One of the reasons I love flowers is because they remind me of the impermanence of things. It’s a tenet of Buddhist philosophy, that nothing lasts forever and our attachment to things is one of the causes of suffering. We have to appreciate things while we have them because we never know when they’ll be gone.
I’m reminded of this every spring when the Amaryllis in my yard begin to return to life. They’re flowering bulbs, meaning, they sprout and bloom when the weather begins to warm, then remain green through the summer, and die off in the winter.
I have several of them in pots on my back patio, and a few growing in a bed further out in the yard. It’s kinda funny how excited I get when I see those first shoots rising up out of the soil, the flower stalk pointing at and reaching for the sky like a green rocket ship. I know what’s coming and I know it won’t last long.
This year they bloomed in a staggered fashion, first breaking the surface in one pot, then another, then another, as if they were trying to make the beauty of their blooms last a little bit longer. When they finally were in full display, the deep, rich reds were a sharp contrast against the greenery that served as a backdrop.
But my focus is always on the flowers. The colors are so dense, with the delicate stigma looking like alien antenna.
Of course, there is one aberration, which is the one I call the candy cane. Predominantly white blooms with red stripes. There’s only one in the yard, but it’s my favorite. I don’t tell the other ones, though.
The photos posted here were taken a little over a week ago, so now the blooms have faded and drooped and are ready to be cut back. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable.
However, I know they’ll be back again next year to brighten my yard for a few days. I’ll be waiting patiently.
I was recently reading about the power of our personal decisions and how even the smallest choice we make can change the course of our lives.
For example, a person bought a new pair of shoes and wore them to work in a bar. Halfway through the night, one of the soles came loose. This prevented him from going out with his friends after the bar closed. He could have, but he figured he’d rather not deal with the damaged shoe the rest of the night. He instead went home, went online, and met a young woman in a chat room. Two years later they were married and having their first child.
So if his shoe hadn’t fallen apart and made him decide to go home instead of out partying, he never would have met his future wife.
I read another example about a guy whose best friend was about to move across the country for a new job. The night before his friend left, they went out and got drunk, then later the guy decided to buy a one-way airline ticket and join his buddy. The job ended up not working out, so the friend returned home, but the other guy decided to stay in the new city. Seven years later he was married, had two kids, and a great job.
Again, a simple, spur-of-the-moment decision changed his life forever.
It blows my mind when I sit back and consider all the decisions I make on any given day. I decide what to eat for breakfast, what clothes to wear, whether or not I need to shave, what route I drive to work, what I’m going to have for lunch. The decisions are constant and never ending. And each and every one of them changes the course of my day, and potentially my life.
Using myself as an example, when I first moved to Tallahassee I met a guy at a restaurant where I had recently gotten a job. He invited me back to his apartment complex to hang out and meet some people. One of those people was a young woman. She and I would run into each other on and off over the next seven years, until finally one day I asked her out. We’ve now been married for twenty-seven years.
So if I had turned down the offer to go to this apartment complex and meet these people, I probably never would have met my future wife. Amazing, isn’t it?
There’s a theory in theoretical physics that suggests every decision we make creates a new timeline or a new universe. Every single one. That’s an idea that keeps me awake at night considering the possibilities and wondering how my life would be different if I had worn a green shirt today instead of black, or if I’d smiled at that person I passed on the sidewalk instead of staring at my phone screen.
That’s one of the things I think about when working on a piece of fiction. There are so many possibilities to consider – although I try not to overthink when writing fiction, otherwise I may end up in the weeds.
But still, as I’m writing I’m making decisions with each sentence, even every word, that I type on the page. With my writing style, which is akin to absolute and unplanned chaos, I really don’t know where my stories are going to end up. I usually have an idea of where I want it to go, but the protagonist, or maybe a supporting character, will more than likely make an unforeseen decision and the story takes a left turn into unchartered and unconsidered territory.
Not that it’s a bad thing. I love the unexpected in fiction. I think that makes it more like reality, like life in general. We get up in the morning with plans for the day, but how often does it all work out the way you expect it to?
And from a writing standpoint, I like it when my characters take the lead and show me things I hadn’t thought about or considered. As the saying goes, “No surprises for the writer, no surprises for the reader.”
We all need a little motivation every now and then. Even the most driven individuals can get burned out, frustrated, lose their energy. It’s not a personal failing, it’s just something that happens because we’re human, not machines. Sometimes it may be due to personal issues, physical issues, or mental health. Other times it’s just simple burn out.
I find it happens to me, too. I can get into a fantastic groove working on various creative projects, writing, drawing, cooking, making music. But eventually I’ll run out of steam and have to take a break to catch my breath.
The problem, I’ve found, is that it can difficult to get back to it. Why is it that we find it easy to slip out of good routines and processes, but so hard to get back into them? Just like it’s easier to pick up a bad habit than it is to break one.
It would be wonderful to have a cure-all for when this arises. Pop a pill, drink an elixir, do a funky dance or something like that. But no. As the saying goes, there are no easy answers.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something that will work for you. You just have to find it. When you’re in one of those ruts, you have to ask yourself, “What motivates me?”
We’re all motivated by something different. It may be you have ideas in your head that you feel passionate about. Or maybe you have a desire to prove to someone – maybe yourself, maybe a friend or family member – that you’re better than they think you are. Or maybe you want to impress someone, a woman who makes your heart flutter, or a man who makes you feel funny inside. Or maybe you can’t sit still, that you have to do something, keep busy, keep moving.
Whatever it may be, you have to remind yourself every once in a while. I’m not going to claim that this will shake off that funk your in and get you back on track, but I do think it’s a first step. What I mean is, the way to correct course is to take a step back and remember what it is that fuels your passion, that keeps the fires burning.
Once you remember that, it can start a chain reaction, like lighting a fuse. You remember that motivation – the spark – and it gets you thinking about your journey, what got you started in your creative endeavor, made you want to be creative. Then you’ll start to remember how good it feels to create. You’ll remember what it is that you enjoy about the process. And before you know it, you’ll be back in the groove.
Like I note above, there’s no quick fix. Even what I describe about remembering your motivation isn’t going to immediately change things. There’s a process, everyone is different. But I think that this is a good way to begin that process.
Remember, we all need to be creative in some way. No matter what it is, try and do it regularly, get into a routine, follow your passion. It’s good for you.
I’m always surprised when I hear writers discussing word counts. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional humble brag. I’m guilty of that, especially when I pound out 2,000 words in a couple of hours. It’s akin to running a marathon, and if runners can brag, then so can writers. Luckily, I’ve never pulled a hamstring working on my MacBook.
But what I’m bothered by is when writers put an emphasis on word count. For example, when they seem to focus on how many words are in a story rather than the content.
It’s weird, particularly in fiction. I understand that word counts matter when it comes to categorizing a story. Flash fiction is generally under 1,000 words. Short stories cap out around 8,000 words. Novellas run anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 words. Novels pick up after that.
Maybe it’s a badge of honor to some writers. Like a competition. “How many words did you write today?” “Oh, about 1,000.” “Only 1,000? Man, you’re a light-weight!”
I don’t think I’ve ever asked another writer how many words they wrote that day. Or on any day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever asked a writer what their final draft totaled up to be. Why should the number of words matter?
The only thing that should matter to a writer is whether or not they told the best story they could, that they poured their heart and blood into it, and that they were honest (telling the story the way it should be told without forcing it into a specific direction).
I can understand paying attention to word count when writing. If a writer is working on a novel, then they want to shoot for 50,000 or more words. But, and I’ve mentioned this before on this blog and in my podcast, it still shouldn’t matter. A story is going to be as long or as short as it needs to be. If I start off thinking I’m going to write a short story and it ends up at 10,000 words, I’m not going to be disappointed as long as I stayed true to the story and didn’t fill it with a lot of stuffing just to make it longer.
Same thing goes the opposite direction. If I plan to write a novel, but the story ends up in the novella category, I’m not going to worry about it as long as I’ve told a good story.
The story itself should determine the length. If you can tell it in 2,000 words, wonderful. If it takes 20,000 words, go for it. We shouldn’t try to pad a story or slice and dice it just to force it into a category. Let the story decide.
When it comes down to it, the only time word count matters is when you’re ready to sell your story.
It’s not always easy to maintain a positive attitude. Life can throw curveballs at you, trip you up, leave you wondering what the hell just happened. We’ve all been there at some point. Dazed, confused, lost, and trying to figure out what the next steps should be.
Of course, there are thousands of opinions on how to handle life’s obstacles. Some people choose religion and spirituality. Some try journaling or maybe seeing a therapist. Others numb themselves with drugs and alcohol. There’s a little something for everyone.
I’m not going to try and tell you what you should do to pick yourself up, how you should view life, or even offer you an answer. That’s something you have to do on your own. Everyone is different, and the solution for one person may not work for another. We’re all very unique when it comes to mental and emotional health.
Despite that, we all face similar issues. Bad jobs, bad relationships, unexpected expenses we can’t afford, death, injuries, loneliness are all part of the human condition.
What I will do, however, is tell you how I manage. Maybe you’ll find something useful in my experience.
When I find myself slipping into one of those states of mind, when life is looking dark and I’m feeling adrift, I force myself to take stock. What I mean is, I look around myself and identify all the good things going on in my life. Sure, I could be sick or angry or hurt, but that’s not the entirety of my existence. No, there’s always more to consider.
I’m in a good relationship (twenty-seven years and counting) and I have also have a dear friend who would do anything for me. I also have two dogs that always seem to sense my mood and know when I need their attention. I have two self-published short story collections that have sold well, and I have the opportunity to express and explore my creativity.
It may not seem like much, but it’s enough.
And, of course, I write. A lot. I fill up a couple of journals every year, the pages covered in early morning or late night scribbles detailing my hopes, fears, successes, and failures. I have to admit, my journal is my therapist. It’s a fantastic way to vent.
The thing is, I know it’s easy to slip into a funk (and not the cool Parliament Funkadelic kind), to surround yourself in darkness, to feel as if you can’t do anything right, like no one cares.
It’s okay to feel that way. It’s normal. It’s natural. We all have those feelings. It’s just that some people can process things better than others. People who claim to never doubt themselves are lying. Same goes for people who say they’ve never been hurt, never cried, or never felt depressed. It’s all part of being human, of being alive. Don’t think that you’re the only one who gets overwhelmed.
Creativity, to me, isn’t just about self-expression. It’s about mental health. It’s about exploring the things in my head, the dreams, the nightmares, and everything in between. And yeah, it often helps me to get back on course. Remembering the good things in life and doing something positive, like writing or making music, are the things that keep me going.
You may already be aware of my love of carnivorous plants. Now that the weather is warming, most of them are starting to bloom and their flowers are amazing. The pitcher plants tend to bloom the earliest in my little shop of horrors, and this year I thought it would be interesting to take a photo every day to capture the flower’s life cycle.
I initially created a gif, but the finished product ended up too small to appreciate the beauty of the flower. That, and the file size was a bit too large.
So I ended up tossing together a video. It’s only about a minute long, but it gives you a chance to see just how incredible these plants are.
I also wrote the music, too. In case you were wondering.
I know that Bob Dylan isn’t for everyone, but he’s one of my favorite songwriters. With a career spanning sixty years, he’s made an indelible mark on the music industry. His creativity and originality have also been an inspiration for me. I can’t remember the first time I heard one of his songs, but for what it’s worth, it feels like he’s been part of the soundtrack to my life since the beginning.
And without a doubt, my favorite song of his is “Tangled Up in Blue”. It’s what a consider a ‘story song’, meaning, the words read like a lyrical short story. If you aren’t familiar with it, it tells the story of two lovers who end up finding each other even after years apart. They seem to know they aren’t right for one another, yet fate continues to cross their paths. For what it’s worth, I always assumed the woman’s name is “Blue” and the narrator is so tangled up in her that he can’t ever escape. Here are the lyrics as originally recorded:
Tangled Up In Blue
Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blueShe was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue
I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue
She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue
She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue
I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue
So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue
The original version of the song appeared on the 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks, and it’s been a mainstay of Dylan’s live shows ever since.
What I find interesting, however, is that Dylan never sings it the same way. Every time he plays it live, he changes the lyrics, sometimes adding additional verses, maybe cutting a few, and sometimes almost completely reworking them. An artist’s prerogative, I suppose, but I also think it does that to keep the song fresh and new. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to see him play live, but at least there are live recordings.
Dylan’s lyrics are always sensational, sometimes cryptic, but they always paint a picture in my mind. If you’re interested, listen to the clip below. If you aren’t familiar with the song, I hope you enjoy it. It’s one that continues to inspire me even after countless listening sessions.
I’m sure you’ve heard of art therapy and music therapy. In fact, art has been used in therapy for over a century. Initially, it was used as a form of “moral therapy” for psychiatric patients, it’s evolved over time to something that can be utilized in a wide variety of situations, from helping Alzheimers patients with their memory issues to physical therapies where patients are relearning how to use their arms and hands.
But on a more personal level, I’ve found that art therapy, or creativity in general, can be therapeutic for everyday life.
Obviously, I’m not a mental health professional or physician, so take my words as simply personal experience and nothing more. I’m not suggesting you explore this in lieu of seeking professional help. Nowadays, it’s best to clarify before someone gets the wrong idea.
For me, creativity has always been mainstay in my life. From writing and drawing comic books as a kid to writing and self-publishing fiction as an adult, it’s been there for me as a way to express myself. However, it’s also been a sort of companion for me. Those long summers on my uncle’s dairy farm where I was the only kid for miles, my creativity and imagination kept me company. I created all sorts of adventures for myself as I wandered the hay fields and thick Wisconsin forests. That old gnarled tree stump became a troll. The wind whispering through the leaves were sirens trying to trick me into sailing my ship into the rocks. And that old abandon car helped me escape after I robbed the Bist Bank and Trust of all their pinecones.
Trust me, it all made sense when I was a child.
As I grew matured (which is questionable), so did my use of my creativity. The aliens and pirates moved onto the page and became stories, and along with that, so did my hopes and fears. As a teenager I found that writing was a way for me to work through my hormonal angst. I filled spiral notebooks full of poems about unrequited love, dreams of the future, and images from my dreams. I actually still have a few of those notebooks and occasionally take them out to thumb through. It’s interesting to look back and remember how I used to be and how I used to see the world.
Later, in late teens, I began to journal. That’s when I found the outlet I needed, the sympathetic ear, the judgement-free listener. Journaling kept me going through bad relationships, family drama, love and loss. Even now, I still write in my journal almost daily. Sometimes it’s just a page, sometimes it’s several. But regardless, I always walk away from the page feeling a little bit better.
Why is that? Because it’s a way to clear the clutter from the attic. Speaking for myself, it’s easy to get caught up in my own little world, to become self-absorbed and see things from only one perspective. Writing in my journal allows me to work things out, to explore my thoughts, my experiences, and to see them from another perspective. There have been many occasions where I was thinking along one track, only to realize after writing in my journal that I was wrong. And admitting I’m wrong on the page makes it a lot easier to admit it to myself.
Journaling isn’t the only creative therapy I participate in. I also cook. Every day. Most of it is survival cooking, meaning, I cook because it’s time for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner. We need sustenance. But I do like to explore the creative aspect of cooking. I like to try new recipes, or read about different ways to cook something, like a chicken, then come up with my own method.
I find that when I’m in the kitchen, watching something in the sautée pan while deciding what spices to use, the rest of the world falls away. I forget my problems and worries. I lose myself in the motion of manipulating the pan, the smells of garlic and onion, the endless possibilities. Because cooking requires thought, imagination, and attention, it’s a wonderful way for me to unwind in the evenings. Weekends, however, are my prime cooking time. A bottle of wine helps, too.
In my opinion, one of the biggest issues in the world today is mental health care. There’s just not enough of it and there’s often a stigma attached to people to seek it out. That’s why I think encouraging people to use their creativity as a form of therapy could be a partial solution. Just having a way to express ourselves can make a huge difference in how we manage our mental state.
Consider this: You have a terrible coworker or manager. They make your workdays difficult. They make you angry, anxious, frustrated, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Situations like this can take a toll on your mental and emotional state. Some people are lucky enough to have access to decent healthcare and can go see a professional to learn coping mechanisms and ways to deal with these people. Others aren’t so lucky. In fact, I’d wager that most people don’t have that kind of healthcare.
But if you have ‘one of those days’ and arrive home with your head spinning, you can decompress by doing something creative. You can write about it. A journal can be your best friend. Or maybe use fiction instead. Write a story about your nemesis getting their comeuppance. I’ve done that. Or you can immerse yourself in trying out a new recipe in the kitchen, something new and exotic. Or you can pull out some paint brushes and a canvas and lose yourself in a landscape or something abstract. If you’re feeling restless, then put on some music and dance your heart out. No one is watching, so let yourself go.
We all have issues we deal with, and some of us handle things better than others. There’s no shame in needing a release, a pressure valve for your head or your heart. Professional therapy is great, but it can also be expensive and far too many people don’t have easy access to it. Creative, however, really doesn’t cost much. A pen and a spiral notebook. A paintbrush, some paint, and something to paint on, like a piece of scrap wood or cardboard. Music and dancing are free.
No, it’s not going to be for everyone, but there’s no harm in trying something new, is there? The next time you’re having a bad day, you’re stressed out, angry, hurt, confused, try doing something creative. It’s not a perfect solution, but it might just be enough.
It’s been a few months since I’ve written any fiction. A few scribbles here and there, but nothing of substance. It wasn’t on purpose. My partner and I were caring for some elderly family members and that took up most of my time and effort. Afterwards, there was a lot to sort through. Not just estate-related issues, but also the PTSD of losing family.
But I didn’t completely shy away from the written word. I filled up a 240 page journal during that period, and I continued to post here on my blog. Just not as frequently. Fiction, however, was out of reach. I just wasn’t feeling it.
Until last night. I was laying in bed, half asleep, listening to the soft rain and wind outside my window. I was relaxed and straddling that fine, misty line between consciousness and sleep when a random thought caught my attention. You know how it is when you’re laying there in bed, drifting off. All those random thoughts and memories slip by like smoke in a breeze.
I saw a guy sitting at a bar in a sleazy pool hall. He was nursing a drink, cheap bourbon, and stealing glances at a redhead sitting in a corner booth with two men. I let is slip away for a moment, but then it returned, like my imagination didn’t want me to miss it.
The scene replayed several times, then began to expand, unfolding like a piece of origami.
I don’t know how much time passed, but the entire story was there behind my eyes. I sat up and grabbed my phone, typing out as much info as I could while half conscious. I’ve lost too many story ideas by being lazy at night and not taking the time to write down some notes before drifting off.
And this morning, when I woke up, the story was still there, ready to go.
It felt good, invigorating. I think a small part of me was worried that I wasn’t going to write again. Not anymore. I have a solid story ready for the page, a return to form. I’m excited.
It goes to show that writers have to trust their imaginations, have to trust in their own personal creative process. I wasn’t done as a fiction writer. I just needed time to heal, to clear my head, to move on.
If you do get in a rut, feel uninspired, used up, don’t give up hope. Just be patient. The muse will return and you’ll be back in the saddle before you know it.