The Highlights of Highlights

I recently returned from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I’d spent four days at the campus of the Highlights Foundation.

Yes, that Highlights, which produces this magazine.

Why’d I go there? For an unworkshop. What’s that? An unscheduled time without a workshop leader, giving you time to write, write, write; eat excellently prepared meals (the only scheduled aspect to the unworkshop); and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I went with three friends and fellow writers. We each had a little cabin in the woods—the proverbial ideal writer’s retreat. (Well, our little cabins in the woods were on the edge of a clearing. 😁)

  

Three meals a day were served here:

Behind that building was

where I could go for

or when I just needed a good word. (Who doesn’t love cattywampus??? It’s okay if you don’t, but I do.)

   

Very few trips were made to the internet. I spent the time reading books, writing, walking, and having great conversations. I met many other writers, some of whom were on their own unworkshop. Others were on a meditation/revision retreat. Still others had come for a poetry workshop.

The staff at Highlights is friendly and the food is excellent! I loved my little cabin. Throughout my stay, I had that “ahhhhh” sense of being cared for, with snacks provided whenever I wanted them, meals I didn’t have to shop for or provide, a coffee maker and coffee packets if I wanted to brew my own, or hot coffee/tea already prepared at the Barn if I felt like walking over and chatting with whomever was there.

Two writers I met told me they’d been at Highlights six times. One writer returns every few months. Many others request to stay in the same cabin each time. I feel the same way! My friends and I hope to return to Highlights next year.

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been to recently?

Photos by L. Marie.

Branching Out

When I first learned to crochet, all I made were granny squares for afghans and scarfs. They were easy to make.

   

Yes, this is a scarf I made. I have made Granny squares like these from Pinterest.

But I searched for more challenges as the years went by. Recently, I went through an owl phase in my crocheting. The owls below were created by a pattern designed by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me, which you can find here.

   

But in the last month, I decided to branch out and try something different. I found a pattern online for making small lambs. How small? I placed a red ruler behind the lamb it so you can see how small it is (just under six inches seated; click on the photo to see).

This amigurumi pattern was designed by Stephanie at her All About Ami blog. You can find it here. (Wondering what amigurumi means? Go here for an article.)

I started off making the lambs exactly the way Stephanie instructed, using the yarn she suggested, which was in the usual lamb colors. But after a while, I wanted to branch out yet again:

Not the usual color for a lamb, but the color makes me happy.

Random flower break. Just because.

Speaking of branching out, I can’t help thinking of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904–1989). While that might seem like a random remark to you, let me ask you this: What’s the first painting you think of you when you think of him?

I think of this painting:

It’s called The Persistence of Memory. (Instead of The Melting Clocks Painting as I always called it in my head.) What do you think of it? (I think the word you’re searching for is surreal.)

I thought of Dalí as I wrote this post, because of a conversation that took place when I was a grad student. We had a guest speaker one semester—author/illustrator David Macaulay (right). If you don’t know who he is, click here to see a list of his books. Macaulay told us about his years at the Rhode Island School of Design. He didn’t start off doing his own thing. He had to learn how to paint like one of the old Renaissance masters—learning form and color—before branching out.

So that’s why I thought of Dalí. Check out this description from Wikipedia:

Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931.

So Dalí too learned from the old masters, but took what he learned in a new direction.

Maybe there’s something you’ve learned that you’re now ready to take in a new direction. If so, dish about it in the comments below.

While you consider that, I’ll reveal the winner of one of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s translated books. Go here for her guest post.

The winner, thanks to the random number thingie, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the LifeontheCutoff’s Blog.

Penny, please confirm below. I believe you requested Queen of the Frogs. Do you still want that one? Let me know. I hope you will enjoy it!

Thank you to all who commented.

Granny square found on Pinterest. Dali painting from Wikipedia. Dali photo from wallpapercave.com. David Macaulay photo from Wikipedia.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Gotta Grab Peace and Hold On

In the last few weeks, my life has been one of frantic haste with new projects due, ongoing projects needing my immediate feedback (“could you respond before tomorrow”; “look at this video ASAP”), meetings to attend, and back pain demanding I take some sort of relief measure.

I so wanted a vacation. The vacation destination of choice would have been Boston. I wished I could have attended my niece’s graduation from Boston University, like others in my family did (including a side trip to Martha’s Vineyard). But not being able to afford airfare or the days off, I could only watch online and look at texted photos (which I will not post here; sorry).

I couldn’t take a vacation, but I could take a walk as a mini “stay cay”—stay-at-home vacation. The other day I headed out around 6:45 a.m., basking in the cooler temperatures, enjoying the twitter of birds. (#Morning gossip) The day was not a picture perfect, sunny day. In fact, I didn’t see the sun all day. But it was peaceful. I was the only human outside. The temperature was around 56. Not bad.

    

I could feel my blood pressure decreasing as I walked, drinking in the solitude, admiring the green leaves now in full force on the trees. Ahhh. Just what the doctor ordered.

But when I returned inside, life intruded as several people texted or posted online, asking the same question: “Did you see the Royal Wedding?”

The sense of frantic haste returned. Oh no! I’d forgotten about that! I quickly clicked on YouTube, only to find Prince Harry and his bride, the Duchess of Sussex, riding in a carriage, waving at people. I immediately thought of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy riding in a carriage after their wedding. But alas I’d missed this wedding! You snooze, you lose, I guess. I quickly combed the internet to see what videos I could find that showed the wedding—even a piece of it.

But then I stopped the search, realizing how quickly I’d thrown away the peace of the morning. I clicked off the internet and leaned back in my chair, letting go of what I hadn’t accomplished, and grasping what I had—the sense of peace in a quiet day.

I grabbed my crochet hook and set to work on an owl. Crocheting always relaxes me. On a gray, overcast day, working with colorful, soft yarn was very soothing. (All the colors and textures you see on the owl below, with the exception of the white, come from one bundled ball of yarn. Owl crochet pattern by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me.)

    

Peace had returned.

When you’ve had a frantic week, what do you do to gain or maintain peace?

Lemony Limes is drowning in leftover yarn. Oh well. I can’t think of a better way to go.

Photos by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie Doll is a registered trademark of Moose Toys.

The Power of a Plan

I saw Avengers: Infinity War last week. Please. You don’t have to leap at me to slap a hand over my mouth. As if you could reach me from where you are. This is a spoiler-free zone, so don’t worry.

There is so much hype surrounding this movie, that I don’t blame anyone for being a little fatigued. This post is not so much about the movie as it is a high five to Marvel Studios for the ten-year process leading up to the movie.

I’ve never had a ten-year plan for anything! Years ago, both of my brothers tried to get me to make a five-year business plan, but I flubbed it. I barely outlined novels! At the time, the thought of proposing enough novels or other writing projects to fill five years was

But now I see the value of at least coming up with a plan beyond my usual, “I just wanna write lotsa stuff.” I think about Charles Yallowitz and how weekly he discusses his writing plans. If you follow his blog, you know he sometimes he talks about his writing plans for the next year or so!

A good business plan really needs a good vision statement as well. (If you’re still in Marvel mode, you might be thinking of the character Vision. Ha ha!)

According to BusinessDictionary.com, a vision statement (also known as a mission statement) is

An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. See also mission statement.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html

If you’re curious, here is part of Microsoft’s vision statement:

Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world. Our strategy is to build best-in-class platforms and productivity services for an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge infused with artificial intelligence (“AI”).

“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Wow! Talk about a big goal. But that’s the value of a mission statement. It gives you something to work toward. If it’s achievable right now, then it’s probably not a big enough goal.

So, I’m working on a vision statement too. After all, I can’t get anywhere if I don’t have a destination or a plan for getting there. What about you? Got any long-term or short-term plans you’d care to talk about? Do you have a vision statement for what you want to do? While you think about that, I’ll move onto the winner of the birthday giveaway. Wondering what that’s about? Click here to read the post that announced the giveaway.

The winner of the birthday giveaway, thanks to the magic of the random organizer, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

FictionFan!

But since this is my blog, I can have two winners. (Surprise announcement! Oh yeah!) So, the second winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny!

Please comment below to confirm! FictionFan, I will need to get the email you use with Amazon UK at some point. Penny, if you have a preference for the items mentioned in the birthday post, please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

    

This is what’s great about spring.

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster from comicbook.com. Marvel Studios Ten Year logo from screenrant.com. Vizzini inconceivable image from quotesgram.com. Vision image from wpaperhd.com. Other photo by L. Msarie.

How Do You Know You’re in the Flow?

Ever have a time when you were writing or doing something else creative, and you just couldn’t stop? Words or ideas poured out of you, and you had to implement them. We call this a state of flow. (And yes, I wrote a post about this five years ago. I’m taking a different angle on it this time.)

According to Wikipedia,

[F]low, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, formerly the head of psychology at the University of Chicago and currently the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his study on flow. Flow, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, is also known as ecstasy. And no, I’m not talking about drugs here, though in his 2004 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi explained that “ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.” You’re so in the zone, it’s like you’re watching yourself create. You don’t notice anything else—hunger, weariness, etc. Csikszentmihalyi added, “[T]his automatic, spontaneous process . . . can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique.”

I asked several writers how they know they’re in a state of flow.

Steve Bramucci, author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! (look for his next book this October) and managing editor over at Uproxx, said,

I recognize flow when I start to think, “This is brilliant! Have I accidentally stolen it from someone else? It’s too good of an idea NOT to have been written already! I must’ve stolen it! I’m such a hack!” At which point I google the idea furiously and, when I find it’s not stolen, I get this excited/thrilled buzzy feeling. Something akin to double fisting caffeine and green juice after a 6 am surf. I get tingly and overly emotional and write and write and write—only taking breaks to text my wife things like, “I really think I was destined to be a writer! I believe in my stories! I promise you this project will bring us financial security!” etc. If that all sounds insufferable, I’m sure it is. But it’s my process. It’s not what ends up on the page; insufferable processes can often lead to positive results.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of novels for young adults and adults, said,

It’s when I feel that I’m in the time and place along with my characters, hearing them speak, feeling the same things they do, following them as they move.

Laura Sibson, a young adult and middle grade author (look for her young adult novel debut in 2019), had this to say:

When drafting, I know that I’m in a state of flow when I’m not tempted to look at the clock or check email or social media. My environment drops away in the sense that I’m not super-aware of what’s happening around me. In those moments, I’m fully immersed in my story world and it feels like the real world. I can see it as clearly as I see the scenery outside my window.

S. K. Van Zandt, another middle grade and young adult author, said,

For me, it’s the unstuck feeling. It’s picturing a scene in my mind, the “what happens next,” and the words are just there, as opposed to seeing the scene and staring at the computer. I think the ability to get (and stay) “in the zone” has everything to do with knowing your characters and story well.

Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance (look for her next book this July) and romance short stories, said this:

When I feel what’s happening to my characters so deeply that I’m moved emotionally and I become completely oblivious to my surroundings, I know I’m in a state of flow.

Charles Yallowitz, author of Warlord of the Forgotten Age and other books in the Legends of Windemere series, put it this way:

I never really thought about being in a state of flow. I’m usually just writing along until I stop. So it’s almost like a trance.

How do you know you’re going with the flow when you work?

If you want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk:

Kirstea, frazzled as always lately, took flow to a whole different level when she allowed her teacup to overflow.

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie and chicken figures by Hasbro. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.

The Prism Effect

When I was a kid, I was given a prism to use in one of my science classes in elementary school. I thought it was the most awesome thing ever. (Yes, this was way before cell phones were invented.) We discussed Sir Isaac Newton’s experiments with light refraction. As it passes through one object to the next object, light bends. Newton used prisms in his experiments.

As an article here mentions

Newton was the first to prove that white light is made up of all the colors that we can see.

In science class, we duplicated Newton’s experiment with a light source, cardboard, and a prism. (Yes, this was back in the day.) I don’t have photos from that experience. But this one comes close.

The white light containing the color spectrum makes me think of something else: a blank page. I see that confused look on your face. Let me explain what I mean. First, let’s switch out the phrase color spectrum and insert words. Now, think of a blank page as something containing all of the words that can be seen—wonderful, colorful words describing vivid images. A prism is needed for those words to be seen and understood. The writer is the prism that helps others see those words.

My mind turns on odd things sometimes. This was something I was thinking about recently. 😀

If the writing aspect doesn’t fit your life, think of the prism analogy this way. Our minds are prisms. We often take whatever is beamed into us and show the world the result. For example, let’s say we hear a lot of negative comments. Such a drab view of life might result in a negative mindset that spills over in our dealings with others. We tell everyone, “This is how life is—drab.” But unlike an actual prism, we have a choice as to what we do with what we’re given. We can either show the drab colors and say, “This is how life is and always will be,” or we can show something else: the colors of hope. Even if we can’t see them yet. By this we say, “This is how life can be. And it starts with me.”

For someone like me who is prone to depression, the latter is a challenge. But I’m still willing to give it a shot. How about you?

     

I saw this rainbow months ago while standing outside of a grocery store. A rainbow is a nice example of refraction.

Prism image from 924jeremiah.wordpress.com. Refraction experiment image from myscienceacademy.org. It is from an MIT YouTube video. Blank page from imgarcade.com. Rainbow photographs by L. Marie.

Returning to Childish Things

Before I get into the subject of today’s post, let me just say my thoughts and prayers are with and for those affected by Hurricane Irma. And of course I think about 9/11 so many years ago, when terrorist attacks here in the States changed our world in so many ways.

😦

You know how you’re told to “put away childish things” when you become an adult? That’s good advice, especially when it comes to relating to people. It encourages us to actually talk to people we’re in conflict with, instead of rolling our eyes and sticking our tongues out at them, like we did when we were kids, or making up a song about them and taunting them with it.

Oh wait . . .

Moving on (though you probably have the song “Bad Blood” going through your head), I went against the advice to put childish things away and returned to a childhood pastime—making paper rooms.

Why would you do that? I hear you asking. Well, fiction writing has been difficult for me lately. I freeze up whenever I attempt to put words on a page in any of the stories I’ve been working on. Whenever I ran low on inspiration when I was a kid, I made what I called a chain house. First, I would make furniture by folding notebook paper and taping or gluing it so that it would stand up. Second, I would arrange the furniture of each room to fit on one sheet of paper. When I finished two rooms, I would tape them together in a chain before moving on to the next set of two, until the house was complete. The chain houses could be rolled up and stored away.

But these days, instead of using notebook paper, I use the paper you find in the paper crafting section of Michaels or Jo-Ann. Yeah. The good stuff.

Here’s my first attempt at a living room, bedroom, and kitchen.

    

This room is my crafter’s room:

When I was a kid, I never revised anything. Stories remained as they were first written. Same with drawings and chain house rooms.

Now that I’m an adult, revision is second nature. Whatever I write, I revise. And now I’ve begun revising the paper rooms. Here is the revision of the bedroom above. Instead of just a generic bedroom, I positioned it as the ultimate girl’s room. I’m picturing a kid who isn’t the neatest kid on earth living in this room and having sleepovers here.

Instead of a generic living room-like space as before, I’m going for a cozy family room in this revision. Obviously, I have a lot more to do in this room to add more character. Like maybe adding more furniture.

What I realized through this paper room exercise is the value of having specific goals for each space, as well as having characters in mind. When I made the first rooms (the living room and bedroom), I didn’t put much thought into the rooms. I just made them, because they were fun to make. But during the revision phase, I realized I needed to have goals for the space, as well as character marks to show what the person or people who occupy that space is/are like.

When I made the crafter’s room, I had a specific person in mind—myself. I don’t really have a craft room like this. This room reflects my crafting style and the tools I often use. But the reason why you don’t see a revised version of this room, is because I knew when I started it what the goal was and who it was for. I’m happy with how it turned out.

Maybe what I learned while making paper rooms will help me when I return to fiction writing. So many times, I’ve leaped into a story without giving much thought to goals and without really knowing the characters I wanted to write about. But now I know I can give more thought to both and have fun during the journey.

Sometimes it’s good to return to childish things.

Have you returned to an activity you loved when you were a kid? How has this activity helped you in your adult life?

The start of the next room . . .

Girl sticking her tongue out image from imgrcade.com. All other photos by L. Marie.