Steadying Your Creative Flame

candle flame

 

What’s all this effort for?

When you look at what you wrote and it’s a bore.

You’ve lost the creative spark

That drew you out of the dark.

You’d created so many tales

That you believed kept you on the scrawling rails.

But that was three years ago,

When your passion was again aglow.

Now the embers of your exhausted endeavor,

Are giving off the last flick of light ever.

Confusion, fear, and sadness cloud your head,

At the thought that your life passion is dead.

What was it all for?

To come to a place you abhor?

No.

Rather, you realize the time has come,

To take a needed respite

For your mind to be relit

In the days and weeks ahead,

Because you refuse to believe your craft is dead.

 

Culture of Death

gun violence in movies

If we Americans are completely honest with ourselves, we’d know and admit without relish or doubt that our culture is a culture of death.

Why do I call American culture a culture of death?  Well, it’s what I’ve observed in many venues:  news media, movies, video games, mass shootings, school shootings, disregard of the unborn and elderly, lack of healthcare for everyone, our foreign policy, and profits before people.  This is a huge issue, but I’d like to touch on a few of these as best as I can.

But first, I want to share the bumper sticker on a car my husband and I saw on the way to the grocery store.  It read:  Fight Crime.  Shoot Back.  <– This is a perfect example to show it is the epitome of the mindset, generally viewed by those able to look outside the “American lens,” and see objectively, I believe, the American culture.

School Shootings/Mass Shootings

We all know school shootings have increased over the past fifty years. I, like all my fellow American citizens, struggle to understand why this is happening so much, and what can be done about it.  Something has changed to cause these mass killings to have multiplied greatly in the past several decades.  A few elements people have discussed and that I think contribute to this and make up our culture of death follow.

Mental Illness

Some people have said it’s mental illness of shooters that are the root cause of the mass shootings in our society.  Of course, it’s logical to come to the conclusion that if a person decides to spray hundreds of bullets through the halls and classrooms of schools or other public buildings that there are probably psychological problems going on with the child/person.  But were there no people with mental health problems one hundred years ago?  A couple of centuries ago?  Did mental health disorders pop up one century and grow from there?  I don’t think so.  There have always been humans that have suffered debilitating mental illnesses.

In the past decade or two, our younger generation has been suffering specifically from anxiety and depression, and rises in autism and other related illnesses are a tragic fact.  Why are these mental illnesses growing?

There are some factors such as heavy involvement in social media and family issues with regards to anxiety and depression in our young adults.  But how are these illnesses linked to violent behavior and actions of school/mass shooters?

I think what’s important to point out is that in the article, “The Myth That Mental Illness Causes Mass Shootings,” it says “research over the last 30 years has consistently shown that diagnosable mental illnesses does not underlie most gun violence,” and “only one percent of the population is psychopathic.” Of course, what about those not diagnosed?  I don’t know, but according to this article, mental health problems are a very small contributing factor in mass shootings.  So, what else is going on here?

Gun Problems

Is it access to guns?  The parents of the teen/child who shoots up a school were lax in locking their gun cabinet?  Failed to teach their children gun safety?  Perhaps it’s the issue of the types of guns being used…those that shoot out hundreds of ammunition in a few seconds time.  Yes, I agree that’s a problem.  The subject of bump stocks that can be attached to a gun and turn it into an alternate automatic weapon has been brought up by the public as a real concern.  Certainly, I agree with banning these types of accessories to guns and assault weapons.  They don’t belong in civilian homes and are absolutely inhumane for hunting purposes.  But aside from these types of semi-automatic, or the ones that nearly become or do become automatic weapons with some tweaking and adding to these guns, guns have been around since the pilgrims stepped onto American soil several centuries ago.  Sure, they were single-shot rifles/muskets and such, but I don’t recall reading in our early history of people randomly shooting up a theater, school, or any other public building in nearly epidemic proportions in the first few centuries of our American existence.

Capital Punishment

How about the message of terminating a person’s life if he/she committed a murder or murders?  I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post, but it is relevant to this subject.  This, too, shows the element of death as a way to punish people who have committed horrible crimes.  The death penalty has existed since America’s inception.  For all the proud claims made by some Americans about this country being founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and values, an eye for an eye ideology is not a Christian tenet.

My dad was an Air Force lawyer and judge for thirty years.  When I was a teen, out of curiosity without any real solid opinion on this issue, I asked my dad if the death penalty deters people from wanting to commit a murder.  I will tell you that my always supported the death penalty, and still in his honest response (he’s always been an honest man with great integrity) was “No, it doesn’t.”  I’ve never forgotten that.

Where’s the Mercy?

There’s an element of mercy missing in many corners of our society, whether it be the death penalty, abortion, caring for the elderly, healthcare, poverty, treating people with mental illness, or helping those with drug addictions.  Mercy is absent, generally speaking in the culture as a collective whole.  Of course, you can find mercy and goodness in individual Americans, but that information seems to not be the one that permeates the air waves or reaches globally, or is shown in the graphically-violent movies in the United States.  There are many reasons why I don’t agree with capital punishment–the wrong person is put to death; killing someone who’s murdered someone doesn’t bring back the person who was murdered, and it cuts the criminal’s chance for repentance. Incarceration is sufficient (although, we need to abolish private prisons for profit).

Entertainment Industry

So, now we segue into the entertainment industry’s production of graphic, violent movies and video games.  Are these to blame for the increase in school shootings (and mass shootings?)  There has been mixed data on how violent video games and films affect kids and teens, but a majority of the studies thus far in this infant research do show that graphic violence in video games affect children and some teens that may cause them to act aggressive to others, and they become desensitized to the pain of others.  A University of Alabama study on the effects of violent video games and film said that the violent behavior of the persons after watching these violent films/video games stayed with them for some time, and didn’t just disappear after seeing the movie/video game.  The comments from this study conclude with cautioning parents “that immature and/or aggressive children should not have access to violent films.” That statement is one that all psychologists agree with (according to my son who did his research paper on this subject matter last semester).

Continuing on this subject matter, the American Psychological Association’s earlier studies (2003) match the above findings, in the increased aggressive behavior from playing violent video games. It stated, “Myth: There are no studies linking violent video game play to serious aggression. Facts: High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behavior (e.g., self-reported assault, robbery).”

Of course, people will report that there are other scientific studies that don’t show concrete facts on the overall effects of violent film and video games on people, but it is incontrovertible that children and teens are affected by these.

From a personal point of view, I do not see the purpose of these violent, gory video games (or movies).  They contribute nothing positive or healthy to our society.  Of course, I know I’ll get pushback on that, and I expect it.  But it’s just how I see this.  I did not allow my sons to play or watch violent games or movies throughout their childhood and early teens.  Even in their teens, they don’t play “M” games or watch R-rated movies, unless the movie isn’t centered on gratuitous violence, but there is a valid, non-gory reason for it, and there is mercy and redemption involved in the storyline. To speak frankly, our movies and video games are both a promoter and reflection of our death-centered culture.

From a Christian spiritual point of view, what our eyes take in affects our souls.  If we take in good things, it brings joy and light to our souls.  If we take in violent things (since this is the subject matter of this blog post), it darkens our souls.  If we continue to pile on the viewing of such matter, along with other dark things, the darkness can overcome us, where the Light is not able to flicker, and then we are in bondage to the darkness, and it’s not a good place to be.

Foreign Policy

A little bit more on the gun issue because it ties into our foreign policy.  There are many Americans on one side of the gun debate that would like a ban on assault rifles/weapons and stricter gun laws, and then there is a small group of citizens who want all guns banned.  As I said, this is a very small number.  You would think it was a large number or majority the way people’s views are twisted all across social media.  In any case, I’ve thought about this issue. I fall in between.  I agree with banning bump stocks and having stricter gun laws but believe people should be able to have guns to protect themselves in case of home break ins and such.

So, I imagined the scenario of all guns being banned from the public.  Now, of course, I know that criminals will always get them through the black market, etc., but not even going down that path, let’s just say, the guns are removed, and they aren’t present in the society.  Wouldn’t it be extremely HYPOCRITICAL of the United States?

I mean, think about it.  Here’s a country’s entertainment industry laden with shoot ’em up movies, and in many cases in today’s movies, the lines of who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy are blurred. There’s no shortage of bloody video games. Our government’s leaders and intelligence community with the help of our military topple other countries’ elected leaders and replace them with horrid dictators, turning the countries into chaotic, desolate death pools, with millions of people killed and injured and their towns leveled. And then the most glaring component–America’s top, number one position in guns manufacturing and selling to other countries so we can help them obliterate vast amounts of people (have you been following the heartbreaking devastation in Yemen?).  That is the epitome of hypocrisy in my book.

Does that mean I don’t think something should be done about the guns?  Of course not.  But what can we do that would make sense and not be hypocritical?

The Solution?

Well, it seems the answer is that we’d have to have a total overhaul of our culture’s death mindset and transform it to a life one. I do find it quite ironic that our culture of death that is seen throughout the electronic venues at the same time is afraid of death and does everything it can to avoid it through changes in how we bury our loved ones and finding ways to constantly increase our life expectancy so we don’t meet death too soon, but that’s a subject for another post.

Therefore, in order to change our mindset from death/darkness to life/light, it would entail:

In the foreign policy area:  putting an immediate end to committing regime change in other countries (which I’d think would be illegal acts) and stopping the selling of arms to other countries, especially ones that aren’t friendly.  We need to stop the wars for profit, the prisons for profit.  Basically stop worshiping money and the never-ending desire for perpetual profits above the welfare of our own people.

On the entertainment front:  scaling back graphic violence in video games and movies. The classic movies were able to show war scenes (The Great Escape is an excellent example) and Hitchcock did well in his thrillers without explicit gore and mayhem.

Guns:  ban bump stocks and remove loop holes in gun laws (among other things).

Incorporating mercy and respect for life:  possess true and honest and respectful discourse and reconciliation tools in conflicts.

More access and treatment for people with mental health problems.  Mental health facilities for convicts diagnosed with a mental illness instead of prison.  Drug treatment programs for addicts that have been arrested for possessing drugs, instead of prison.

And since these are all my personal opinions, God is much better to worship than money, greed, lust, envy, pride, anger, etc. In order for us to be healthy all around, it requires an attentiveness to not only our mental and physical state, but also our spiritual state.  All must be worked on to find harmony, growth, and peace.

Looking Ahead

At this point, I’m not feeling too optimistic in seeing our culture changing. But the younger generation does show some spark of interest in wanting to uproot a portion of this sick culture of death.  Will they succeed?  I hope and pray so for our children and the generations after.

 

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A Place That Brings You Joy

RMNP Colorado Rockies June 2017

Have you ever been to a place, or lived in a place that brought you such joy and peace that every day you looked out your window or stepped outside your door, you smiled at the grand and scenic landscape around you?

I grew up a military dependent, so we moved around every two to four years.  I was painfully shy growing up, and it took me many months to make friends, and that friendship was enjoyed for a couple years or less, and then it was off to another place.   The moves were difficult, but I adapted.  I kept in touch with my friends over the years via actual snail mail that seems unheard of these days, but it was great fun the years my friends and I wrote each other.  I still remember the excitement I felt when I got a letter from a friend.

The pattern of my emotions in each move consisted of initial sadness when I found out we were moving, to tingling anticipation in the last few weeks before moving day, wondering what the new place would be like.

Here’s a short history of where I’ve lived up to the place I found to be my happy haven.  I was born in Maine, and from there moved to Taiwan, then Massachusetts, Virginia, Alabama, Germany, Illinois, Virginia again, and then Colorado.  All the states and Germany (which was amazing, clean, and gorgeous) pretty much had the same climate–four seasons, humid and hot in the summers, various bugs depending on the area….bigger ones down South (ugh).  So I knew no other type of climate other than hot, muggy buggy, and cold, humid in the winters. Until Colorado.

I remember when we drove into the state and I first stepped outside the car at the local Air Force Base’s gas station.  We were headed to the TLF (temporary lodging facility) until the house Dad and Mom had purchased, was ready to move in, as it was a new house in a new subdivision down in Castle Rock.  As soon as I stepped outside the vehicle, I noticed immediately the difference in the air.  It was light, thin, and fresh.  The sky was an incredible deep azure, with the sun shining so bright, it was nearly white.  Although it was mid summer, it didn’t feel as oppressive as it had in Virginia, Illinois, or Alabama.  And the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains, I caught my breath.  They dominated the western landscape, and demanded respect.  If it were at all possible in some type of sense, I fell in love with Colorado right then, and this has never dissipated.

Colorado Rockies and elk

I was blessed and lucky enough to have lived there twice.  The first time was from 1987 to 1995, and the second time was from 2007 to 2013.  Both times that I left this wonderful haven was not because I wanted to, but more because I didn’t really have a choice.  The first time was when I was in my early twenties, and my job was being phased out, and therefore, I moved south to Northern Louisiana where my parents had moved months before me, and also where my sister had been living for many years because her husband was from there.  The second time was because my husband believed he had a calling to the priesthood, and so we needed to go to Boston for him to attend the graduate school there.  But for several reasons, his degree at that time didn’t come to pass, and because our house in Colorado was being rented out, we couldn’t go back to it, and at that time, my husband wasn’t sure if he’d return to school at a later date.  Therefore, we ended up in Pennsylvania, the state in which my husband had grown up. Also, his family still resided there.

We settled in Lancaster, and struggled for the first year and half as my husband searched and applied for many jobs.  Finally, he was hired last May in 2017 at a local school district.

Lancaster is a lovely area dotted with many farms, rolling hills, and Amish buggies.

Lancaster, PA

We were fortunate to take a vacation back to Colorado in June of 2017 where we stayed at Estes Park in a beautiful, little rustic cabin and hiked the Rocky Mountain trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then visited our spiritual father and his family, and our parish family in Colorado Springs.  It was a great respite that truly felt euphoric.

Lancaster is charming, but we knew when we moved into our rental home here and know now that it really is a temporary place in which we have been blessed to regroup, work out personal issues, heal, and grow.

We don’t know how long we’ll be in Lancaster.  I only know that Colorado is always in my heart and in the back of my mind, and the urging to return never goes away.  My husband feels the same way, which works out well for us; no arguments or disagreements on where we want to retire.  God willing, we’ll return some time in the future to this glorious state that has me literally smiling and my heart soaring every time we drive into it and spot those majestic Rockies.

RMNP June 2017

Do you have a place that makes you happy and causes your heart to swell?

 

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Attending a Writers Conference

workshop pic

On Saturday, May 19, I attended a writers conference in my town.  I am a member of a writers’ organization called Pennwriters because it is an organization for writers in the state of Pennsylvania.  This was my first ever time attending a writers conference, and it was well worth the money and time!  The program was a three-day event, but I only attended Saturday’s sessions from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which included a delicious breakfast buffet and just as delicious lunch.  There were many workshops to go to and choose from.  In the time period I was there, I went to four of them:

  1. Story Shrink: Writing the Synopsis
  2. First Pages
  3. Agent/Editor Panel
  4. You, Too, Can Write Killer Plots

I’m going to share with you a few of the tips I got from the speakers, agents, and editors that I think will be helpful to my fellow writers.

Writing the Synopsis:

  • Write in present tense.
  • The main character(s) should be introduced in the synopsis in all caps.
  • Embed transformation into the synopsis.
  • Use emotion words.
  • Center synopsis around the main character, not on supporting characters.

First Pages — A few Do & Don’ts in the first page of your novel:

Do:

  • Have a strong, consistent voice.
  • Be true to your story.
  • Start in the middle of a scene.
  • Build your world by showing what life is like from the point of view of your main character.
  • Hit the emotion right away.
  • Know your reader/audience/editor/publisher wants to be entertained.
  • Trust yourself and your voice.
  • Use teasers and hints of what’s to come in your story.

Don’t:

  • Mislead your reader on what your story is going to be about through the pieces you reveal in that first page.
  • Be provocative just to be provocative.
  • Forget the context of your story.
  • Overwhelm your reader.  Don’t give away the whole plot and story, just leave bread crumbs of the things to come.
  • Tell, but Show.

Agent/Editor Panel

Five reasons you need an agent:

  1. Contacts.
  2. Contracts.
  3. Money–directed on how to get money from editor.
  4. Guidance.
  5. Subrights.

A few warnings:

  • Don’t write about fads or trends.  By the time your book is published, it will likely be out of fashion/passé.

Tired, overused themes and character traits:

  • Middle school petty relationships between girls. Let’s have some real, strong bonds between middle school girls.
  • Women characters who are prostitutes or very close to that.
  • Dystopian themes.

Writing Killer Plots:

  • Superb plots reveal characters and who they are to the readers.
  • When plot and character are interwoven, this is the best type of story/book.
  • Plot is cause and effect.
  • A series of choices make up the plots.
  • The antagonist actually is the one that drives the plot.

So, in plotting your story, you’ve got to have a story and the right characters for the story in mind.  The plots are the incidents and twists that happen to the protagonist throughout the story.  The plots have to fit the characters you’ve created for the story.

All of the workshops were helpful to me, especially the first, second, and fourth ones.  I needed help on writing an synopsis, how to spice up and get my reader’s attention on the first page, and even the first few sentences on that first page.  I also needed help in plotting.  This one always seems to be a struggle for me.

I look forward to attending more writers conferences in the subsequent years.  If there are ones around you, I’d highly recommend you go. 🙂

I hope these little tips aid you in your writing journey as I know they will for me.

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

 

 

 

Senioritis & The Depths of Burn Out

i just want to be done with college

Calling all college students in their last semester!  This 40-something student is in danger of brain fry and plummeting to the depths of the earth, empty of any thoughts, writing abilities, and reading capabilities.

I’ve got three classes left counting the one I’m in now, which is a 300-level course called American Art.  This class isn’t particularly difficult.  The problem is I’m tired of reading, writing papers, and taking notes.  There is a lot of reading required in this course.  It is basically an American art history course, so obviously, there’s much to read and learn.  If I’d taken this class earlier, it wouldn’t be so grueling.

I’m struggling with focusing on what I’m reading and writing about.  I’ve got a final  paper to write in this class as in most every class except one that I’ve taken these past nearly four years.  In any case, I’ve got one more paper to write in the upcoming class on Wellness, and then it’s a more enjoyable class and perfect class to finish up my degree:  Advanced Creative Writing.

I do suffer from the debilitating disease of senioritis, only in the sense that I’m tired of studying and reading, and writing, and basically THINKING.

senioritis disease

But I’ve not gotten to the point, and hope to not ever get the point where I don’t care.

i don't care senioritis

There’s still a major part of me that does care about getting As.  My grade point average is 3.8, and I worked hard for that.  So, I don’t really want to slip into becoming a C student or carrying the mantra of “I just want to pass the class” in my head.

So, I’m asking for advice from my fellow college student or former college student bloggers out there who might have some tips and encouragement for me.  It’s often good to hear from others who have gone through the same things as you.

But there is an end in sight.  October 28 is the last day of the last class of my college courses.  What can I do to keep this a focus?

 

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How Creative Writing Can Boost Your Intelligence (Guest Blog Post)

This is a reblog of my fellow blogger, Nicholas C. Rossis’ guest blog post.  I thought it was important to share.  Credit goes to Nicholas and guest blogger Sally Keys.

 

This is a guest post by Sally Keys. You may remember her from her guest post, Creating The Time And Space You Need To Write Your Best Work. Sally is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, she enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and traveling as much as possible.

How Creative Writing Can Boost Your Intelligence

Globally, the average IQ has increased by 20 points over the last 100 years. Many reasons are given for this and all, no doubt, play a part. The fact is that we live in a very different world to the one of 100 years ago. By examining these differences and comparing them to research into intelligence, we can determine ways to boost our own IQs. Creative writing can play a major part in this but only if you are pushing your writing standards to the limit.

What Is Different About Today?

Globalisation has led to multiculturalism becoming the norm. Diethas improved dramatically and, along with basic medication, we have all but eradicated many of the illnesses that struck us down in childhood. Film, television, and mass production of books have all played a part in increasing our exposure to new ideas. Computers for communication, leisure, and research all provide a range of inputs that simply did not exist in the past. New stimuli are known to stimulate the prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain linked to intelligence) and our increased globalization and technological development make novelty a regular occurrence (despite how counterintuitive that may sound). Diet and healthcare help our brains develop further (especially at an early age) and free us from having to fight infections or deal with malnourishment.

What Has This To Do With Writing?

There is some evidence that 5 simple steps can help to boost your intelligence. Each of these can be achieved through creative writing if you approach it properly.

The first, seeking novelty, has been mentioned already. By writing about unfamiliar topics, doing research into another country, trying new foods and so on you are pushing yourself to experience the new.

You are also achieving step 2, which is to challenge yourself. Increase your challenge (and introduce more novelty) by stepping out of your comfort zone. Write a chapter in iambic pentameter or in verse, try a different voice for narration, or find any of a million different ways to push yourself. You could challenge yourself further by taking IQ tests. By taking tests before actively pushing yourself when writing, you could experiment and take the tests again at the end to see if you’ve improved.

The next step is the one most obviously linked to writing – think creatively. The simple act of writing fiction is sufficient stimulus to cognitively challenge your brain, but if you want to boost it, you need to think outside of the box. Take your creativity to the next level by remembering to seek novelty and by challenging yourself. Whilst our novelty-rich modern world has boosted our intelligence as a species, there is something to be said for doing things the hard way. Old-fashioned methods often bring their own cognitive challenges, especially as modern methods become more familiar.

Which leads us to the fourth tip; to do things the hard way. Write your first drafts long-hand. Turn off the grammar and spell checkers when you write it up and edit manually. Do some of your research from books instead of the internet. Taking the longer, slower route brings with it new challenges that cause new stimulation.

The final tip takes us back to one of the ways in which the modern world is different to the old, but it also turns it on its head. We live in multicultural societies and interact with people from across the globe, but do we really know people as well as we used to? The concept of communities seems to have gotten lost along the way. As a writer, the final stage of your work is to share it. If you aren’t taking this step, then you are missing out on the 5th tip, to network. Sharing ideas with others who have faced similar challenges and getting to know them both in person and through their work, will help you increase your intelligence – and improve your writing.