Writing Prompt #5: Unconventional Relationships

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #5: Write, reflect, or create an original work on the most unconventional relationship you have ever experienced, past or present. You define what “unconventional relationship” means for your response, as this may be based on society’s rules, or yours. Regardless, to you: it is unconventional!

My Response: Prior to the world of global connectivity via the internet, my relationships were more about the environment in which I lived more than anything else. When I was growing up, it was all about our neighborhood – our street specifically. Schoolmates that were comparable in age but lived a few blocks away might as well have lived in another state. Neighborhoods were so territorial then, that when I dated a girl from “The Oaks” just about a quarter mile down Joppa Road, I was told by some bigger guy in that ‘hood that they were going to “introduce my face to my locker” in high school if I didn’t stop dating Donna.

Jets and Sharks kind of crazy stuff going on, even though I was not – nor was I ever – in a gang.

Later, when I began teaching and moved to Calvert County, my relationships were centered on Chesapeake Bay. I was so fortunate to teach several of Tom Clancy’s children, and so I spent time on the shores of Chesapeake and its tributaries talking about writing with the world’s bestselling writer at the time.

That connection would have never happened had I not been there, on the water, in that space.

Now, even though I am settled in Towson with my family and in Ellicott City with my students, some of my strongest relationships are with Jodi and Adam, two incredible human beings who just happen to live in Australia – a place I’ve never been, and two people I have never met “in real life.”

As much as I rail on the internet and technology (and if you don’t know that about me, give Fossil Five a good read and you’ll see where I stand on the digital world wiping away our human-to-human relationships), my relationship with Jodi and Adam is as close as any of the relationships I have known in Calvert County, Towson, or Ellicott City.

We connect through words, art, music in such a collaborative way that is stronger than any of the countless hours I spent on Chesapeake Bay sailing, or fishing the waters, or wading through low tide finding blue crabs shedding their shells for a good soft crab sandwich later that evening. What we have transcends all of that through mutual respect for each other as artists, individuals, and spiritual manifestations of something bigger that exists all around us.

Our 14- and sometimes 16-hour time differences are perfect for working on each other’s drafts, or mulling over ideas to be shared over our “even-morns.”

In this unconventional relationship, somebody is always awake, watching over our words, pondering art and life and the world that spins so wildly around us.

But it is one world, and we are held together by the unconventional bond we have created regardless if the world tilts off its axis every once in a while. Like the pull of the moon, we ebb and flow this journey together, having never met, and never having to.

Writing Prompt #4: Energy. 1.20.2022

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #4: Write, reflect, or create an original work on the energy held in a seemingly inanimate object, such as a rock, a handwritten letter, a pressed flower.

My Response

For just about 33 years now, I’ve cherished a book of spiritual essays by Joni Eareckson Tada called Secret Strength. A student gifted it to me in the days following my father’s death in 1989, and I leaned on the lessons Joni shared in my toughest hours.

Joni (pronounced “Johnny”) grew up in Baltimore and lived a very active life until a catastrophic diving accident in Chesapeake Bay in 1967 caused damage to her spine, and she became a quadriplegic as a result. After battling anger and depression, she devoted her life to lifting others, and she is still doing it today.

That book, an inanimate object itself, carried great energy from the words she wrote. Just holding it in my hands – even decades later – brings me strength.

Even more powerful than the book, though, is what my student wrote on the inside cover, and the flower she pressed there to remind me of how everlasting beauty and hope can be.

Now, 33 years later, that flower (and those words) are filled with the same energy that they possessed on the first day I opened the book to find such a timeless gift.

What does that tell me? What does that remind all of us?

That it is possible to capture the energy of a single moment, bottle it in some inanimate object that miraculously cues the heart to beat a little stronger, to pulse the emotional moments we experienced so long ago as if we were there once more.

A book, a flower, and words pressed into the inside cover hold for me the energy of hope, of kindness, and of timeless compassion in a time when I was hurting greatly. Today, I still open that well-worn, gently loved book to return to a time where I was given a touch of secret strength that I would get through.

And I did.

And I do.  

Writing Prompt #3: Silence. 1.19.2022

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #3: Write, reflect, or create an original work about a time when the sound of silence was deafening.

My Response

My first thought is, most immediately, the late afternoon hours on September 11, 2001, when no planes filled the air and the roads were empty – a world stunned into silence as we all collectively held our breaths.

That was a deafening silence that we all felt, though. Anybody who was old enough on that day to hear the sorrowful sounds of silence will never forget it.

Personally, however, all I can think about right now is a sound that my generation is hearing all too often: the deafening silence that follows the news of the passing of a loved one.

The news is shared, but the words begin to drop off, as if falling from a cliff, word by word, into some void where they are enveloped – smothered – in a dark and heavy fog. And in those seconds that follow, when the final words fall into that abyss, we all feel the deafening silence of sorrow that weighs so heavily on our hearts. We don’t know what to say, even if we really could or remembered how to. Are there any words that could ever fill that space?

The sound of the weight, like some kind of jet engine on overdrive, courses through your veins, inflating them with fear, dread, grief.

Deafening.

Invariably, though, despite the heavy silence that lingers longer than we can comprehend, it is what rises from that deep, heavy fog:

Shared memories, laughter, that last smile or embrace that held there in the light, a lingering moment treasured for reasons we could not yet understand.

But now we do. Now we hold tightly to that lingering moment.

Yes. We are beginning to know that deafening silence too, too much. But we also find new comfort in these memories that fill the silence with sounds that imprint our hearts forever with what we will remember, hold dearly close, until our own last hours on this earth.

Writing Prompt #2: Weather. 1.18.2022

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response wildly in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #2: Write, reflect, or create an original work based on a time when the weather changed your life.

My Response: Specific weather events have changed all of our lives. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, hurricanes and nor’easters are common life-changers for most of us. But for me, it was never a named storm that changed my life (agreed, though, that Super Storm Sandy in 2012 was pretty bad); instead, it was the weather that blew off the Susquehanna River – a trib of Chesapeake Bay – and found its way to our small cabin in River Hills, Pennsylvania when I was a child.

And, just as powerful as the storms might have been that moved in, keeping us tucked in on the long screened-in porch as the rain moved through the heavy leaves like a steady chorus of soft, melodic rain sticks, the memories we made as a family were what really changed me.

Everything was different at the cabin. It was my father’s haven away from the world of work, the mundane grind of suburban living. In that small plot of land between a bass-stocked pond and acres of corn fields, the rains that kept us inside did not matter to me at all.

The cabin’s interior was one large, “great room” divided thinly by a half-wall that separated the living and sleeping spaces. In the front, facing the woods that filled the sloping hill that led to the large pond, was the porch; in the back was a small dining table and kitchenette that looked out over the fields harvested annually by local farmers. It was a simple space, but rainy days brought us closer together playing cards, building fires in the fireplace, and just listening to the storms roll in and roll out in a seamless peace that could not be found at home in Baltimore.

[Quick Reflection: I’ve never written about this before and will definitely expand on this later in a stronger draft. I never realized that the storms that forced us inside actually created an opportunity for us to be a stronger family in a way that never really seemed possible in our home in Baltimore. More to come for this one, for sure.]

Writing Prompt #1: Courage. 1.17.2022

Today, I begin sharing daily writing prompts to encourage writers of all ages to journal on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. If you wish to share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response.

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. A few weeks ago, I subbed for one of the art teachers at my school. In that group, one student emerged and shared with me that she paints a new picture every day. When the bell rang and I moved along to my own classroom, she tracked me down and gave me her daily painting: a beautiful lobster that she painted in about 40 minutes. Paint your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty.

Writing Prompt #1: Reflect on a time when you displayed great courage when the world was not watching. 

My Response: One of my colleagues was quick to post a comment earlier today when I shared this prompt. She alluded to the profession of teaching, and having the courage to show up every day and do the unthinkable, the inexplainable, in teaching in such challenging times when most of the world does not understand what we are doing to teach effectively, to push away all of the noise that is around us, and – most especially – the doubters and naysayers that question our profession on a daily basis.

That part – the questioning of our profession – is something that I have endured in these 35 years of being in a classroom with my students. In fact, I was fighting for the prestige of the profession when I was still 21 and in college, arguing passionately against fellow education majors who were in it until they figured out what they really wanted to do.

Like it was some kind of job that held a space until something better came along.

So to Frances, I say yes. The world has its opinion of what we do, but the courage you and my colleagues display on a daily basis, mostly when the world is not watching, is appreciated and recognized.

For me, it comes down to those small chats with students at the end of class, or in that brief period of time between the last bell and when the buses pull out for the day. Talk about courage. So many of these students have been holding that fear of talking with an adult, or gathering the courage to share a concern, for the entire day. That’s somewhere around 16 bells shuffling them off to other classes or to lunch as they grapple with a dizzying shift in content in those 7 hours.

They display great courage every day, and nobody really knows it except for themselves and the teachers and counselors and coaches and administrators and SROs they talk to.

As the recipient of those chats, I am incredibly grateful that I am with colleagues who continue to show up, continue to listen, continue to hold space for our courageous students who need us to be there for them.

But for me? Courage? When the world is not watching? Well, it is in my art, my writing that takes place in the space beyond the public eye as I sort through the ideas, the philosophies, the wishes, the hopes that I might be able to bring to all of you one day in a form that is best received, best served for a world wandering, reaching, hoping for many of the same things as me, and you, despite what we may be, or share openly, with the world.

I am no more courageous than you.

And that, my friends, brings me strength and energy to carry on, to show up, to share authenticity with the world, or even in classroom 203 on a weekday afternoon at 2:15pm.

Journaling: Your Greatest Investment

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.22.16 AMOne of the questions I am asked most frequently about the process of writing is which is most important: the writing or the publishing? It’s a good question, but like everything else associated with the practice of writing, it’s not an easy one to answer.

When we look at the process of writing, we can first break it into five simple, yet recursive, steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

In recent years, some writing initiatives, such as the 6+1 Traits concept, bring greater depth and meaning behind each step of the writing process. Those who apply this strategy toward writing are mindful of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. The “+1” represents publishing in some format. When you lay the traits over the process, you begin to get a pretty exhaustive approach to writing with intent, and often with success in connecting with your intended audience.

So when I’m asked whether writing or publishing is more important, it’s not an easy answer; both are so interconnected with each other. Even if we rephrase the question and ask, “Which is more important: Process or Product?” we are left with two very generic categories that cannot be separated.

My answer, invariably, ends up turning some heads.

“Neither,” I offer. What I think is most important is what happens before we start writing for an audience, and certainly before we consider publishing for an audience beyond ourselves.”

When they ask me to explain, all I need to do is reach into my ripped and well-traveled book bag and pull out two, three, maybe even four books of various sizes, colors, and even textures. Within each book, the pages might differ as well: lined or unlined, heavy or light stock, glossy or coarse.

These are my Daybooks, my journals, my greatest investment in my writing, and my greatest investment in defining with authenticity who I am as an individual.

IMG_2481I have been journaling since I was in 7th grade, when I started playing around with various essay formats on defining, of all things, love. When I would open my cheap spiralbound books bought at Woolworth’s for a few dimes, I felt an immediate rush of trust in this process of journaling for an audience of one — myself. I would jot down notes about my daily observations, my feelings about my experiences, and my philosophic ponderings about life and our existence. Even at the young age of 12, I allowed myself to tell the “Watcher at the Gates” guarding my thoughts to be gone. When it came to writing in my Daybook, there were no inhibitions, no rules, no exceptions. Just me and the page; that’s all that mattered.

Today, nearly 40 years later, I am still journaling as furiously as I did in my younger days. I now have many different journals dedicated to specific writing projects and purposes: some are for in-process novels, others are for Christian or spiritual reflections, and even more are are for my “Morning Pages” (a huge shout out to Julie Cameron for her inspiration in The Artist’s Way and other creativity books).

Most recently, I have started using specific Daybooks for art journals, which has been therapeutic in an entirely different way.

In every case, though, journaling/Daybooking has enabled me to invest in myself, in my writing, and in my understanding of the human condition. It is both spiritual and practical, theoretical and theological. When I am spending time in my Daybook, I am spending time growing, understanding, and experiencing humility, grace, patience, and service.

The many volumes of completed Daybooks that I have accrued are, at times, fun to look at and reflect on where I was at each stage in my life. But when I do take a peek at the past, I realize, over and over again, that these Daybooks are filled with words of what I needed to write, to say, at that time in my life. For the most part, 95% of those words never saw the light of day in published form; on the other hand, 95% of those words contributed significantly to who I am today.

And that is why I believe Journaling has been my greatest investment.

A few shout outs: First, to Dawn Herring at www.dawnherring.net. She’s a leading expert in the field of journaling, and she’s doing some great things for others with her #JournalChat sessions on Twitter. She inspired me to write about journaling, and I am grateful for the invitation.

Also, I use journaling and Daybooking with all of my fellow writers that I work with on a daily basis to help them find the courage they need to write their memoir. It’s never easy, and I’ve found that journaling is the best remedy to crack the ice and get to the heart of the stories still untold.

If you are interested in learning more about The LifeStory Lighthouse, check out this story about our plan to share the world’s stories, one word, one idea, at a time: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-lifestory-lighthouse/x/13401651#/.

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On Being Creative: Living A Mindful and Inspired Life

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I have been in this cafe for a little over an hour, writing in my Daybook to the ambient sounds of chatter, the clanging of dishes, all blended with the meditative, hollow sounds of Deuter playing his bamboo flute. On these pages, I have written about singular moments I experienced decades ago along the marshy lands lining the Patuxent River, the beautiful flow of my life in this present here in Baltimore, and the possibilities that await elsewhere in this world with an open heart.

It was not hard to get here. In fact, I’m not really in a cafe at all. Try a dining room table in my suburban home next to my kids who are experimenting with crayons, sketch pencils, and a lot of funny faces.

But I feel like I am in a cafe, thanks to the assistance of coffitivity.com with the background noise. Because of their creative and innovative thinking, I am able (as are you) to find a fertile environment for creativity anywhere and at anytime.

(I have to admit, I discovered Coffitivity in Anahad O’Connor’s article in the New York Times (published 6/21/13), How The Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity. O’Connor cites a fantastic study published in the Journal of Consumer Research on the correlation between ambient noise and enhanced creativity. The findings by Mehta, Zhu, and Cheema — the authors of the study,  through a series of five experiments, showed how and why moderate ambient background noise can enhance creativity, primarily by opening up the mind to think more abstractly.)

Being creative: it doesn’t take planning, or great orchestration, or even cooperation from others.

All it really takes is a decision, on your behalf, to embrace the powers of creativity within you and live a mindful and inspired life.

Too busy? Too old? Not your style?

Nope. Sorry — Not buying it. Everybody’s busy doing the work that everybody else expects, we all think we are older than we really are, and too many of us are trying to discard the things we have been told are foolish, childish, and a downright waste of our time.

I’m not buying any of it, and you shouldn’t either.

We have been fed, far too long, the belief that “being creative” is something extreme artists do. They are poor, they are messy, and they are crazy, wild madmen and madwomen set out to do outrageous things.

Those creative types, always cutting off their ears and stuff. Really! Get over it already and find a real job like everybody else!

Yes. Creativity has gotten a pretty bad rap over the last century or so. It’s not your fault, though, and it’s not even your parents’ fault; it goes a little deeper than that. But we don’t need to be concerned about the past so much. We need to be concerned about what is happening to creativity right now to you, me, and even our children in our heavily funded school systems. (if you haven’t stumbled over this TedTalk gem by Sir Ken Robinson, go grab a fresh cup of coffee and push play; you won’t be disappointed.)

The Suppression of Creativity

Julia Cameron, author of the best-selling book and program, The Artist’s Way, has spent her entire career fighting for the right of all individuals, young and old, to reclaim their creative souls and live a more mindful, inspired life. In her follow-up to Artist’s Way, Vein of Gold, she argues that the first step is to awaken from the ho-hum expectations passed down to us. “Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs.”

How sad! But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Somewhere in our childhood, right around the age of 8 or 9, our lives changed. The time had arrived to put away the colored pencils and get “serious” about life.

Cameron continues: “Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others’ versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else! When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if…If we had known who we really were. But how were we to know?”

Ugh. It makes me sick every time I think about how we suppress the very key to innovative thinking and inspired living. Our greatest accomplishments in the history of our world have come about from being creative! And yet, we treat creativity like some banished, bad kid who has spent a little too much time being naughty, wasting everyone’s time with silly games and stupid thoughts.

And, now that we are older, we seem to think that it is just too late to do anything about it.

But I have a family, a job, other responsibilities now…

Yes. Most of us do. But the truth is this (and here’s where we can boldly begin to discard the excuses and the worries): We can use these constraints to our advantage, once we accept creativity back into our lives.

Turning Constraints into Creative Opportunities

Daniel Levitin, speaking on “Creativity in Music: Constraints and Innovation” at Stanford University’s Behavioral Science Summit earlier this month, argued that much of our creative explorations that have led to masterpieces are a result of evolution, rather than just revolution.

Levitin defines creativity in the following way: “Works of art that we judge to be the most creative involve the artists working under constraints to produce something novel, or something that pushes the edges of these assumed constraints.”

In other words, because of these constraints, our creativity can manifest into great things, for ourselves, for our communities, or for the world.

Well, it’s not too late. I am here to tell you: You are a creative individual, and you have the right and the duty to live a mindful and inspired life right now. Maybe it’s time to take an online creative writing course, or at the very least, head to your local bookstore and pick up a new journal and begin creating. What matters most, right now, is that you realize there’s a creative YOU waiting to be rediscovered, right now, and you don’t have to do anything extreme to bring creativity back into your life.

Why wait any longer? A creative, mindful, and inspired life is waiting within you, ready to be ignited.

Coming up later in the week: I want to talk more about establishing the Daybook essentials and how this single creativity journal serves as the key to fostering a creative routine in your life.