Search

J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

Category

Creativity

So, I get the question (a lot) of why do I write……

……and my answer is a variation on the same theme – because I can’t not write, because I have to, because I feel compelled to write down what these fictitious people are saying and doing and thinking.  But I always leave out the most important thing, because I find it really difficult to explain when put on the spot.

In addition to the reasons listed above, I write because I want to feel things.  I write because it seems that the only place I can legitimately express the desire for love and passion is in the words my characters express*.  I can say the things I want to say, without fear of rejection, by way of a character to an idealized fictional version of the type of man I find attractive.  I can be witty and pithy and strong and powerful in these scenarios, without losing my essential sense of who I am.  In these stories, I am writing to find the best version of myself.

I think, in all aspects of art and creative work, we are searching for ourselves, for that voice that seeks expression.  Having feelings, both negative and positive, are normal – how we deal with them is what makes us human.  The more I pour my feelings, both light and dark, into my art and my writing, the better I feel.

By removing it from my inner self and splattering it on a blank canvas or Word document, I am dragging it out into the light, taking away its power and giving it a voice.  It can sometimes feel like lancing a wound and letting the poison seep out, so that the wound can heal.  And it did, for me, when a traumatic experience worked its way into a story.  I had lanced that wound, that was slowly poisoning me for three years.  It was never meant to be in the story I had been working on at the time.  But whether I had meant it or not, my subconscious found similar elements in the story that had mirrored the circumstances surrounding my trauma.

I think, no, I believe, that is when I really began to heal.

Art is like that.  Being creative is like that.  Creativity gives us a way to express things in another form, if words fail us.  Don’t be afraid of feeling.  Express it in art and find your voice and your strength.  Find yourself, get support, have faith in who you are.

What 336 pages of manuscript (minus ending) looks like.

*It’s also a safe and productive place to express darker themes, but that’s another post for another time.

Advertisements

So, I’m dabbling in art again……

……..which is something I did all the time as a kid and teenager. It’s a lot of fun, a feeling that I’d almost forgotten about. Over the years, my art output went from fully realized drawings and paintings to sketches to just random bits on scraps of paper.

I’m re-discovering the joys of allowing it to spread out all over the canvas (which is a new medium for me) and focusing on getting the picture out. If it’s not as detailed and precisely as I envision it, then I certainly work in the impression of what I want.

Go forth and find your creative spirit. Dive into the first artistic expression you can think of and move from there. Embrace all of it.

More importantly, have fun.

whb-3

So, I’m developing a Patreon page…..

……which will feature my creative work. Meaning, excerpts from my stories will be found on my Patreon page.

In fact, I’m working on a serial novel, where the readers will be given a determined number of choices (four) and whichever choice has the most votes, will be the next chapter.

Whether that will end up as an actual, hand-held paperback, I’m not entirely sure yet. I’m inclined to think that it will depend on the number of chapters this experiment will inspire and if it will even see a satisfactory conclusion.

There will be some other posts, as well, but I’m excited to see how this will work out. I love writing, I love seeing how people respond to what I write.

And now it’s time to make my words pay for themselves. When I’ve got it set up and running, with some posts behind it and the beginnings of the serial novel, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, keep writing, keep singing, keep dancing, keep drawing, keep being creative.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, I began teaching writing workshops…..

……for young writers, which is not only a new thing for me to do, but also something I’d never thought I’d do – teach. My parents and brother are retired teachers and, having grown up in that environment, it was something that didn’t really interest me. This is despite the Myers-Briggs test indicating that it should be my number one career choice. I don’t think that Myers-Briggs knows me very well.

In the traditional classroom setting, I don’t think I would make a good teacher. My memories of being a student and watching my parents deal with the day to day details made a huge impression on me and it wasn’t positive. However, I did find myself teaching basic horse care and riding to students whose first language wasn’t English. Even with the language barrier, we found a way to communicate and I was able to get the salient points across. It helped that the horses used were also extremely patient baby-sitters, taking everything in stride and enjoying the new students’ attention.

While I know my own experiences with being a writer (the ups, the downs, the sideways), I was very unsure of how it would work out with teaching young people. I was also rather uncertain about how we’d get along. In short, I had no idea what to expect.

I needn’t have worried – these kids were theater kids. They were also fans of a lot of the same movies and TV shows as I was, so we were able to connect and find common ground very quickly. We talked about writing, which turned into conversations about our favorite shows and then to dreams and analyzing what they might mean (I subscribe to Jung’s approach, where everything we dream is an aspect or reflection of the dreamer).

The workshop lasted only three days, at ninety minutes each. The kids were intelligent and funny and engaging and very excited about the idea of writing. I feel blessed and lucky to have been able to do this, which in itself was rather serendipitous. How did I find myself teaching writing to young people? I asked a local youth theater group and the answer was “Let’s do this thing!”

Where it goes from here, I’m not sure. I just know that I’ve got some very interested youths and adults wanting to write and have fun with discovering their process.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, Toni Morrison once said that……

…….“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” To write or paint or sing what you know is a good starting place, as it gives you the foundation and the tools to work with in order to build upon it. Continuing to create what you already know, however, leaves one feeling stagnant and dissatisfied. There is the sense that there is more to be learned, to be exposed to, in order to grow as an artist, whether of words or paints music.

In order to do that, you have to push beyond what you already know. If you love Shirley Jackson’s surreal prose, seek out a writer on the opposite end of the spectrum. If Monet inspires your canvas, look to Picasso. Find something so completely outside your own life experience, whether it’s in a book or in a museum or in an acting class, and embrace it. Tell that frightened voice that doubt is okay, that fear of the unknown is natural, but to kowtow to fear is what keeps us paralyzed in the same place day after day.

We can only grow through movement, through experience. An actor will inhabit many different people – in order to present them as real, rounded individuals as opposed to caricature, the actor will research her character to the last detail, up to and including language and movement. She will create a backstory for the character, something that only she will know, but the choices she makes informs her performance and provides a rich experience for the audience.

An example of this would be Demi Moore in G.I. Jane (1997). To prepare for her role as Lt. Jordan O’Neill, Moore had to undergo training and dietary changes. On top of that, she was sent to boot camp for two weeks, interacting with real military personnel. Keep in mind this was research and training for her character – this is an extreme example of pushing herself so far outside her comfort zone. But through this work, she created a character that was strong, intelligent, determined to succeed despite the odds stacked against her.

I remember seeing this film in the theater – the cheers from the audience when she challenges the master sergeant during her character’s training convinced me that they had wholly bought into her role, her character and were completely on her side to succeed.

This is really what you have to do in order to succeed – to reach for something that most certainly may exceed your grasp. How many times will you fall? You could fall down ten times, and rise up eleven, fall a hundred times, and rise up at a hundred and one. How you define success after that is entirely up to you.

****

Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC 

Recommended Reading:

Beloved by Toni Morrison

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, the topic of voice-overs came up at work the other day…..

……… A manager from another department at my place of work said he’d been told that he had a great voice that would lend itself to voice work, like commercials. This pleased the manager very much…..until he was told he should take some classes.

The manager was dismissive of this suggestion – if his voice was so good, why did he need to take classes?

Excellent question.

Given that my background is primarily theater (I hold a Bachelor’s degree in the subject), I attempted to explain to him that taking a class in voice work would actually benefit him, that it would give him tools in how to use his voice and diaphragm correctly. I added that actors, singers, writers, dancers, etc. take classes in order to keep their body (which is their instrument) in shape and capable of stretching beyond their comfort zone. This aids them in continuing to strive for their best work.

This notion was immediately dismissed by him and my co-worker. If you’re already good, then you don’t need to take classes, was their opinion. I was actually surprised by my co-worker’s attitude, since she does physical training to get into her target weight range. Does she think that once she gets to her target, she needs to stop training? Or that with one work out class, she knew all there was to know and should therefore quit? I didn’t think so at the time and I don’t think so now. Unfortunately, I was not able to draw a parallel to her workout regimen with that of an actor or dance or singer or musician.

The egos of my co-worker and the manager would not allow them to conceive of the idea that anyone with talent in the arts needed to have training.

Because that’s what those classes are – they are your workouts, your training sessions to exercise your muscles and learn new methods so that you can stretch and grow in ways you didn’t think possible. And when you’re not in your ‘workout’ class, you maintain what you’ve learned by practicing on your own.

The class, the workshop, the training you take in is only half of what you need to cultivate your creative talents. Practice is the other half to maintain it, improve it and grow it.

There’s an image of a ballerina’s feet that I’ve seen a number of times online. I like it because it’s a visual of how much hard work you have to put in to make your art look beautiful and effortless. One foot is encased in a pointe shoe, perfect and beautiful. The other foot is bare and shows the bruises and calluses and wear it has endured. What a ballet dancer does to make his or her movements graceful and effortless is reflected in that bare foot. It is hard, demanding work to be a ballerina. It is also symbolic of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to create a novel, a film, a painting, a play, etc.

Going back to the manager and my co-worker – they don’t understand that creative work is actually work. That to get skilled in it requires not just talent, but determination, training and practice. They seem completely turned off by the idea that they would have to do any actual work to become even decent.

So, no, they won’t pursue it. That’s fine. They’re enamored of the end result, but they aren’t willing to put in the hours or the discipline it takes to get there.

If you wrote a 400 page novel, a romantic song ballad, a poem, or painted a portrait or landscape or completed anything artistic, give yourself a round of applause. You did that. You sweated and worked and made something tangible out of the intangible.

Ignore the doubters and nay-sayers – they don’t have what it takes to do what you did.

Now go do it again.

*****

Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

So, I recently had the chance to see The Maltese Falcon (1941)……

……….where it should be seen to be truly enjoyed – on the big screen and starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor. Based on the 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, the film follows the four as they race to get the legendary and valuable bird created as a gift by the Knights Templar of Malta in 1539.
At the end, Spade and Detective Polhaus have this bit of dialogue:

“Heavy. What is it?” Detective Polhaus
“The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.” Sam Spade

Spade’s final line in the movie resonated with me, stayed with me for a couple of days. For me, the film wasn’t just a noir mystery shrouded in murder, greed and sex, it was a metaphor for being creative. The falcon is the seed and the inspiration. All the intrigue that follows in the 20th century with Sam Spade is a result of the bird being created as a gift in the 16th century.
You have an idea (the falcon). Through trial and error and self-doubt and perseverance (Spade and villains), you create the final product (book/film/song/etc.). What motivates you to create something? What drives you to pursue it to the end?
As a writer, I am constantly asking myself questions while working on a project, whether it’s a novel or a script. This is especially true when I get stuck and I do get stuck. A lot. Years ago, I took a journalism class and, while I ultimately chose to not pursue the profession, I did learn something incredibly valuable and helpful to my creative writing.
The five W’s and one H. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Surprisingly, this is also helpful for when I’m drawing.

Back to the Falcon and Sam Spade’s classic final words. At the end of the movie, Polhaus has picked up the bird, which has been revealed to be a fake. He is surprised at how heavy it is for such a small statue. Spade’s words, while seeming to be positive, actually mean the opposite – the falcon symbolizes false hopes and broken dreams.

How is this about being creative? Because what we perceive to be false hopes and broken dreams are often redirecting us to look at the situation or project with a different perspective.
Who is this for, at the end of the day? Who do you need to satisfy first and foremost? Yourself.
Why is this important? Because it’s an expression of the self.
What is it about? What does it mean? Creative work means something different to the creator than it does to the viewer.
Where is this creative muse/inspiration? Everywhere you look, there’s a story, photograph, a work of art.
When do you do it? Right now would be a good time.

Recommended Reading/Viewing:
The Maltese Falcon (novel-1929) Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon (film-1941)
On Writing (2000; anniversary edition 2010) Stephen King

*****
Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, I stumbled upon the following quote…….

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

This quote came from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and is spoken by Frodo Baggins as he, Sam, Merry and Pippen embark on their quest to take the One Ring back to Mordor. The imagery, as I read it, struck me as being similar to the creative process, whether you’re in the beginning stages or are somewhere in the middle and struggling to get un-stuck. Or, other times, you can get lost in the rhythm of the process as you watch the ink flow from the pen onto the paper, forming shapes that become words. Similar things can happen while working on music or sanding down a piece of wood that will become a toy or piece of furniture or even sketching.
It’s a Zen-like state, where instead of you leading the creative process, you’re letting the creative process lead you. In that sense, you’ve allowed yourself to ignore the inner critic, your ego, and to begin trusting yourself enough to follow your instincts. It may not make any sense, at first – indeed, it may not make any sense at all. Don’t let that stop you – if nothing else, this process is clearing the way for you to resolve a conflict in your story, find a different note for a song, or finding a fresh color in a painting. Oftentimes, when I’m sitting in a coffee shop, trying to write and words are refusing to show up, I doodle on the page. What shows up are horses, either smirking at the viewer or prancing up a hill. Most of the time, however, it’s just random lines and circles connected in one long stroke of the pen that make no sense at all.
I love these moments and come out of them feeling refreshed and happy, though they come at the expense of my current project. They give me time to step away from my project and relax my mind a little so that I can proceed with a more defined objective. For me it’s similar to the theater game of improvisation, where the first rule is to say “Yes, and….”.
The road that leads ever on comes from the spark of an idea. Outlined or flying by the seat of one’s pants or a little of both is how the journey progresses to its destination.
Recommended Reading:
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Improv Encyclopedia

***
Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, David Bowie once said…….

………“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

I read this quote by David Bowie shortly after his death. It stayed with me, the way things do that make a strong impression. Some of my best creative output came about during the worst times and least secure moments of my life. As long as I was sitting in front of my computer, stringing words together and giving scenes and characters life, I was okay. Whatever was happening outside my little home became easier to handle and navigate. In short, regardless of the uncertainty of my future, my art allowed me to give voice and find strength.
However, as I reflected on Mr. Bowie’s words, I realized that maybe he wasn’t talking about the discomfort of the physical world, but the discomfort of our individual interior and emotional worlds. The analogy of water that Mr. Bowie uses can be interpreted in many ways. Swimming is the most immediate symbol – in order to become a competent swimmer, one needs to learn the basics of swimming. To be a competent or even a competitive swimmer, one had to be willing to push past fear and go into the deep end.
The other image of water that made itself clear to me was the subconscious, as in, “What lies beneath your conscious self?” What, indeed? What we fear the most, about ourselves, our loved ones, our worlds, is generally buried under the busy-ness of every-day living. A lot of times, we make ourselves busy so as not to address that which worries or scares us the most. It’s natural to want to feel safe and secure, but it can also hinder us from making the necessary changes in our lives that would bring us peace.
Embrace that discomfort and that fear. Get out your sketchpad or journal. Just let it all out onto that page, whether it’s haiku or musical notes, oil or watercolors. Let it be what it is. There is no judgement between you and that page – remember, this is for you to express yourself to yourself. Share it only if you want to.
Artistic expression is not just about romance and beautiful landscapes and silly love songs and enchanted cottages. It’s also about the flip side, about the things that scare us, make us angry or sad. The arts can give voice to both our light selves and our darker selves, what Carl Jung would call the Shadow.

Recommended reading:

Man and His Symbols

The Red Book

*****
Editor’s Note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑