Friday, August 18, 2017

Kiss Your Inspiration Goodbye

Inspiration is an important, but ultimately small part of writing a novel. Story blossoms are everywhere—in the lines of a book I’ve read, the shape of a tree I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the lifelong sojourning of my imagination. Inspiration is the wind that comes and sprinkles pollen onto one particular blossom. Then the capricious wind flits away, leaving me with the job of growing that blossom into a lush piece of fruit. I have to water the tree. Protect the blossom from frost. Keep the insects away. I have to stop the birds from pecking the fruit. Pray that the hail will not come, and that the well will not run dry. This has little to do with inspiration and everything to do with steadfast work.

What keeps me writing after the initial inspiration is the great glory of revelation— those flashes of insight where I suddenly see what the story is really about, suddenly see who the character really is, suddenly see what that character should really be doing. Such revelations mean that my story has come alive and is now running on ahead of me. If I’m lucky, if the work is a true one, the revelations come again and again as I chase after the true story.

Often this coming alive of the story means I have to abandon my initial inspiration. Perhaps I thought the blossom would become an apple, only to find it is really a peach. It can be gut-wrenching to abandon my inspiration. But I must, in order to see what is actually in front of me now, to see what the story has become and wants to become, rather than what I thought it was going to be. As a result of my own work and care, the story declares its independence. Like any parent, I must help it become what it was born to be, and must fight my reluctance to let it go,

If a writer honors the wonder and glory and kicking life of what she has miraculously created, then, with a kiss of blessing and thanks, she can let the capricious wind of inspiration blow away over another hill, and get on with the work at hand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

7:30 BELLS: Traffic Jam Bells

Stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, I inched through the winter night. I didn’t want to be there. I was tired after a long day and just wanted to get home. Where are the bells now? I wondered. Was there any way to feel vibrantly alive in this situation?

A red river of brake lights stretched ahead as far as I could see. Across the freeway, a white river of headlights rushed toward me. All those lights glistened on the wet road and danced in the rain, as luminous and atmospheric as a Turner painting. All these people in all these cars were coming and going like the endless river of life.

None of them wanted to be stuck in this traffic jam. They all wanted to be somewhere else. Or did they? Maybe in one of these cars, two people soon to part were blessed with an extra hour together. Maybe a man listening to music would think of some wonderful new idea. Or a woman listening to an audio book had an insight that would change her life.

The traffic jam turned beautiful. And suddenly, I didn’t want to be anywhere else but in that shining red and white river of life.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Three Little Trumpigs and The Big Bad Wall

Once upon a dastardly time, three fat little trumpigs ruled a good, green country. But in the world outside, a terrible storm blew. People crept to the country’s border, looking for shelter. 

The three little trumpigs didn’t like this one bit. Late one night, they tweeted, “Let’s build a big bad wall to keep them out!” So they snortled and chortled and built a wall of lies.

“Little trumpigs, little trumpigs,” the poor people cried, “please let us in!”

The three little trumpigs grinned. “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!”

But Lady Liberty heard the cries and raised her torch. “I’ll shine, and I’ll shine, and I’ll burn that wall down!” And—poof! she did.

The three little trumpigs didn’t like that one bit. They tweeted, “Let’s build a bigger, badder wall!” And they snortled and chortled and built a wall of power. It was fifty tanks wide and fifty generals high.

“Little trumpigs, little trumpigs,” the poor people cried, “please let us in!”

The three little trumpigs grinned. “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!”

Again Lady Liberty heard the people cry. She raised her torch. “I’ll shine, and I’ll shine, and I’ll burn that wall down!” And—poof! she did.

The three little trumpigs threw a tweet tantrum. “Lady Liberty is a disaster,” they screamed. “Let’s build the biggest, baddest wall ever!” So they snortled and chortled and built a wall of hate.

“Little trumpigs, little trumpigs,” the poor people cried, “please let us in!”

The three little trumpigs grinned. “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!” 

Again, Lady Liberty heard the poor people cry. But when she saw the towering wall of hate, her torch flickered. And Lady Liberty began to fall.

The people of the good, green country ran out of their houses. Brown people, black people, white people, and every color of people in-between. They all joined hands around Lady Liberty.

“Mother of Exiles,” they said, “once we were the homeless, tempest-tossed. You took us in—your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Our hearts will hold you up!” 

Lady Liberty stood tall again. Her torch shone brighter than ever. She and the people called to the three little trumpigs jumping on the wall. “Together we’ll shine, and we’ll shine, and we’ll burn that wall down!” And—poof! together they did. 

And late that night, all the people of that good, green country—the new arrivals and the old—feasted together on three fat, little roasted trumpigs.

--Dia Calhoun 

Note: I've always kept my personal political opinions separate from my literary work for children. But given the current political climate in the world, I need to use whatever power my pen has to speak out and speak up.

The Three Little Trumpigs and The Big Bad Wall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License Feel free to share it as much as you wish, so long as you credit me and link to this page. But do not sell it, or change it in any way without my permission. Thank you.

Some of the phrases in The Three Little Trumpigs and The Big Bad Wall were derived from the the poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus.  

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Shows world-wide welcome: her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands you storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

Lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

--Emma Lazarus

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

7:30 BELLS: Hurtling Toward the Darkest Day

With the world hurtling toward the darkest day of the year, and the growing political crisis hurtling toward authoritarianism and oligarchy, I find comfort in reflecting on the positive potential of darkness.

Consider these quotes:

"Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding." --Lao Tzu

"Darkness gives birth to light." --C.G. Jung

 "And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame." --T.S. Eliot

 In fairy tales, the dark figure or event is often the catalyst for pushing the hero/ine to develop the fullness of his/her powers and gifts.  I recommend Marie Louise von Franz's book, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, revised edition.

May we all bring light from the darkness.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

7:30 BELLS: The Blur of Morning Becomes Meaning.

The blur of morning is ground fog steaming from the fields
the night time dreamworld transitioning into the waking world. With my first cup of coffee or my first step outside, the sun bursts like a bloom through the mist into the rising of the day. And there in my front yard is my path before me. My own path, with all its shadows and its gleaming, to be reckoned with.

The outside world usually becomes a metaphor for my inner world, and vice a versa. When I make such connections of meaning in moments like these, I feel alive. Meaning is everywhere. You just have to take the time to see it.

So I do. Because what's more important than feeling alive? Feeling alive is having an experience of meaning, whether emotional, spiritual, physical, or intellectual. I can have that feeling of being alive if I watch for it. And the more I do, like any practice, the more my life becomes a series of such moments of feeling alive.

This is similar to the practice of mindfulness, of being aware of the moment. But for me, it’s more like finding a way to experience aliveness in any moment by watching for meaning. If I do—all the moments of my life—whether waiting in line at Costco, or walking the river trail—all moments of my life have value. Because all of them make me ring, resonate, and feel alive.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

7:30 BELLS: Nightingale in the Mosque

" . . . unless the nightingale sings in the mosque, prayer is of no use." --Marie Louise von Franz

I love this comment von Franz made in her commentary on the fairy tale The Nightingale Gisar. You can find that on page 179 of her book Individuation in Fairy Tales. And, I might add after mosque, the temple, the church, the heart, the Self...

As I sit nursing my bronchitis, staring out at the green wood, I'll muse on that line like a melody.

I hope to be back with more 7:30 BELLS next week.

Meanwhile, may you be well--and listen for the nightingale!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stack of Butter, Stack of Books

When I was ten to twelve years old, sometimes I'd go with my Dad to his shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I'd hang out there until my ballet lesson at Cornish. He'd give me a dollar, and I'd walk around the corner to a cafe. As soon as the waitress saw me coming, she'd yell back to the cook, "Stack of Butter!" Those three beautiful words meant toast.

I sat at the counter under her watchful eye and pulled out my book. Toast and a good book--what more could you want? I've always loved to eat while I read. Kids today are glued to their phones during meals. I was glued to my book. (Now some would say this is not "mindful" eating. I would say their is more to the experience of eating than the food that goes into your mouth.)

So in this holiday time of delicious foods, I ask you this: What book would you read at Thanksgiving dinner (if your parents or spouse or family would let you!) and why? Or perhaps break your meal and books into courses, like pairing wine with food. What book would you read with the stuffing? Which with the pumpkin pie?

This would be a fun assignment for kids.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving surrounded by everything you love--family, food, and books of course,