Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Feeding Creativity

"Dance at Bougival" by Renoir

I'm between writing projects right now--I have one book out on submission, a completed rough draft that needs some time to sit before I look at it again, and I haven't figured out which project to start next. So instead of trying to meet a daily word count goal, I've turned my attention to my editing business and to "filling the well," a.k.a. immersing myself in things that inspire me.

Creative inspiration comes from all over. The picture above is a painting that I fell in love with when I saw the (huge) original in Boston when I was 16. When I was a senior in high school, I used it as the model for a relief tile I made in a pottery class. There are also certain songs that touch my creative side as well as my heart; one in particular that has always moved me is "The Old Ways" by Loreena McKennitt.

And, of course, I'm obsessed with learning new things. Lately I've been listening to a series of lectures on the Italian Renaissance. I've been enjoying them, but more than that, I've been gleaning from them. My writer's brain is constantly picking up bits and storing them.

For example, I never knew that cities like Florence, that were democracies, have many more open spaces (piazze) inside the city where people could gather, whereas those cities that were ruled by princes discouraged public gatherings for fear of revolt, and so those cities are more compact. The princes also tended to have big, walled palaces inside the cities, whereas the walls of the democracies were mainly around the outside of the city, to protect from foreign attackers as opposed to the local citizenry. My writer's brain immediately said, "Well, that's a good world-building tool," and stored it away.

And characters! Did you know there was an archbishop who was excommunicated THREE TIMES, and proudly claimed he'd only said mass once in his entire career? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, there are men like Federico da Montafeltro, who was a hugely successful mercenary captain, then duke, but also a devoted husband and father. He valued art and literature, and turned his tiny city of Urbino into a center for culture and education. And if that doesn't sound interesting enough, how about this: He lost his right eye in a tournament accident, and to compensate, he had his surgeons cut off the bridge of his nose so he could see better with his left eye. As my husband said when I related the story, "That man was hardcore."

Oh, and don't forget the plot devices. Assassinations, failed coups, successful coups, political marriages that result in wildly successful women... all with lots of detail that I can go look up later as long as I remember the main ideas.

These types of things make me itch to go to Italy. Oh yeah, and to tell stories.

What makes you want to create?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thoughts for Mother's Day

"Look at these pretend-cracks," my three-year-old says, running her finger along the stretch marks on my stomach.

"Yeah, aren't they awesome?" my husband says, "Those are Mom's battle scars."

We lie in bed together, the three-year-old nestled between us and the two-year-old climbing and rolling across all of us. She pauses to kiss my bulging belly. "Hi Baby Evie!" She turns to look at me, laughing. "It moved!" Sure enough, the baby is shifting and rolling, responding to the movements and voices of her sisters. Six more weeks and they'll be kissing her head instead of my stomach.

It's Mother's Day morning, and in spite of the fact that I'm large and achy with the extra 45 lbs I've gained in the last 7.5 months, today those stretch marks don't feel like battle scars. In fact, today they seem so insignificant that it amuses me Cim even noticed them.

My feelings about motherhood have shifted and evolved so much over the last two years. From adjusting and accepting to recognizing my abilities as well as my limits, I feel like I've come a long way since I last had a small baby in my arms. My world with toddlers has been so much different than the world I lived in when I had one young toddler and a baby. I feel like it's now time, and our family is ready, to add this new baby and step forward into another phase, another time of adjustment and learning.

And, as always on Mother's Day, my thoughts turn to my own mother, and all I've learned from her. Two years ago I wrote a Mother's Day post thanking her for many things, mostly giving me freedom to explore and grow, even if it meant getting dirty or taking risks. This year those things are still important to me, but a few other things stand out more.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching piano lessons when I was young.

Thank you for tossing us in the pool while you coached high school diving, and dragging us along to sit on the bleachers or in the coach's office when you had to judge diving meets.

Thank you for attending sewing seminars and making wedding dresses (even though it stressed you out far more than you thought it was worth).

Thank you for buying "genius level" vocabulary tapes for us to listen to in the car, not because you thought we needed it, but because YOU wanted to learn.

Thank you for buying multiple college lecture series on video and audio, partially because we were home schooled, but mostly because you wanted them.

Thank you for taking us with you when you tutored the Chinese students who moved to the area speaking no English.

Thank you for showing me, in so many ways I never even noticed until I became a mom, that you were a real person with interests and hobbies and goals and dreams--all while home schooling us, which meant doing all these things with little people hovering over your shoulder and tripping on your heels. We knew we were the most important thing in your world--we had to be, or why on earth would you let us stay home with you all the time--but we also saw you doing things to enrich your mind and refill your emotional reserves.

I don't know what having three kids will be like. I don't know if this baby will sleep any better than the last two. I don't know how well I'll be able to maintain the activities I've gotten back into as my first two daughters have gotten old enough to play on their own more. But I know from experience that I'll reach that point again, and I know from watching you that I'll have time for those things eventually, and that if I put my kids first, they'll only benefit from seeing me pursue my goals.

Thank you, Mom, for being you.

Happy Mother's Day.