Posted in Life, Poetry

Pandemic Painting & A Better Year Ahead

This weekend I sat down and re-read my journal entries from March through July of 2020. I wanted to re-experience those first few months of the pandemic, to see it again from a little distance. (I stopped at August because I wasn’t ready to revisit the school year again.) It was so surreal reading my thoughts in those initial days of confusion and fear. I wrote every day at first and then about every other day for many weeks. Seeing those entries again made me shiver. Here are a few excerpts that gave me pause:

* March 30, 2020:

This morning I got up before 7AM, showered, and went to HEB. It wasn’t bad. I got there about 15 minutes before they opened and lined up outside (6 feet apart, per the orange lines) with a couple dozen other people. Inside, there were reminders to stay a safe distance from others and lots of signs limiting numbers of items (4 cereals, 4 cans of chili, etc) and parts of the store were blocked off to keep people moving in an orderly direction… We have enough food to last us another couple of weeks. Now it’s just stay-at-home-stay-safe. It looks like we’ll be in this mode until the end of April.

* April 2, 2020:

Headlines this morning include:
“US braces for ‘horrific’ weeks as deaths top 5,100”
“Cruises with sick, dead passengers awaiting approval to dock”
“Coronaviras pandemic alters life as we know it”

* May 10, 2020:

I want to remember this… When the world goes back to normal, I want to remember these long ambling walks through my neighborhood, how hours went by without me checking my watch or making a list in my head of all I needed to do when I got back home. I want to remember how my feet felt on the pavement, how I knew every sidewalk scratch and screech owl by heart and watched the chalk art evolve from fresh and bright to faded and rain-streaked. When I’m late to work, stopped at the light at Slaughter Lane, when I’m collapsing on the couch after school, when I’m standing in line at HEB looking at Facebook on my phone, I want to remember the sound my ball made as I bounced it lazily while listening to my audio book and strolling the same streets at 5AM, noon, 8PM, midnight– how it felt when the ball landed perfectly in my palm with a *smack*.

Reading these journals makes me want to reach back in time to that version of myself and give her a hug. But then I’d be tempted to give her the truth, too, about what else was coming and how long this was really going to last, and that just seems mean.

But good things came out of those months, as well. For instance, I found some new creative outlets.

In June of 2020, I randomly started painting. I already had some old acrylic paints and brushes. I ordered a few more and some small canvases online and made myself an “easel” by propping flattened cardboard boxes on the windowsill in my office. I grabbed a button-down tunic shirt that I’d never worn but couldn’t make myself give way and made that my painting frock. Then I tossed a pillow on the floor to sit on, got a paper plate for my palette, filled a Rudy’s Bar-B-Q plastic cup with water, turned on some music, and started painting.

On July 18, 2020, I wrote in my journal:

I’ve been painting. I’m not great. I’ve had no training except for a few “Painting with a Twist” sessions and watching my dad draw, but I find that I can make things look mostly how I want them to look, and I’m learning as I go along—how to mix paints for subtler shades and how to turn the brush on its edge for a finer stroke or use a thick bristly brush when I want more texture. Mostly though, I just like putting paint on a canvas. It’s so relaxing. Sometimes I sit for hours and paint, until my back aches and my legs are tingly from falling asleep.

I’m still at it, and I think my paintings are improving, but honestly, I don’t care that much. I just paint for fun. It’s something to play with, and the freedom of it is what makes it so enjoyable.

My dad’s cat, Spunkie. I almost forgot to paint her whiskers!

I also enjoy playing with words—collage art, found poetry, book title poems—and the pandemic offered more time for that, too. This pastime is even messier than painting and often encompasses much of the house. If I’m making collages, there are little bits of paper everywhere and no fans or pets allowed in the area. To make book title poems, I end up taking dozens of books off my shelves, stacking them and restacking them in precarious piles and rearranging them over and over again until I’m satisfied with the result.

Book title poems in progress

I love making book title poems and have shared several of them here over the years, but this summer I decided to create something more tangible with them. I chose twelve of my favorites and made 2022 calendars.

Most people agree that 2020 was, in general, a terrible year, and there are many who say 2021 isn’t much better. But I have high hopes for 2022 (don’t you?), so I’m getting ready early.

I made three sizes of calendars: an 8×4 desk calendar, an 8.5×11 wall calendar, and a 12×12 wall calendar, but they all include the same poems. I’m selling them on my Esty store, so if you know a book-lover or a poet who would enjoy having a unique calendar next year, consider getting your shopping done early and buy them one of these! If you order by July 31, you can get 10% off by using the coupon code: NEWYEARINJULY

For me, summer is a season of creativity because I’m off work and can indulge in my hobbies. This summer, I’m grateful to be vaccinated and feel comfortable enough to venture out into the world again. There isn’t any part of me that wants to be that confused, stressed woman of last summer who was stuck at home feeling trapped and scared, but I’m thankful that she used her shelter-at-home time to try some new things and make some art.

Posted in Lists, Writing

10 Best Gifts to Give to Writers

[This post has *nothing* to do with the fact that my birthday is in one month. Nothing at all. Total coincidence.]

If there’s a writer in your life, when gift-giving holidays arrive, you may find yourself scratching your head in bewilderment. What do I get for someone who spends their days hunched over a desk trying desperately to write the Great-American-Something? Advil? Tissues? A therapy appointment? The answer is yes, yes, and yes. But also no. While necessary and appreciated, those gifts are not much fun to unwrap. Instead, give the writer you love something from this list.

10 Best Gifts to Give to Writers

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1. Books & The Ability to Buy More Books

Writers, by nature, are also readers, so books are always welcome. If your writer friend is just starting out, consider getting her one of these excellent titles:

  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Writing Irresistible KidLit, by Mary Kole
  • The current Writer’s Market

But don’t limit your shopping to just books about craft. Give us fiction, give us mystery, give us horror. Many writers enjoy reading across genres, so give us a book you love and we’ll probably love it too. Or, if you don’t know what to choose, a gift card to a book store always works.

2. Magazine Subscriptions

Magazines also make great gifts, especially if you get the right ones. Find out which publications your writer friend reads most and get them a subscription. (My personal favorite is Writers’ Digest.) This is the gift that keeps on giving—every time the new issue arrives in their mailbox, they’ll think of you!

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3. The Gift of Belonging

One of the fun parts of being a writer is finding other writers to hang out with and learn from, which is why it’s great that organizations like the Writers’ League of Texas exist. But being a part of the club costs money, as do workshops and conferences. Consider giving the writer in your life a membership to an organization or donate money to help fund an upcoming event.

4. We *Heart* Office Supplies

Some people love shopping for furniture. Others enjoy browsing the aisles at Home Depot. Me? I never pass up a trip to Staples. Folders and binders and push pins and pencils! And Sharpies! Soooooooo many colors of Sharpies! If you want to bring a smile to a writer’s face, give her a gift basket of office supplies. Printer paper, pens, highlighters, Post-It notes, erasers… You can even throw in a rubber band ball or a staple remover. The geekier the better.

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5. Tech Support

Not everyone gets as excited about sushi-shaped erasers and giant paper clips as I do. If you’re looking for a more practical gift, consider one of these:

  • Voice Recorder – Handy for when great ideas arrive while driving. Also great for recording stories or chapters for revision or practicing for poetry readings.
  • Scrivener – Personally, I haven’t yet tried this writing software, but I’ve heard great things.

6. Coffee & Chocolate

Coffee and chocolate are writing fuel. By giving your writer friend a bag of Dove Dark Chocolate Squares or a large café au lait, you are giving her the gift of energy and inspiration and the ability to face rejection. In short, you are giving her a little bit of yummy magic. Who doesn’t love yummy magic?

Not sure of your friend’s favorite drink or chocolaty snack? Get her a gift card to her favorite coffee shop or bakery instead.

7. Homemade Inspirations

Personalized gifts are the best. If you’re feeling crafty, MAKE something for the writer in your life. Here are some of my favorite homemade gifts:

My cousin Kelley made these word blocks for me years ago, and I’m still finding surprising new poetic combinations.

WordBlocksCollage

My friend Emily knows the main character of my middle grade novel is a gamer who loves Galaga, so she gave me this needlepoint of his favorite game. It hangs on the wall in my office.

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Emily also made me this Writer’s Block Unblocker, which comes in handy.

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8. Literary-Themed Trinkets

If you like the idea of creative gifts but are not the crafty type, let someone else do the work for you and shop at one of these sites. They offer everything from novels printed on t-shirts to coffee mugs for grammar nerds to inspirational posters and jewelry.

9. Snail Mail Love

For just the price of a stamp and a little of your time, you can make a writer’s day. Writers love writing, and everyone loves finding something other than junk mail in their mailbox. So send a snail mail letter that your writer friend can read outside in the grass when they need to take a break from the computer screen. Or, better yet, send them a postcard. Postcards are like little missiles of inspiration, especially if they’re from somewhere exotic. That’s why mine decorate the wall above my desk.

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10. The Gift of Publicity

The #1 gift you can give a writer doesn’t even cost the price of a stamp. That’s the gift of promotion. Did one of their short stories appear online? Send the link to a friend! Did their blog make you laugh? Post it on Facebook! Did they publish a book? Give it a good rating on Goodreads and then tell everyone about it! The BEST gift you can give a writer is sharing her work with the world.

 🙂  Happy gift-giving!