Which is Your Favorite Child?

Would you ever ask a parent that question? Probably not. And you may be dying to ask your mom or dad if your oldest brother is REALLY their favorite, but my guess is you won’t. And, even if you did, what would they say? “I love you all the same, each in a different way.”

I love my art child as much as I love my writing child.

I love my art child as much as I love my writing child.

Choosing between art and writing is like choosing a favorite child. Sure, I do go through times when I get along better with one than the other. I got a degree in art when I was 19 and a degree in writing at 44, but, as in most single-parent households, the real battle has been to love each of them as well as I can given their different natures.

My little creative rug rats are worth all the time and sleepless nights.

My little creative rug rats are worth all the time and sleepless nights.

And they both need the same thing: my time.

How have I raised these two wonderful but very different children? Here are a few tips for you single-parent multiple-creative-children households:

  1. Notice their different natures. My art child loves me to dance before I paint. The music and movement warms my blood and lights my passion. For some reason she loves to paint Friday night best of all. My little writer is–of all things–a morning person and will wake me up at 4 am if I don’t give her enough time at the page.
  2. Give them each a different time of day or different days of the week. I frequently take my artist out on artist dates once or twice a month because he gets short changed during the week. My writer gets me before work (and as I am sitting here). So make artist dates for the child who needs special time.
  3. Keep a notebook and supplies for each child at all times. I have yellow legal pads and sketch books and pens with me at all times. You musicians could keep a digital tape recorder. Poets, too, could flow verbally. As a mommy/daddy you must always be prepared.
  4. Let one child go to boarding school for awhile and spend quality time with one art form at a time. Explain to the other child that you will keep in touch and that you will take that special watercolor class or buy that nifty new laptop once you are finished with the other child’s project.
  5. Feel no guilt when you (secretly) do prefer one child for awhile. We have all done it. Its ok.
  6. Let go of trying to be everything. By this I mean to everyone else. I shamelessly put my creative children first. If I don’t want to go to that knitting group or karaoke night, well, my friends will just have to understand. I have two growing and developing children after all!
  7. Enjoy them both. They are only alive for a little while. They are a gift and it is your right to treasure and love and be proud of the little rug rats.

Any thoughts or tips from you single-parent multiple-talent households out there?

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Bits of Broken Brick: the path to my book

My novel is unfolding in an oddly beautiful way. Each time I sit down a different mood or thought overtakes me. I write for about an hour which usually results in 800 to 1,000 words. It is as if I am fitting together bits of broken brick, like this photo. One day a corner piece, the next an oblong rectangle, the next a solid square. Slowly, over the last three months a path is beginning to emerge.

Broken brick cobbled together to make a path.

Broken brick cobbled together to make a path.

I know my main character. I know the obstacle to her happiness. I know of her search for love, her many failures, the small things that make her happy. As I get to know her a plot is emerging. I now have several villains and apparent villains. The plot thickens. Ah, now a ghost appears. And now a battle in the rainy night. And now the devastating scene of realization when she discovers her lover is her enemy.

But none of this is happening in a linear fashion. I sit down and a scene comes out. Sometimes it is a scene from the middle of the book. Sometimes at the end or before this story began.

What my novel is teaching me is to trust that this will all come together. Trust that my way is worthy, valuable and worth following. Trust that though I don’t really know the way, the way knows me.

I am envisioning a day in the future when I will cobble together a path, from start to finish. Already, upon reading back what I have written, I can see that much will not be kept, not for this book anyway. But for another book? Another path through the garden made from these early morning bits?

None of the books on writing I have read have ever spoken about writing in this manner. But then, no one has ever been me before.

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Cultivating Crops of Art, Writing & Wisdom: Being a Be Farmer

My daddy always wanted a farm. We moved once a year from crumbled down house to 35 room condemned mansion to faceless suburban duplex as my father indulged in his need to fix-up the ultimate fixer-upper. In addition to being an architect who never built my father was a frustrated farmer who never farmed. Organic Gardener was always in the bathroom reading pile. There was often a pile of kitchen cuttings in a pile at the corner of various yards. Once, there was even a horse in a small corral, but there was never a garden.

pots for future plants

After 14 schools and too many bedrooms I had enshrined my moving boxes with collage cutouts and acrylic glaze. I wouldn’t get to keep my best friend du jour, but that box would be getting used again in, oh, about nine months. Because of this rootless gypsy existence the idea of a farm took root in my fertile imagination. When I was little I would get up early, before anyone else, and pretend to feed sheep and cattle and horses. My love of “crops” had me save the poinsettias from Christmas and start plants from cuttings in cast off cottage cheese containers. I read Organic Gardening and dreamed of the perfect compost bin.

Because of the uncertainty of everything I cultivated certainty. I decided I would be an artist when I was four (like my mother and her mother). After going to a horse race with my exciting grandfather, I decided to be a writer just like him (a profession I equated with wearing a fedora, smoking cigars and being dashing). At nine I decided I would save the world one broken heart at a time by listening and growing in wisdom. Over the many years that were to follow, these three decisions were my roots, the crops I cultivated.

As I grew it was frustrating to me how much I was like my father, how restless and in need of adventure. I wrote almost daily from the time I was 13 yet rarely published. I drew and painted and sculpted yet rarely showed my evolving works. Only wisdom seemed to keep up with my gypsy nature. Wisdom, after all, doesn’t need a studio, brushes, paper, a publisher. All wisdom needs is attention.

Eventually, as I matured (and oh, how long that has taken), I began to realize that my original childhood dream of having a farm was the very thing I needed to fulfill my dreams as an artist and writer: I needed to stop moving. I needed to stop adventuring and expanding. I needed to settle down and plant. I needed to tie myself to the cycles of earth and season and time and cultivate my crops.

And so, one day, I thought, “Being a writer and an artist is much more about farming than about traveling. I believe I will stay somewhere.” I went back to college in my 40’s more to tie me to something than to get a degree, though a degree in writing did help me to cultivate my writing crop. I rented a studio on Sante Fe in Denver where I painted the big colorful oil paintings I’d long dreamed about completing. I had several shows, one a year, and then two. I did art fairs where, once, I sold everything I’d brought.

But, I couldn’t help myself. My free spirit called me to leave my two bedroom apartment in Denver, to uproot and fly free of everything and try out the ultimate adventure: love. This required a move to the high desert of West Texas. Love did not work out but West Texas sure did. About a month ago I realized all my boxes are unpacked (I still have the collaged and battered copy paper boxes from my earlier lives) and I saw that I had a yard, an art table, and a laptop on a desk.

My Be Farm is ready and waiting for me to begin.

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Rooster Early

rooster sign

It is my second day of chicken-sitting. I had to go to bed an hour early to get up two hours early. With the mist still rising from the ground and leaves scattered on the sandstone pathways from last night’s brief rain, I wound my way through Beth’s garden to the chicken pen.

As I changed the water, spread fresh greens, and emptied a scoop of chicken feed into the dish, I heard the reassuring sound of clucks and murmurs as the hens awoke. Then, in a demanding shout of sound, the rooster announced it was time to greet the day. He was the first to exit down the wooden ramp and took the first peck at the feed.

It occurred to me as I walked back toward the house that writing is a lot like tending chickens. I have to get up two hours early to feed words onto the hungry pages and I have to settle my writer at sunset into my cozy little casita to be ready to rise before dark. It is a tending that I do in order to harvest the eggs of creative output. Yet the tending itself has a certain quality of comfort in and of itself.

It has taken me many years to settle my creative chickens, to learn what works best for me and when. In my twenties I was a night person. Being a young mother meant I had no predictable chunk of energy and had to grab moments when I could. I learned to carry a legal pad with me at all times and to write anywhere and everywhere. From this era I learned to write at the drop of the hat and that writer’s block was an indulgence.

When my nest was empty and I went back to school, I learned to write in long chunks of time I carved out of my weekends. Because I was in a writing program and had the permission of school and its structure, I gained stamina and learned the joy of a long expanse of hours.

Now, my degree behind me, I am back in the work world of a nine to five job. It is the hub of my day, this lovely job. Yet, I have to work around it as a novelist and artist. So, I am finding the “early to bed, early to rise” wheel of cultivation works right now.

In my long life of farming the creative crops of art and writing, I find that Rooster Early is what works best for the crop of writing. I start with a brain uncluttered by lists and rational thought. I follow a night rich with dreams where my subconscious stirs up interesting words and images. And I pluck the words like warm eggs fresh from the nest of my cozy bed. Yes, today, my chickens are laying well. And its all because I get up that extra two hours early just as my inner rooster crows.

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Sitting on Eggs

Matt Baker photo

This morning, while chicken-sitting, I opened the hen house door to see one lone hen sitting stubbornly on her eggs. She was not ready to give them up. I was not ready to be pecked. I closed the door.

It occurred to me as I bustled away eggless that my muse was doing the same thing: sitting. My novel has languished for the past week as I make a pivotal decision. After three months of writing three mornings a week, I have some to a crucial crossroads–do I write in first person, (I am, I do, I think) or third (what I call the storyteller’s distance)?

I am about to start cooking: do I want the pure-egg experience of over-easy or do I want scrambled with all those delicious bits of veggies and cheese? First person is more natural to me. I have written a journal since I was 13 years old. But the scrambled eggs of different points of view gives me more leeway for plotting and taking on the roles of other characters. Which will it be?

As I put the egg carton away empty I thought, “This is a decision that I need to let sit.” I have to allow my soul to nudge me with a dream or a conversation or a passage in a book. Maybe my two advisers will help me decide. As the day has evolved I have felt various subtleties of this decision arise. Trust the book itself. Trust that what is most joyous and feels the best is the answer. Trust that I need only follow my heart not the various fears that say I could choose the wrong point of view. Trust that even this pause has its purpose. As is so often the case in creating, trust is the key.

Most of all I have to trust that, as I wait for my muse to get hungry and get off the eggs, I will become the person who knows the answer.

Posted in following the muse, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments