Celebrating Creativity

Watching struggling floral buds battling to overcome the unending winter has always been one of my favorite prophesies of spring’s arrival. Another joyous event that spring is near is our annual Power of Poetry Project (P.O.P.P.) celebration. P.O.P.P. is an opportunity for school children in fourth and fifth grades to compete in poetry writing.

As a teacher during the push towards No Child Left Behind and high stakes testing, I had been very concerned with educational initiatives that through intent or misinterpretation seem to push creativity to the background of importance. So in 2010, when Sharon Palmeri invited me to join a committee to begin a project to promote students’ writing creativity, I eagerly agreed.  The project, under the Indiana Writers’ Consortium initiatives, has become an annual event that promotes creativity through children creating poems.

Reading the poems fills me with so much joy and pride. We on the committee are so privileged to hear through the poems how children interpret their world. We enter their world to share their joys and tears, laugh with them about things that are silly, and share the beauty of life through a child’s eyes. Our most difficult task is choosing those that will receive awards.

The winning poems are published in a book.  Our awards are significant. I wanted to be sure that this academic adventure rivals the athletic competitions in terms of showy awards and they do.  The event is also an extremely rewarding experience for us. Observing  children who are so proud of the recognition that they are getting for their creative endeavors makes the hours of work in writing the grant for funding, sorting through the hundreds and hundreds of poems, organizing the notifications and awards, and preparing for the event worthwhile. And we know we are helping them understand the importance of creativity in their lives.

Thursday is our celebration. I’m adding a page to the blog that has some P.O.P.P. artifacts.  I will share some photos and some of the poems children have written. I think you will enjoy looking at the samples of children’s creativity.

As I said, P.O.P.P. is one of the signs for me of spring days ahead. It also assures me that we, along with parents and teachers, have had a little part in encouraging creativity in our children. As an avid reader and lover of fiction and poetry, I know that the future bed of poets and authors is being seeded.

It is pretty obvious that I will never receive the “blogger of the year” award. My resolution to blog at least once a month has withered, I’ve missed February. Aging is an interesting process. One element is how very quickly time passes. However, for the two or three of you who like sharing my blogs. I will be back more regularly.  Thanks

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My Heroes

Often, I think about the books in my life that inspired me. As a fledgling writer, I am always in awe of those authors who ignited my interest and imagination. They took me on journeys, evoked emotions, and broadened my world. I fell in love with the characters they created. Their stories never really leave me.

At a very young age I was read to by my parents. In my pre-school years, I was given many little golden books. My Teddy Bear, Scuffy the Tugboat, Heidi, and my very most favorite Doctor Dan (I think this ranked as my favorite because it came with a real band-aid adhered to the front of the book) surrounded me as I fell asleep at night and still live vividly in my mind. As I grew older, Carolyn Keene (the pseudonym of multiple authors) brought Nancy Drew into my life. My oldest sister was 13 years older than I. Someone had given her a membership to the Nancy Drew book club so there were many of the titles in our home. They only had a few black and white illustrations and the clothing and hair styles were from the ’30s but it didn’t matter to the ’50s me. I engaged in Nancy’s adventures and developed a life-long love of the mystery genre.

In sixth grade, I found the Witch of the Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. The plot is so rich and I think it influenced me on many levels. The historical setting drew me to read much more and appreciate historical fiction. The issues of prejudice and tolerance made me sensitive to those issues in my era. After reading this book, I chose to read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, another excursion into issues of tolerance. Only recently did I discard my paperback copy that had been given a new cardboard cover and had numerous pages taped back into it. It is one of the few books that I re-read often.

It was around this time that I discovered Classic Illustrated Comic Books. I had always been a fan of comic books. After all, Archie, Jughead, and Veronica were my pals as I entered high school. The classic comics introduced me to so many notable novels. In fact, as a senior in high school, my literacy instructor – Sister Virginia – thought I was so well read because whatever classic she brought up, I would be able to comment upon. She would look to me with queries like, “Judy, what was the name of the character from  Tale of Two Cities who knits? (Madame Defarge). I would be embarrassed to admit that my knowledge came from comic books except that Sister’s belief in my ability actually made me read the original novels. After we referenced something in class, I would read the book so I wouldn’t disappoint my instructor.

As a middle school (6-8 grades) teacher, I was able watch my students become excited as they connected with characters expertly crafted by authors. Emily Neville’s It’s Like This Cat was a favorite of mine to read to my classes. The emotional and rewarding relationship between a teen age boy and his cat resonated with an age group that struggles to deal with many emotional changes. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series became a staple in our classroom library. In a Chicago inner city school, I couldn’t keep the books on the shelf. Urban kids were connecting with a Canadian orphan in the mid-twentieth century. Ben Carson’s autobiography Gifted Hands inspired students as they followed his progression from the “…dumbest kid in the class…” to his achieving top of the class status.

At a time in history when heroes are referenced as role models, we often find entertainment and sports figures identified as chosen heroes. For me, my heroes are those authors who have and continue to make me laugh and cry, bring me to new places, make me look deeply within myself, and ignite my interest and imagination. These are truly my heroes.

All I Want for Christmas

Once again I’m utilizing a blog that I wrote for IWC. When you read this blog you’ll see that I am in a writer’s slump.

Have you seen my muse?  “What,” you may be wondering, “prompts such a question at the beginning of a blog?”   Well, I guess I’m going through a phase of writers’ block.  I’m just not writing.  I’ve made up my mind that I am going to start writing again.  I’ve always been rather bull headed and when I make up my mind to do something, I usually get it done.

Thinking back to all those things I’ve heard writers do to overcome their blocks, I begin my action plan. Even though a fair amount of those pieces of advice often seem to conflict, I will pull out those that will work with what I know about myself. The first things are to write every day, have a designated place to write, have your writing tools ready, and be comfortable.

Monday:  Go to my office, close the door so my dogs won’t disrupt the flow.  Computer ready – check; notepad and pen for jotting thoughts while writing – check; cup of coffee within reach – check.  Now, write!  An hour later my screen remains blank, my note pad is virgin, and I’m playing with the dogs.  Hmmm, well, maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday: Repeat the set up routine, but a wiser me is going to look around the web to see what I may not be doing. I find many sites that let me know about all of the famous writers who faced the same dilemma: Tolstoy, Woolf, Conrad, Hemingway and on and on. Well, bully for them. Obviously they got over it.  Then I land on something I had forgotten about – free writing.  I didn’t do that yesterday.  I’m encouraged because one article inspires me to just start writing on any topic. If it turns out to be just drivel I’m assured, by the article, that something will come out of it.  Another suggests,  “If you can’t think of anything to say, write “blah, blah, blah” over and over.” I know I can do that. I begin. An hour and a half later, my document has one paragraph that basically carps at me for not getting to the file full of papers to be graded.  This enlightened work is followed by three pages filled with various fonts that creatively script “blah, blah, blah”.  My notepad has some interesting doodles and I’ve had way too much coffee.  Okay, Scarlett, think about it tomorrow.

Wednesday: Same scenario with the exception that my ulcers have begged me to swap my coffee for milk. I will write today.  Wrong…

Thursday:  Kathryn sends an email to remind me that I’m responsible for next week’s blog. Great, what will I write about? Well, why don’t I write about not being able to write?  After all misery loves company.  Finishing my initial self-serving paragraph forty-five minutes later, I’m done for today. That’s enough.

Friday: I read what I wrote yesterday. I hate it. Delete. I’m going to take off Saturday and Sunday. This writing everyday takes a lot of energy.

Monday: Must get the blog done. Darn it, I just remember that grades are due tomorrow. Sorry, writing, I have at least twenty hours of paper critiques to deal with today. Catch you tomorrow.

Tuesday: Today writing time will be devoted to the blog. I pull up my file. What? It’s blank? Oh, right, I deleted. Now what. Right after I throw my notepad and pen to the floor and am just about to do the same with the computer, I recall a banquet I went to recently. Kate Collins, a prolific writer of the cozy flower shop mystery books, was the speaker. Her talk was a down to earth, engaging, and motivating call to writers to create the writing magic with their fingers. She told us that sometimes she has writer’s block. Her solution is to go to her office (because block or no block you want to continue to write everyday), relaxes and opens herself up to her Muse.  I also remember a Ray Bradbury quote, “I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” Okay, Muse, here we go!

Revived, I pick up my note pad and pen, open my laptop, take a sip of coffee (sorry ulcers), lean back in my chair, relax my body, and spread open my arms above my head (Kate did that). Okay, Muse, let’s go…(ten minutes later), Hello?…(five minutes after that)…Hey, Muse! My arms go down. My fingers go to the keyboard. Apparently, my Muse doesn’t want to work on the blog.

That brings us back to the beginning, have you seen my Muse? If so, please keep in mind that all I want for Christmas is … my Muse.

Merry Holiday Writing!

Why Do I Write?

This is a blog that I recently wrote for the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. As I reread it, I thought it would be a good item as my first entry into re-blogging.

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WHY DO I WRITE?

 Another rejection letter followed closely by another notification deadline passing without any “you’ve won” for me.  I was so sure this one would have gotten some recognition.  The story was one when I was finished (rewriting for the twelfth time) that made me think, “This is really good!” These recent submission results lead to a ‘no good writing news’ Thanksgiving for me.

 As I plop down on the couch with my current read, I’m distracted by the question, “Why do I write?   When working full time, I looked forward to a time that could be devoted to writing for me. I engaged in quite a bit of professional writing during my career, a number of co-authored research papers, science education magazine articles, and even a chapter in a book. However, writing creatively was what I wanted to do when I had adequate time to apply to it. In my mind, words would flow freely to create engaging stories that would enchant. It would be easy.

 Oh, yeah, easy.  Even as a hobby writer, I find that rarely do I feel something I’ve written is finished. The re-read/re-write cycle seems to go on endlessly. Since I choose to primarily write for children, the constant pressure to utilize appropriate vocabulary to challenge but not frustrate the target audience becomes very difficult.  Additionally, I constantly struggle with editing, both grammar and content.  My mind works so much more quickly than my fingers.  Regardless of the number of times I re-read, my mind insists on seeing that which it had intended rather than that which appears on the paper. Finally, I’m never quite satisfied with the story line. How can I make it more engaging, exciting, fun? The end project of all of this will be seen only by a few pairs of eyes belonging to my supportive peers in my writing group. So, why do I write for a hobby? Other hobbies require an equivalent amount of “work”.  I knit.  Figuring out patterns or developing patterns of my own challenges me.  The craft requires skill and a significant devotion of time. At least when I finish with those projects I have something that I give away or wear. The artifact will be seen and valued unlike my writings that languish in stored files on my computer. So, again, why do I write?

 I leave my musings to look at the book I’ve chosen to take solace with, I am Malala. This is the story of the young girl who has come to represent plight of young women who are denied an education. The answer to my query begins to unfold. My love of language – reading and writing – was nurtured as a young student. Through the tedious diagramming sentences to the excitement of sharing weekly writing assignments of essays and stories, a love of language grew. The way words could be manipulated to evoke feelings from sorrow to glee was a wonderment. The excitement of explorations of worlds I would never encounter became accessible to me through the words of others. I wasn’t denied an education that allows me to read and write, I was immersed in one. Why I write becomes clear.

 I don’t need to be published or win a contest in order to feel fulfilled from writing.  I write because I want to…and because I can.   Happy Thanksgiving.