Fuel the Imagination: Make Soup

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When the words won’t come.

A former high school student of mine, Kat Frost, posted a photo on Facebook of her working with her jewelry. She makes beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets. She’s also a writer. In this specific post, she said she was working through writer’s block.

I understand. My response to her was of how I cook, specifically, I chop vegetables, when I’m working through a story.

Storytelling doesn’t stop when I shut off the laptop. The plot and characters continue to live in my head, but I may have lost sight of what to do with them.

I sit at my laptop or over my handwritten paper and wait to jar loose what the story needs, where it should go, who must talk or think or dream. Sometimes continuing to write shakes the ideas free and the story picks up its pace again.

When it’s time to walk away.

Then the time comes when I believe I’ve exhausted all options. I can’t think of one more possibility.

Time to shut down the writing equipment and walk away. At this point, I move to the kitchen.

It’s time to make soup.

Cooking does it for me.

I enjoy cooking. My mother cooked in country clubs and restaurants. Everything from contemporary American meals to traditional Slovak cuisine to leftovers, my mom created delicious meals. Maybe it’s in the DNA, but her children know how to cook as well.

I didn’t realize right away what I was doing whenever I decided to stop writing to make soup.

I thought I was chickening out, escaping the challenge of completing the story. Here I was getting up from the writing rather than sticking with it until I had worked out the flaws or gone beyond the white space.

Now I know that though I leave my desk, my story stays with me as I chop vegetables, dribble oil in a hot pan, drop in sliced onions and minced garlic.

I don’t run away from my story. It’s right there in my imagination. Working itself out.

Tricking the brain.

No science data here just a feeling.

The right brain is the creative side. It needs freedom to move around and express itself. The left side is about regimentation. It wants to work out the details, go over the arguments again and again, nag at me to eat, to sleep, to go do something.

When the left brain is so engaged, the right creative brain is weakened.

If I do something that the left side can dominate, it won’t pay attention to the right side making its way through its creative processes.

I trick my brain into thinking it’s making soup. By keeping it occupied doing physical, structured work, my creative side can do its own thing without interference.

When my story character is in a real jam. When the chapter fits on the outline but has no business in the story itself.  When any other situation has me staring at the page, writing and deleting the same lines. When I get stuck and the talk in my head isn’t story as much as it is brain talk. I stop.

My imagination has gone on a break. It’s taken a walk. Faded into the sunset.

While cooking, my brain’s preoccupied with food details. Its focused on peeling, slicing, cubing and mincing. It glories in knowing the oil must get hot enough before adding the first vegetable, then the second, then the next.

When my brain is otherwise engaged in the menial tasks of food preparation, the imagination runs freely. The elements of narrative, plot, conflict tumble around and around, shaking out details and possibilities.

The story figures itself out because nothing is stalling it. I’m not getting in the way of the creative process.

I go back to the writing with renewed ideas.

And, later, soup.

 

“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily, because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things. Most of all, I keep working because I trust that creativity is always trying to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.”  ~Elizabeth Gilbert

 

*All images are my own unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

 

Ninja Cats

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My Charges: Sprite and Merlin.

One of my favorite opportunities to surround myself in my writing and the business of writing is when I house- and cat-sit for family. For the last eight days, I have been watching two identical brothers, Sprite and Merlin. It is the first time their people have left the kittens alone for more than a few hours.

I keep a brief journal for the cats’ people. Nothing fancy just when they eat, whether they played, if they did something memorable.

These two clowns, sweethearts, entertainment centers drew out of me a different sort of journal. From Day One to Day Eight, I marked their process of getting to know me. They still remain hesitant to eat while I am in the room, which, in the end, bothered me more than it bothered them.

They’d rather play Ninja.

Day 1: Our people have abandoned us.

10 am: All is quiet. We are exhausted in our abandonment.

1 pm: I, the bravest of the brothers, stand at the top of the stairs but within one small leap from my people’s bedroom door. I see her walk past the bottom of the steps as she enters the kitchen. I say nothing though she smiles at me. I dash back into my people’s room.

We must not be seen. We are now Ninja cats.

2:30 pm: I hear her moving about, throwing away the one can of food she’d divided for each of us, my brother and me. She put it in our bowls for breakfast but we have ignored her attempts to get us to come downstairs, even with food, even with bad singing.

8 pm: She’s replaced the afternoon morsels that we didn’t eat with a mere teaspoonful in each bowl. When she is out of the kitchen we eat it up. She leaves more food in our bowls before she quits for the night.

Day 2: We have her fooled.

8 am: We left one of our toys in the downstairs bathroom overnight. But she doesn’t know who did it. We also ate up the food she left in the bowls when she went to bed. We Ninja cats need our energy to play all night and hide all day.

5 pm: We stir and slip into the kitchen to eat what wet morsels remain in our bowls. Food is critical for our secret survival here in the house.

8:15 pm: She has spotted us at the top of the stairs. Wait! She’s going for the bench by the door. Oh, my feline goodness, Stick! Stick! The stick with the dangle string is our favorite toy! We are tempted when she waves it on the floor. But we are Ninja. We will not bend.

Okay, we will come down a few steps but only a few. We watch. We don’t engage.

8:20 pm: She has gone into the living room, taking Stick with her. We must not weaken.

8:30 pm: She sits on the couch. Stick and its string dangle over the coffee table.

We will pretend we are playing. We bat at the string and bite the plastic tip of Stick to make her think we are having fun–but we are not.

9 pm: We slip into the kitchen to eat the food in our bowls. Then we slip upstairs to our people’s bedroom where we play loudly the rest of the evening to make her think we are bowling.

Day 3: Not to be enticed.

8 am: We wait until she is out of the kitchen before we eat. But one of us, dazzled by something in the front yard, jumps on the stool and stares out the window. He lingers too long in the open. She barely says “hey there” and we are gone.

2 pm: We must see why she has the TV on. We want Stick but we’ve yet to conquer the bench seat lid. The braver of us goes to the couch where she sits, taps her knee and runs. She is smarter than we think. She releases Stick from the bench and waves it on the floor as we watch from the top of the stairs. We come down and play only until she stands up from her seat on the bench and we are gone.

6 pm: We needed our power naps. Now we are awake and we hear her music where she sits at the desk. From another room in the house, we make a noise as if we’ve tipped over a glass. But when she gets up to investigate, she sees nothing, including us.

She puts a small teaspoon of wet food in our bowls as if that will entice us to eat. We cannot be persuaded. She returns to her desk–none the wiser.

9 pm. She cleans out the dried up food from before and replaces it with fresh. Sometime in the night we eat.

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Day 4: Into the light and the carpet castle.

8 am: She has opened the front door. We are drawn to the sunshine but we do not stay long for she is working in the kitchen. It is daytime, which means we must disappear into our people’s bedroom.

2 pm: She is making a sandwich and will not see one of us as we climb to the top of the carpet castle in the living room in front of the back patio doors. I, the bravest one, play with the curtain as I lie on my back in the sunshine. I slip out when she comes into the room.

3:30 pm: The sun and our carpet castle are too much temptation. We miss them. We slip into the living room and I up onto my top perch. My brother loves the cave. We keep an eye out for her. When she walks into the room, we are gone.

4 pm: She sits on the couch. We enter the living room, but she rises and we run up the stairs. She picks up the garage door opener. Is she abandoning us, too? No, she walks the driveway. We are nowhere to be found when she comes back inside. But she must know we have been downstairs; some of the food that she has placed in our bowls in the morning is gone.

5 pm: She comes upstairs but she does not enter our people’s room but goes into her own sleeping quarters. While she is occupied, we slip to our bowls and see that she has thrown away the older food and replaced with fresh. We are Ninja cats and this is how we eat now.

6:30 pm: She is in the basement, cleaning our three litter boxes. We accept her servicing our area. To show our gratitude, I, the braver one, comes up to her to say hello and let her pet me. My brother stays beyond the litter box area and watches.

In the living room, we hang out on the carpet castle.

8:30 pm: She puts food out but we do not eat until she goes upstairs for the night.

Day 5, 6: We have fun.

8 am: I, the bravest of brothers, enter into her bedroom in the morning. I must be rubbed and scratched. She is good at it. I escort her downstairs. Though I stay in the kitchen while she puts food in our bowls, I don’t eat.

I jump up on the bench. She takes out Stick. We play. We have fun. My brother joins me.

Day 7, 8: We go wherever we want.

8 am: We miss our people but we jump on the bed in her room and say hello. We are petted. We play in her suitcase.

8:30 am: We eat the normal amount of food for breakfast. She seems fine that we do this.

We go wherever we want in the house. We take our naps in the carpet castle. She picks up a bunch of Kleenex we’ve scattered during one of our many romps and puts the box back on the shelf when she cleans our litter boxes in the basement. She props up the framed photos we let fall when we chased each other on the end tables. She readjusts the waste basket in the bathroom and picks up the toy under the unrolled toilet paper.

She wonders when we did all these things. Though we are friends with her now, we are still Ninja cats. We have our secrets.

8:30 pm: She puts the normal amount of wet food mixed with a little dry into our bowls. We eat as soon as she leaves the room.

 

“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.”   ~Pam Brown

*Images are my own unless otherwise noted.

 

Emerging From The Chrysalis

I notice how penitent I feel as I come back to my blog after being gone for a little more than a year. I want to apologize to someone. I feel like the dog who missed the newspapers and is looking at her human with sad eyes.

My reasons for my absence are valid. I’ve experienced drastic changes in my family, which required much of my focus. The center of my life, my mother, passed way last Thanksgiving. Since then I’ve been working with my family on the process of selling the home where all six of us kids grew up.

However, the most valid reason I’ve been gone is I fell out of practice.

I won’t dillydally about it. Let’s rip off the bandage in one strong pull. I am back and I am going to come here more often.

Like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I stretch my wings.

Oh, look! A whole field of wild flowers!              DSCN0253