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Posts Tagged ‘Non-fiction’


Every Wednesday I head to my patient’s house for a few hours, though I spend very little time with her.  She’s bedridden and has been uncommunicative for many years, living our her last days with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Her husband sees to her every need while she receives hospice care.  He’s home day in and day out, leaving only when someone sits vigil in his stead.  That’s where I enter, to give him necessary time away.  There’s a lot to learn about living when spending time with the dying and with those who are charged with their assistance. What I’ve learned has certainly enhanced my appreciation for life and good health.

Frankly I’ve always marveled at how my life has unfolded over the years, starting with a rocky childhood and evolving into a stimulating career for 30 years, which allowed me to travel, meet intriguing people and do impactful work.  Three years ago I left my job and decided to stop working for a while, which might last for the rest of my life.  Who knows?  I do know that I’ve been using this newly created time for personal growth – spiritually, experientially and creatively.

The key is to pay attention along the way: notice the serendipity and how one experience, book or person begets another.   Dr. Lee Lipsenthal says to “enjoy every sandwich” in his book with the same title.  Make everything in life meaningful as though it was your last experience alive.  It’s an intriguing concept, one that dying people take to heart with each final day that ticks away.

I recently adapted a challenge posed in my discussion group.   The charge is to calculate the number of years I have left to live – using family history and lifestyle as consideration points.  Multiply that by months and gather that many stones in a bowl.  At the end of each month, remove a stone for the month that no longer remains and evaluate how I’ve spent that month.  Powerful stuff.  While I’m not prepared to commit to that exercise for the rest of my life, I am intrigued to try it for a year.

My bowl will be filled with 12 shells I’ve collected from my travels.  Each month I’ll pull one out and glue it to a frame that will surround a collage of photos, each one representing something important from that month.  In essence, it will be a scrapbook from a year of my life.

These pages will be filled with musings from those experiences.  My areas of concentration will include the very things that fill my life …

Healthy eating – I spent 16 months losing the 45 extra pounds on my small frame.  It’s a challenge to keep them off.

Exercise – usually in the form of walking, biking and hiking – where I’ve been, with whom and the adventures along the way.

Hospice work – experiences with my current patient and spouse or the next one – and the accompanying, inevitable deaths.

Animals – my five cats and dog as well as the rescue horses that I help to rehabilitate from abuse and neglect.  There’s always much to learn from animals when you listen and pay attention.

Relationships – with my husband, family and others with whom I’m involved, or met.

Adventures – however that’s defined.  It could be trips in our RV or by car.  Maybe it’s something else; time will tell.

The point is to live each month consciously while my life ticks away.  I’m curious to see how it unfolds and whether I can actually stay tuned in.

Ready, set … go.  September lived, coming up.  You’re welcomed to play along!

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A comment by Annie Liebowitz has really gained a foot hold in my psyche, naming the amorphous ramblings in my brain about what might be next for me.  She has a new photography book out called “Pilgrimage” and she was recently interviewed about it by Dominique Browning in the Times.  She wrote it to “save myself,” she told Browning, “to remind myself of what I like to do, what I can do.”

She was looking for a way to nurture her creativity in a new raw, rather primal testament to where she stands in her life now – and she photographed objects instead of people.

For some reason the thought of Annie Liebowitz experiencing a creative crisis is anathema to me.  She’s certainly among the most well-known photographers of this era, amassing a healthy livelihood along the way.  And yet she reached a point in her life where she questioned, what’s next?

Her talent is photography; more importantly, she’s able to communicate a mood, attitude of a subject that transcends the page and penetrates our soul.

What is this nebulous noun, talent, and how is it recognized and, ultimately, grown?  According to Liebowitz it can disappear.  “It needs to be nurtured, taken care of.”  And that’s why she’s forging experimental terrain with her “Pilgrimage” subject matter.

Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

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Oprah’s talent is communication and empathy.

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

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Steve Jobs married intuition with innovation to realize his blazing talent.

Thomas Friedman, American journalist, columnis...

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Thomas Friedman blends the gift of writing with insight and intellect to manifest his talent.

What about the rest of us?  How do we grow our talent, help it to blossom and bear fruit?

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Last week’s exercises in my non-fiction creative writing class were interesting ones.  We were asked to list obsessions and strong memories, then expound on them.  A collective sigh came from the four of us until the juices started flowing inspiring each of us to become absorbed in our unique internal lives.

Early on it became clear that this assignment would offer each other glimpses into who we are.  We met as strangers from different parts of the area and today we’d share intimacies – because of a writing exercise.

A single woman in her early 30s struggles with a driving desire to find herself, to one-day have the courage to leave her job of 12 years and follow her dream.  Trouble is, she can’t identify that dream.  Maybe this writing class will coax that passion to the surface.  Or maybe writing will help her understand why each new relationship ends up falling apart as she wonders on paper whether this current beau will stand the test of time.  She’s plagued by the need to compare herself to peers with husbands and children which feeds a certain panic in her soul.  Now we understand her a bit better.

The woman to my right obsesses about her weight and writing and, hopefully, earning money from her prose.  She used to be a teacher and grew very frustrated with the politics of education and students’ lack of interest.  She yearns for the day when the solitary hours spent putting thoughts on paper will be validated with a check in the mail.  She and her husband are retired and she struggles with the balance of taking care of him and the urge to spill herself into her fingers on a keyboard.

Then there’s the woman whose childhood trauma sparked a love for poetry.  Pouring her tortured heart onto paper somehow eased the pain of losing her mother when she was nine years old.  A drunk driver slammed head on into the family car while her mother was at the wheel.  While this girl waited outside the car for an ambulance to arrive she remembers hearing her mother gurgling, still trapped behind the steering wheel.  Those injuries proved fatal.  The father spent days in the ICU recovering from his physical injuries, though his heart never healed.  So that nine-year old girl and her siblings were shipped out to be cared for by others. Today this now grown woman has a deep story to tell and skimmed the shallow surface with us.

As for me, I wouldn’t say I have obsessions, per se, what I have are driving passions, one of them is horses.  Though I’ve never owned a horse, I usually find a way to be around them; lately it’s volunteering at a horse rescue where we rehabilitate neglected and abused horses.  This past week I also attended horse camp where we brushed up on our riding skills mounted on Paso Finos and Tennessee Walking Horses.  Their strides are smooth as velvet and much easier on the legs and back.

Eye of a Horse (Andalusian)

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They say that horses are windows into your soul and maybe that’s why I’m filled with emotion when grooming them.  Watching their powerful, graceful bodies prance around a pasture fills me with awe.

There are a lot more stories inside us waiting to be coaxed to the surface.  We humans are fascinating creatures – each with a unique story to tell to the right listener who extends a sincere invitation.

What are some of your stories?

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Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

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That’s what we were asked to write about at the beginning of our creative non-fiction writing class.  Sheese, what a question.  I actually didn’t think writing meant anything to me.  It’s not like I exist to write or anything.  I’m not burning with desire to spin a phrase or wax poetic.  Poetry isn’t my thing, really.  I appreciate certain poems that speak to my heart, though some are so esoteric that the author’s meaning totally escapes me.

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

Edwin Schlossberg

I do spend a lot of time in my head.  Considering various angles, hidden perspectives, alternative viewpoints intrigues me.  In fact, somebody once told me I “think too much.”  Often, when reading, I’ll put a book down and think about what the author just said, especially when it’s an insightful nugget.  Sometimes the mulling process drives me to the computer to google more material and learn about the author’s background.  It’s fair to say I love to think.  And I love to talk to other people who think. Then finding the right words to communicate thoughts percolating in my mind offers the ultimate satisfaction.  Like eating an utterly delicious dinner followed by the perfect cup of coffee.

“The best style is the style you don’t notice.”

Somerset Maugham

I tend to write the way I talk, direct.  And as anybody who knows me will tell you – I usually have a lot to say.  My head gets full of things I want to say and one creative outlet is to tap them out on a keyboard.  That might be why I write, actually, to release the thoughts swirling in my head.  It’s one of the things that turned me on about making television shows, the opportunity to offer information that inspired people to think.  We humans were born with the ability to ponder anything and everything and words give that pondering voice.

 “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”  Ben Franklin

Writing also offers artful expression.  Just as a painting or a beautiful dance evoke emotion in the observer, so can a well crafted piece of prose.  The talented writers find  beautiful compositions of words to paint exactly the pictures (or worlds) they want to communicate.  Many times I’ll stop reading something that I’m totally absorbed in just to marvel at the way it’s written.  I love talent – whatever form it comes in.  And when a writer’s able to hold me hostage in the world she’s created – I’m hers … or his … and I’m filled with admiration.  Do yourselves a favor and check out Roger Ebert‘s blog from time to time.  He’s among the best! (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/)

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain

 

I’m always searching for the right word and I love when it occurs to me.  For me reading and writing are a matched pair.  There’s always a lot to learn from a good writer — insightful information and, by example, tips on good writing.  I enjoy practicing the craft, letting the keyboard go where my thoughts take me – like a kite to the wind.


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