Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

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Productivity Can be Smaller than You Think

Take #69… no, #74.

I mentioned that I added another rough manuscript to my stack, yes? Finishing a draft usually sends me jumping between projects in a ‘what-do-I-work-on-now’ fog for a few days; it’s like standing in the middle of the sahara at night with your feet sunken in shadow from the lack of a moon. It maybe comfortable for a few hours, but, eventually, anxiety sets in.

Typically, that anxiety is a spiral of unfocused work interspersed with questions about whether or not I am actually getting anything done. It is hard to step back and evaluate our accomplishments. When we do pause and look around, it is often difficult to understand exactly what we are looking at–especially considering the state of the *ahem* world at the moment.

Let’s face it: an extraordinary number of things are happening right now, and a lot of them are processed with intense emotions. I know, I know, how dare I bring politics into this. The point is this: it is easy to be unsettled.

Unsettled-ness can often bring thoughts of ‘oh, what is the point.’ It is difficult to be optimistic when the world is rumbling in our ears; and, often, our perceptions of productivity rely on optimism. Our moods drastically affect the way that we see the world. Which is why the proper side of the bed should be marked in red paint, “put your feet here when you wake.”

(To those who are unsettled, I say: take a breath. Yes, sign your petitions, send your emails- read the news if you must- but, please, do not forget to breathe. No matter what sort of chaos surrounds you, please remember to do something for yourself– even if it is small.

Bake a batch of cookies. Knit the next row of your scarf. Walk around your desk a few times. Now, let the state of the world fade for a moment. Let’s talk about you, and me, and all of the other people out there who are trying to do creative work.)

Productivity is an incredibly important word, but I think it is one that is often skewed. When you are in school, productivity is finishing your homework (perhaps, if you are very organized, you complete it before the due date), but creative work is often not defined by a teacher’s deadlines; it is not something that you do at the last moment because you must. Yes, some people apply the same principles to both, but- unless you have an extremely engaged publisher peeking over your shoulder- creative work is entirely dependent on you.

How do you structure the day? Where are you going to put your attention? You must find your own time and choose how to use it. Time management is an extensive topic that I will attempt to ruminate upon in a separate post but, for now, let’s focus on the aforementioned word.

First of all: How do you define productivity? Currently, I think of it as getting things done. A productive day is one where I have focused on topics that I know will propel me toward the future. It must be noted that that does not necessarily mean that I have accomplished everything on my list, or completely avoided procrastination. Nor is this a perfect definition of productivity, but I think that it is a broad umbrella: we are here to complete the lists sitting in our minds, are we not?

Productivity, I think, must be based off of persistence. Continue on, keep working, no matter how hard it is. Even if you are only able to work in small chunks, you are still moving forward. I urge you to acknowledge the small accomplishments that you make, and warn you not to beat yourself up when your day does not go as planned; especially if the state of the world (let’s shorten it to SOTW in the future, shall we?) is distracting you.

Persistence creates. And so, perhaps, persistence is a much better word than productivity. Let’s be persistent without fear. It is easier said than done… but goblins can be slain and dragons can become best friends.

I believe more posts about persistence are in the future. ‘Till then, a happy late St. Patrick’s day!

Stepping Back (and “Artist Dates”)

How time passes my friends!

And, my oh my, do I have a lot that I want to talk about with you.

I had planned to post about productivity this week (what does it mean, how do we persist etc.), but I am going to interject for a brief moment and hopefully share the planned post within the next few days– it is worth noting that I wrote myself into a bit of a corner and now I must find a way to form a coherent train of thought.

Let’s jump to it, shall we?

First, will you forgive my use of a short complaint as the introduction? Do you remember those spinning teacup/pot rides at carnivals? They feel like a good illustration for the last week, or two, of my life. I have been relatively unproductive; I have a tendency to jump between projects with a few hundred words here and a few more there without entirely focusing. Frankly, it is frustrating.

Regarding many of the conversations that have spread throughout the household since the beginning of the year, I suspect that I am not the only one. Focus is often a hard thing to catch; you lay your tuna-sandwhich traps out and build gingerbread houses, maybe you become desperate enough that you decide to dress up like a saguaro cactus, or hide in the henhouse with a rusted shovel.

In my experience, a lack of focus can create whirlpools of feeling like you will never be able to work again; the small successes that arise can often feel irrelevant or ‘not good enough.’ Of course, that is preposterous, but sometimes it is hard to remind yourself of such things.

It is not easy to pull oneself out of disparaging thoughts, but it is certainly not impossible: yesterday, my parents reminded me of the importance of stepping back and giving yourself a break. I know that it sounds contradictory to success, but everyone needs time to think.

As mentioned by my parents: in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about having an “artist date” every week; essentially, it is a block of time that is set aside to meander or do something that will help you to recharge. It could consist of reading for an entire afternoon, going on a walk somewhere that you do not typically visit; maybe you prefer to meander through library shelves, or spend hours testing pens in a small shop tucked against the sidewalk.

Despite its contradictory nature, sometimes stepping back is the way to get more things done. It is easy to become wrapped up in our doubts and fears, but they only lead us deeper. I think there is a common misconception that we must always be busy, that sitting still is often not a viable use of time, but wondering always is. Taking time to review your surroundings and goals is always important.

Stepping back from your work is a way to gain prospective: we become wrapped around certain facets of our lives so closely that we forget what truly matters, and we forget to find ways to inspire ourselves every week. Cars run out of gas, and so do we… Of course, I, at least, will not assume that prospective is an easy thing to discover. We have to chase it; and, sometimes, that means we must let go of our worries about rushing forward.

How long you should step back for is, I think, entirely based off of the way that you function. My amateur advice is this: start with a short duration of time. Let one day slide; do not worry about how much you are accomplishing until you wake the next morning. When the sun rises, begin with some sort of tradition; find something to help you settle: choose a favorite piece of music, make a cup of something hot, or wear your favorite sweater.

Settle down in your chair (or couch, or bed, or tree trunk) and start slowly. Begin with something. Do not worry about your grammar or punctuation. Let yourself babble for a moment; write something that is for your eyes; something that does not need to be perfect or appropriate. Letting yourself run free for a moment can be an excellent way to pull yourself out of the bogs and back into your work.

I am curious to hear about your own experiences: what works for you? What does not?

Until next time, my friends! (And I promise that it will be relatively soon.)

Oh, and Happy Pi Day!

General Electric animation design science ge

Quote of the Month

My, oh my! A new month already! I hope you are faring well! And, without any further ado, let’s drudge up the words of a wonderful writer:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shinning; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Belated Happy Valentines’ Day!

Oh boy oh boy…

I intended to post yesterday, but I became swept up in a thousand other things. Since too many recent holidays have passed without sharing a bit of history, I couldn’t resist pulling something together.

To be honest, Valentines’ Day has always seemed slightly… odd. Love is the cherished mantra of the day; a plethora of pink and red dazzle store shelves; flowers are bought in the dozens; and chocolate is gleefully venerated. It’s usually time to rent a movie, curl up on the couch- or bed- with fuzzy blankets, and think of cupids or cute puppies.

Some people love Valentines’ Day and others despise it (both responses, in my opinion, are heavily influenced by social constructs- but that is a rant for a different day), I think that I sit somewhere in the middle.

If you have spent time reading any number of articles about the origins of many common holidays celebrated in the 20th century, you may have noticed that the church is an expert at stealing other cultures’ ideas.

Before trying to search for facts, a disclaimer is necessary: no one knows exactly where Valentines’ Day comes from. Much of what I am mentioning is based off of speculation done by historians for decades.

Let’s scurry though a bit of ancient history: Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism (which had already been established as a monotheistic religion for thousands of years); eventually, it spread to Rome, where it became the dominant religion in the 4th century CE.

Before paganism was outlawed in Rome, the local pantheon of gods looked incredibly similar to those of ancient Greece. This is where vanquished and stolen ideas come in: Valentines’ Day appears to tie back to the Lupercalia  festival annually held in Rome between the 13th and 15 of February.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar anyone?

While the connection between Valentines’ Day and Lupercalia is debatable, it seems probable enough: Lupercalia was held at the Lupercal (at the edge of the Palatine hill, where Romulus and Remus were said to be raised by a wolf) for the Roman god of shepherds and fertility: Lupercus.

Because this was ancient Rome, someone was scarified, in this case, the someones were goats and dogs. Skipping over a few details… a procession was held; young, nude men slapped women and crops within reach, with strips of goatskin (they believed that being struck by a runner of the Lupercal would bring fertility); drunkenness was rife; and laughter was the medicine of the day.

Roman paganism was slowly buried by the adamant dislike of Christians; no one knows exactly what happened to Lupercalia, until the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius seems to have moved a new holiday honoring Saint Valentine (which St. Valentine is still a matter of debate) to the 14th of February.

According to most Christian traditions: St. Valentine defied Claudius II by marrying young couples when the emperor forbid it. The story ends with St. Valentine’s execution– which made him a martyr.

However… everything previously mentioned must be taken with a salty glass of suspicion.

Valentines’ Day does not appear to have been celebrated until the Middle Ages– the oldest surviving valentines’ day card was sent from the Tower of London by Charles, the Duke of Orleans in 1415. Most seem to agree that valentines’ day become a full holiday because of Chaucer: according to Jack B. Oruch, Chaucer portrayed the 14th of February as a day of love because of its connotations with spring, whether or not he pulled on the strings of an existing holiday is unknown; if he did, the holiday in question was probably one of the numerous saint days celebrated during february.

While a February 14th feast was mentioned in the Charter of  the Court of Love (issued in 1400), Valentines’ Day did not truly become popular until the 17th century, in England. Fast forward a century: Valentines’ Day was filled with love letters and , soon, love letters became postcards with the advent of a functioning mail system. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began mass-producing valentines in the US, similar endeavors occurred in England, and- well… I think we can guess where the holiday has traveled there.

I hope all of you are having a wonderful day!

And I promise to be back very, very soon.

Quote of the Month

Hello everyone!

My, is time slipping away! This is a bit late again, but better late than never.

“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” ~ Virginia Woolf

An Update- And the Necessity of Art

Hello everyone!

My what a world we live in… I have started multiple, varied drafts with the intent of positing, but I always run into a brick wall. Part of the reason for my absence was my attempt to keep everything political off of this site, with various, small exceptions; politics has been a major piece in my life during the last few days weeks. Before that, it was the new year and forming schedules/plans etc.

Politics… despite myself, I cannot keep it entirely away from this blog at the moment. Some horrible things are happening, and some good things as well. If I am going to be entirely honest, and I wish to be, then I cannot ignore the small cavern that it has hallowed out in my life. So, this post is the beginning to a larger contemplation/discussion about art and life in these times (yes, writing will return to this blog, I promise). Hopefully you will bravely bare with me.

One of the running themes of these last few weeks has been reminder after reminder of how important art is, especially when the world is in turmoil. To be honest, society has always been flecked by turmoil, but I think the *ahem* recent events in this certain country of mostly-united states have brought so much social injustice and hate to the surface.

Stepping sideways…

A week and a half ago, my family and I went to a Writer’s Resist event held in a small coffee shop where people could hardly spread their elbows. Writer’s Resist is an initiative created to share work regarding civil rights and equality (I highly recommend checking their website). It was wonderful to hear people speak about the importance of paying attention to the world around us, and share snippets of poetry/non-fiction, and short stories.

Last wednesday, I had the privilege of hearing a Lannan Foundation interview with China Meiville; he is an author whose work I have admired for a long time, although I have not read as many of his books as I would like. His writing crosses genres and breaks many of the barriers between reality and fiction that, I think, we are taught to stay within. He is extremely active within political and academic circles, and much of his creative work deals with government in one form or another.

I apologize for the fact that I do not have any direct quotes to share with you (I am starting to wish that I had taken notes), but one thing that he did speak of is using his writing as a way to explore concepts and ideas. Hearing him speak about his work, as well as snippets of government in general, was kind of a push forward to ‘oh my gosh, I need to work more.’

Now, the last major event to mention: did you hear of the Woman’s March on Washington that occurred last saturday? After our local sister march ended, one of the first speakers was a poet: she also spoke of the importance of work. It is creative work that leads us forward. Art is something that we cling to.

My mom often quotes one of her collage teachers: “Art teaches people how to feel.” I used to scoff. Such a concept always felt corny or impossible, but it is a potently valid point. Art does shape culture, so let us create a culture where no one has to hide as they walk down the street; where we recognize the fact that we all come from the same ancestor, and that none of us are perfect. We cannot expect to love everyone, but we can try not to be drugged by hate– and we fight. We peacefully protest, we speak out, we find some way to become involved, we stand for our rights, and we do not let those who want some of us dead kick us to the ground and stomp us into bone-dust.

So, art… let’s use art to maintain some sort of sanity; whether it is our own, or the sanity of an entire town. Let’s keep our art close, and follow the art of others. Let’s make art; we need it.

I hope to be around more often, especially as this year really picks up.

Until next time my friends!

A Quote for the Month…

My goodness, I almost forgot!

Better late than never, right? Here we go:

“Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death — fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.” ~Edna Ferber,  A Kind of Magic, 1963

2017 Abound

I’m backkk!

Independence Day? Anyone? Bueller?

Excuse me…

I hope you will forgive my lack of posts since the new year, I have been traveling, and caught up in social gathering after social gathering, but I will not bore you with the details.

2017– what a year: two-thousand and seventeen… there is, undoubtedly, a lot to think about for the future: safety, life in general, work, writing, whatever you care to add to your list.

Making a list of new year’s resolutions is one of our family traditions; it is always a work in progress, but it gives a few general ideas to start the year with. If you are rolling your eyes and saying something like: ‘Yeah, right. Those never last long.” Such an assumption might be correct, but I have found that having a list is helpful in itself. It’s a great reminder for the times that you loose sight of your goals.

Anywayy… it is already the 12th (eeekkk!), but that does not mean that it is too late. No sirree! I dare you to pull out your pens and pencils, or computer, markers– or whatever it is that you choose to use…

Before I ramble even more, here is a snippet of my current list (just the writing related things):

  • Edit String and Bone.
  • Publish… a book.
  • Regularly post in this blog (I have some exciting things in mind, but it may take a bit to organize them).
  • Start working on an anthology.
  • Explore more styles and formats.
  • Pitch something to a publisher– why the heck not?
  • Complete all NaNo events, camp and otherwise.
  • Look through some older pieces of work.

Phew, I think it sounded better in my mind. Of course, it will probably change, but the intent is there!

Now, it is time for me to scurry off and try to get ready for the rest of the month. If you are making new year resolution lists of one sort or another, I’d love to hear about it, if you so choose!

Until next time, my friends (and it will be soon)…

Happy New Year!

fun vintage 80s excited celebration

My goodness, it’s a whole new year already! I wish everyone fruitful plot bunnies, dogged determination, a whole lot of inspiration, fun, and confidence in the year ahead!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Image result for snoopy winter comic

My, this year is moving quickly! I can hardly believe that it is the second to last week of 2016!

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful holiday week, filled with good food, lots of laughter, and family of one sort or another!

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