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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Advice: Increase creativity with meditation

take ten and monitor some meditation
There are so many recommended activities for writers to increase their creativity.  Join a writer's group, take a writing class, get feedback from fellow writers and read the works of great writers.  Here's one more: meditate.

According to an article at Science Daily, Lorenza Colzato and her colleagues at Leiden University in the Netherlands have found that a specific type of meditation increases creativity better than other variants.  In the article "Meditation Makes You More Creative," the form of meditation calling for open monitoring offers more freedom in the generation of ideas which would seem to be a benefit to writing creatively.

In other words, rather then focusing on a specific object, idea or concern, the writer free thinks, monitoring what comes to mind but not forcing or focusing on anything particular.  (Think of mental free writing practices or stream of consciousness.) So if I am having difficulties with a scene, I could lay down and just let creative ideas enter without prelude or pressure, and by observing the different thoughts that entered my mind, I would come up with a variety of ideas which ultimately lead me to a solution to my writing problem.

Colzato compared this technique to Focused Attention meditation which does maintain concentration on an object or idea with the individual seeking just one solution as opposed to several possible or combined solutions.  Focused Attention meditation according to her study, and a few others I have read about, does not invite greater creativity.

The broader meditation style of open monitoring appeared to provide greater creativity because it was more receptive to all possible solutions and subconscious invention.  Colzato's study examined particular brain reactions and abilities to problem solve.

Colzato's study was briefly explained in Science Daily, but it sounded worth trying, as it coincided with what I often do to prepare for writing.  I just lie down and see what rises to the surface ready to be put into words in my novel.  Sometimes what rises belongs to another story I am working on which may not be my original intent for that day, but if that is what is rising to the surface, who am I to argue, which explains why I have numerous short stories and another novel unrelated to my series drafted out.

Another article which explains three meditation styles, two which were studied by Colzato gives a brief description of each.  I found the article at The General Thinking blog. "The Buddhist Brain" does not just list descriptions but also supplies a link to the talk given by Andy Puddicombe  and posted at TED Blog about meditating just ten minutes a day.  I found it equally interesting and motivating.

I was looking at what aids creative thinking and ended up reading several articles on meditation.  This is a small sampling of what I learned and thought useful to writing, and it is worth practicing if it brings about greater creativity, not to mention a healthier mental outlook, heart and brain.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Losing my mother one precious memory at a time.

Casting light on the darker moments.
The past year has been one of a calculated effort to connect with my mother as she slips into dementia.  Two years ago she was a vibrant business woman, respected and successful.  I left a message on her phone each Wednesday night, my "Wednesday Love Call," and then I would call on the only day she wasn't at work, Sunday, and we would chat about our varied experiences that week.

When I was a teenager coming home after a really bad day of teenhood, I would sit down with my mother and spill out my troubles, but they always made us laugh.
  •  "Mom, I dropped a book from my locker today, and it landed on the head of the cutest boy in school. His locker is below mine, which is ridiculous.  I'm 5'2" and he's 6'2"."
  • "Mom, the college prep class I'm taking is weird.  Even the teacher looked at me like I must be lost to be in her class.  It's been more than a week, and I feel I am trying to break in on a clique of beach girls. I want to be at the beach, but I am not crazy about the company."  
  • "Mom, that teacher asked me if I had read The Source by Michener.  I want to write my analysis essay on it, and she doesn't even believe I have read the book I have chosen."
As an adult, these phone calls always served to make life something I could laugh at.  Together we made the perfect funny bone.
  • Mom, I just spent the morning cleaning up dog vomit which my husband made sure to point out to me just before I stepped in it.  He gets up at least an hour before I do. It was very cold through the paper towels.  Do you know he was very annoyed about the affect of stomach acid on linoleum?
  • Mom, my students were particularly energetic yesterday.  I made them get out of their seats and do jumping jacks, and then we started on the lesson.  Today they wanted to know if we would be exercising again.  Shucks, we do exercises every day: grammar.
  • Mom, your granddaughter asked me if I would still love her when she is a big girl using the potty instead of pullups.  The doctor was right: she definitely was potty trained before four years old.  All it took was telling her I would love her every time she grew bigger.  Instant potty trained child.  Really this is prime information every parent needs and no one shared.
These days she gets caught in loops, repeating herself.  I tell her about the weather over and over like she hasn't already asked me three times.  I call prepared to tell her a story that will make her laugh, because she knows there is something very wrong with her memory and that unspoken knowledge ensnares her in fits of weeping if I don't keep her focused on something humorous.
  • Mom, she's a junior now and wants to be an engineer.  Oh, she's wanted to do that since she was about twelve.  Her birthday is in June.  But I've been telling her she is not allowed to grow any more since she was about seven, and I think this time she is listening to me.
  • No, Mom, even if you moved half way here it would still be a long way to walk.  About four hundred miles, which would leave your feet a bit sore.  And then there's that long walk back.
  • Well, Mom, occasionally the grading does get me down, but when it's 11:50 PM and I read an essay in which the student has written, "Marlowe was really confused when he found the book written in cypher, and he thought there was a spy trying to steal the ivory, but it was really a skinny Russian guy wearing patched clothes.  What was Conrad thinking when he wrote that?" Of course, then I have to explain the book to her, and by the time I am done, we've had quite a chuckle.
This woman I call my mother is my father's last wife, so she didn't give birth to me.  But she and I have always had a favorite "you say, I say" -- "I almost remember giving birth to you."  "Mom, I almost remember it, too."

This could be me thirty years from now, and if I don't write these books now, they will never be written.  Whatever the dream, don't let it die with you.  Don't let it become lost one day in the thunderous shift of a mind. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Blog Hop!

Hitting the keys
QUESTIONS FOR DECEMBER TWITTER BLOG HOP: I was tagged by E. M. Wynter!
What are you writing?
I am writing my third novel in a time travel series called Students of Jump.  The first book In Times Passed chronicled the activities of Brent Garrett as he learned not just how to travel in time but how to manage his own life on terms he can accept and even find joy in.  He comes from a time in the not-so-distant future and a society that is separate from most of earth's population.  He has lived under the daunting expectation that he is going to invent something or somehow bring about amazing change in his society.  Jumping into the past was his way of escaping this expectation, but he learns life always carries expectations hard to live up to. The second book No-time Like the Present follows his daughter Misty Meredith who feels Brent Garrett owes her some explanations.  Misty has her own conflicts to resolve and finds jumping through time opens opportunities but cannot by itself fix anything.  But the work I am writing now, Next Time We Meet, involves two characters, Mick and Emily Jenkins, and their search for a sense of belonging in a time ahead of their own. That is the simple premise: it's the rest that makes it complicated working with these two.

How does this differ from your last work?
I thought the other two novels were difficult because they had two timelines to deal with and a variety of conflicts between characters.  But this book included two demanding additions: one is the fully-developed relationship of Mick and Emily. They are a couple who have lived into their senior years gaining experience, a definite opinion about life and family, and a tight relationship.  The experience they bring feels nearly useless to them as it all occurred in another time, their family connections suffered gaps due to the jumps in time taken by the various members, and their opinions don't always apply to current conditions.  Their relationship is the only safety line they have.  Mick appears to be the dominant character, but he has functioned for so long with Emily in his life, there is little he does that is not influenced by their relationship, and that brings its own conflicts.  Emily is the hand that carries Mick's world, and he is the force that keeps them moving forward.  But I love writing about relationships so this has been a challenge but not a difficult one.  The addition of what Mick decides is their best means of becoming part of the family life in the twenty-third century is what creates all the struggle for me as a writer.

It turns out I am writing a science fiction, time travel, mystery novel.  Why didn't I see that coming?  Mick, with Emily's agreement, has chosen to spend their time figuring out what caused the unexplained disappearance of Renwick Cray during a simple hop home from Old Garrett Complex.  This occupation is meant to help them become part of the society they have joined.  Emily christens them time-hop detectives, and the two travel about in time following clues as they search for Renwick.  Facing fears and realizing it isn't as easy as just showing up in a new time is a challenge to the characters, but for me it means a lot of research into the events and locations they are searching as well as keeping their actions logical and progressive as they gain understanding of what actually happened to Renwick.  Hints I left in book 2 effect the decisions and actions, whether sensible or illogical, that occur in book 3. Technology's limits and advances affect the action as well, and Mick and Emily are learning how to work these new technologies that in many cases are new to everyone in the extended family that makes up the Students of Jump.  That is the main difference, making sure all the clues ultimately lineup without seeming obvious, yet I want the reader to look back and see how the confusion was natural while the final result was also logical.

Why do you write?
To see what is going to happen next, of course.   I don't think there is an actual reason behind why I write, not one that is a conscious decision, anyway.  I mean, I didn't decide to breath, but I do breath every day, rhythmically and regularly.  I do decide to eat, but if I don't, my body won't last long.  For me writing is a combination of those two normal human conditions.  I write because that is what my mind does with the thoughts that pass through it, and if I didn't write, something very destructive would happen to my mind; something would most definitely die.  I write because I must, because I feel great when I do it, and I really need to know what is going to happen next.

What is your writing process? 
That is a bit tricky to answer.  I came up with the idea of the first book when I worked as an assembly line worker many, many years ago.  I was listening to the song by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, "I Just Dropped In" and started thinking.  Following the storyline as it played out in my mind kept me from going nutty in the brain-stupefying atmosphere of repetitive work.  I must have written that book in my head at least three times before I finally wrote it down.  The second book just followed the first, like a seedling dropped from the parent into nourishing ground.  Now this third book, I used several programs to assist in developing, though I wrote the first draft of it shortly after finishing the rough draft of book 2.  I used the brainstorming program Freemind to organize the various conflicts, Microsoft OneNote to organize my research and more recently the online program Padlet (see post on selecting timeline program) to keep track of the timeline as Mick and Em jump through time looking for Renwick or his kidnapper.  And all of this ends up in yWriter5 after being drafted in Microsoft Word.

When I get stuck, I lie down and think about where the characters are currently and what they are dealing with.  I don't get to lay there long, five to fifteen minutes later, I have to get up and write what must be gotten down.  I wake up in the night or find I can't get to sleep when the two of them are struggling with the facts about Renwick's disappearance not fitting together, and sometimes I realize I missed an important hint left in a previous book.  Sometimes I work the hint in as a bit of information Mick and Em overlooked, and sometimes I redraft the scene to work more logically with actual events.  I use outlines, hand-written notes, recorded voice memos, and other means of keeping track of my ideas and plans for a written piece.  I avoid telling anyone my ideas so my writing doesn't lose momentum.  I get feedback after a strong draft is written.  I am inconsistent when it comes to process, but demanding about outcome.  I don't care how my characters get there, just that they get there.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When dogs make us look good, it's because they are great

Cagney looking good at making us look good.
There are days when my students make me look good.  They don't know they are being observed or that I would love it if they were interested, busy on their assignments, immersed in learning and my principal is watching.  But there are days when all of them seem to be in sync with me and each other.  When that happens, they make me look, they make themselves look good.  But this post is actually not about my students. It is about my dogs.

My husband, daughter and I went to visit my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and we took the girls (our Labradors) with us.  And they made us look really good.  Put two big dogs with one little dog (the resident canine) in a small house with five people, two who are not too steady on their feet.  Just imagine it a minute, and you'll understand why we always put the girls in the enclosed porch area.  My husband's parents feel bad that the girls are out of the family society for the few days we are there. But we always fear that unexpected movement and an elderly person falling. However, this time, we let them talk us into allowing the girls to stay in the house just for the first few hours of our visit.

Cagney and Lacey never ended up in the enclosed porch.  They were tranquil (probably hoping we would not notice we forgot to put them out of the house.)  They moved slowly when slow people came near.  They sat along side a slender leg, looked up and backwards at the sitting senior and then lay their heads gently, still and calm to received kind pats.  They wagged considerately (only took out two leaves from the ivy by the door).

They made us look good.  They made themselves look good.  I don't think they'll be spending any time in the enclosed porch ever again.

#dogs #family