Category Archives: Writing

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

Chatting with an Author

I’ve loved books since I was a little girl and sharing the pleasure of reading with friends always deepens the experience, so I gravitate toward book clubs. Right now I belong to four different groups. One thing they all have in common is that it doesn’t matter if anyone likes the selection. Talking about the characters, plot and themes makes each story meaningful for every reader.

One of my groups has a leader who selects fascinating reads and guides our discussions. Another is delightfully disorganized; we choose books based on whim and our meetings are more like conversations. The other two groups rotate book selection responsibilities and whoever chooses the book leads the discussion. In all of the groups, our meetings successful because every opinion is welcomed.

Sometimes, though, there are special meetings when we listen instead of talking. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have the author as a guest. Last month, one of my book clubs had the pleasure of speaking with Zoreh Ghahremani, author of Sky of Red Poppies, a One Book, One San Diego selection for 2012.

This vivid novel tells the story of two Persian schoolgirls, one from a privileged background, the other from a deeply religious family, who become friends despite their differences. It’s a beautiful coming of age story set during the political upheaval of the 1960s.

Zoe shared her inspiration for the novel and answered our questions about the culture and history that she brings to life through her words. Her anecdotes and family stories, both funny and sad, added depth to my appreciation for her work and my enjoyment of her writing. Listening to her was delightful and now I want to read her novel all over again.

If your town has a program like One Book, One San Diego, try attending an author event. Or encourage your book club to read local authors and invite them to attend your meetings. I can almost guarantee that your reading experience will be enhanced. If you’re a writer, you’ll be inspired.

Has your book club ever invited an author to speak? What was the meeting like for you?

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Filed under Authors, Books, Writing

Writing Every Day

This spring I’ve been working steadily on my novel and also on eradicating the weeds in my garden, but I don’t feel that I’ve made enough progress on either task. The weeds are green, so if I look from a distance, they’re barely noticeable. The lack of words on the page is harder to ignore.  I have a lot of control over my schedule, so why can’t I find more time to write?

One of the biggest reasons I get stalled is the fear that my work isn’t good enough. When I’m feeling that way, I’d rather do almost anything than work on my current project. (Even scrubbing the shower or cleaning the oven seems appealing.) There are plenty of writing tasks that don’t involve actual writing, so it’s easy to accomplish something during my writing sessions without adding to my page count, but at the end of the day, I can’t deny that I’ve wasted precious time.

I’ve heard the same thought echoed by so many writers and it helps to know that I’m not alone. I still need to fix the problem, though, so I went looking for advice from one of my favorite writing teachers.

I bought a copy of Midge Raymond’s new book, Everyday Writing: Tips and prompts to fit your regularly scheduled life, and I signed up for her class at San Diego Writers, Ink. Both were filled with practical advice.

This small but mighty book fits perfectly in the pocket of my netbook sleeve, so no matter where I write, I’ll be able to take it along for inspiration and a variety of helpful writing suggestions.

The first half of the book is a series of short chapters centered on making the most of your writing time, like How to write when you’re not really writing and How to meet your writing goals.

The second half is packed with prompts for every occasion. Most involve writing, but some simply provoke thought so that the time you spend waiting (like standing in the security line at the airport or sitting in the dentist’s chair) can enrich your future writing sessions.

The class was just as beneficial as the book with advice tailored to each student’s situation and exercises that encouraged us to reflect on our own writing time. Two of the exercises we did were particularly enlightening for me.

We wrote out detailed descriptions of our daily schedules and I discovered that I don’t have as much control over my time as I thought. Many of my responsibilities are scheduled during the morning, my most productive time of day, and unfortunately, I can’t move those activities. So although I have the time I need to write, my free hours are often in the afternoon when I’m less alert.

Midge suggested that I make those afternoon writing sessions more stimulating by creating rituals around that time, like brewing a favorite flavor of tea to drink while I write. She also suggested rewarding myself with a treat and I love having an excuse to eat a piece of chocolate at the end of my work time.

Another useful exercise was to write descriptions of a good writing session, a mediocre one and a bad one. By comparing the elements of each, I could see clearly what works for me and what doesn’t. I know that I absolutely must start with a pen in my hand and do a quick warm-up prompt to get my brain in gear. I also realized that my internal editor is still sabotaging me. I’m going to try tuning her out by shutting off the monitor while I draft a scene. I’ll find more typos when I go back in to edit, but those are much easier to fix than a blank page.

I’ve taken great classes from Midge Raymond on topics ranging from setting the scene to editing a manuscript. This latest class was equally invaluable. If you have the opportunity to work with her, don’t hesitate. And if you’re not lucky enough to be able to learn from her in person, Everyday Writing is a great substitute. Treat yourself today.

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Filed under Books, Writing