Category Archives: Creativity

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

School has started again and although I’m no longer a student or a teacher, I love that fresh start feeling that comes with a blank notebook and a brand new pen. I’m craving a school supply shopping spree to help me get back to my routine of writing and studying. I don’t normally stray from my habits in the summer unless  I take a short trip or a spend few weeks with houseguests, so it’s been a while since I felt the excitement of la rentrée, but this summer, my schedule was turned inside out.

In June, I joined the California Rhythm Project, a San Diego tap dance company, and I spent the last three months rehearsing for a Labor Day weekend concert. Four rehearsals a week expanded to five or six. Add that to my usual two or three dance classes a week, and my time in the studio tripled. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed a new, sturdier pair of tap shoes.

I was thrilled to be dancing so much, but I had a few unexpected moments of panic. One day, I would have the combination and the next, I’d lose it. There were times I feared I was too old and too slow to learn the steps. For a certain crazy-fast snippet of choreography, I had to put myself in training on the exercise bike to increase my stamina. As for the fear that I would choke in front of the audience, there was nothing I could do but practice and have faith.

When I was overcome with doubt, my teacher assured me that he was proud of my work. The company director encouraged me to relax and enjoy myself. With their support and with the camaraderie of an amazingly talented group of hoofers, I found my way back to the stage.

Photo by Kevin Patterson

We’d been working all summer at using the music and movement to tell stories, but adding lights and costumes made it come alive for me. I became a mysterious wanderer with a secret or a fun-loving party girl at a nightclub. And backstage between numbers, helping each other with costume disasters and quick changes, I felt like I was home with my family.

The first show was nerve-wracking, but it only took a few moments of dancing in front of an audience for me to find the joy of performing again, something I hadn’t felt since I danced with Jenesko’s Tap Dance in France almost twenty years ago. I wasn’t perfect, but I held my own and I think I managed to camouflage most of my mistakes. Having my husband and many of my friends in the audience to share this long-ignored part of myself with them was a delight.

Did my writing suffer during my tap-dancing summer? Yes. And no.

I had a lot less time for writing, so my word count decreased.  I’m embarrassed to admit that there were days when I was tired enough to nod off over the keyboard. I did submit a short story, though, and I’m looking for contests to enter and more anthologies with hard deadlines so I’ll have the motivation to declare a piece finished.

Although I didn’t get as far with revisions on my novel as I’d planned, I made slow progress and I sketched out a schedule of chapter deadlines for myself. They’re self-imposed, so not quite as effective as those contests, but it does help me to see forward motion on the calendar. I’m hoping I’ll have a draft ready to share by next summer.

Meanwhile, the California Rhythm Project is taking a short break, but soon we’ll be back in rehearsals, albeit not as intensely, for another concert in the spring. I can’t wait to start juggling my writing and dancing schedules once again.

So tell me… how did you spend your summer vacation?

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Filed under Creativity, Dance, Short Stories, tap dance, Writing

Audition!

Photo by Kevin Patterson

When I went to see 42nd Street at The Coronado Playhouse back in February, I started to dream of dancing on stage again. I told myself that it was a fanciful notion, that I’m too old and it’s been too long, but my friends were so supportive and encouraging that I found myself hoping I might find a way to participate in community theater again.

My sister didn’t push, but she did send me a link to a website that listed auditions in my area, so I couldn’t use the excuse that I wasn’t plugged in to the community. I checked the page from time to time, but I got busy and forgot about it. Then I heard a few people at my dance studio talking about being cast in Fiddler on the Roof. I’d missed an opportunity because I wasn’t paying attention.

Not long after that, though, I heard about another audition. This time it wasn’t for a musical, but for a tap dance company.  The California Rhythm Project was looking for new dancers and they’d scheduled an open audition for the following week. My stomach flipped and my joints started to quiver. I felt a goofy grin creep onto my face. Was this my chance?

I drove home from the dance studio imagining being a part of a tap company again, something I hadn’t done since the year I taught English in France twenty years ago. Did I still have the energy and the brain power to learn a repertoire? Was I even good enough.

The day of the audition, I tried to convince myself it was just going to be a lark. I’d do my best and que sera sera. Then, I got to the studio, filled out the audition form and wrote my name on a tag. My stomach knotted and I had to force myself to breathe. I was shaky on my feet, but I felt better once we were all called into the studio to start learning the combination. We began slowly, then added music and sped things up. No problem, I had it.

We were split into groups and I was in the first one. Not so bad. It would be good to get it over with. The music started and my mind went blank. Somehow, I faked my way through the first few steps, got the combination back and fumbled my way to the end.

Disaster.

I found myself at the edge of the room watching the next group perform the steps and I realized that I’d completely forgotten to smile. My heart pounded painfully as I watched everyone else dance, all the while kicking myself for having let my nerves get the better of me.

They promised to let us know by the end of the week and I dreaded that phone call. My husband and I had plans to go visit my parents, so I focused on preparing for the trip and tried to forget about everything else. On the morning we left town, I found an e-mail in my inbox. Much to my amazement, I was in! I guess my audition wasn’t as bad as I thought. Bruce reminded me that I’m my own worst critic.

Now I’m caught up in rehearsals for a Labor Day weekend performance.  I’m thrilled to be a part of The California Rhythm Project, getting ready to perform again for the first time since 1993. I’m nervous, of course, and afraid that I’ll get onstage and choke, but with four rehearsals a week, I should be able to do the steps in my sleep.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that all of this extra dancing is charging up my creativity.  I’m more excited about writing than ever, so maybe having less time to write will turn out to be a good thing after all.

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Filed under Creativity, Dance, tap dance, Theater, Writing

Creative Color

I love color. In my garden, my house and my closet, color boosts my mood and stimulates my creativity. I appreciate minimalist design and the freshness of white walls, but while I might like to visit those places, I find it hard to work in them.

My house has several white rooms and I’m slowly transforming them into spaces that suit me. I like the process of deciding on a color and choosing the shade that pleases me best.  Much to Lola’s dismay, I’ve been doing the painting myself. I move slowly (boring), I spend a lot of time on a ladder (I don’t climb down every time she wants me to open the door) and she hates walking on the slippery plastic drop cloths I tape down to protect the floors.

While DIY projects can be rewarding, I’ve made a few mistakes with my color choices and whether you do the work yourself or hire someone to paint for you, starting from scratch can be costly. My first redo was the powder room. It was a bright mustard yellow when we moved in. I loved the color, but not the shade, so I toned it down and it was perfect.

Until we replaced the stained glass window. The new one by artist Susan Bernard is wonderful…

…but the yellow walls were all wrong with change in the light, so I had to paint the room again. This time, I chose a lovely dark blue that works with the glass. It’s absolutely perfect.

I was so happy with that color that I decided to paint my white office in a similar but lighter color. I expected to love it, but it was just “nice” and the difference in light changed the colors so they almost clashed.

That failure stalled me until I had a visit from my cousin, an interior designer, who is trained to see color in ways most people can’t. She helped me choose a better color for my office and for the rest of the white rooms in my house.

My cousin went back home, so I’m without a resident designer again. I’ve been wondering if I could do a better job of choosing colors in the future now that I’ve had some good advice.

As I was wandering around online, I stumbled upon Colour Me Happy by Maria Killam and I read her post, One Bad Decision Pays for the Designer. I believe her assertion that it can be more expensive to make a color mistake than to hire an expert in the first place. She also has a post that explains why that light blue didn’t work in my office (A Light Colour Will Never Come to Life in a Dark Room) and several posts about undertones that reveal why it was so hard for me to choose the right neutral colors to tie the rooms together.

If my cousin isn’t in town next time I choose paint colors, I’ll have to hire a designer. I could try to learn more about color theory and undertones, but unless the choice is obvious, I think I’ll be better off relying on a color expert for decorating decisions so I can focus my energy on fiction instead.

The more I novels and short stories I read, the more I learn about what works and what doesn’t, but I’ve discovered that simple reading isn’t enough. It takes active study to understand plot structures and character nuances, sentence patterns and voice. When I find a story I love, I have to focus on these details to learn why it resonates for me. I have to look for those undertones in the words like a designer does with color.

But now I can do that work in a room that’s the perfect color for me. Thank you, Tracy!

I’m taking a break from painting, so when I need to recharge my creative batteries, I’ll focus on my garden. Lola approves of this plan and she was delighted to help me plant herbs outside the back door last weekend. If the sun comes out this afternoon, I’ll take my notebook outside so I can enjoy the bright colors of late spring blossoms before they fade away.

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Filed under Books, Creativity, Reading, Writing

Spring Fever: a guest post by Lola

You might think we’re not susceptible to spring fever in San Diego and while it’s true that we have pretty good weather most of the time, we do have shorter days in winter and the temperature drops at night. My undercoat gets thicker from November through April and my person has to wear a hat and scarf for our morning walks.

When the days get longer, I have more energy and I need to do something with it. I want to get outside and enjoy the light, but lately, the weather hasn’t been cooperating. We’ve had quite a few rainy days and the furnace still runs to take of the morning chill. I don’t mind the colder weather since I have that nice warm undercoat, but my person won’t leave the door open for me when the heat is on. I think she should just turn off the furnace, open the door and wear a coat in the house, but I haven’t talked her into that yet.

My other person promised me that it’s going to get warm today and I’m hoping he’s right. I need that back door open so I can properly patrol both the house and the yard. Lounging around in the window seat might look relaxing, but it doesn’t satisfy me. I do enjoy watching the new hummingbird feeder out my window, but it’s not the same as actually chasing the birds and bunnies.

And my person needs to get back to her normal writing and gardening routine instead of going crazy with other things.

She can keep working on her needlepoint picture after the sun goes down, but I’ll be very glad to see that paint brush and roller go back to the basement where they belong.  I don’t care if she brings her notebook or her digger, but this afternoon, we need to get outside!

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Filed under Creativity, Dogs, Gardening, Lola