Author Archive | MCL Staff

Happy Thanksgiving: Celebrating Hope, Wonder, and Gratitude

In the United States, it’s Thanksgiving. A time to gather around the table with loved ones and celebrate our many blessings. We celebrate creative living in every aspect of the meal: from setting a beautiful table to creating each delectable dish served upon it. We try new dishes to stretch our tastes and try to create the tastes of our childhoods with heirloom recipes handed down from grandmother to daughter (or from grandfather to son).

It’s also a time to honor the harvest, gathering the fruits of seeds planted in fertile ground. And fertile minds. Because what is creativity but harvesting the fruits of the seeds we’ve planted?

We’re also on the edges of the season of wonder, when children hope for snow flurries and the sound of Santa’s sleigh bells on dark nights. We decorate our homes with twinkle lights and glowing candles, illuminating the darkened corners and reminding us that where there is shadow, the hope of enlightenment is also nigh.

In celebration of this holiday, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay, but a collection of two dozen gems of wisdom on hope and wonder – gratitude and creativity.

“There is no better opportunity to receive more than to be thankful for what you already have. Thanksgiving opens up the windows of opportunity for ideas to flow your way.”
–Jim Rohn

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“The act of giving something to others is an art of flowering your heart.”
–Vinayak

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”
― Anaïs Nin

“In a time of destruction, create something.”
― Maxine Hong Kingston

“Gratitude opens the door to… the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.”
–Deepak Chopra

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
― Socrates

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
–Albert Schweitzer

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
― Marcus Aurelius

“Music and art both spring from a grateful heart.”
–Katie Wood McCloy

“Hope is a waking dream.”
― Aristotle

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
― Rachel Carson

“Philosophers wonder when they do not know, artists when they do.”
― Raheel Farooq

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“There is no one harder to live with than an artist. Therefore an artist is a real gift because he or she raises the sanctity of everyone else in the community.”
— David Steindl-Rast

“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
― Laini Taylor,

“I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. This world would be unlivable without art. Thank you for inspiring me.”
–Steven Soderberg

“An artist gives. Gives visually, gives through courses, or with free advice, through generosity of spirit and through a need to share.”
–Veronica Roth

“Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.”
–Robert Henri

“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”
― Octavia E. Butler

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
― Barbara Kingsolver

“Gratefulness translates into a joy-filled understanding that informs art making – a simplicity that goes beyond preconceived ideas and moves us toward truth.”
–Dean Taylor Drewyer

We hope you enter the waning days of 2017 with a sense of hope, are open to the wonder and beauty of the world around you, and honor your own personal harvest and creative spark. We are so honored to witness the ways in which you you celebrate your creative life with a full and grateful heart.

With love from our creative table to yours.
The Staff of Modern Creative Life

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Conversations Over Coffee with Andi Cumbo-Floyd

 

One of the biggest blessings of managing Modern Creative Life is the opportunity to connect with fellow writers and creative souls. And, if you’re lucky, those connections grown and develop into friendships that feel loving and nourishing. I met Andi Cumbo-Floyd through her online writing community where she serves as a beacon of light for those of us playing with words (and wanting to publish them in some form) and am grateful to call her a friend, colleague, mentor (and sometimes editor).

That’s why I’m thrilled to be “talking” with Andi Cumbo-Floyd about life, writing, and her latest book (with a pictorial peek into farm life!)

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Well, since we live about 45 minutes from the nearest coffee shop, why don’t we meet at my dining room table in the farmhouse?  I’ll have a cup of chamomile tea and some shortbread, and of course, I’ll have enough to share.

For those readers not familiar with your work, can you give us a quick synopsis and background on your new book Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling.

Love Letters to Writers is a collection of 52 letters that I’ve written over the past two years to members of the Writing Community I coordinate.  Each week, I write them a letter that is drawn from my own experience, from a question they ask, from something I’ve read, or from a random member – like the time I stuck my finger up a horse’s nose.  Each letter is about the writing life and is written with the hopes that it will give these writers support and the feeling of camaraderie on this writing journey.

I decided to select some of these letters because one of the Community members, Amanda Eastep, suggested that they should be read by more writers, and so, here we are.

Why IS it important to write if you feel the call?

Here’s the truth as I see it – in an ideal world that was free of oppression and injustice, we would all get to do what we loved all the time, and so for those of us who are called to write, I think the world needs our words – and we need them, too.

Each person’s stories – be they fiction, nonfiction, poetry, blogs, news articles, etc – speak of a truth that is unique to that person, and so the world is made richer and brighter when those of us with this particular vocation step into it as fully and completely as we can.

You write several genres: books for writing, fiction, non-fiction. How do you maintain your writing voice across the genres or does the genre influence your writing voice?

Sometimes I wish I could vary my voice more in the different genres I write, but by grace, I discovered the voice of my heart some years ago and now write – as best I can – only from there, even when I’m writing in the voice of a character or exploring history instead of writing.  To be consistent in that voice, I need to stay in touch with my heart because that’s where the truest aspect of my voice lives.

Reaching my heart on busy, hard days is a challenge, but through a ritual of writing that gets me to the page most days, I find that I know how to slide into that space fairly easily. For me, it’s more a matter of listening than producing, listening to what my heart has to say and just following those words.

Are there any threads that consistently run through your work no matter what genre you’re writing?

I’m constantly drawn to the idea of bringing light to injustice. Whether I’m writing about slavery or about the way women are underrepresented by publishers and publications or about the way racism lives in the city I know best, Charlottesville, Virginia, I want to always be trying to show people truth in a way that they can see it.

In what ways does real life inform your writing (and vice versa)?

Well, since I write mostly about the two things that most imbue my days – writing and history – it informs everything I write.  In practical ways, the places I spend time – places where people were enslaved – inform the topics of my writing. And because I make my living as an editor, I spend most of my waking hours considering what makes stories or poems or articles work well and what doesn’t.

In terms of how my writing informs my life, I think the biggest thing there is that writing is how I come to understand my truth about things. It teaches me to see more deeply, to stretch for understanding, and that work makes me, I pray, a more compassionate, loving person.

Most creative folks I know are full of ideas. How do you decide “what’s next” and which idea deserves your attention?

I’d like to say I have some high-minded ideal or publishing plan that determines these things, but honestly, it’s often about energy – what project do I have the energy to complete well in the midst of all the other things I’m working on?  I’m not one of those rare authors who makes their living through book sales, so I always have to think about client projects as well as the work of literary citizenship I do to say connected to and support other writers.

In addition to writing, you also work as an editor. As an editor, what would you like writers to know before sending you their book?

I could fill pages with my answer to this question, but here’s are the two biggest pieces of advice I can give to anyone hiring an editor:

  • Be sure you’ve done everything you can to make your book as strong as possible before you bring someone in to edit. If you already know what to do, it’s a waste of your money and my time. But when you’ve exhausted your know-how, then hire someone to help.
  • Don’t even think about sending your book to an editor if you haven’t read it through, cover to cover. I get so many books that have clearly been piece-mealed together, and a simple read-through would show the writer some of the big weaknesses in their books.

While attending a writer Q&A at my library recently, the writer was asked for some writing advice in a nutshell. She shared this snippet: “Finishing and publishing a book is 20% talent and 80% discipline”. Do you agree? What is it that we all need to know about that double-edged sword called “discipline”?

Oh, I think that writer is totally right there.  The most talented writers I know got to that place by writing regularly and as often as possible. Writing – like most things – is something that requires practice, and so the more we have the discipline to sit down and practice – even without a product in mind – the better our work will be.  So I’m with her there.

But I would also say that burn-out is a real thing for writers, too, especially in our “write more faster” culture, so we have to be wise to build a practice of writing that is life-giving, not draining. And that practice differs from person to person and moment to moment.

What’s your best three pieces of advice for folks that write?

  1. Guard your writing time and space. Treat it as sacred. Don’t give it away unless absolutely necessary.
  2. Finish things. Finish book drafts and blog posts. Finish articles. Finish the books you read. The process of finishing creates a sense of accomplishment and teaches you discipline.
  3. Love on other writers. Share their work. Review their books. Like their posts. It doesn’t take much to help another writer get some traction in the public eye.

And your best two pieces of advice for writers that want to finish and publish?

  1. Set a date by which you will publish and then work back from there to figure out what you need to write when.
  2. Don’t let marketing scare you.  You can try to do everything and get overwhelmed, or you can do what you feel good doing and trust that they people who need your book will find it.

What myths about being a writer (and the writing life) would you like to bust?

Oh, so many.  Fundamentally, though, I’d just like to destroy any of the legends that say every writer has to do any one thing. Not all of us can write at 5am. Not all of us can write with a fountain pen on unlined paper. Not all of us can write well in a coffee shop or in utter silence or at the end of an airport runway.

Every writer is different, and we need to own and love what works for us and do our work there.

Your book is a series of Love Letters, so to speak. What’s you most compassionate advice for when times get discouraging? (Our friends are getting book deals, folks are publishing left and write and we’re struggling, etc.) 

Oh, this is so hard, and I’ve struggled with jealousy and discouragement in some big ways this year.  Here’s what I do: I let myself feel those feelings. I don’t berate myself for being petty or ungrateful. I just feel it.

Then, I celebrate with my friends, even if some of that celebration is an act of hope rather than genuine joy.

Finally, I get back to my work, the words only I can write, the stories only I can tell.  Usually, by the time I reach this point, I remember that it’s the writing that I love, not the accolades.

As we’ve recently discussed and I shared recently here at MCL, though I was “finished” with my next book, I decided it wasn’t ready to publish. How do you make the determination that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to abandon a project – or put it in cold storage.

For me, that decision is usually based on energy. I don’t abandon many things completely, but I do put them aside for the time being. If it feels like I simply cannot get this right with the time and energy I have, I put it away because laboring over something when I’m not able to give my best to it is frustrating and can make me hate the work.

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 32?

Oh, that’s a beautiful question. At 32, I was at the end of a sad but silent divorce after a sad and largely silent marriage. I had just gotten my first full-time job as an English professor, and I was already finding myself overwhelmed by the work that job entailed.  I was pretty sad and lonely, and I was trying to do all the things that I thought I should do – speak at conferences, write academic papers, serve on all the committees.

So I wish I could tell myself of a decade ago, “Lean into your love, Andi. Trust it.  It’ll lead you well. Don’t try to hard. Just be you, and it’ll come together. It really will.”

About the Author: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives on 15 blissful acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 22 chickens. Her books include Steele Secrets, Charlotte and the Twelve, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out. Her new book, Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling is now available.

You can connect with Andi at her website, andilit.com, or via Facebook and Twitter.

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Conversations Over Coffee: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

Everyone has a story an that’s one of the reasons I love reading memoirs: to get to know the events that lead to creating a life. Especially when recovering from difficult life experiences: coming out as gay, the death of a first love, the loss of a beloved family member. After reading her memoir First Signs of April, I couldn’t wait to know more about the author who shared such challenging experiences with a sense of love, grace, and hope.

Here’s a “sit down” with Editor in Chief Debra Smouse and author Mary-Elilzabeth Briscoe

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

At the moment I am in Vermont, so we would meet at Café Gatto Nero and I would enjoy a Mocha, perhaps iced.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I first realized I loved writing stories when I was around twelve years old. I also began journaling at that time and have never stopped.

For those not familiar with your work, tell us about your memoir First Signs of April.

The First Signs of April is my story of healing. The narrative weaves back and forth in time telling the story of my own coming out, losing my girlfriend to suicide at eighteen and then caring for a dying aunt as an adult while preparing for my career as a psychotherapist.

Its about healing, and finding your voice and living an authentic life without shame.

When you wrote First Signs of April, you “ran away from home” and spent a year in Ireland. What led to that decision?

I wouldn’t say I “ran away from” home, rather I ran toward home. I have visited the Dingle peninsula for twenty years and have always felt like I was home while there. My spirit aches for the place and its people when I am gone for long and on a recent holiday with my sister we decided that we’d like to try and live there for a year, and then see what happens. So, we did. Why wait and think about doing it in retirement or some other time? It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

The First Signs of April was nearing completion when I left and I spent my first few months finishing, editing, and querying.

What did you learn about yourself during your time in Ireland? As a human and as a writer.

I rediscovered my authentic self. I learned that being an empathic, sensitive, medium was a gift not a curse nor something to be ashamed of.  I learned that I am a writer and am willing to honor that by actually writing.  I learned that I am blessed with an amazing sister and friend.

The rest of what I learned and how is actually my next book so I’ll let you wait for that one for more.

How do you manage the balance of real life and creative work?

That’s something I’m working on. One way is that I try to honor my writing as sacred time. I am no longer working as a psychotherapist, rather I offer intuitive healing to include Reiki, guidance or medium readings, which allows for writing to be my primary focus.

I am not willing to do anything that doesn’t feed my soul and I think when you make decisions like this the universe opens doors that allow you to continue on your path.

First Signs of April dealt with some heavy topics: coming out, death, grief…how do you keep yourself centered when diving into darker days of your life?

Good question. You do relive all the moments you are writing about and it can be very painful-and its cathartic, healing in itself. Writing is very therapeutic after all. It also helped to have good self -care treats if you will following a day of writing for example. Anything from dinner out-or more likely take out, a silly movie perhaps a long walk with the dog or a motorcycle ride to clear all the days work from my thoughts and feelings.

This is our Light & Shadow issue of Modern Creative Life. How do you find ways to seek to and look to the light and joy?

First I have to always find the light in myself, which I do through meditation, Reiki, writing. I’m not always the best at that and at fall into the darkness a bit. I seek time in nature to remind me of the joy and light in the world and I spend time with people who feed me rather than starve me. I look for their light and joy.

What’s typical day like in your household?

The typical day in my house changes daily-depending on whether I’m at home in Vermont, Cape Cod or Dingle. One consistent is coffee-that’s first no matter where I am.

Then it’s a walk with my dog, feeding him, and then it could be any number of things that follow. I might write for a few hours, meet with the post graduate students that I provide clinical supervision to, have an intuitive healing session, go grocery shopping for my elderly parents, walk on the beach or sit at the lighthouse. It really does depend on where I am.

I am not someone who can tolerate traditional brick and mortar types of jobs, or anything so structured. I have to have space and time and freedom to breathe and create and be my best self so my days aren’t all that structured.

What do you wish you knew at 25 that you know now?

I wish I knew that I didn’t have to feel shame around being my authentic self.

What’s your advice to other writers and creative souls?

This is the then you are waiting for. Don’t wait for someday when everything lines up perfectly to follow your path. Make the path and everything will unfold as it should. Have faith and take the leap and never lose sight of your own light and all that you have to offer the world.

About the Author: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

MaryElizabeth Briscoe is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. She currently spends her time between Cape Cod, Vermont, and Ireland. She has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a Certified Trauma Professional. She has been a lecturer for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, Vermont campus. She has contributed to Cape Woman Online and Sweatpants and Coffee magazine. This is her first book.  Visit her website, her Facebook, and on Twitter.

Her memoir – First Signs of April –  is now available.

Conversations Over Coffee: Sue Hallgarth

I have to confess: there’s nothing I love more than a great mystery wrapped up in the world of a favorite author. So, when I read Sue Hallogarth’s mix of Historical Fiction with Mystery in her book Death Comes, I was hooked. Once I saw it in black and white, who couldn’t imagine Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Willa Cather being a great amateur detective?

I wanted to know more about bringing a real person to life in fiction…and the woman behind it. Here’s a “sit down” with Editor in Chief Debra Smouse and author Sue Hallgarth.

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Where and what would I order?

My favorite coffee shop is Satellite Coffee on Alameda Boulevard, part of a local chain near our home in Corrales, NM. My drink of choice: white chocolate mocha latte.

For those not familiar with my work, information about my Willa Cather and Edith Lewis series.

My Willa Cather and Edith Lewis series consists of entertaining mysteries that give readers a glimpse into the life and work of Willa Cather, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and Edith Lewis, her talented life partner.

In the first one, On the Rocks, set in 1926, Willa and Edith are staying in the cottage they built as part of a women’s summer colony on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada, where Willa is writing Shadows on the Rock. In the second, Death Comes, set in 1929, Willa and Edith are in Taos, New Mexico staying with Mabel Dodge Luhan while Willa works on Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Both mysteries are located in places where Willa and Edith actually stayed and feature people they really knew. And in both, Willa and Edith help to solve fictional murders. Since Willa and Edith did a great deal of traveling, the possibilities for additional mysteries in the series are many.

Where did the plot ideas come from for Death Comes?

Willa and Edith return for a visit to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s pink adobe in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan is well known for surrounding herself with writers and artists, and several are there at the time. Willa is working on Death Comes for the Archbishop, Edith is sketching Taos Pueblo and hoping for a visit to the nearby D.H. Lawrence ranch, which Luhan originally traded for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers.

The previous summer Edith and Willa had stumbled onto a women’s body. Now the headless bodies of two more Mexican women add to the mystery. The authorities seem only mildly interested, so Willa and Edith take it upon themselves to encourage action, which takes place in Taos and at the D.H. Lawrence ranch, twenty miles away.

When I started Death Comes, I was certain of the locations and characters based on actual people, but I had no idea of the plot or what was behind the crimes. The characters took care of that. Each day I sat down to write I would think through them—what would they say, do, see, think; who needs to be where doing what; who do I need to invent?

I just followed through and enjoyed the writing.

What piqued my interest in Willa Cather and stoked my passion about her as a human being and a writer?

I first got interested in Willa Cather in 1983 when I attended a week-long Willa Cather International Seminar in Hastings and Red Cloud, Nebraska.

That particular seminar happened when I had a small research grant to examine primary materials at archives and pioneer sites in the Plains states for a project on pioneer women in fact and fiction. It was a difficult project. No one had yet thought to catalog archival papers under the names of females, only under their husbands’ or family names.

I also read a lot of fiction about women on the frontier (very few women’s diaries had then been published), I did a lot of driving to locate archives, and I spent a great deal of time searching through archival papers to find diaries and records by women. The Cather seminar seemed like a godsend: here my research would have already been done by others and several hundred people would have collected to talk about it.

The seminar was great fun, and like a good academic, I prepared by reading all of Cather’s novels and the suggested criticism. By the time it started, I knew Cather and loved her. Seminar leaders took us to see Cather’s childhood home and showed us all the relevant sites around Red Cloud where Cather grew up and held fascinating discussions about the assigned critical and biographical material. But something was missing: the Willa Cather I “knew.”

These were the days of pre-feminism and homophobia among Cather scholars and biographers.

Cather herself had forbidden publication of her letters so those that were available could only be read (and not quoted) in research archives. Several letters were actually housed on microfilm in Red Cloud, but when I read them, I found only one letter from Cather to her partner of forty years, Edith Lewis. And that letter had lines oddly distorted and rendered undecipherable. Edith Lewis was also omitted from discussions about Cather or represented dismissively as her secretary or “companion,” never as the editor and advertising professional she actually was. The only evidence of their relationship available then was Edith Lewis’ memoir, Willa Cather Living, and that was dismissed as much less reliable than another memoir by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, a journalist and former friend Cather had not seen in years.

So here was a mystery: who was the real Willa Cather? What was her relationship with others, especially with Edith Lewis? And how should we understand her fiction? I began to find the answers by doing research and crafting papers on Cather’s novels to present at professional meetings.

But once I was convinced of her actual relationship with Lewis, I realized I needed to do a biography of Cather before I wrote another word. That started a ten-year project, reading everything Cather wrote, including her letters located in archives across the United States. I found she was exactly the person I “knew” back in 1983.

By 1987 Sharon O’Brien had officially “revealed” that Cather was a lesbian, but for O’Brien and other biographers, Lewis was still Cather’s secretary or “companion.”  Cather, one biographer claimed, was “too dedicated to her art” to have time for any of “that.”

There was more work to do. I continued to do research and in the 1990s discovered that for twenty years Cather and Lewis had been part of a women’s summer colony on Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada.  But academic journals and even feminist scholars shunned my articles because I questioned (indeed challenged) O’Brien’s analysis that Cather herself was homophobic and as a result became reclusive and depressed. Their rejections led me to write my first piece of fiction, a mystery about Cather and Lewis on Grand Manan titled On the Rocks.

Then I left academia, started another line of work, moved to New Mexico, and put On the Rocks on the shelf. It stayed on the shelf for twenty years until I joined a writers’ group and found that I had an interesting manuscript in a changed world, so changed that even The New Yorker now has acknowledged Cather’s greatness as a writer and celebrated her partnership with Lewis (see most recently the wonderful article “A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie” by Alex Ross, October 2, 2017).

How did I decide to use Willa Cather as a character in not just historical fiction, but a mystery series?

For me the question was how to interest readers, not just academic scholars, in what I had to say about Willa Cather. I could have tried historical fiction, but I wanted a “hook.”

It so happened that I was standing front of the real Cather/Lewis Cottage at Whale Cove Cottages on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada, when it occurred to me that someone might easily fall off a nearby two-hundred foot cliff into the Bay of Fundy. In my mind’s eye, I saw a body plunge over the edge and plummet into the rocks below. That image determined Cather and Lewis would become my fictional sleuths.

How do I blend my fictional world with characters based on real people, and how do l stick to facts and blend my own creation in with it?

I start with facts and real people, then ask “What if?” I already know a great deal about the facts, the people, and the places, so my answers to “What if ” take care of my own creation.

There continues to be speculation and denial about Cather’s personal life and sexual orientation. What is my take on her life and why folks are still so curious about what goes on behind closed doors?

Cather was a professional writer. She and Edith Lewis were career women at a time when concepts about the “New Woman” made it possible for them to have careers but not for them to be unmarried women sharing a household if that also meant sharing a bed. They did what they could to earn their living and to be respectable, successful, and respected.

These things—earning a living and being respectable—did not always go together. But for them, they did. It was not easy, but they “closed their doors,” and while their closed doors may have invited curiosity, they revealed nothing.

Closed doors always invite curiosity.

When did I first know I was a writer?

I’ve always written off and on—poetry, academic papers, a few stabs at short stories—but I began to think I might be a writer of fiction when I wrote On the Rocks.

How do I manage the balance of real life and creative work?

Not well or I’d have written more and sooner. I have a full life and a good one. I’ve had several “careers,” which means I’m right in step with my time. These days everyone should expect to have at least three “careers,” not just jobs but actual careers. I live in Corrales, a beautiful New Mexico village near Albuquerque, where I participate as much as I can in community affairs, and I am happily married (my wife and I have been together thirty years now) and take care of our five dogs, two horses, miniature donkey, and ten chickens. When I can, I slip away into my other world and write.

A typical day in our household?

I get up and feed the dogs and barnyard animals, then I sit in my lounge chair, read the news, snooze, and sometimes think about what I will write. Then I do more chores and sometimes write. By six p.m. I’m interested in dinner and a little television—Rachel Maddow and something after that that I don’t have to think about—then bed. Not very interesting, perhaps, but then I’m retired. Sort of. The only important variation these days happens when we take off in our Roadtrek camper van. Even then I find I can write when the story is ready. Otherwise the scenery is always lovely.

What do I wish I knew at 30 that I know now?

To relax. At fifty, I realized I didn’t have to live my life by other people’s expectations. Since then I have confirmed the truth in that. Freedom is wonderful. You can do all kinds of things you didn’t know you could do, even write a novel.

What advice have I for other writers and creative souls?

For writers, always be curious and read. Read everything. Learn all you can. And write. Write as much as you can and don’t be afraid to show other writers your work. Then pay attention to what they say. Pick your readers well. Don’t do everything they tell you to do, but pay close attention. The same goes for all creative souls. Learn all you can from those doing what you want to do, then do it, do it as well as you can, and keep doing it.

About the Interviewee

Sue Hallgarth is former English professor. She has written scholarly articles on Willa Cather and Edith Lewis, and this is her second book of fiction featuring the two of them. Her first book in the series On The Rocks, set in 1929 on the island of Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico.

Labor Day: Honoring Hard Work

In the United States, it’s Labor Day. It’s the day we honor the labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of our country. In some ways, it’s a social holiday – the bookend to Memorial Day, marking the unofficial end of summertime and when we head back to school… and work.

All holidays allow us to revel in creative living. On this particular one, we honor the sacrifice of other workers, toiling for their art and their livelihood. We gather with loved ones for shared meals and mutual celebration. We bask in the last carefree rays of summer sunlight.

We also take the time to consider the ways in which we mimic those who have come before us, in honor of our art and for the pure freedom of living a creative life.

Here at Modern Creative Life, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay to celebrate Labor Day, but a collection of a quotes that reflect upon the value of hard work and the need be true to our creative souls as we look at both the light and dark sides of laboring and creating.

“It would be a great disappointment for you to give up on yourself before the appointed time to reap the fruit of your labor.”
― Edmond Mbiaka

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson

“Keep expecting and believing that your due season is coming. Declare that the good you have harvested in your life will manifest.”
― Germany Kent

“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it.”
― Steve Maraboli

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
― Thomas A. Edison

“…talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.”
― Patrick Süskind

“It doesn’t matter how great your shoes are if you don’t accomplish anything in them.”
― Martina Boone

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”
― Vince Lombardi Jr.

“What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.”
–Meister Eckhart

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
― Beverly Sills

 

Memorial Day: Refreshing & Restoring Our Creative Spirits

In the United States, it’s Memorial Day weekend. A Day of Remembrance, where we honor those who have paid the ultimate price for freedom.

It’s also become a social holiday, marking the beginning of a summer state of mind. For many, the holiday weekend marks the first time this year that they’ve been able to rest or simply… breathe.

All holidays allow us to revel in creative living. We honor the sacrifice of others and lay flowers and wreaths on the graves of our ancestors. We gather with loved ones for shared meals and mutual celebration.

We also take the time to consider the way these sacrifices have lead to our creativity, for how would we create if we were not free to do so, if freedoms did not inform our lives.

As a child, Memorial Day Weekend marked the end of the school year, a double celebration of freedom. It meant playing in sprinklers, eating ice cream, reading lots of books, going to the swimming pool, and finding myself SO BORED. And this boredom always led to finding new ways to refresh my creativity.

In honor of this holiday, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay, but a collection of a dozen gems of wisdom on creative living and honoring the need to pause as we refresh our bodies and restore our creative souls.

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
– Ray Bradbury

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”
–Charles M. Schulz

“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”
–Marcus Aurelius

“Give light and people will find the way.”
–Ella Baker

“From time to time, one must release the grime built up inside them to to free their emotions like the ocean.”
― Suzy Kassem

“Ideas and philosophies have a shelf-life. They must be kept fresh and renewed or they will spoil. If left unattended, the same ideas and philosophies that once nourished you and helped you grow can poison you and make you sick. Become aware of new ideas that can refresh your way of life and be open to the fact that your old ideas and philosophies can work for you for some time, but when the shelf-life has passed, those ideas and philosophies could also harm you.”
― Steve Maraboli

“Patience is also a form of action.”
–Auguste Rodin

“Relish love in your old age! Aged love is like aged wine; it becomes more satisfying, more refreshing, more valuable, more appreciated and more intoxicating!”
–Leo Buscaglia

“Games lubricate the body and mind.”
― Benjamin Franklin

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
–Rumi

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”
–Dalai Lama

“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.”
– Lucille Ball

New Moon Creative: Moon in Capricorn

We arrive at the last new moon of 2016: Moon in Capricorn. Can we see this time as holy for our lives and our creativity? Is there one last element you can sweeten your creative work with as we gaze into the darkened sky and this new moon?

How might you set an intention for improving your chosen craft? An intention. A prayer. A holy whisper.

Is a New Year simply a square on a calendar? Or is it full of magic?

What if we view this last new moon as part of the mystical threshold between the last days of one year and the first days of the next?

We offer a New Moon Creative Prompt to set you pondering and ask you to share with us a seemingly ordinary moment in your own life that is edged with magic so that we can be your witness.

Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay. Or simply leave us a comment here, answering the question:

How will you honor your creative life in this mystical space as one year becomes the next?

Between now and 01/12/17, post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

New Moon Creative: Moon in Sagittarius

You sit at the table with your morning coffee and journal. As the words flow from pen to paper, you find answers you didn’t know you were looking for.

You try a new recipe for dinner and an average Wednesday dinner feels like a celebration.

You watch an old movie on Turner Classic with your husband and though you’ve been together for “forever”, the movie sparks a conversation and you learn something about him you never new.

You meet a friend for lunch and the waiter recommends the soup of the day. It’s so exquisite, it loosens both of your tongues and you have one of the most intimate conversations in your life. What was a casual friendship morphs into a new best friend.

Ordinary moments in every life. Magical moments in every life.

It’s easy to overlook how the ordinary events and activities are anything, but, well, ordinary. Yet once we become open to the idea that those ordinary moments have their own kind of mysticism, we become a witness to the magic in our own lives.

We offer a New Moon Creative Prompt to set you pondering and ask you to share with us a seemingly ordinary moment in your own life that is edged with magic so that we can be your witness.

newmooncreative_nov292016

Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay.

Between now and 12/11/16, post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you. Leave a comment here (with a link) so we can read your words and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

On the Full Moon ( December 13), we’ll post a collection of the work that was inspired by these prompts and post them here, with links back to the full work (and you).

Happy Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Gratitude and Creativity

thanksgivingdinner

In the United States, it’s Thanksgiving. A time to gather around the table with loved ones and celebrate our many blessings. We celebrate creative living in ever aspect of the meal: from setting a beautiful table to creating each delectable dish served upon it. We try new dishes to stretch our tastes and try to create the tastes of our childhoods with heirloom recipes handed down from grandmother to daughter.

It’s also a time to honor the harvest, gathering the fruits of seeds planted in fertile ground. And fertile minds. Because what is creativity but harvesting the fruits of the seeds we’ve planted?

In celebration of this holiday, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay, but a collection of two dozen gems of wisdom on gratitude and creativity.

“There is no better opportunity to receive more than to be thankful for what you already have. Thanksgiving opens up the windows of opportunity for ideas to flow your way.”
–Jim Rohn

“Artists are among the most generous of people. Perhaps inherent in the appreciation of creativity comes a deep, underlying love of humanity and our Earth.”
–Kelly Borsheim

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gratefulness translates into a joy-filled understanding that informs art making – a simplicity that goes beyond preconceived ideas and moves us toward truth.”
–Dean Taylor Drewyer

“Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.”
–Robert Henri

“I’m very grateful for an entire lifetime spent involved in this creative process.”
–Ron Howard

“An artist gives. Gives visually, gives through courses, or with free advice, through generosity of spirit and through a need to share.”
–Veronica Roth

“Music and art both spring from a grateful heart.”
–Katie Wood McCloy

“I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. This world would be unlivable without art. Thank you for inspiring me.”
–Steven Soderberg

“There is no one harder to live with than an artist. Therefore an artist is a real gift because he or she raises the sanctity of everyone else in the community.”
— David Steindl-Rast

“Gratitude is a many-colored quality, reaching in all directions. It goes out for small things and for large.”
–Faith Baldwin

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”
–William Blake

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
–Albert Schweitzer

“Make a gift of your life and lift all mankind.”
–David R. Hawkins

“The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.”
–Dale Carnegie

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
–Elizabeth Gilbert

“We can live artfully through a thousand little everyday gestures, as well as a multitude of creative pastimes. I define art in the broadest sense-it is every possible medium of human expression. It is in what you say and how you say it.  It is in using the rich resources of your senses to connect with the beauty in life. The art is in the message and in the medium you use to express it. Art is simply the name for how you live your life and how you tell others what you think and feel.”
–Sandra Magsamen

“Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefullness, and gratefullness is a measure of our aliveness.”
–David Steindl-Rast

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“I am filled with gratitude for the ability to live the artist’s life. In my studio. Being an artist. Everyday.”
–Mickie Acierno

“Gratitude opens the door to… the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.”
–Deepak Chopra

“I have walked this earth for 30 years, and, out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir.”
–Vincent van Gogh

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
–Melody Beattie

“The act of giving something to others is an art of flowering your heart.”
–Vinayak

Here’s to your personal harvest and all the ways you honor your own creative spark. We are so honored to witness the ways in which you you celebrate your creative life with a full and grateful heart.

With love from our creative table to yours.
The Staff of Modern Creative Life

New Moon Creative: Moon in Scorpio

As the season of harvest draws to a close, we may feel a need to draw inward and prepare for a time of rest during the dark days of winter. This month’s new moon in Scorpio offers the perfect inspiration for those times. It brings an astrology that’s dreamy and optimistic; it aligns with Mercury to focus on thinking and planning. As the leaves change to brilliant colors and fall to the ground, our emotional nature responds with changeable moods and heightened sensitivity, along with the call to plant seeds of new ideas.

What a perfect recipe to inspire wisdom and creative thinking!

We offer a New Moon Creative Prompt to set you pondering.

How do your dreams inspire your creativity?

 mcl_prompt_newmoonscorpio103016

Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay.

Between now and 11/12/16, post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you. Leave a comment here (with a link) so we can read your words and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

On the Full Moon ( November 14), we’ll post a collection of the work that was inspired by these prompts and post them here, with links back to the full work (and you).

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