Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Sage advice from William Shakespeare in the film “All Is True” on how to become a truthful writer

August 18, 2019

I never let the truth get in the way of a true story. – William Shakespeare

I love this quote, and the one below, on becoming a writer, both spoken in All Is True, an intriguing film about the final years of William Shakespeare’s life (April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616). Brilliantly written by Ben Elton, it was produced and directed by the lead actor—an unrecognizable Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare. Other notables are master Shakespearean actors Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen.

Earlier on, a stranger approaches Shakespeare, who had returned home to Stratford after his London Globe Theater had burned down, and attempts to ask him a question. Shakespeare starts giving him the usual advice and tries to dismiss him. The stranger finally asks him how he was able to know everything: “There is no corner of this world you have not explored, no geography of the soul, which you cannot navigate.” After some humble bumbling, he clearly gives him this powerful advice: 

If you want to be a writer,
and speak to others and for others,
speak first for yourself. Search within.
Consider the contents of your own soul… your humanity.
And if you’re honest with yourself, then whatever you write, all is true.

This contrasts dramatically with what his unmarried, bitter daughter Judith keeps saying, that nothing is true. The reason for this clash between daughter and father slowly reveals itself bit by bit as unresolved family issues are finally addressed. I highly recommend seeing this brilliant film. I watched it twice. Also see the DVD Bonus Features.

After the renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground, William Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a neglected family and a painful past.

Related posts on writing: Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers | Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing | Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights | Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say | Timeless advice on writing from famous authors | Writing—my early poem on the writing process | INSPIRATION, a poem by my son as a young student | The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice, with links to more content.

Op-Ed recommends TM for student mental health

August 9, 2019

The Scarsdale Inquirer published an Op-Ed piece by Margo L. Baum, August 2, 2019. Margo and I graduated from the same masters program in education at MUM in Fairfield. She asked if I would share her article. I offered to post it on my blog and added hyperlinks. Here is her story. It is very timely advice given the growing mental health crisis in America!

TM: A simple technique could help Scarsdale student

After reading the article about teen mental health (“Helping teens in affluent communities cope with mental health,” Scarsdale Inquirer, July 26), I wonder, what is mental health? Is it simply the absence of anxiety, depression and stress?

As a Scarsdale High School graduate, I understand the pressure to achieve. However, in my teens I wanted more than aspiring to good grades, attending an Ivy League school and making six figures. I didn’t know what I wanted until I found something that transformed my life.

At age 17, I learned a simple mental technique called Transcendental Meditation, which I have now practiced for 45 years. TM became a source of inner development that created a solid foundation of inner strength and bliss within me. From this experience, I believe the missing component of mental health for teens is inner development. I credit TM for providing me with an inner sanctum of peace and saving my life. Due to my experience, I feel the desire to help others lessen the stress of daily life, especially our youth.

As an elementary school teacher, I have witnessed the stress on students of having to gain knowledge of subjects and yet not be taught how to gain inner fulfillment. We train the mind and intellect of our youth to get into better and better elementary, middle, high schools and colleges. But, having achieved all this, are the students balanced, happy, loving adults? More importantly, is the journey from child to adult filled with love, happiness and a balance of heart, mind and spirit? Or is it a path riddled with stress, anxiety and depression?

I have watched students battling anger, low self-esteem, social troubles and academic issues change through instruction in TM. Students around the world have learned this simple mental technique and have had their lives transformed.

Students at The Thacher School, the oldest coed private boarding school for high school students in California, face many of the same issues that impact students from affluent communities: the stress of standardized tests, the pressure to get into good colleges, massive amounts of homework due daily, the pressure to excel in sports, etc.

Thacher students learned TM and found positive results. Michael K. Mulligan, head of the school, said, “Students today are under more pressure than ever to succeed. Standardized testing and grades play increasingly important roles in secondary and college placement outcomes — and many of our youngsters and teens are showing signs of folding under the stress of homework, grades, testing and parental expectations. Our kids need a break, and Transcendental Meditation is one great answer to helping them find rest, peace and calm. Simple, easy and effective, TM has provided for our students … a critical time-out from the stresses of the day. Our students who learned this technique last year report more peace and silence in their day and more resilience in their activities. It has been a gift and a blessing in their lives.”

The use of meditation as an intervention may seem ridiculous to some. Yet, many of the greatest ideas and inventions of our times started out as seemingly insane. For example, my father, the late Dr. Gilbert Baum, was a pioneer in diagnostic ultrasound. The chief of staff at the Veterans Administration Hospital, where my father did his research, told my dad, “Baum, I thought you were certifiable to think you could use sound to see.” 

A new paradigm in imaging in the health field came about due to my father’s endless zeal to follow what he knew to be beneficial to the world. 

TM has been scientifically validated in more than 600 research studies to reduce stress, anxiety, anger and depression. The research also indicates a greater sense of inner calm develops and a stronger sense of self. In some cases insomnia is alleviated.

The David Lynch Foundation has given TM to veterans, domestic violence victims, and students in schools around the world, transforming the lives of individuals from darkness to light.

Why not give TM to SHS students to develop inner contentment? Why not create a new paradigm of mental health for our youth? When inner development and outer achievement go hand in hand, the result will be true mental health for Scarsdale students.

Margo L. Baum, of Brite Avenue, received her bachelor’s in education from Boston University and her master’s in education from Maharishi University of Management, an accredited university in Fairfield, Iowa. She has taught elementary school and creative writing workshops around the world.

This west coast Afterglow stays with you awhile

June 16, 2019

This is a beautiful blog post by westcoastwoman—the photo, quote, and six-sentence description. She intimately makes the universal personal. Click here to see the many responses to it, including mine. Having spent some time on the west coast of Canada I appreciate how she captured the magic in words. The experience cannot be pinned down. It’s transcendent—”in-between-time” and “neither here nor there.” The deep silence of nature’s transitions between night and day, twilight and predawn, are like a metaphor for our own inner experiences—the gaps between waking, dreaming and sleeping, and the silent unbounded backdrop to them, our own transcendental Self.

Afterglow

June 12, 2019

DSC_2188
photo credit westcoastwoman ©

“Everyday a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour, in such lights as the Great Artist chooses, and then withdrawn, and the curtain falls. And then the sun goes down, and long the afterglow gives light.”

Henry David Thoreau

Afterglow

Every night they come, the watchers of the sun-set, drawn down by the need to see the light extinguish behind the islands and the sea.

I want to share with them as they slowly rise and disperse that the setting of the sun is only a prelude to the experience they had been called to witness, but I stay silent.

It is this time between the setting sun and rising moon, this short extension of the day, this in-between-time when my heart and mind settle for just a moment.

I watch as the sky paints itself with each night’s original palette, wanting only to share with those who can look out from the same place and feel the colours as they appear, understand the need for silence.

In these moments when I am neither here nor there, anything is possible, magic is afoot and I am caught in the afterglow of another original creation as it slowly fades from sight.

The darkness takes the light, the starlings swoop once more in perfect unison over the water, I share with all who stand watching… being neither here nor there, a silent good night.

westcoastwoman 2019 ©

Written in response to GirlieontheEdge’s Six Sentence Story Word Prompt. Prompt word: Extension.

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This reminds me of a poem I wrote down while waking from a dream in a foreign land. It was during the predawn, when “the moon bows / before the rising sun.” See: Indonesian Mystery Poem honoring Nyi Roro Kidul.

The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

April 13, 2019

The teaching of writing has evolved over the decades. Teachers used to praise students for duplicating what they were instructed to write, or criticized and graded poorly for not meeting established norms. This practice of praise or blame created consequences that were detrimental to the writer. They doubted their own natural ability to express themselves in writing, wondering whether it was good or not.

W.S. Merwin, in his poem, Berryman,* about his college professor John Berryman, asks him “how can you ever be sure that what you write is really any good at all?” He gives him an unexpected honest answer.

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

Nearly three decades after he mentored Merwin, Berryman would encapsulate his advice to young writers in this Paris Review interview, on the perils of praise and blame.

I would recommend the cultivation of extreme indifference to both praise and blame because praise will lead you to vanity, and blame will lead you to self-pity, and both are bad for writers.

It’s interesting to see this explanation—how praise (fame) or blame (criticism) might influence a young writer’s psychology, and therefore his or her creative output and development as a writer. Advising them to stay true to themselves, remain unswayed by public opinion, would allow them to maintain their own integrity as artists.

David Lynch is another artist who always follows his own muse and tells young filmmakers to do the same. Answering a student’s question about his creative process, he says we’re nothing without an idea. Using a fishing analogy, he explains that a desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook. He gives a detailed account of how he falls in love with ideas, turns them into a script, and transforms them into a film, or other works of art. To catch bigger fish, you have to dive deeper. David describes daydreaming and TM as ways to get there. He tells students to stay true to their vision, to meditate, and most importantly, to always have the final cut.

In this interview, he answers the same question, but from a different perspective: In the other room, the puzzle is all together, but they keep flipping in just one piece at a time.

Learning by doing: writing and teaching

When writers and poets were asked to teach creative writing, some conveyed the enterprise as a process to be explored and unfolded, not as a specific product to be reproduced. What they said made sense. I practiced their suggestions and discovered my own process of becoming a writer and a poet.

I also shared their strategies with my students facilitating them as writers. The most important takeaway was this: If you took care of the writer, the writing would take care of itself.

I enjoyed asking younger students questions to find out what they were passionate about, to help them uncover their own voice. If they said something interesting, I had them write it down, then asked them to combine their thoughts into a rough draft. I had them listen to what they had written by reading it aloud to me, to use their skills as a reader. Once involved in the process they naturally wanted to clarify their writing, to include relevant details, to edit their work. They had become intrinsically motivated writers!

Here are a few favorite writers who inspired me along the way.

What some favorite poets, writers and teachers say about writing

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A keen, patient observer of nature, Mary Oliver’s poetry shone a light on the creatures around her

March 13, 2019

I long to be the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

From a young age, Mary Oliver loved the great poets—Wordsworth, Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau. They were her companions. She was destined to become a great poet herself.

To commune with the muse is every poet’s wish, and she succeeded. A keen, patient observer of nature, Oliver honored the creatures around her through her poetry. To do them justice she always strove to be an “empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.”

Go easy, be filled with light, and shine.

Nature was her teacher. When she was among the trees, she felt uplifted by them. “I would almost say that they save me, and daily.” Sometimes sensing her low self-esteem, they would tell her to “Stay awhile.” She would see the light flowing from their branches.

They would remind her, “It’s simple,” and encourage her, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” And she did! These two poems track part of her journey.

BLUE IRIS

Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?
Can’t fly, can’t run, and see how slowly I walk.
Well, I think, I can read books.

……………“What’s that you’re doing?”
the green-headed fly shouts as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words, like these, softly.

“What’s that you’re doing?” whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden, you know.

“Doesn’t it?” says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

— Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays (2006), Devotions (2017)

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
…..but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

— Mary Oliver, Thirst (2006), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry

February 3, 2019

One day, while Angela “was reading the letters of poet John Keats,” she “received some small insight into this mystery. The young Keats would invest himself so entirely in the books he was reading (and in the lives he was living) he would become one with the creatures and emotions he encountered.” She said “the master poet wrote of—watching the birds outside his window, he would imagine himself scratching and pecking in the gravel alongside them.” She continues with this clear definition of what he called “negative capability”. I’ll underline the essence of it.

This “negative capability” Keats so prized — the impulse to negate The Self and become The Other, to inhabit a state of being perceived outside oneself—had overwhelmed our small son when he first set eyes on his hamsters, amazing little beings he had never seen before. Pierced by their beauty, his capacity to become them was outstripped by his desire, his five impassioned, puzzling words proclaiming the power and lamenting the limits of his imagination.

My response to Haiku: Pierced by Beauty

Lovely post, Angela! I never fully understood Keats’ “negative capability” until I read your clear explanation of it. Thank you. I remember reading what one writing facilitator described as “reverse seeing,” which sounds similar. I was lucky to have had such an experience once, not knowing that’s what it was at the time.

Around 30 years ago, a friend and I drove out to the countryside and ended up at Round Prairie Park. There had been a drought that summer and in a pond stood many large lotus pads. My friend, an artist, took out her sketchbook and started drawing them. I asked for a piece of paper and tried to write a poem about them, but it was nothing worth mentioning.

We had both read “The Secret Life of Plants” and talked about the lotuses and their sensitivity. She resumed sketching, and I tried writing again. Nothing notable. I didn’t realize it, but I was warming up by pre-writing.

At one point I wondered what the lotus pads were feeling about us looking at them. All of a sudden my mind took on a different, heightened perspective. The words came and I quickly wrote them down. When it was over, I looked down at a poem on the page! It was as if it was dictated to me. At that point a bird “blessed” my hand from the tree above me. Nature’s confirmation!

I had later read in The Fairfield Ledger that Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum had put out a call for poems, so I sent it in to their competition. Much to my surprise the poem won an award!

You can read, “Ode to the Artist: Sketching Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park” on my blog: https://theuncarvedblog.com/2011/01/16/ode-to-the-artist-a-magical-day-looking-at-lotus-pads/.

I also mention another poem that later came out of that experience. The editor had wanted me to submit a poem for their next publication so I wrote about how some poems come to be written. It was sort of a commentary on the first one. You can read “Sometimes Poetry Happens” on my blog: https://theuncarvedblog.com/2011/01/16/sometimes-poetry-happens-a-poem-about-the-mystery-of-creativity/.

I never planned to write this little epistle, but kept expanding and refining it to get it to this stage. Thank you tweetspeak for this opportunity to share this story about some of my early poetry!

Michael Braunstein shares his fascinating story of how he learned #TranscendentalMeditation

January 15, 2019

Michael Braunstein wrote a great article for The Reader’s Heartland Healing Magazine in Omaha on Jan 13, 2019. It’s a fascinating story of how he learned about Transcendental Meditation when he worked as a recording engineer in a studio where famous musicians like Paul McCartney and George Harrison showed up. But more specifically from a meditating musician some of you may remember from the early days at MIU. Enjoy reading Meditate. Your Mind Wants To.

Let’s get something straight right out of the box: You do not have to sit funny in order to meditate. All that is necessary to meditate is to learn it correctly then apply it. Since learning Transcendental Meditation in 1984, I have meditated in airports, hospital waiting rooms, sitting in the stands at soccer games, in the lobby of a busy Manhattan office building, on mountain tops and in quiet, darkened spaces wafting with incense, all with unequivocal success. Meditation doesn’t require special needs. Look, meditation is a natural state of mind that the mind craves. It’s healing. It’s transformative. And it’s easy. All you have to do is learn it correctly.

All About the Bass. You can’t start a tracking session without the bass player and the bass player was late. So I was on my knees in the studio dressing cables and doing busywork as we waited. A bass guitar case plopped on the floor right in front of me. I looked up. I stammered, “You must be the…  bass… player.” The hesitations came because the “bass player” was Paul McCartney.

It was back in my LA days as a recording engineer. During the next 14-plus hours of cutting a track, McCartney’s demeanor impressed me. Accustomed to over-amped and often crazy rock ‘n’ rollers in those days, I will never forget his gentle presence and the restrained command he offered the session. The details of the recording session are unimportant but the impression he made on me as a person remained powerful. A few months later, working on a different record with George Harrison, I observed the same sense of centered-ness and clarity.

Another musician I worked with had a similar demeanor in the studio. Readers wouldn’t recognize his name but he, Harrison and McCartney share a common link. This third musician had an even deeper effect on my life. He was the ultimate catalyst that made me decide I wanted to learn how to meditate.

My Two Cents. Ron Altbach was executive producer of a major live concert album and television broadcast I engineered. It starred the Beach Boys, America, Ringo, Hank Williams, Jr., Julio Iglesias, Three Dog Night and a host of others. It was a complex project and required a lot of technical expertise both on the day of recording and in post-production. Some of the problem-solving techniques of the day included me standing around in the control room with my techie assistants mulling solutions. As we geniuses would banter about which way to proceed, on more than one occasion, from the back of the room came a quiet and unassuming comment, usually along the lines of, “What if you…? Would that work?” The speaker was Ron. And each time he was right.

After two or three of his successful suggestions, I said to him, “Ron, you’re not an engineer or tech. How are you coming up with these solutions? Where’s that coming from? You seem to see things in a clear overview.” His answer was simple: “I think because I meditate, I’m able to assess situations more clearly.”

We talked about the meditation he learned, Transcendental Meditation, and it stuck with me. Three months later I learned TM at the Beverly Hills TM Center on 3rd Street. It took four sessions over 5 days and was easy. It wasn’t free or even cheap to learn. But it may go down as the most valuable thing I ever spent money on. Extrapolated over the 34 years since, it’s worked out to about two cents a day. And it’s becoming a better deal everyday.

Read the rest of this article in Heartland Healing at The Reader.

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Here’s a senior haiku, not a senior moment, yet.

January 3, 2019

I’ve been retired, yet managed to stay busy working. And it’s a new year. One of my intentions for this year was to do more creative things. I do like writing, especially poetry, and in particular, haiku and tanka.

Since I also recently moved, and I’m getting older, two things are inevitable: downsizing—getting rid of stuff, and upgrading—improving my quality of life with newer stuff. Seems to be an unending cycle.

Retirement brings more time to do stuff. Just need the motivation. This is not a senior moment. Not there yet. But here’s a senior haiku.

A Senior Haiku

Might as well Enjoy
[Downsizing and Upgrading]
The rest of my Life

Who knows how much time we have left. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not meant to sound pessimistic, just a realistic assessment of where I’m at in my life right now.

I do have a lot to be thankful for—good health, enough to get by (so far), family and friends, and a special community to live in.

Let’s see what challenges and gifts this year has in store for us. Hopefully better than the last!

A little poem about work, and getting things done

January 3, 2019

I moved last year and still have boxes of books and papers around my office. Yesterday as I was sorting through the junk I found a sheet of folded paper with Emily Dickinson’s cosmic poem about The Brain typed on it. On the other side was the playful little poem I had typed, For—Emily D— From—Kenny C—. On that same piece of paper was a short poem I had scribbled about the nature of work, and getting stuff done.

WORK

When you don’t have to work
You get the most work done.
Doing while non-doing
Transforms work into fun.

Don’t remember when I wrote it, probably last year, as I did the one for the Divine Miss D. I think I may have been working on a particular blog post. If it’s something I’m passionate about, I just lose track of time and enjoy the process. If it’s a job I have to do, then it becomes work, and can drag on. If I’m stuck, I usually start with following my passion first, and write something to express a creative urge. It’s my way of dealing with procrastination, and usually frees me up to then get down to the work at hand. After it was done, I reflected on the distinction, and wrote that little poem. I had scrawled underneath it: My little ditties for the day.

I remember something Maharishi once told us about work: “See the job; do the job; stay out of the misery.” That kept me going when I was doing blue-collar work for Vancouver Parks and Recreation. I also wrote a lot of poetry while working as a park attendant for Queen Elizabeth Park, and during visits to other Vancouver Parks, and while living in Fairfield, Iowa.

The temporary paradox of death in life: writing a tanka for our family pet on his passing

October 27, 2018

The first Wednesday evening of this month, (October 3, 2018) our family’s Great Dane passed away peacefully resting under a cedar tree. His body had been breaking down; it was his time. Dakar had lived a full life, longer than expected for his breed. Even though he was no longer physically with us, I still felt his presence into the next day. It led me to contemplate the paradoxical nature of death and wrote this tanka for him that next morning as a way to try and understand this temporary contradiction, and express what I was feeling at the time.

Maybe some of you have had a similar experience after losing a loved one—a pet, a close friend, or a family member. I read this out this morning at a Death Café after hearing other people describe their experiences of grief, and unexpected surprises when a loved one passed. It was healing for all of us to share.

The Temporary Paradox of Death in Life
A tanka for Dakar on his passing

Silence, Peacefulness
A Fullness of Emptiness
Feeling you still here

An Absence of your Presence
A Presence of your Absence

© Ken Chawkin
October 27, 2018
Fairfield, Iowa


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