Wednesday, September 29, 2010

7 Steps to Creativity by Christopher Lowell

Christopher Lowell is an interior designer with a quirky, yet practical flair. I remember the first time I saw his show on the Bravo channel and thought, "What a weird guy." There is a method to his madness...creative boldness yet classy at the same time. Quirky but not kitschy. It takes a skilled eye to break away from the ordinary without being so obnoxious that it can't appeal to people.

These seven steps are from his book, "7 Steps to Creativity":

1) Don't second-guess. Make a decision.

2) Don't procrastinate. What you hate, decorate.

3) Don't back down. Stick to your guns. Have faith.

4) Create a safe environment to make choices. Dare to dream. Let go of stress.

5) You're the boss. Give it a toss. Cut out clutter.

6) Put away your ego and pretensions in your back pocket. Be willing to be open.

7) Lighten up! Keep an aerial view! Be flexible!

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Key Qualities of Creative People

From Fanning the Creative Spirit: Two Toy Inventors Simplify Creativity by Maria and Charlie Girsch © 1999 by Creativity Central

They are:

-willing to generate lots of ideas.
Just write down anything that comes to you, without stopping to edit them. See a situation from multiple angles and think out of the ordinary. Who cares if a solution doesn't seem practical (or sane)? Write it down anyway!

Think "Why?" "Why not?" "How come?" "What if...?" "I wonder..." and "How about if I (we)...?)" and "How does this work?"

--aware and observant.
Slow down and take the time to notice the details. They can tell you about a person/place. Use your senses. An ink stain on someone's hand? Blue eyes and freckles? A table with papers and bills scattered on top of it?

--improvisers and risk-takers.
When life throws you a curve ball, swing anyway. Life doesn't happen the way we expect it, but we can control our reaction to it. Sometimes the best solutions are the ones thought up on the spot. Take opportunities when you find them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

--able to see the "old" in new ways.
Spend a few hours with a child. Their sense of wonder and innocence can surprise you. A "boring" cardboard box can be a bus, a spaceship, a train, a house, a race car, a turtle shell, a chair, a tea get the idea.

Practical is fine for the real world, but the impossible can inspire new inventions. Visualizing new ways of doing things can change the world.

---fun loving.
A sense of humor lightens the heaviest soul. It's also catching...when the members of a group are relaxed, ideas flow between them.

--able to live with ambiguity.
Sometimes there are no answers to life's questions and that can unsettle even the most steadfast person. If you can accept that discomfort, you can push through it to find a creative spark.
All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Q&A: Productivity and Circumstances

Question and Answer: Contemplate your most productive periods. Did you act alone? With others? Were you striving to be creative? Specific incidents that caused you to act? Serendipity and happenstance?

Oddly, mostly alone. When I teach, I usually think up creative projects for my kids. When I write, it just happens, for the most part. I just "show up at the page", as Julia Cameron put it. Same with art. I paint and draw when the kids are in bed and there aren't many distractions.

But lately, I've been reaching out to fellow writers and artists. I've found that I enjoy bouncing ideas off people. Talking or chatting about it can inspire other ideas that I wouldn't have considered otherwise. It just seemed like the "right time" to stand up and say "I'm a creative artist."

Unproductive times: What forces were directing your actions?

Bad health, family issues, and doubt in my own abilities. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by real life and become paralyzed. 

Creative achievement: Were they proceeded by difficulty?

Definitely. I began painting at 30, a few months after my son was born. I was feeling trapped by being a stay-at-home mom with a new colicky baby. Art was my outlet. Years of professional frustration and marriage problems finally spurred me to take my writing seriously and not as just a hobby.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Quantum Physics, Sci Fi, and Real-Life Probabilities.

I'm currently reading Michio Kaku's book Hyperspace. People who know me seem a bit surprised that I'm interested in something as "obtuse" as quantum physics. I've always liked the subject, but the mathematics is my Achilles' heel. Kaku has the knack for explaining the concepts in words that the lay person can understand, whether it's the (supposed) origin of the universe, multiple timelines, or warp speed. The right side of my brain can accept vague possibilities, but the left side is very practical, which is probably why I decided not to make physics my career. I'd go nuts stuck in a lab all the time.

Mr. McCausland was my physics teacher in high school. He was enthusiastic about how to apply the principles of physics, instead of just spouting equations more complicated than "energy equals mass times the speed of light (squared)." Schroedinger's Cat (aka, does the cat blow up?), the Great Paper Airplane Race (aka, how to achieve lift without taking a nosedive) and the G-force of roller coasters (aka a 'field trip' to Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, VA). Hey, we needed to gather data; it just meant riding the Loch Ness Monster multiple times.

And Mr. McC was proud of his Scottish heritage. Think Montgomery Scott as a high school teacher. He even played the bagpipes once during a free period (much to the other teachers' dismay). Plus he was a big Star Trek fan.

I'm always astounded at how often I run into these lessons in other areas. For example, Michio Kaku talks about stuff called "string theory" of matter. Ten years earlier, I'd read it in a Star Trek novel, "Mirror, Mirror", by Diane Duane. One of the minor characters was a "string specialist" on a scientific mission. He tried to explain why it was considered controversial in the scientific community. Interesting that Ms. Duane wrote about the concept a decade before Kaku's book (though scientists like Kaku and Stephen Hawking obviously knew about it and worked on the concept). Life complements-or at least imitates-art.

So...if these quantum theories are true, does it mean I've got an evil mirror double running around in another universe? Does it mean that every time we write about new worlds and new characters, they spring into existence the moment they come out of our pen (or computer)? Literally, in another universe? Like Schroedinger's cat, we won't know the outcome unless we look into the box, but until then, everything's possible and they all have an equal chance of being right?

Does this mean we're all the creators of new worlds and new possibilities?

Yup. As long as we are writers, artists, poets, sculptors, and use creativity in our daily lives, we are.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Creativity Quotes, Part II

"A pat on the back is only a few inches from a kick in the butt." Anonymous

"Exchange embraces with your enemy. Then check your back for knives." H,.L. Mencken

"Kaisen (translated from the Japanese): "Continuous improvement."

"The person who says that a thing cannot be done should not be interrupting the person doing it." Chinese Proverb

"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: They know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves." Brendan Behan

"Life is playing the violin in public and learning the instrument as you go along." Lord Bulwen-Lytton

"Today isn't any other day, you know." Lewis Carroll

"Be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be your own reliance. Hold to the truth within yourselves, as to the only lamp." Buddha

"Creative minds have always been nown to survive any kind of bad training." Anna Freud

"Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett

"A little of what you fancy does you good." Marie Lloyd

"Only the heart knows how to find what is precious." Fyodor Dostoyevsky

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Domino Philosophy

The Domino Philosophy by Anonymous

There are only 2 things worth worrying about:
either you're sick or you're well.

If you're sick, you get well or die.
If you're well, you have nothing to worry about.

If you die there are two things worth worrying about:
either you go to Heaven or to Hell.

If you go to Heaven, you have nothing to worry about.
If you go to Hell, you'll be so busy partying with your friends, there will be nothing to worry about.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

List of Authors I've Read and Liked, Part I

A List of Authors I've Read and Liked
Part I

Rita Mae Brown
Diane Mott Davidson
Amy Tan
Betty Bao Lord
Anchee Min
Issac Asimov
Diane Duane
Mercedes Lackey
Anne McCaffrey
Anne Rice
John Grisham
Stephen King
Jane Auel
Glen Cook
Robert Aspirin
Herman Wouk
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
E.M. Forester
Victoria Holt
Natalie Goldberg
Julia Cameron
James Mitchner
Erica Jong
William Shakespeare
Ernest Hemingway
John Milton
Anne Lamott
Agatha Christie
Elmore Leonard
Mark Twain
Maya Angelou
Phoebe Eng
Bill Bryson
Michio Kaku
Frank McCourt
Richard Bach
Sylvia Browne
Julia Alvarez
Carolyn Keene
Mario Puzo

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Every mother wishes for an hour to herself. One hour, without having to hear, "Mama, WAH!" or "Anne, can you...?" It's times like these where I stand up and do my Patrick Henry imitation: "Give me sanity or give me a straitjacket." Then I lock myself in the bathroom and ignore the waining and gnashing of teeth on the other side of the door.

I run the water in the tub ad light some lavender candles. Under the sink is my long-lost altar to sanity. Calgon bubbles, bath salts and oil beads are crammed into a tight space, next to the Band-Aids, Children's Grape Tylenol, Advil and chocolate-coated Ex-Lax. I select the unopened bottle of Peach Delight from Victoria's Secret. An unused momento of a previous Valentine's Day...who has time for romance, nowadays?

I pour a generous dollop under the running water and the aroma of sun-grown peaches fill the tiny bathroom. By the time I sink under the bubbles, I'm dreaming of cobbler and vanilla ice cream. I sigh in wonderful relief; a little slice of Heaven, even for just a little while. I think of nothing but the silky water caressing my skin. I am a slim, unfetter dolphin, skimming the foamy waves and looking for adventure. Then I'm an exotic Egyptian princess, floating in a lotus pool. I imagine servants waiting on me, hand-and-foot, tempting with with treats and playing the lyre. What a reversal from my ordinary life. I can indulge now and then, without guilt, can't I? I refuse to feel guilty.

The bath grows cold and I step out with great reluctance. I dry off with the fluffy white towel, delighting in how soft it feels. I apply another exotic lotion and slide into my jammies. Like a general, I feel ready to tackle the chaos in the trenches.

I still smell like peach cobbler.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ad for an imaginary support

Ad for an imaginary supporter

A wonderful, all-around pal who is optimistic about life and the creative process. Someone to share my hopes, dreams, snippets and troubles with. Someone who believes in me and who can give me advice and support when I need it. Someone who also loves travel, animals and kids. Someone who does not believe art, music and writing are a waste of time and analyzes them ad nauseum. A sense of empathy, intelligence and adventure is required. This person is not afraid to try new things and see things in a new way. Humor is a MUST.

Interested? Reply to this ad. Thanks.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing Exercise: Character Description and Stereotypes

Instructions: Think of a character. Write down her name and her job. In 3 sentences, describe her so she fits the stereotypes of people who do this type of work. In another 3, tell something that goes against the stereotype.

Molly Martin: librarian

1) She's petite, with soft brown hair and glasses.
2) Soft-spoken, she's very polite and helpful to her library patrons
3) She wears long skirts, sweaters and loafers to work.

1) She moonlights as a bartender at a popular bar.
2) One of her hobbies is kickboxing.
3) She listens to rock, R&B and rap music. 

Now describe your character's physical appearance, in minute detail.

Height: 5'5. Weight: 125 lbs. (8 stone 9, or 56 kg)
Hairstyle: brown hair, in a ponytail or French braid
Petite with long limbs
Green eyes, small "pug nose", oval-shaped face, flattering wire-framed glasses
Wears unique jewelry that reflects her personality: cat pins, Celtic rings, necklaces, rings
conservative clothing (dark) for work, but always includes a splash of unexpected color
Has a strong grip
Gait: Holds herself straight, but relaxed, like a dancer
Likes clothes, exercise, talking with people, socializing.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writing Exercise: "If your life story was a book..."

If your life story was a book, what would it be titled? What would its chapter titles be?

Version #1
Title: A Remarkable Detour
Chapter One: Merry Olde England
Chapter Two: New to Norfolk, VA
Chapter Three: Eighteen Months in Patuxent River, MD
Chapter Four: Che Bella Italia!
Chapter Five: Back in the States, Virginia Beach VA
Chapter Six: Hokie Country in Blacksburg, VA
Chapter Seven: In Cavalier Country, Charlottesville, VA
Chapter Eight: Southern Hospitality, Charlotte NC

Version #2
Title: The World at my Fingertips
One: The Brazen Brit
Two: The Headstrong Yank
Three: The Iron Butterfly
Four: La Dolce Vita
Five: Back to the Familiar
Six: Jefferson Country
Seven: The Queen City

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Writing Exercise: My Life as a Comic Strip...Coming Soon!

Comic Strip: Annie

Theme(s): Creative people of all walks of life are people too. You don't have to be drunk, nuts, suicidal or depressed to write, paint, or do whatever you love. You can still be happy.

Plot: A neurotic, left-handed writer/artist who struggles with life's oddball screw-ups. She deals with life, love, deadlines, gallery showings, and the ever-bottomless coffee pot. She's a creative person in a decidedly conservative, un-creative area. It gives some hope to people like her and reassures them that they are not crazy. If they turn out to be, they're in very good company!

Setting: A part of town that's like Greenwich Village in New York or NoDa in Charlotte. It includes art studios, galleries, shops, coffee houses, independently-owned bookstores and restaurants. It's a wonderful place to be, although forays into the real world is unavoidable.

Supporting characters: a) traditional, stuffy mom b)glamorous fashion designer sis c)stiff, unyielding pal in banking, d) crazy, philosophical coffee shop/bar owner, e) neurotic cats  f) ever-patient editor, g) best pal from abroad (accent optional)

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

I write.

I write.

Yup, that's what I do for a living. I take whatever's in my head and put it on paper. Sometimes, I visit new worlds and drop by old ones. Ideas tend to flit through my brain and I need to capture them before I lose them. I try not to worry about whether or not they're publishable, not a first. The process is what's important. Many people don't understand my obsession. It's more than a pleasant habit; it's more like breathing. It's necessary. It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't understand. My words run on the paper without end and my voice can't be silent.

I spy.

I watch people under lowered lids. The woman next to me is wearing a dark shirt with jeans, her blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. She's studying something. Another man behind me is wearing gray shorts and is paging through a newspaper.

No, I'm not with the CIA, FBI, DEA, MI5, NCIS, Interpol or any mishmash of alphabet soup. I like to observe people from afar, their appearances and attitudes. You ca tell a lot about a person without their saying a single word. Are they dedicated? Young or old? Happy or angry at the world? What kind of personality do they show? Their likes or dislikes? The human body betrays every nuance. It cannot hide the truth.

I create.

I do it through words, notes and pictures. No one can tell me it's worthless. Every idea is worth pursuing. So what if it turns out nowhere? Like Edison, you know what doesn't work so you can find out what does.

People come alive and thoughts are brought into being. They exist in limbo until someone breathes substance into them. As a creator, it's my job---like being a midwife and seeing children born into your hands.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writing Exercise: Can you Plot a Murder Mystery?

Directions: Outline three different scenarios and include the following: the murderer, the victim, the motive, how the murder happened, who will conduct the investigation, and the investigator's motives in taking the case.

Scenario #1
Murderer: a lover with a grudge
Victim: a homeless man on the street
Motive: Homeless man saw something he wasn't supposed to see: the lover beating her man with a baseball bat
How the murder happened: The woman saw the homeless mans taring into the window of the ground-floor apartment. She came after him with the same bat she used to kill her lover.
The investigator?: A hard-boiled private investigator
His motives: He recently caught his wife cheating on him with another man. This case brings up painful memories for him.

Scenario #2:
Murderer: a cop gone bad
Victim: Another cop in the same precinct
Motive: To hide his connections to the mob. His pal was about to snitch on him.
How the murder happened: During a drug bust, the victim was "accidentally" killed by "friendly fire". In reality, the murderer killed the good cop and made it look like an accidental shooting.
The investigator: someone from Homicide
His motives: He had lost several partners  in the past, so many that no one wants to be his partner. At first he believes the murderer's story (the Homicide guy identifies with the "grief") but as inconsistencies crop up, he gets suspicious.

Scenario #3
Murderer: a female ninja
Victim: a ruthless American businessman
Motive: to secure a company takeover
How the murder happened: a quick and easy assassination within the businessman's electronic fortress
The investigator: a cop of Japanese-American background
Motive: He knows people in the ninja organization: his family and theirs are rivals. He turned is back on evil, but the temptation is always there.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Letter to my Muse

All right, my dear Creative Muse--

"You take care of the quality,
I'll take care of the quantity."*

Because some things that may seem like pure crap,
can actually be nuggets of pure gold.
Please help me do what I can
to let my ideas flow,
so I can share them with the world.
But ultimately,
the only person that is should really matter to is me.

Not family or literary snobs,
who turn their noses and refuse to understand.
My writing is precious to me,
and I will not let anyone
take that comfort away.

Thank you, Creative Muse.
I appreciate all you've done for me.


All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Cute Cultural Comparison

I've been working quite a lot on my Spanish...translating kids' picture books, reading La Noticia with the help of a dictionary and watching one of the Spanish-speaking channels, Univision. Usually, it's in the background as I work. I need to improve my language skills and to do that, I need to actively use it instead of passively studying grammar points.

Spanish TV reminds me a lot of Italian TV. The majority of the day's programming seems to be soap operas (talk about melodramatic and over the top. US soaps could learn a thing or two...), talk shows, and variety shows. This morning, I watched ¡Despierta America! (Wake up, America!). I guess it's their equivalent of The Today Show, but the Today Show was never this wacky. I couldn't imagine Matt Lauer cavorting around with a plastic swordfish stuck to the back of his suspenders, or Al Roker giving someone a foot massage. There's a lot more interaction between the hosts, the crew, and the reporter at the news desk. Not to mention, they're loud, rowdy and obnoxious, but totally uninhibited and completely hilarious. It makes American TV seem puritanical.

In the afternoons, I sometimes watch a talk show named "El Gordo y la Flaca", which literally translates into "The Fat Man and the Skinny Woman". Imagine an American show with that title! You'd be sued by the Civil Liberties Union for violating someone's personal rights or you'd be hit with a defamation suit!) It's not a health show, but the title is somewhat appropriate because the two hosts are...well, a fat guy and a skinny woman. They look cute together, actually. The format is part Ellen deGeneres and part Today Show. Fashion, news, entertainment...nothing's sacred. Right after it is "Primero Impacto" (First Impact), which is their version of "Hard Copy" or "Inside Edition".

Spanish commercials are funny too. A lot of them are either a) translated from the English or b) attempts at advertising music CDs or soap operas. There's a definite dose of culture shock when I first started watching Univision. My first thought was, "This is so corny! How can they do that?!" But they are themselves, talking a mile a minute, cheerful, enthusiastic, emotional, expressive (I haven't seen them not use their hands in conversation), and (brutally) honest. Throw in outgoing, uninhibited (who cares if you have a plastic swordfish stuck to your bum) and willing to have any excuse for a party, or at least a few drinks.

It's almost childlike in a way, before you grow up. The women are all glamorous and the men are all macho.

Definitely different. I envy them in a way.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's All Greek to Me...

We went to the 33rd Yiasou Greek Festival in Charlotte this afternoon. It's held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on West Blvd. There are rides for the kids, face painting and games, plus booths and gift stores inside the cathedral and outside in tents. The biggest draw is the famed Greek pastries, including their delicious baklava. The pastries are so popular that there's a drive-through lane specifically for those. You can pick up a carton of food and go on your merry way.

The church grounds were packed with people, even when it opened at noon. We parked the van at the park near Dilworth Elementary and walked the few blocks to the church. The rides were already in full gear, and the tables under the shady trees were filling up fast. Luckily, we found a good place to sit just in front of an outdoor stage. Robert went in search of food, while I distracted the kids. Robert and I had souvlakis, while the kids split another souvlaki and lemonade. I also brought their usual munchies (teddy grahams, fruit snacks and granola bars), in case they didn't want any of the food.

Sarah toddled her way to the nearby tables, much to everyone's amusement. Christina and I danced a little to the music that drifted out from the speakers. It was an effort trying to keep the kids entertained before and during lunch. After lunch, Christina started to show signs of extreme crankiness, so Robert told me to do my shopping...quickly.

The Orthodox Church has an impressive green dome at the top, and a series of rooms and chambers inside. The two cornerstones are written in both English and Modern Greek, established in 1953. The main cafeteria chamber featured a troupe of traditional Greek dancers on the stage as they did a circle dance. The rooms had items for sale, including nesting dolls, religious books, precious jewelry, art prints, all-natural lotions and beauty products and carved wooden spoons and crosses. I wandered through the series of rooms, peered into the jewelry cases and perused the books. I found a tiny box filled with items from the Holy Land, the perfect Christmas gift for my mother. Then I also found a slim book called "Essential Modern Greek Grammar."

"You got a language book?!" Robert asked in disbelief.

I'm a linguist, go figure. The extent of my knowledge of Greek was limited to what I learned during the kids' Wiggles videos. That included, "Opa!" "Agapame tin Athena" (We love Athens), and "Efkalisto" (Thank you). I took one semester of Russian and one semester of Latin in college for my languages degree, but I was never able to get into the Greek class (that class--and Japanese--always conflicted with my  required classes. The Classics professor was a nice guy and went to my church.). So I gave in to curiosity to look at it. I had flashbacks to my Latin class with all the declensions and conjugations and the alphabet reminded me of my really awful Cyrillic scrawl in Russian class. (My Cyrillic is still indecipherable, by the way.) But my interest was piqued.w

We watched a group of children dance on the outside stage, and a pair of bellydancers walked past me. After buying two containers of Greek pastries, we left and headed to the Dilworth Park, where the kids played on the equipment and Christina got herself soaked in the outdoor fountain. By the time we were headed back home on I-77, two of the three kids were asleep, and I couldn't wait to dig into the baklava.

I can't wait for next year, for more pastries, dancing, music...and language. Experiencing a different culture is always an eye-opener, no matter which culture it is.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Drumming as a Way of Life...a book by Mickey Hart

I just finished reading Mickey Hart's Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion. Mickey's the drummer for the Grateful Dead and has been a percussionist for mover 25 years.

The book nearly blew me away. It weaves Mickey's personal journey as a drummer (his father Lenny was also a drummer) and the history and tradition of drum. Shamans and possession trance rituals spread from the beginning of time from Asia and Africa. These traditions endured, despite modernization and invasions from self-righteous invaders. These rhythms evolved into other forms, such as jazz, heavy metal, and blues. Mickey attempts to understand this way of life, a way of consciousness that is all but extinct in North America.

I've been and still am a percussionist. When I listen to music, I'll listen for the drums and the bass, the snare and the bodhran, the kettle and the bass guitar. They hold the other instruments together, but have a melody all their own.

Eleven years ago, I enjoyed listening to a drum jam at the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA. It was just an experience- it's hard to explain just what I felt. A sense of clearing of my mind, an uplifting of my spirit. That's the closest I can get to describing it. I wished I'd stayed longer, but my husband was impatient to go.

Since then, my fascination with rhythm and how to build it has been there, but understated. I enjoyed music classes, but I felt like a thief indulging in a secret vice. But it survived, no matter all the criticism. It was a relief to read a book that addressed what the magic of drumming was, to those who open their minds and hearts to it.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes...Honest Poetry?

I enjoy writing poetry. The rhythm and the flow remind me of a musical piece. It's always a challenge to put your thoughts and ideas into a visual palette of words. There are always new and innovative ways to put them together. Some of the best poetry I've read have made me pause and think, "Hey, I've never thought of it that way!"

My first attempts at poetry were hardly dignified. When I was in the fourth grade, the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop ran a poetry contest for Mother's Day. Each line had to start with the first letter of the word "Mother". First line with an "M" and so forth. (Mnemonic poetry, I think it what they call it). The first place prize was an ice-cream cake for mom.

I worked on the entry and sent it in before the deadline. For the life of me, I can't remember most of what I wrote. The only thing I can remember was what I'd written for the letter "H". It was as follows:

"H: Her temper is like a volcano."

That got the judge's attention. Hey, I was all of eight years old at the time,and it was true. Mom was somewhat embarrassed at that moment. Isn't there a quote that says something like, "Writing tells us what we don't like to see?" This was a living example. And as someone else commented to me, "Out of the mouths of babes..."

I did place in the top three and presented my mom with an ice cream cake for Mother's Day. Mom later had a good chuckle out of it and dryly commented that if I was going to use her as an example, to at least let her know first.

A poet had been born...and she still tries to put her thoughts and tell her truth into colorful words.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Strong Female Role Models

For the record, I didn't grow up with strong female role models. I had a "stereotypical" Asian daughter's upbringing. According to my mother, my goal in life was "to go to school, get a good job and help the family." It was implied that I would follow the desired paths of law or medical school. My mother had been a nurse' she had hopes I would follow in her footsteps.

Being a writer wasn't encouraged. I knew I had no real desire to enter the medical profession, although I admired people who had the courage (and determination) to become doctors. Being a lawyer wasn't too appealing to me, either. When I told Mom that I was thinking about majoring in journalism, she had visions of CNN dancing in her head.

"Oh, that's so dangerous!" she gasped. Or she wanted me to take her on overseas assignments so she could travel. On the whole, she didn't approve of my dreams or ambitions. They were not part of her plan.

As a result, my writing had very few strong female characters. Most of them were submissive and suffering, or domineering and meddling. I didn't know better at the time. One of my friends at the time commented, "Do you really hate us that much?" I guess I had a subconscious scorn and disdain for women, whom I considered weak. I must have spewed a lot of venom in those early days. In one way, it cleared a lot of emotional garbage that was happening at the time. It allowed me to reconcile my feelings of an independent person breaking free of her mother's shadow.

I began looking at others for role models: teachers, acquaintances, friends. What kind of qualities appealed to me? What kind of traits do I want? Honesty, courage, strength, patience, enducrace, love, honor and respect. To be treated, and treat others, equally, instead of assuming control over others and forcing them to do your will.

I also turned to books, mainly science fiction and fantasy. Authors like Marion  Zimmer Bradley (The Mists of Avalon) and Mercedes Lackey (the Heralds of Valdemar series) included powerfu characters in their stories. To my delight, I found David Weber's Honor Harrington series. Honor's character has been described as "a female Horatio Hornblower or Lord Admiral Nelson".

Although these women embody sterling qualities, they are far from infallible. Morgaine Le Fey is a priestess of the Old Celtic Ways, and tries to stem the tide of a new religion in Britain: Christianity. Talia Sensdaughter struggles to deal with strange powers. Honor Harrington deals with politics that interfere with her military career, as well as her personal life. They must overcome their struggles in a very human-like manner.

Anime cartoons for young girls featured a strong central female character. Most of the time, it centered on a normal girl who had been granted magical powers to do some good in the world. The more mature films showed women in positions of power: military leaders, pilots, and heads of business corporations. Even the villains possessed a delicious ruthlessness that was unique. Women held their own beside the men (and even had somewhat believable sex lives!) It was an eye opener for me.

All this influenced my writing in a positive way. Gone was the passive geisha girl, the teary-eyed Victorian heroine. I began to unlock a new treasure chest of characters. They spoke with new confidence and new life and enriched my literary world a thousand-fold.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Literary Agent

I lived in Naples, Italy from 1982 to 1987, and like many military kids, I grew very close to my tight knot of friends. The "Naples Gang" met in the library of Naples American High School during breaks from classes. It was a relatively small room int he basement, consisting of a few tables, bookshelves and the ever-present card catalog (this was in the era before computers and the Internet). We laughed and talked, wrote reports and penned stories.

The librarian, Mr. D, was a grandfatherly type who looked after all of us. The library was his domain, of course. He didn't tolerate a ot of guff. At that time, he must have in his forties or early fifties, stocky, balding and bespectacled. He knew about my literary aspirations and encouraged my scribbling.

We had a running joke between us: when I became a famous writer, he'd be my agent and he'd represent me in Hollywood when my books made it to film. There was the good-natured hagging over his "percent". We finally settled it at ten. In fact, at the end of the school year, he wrote the following in my yearbook:

"Long live Rosalyn; long may she write. Remember my percent and see you in Hollywood."

Well, Mr. D. I may not be as big of an author as John Grisham or Stephen King, but I am still looking for an agent!

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leonardo's Notebooks and My Journaling

Leonardo da Vinci, the famous scientist, artist and philosopher, has always been one of my role models. The man designed contraptions that were way ahead of his time (a flying machine, for example). His paintings were remarkably lifelike and anatomically correct. According to history, he was also a superb musician and a snappy dresser to boot.

As a consummate scientist, he kept observations about the world around him. Da Vinci filled notebooks with writing, drawings, name it. These entries were as varied and eclectic as anything, but unfortunately, he never got around to organizing it in any coherent fashion. Imagine what kind of index it would have made if he'd done so! He asked questions, formulated answers and tested hypotheses. He drew pictures of plants, machines and human bodies. Da Vinci was -literally- poetry in motion.

Some of these musings were written in mirror writing: backwards and right to left. Da Vinci was a natural lefty; it may have been simply easier for him to write that way. In all, reading his notebooks is a fascinating journey through the maestro's mind.

I hadn't known about Da VInci's notebooks when I first had the urge to write. If I'd known, I would have laughed at the irony. Nearly fourteen years later, I wonder why I hadn't done it much sooner.

It was during my first year of marriage and I was living in Charlottesville, VA at the time. Having to readjust to a new environment and dismal job opportunities had put me in a paralyzing funk. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? Was I going to end up as a resentful housewife for the rest of my days? Needless, to say it was a rough period.

I don't know what compelled me to go to the Barnes and Noble. I went straight to the gifts section and looked at the sketchbooks. I finally picked out hardbound, spiral one: blue, with a picture of stars and galaxies on the front; crisp, heavy white pages meant for color pencil and charcoal. After paying for it, I hunkered down in the B&N cafe' with a ball-point pen and started to write.

I poured out my thoughts, my dreams and my resentments. Eventually, I also little scenes of action and dialog, which I dubbed "snippets". Sometimes it sparked other scenes to take it forward, other times it hung there, suspended. I also scribbled poetry, dream recollections, quotes and anecdotes. Inspirational articles found their way into the pages: interviews with successful writers, how-to's and others. Favorite comics, advice from the business section of the paper.

As the years passed by, I filled notebook after notebook. Later, I started to sketch and drawings of my own. I finally overcame my embarrassment at my (poor?) artistic ability. There was no harm in experimenting with colored pencils, brush pens and charcoal. Still life, scenery and lots of beach scenes. My cats became unwilling models for my art.

It surprised me just how natural this felt after such a short time. Keep in mind that I'd already been writing in a regular journal for more than fifteen years prior to this. That journal was more of a "daily-time-tick-here's-what-I-did-where-I-was". The sketchbook seemed to allow me the freedom to expand my horizons, the room to write whatever I wanted, with no censure. I figured the only person who would see this rubbish was me, anyway. It must have been the white, blank page, no boundaries. I wasn't intimidated by it. I simply filled page after page with no second thought.

It was a safety valve through those initial years, a place for me to bent my feelings and build my dreams of a more fulfilling, more creative life. At first, I was reluctant to act on them: not practical, not intelligent. But  my notebooks insisted for years, until I found the courage to act upon it.

As of this writing, I have twenty-two of such notebooks (and twenty-five journal books, dating back to 1986). Paging through them is like sifting through a gold-silted river. Old ideas and new insights, old snippets and new connections. It's strange how coincidence and synchronicity had such an impact on my life...but I hadn't realized just how much.

Recently, I bought the book, "How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci" by Michael Gelb. It was then I found out about Da Vinci's notebooks and his widespread creative efforts. I was struck by his genius and like Da Vinci did, I continue to record in my notebooks...the pieces of my existence.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Anime and Manga influenced my Writing

This seems to be a strange topic to include in an essay about writing. Most people don't know what the word manga means, except that it's Japanese cartoons, and they dismiss fans of manga as obsessed dreamers who live in a world completely out of touch with normal life. Believe it or not, Japanimation and manga became an influence in my early formative years as a writer, and it influences me still, albeit in a different way.

A word of clarification here: manga is printed comics (it literally means 'whimsical pictures' in Japanese).There are several kinds of manga, including Shonen (usually aimed at young males) and Shojo (aimed at young females). Some examples of manga are Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Sailor Moon. Anime is short for "Japanese animation"  and can either be hand-drawn or computer-generated. These include films,computer games,and commercials. Some familiar anime are Pokemon, Robotech: Macross, Astroboy and Pokemon. Both anime' and manga have distinctive artistic styles, especially in the characters' facial expressions and body structure.

How did these Japanese concepts influence my own writing and art?

My father was in the U.S. Navy and my family moved around from duty station to duty station. In 1982, he received orders to one of the carriers in Battle Force Sixth Fleet, in the Mediterranean Sea, out of Naples, Italy. We ended up staying in Italy for five years. During that time in my life (between 9-15 years old), I was unwrapping my talents as a writer. I wrote poetry and short stories, drew pictures and artwork, blissfully innocent.

It was also the one period of my life where I was an avid TV watcher. Every day, after school, I'd watch cartoons on the Italian channels. At that time, there was only one American station, SEB (Southern European Broadcasting, out of Sigonella, Sicily) that was connected with AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio Television Servies, out of Heidelberg, Germany). Satellite television was just getting started, there was no Internet, no vid streaming, no e-mail. We were pretty isolated. We watched shows at least a season behind the States.

Some of the cartoons were American exports dubbed into Italian. The voice-overs were downright hilarious, if you were used to the American version. I could never listen to Tenderheart Bear of the Care Bears without breaking out into hysterical laughter. He sounded like Ozzy Ozbourne on helium. But most of what I watched were exported from Japan: the robots like Transformers and Voltron, the cutesy talking horses, bubbleheads and sprites.

Then there were the ones with the more "mature" themes. Italian television was a lot more lax in their censorship. One of my favorites was Cat's Eye, which involved three sisters who were art thieves by night and caterers by day. They were portrayed as strong-willed women who searched for their father's paintings (which had been stolen after his death). It was in interesting study of moral dilemmas: Is stealing ever "right"?

It was programs like these that helped my creative juices flowing, and I also started collecting manga. Some were anthologies of the anime shows, others were stand-along stories. I learned the basic parts of a plot: the "hook", conflict, the climax and the resolution. I learned to pay close attention to the details and how to set up action. "Talky" stories were not exciting; interplanetary (and interpersonal) conflicts were.

Most of all, I learned about characters as people. Even the most evil of interstellar tyrants or all-powerful wizards had their motivations, twisted or otherwise. Even the "good guys" had their dark moments, and may not get along with each other some of the time. It was closer to real life than I realized. I tried to give my stories strong main and supporting characters, with believable qualities and foibles.That is an important part of any literary work, to make your characters and their adventures believable.

I still have my comic book collection (buried somewhere in the garage) and I have one hand hand-bound book on a shelf in my bedroom. It's a collection of stories of a futuristic space exploration group who uses all sorts of technology in their travels (sound familiar?). I leaf through it and wince at the stilted writing, the typewritten pages on loose-leaf ruled paper, the uneven drawings, the amateur binding (a gift from a friend) that has somehow managed to keep it all together after more than 25 years. Then I remind myself that world was very real to a thirteen-year-old who had lost her heart and freed her imagination to the written word.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Dreamer Poses a Question on I-85

I'm back after an 8-hour trip back to Charlotte. It was a pretty good visit, although it's good to be home. On I-85, between Greensboro and Charlotte, an interesting van passed us and I stared at it for some time. It was reddish-gold with a picture spray painted on the driver's side back window. It was of an man with dreadlocks and wearing green clothing. The passenger's side back window had a thought-provoking message: "White Art, Black Art, Why can't it just be ART?"

Why indeed? Why can't it just be "art" or "writing" or "a reflection of the Human condition?" Is it just a tendency to classify all things according to how they're different? The color of the writer's/artist's skin? A need to seek out people and objects which we're comfortable with i.e. the ones most like us? Is it a matter of convenience or something else?

What do you think?

Ironically enough, the driver's information was also spray-painted on the side window: "Robbie the Dreamer" and his phone number. Although we only passed each other on the interstate and didn't actually meet, he left a definite impression on me, not to mention a question to find an answer.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On the Road from NC during Labor Day Weekend...

On the road to my sister's place in Virginia...

...the weather was gorgeous, blue sky with light swirls of white, brilliant sunshine, wind through the trees.  The kids ran around the rest area with reckless abandon. Happy to be freed from the moving vehicle, they chased each other and Daddy among the trees and the picnic benches.

...the state troopers sat at the side of the road, watching for speeders. Their flashing blue lights could be seen for miles, screaming a warning to everyone else. Red brake lights lit up like neon dominoes, as the others heeded the warning. Time to raise money for state and county.

...Welcome to Virginia, with the red cardinal and the blue flag: "Sic semper tyrannus.". Welcome to North Carolina, with the red, white and blue banner and golden NC.

...A long stretch of road through southeastern Virginia, US Route 58. My father in law once told us of the time when 58 was a deceivingly simple two-lane country road, from Emporia to Martinsville. Deceiving simple, for this stretch was infamously known as "Suicide Strip". Many cars ran off the road during the older days, before the 58 Bypass, before speed limits. It's still a good idea to be vigilant here, with the rolling hills lulling motorists into a false sense of security.

...I haven't lived here for 15 years. I remember when there was nothing but fields out by Princess Anne Road. Now there are Targets and Super Wal-Marts, the SportsPlex and the Virginia Beach Amphitheater, and high-rise condos and new churches and schools. My parents lived on the edge of the suburbs; now it takes three minutes to get a extra-hot, non-fat, no-whip, cinnamon chai tea with a egg-yolk-less, whole wheat, lean ham and non-dairy cheese.

...I write this on a Sunday morning on Labor Day weekend. It's relatively quiet now, with cartoons on the TV. Later it will be chaos, with parents and relatives and friends coming over for a barbeque, people I haven't seen for nearly a year; kids playing on the playground equipment outside, football on the big-screen, older kids on the Wii, and Baby Sarah taking it all in and thinking, "My family is weird."

But weird is good, and family is forever.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Creativity Quotes from Great Writers, Artists and Musicians

Creativity Quotes

"If you write a hundred short stories and they're all bad, that doesn't mean you've failed. You only fail if you stop writing." ---Ray Bradbury

"I'm a writer. I don't cook and I don't clean..."---Dorothy West

"You develop a style from writing a lot."---Kurt Vonnegut

"Start to write, and let one thing lead to another..." Ring Lardner

"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."---Mark Twain

"Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness."---Allen Ginsberg

"You're a writer and that's something better than being a millionaire, because it's something holy."---Harlan Ellison

"I may never know when I sit down, just what I am going to write. I make no plan, it just comes and I don't know where it comes from."---D.H. Lawrence

"It's a great relief to me to know that I can actually be creative and be happy at the same time."---James W. Hall.

"We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that."---Toni Morrison

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."---Collette

"I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds around my neck."---Emma Goldman

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."---Einstein

"Art? You just do it." ---Martin Ritt

"Saying no can be the ultimate self-care."---Claudia Black

"Creative work is play. It is free speculation using the materials of one's chosen form."---Stephen Nakomonovich

"Do not fear mistakes. There are none."---Miles Davis

"In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity."---Einstein

"Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."---Charlie Parker

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."---Anais Nin

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing Exercise: 10 Favorite Novels and Common Elements

10 Favorite Novels and Why I Like Them

This writing exercise asks you to pick your 10 favorite novels from any genre and list why you like these particular books. Look over your list and lists the common elements that the books share. You might be surprised at the themes and images that recur, even if the books vary in tone and genre.

1) Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey
Why? Strong female character, elemental magic, Hindu theology and mythology, overcoming prejudice in Edwardian-era England.

2) The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey
Why? Music composition and performance, Bards and Bardic Magic, Lark overcomes odds to become a Master.

3) Honor Harrington: War of Honor by David Weber
Why? Military sci-fi saga. Honor is a brilliant but compassionate officer. She deals with dual cultures. Psychic abilities, Advanced technologies vs. religious doctrine

4) Mist of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Why? Based on Arthurian saga, but written from a feminist viewpoint. Christianity vs. Old Religion. fate vs. free choice. no "good" or "evil" characters, but all have their flaws and strong points.

5) The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Why? Set in Australian Outback, coming-of-age story. Complicated family relationships, forbidden romance (Meggie and Ralph)

6) One by Richard Bach
Why? alternate universes, What does life teach us? love triumphs over death. Metaphysical ideas.

7) The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews
Why? Set in various historical periods, hope in adversity, lessons for life
8) Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan (Star Trek)
Why? Clues to disease cure in old ballads, music, different languages and cultures, prejudice between peoples, outdoor survival, friendships despite differences.

9) The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane (Star Trek)
Why? Different people work together to a common goal. Advanced technology doesn't always work. Life as a "game". Interesting aliens (glass spider!)

10) My Enemy, My Ally by Diane Duane (Star Trek)
Why? 'Enemies' work together to stop a possible galactic conflict, overcome prejudice on both sides, espionage mission, struggle with honor vs. what's right, focus on Romulan (Rihannsu) culture

Common themes in all these books:
a) strong characters (mostly female)
b) overcoming prejudice (either within yourself or towards others)
c) settings in foreign/fantastical locations
d) languages and culture (including different worldviews and attitudes, music)
e) relationships between people (love and friendship)

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010