November 20, 2019
“Thankful for the Writing Journey and NANOWRIMO”
It’s the week before Thanksgiving break and we are furiously trying to get our word counts up. If you are behind (like I am), then you may be planning out how you will use the break to catch up. As soon as we return, we will be in December and NANOWRIMO will be done! Then we will begin the editing process. What a journey this has been!
As I reflect on the upcoming holiday, I think how thankful I am that we have had the time to spend together, writing in community, discussing our stories so excitedly, and just being together as one unit embarking on the journey of writers. How many other writers have we been connected with this month? How many others have embarked on the journey as well?
As you wind up this last week of November, I leave you with the words of Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, whose film rights have been optioned by Lionsgate. Erin began writing this novel during NANOWRIMO one year -- just like you. Imagine what you may create on your writing journey…
“You do not have to make your story perfect right now. You don’t even have to get it right. You only need to get it on the page. That’s all.
Don’t stop. Keep moving forward with your torch and your sword and your imaginary kitten companion. There is an ending to be found, whether you find it this month or further farther deeper later on. You can wander back and choose different paths because this is your world and these are your rules.
Go with it and see where it takes you.
There’s magic left in these late November days yet to be found.
You can find it.
I believe in you.”
--Erin Morgenstern, NANOWRIMO Pep Talk, November 18, 2019
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
– Robert Frost
I have to admit that I did not know what I would be writing until it came to me as I drove to school this morning. I think I will be writing a period piece, set in the south, perhaps during the civil war. Is my genre historical fiction then? How much research will I need to do for this? How many hours will I spend researching and writing this month? So much to do in preparation and day one is already here!
The other day, I told my English students that I was mostly a “pantser.” That means, I have a tendency to write by the seat of my pants. I have done well, however, in embracing the role of “plotter” in the past. That is, I spent the time to plot or outline what I would be writing about, creating more detailed plot points, characters, and settings. This is what I require of my students because it is truly more helpful in the long run. A lot of writers recommend outlining, and they claim the book practically writes itself. The more detailed-the-outline, the better.
Since it is November 1st, I guess I need to make a decision: Pantser or Plotter? How about you? We have 29 more days of writing. On your mark, get set, go! And another year of NANOWRIMO begins...Bonne chance and journey well!
I just saw a play called The Infinite Black Suitcase by E.M. Lewis. In that play, there is a line that goes something like this: “You can plant flowers here…”
Since the play is mostly about death, this statement is in stark contrast to what we just witnessed for an hour. This line speaks about life. Plants represent life and living, letting us know that, though the characters have all just dealt with death, they must go on living.
Flowers are also a sign of hope. I saw hope in the possibility of the characters’ planting new flowers, new seeds of life, a metaphor, perhaps, for all of the lives of the characters who must continue to live abundantly. That is, merely living, after experiencing loss, is not enough. One must live like the flower, displaying one’s beauty for all to see, and recognizing that this loss becomes a time for one to plant something new -- a new beginning.
Even though it has been in the 90’s here in the OC, somewhere else it is snowing. With snow, we find a burial of flowers and vegetables -- of life. As we turn toward a new season of autumn, marked by the coming of Halloween this week, let’s remember that, though the flowers will soon experience a sort of death with winter, they will begin again in the spring. And so can we...
"All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." --William Shakespeare
This week, I have been reflecting upon our theater class and how theater reflects life. The student project for the week was to write a scene with a partner, based on the fairy tale genre, and then present this short scene to the class. While watching all the short skits, I thought about how the message of fairy tales reflected life -- each one giving us a message about good and evil.
But what is good? What is evil? These are the 2 questions reflected upon the most by writers, philosophers, theologians and the like. A good story may lift up these ideas, as we become infatuated with the protagonist and antagonist in a story. Typically, these characters represent this concept of good and evil. Of course, the oldest stories, told by the ancients, teach us about these notions, and warn us about behaviors inherent within every human.
But what of the quote above? Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights, wrote this beautiful statement about the world being a stage, and going further to state that we are all merely players upon it. This makes me think that the world is where we act out our lives. This quote, from As You Like It, of course, continues and tells us that we go through stages in life, from birth to death. What does this mean? Well, on its surface, it could be literal. That is, we go through so many stages in life and then we die. Another meaning could be that we shouldn't take life so seriously, or we are all the same, going through the same stages, which eventually ends in death. Or maybe it is about realizing that you never know what will happen to you in each stage of life. You are not in control. You are merely a player in someone else's game.
I could write a whole blog post on that last interpretation. To be a player (or pawn) means we are not completely in control of our destiny. Since life has taught me to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, I don't accept that last interpretation. I affirm that I will live my life out loud and always achieve and succeed. If that was the intention of Shakespeare, then I would argue with him. However, I have enough knowledge and experience in life to see how Shakespeare could feel that way about life, and also be correct.
Theater is life because it reflects the author's experiences and feelings on the stage -- for all the audience to see, to feel, to experience. And, perhaps, those feelings and experiences are the same -- for the audience member or for you. Or maybe you, too, disagree with the author as you watch the players display the author's thoughts through acting. And maybe you experience an emotion you have never known before. Whatever it is for you, theater is life because it reflects our deepest, darkest secrets sometimes, and that can be scary as an actor, and surprising for the audience.
So the next time you feel yourself well up with tears in your eyes, as you watch a play on a stage, you might just reflect upon whether this story displayed before you is, in fact, a message about life. In the interim, what do you think...Is theater life for you?
The Powwow at the End of the World
BY SHERMAN ALEXIE
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.
In U.S. History class, we are studying about the first peoples, the Native Americans. When studying about the U.S., a curriculum must incorporate what came before. One of my favorite authors and poets, Sherman Alexie, reminds us, in his poem above, that when reflecting on what makes our great nation, we must reflect also on the Native experience.
What does this poem tell us about the beliefs of Native Americans? How can it inform us about the present and our future?
First, we see that there is a reference to water and floods. Various rivers are brought into the poem to give us a geographical reference point. I ask, myself, what can be happening in this area of our nation? Are Native Americans experiencing something on the reservation that deals with water -- like desertification or water rights or clean water or loss of salmon -- all of which can be tied to climate change?
Then we see that the theme of forgiveness is interwoven throughout. Might the spirituality of a Native American tribe incorporate this belief or value? And who must be forgiven -- the United States, the government, the people, the world?
I reflect upon the idea that salmon will tell stories at the end of the world. Images of salmon speaking around the fire dance in my head. I wonder, are salmon the ancestors, providing us with wisdom after the floods?
Have you ever been to a Powwow? I have. They are magnificent. I hear the drums -- southern and northern. I see the fancy shawl dances and the jingle and traditional dances. I reflect upon the imagery of the end of the world ending in a dance. Sherman Alexie demonstrates the belief that dancing is healing. After the floods, after the stories from the ancestors, after the laughter and learning how to honor the earth, the end will be a dance, and healing will be ours. We can begin, again. This is what can inform us today and in the future. So, history is not just the past, but the present and beyond.
Creativity. This is the focus for the new year. What is creative? What does creating bring us? When I think of this word, I think about nature. As I sit here in The Music Room, I look out at the beautiful tree that provides us shade in the afternoon ...covering us...as all of our wonderful students await to be picked up. To cover is to protect. Is creation a protection, in a way?
Have you ever played music, written a story, danced with another, painted or sculpted a work of art? Have you ever experienced the beauty of working on a sports team, or in a performance group -- creating a drama across the stage? All of these experiences, and many more, provide us with a "cover" -- a protection, so to speak.
I can remember performing music with my father. Hundreds of audience members...mesmerized by our drumming. I would even get mesmerized, myself, as I keep a steady beat, syncopating with others on the stage. I would feel a sort of protection -- going within -- protection from thoughts and feelings of fear -- protection from the sufferings of the world. For a time, I get lost in the creative process, and I am covered with a feeling of love.
So, this tree that sits before me, reminds me of the many times I have embarked on the creative process. I gaze at the green leaves, reflecting the sunlight that drops upon them, and then I look at the ground beneath it. There is shade, even in the morning. This tree -- providing us beauty, cover and protection -- reminding us that the creative process is love. May you all experience much love this new school year, as you participate in creating beautiful experiences.
Ms. Summer is a teacher, writer, musician and Spiritual Director/Coach. She has recently embarked upon a weekly podcast called "The Bayat Beat" where 3 generations in her family discuss many deep topics to understand this thing we call life! It is currently being listened to around the world. Check it out if you want to learn more.