Posts Tagged ‘what’s in front of me’

El Rancho Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

El Rancho Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writers love pens. And paper products. Those are our tools of the trade. When I was younger, there weren’t that many choices: Sharpies (1964), BICs (1950), and Flairs (1966). I used them all. My current pen of choice for Writing Practice is the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point (1979), in a spectrum of 24 colors. (Since 2007, they come in a 4 inch size with a carabiner clip.)

Sharpies don’t smell as toxic as they did in the 1960’s (though the odor is still noticeable). They aren’t what some would call a fast writing pen. But for me, the rough, porous tip slows down my writing so I can read what’s on the page at the end of a practice.

In grade school, I wrote letters with a Schaeffer fountain pen, complete with robin’s egg stationery. After a thousand years of using quill-pens, the fountain pen was invented in 1884 by an insurance broker named Lewis Edson Waterman. In 1901, at the time of his death, Waterman was selling 1,000 pens every day. In 2008, Schaeffer and Parker dominate the fountain pen market.

What kind of pen do you use? Have you ever used a Ring-Pen? Do you prefer a ballpoint? What about paper products? I can’t walk by an old fashioned stationery store (hard to find) or an art materials store without ducking inside.

     Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Tell me about your tools of the trade. If you are an artist, list all of your materials: canvas, brushes, paints, charcoal, watercolors. Do you use high-end papers like Arches, Canson or Bienfang?

If you are not a writer or an artist, what are the tools of your profession? Are you a cosmetologist, dental tool sharpener (yes, I used to be one), doctor, butcher, baker, ski bum.

Make a detailed list of all the pens, pencils, art materials, drawing papers in your home or studio. Sinclair Lewis was a master list maker. Here are a few random snippets from Main Street (1920):

Dyer’s Drug Store, a corner building of regular and unreal blocks of artificial stone. Inside the store, a greasy marble soda-fountain with an electric lamp of red and green and curdled-yellow mosaic shade. Pawed over heaps of toothbrushes and combs and packages of shaving soap. Shelves of soap-cartons, teething-rings, garden-seeds, and patent medicines in yellow packages — nostrums for consumption, for “women’s diseases” — notorious mixtures of opium and alcohol, in the very shop to which her husband sent patients for the filling of prescriptions.

Howland & Gould’s Grocery. In the display window, black, overripe bananas and lettuce on which a cat was sleeping. Shelves lined with red crepe paper which was now faded and torn and concentrically spotted. Flat against the wall of the second story, the signs of lodges — the Knights of Pythias, the Maccabees, the Woodmen, the Masons.

Axel Egge’s General Store, frequented by Scandinavian farmers. In the shallow dark window-space, heaps of sleazy sateens, badly woven galateas, canvas shoes designed for women with bulging ankles, steel and red glass buttons upon cards with broken edges, a cottony blanket, a granite-ware frying-pan reposing on a sun-faded crepe blouse.

       Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

She rose to a radiance of sun on snow. Snug in her furs she trotted up-town. Frosted shingles smoked against a sky colored like flax-blossoms, sleigh-bells clinked, shouts of greeting were loud in the thin, bright air, and everywhere was a rhythmic sound of wood-sawing. It was Saturday, and the neighbors’ sons were getting up the winter fuel. Behind walls of corded wood in back yards their sawbucks stood in depressions scattered with canary-yellow flakes of sawdust. The frames of their buck-saws were cherry-red, the blades blued steel, and the fresh cut ends of the sticks — poplar, maple, iron-wood, birch — were marked with engraved rings of growth. The boys wore shoe-packs, blue flannel shirts with enormous pearl buttons, and mackinaws of crimson, lemon yellow, and foxy brown.

No ones save Axel himself could find anything. A part of the assortment of children’s stockings was under a blanket on a shelf, a part in a tin ginger-snap box, the rest heaped like a nest of black-cotton snakes upon a flour-barrel which was surrounded by brooms, Norwegian Bibles, dried cod or ludfisk, boxes of apricots, and a pair and a half of lumbermen’s rubber-footed boots. The place was crowded with Scandinavian farmwives, standing aloof in shawls and ancient fawn-colored leg o’ mutton jackets awaiting the return of their lords.

    Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

  • Make a list of all of the tools of your trade.
  • Do a 10 minute Writing Practice after you make your list. Start the practice with What’s in front of me….
  • Be as detailed as you can:  name brand, color, size, shape, smell, memory associations.

How are 21st century tools the same or different than when you were growing up. What are your favorite tools for writing, drawing, gardening, farming, painting, working. Start out with the details of the objects — see where they lead you.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, March 26th 2008

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By Carolee (aka The Polka-Dot Witch)

Do you remember the Karate Kid (Ralph Macchio & Pat Morita) when Mr. Miyagi had Daniel wax the car? Wax on. Wax off. Inward circles. Outward circles. Discipline the mind. Train the mind by moving the body.

I’m unsure if any circles are in my life at all. Only because I’m trying to think of some. My son’s third grade teacher is trying to get the kids to avoid circular logic: explaining a thing by using only the thing itself. The same words.

The circles in this room: the hoop at the top and bottom of the lampshade. The terra cotta-colored plate on the table with crumbs from a hard roll. Each loop in the spiral binding of my journal. The 0-0 in the all-caps caption of a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt. The eyes looking at me from her name. How she saw the world. How we see the world. Two circular sensors working together to take in information independently and the brain sews it all together so it makes sense, so the world works. The tiny holes in the tops of the salt and pepper shakers. How does anything come out of holes that small? I don’t see any other circles. Circles. The sign for this café is a yellow circle. If I lean over, I see it through the window.

Circle. Circle. Circle the wagons. Rhinoceroses do that. Put the baby in the middle of a circle and turn to face the danger and snort and show their horns. What is it with me and rhinos lately? I’m seeing them all over the place but I live in the cold, snowy Northeast. Rhinos don’t live here. But they’re in my brain lately. Doesn’t make sense at all.

Sense at all. Sense at all. Sense at all. If you had any sense at all, you’d know/see _______. If you had any sense at all, you wouldn’t ________. That might make a fun list poem. If you had any sense at all, you’d leave him. Wear practical shoes. Dry your hair before going outside. Save your money instead of spending so much. Take better care of yourself. Change the oil in your car more often. Stop banging your head against the wall with whatever it is you’re doing over and over again even though it’s not working. Stop for a minute and figure out what you want. Take water with you on a hike. And a compass. Plan ahead for a change. Not put your head between the stair railings in the first place. Wear gloves when you pull weeds. Leave the wasps nest alone. STOP.

Note: When I packed up my stuff to leave, I saw on the wall behind me a poster for an old movie, Vertigo:

Photo of Vertigo movie poster, photo © 2007 by Carolee. All rights reserved.

Look at all those circles! I can’t even count them all. I wasn’t looking hard enough! I wasn’t being thorough! I wasn’t seeing everything. Isn’t it funny how a free write ends, sometimes, at its true beginning?

Carolee (a.k.a. The Polka-Dot Witch) is a painter, mixed media artist, and poet. She blogs about the creative process — sharing free writes, draft poems, exercises and ramblings — in a life crowded with children and cluttered by moods. Her poetry has been published online at qarrtsiluni and in local publications, and her poem “How to let wild birds out” is forthcoming in print in the winter issue of Ballard Street Poetry Journal.

She co-manages the blogs “poem” (a virtual poetry group) and “fertile ground” (a publishing and critique-focused blog), and she is a contributor to the poetry site read write poem.

About writing practice, Carolee says: I start everything with a free write. Everything. I know no other way. Even if I already have an idea, I free write. Even if I have a poem or an essay that’s 90% finished, I free write through the weak spots to give it more life. It really helps me explore its levels and discover images and concepts that I never could have found without free association.

It’s fun for me. So much that we do is choreographed or purpose-driven. It’s enjoyable to allow anything and everything to come out of me without censorship. I usually have to go longer than the 15 or 20 minutes to go as deep as I like to go, but shorter periods exercise the creative muscles that prevent writers block. With free write practice, I can (and do ) start writing whenever I want to. It’s training. I don’t have to wait for a muse. (Although when he shows up, it’s especially nice.)

Behind the scenes is messy. I like messy. I am absolutely OK about writing for an hour and ending up with ‘nothing’ or ending up with something that’s incomplete or something that doesn’t come close to representing me well. I do not consider it time wasted.

I am really good about keeping my free writes (they’re usually in my journals) and reviewing them months after I put them on the page. Sometimes when I go back, I see I’d overlooked an interesting phrase, I see an image in a different way or I see new meaning in a concept I’d previously considered ordinary.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – CIRCLES

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A part of me wants to draw this topic, doodle it in big loops and spirals. One of my favorite doodling games as a kid was to draw an organic shape, like an amoeba or a paramecium. Then I’d scoot my notebook to Carmen Chavez and she’d have to draw a face inside my shape. What part was the nose? The mouth? Possibly a body. We laughed the most at the banana-nosed creatures.

Circles for nostrils, circles for eyes. A person’s mouth forms a circle around certain notes when singing. Thinking now of a pie hole for a mouth, a description I’ve heard when talking about old, toothless mouths. I realize now I have no idea what it means. What is a pie hole anyhow? Don’t pie crusts have slits?

I slow-walked, for once following the instructions just as they’re laid out in the post. Here’s what happens when I walk. I notice that the rug I pass over doesn’t have circles on it. Wonder, since the rug is from India, whether the circle is too sacred to put onto a rug. Which would mean, if you did, that feet would walk all over the circles.

Once I took a bus ride from Delhi to Agra, the time I bought the rug, and I took off my pink shoes, folded my legs and made myself as comfortable as I could. I rode in the cab of a luxury tour bus with four other travelers, plus the bus driver, plus the bus driver’s helper. It was a big bus, a wide cab. I got the very frontmost spot, right up against the windshield. Had the bus crashed, I would have died instantly, like an insect.

But what I want to say is that when I crossed my legs, sitting like Buddha, the bus driver and his assistant yelled at me. They motioned, NO!, the shrine!! I was showing the bottoms of my feet to the shrine, who was an exotic part-elephant-part-woman statue that sat on the dashboard of the bus, just beside me, with fresh marigolds all around her. I immediately uncrossed my legs and placed them awkwardly to the side, as if I were riding sidesaddle.

Circles. What kind of circle would I be? I remember hula hoops, my waist zipping round and round, arms out to the side, mouth open in concentration (although not like a pie hole) and the hoop going going going going until I lost my mojo and it withered slowly down my legs.

Now I see my handwriting has gotten loopy, the o’s big. I could draw little smiley faces inside them. The 1960s and 70s seemed like circle times in life. Today, the first decade of the 21st century, strikes me as angular, an edge wanting to get its circle back.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – CIRCLES

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Circles, I’m popping circles into my mouth. I’m addicted to Trader Joe’s bucket of miniature chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t figure out why they tasted so good. It was Liz who piped up, “Oh, it’s the butter…” when she read the label after dinner.

Circles in cubes, the rubber bottom of a stainless steel coffee cup, the “O” in coffee, the round plastic tubs of binder clips, primary colors, the paper Caribou coffee cup that holds the pens and Sharpie Accents in florescent yellows and greens. The round knob on the navy gray lighthouse on the mouse pad.

Circles connect.

Watching a show about brains. Men’s brains. Women’s brains. They said men are linear and women are circular. It was the Good Question on one of the news channels. Do men like tech gadgets better than women? Do they buy more tech gadgets than women?

It might seem like it. But that’s all changed. Women are within a few percentage points of men in their cravings for high tech. The survey asked women, “Would you rather have a diamond or a new I-Pod or Palm?” Women are choosing technology, growing up with it. And if you really think about it, technology allows them to stay better connected and that’s really what circles are all about – connection.

The metal sprinkler head with grooved sprockets above my head. The smell swiftly pouring out of the slate paint can on the floor outside the cube. You can get high from that smell. I had to walk outside; my eyes are burning.

The roundness of Sun. Moon. Mercury and Mars. The roundness and curves of a woman’s body. The spokes on my first bike, with two playing cards, Aces, hearts & spades, clothes-pinned to the wheel. Wait, how did we do that? Were they clothes-pinned to the wheel or the spoke? I can’t remember now. The picture that comes up isn’t accurate. I can’t keep typing and scrutinize the image in my mind at the same time. So I keep writing.

Labyrinths are circles. But they are not mazes. You don’t get lost in a labyrinth. It’s impossible to get lost in a labyrinth. The way in leads to center. The way out leads to an open door.

The Blistex DCT lip balm in an orangish pink container next to the keyboard. The mole above Liz’s upper lip. The underbelly of a sow. The eyes of Mr. StripeyPants; Chaco’s are slitted and green, not as round. And Kiev’s are more oval. If I think about it.

And that’s what writing topics do, force you to think about the world in circles or squares or ovals. In do’s and don’ts and what if’s.

The wrinkled trunk on the ash tree outside the deck. The number 10. The sold sign in the window. The Goodyear tires on the ancient Camry. The barrel of a loaded gun…I don’t own one. But my friend wants to go to the shooting range and try our luck on the targets.

That reminds me of the day my mother shot the glass top off of some kind of antenna outside my grandfather’s house. Geez, she must have been only 20 something. What was I? Maybe 8 or 9? The guys in the family dared her, said she couldn’t shoot. Guess what, she could. And I wonder if she remembers it? Or did I make it all up?

We drove by my grandfather’s house last time I was in Georgia. The house is in S.C., horse country. But there it stood, just the way I remembered it, but older. Round, tall pecan trees and the long porch with wrought iron rails. Houses in the fifties were long and sprawling. The more land you had to spread out on, the better. It seems like they shoot up these days. But I am drawn to the wide open sprawling spaces and simple forms of Scandinavian Design and teak and birch and cherry, all those woods that are probably endangered now.

I like sleek but comfortable. Not much frill but strong. I like a strong that is round, not a strong that is hard-bodied and inflexible. Now I’m thinking of the Buddha belly that is large and round, the stomach of a Laughing Buddha, and just at that moment, the circular clock ticks its last tock, the battery is dead.

Not to worry, I saw a Sundog in the sky yesterday, ice crystals circling the Sun, impossibly animated and frozen in time. More energy on the way.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – CIRCLES

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What’s in front of me is a list of the four ingredients for roasted broccoli:

garlic powder
olive oil

I wonder why I left off the main ingredient.

I wrote the items down in my notebook on Friday night, and on Saturday late in the day I cut the broccoli into florets and used my hand to coat each little tree with the oil mixture.

Little trees, that’s what we call broccoli, Jim and I, as a way to entice the girls to savor it as much as we do. “Eat your little trees,” we might say. On Saturday evening Em asked, “Do you like the top of the tree or the trunk better?” Jim said “the top,” I said “the trunk,” and I thought of the bartender in an Italian restaurant where I worked in college who taught me to peel the thick skin and eat the stalk, it’s the sweetest part. At the close of each night I handed him a bag with all the stalks we would have tossed, and every time I make broccoli I think of him.

What’s in front of me is tap water in a cobalt blue glass on my nightstand, a necklace made of Catholic medallions, the kind you get for Confirmation or First Holy Communion, and lip gloss that belongs to Dee. I used the lip gloss last night, my lips were dry and it was there, bubble gum flavor. It reminded me of Taft Junior High and shiny tacky lips and a big white sweater I wore every day to school in 7th grade.

What’s in front of me are my knees propping up my notebook. I’m tired, too tired to sit up and write. I took Dee and Em on a long walk in the bosque, we left a little after three and we kept going as if we were compelled to find something further on the trail and further yet, we walked and ran, and I had the sense that the woods were alive with pulsating pinks and oranges and browns.

What’s in front of me is the prospect of having to go out in the cold night to pick up a prescription at Walgreens that I meant to call in all weekend. In front of me the strong possibility that I’ll blow it off until tomorrow morning. In front of me Jim saying “you’re not going to make it to the store if you lie down like that.” I smile but don’t stop writing, years of saying “you see me writing in my notebook? — don’t talk to me” have fallen on deaf ears.


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The Wedding Gift 1991, Desert Rose Franciscan place setting and teapot, blue linocut print © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

There’s a tree outside the window near where I sit. I don’t know what kind of tree it is; it’s almost winter and the branches are bare. But I notice it has what look like buds on the thinnest limbs — although, how could that be? Maybe these are bud placeholders, dormant points where new life will come in spring.

I worry as a writer whether my mind can capture and hold the names of trees. Here, I’ll list the ones I know: Cottonwood, Catalpa, Oak, Maple, Plum, Red Bud, Blue Spruce, Apricot, Apple, Peach, Cherry, Russian Olive, Ponderosa Pine, Juniper, Globe Willow.

Growing up we had a Sycamore tree that grew in a round-topped formation. The seeds of the Sycamore hung like itch-bomb ornaments, which we plucked and threw at each other or exploded on the sidewalk for fun.

When you go to a restaurant, do you notice the color of the plate on which your meal is served? Is it red, and if it is red, is it brick red or candy apple red? I sometimes check my fork to make sure there’s no dried food in between the prongs, but I usually miss whether the handle has a beaded edge or a plain one.

I can tell you that right now I’m drinking coffee and steamed milk out of a Starbucks to-go cup, the medium size (although I don’t remember, is that tall or grande?, because grande makes more sense to me, yet it seems Starbucks considers it a tall).

The point I’m trying to make is, you’ve got to have detail when you write. You’ve got to be awake to what is around you.

Do this. Sit down, take out your pen and notebook, and do a ten-minute writing practice on “What’s in front of me.” If you need something more, empty out your pockets and write about what you see.

And if you’re ever at a loss for a writing topic, use “What’s in front of me.” It will remind you to be present to your surroundings. The more you wake up, the more detail you can call on when you write.


Pieces Of Becoming A Missus 1991, black linocut print © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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