years as Episcopal clergy, squeezing in time for writer, sewist and artistic pursuits, I awoke one morning and felt a call to begin a new life dedicated to creativity. I turned 65 one month ago. Having breakfast one morning in a well-known New Orleans bakery while visiting family, I asked my companions to take a walk around the Magazine Street neighborhood. Right next door to the bakery was a yellow house with a very small sign: For lease; commercial. I pulled out my cell phone and snapped a photo of the phone number on the sign. My inner critic immediately chattered away. It’s probably too pricey for you. You have no business doing this at your age.

I argued back. If not now, when? If I wait five years I may not have the same energy and passions I do now. I’m energetic and committed to making a life change. I signed a two year lease and quit my job on the same day. Some say I’ve retired. I say I’ve re-fired.

For every creative I know, that inner critic is always on the job. No matter if we write, paint or sculpt – that tiny tyrant wants to be in charge. As I’ve grown older, that voice has become smaller and smaller. Today it is a mere leaf falling out of place. I completed my first novel when I was 15 years old. I’ve completed 4 more since then. Not one was accepted for publication. Not that I haven’t tried – one was very close to being a finalist in Amazon’s Great American Novel Contest. And it could be published already if I had the time, energy and funds to do about two year’s of edits. All are sitting in boxes until I have the time to edit each one – I will do this, later. And I still write. The stories are there, but my interests reflect my personality type. I’m an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality inventory chart. One description of this personality type reads, “you’re like a new puppy, always into something new.” That’s me. I write, edit, write some more. Sometimes I work on one of my novel manuscripts; sometimes I write a short story. Because there’s always a story. And sometimes I sew, paint or make something new.

I ride the train, “The City of New Orleans”, back and forth from my home to my new business site. In observing the people on the train I can see stories everywhere. But at this time in my life, my career change is my story. It takes courage, confidence and a little bit of moxie to outwit the critic and keep your heart, fingers and brain in sync with your passion – your true self’s deepest desire. When we overcome negative energy, the world wants to hear what we have to say. And real life makes for the greatest stories. Especially when our words come from that deep place called our true self.

When I think of all this as it applies to writing, I first have a picture in my head. Ex.: I found two chairs. Functional, but not perfect. Ordinary. Then I give them a little bit of attention, add some emotion, some color, some gorgeous fabric – voila! Entirely new chairs. Life is like that. Pay attention. Create something new. Gather your courage. You’ll amaze yourself. But back to the initial questions I’m supposed to answer:

  1. What am I working on at the moment? At the moment I’m grieving over having to leave my writing critique group after years of sharing with them in numerous phenomenal successes as well as a few dismal failures – they are all excellent writers and I will miss them. I am leaving Memphis to open my own creative arts studio in New Orleans – which will include creative writing classes. I will continue to work on short stories, as everyone knows New Orleans is full of them, from the woman walking down the street, body painted entirely in silver, to the little boy tapping his heart out for spare change of tourists in the French Quarter. Who are they, and what is inside them that drives them to live their dreams in this city?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?  My work does not fall into a genre, other than the broad category of Southern writing and creativity based on my own life experiences. Working in several forms, whether in clay or textiles, I find that I always include words in my work. Like every writer, I’m in love with words and the myriads of possible usage and meanings.
  3. Why do I create what I do? According to my mother (she died several years ago), my soul has compelled me to create since birth. When a small child I made up stories with my paper dolls (this really tells my age). I created family dramas and named my Betsy McCall paper dolls different names (these paper dolls were printed each month in McCall’s magazine). Southern families are chock full of characters, and Southern writers can easily overlap fictional characters with people they have known, or people in their families – although we certainly do not have the franchise on this process.
  4. How does my writing/creative process work? All depends on what I am creating – sometimes a story or character takes up residence in my head when I’m at a traffic light or in a coffee shop. However, in order to write, to focus on a character and a story, I must have a quiet place and a non-anxious state of being. To fall into that “dream state” as Robert Olen Butler calls it, so that I become my character and exist in the milieu that I write about.

What do you need in order to create?

Where I’m From

The Jacoby Store in Louisiana,
where my father grew up.

A model of my fathers old red truck.
Walthall Elementary School, Hattiesburg
(I alway likened it to the Alamo)
,

I’m from Mamaw Bass and Papa James,
the piney woods and Gore Springs,
butter beans and blackeyed peas,
Mason jars and bumble bees.

I’m from Aunt Emma, Alvin, Helen and Jacoby,
Walthall School and the Seale-Lily.
I’m from wire clotheslines and wooden washboards,
Swings on porches and torn screen doors.

I’m from tree houses in sweet gum trees,

The Beverly Drive-in Theater
burned this past year.

the sweet aroma of burning leaves,
shrimp gumbo and the Atchafalaya River,
from Cajun music and a guitar picker.

I’m from Edwards Street and the Dairy Dream,
red eye gravy and turnip greens,
rabbits in cages and more chicken please,
hot water poured over Luzianne tea.

I’m from Hattiesburg and a wooden boat
Antoine, Pierre and a billy goat,
playing under the house, the Beverly Drive-In Theater,
From diabetes and congestive heart failure.

I’m from cane poles and mule skinners,
all you can eat buffets and catfish dinners
buttermilk cornbread, coffee and chicory,
barbequed ribs smoked with hickory.

I’m from South Carolina and Louisiana,
Anjou pears and the Bouie River,
a big old house with an old red roof,
and ceilings that were never waterproof.

I’m from a faded red truck with a running board,
from wanting things we couldn’t afford,
from a fig tree and a hand-me-down,
Hattiesburg, Laurel and the Mississippi Sound.

I’m from Lake Shelby and Kamper Park,
kids catching fireflies after dark,
from the Golden Rule and love thy neighbor,
and burning crosses and Vernon Dahmer.

From sit-ins and a cow-pulled wagon,
Woodstock and a Beretta hand gun,
fig trees, rabbits and home-grown tomatoes,
catsup poured over French fried potatoes.

I’m from fried corn and cracklin bread,
the Sunday paper in Mama’s bed,
Moonshine and hurricane Camille,
From don’t let mama behind the wheel.

I’m from a petticoat and an undershirt,
digging to China and playing in the dirt,
from the (cedar) Christmas Tree that Daddy’d provide
To playing I Spy, and a country ride.

I’m from space heaters and fire halls,
wooden steps and popcorn balls,
old wooden radios with glass tubes,
and clumsy metal trays for ice cubes.

I’m from Bayou Lafourche and the Natchez Trace,
from roller skates and playing chase,
from a Catholic, a Methodist and a Baptist,
from a bigot, a blowhard, and an absurdist.

I’m all these things inside of me,
as exciting and embarrassing as they may be.
Using this formula as a rule of thumb,
Now, can you tell me, where are you from?

A Conversation with the Creative Unconscious.

As an INFP, I love doing a variety of things, and can multi-task like a champion. To paraphrase from the description of this personality type, INFPs never seem to lose their sense of wonder. One might say we see life through rose-colored glasses. It’s as though we live at the edge of a looking-glass world where mundane objects come to life, where flora and fauna take on near-human qualities.There are others like us out there – who become interested and adept at a variety of things and like a new puppy happily jump from one thing to another. We are also multi-talented.  And sometimes we have to stop and back up, and sleep.  The following is a dialogue, in a Dear Abby kind of way,  that I shamelessly stole from the SheWrites blog Creative Catalyst and revised it to fit my own conversation with my creative unconscious:
Dear Creative Unconscious:
 It’s only the first week of the academic year, and I’m feeling swamped already! Is painting and gardening and mentoring and facilitating workshops and training volunteers in addition to pastoral counseling a dodge from my main work as a writer? Is it a secret wish for failure? Or a fear of success?- Swamped in Memphis


Dear SM:
 That depends on your motivation and how you manage time and energy. Does fear not being enough lead you toward distraction? More practically, are you over-committing yourself?
SM: I don’t want to say no when someone asks me to do something, but I certainly say it plenty. I want to help people.  Do you think this is the unconscious pursuit of something?
CU: Wholeness, as I see it. But there is only so much of you to go around. Your quest leads to fragmentation rather than wholeness.
SM: I want to feel that expressing myself as a writer is enough. I want to feel worthy without having to add another layer—say, becoming a hero for the downtrodden before I can be a worthy writer.
CU: It’s a bitch to be an artist in our linear world! Be careful not to internalize judgments from well-meaning volunteers, family and friends. Sure, it’s okay to be the writer you are without another layer. You don’t have to prove yourself to feel worthy. Layering springs from a creative impulse and is a quest for richness. Simpler is easier. But now all the richness, wholeness, and layering is a part of you and your writing. Do not renounce an iota of the richness yet continue to focus. Do what you can without going crazy.
SM: How can I know if I’m sidestepping commitment, or avoiding success? What if I am unconsciously afraid of success?
CU: Ask yourself if some fear leads toward your seeking distraction.
SM: If I were truly committed to my writing, wouldn’t I do something like go on a month-long writer’s retreat and dive deep into myself?
CU: Not necessarily. You don’t have to prove yourself by undertaking extraordinary steps. Staying home and doing your work is enough. However, I love the self-guided writing retreat idea! You could even volunteer during your retreat! Does mentoring, your secondary interest, feed your primary writing interest? If so, you’re on a path that will serve your work.
SM: Oh, yes. For me, the smiles and words of the girls in writing workshops embody the rhythms and richness of language. I know that mentoring helps reduce my stress. It makes me feel alive and healthy (as does painting). Plus, it’s fun to be in community with women. Even when we speak different languages, writing unites us.
CU: It’s rejuvenating— your personal Fountain of Youth.
SM: Yes! But how can I tell when studying with a good writing mentor myself will help me, and when it’s more of me hiding from what I know?
CU: Take stock of what you know now. You are wise. Do you need to know more in order to go further? Claim your authority, and just do it. Perhaps later you’ll benefit from a mentor, or another class, or another workshop.
SM: My new resolution is to focus on my writing in the coming months Instead of spinning off in so many different directions.
CU: Focusing your prodigious talent and energies makes perfect sense. Go easy on yourself, and let your work flow.  Say “No” before you say yes. It’s easier to change your mind.

What are you thoughts on the fear of success?

Unknowing Agents of Inspiration

Susan Cushman’s post,  Getting Saved, Sex and Writing over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, inspired me this morning. Susan writes of a teacher who put masking tape over her mouth to stop her from talking. Her words sparked memories of my own childhood. I am an extreme introvert, although not shy. My elementary school was Walthall School in Hattiesburg, MS. When I asked a question or made a statement as a child it was usually a well-thought out sentence so as not to embarrass myself. In 4th grade I have this vivid memory of having not heard the page number leaning over to ask a classmate what page we should be reading. When I leaned back into my own desk, here comes the teacher stomping towards me, yelling at me. I am terrified. She grabs my little desk with her big hands and shoves it back against the wall.  The impact jolts my tiny 9-year old body so much I can still feel my skin shudder.

I don’t think I uttered another word until I graduated. There have been other agents of energy (this is being kind) who tried to stop me from writing and talking in addition to that fourth grade teacher. In ninth grade, we had an assignment in English Class to write a persuasive letter to someone. I have no memory of whom I wrote my letter to or what I was trying to persuade them to do, but I have a strong memory of what my teacher said about my letter as she read it to the entire class. Shame invaded my life and still lives rent-free in my brain.

Growing up in the south, we have certain words that are part of our language, our vernacular. We use these words in our homes, in our businesses and in personal conversations.  I won’t bore you with the specifics, but I had used several of these words in my assigned letter. The teacher read my letter and snickers echoed off the walls as my classmates listened. She waved the letter in the air and shouted that one does not use such language. I was humiliated. I did not write another thing until I graduated. Except in my personal journals that I kept since elementary school.

As a young bride living in New Jersey in the early 70s I got a part-time job as a typist at a company called Myron Sugarman International.  They manufactured gaming machines for casinos.  I typed letters from the Dictaphone. The men who dictated those letters were all fast talkers. Too fast for me. Well, that was New Jersey, and those accents, you can imagine, were strange for a young girl from Mississippi. I tried to slow down the machine so I could understand what the men said, and I strained to listen. I did my best. The words I couldn’t understand I just made something up that fit what I discerned the letter was about.  Every letter came back with red marks. I tried to explain that I could not understand their accents. They laughed. They did not have an accent – it was me! People in the office asked me questions just to hear me talk.  I was so embarrassed I shut up and quit the job.

But I continued writing in my journals. I made up characters, settings, descriptions. Years later, in a fit of anger, my now ex-husband threw all my journals, around 30 or them, in the Ross Barnett Reservoir. I guess he thought I was writing about him. All those stories now sleep with the fishes.

Writing was mandatory in college classes of course, so I tip-toed around those words that one does not use and was awarded some scholarship dollars to Millsaps College in Jackson, MS based on my writing. I was finally set free.

Now I come to today, and I am like an addict who goes on a binge, wakes up 5 hours later and wonders where the time went. The newspaper is still in the yard, the dust has gathered on the coffee table, phone calls go unanswered, and my FaceBook status is non-existent.  That is how it is when I am writing. Time stands still.

My husband Robert comes home and knows I am writing and leaves me alone. He encourages me. He understands.

Who were/are, in spite of themselves, your unknowing agents of energy and inspiration to keep writing
?

The Power of Rejection, and Why I Keep Writing.

Robert and I take our three rescue dogs to the Shelby Farms Dog Park often. Every time they go, it is the best day of their lives. As if they have never scurried after rabbits, splashed in lakes, or played with other mammals similar to themselves. Every time we go, it’s a whole new world.  The excitement builds from the moment they see me putting on my walking shoes. They hear the squeak of the chair, and that’s it.  When Robert picks up a leash, they sit and fidget until he attaches leashes to their collars. They rush the door and around to the back of the Jeep, so anxious to go. We drive with all windows down, and three heads with lips and ears flapping are seen in our review mirrors. They are together in a wad, metaphors for ecstasy.

On arrival at the dog park they don’t even wait for the hatchback to open, noses are at the ready. Down from the Jeep they bound, then off to the lake.  Only one dog, the Golden Retriever, is a swimmer. The other two are waders, but they want to be swimmers.  They waggle their bodies as if they are going in, then turn around and watch Buddy swim toward a tennis ball. He snatches it in his muzzle, and swims back, snorting out water with each breath. On shore he drops the ball and runs off in search of a dog trotting down the dirt path.  This, my friends, is doggie bliss. It seems there are no boundaries, and plenty of lakes, butterflies and small animals, humans who all love dogs, petting hands at the end of every arm.

After about two hours, this is all they can take of bliss.  They are panting and tired.  They know the Jeep and run back there and wait to get in and lie down.  This has been fun, and now it’s time to go home and rest. Until next time.

This is how it is with me and writing.  I know, it’s a stretch, but stay with me here. The anticipation, the build up to the process, the journey through the terrain of the story, the lovable characters (though many are odd), the appreciation of the opportunity, then okay, it’s time to get back on the road.  Then rest.  Then I do it all over again, and it is always brand new. Writers are those who write.  And I am one.

Over the past ten years or so, I have completed 3 novels, 35 short stories, about a dozen essays, and I want to add “so far”.  Some writers say writing is cheap therapy. Others say writing satisfies some inner urging, or that they believe they were one of Dickens’ characters in a previous life, or they believe their story is so unique people will line up for it, or they have a need to be famous, or rich, or whatever the reason may be. I don’t know about those latter reasons; however, the inner urging I do understand.  And of course the cheap therapy. But for me, that’s not the only reason I write. Truth is, writing makes me feel good.  Simple as that. 

Writing helps my deep memory. Those childhood events and stories that were long forgotten are somehow resurrected when I fall into what Robert Olen Butler calls that “dream state”. There is a zone of emotional connection that we tap into when we put words on paper and words fall together to describe a scene or a character that we are seeing in our heart and brain, and the words come effortlessly as if snowflakes drifting from the sky. The beauty of it is ethereal and we know it when we do it.  But only after the writing is done.  When writing is an effort – when we struggle to find just the write word or phrase or metaphor for a circumstance so we can compare and contrast what we want the reader to experience, when we find just the right sequence of words, then and especially then we sit back and we say where did that come from and we know.

Like those dogs running free, my mind runs free with words.

So what if I get a rejection now and then?  (And believe me, I’ve received plenty.) One rejection does not stop the flow of process or passion for the craft. Ellen Ann Fentress says, “You’re just statistically closer to a “yes” now, Emma”.  I believe her.  She would know.

Welcome to the University of Emmaville!


I’ve always wanted my own school. The curriculum would include:

  • The Study of Dreams
  • The Art of Soul Work
  • Writing, Writing, & Writing
  • The Importance of Story
  • The Essentials of Nutrition (so everyone will stay healthy to do the rest of the classes)

And I’m certain other necessary classes would reveal themselves in time.

My husband and I are in northern Minnesota and while traveling to Lake Itasca, to the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi, we came across this abandoned town, Emmaville. A charming intersection, with an old school, a combination cafe/gas station, a car wash, and a few old houses. The town originated as a logging village in the 1800s, from what the locals tell. Revivals have been sporadic, with energetic and creative entrepreneurs trying to make a go of the store off and on over the years. But now the town is for sale. I am thinking it is the perfect setting for a story . . . a woman is running away from something . . . she decides to rent this old building and live here as inconspicuously as possible. Who is she? What has happened in her life? Hmmmm. . . .

Thoughts on the great memoir, Lit, by Mary Karr

I found the pages of Mary Karr’s memoir wildly funny, some passages causing me to laugh out loud. But her truths are at the same time uncomfortably sad and somehow familiar. Will I ever be able to tell my own truths in such metaphoric accuracy?

Karr’s memory of her father is bittersweet, even to me and I didn’t even know him. Her descriptions of his strange sayings recall my own mother’s voice repeating the same phrases over and over again: You look like a refugee. I’m just telling it like it is. She don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of. I guess if she said stick your head in the oven you’d do that too.

Each person has his or her own story. All the joys and heartaches – but most of the time we only want to world to know the joys, like a Christmas letter telling about junior’s athletic prowess and sister’s love of baton twirling and so on. But what are the real truths beneath what we shout to the world? Are we giving our truths to the world? And what are they?
Our Golden Shadow is composed of our good things that we deny or hide from the world. We are usually quick to admit our shortcomings, but slow to accept praise. We need to listen when someone tells us we have done something well. Enhance your own truths and talents. Develop your natural gifts, and find your joy. What is your passion? What do you love to do when the time seems to zip by, and 2, 4, or 6 hours later you look up and say to yourself where did the time go?
Mary Kitt re-discovered her golden shadow, and has presented it to the world. She is fearless.