Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Creative Age

Frank McCourt relished his role as Fitzgerald slayer. The famed high school teacher turned author--who died last month at 78--loved to put the kibosh on F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous line,"There are no Second Acts in American life." McCourt, who published his first book, the blockbuster bestseller Angela's Ashes at 66( followed by 'Tis and Teacher Man) often called the last decade of his life his best.

So I'm sure he'd delight in being my opening salvo in a motivational nudge I recently gave a client deeply entrenched in a procrastinational funk. "I'm too old to start writing a book now," she said, lamenting her approaching birthday. I'm not sure where she got such a silly notion, but she's not alone. I've had many clients and students who think they're too old to pursue their dreams. Unless your dream is to, say, play shortstop for the Mets or dance in the NYC Ballet, I'm pretty sure they are within reach. Think of it this way: you're still--God willing--going to turn 40,50,60, whatever age you deem too old. Wouldn't your rather reach that dubious milestone doing something you love?

The truth is creativity knows no age. Actually, the art of creating helps you stay young, keeping you in touch with the child within, letting you engage in the states of exploration and play. And whatever your age, you've presumably accrued experience along the way. This can only help enrich the art you create.

Besides McCourt examples of late-blooming artists abound. Grandma Moses didn't even start painting until her 70's; her late-in-life career kept her thriving, creating the American folk art that has immortalized her well into her 90's. Maya Angelou didn't publish anything until her 40's. Neither did Ellen Gilchrist;the National Book Award winning short story writer and novelist once said writing keeps her young,"makes me forget I'm not young anymore." There are examples from the youth-obsessed entertainment industry, too. Noted character actor John Mahoney--famous for his TV role as Frasier's dad (and numerous movie parts)ditched his job as a text book editor in his 40's to pursue acting.Julia Child was over fifty when she published her first ground-breaking cook book;and she was well into her fifties when she stormed the small screen, becoming the first celebrity TV chef. Country singers K.T. Oslin and Buddy Jewel didn't hit the charts until their 40's. And Britain's Got Talent finalist and YouTube sensation Susan Boyle is recording her first album at the tender age of 48. The Pope just signed a record deal, and he's in his 80's. Now that news makes almost everyone feel young!

There's nothing like immersing yourself in a creative project to infuse your life with youthful energy. So dive into the creative well. It's the ultimate fountain of youth.So what are you waiting for? You're not getting any younger.

Drive safe. Play nice. think peace.


Monday, July 6, 2009

You Gotta Believe

My childhood love affairs with the famous Dragon Coaster and the New York Mets prepared me for the ups and downs of a creative career.

The anticipation. The ascension. The dips. These are all part of every roller coaster ride. And every season, every game ( sometimes every inning). And they all play roles in most creative careers, too.

Just entering historic Rye Playland filled my youthful heart with magic and wonder. When I was straddling the middle between Kiddie Land and the Big rides, I would wait in line, standing tall, working a nasty little hole in the tip of my sneakers, hoping, praying I'd make the height line. I used to base my summer's success on the number of visits my family made to Playland.

When I finally made it onto the Dragon Coaster,I remember that queasy feeling that crept from my stomach to my head as we boarded the ride cars, buckled in for a wild, raucous, three minute romp. Kids would titter, giggle, laugh even before the ride started. The laughter, the screaming reached a crescendo as we took our first big, thrilling dip.

I loved it all. Until. Until the summer I turned seventeen and got a job ( actually begged for a job) as a relief ticket-taker. I'd roam the grounds of the hallowed Playland, proudly wearing my red and white striped carnival barker's shirt, filling in for the regular ticket-takers on a variety of rides, including my beloved Dragon Coaster. Somehow turning kids away and getting lambasted in a compendium of United Nations' languages sapped all the majesty and mystique out of the Playland experience.

But I still had--and have--my Mets. Hooked on New York's other baseball team by my dad, who had been a fervent Brooklyn Dodgers' fan, I inherited his love for the underdog Amazin's ( and , come to think of it, all underdogs, not to mention my love of writing). I'm too young to remember the 1969 Miracle Mets, but I do know they clinched the World Series against the Orioles on October 16-my mom's birthday. And I'll forever hold Tug McGraw's 1973 inspirational anthem, " You Gotta Believe," in my heart. It's seen me through many hapless seasons. And the glorious 1986 championship season ( here's where Red Sox fans can use the boost), and near misses in 1999 and 2000, a pair of crash-and-burn Septembers in 2007 & 2008. It's helping me hang in this injury-riddled year, hoping, waiting, knowing a recovery is imminent, a comeback is in the offing.

And so it is with my creative career, too. I love the whole shebang--from conceiving a project to executing it; from launching it into the world to fielding feedback from audiences and readers. It's all part of the process. And you have to love it all to make any of it happen. I love the possibilities of a new project, all the details that get discovered, the stories that are fleshed out along the way. I yearn for success, of course, but I embrace the failures too. I've even developed a perverse sort of love for rejection letters. Each one is a symbol of my committment to my work. People have a right to say no. They can't get it right every time. And neither can I. But every stumbling block, every obstacle, they are all part of the thrilling ride.

If you come to play, be prepared to work hard and practice. Accept that you'll strike out a few times. But if your disciplined, you'll get to run the bases. And if you work hard enough and if you're truly lucky you may just hit one out of the park.Maybe even two. Or three.

Hey, you gotta believe!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thanks, But No Thanks

I collect nos. And if you're a writer ( or anyone looking for a job these days), you probably do, too. Unless you're Stephen King's wife or Mary Higgins Clark's daughter, you're likely to amass hundreds, if not thousands of rejection letters. I refuse to count, but I have a friend who keeps a tally. A student alphabetizes every rejection by the agent's last name; another catalogs them by date received. Some people hang them up on a wall; some burn them in a cleansing ritual; some simply toss them in the trash. I'm saving mine for an art project worthy of a National Endowment for the Arts grant or for gotcha bragging rights when I become famous. Whatever works.

Of course there are variations on the "no." Some are mere form letters, untouched by human hands. Some are more emphatic than others. The " No way in hell," is rarely bluntly stated, but often implied in the short " Dear Author" form card. But just as quickly as such an austere standard brush -off can slam the door shut, a slightly warmer rebuff can open a crack in the window of literary fortune."Not now," especially if written in hand with something akin to, "But try us again," offers a glimmer of hope. A real personalized letter with actual suggestions and a " try again later," is nothing short of promising.

All writers---novices and pros alike--need encouragement. It may seem counter-intuitive to find such a boost from a rejection letter, but it's there. Look at it this way: sending out your work is a positive step ( assuming it's ready to be seen by editors and agents). It is your foray into the literary lottery. And like love and lotteries, the submission process is very much a numbers game. Frequently you have to endure a succession of nos to finally arrive at that one coveted yes. But that one sweet yes can swiftly eradicate your rejection dejection.

And you never know who will see your work along the way. An unsolicited call from an editor asking me to write an article or a festival director seeking to produce one of my plays can help me rebound from a recent batch of rejections. Just the jolt I need to re-energize my creative juices, refuel my resolve to keep going, fortify me for yet another round of submissions.

So every time you get a rejection letter, file it, count it, catalog it, toss it. Do what works for you. But make sure the ritual includes savoring each rejection as a symbol of your commitment and faith in your own work. And know you're not alone. There are millions of us collecting nos. Like that famous little train, if you think you can convert those nos into a yes, you can.

I think I can. I think I can. And I think you can, too.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Thursday, June 4, 2009


Start with the smell of burnt toast. Or look for a pair of missing earrings. Try falling out of love. Or waiting for an interview for a job you desperately want ( or one you never thought you'd have to get). Start with a line from a song or a classic movie. Look at a snapshot from a family album. Or a photo from the newspaper.

These are all prompts I have used in creative writing workshops to help writers tap into the creative well that is available to every artist. We typically use the first fifteen to twenty minutes of each session to just write, write, write. The prompt is merely a suggestion- a jumping off point, which can be used or eschewed in favor of an image or idea rumbling around in a writer's head. The premise: uncensored, uninhabited writing can open the creative passageway often blocked by the raging self-doubt of that pesky inner critic that seems to tag along for the ride.

After we finish writing, folks can share or pass ( I'm the only one who never passes; I think as the facilitator it is incumbent upon me to share). No one offers criticism. How can we? We know the work can't be very good; it is after all, a very raw, rough draft. People can, however, mention a particular image that stood out, if they are so inclined.

The surprising thing: many of the images, turns of phrase, characters, are often vivid or amusing or touching. Some even serve as starting points for stories and poems, scripts and even books. You'd be amazed at what your inner artist can do when s/he is left to play without fear of recriminations, without that pounding " it's no good," " no one will care," ' no one will ever publish this."

These exercises give you permission to try, to play, to experiment. And once you dip into that creative well, you're apt to dip in again and again.

Is something burning? It may be your desire to connect or re-connect with your inner artist. Or it may just be your breakfast. Either way, it's time to get started.

Drive safe, play nice, think peace....


Friday, May 22, 2009

Drive-By Bloggers Take Aim!

Help, I've been Schlamazeled! If your exposure to Yiddish is limited to the unlikely and most memorable Laverne & Shirley opening... " Schlemiel, Schlamazel....," here's a refresher. A schleimel is a guy who drops soup on someone's lap. A schlamazel is the guy who gets wet.

Well, I just got a big bowl of cyber soup dumped in my lap courtesy of some unknown drive- by blogger. I'm not sure when this offense occurred, but I discovered the disturbing evidence when I Googled myself a few days ago ( c'mon, admit it: you do it too. And if you don't maybe you're better off w/ your head in the cyber sand.) Actually, experts suggest you do Google yourself if you're looking for employment or growing a business. And if you have posted anything dubious on your own web site, or places like My Space and Facebook, clear them. It is ( as I'll discuss a bit later) much easier to clean up your own mess than one someone has deposited in your path.

Along with a smattering of listings for articles and plays I'd published and produced, some PR for a radio show I hosted which has been off the air for years and a few postings for a writing workshop I was offering, my search turned up four sites for DWI. WHOA! Pull over, buddy. I have never been arrested for anything ( unless you count the charity jail and bail I participated in, years ago, as a radio fundraiser for the March of Dimes). I rarely drink. And I never drink and drive. Never ever. This is a big issue with me. When I was a teenager I was in an accident caused by a drunk driver. I suffered minor injuries, while my dad was seriously injured and hospitalized for quite some time. Years later, a close friend was killed by a drunk driver. On the radio, over the years, I have interviewed folks from MADD and others impacted by this tragic and preventable crime. Having said all that, I 'm not trying to be sanctimonious. Everyone makes mistakes and I've certainly made my share. I just don't want to be tarnished by one I simply didn't make.

Now, I don't know why my name was included in such links as DWI Blog, DWI School and--ouch--Recent DWI Arrests because when you click on the links all that appears is " Sorry, the link seems to have been broken." Broken, but not cleared. My limited cyber-sleuthing suspects some local blogger from Greenwich , CT got a hold of my workshop press release and made a joke. One description line, following my name, says something like, " the teacher must have gotten drunk and told her students...." What comes after the dot dot dot is anyone's guess, because the links go nowhere. Okay, I can take a joke; but one that actually has a punch line and hopefully doesn't leave behind a lingering, humorless odor. To be clear: I don't know that any of these posts accuse me of anything; perhaps my name was included as a victim or witness; maybe they lsited me as the editor of the bloody blog. None of these are true, of course, but some falsehoods are more tolerable than others. It is the absence of any detail that leaves it up to the searchers to make their own inferences, draw their own conclusions.

I've tried to rectify the situation by contacting Google. So far ( and to be fair it's only been a few days), there has been no action. The trouble is: there must be a lot of erroneous info out there on a lot of people. Google has a form to fill out, but there are a lot of people complaining about complaining to Google. So I'm not optimistic that these posts will vanish any time soon.

I've gotten a mixed bag of advice. Some say I should sue. But who? And really, I just want these false ( and apparently non-existent) posts to disappear. Others say dusting up my goody-two shoes ( boring) reputation with a hint of bad behavior would give me some street cred and put me in the annals with legends like Hemingway, Parker and Mailer. First of all, while those greats may have been notorious for their drinking escpades, I don't know if any were accused of DWI ( and I'm certainly not going to be the one to cast aspirations). It's also easier to be a rebellious legend after your dead. And--here's the most important factor-- I'm not that successful. Not yet anyway. So along with writing, I am also a creativity coach and teacher ( remember that workshop which got me into this mess? Oh, btw: this particular session was cancelled due to low enrollment... I'm not sure but I think that makes me a secret double probation schlamazel.) So if current or potential clients/students Google me they may get the wrong impression, think they're dealing with a degenerate character and look elsewhere for help.

So what have a I learned? Be careful what you post about someone else. Once it's out there, it's hard to clean up cybersludge. And take a jaundiced view of what you read about someone . It just may be misleading or blatantly false. And I may advise potential searchers to go through Yahoo. A recent Yahoo search of my name came up with fewer references; all were, thankfully, accurate.

Of course, if some benign drive-by blogger writes that I've won an Oscar or have been awarded a Pulitzer, I'd want to set that record straight, too. Eventually.

In the meantime, having my reputation sullied is so disconcerting; it's enough to drive me to drink. But don't worry, I'll stick with Starbucks. But instead of my usual Tall decaf, I might have to go for the Venti triple espresso. Talk about reckless.

I'll keep you posted.....

Drive safe, play nice, think peace.....