Creative Crackdown — #museclues

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I swear the glass isn’t the size of my head. Although I’d be okay with that.

I’d love to blame my current problems and frustrations on writer’s block or an MIA muse, but as most creatives will tell you, if you don’t work the muscle it simply atrophies. Staring at my blank canvas or page, waiting for inspiration to smack me in the face, usually results in the decision to pour a glass of wine and see what everyone’s talking about on twitter. Flash forward two hours and there is still a blank canvas/page, rolling its inanimate eyes in we’ve-been-down-this-road-before amusement.

In other words, there may not be a mystical muse to blame for my current state of overwhelming frustration and general dissatisfaction. Just me.

Well, crap.

So when I turned 52 yesterday [GULP, I really need to start lying about my age] and had just received $52 from mom to spend at will, I went to the local bookstore seeking inspiration. I didn’t buy any books but I did find some cool ideas for free. Then I went to the local arts and crafts store that doesn’t open on Sundays and doesn’t want to pay for their employees’ birth control which is fine but then don’t bitch about abortion and I eventually digressed down several aisles before spending $53 on art supplies in the full-scale hunt for my mystical, hooky-playing muse.

So here’s my plan: Create something every single damn day until I’ve retrieved the passion and confidence that has taken an extended hike in the past few years. I know I suck at NaNoWriMo and I know my schedule and resources would make a Painting-A-Day difficult to keep up with, so I’m committing to SOMETHING CREATIVE every day and I’ll be accountable by posting it online at my creative blog AndSuzSays.com. Every day.

[[[ I’ll just keep repeating that until I stop hyperventilating at the mere thought ]]]

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I’m sure 52 will be as much of a hot mess as this first painting attempt is. I’m okay with that too.

Day 1: Last night I took a selfie of me and my first glass of wine as I “celebrated” the passage of time. Today I celebrated my daily #museclues with a painting of that photo. It’s not really finished because I got so zealous with the oils it was impossible to add details, but you get the idea… It’s a start.

I’ll be posting a blog, essay, story, drawing, painting or SOMETHING CREATIVE each day and tweeting it if anyone is interested, but mainly it’s simply a cheap ploy to lure my muse out of hiding and help me figure out what the hell I want to be when I grow up. Which I think happens at 53 so I better hurry…

Post-hibernation homework

Published with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

After a few heartbreaking false starts, it appears that spring may finally be ready to stick around. Well, at least until it snows tomorrow. I can handle precipitation as long as it’s not frozen and accompanied by frigid winds. I’m more than a little whiny these days.

With the warm-up, I can tell it’s not just my attitude that needs adjusting, but my creativity as well. After a while of everything being brown or white, I’m simply not as inspired – be it words, art, music or other forms of expression – I’m just not feeling it.

Don’t be late for this very important date… with your creative self.

If you’re the same way, crawling out of your figurative cave this spring, I have some post-hibernation homework for you: make a date with yourself.

Years ago I read an amazing book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and I’ve carried some of the most inspiring points with me since then, one of them being an artist date. Cameron is primarily a writer but the spirit of the book and the artist date is really for all types of creative people – and in my humble opinion, we’re all creative no matter what shape that may take.

Unfortunately we’re all too often waylaid by work, family, obligation – or in my case, winter blues – to get those juices flowing and we need to assign ourselves the task of stimulating those senses again. It won’t take a lot of time and it may even be something you’ve already scheduled. The key is opening your eyes and looking at the world a little differently.

Start with an hour a week and designate that time as your creativity date. One of my favorite places to start is the local thrift or antique store. Look past the junk that no one else wants or the dated dishes and clothes that make you cringe.

Look for the treasure. Think about the history behind an unusual knick-knack. Imagine the story behind the old book with the personal inscription. Appreciate the intricate pattern on a single dish that survived from a whole set of old china.

When the weather is finally cooperative, take a walk – just you and your imagination. Along with your stiff legs, you’ll feel your creativity stretch and yawn while you look at the dark bare branches lacing against the sky, their buds not quite visible to those in a hurry. Really admire the mosaic of decades-old flagstone that graces so many of the streets in Berthoud. (No really, look at them and make sure you don’t trip on an uneven edge while looking at the trees.)

Sometimes the date can be less abstract and you can take the time to fully enjoy the arts as created by others. When the kids are in school, spend an afternoon in the theater with a small independent film that has the critics buzzing. Speaking of kids, the Annual Thompson School District art show “Look. Think. Make. Connect!” is at the Loveland Museum/Gallery through April 14. You will be awestruck and inspired by the talent of our regional youth.

So many stories... one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

So many stories… one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

The Longmont Library is holding a festival this month that includes a talk and slide show with renowned Colorado author and photographer John Fielder on April 17. Any library is actually a gold mine for creative dates. I’ve been known to walk the stacks without purpose, just looking at all the books and seeing what subject sparked my curiosity.

You get the idea. You don’t need to be a writer or painter or musician, but may just need a seasonal jumpstart to your creativity. So here’s your assignment, if you choose to accept it: take an hour this week just for you and your winter-worn imagination. Work that intangible muscle and see what tangible impact it has on the rest of your life. It’s an easy A.

Contentment comes quietly

Some days the bliss arrives unexpectedly and by the simplest means of transportation. Today is like that. My house is still a scary mess, my kid still won’t listen to me or help dry the dishes after telling her 14 times, and I’m still not sure how I’m paying the mortgage this week.

And yet I just did a systems check and found that they are all ‘Go’ and the atmosphere is relaxed with a forecast of hope. Amazing. How did this happen, and more importantly how long will it last?

Work is good right now. I’m busy on our current project and it’s even feeding my creativity which isn’t always possible at a newspaper. You’re constantly reminded that your brilliance – whether it’s a well-written story or eye-catching ad – is bound for the recycle bin within days of its culmination. But I enjoy my job and my boss gave me a big hug on Thursday to let me know she enjoys me too. Bliss.

It’s been a great summer break for my daughter due to a set schedule of family and activities. She needs that structure – hell, we both do. She’s discovered a passion for horses and her toy versions have opened up a social life for her at summer care. Girls and horses: you can’t go wrong. Bliss.

But as school approaches faster than I would have believed, I wanted her to work on some writing skills. Reading I’m not worried about, she’s as bad as I am. So I challenged her with a reward if she writes a page in her notebook journal each day until school begins in a few weeks. By the next day she had several pages of an exciting story where wild horses are captured. Granted, it’s one long, red-ink, run-on sentence and the word captured is spelled differently each time it appears, but SHE’S WRITING! Bliss.

There are other little things like my online community of friends, or as I like to think of it, the coolest damn quilting bee (minus the quilt) ever. The conversation was flowing last night like a rich, red zin among women who ‘get’ me and each other. One of them even thanked me this week for supporting her writing, while another read my fanfic story and reviewed it so enthusiastically I got a little choked up. Bliss.

The birth of this little guy at the Virginia Zoo this week only added to my bliss. I looooove giraffes!

So it’s a hot Saturday afternoon and I just finished the dishes, accompanied by all my favorite songs on my iPod. There may or may not have been wild, carefree dancing involved. The kid still won’t help, there’s still no extra money floating around for luxuries like water and electricity, and I just read that the Republicans and Democrats still won’t work together (assholes), and yet…

Bliss.

If I was a character in one of my own stories and I was this obliviously content, I’d probably walk out the door and get hit by a bus or taken out by a sniper.

Taking a deep breath, the character decides to risk it in search of more bliss. Reaches for door knob.

Go find yours today. It’s probably closer than you think.

The Big Five-OH-MY-GOD!

If age is just a number, then my upcoming birthday is definitely doing a number on me. Yep. This November I turn half a century.

B-b-but I was just 40 last week...or so.

Swigs wine before continuing.

I don’t want to say that I’m taking it hard, but there may have been more than a few tears several months back when those bastards at AARP sent me a friendly – albeit early – reminder to join my fellow senior citizens in denial.

Honestly, the previous milestone birthdays didn’t bother me a whole lot, with the possible exception of 25. Pffffft! I was in love and lust at 30, and ten years later I was preparing to adopt a baby so I hardly felt ancient with such a wondrous journey ahead of me.

Snorts at the irony.

The 40s have surpassed most of my expectations. Not only did I become a mother, but I moved back to Colorado where my heart has always resided, opened a dream business, made a million friends and went on to enjoy another dream job when the art gallery had to close. Every day I do work that usually feeds both my bank account and my soul – not everyone can say that.

Then a couple of years ago I fell headlong into my mid-life crisis. No Botox or Porsches for me. Instead I fell in love with a much-loved/maligned teen book series. Since reading the first breathless word, that guilty pleasure gradually evolved into a wide, crazy circle of friends around the world and adventures I never would have imagined. The books and the friends also helped to renew my passion in fiction writing and I eventually wrote my own book.

Granted, I can’t publish it, but I. WROTE. A. BOOK.

I may have a few battle scars and a LOT of gray hairs to show for my 40s, but I wouldn’t change much. And speaking of gray, my formerly blonde hair has begun to turn dark with a rapidly developing silver-ish streak of hair on one side. Think an older version of Rogue from the X-Men. Yes, I plan to fully exploit this comparison with middle-aged geeks as long as they’re rich and no longer live in their parents’ basement.

It's a little scary how much we look alike. Form a straight line, boys.

So a few weeks ago, one of my twitter friends wrote a blog post about the new trend in bucket lists: 30 before 30, 40 before 40, etc. Sue’s turning 50 in four years and wanted to start working her list of things to accomplish now.

It got me thinking.

Most days, I don’t feel old but this birthday has definitely freaked me out a little. So I had some more wine and wondered what if I just embraced it? After all, the 40s kicked ass so who knows what could happen in the next decade?! To help motivate the enthusiasm, I decided my own list was in order. As of today, I only have four months instead of four years, so a trip to Italy or marrying my much younger Imaginary Boyfriend are probably off the table this time around. Nevertheless, I managed to come up with 50 attainable (I think) goals.

I’m not going to list them all here because some are too personal and most would bore the hell out of anyone but me. And hopefully, with each item I cross off before November 16, that intimidating number becomes just a number, baby – not a definition of me: middle-aged, hopelessly romantic, brave, silly, sometimes weary, often hopeful, always growing woman.

I’d love to hear your goals and dreams as the years tick by and I appreciate the encouragement as I tackle this list.

Oh, and if you’d like to call me Rogue from now on, I’m cool with that.

1. Write a blog post about turning 50 – CHECK!
8. Go to Forks, WA – It’s the land of sparkly vampires and Twitardia. Why wouldn’t I go?

Some of the crazies I plan to meet in September. #42 - CHECK!


17. Go on a date – It’s been a while. I need to exercise the muscle that makes it possible for me to function in public.
18. Start journaling again – I did this for decades and just stopped for some reason.
24. Finish first draft of Leadville novel – This book is tired of being in my head and needs to find its way to paper.
28. Find an eager teenager to babysit at my beck and call – This could help with general sanity and item #17 specifically.
29. Set up my bills to pay online
32. Submit one short story, somewhere, for pay or contest
36. Wax my lip – Again, see #17.
38. Host a party at my house – I wasn’t Martha Stewart, but I used to love to entertain.
41. Take a digital sabbatical for at least 24 continuous hours – I took this from Sue’s list. I’ll probably end up in rehab with Lindsey Lohan before the day is up.
42. Meet at least 5 more twitter friends in person – This will occur with item #8.
43. Write a letter to my parents, thanking them for raising me and being there for me – Also borrowed from Sue’s thoughtful list.
46. Make a cake or cookies for my daughter for no reason at all – It could tarnish my reputation as Worst Mother of the Year, but hey…
50. Say farewell to the 40s with wine, women friends and Edward! – Breaking Dawn, pt. 1 in theaters Nov. 18. Don’t judge – it’s not pretty;)

Cheers to half a century, well-lived.

Death and Daffodils

© Susan Richards
Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

Carol knew without a doubt that she couldn’t leave the body lying in the mudroom all day. The kids would be home from school in a few hours and questions were bound to come up.

“Mom, why is our neighbor’s face all blue and do we have any of those mini Oreos left?”

It would be awkward, to say the least, so she knew she had to get the old guy out of the way sooner, rather than later. There were still three loads of laundry to finish, vegetables to chop for tonight’s stew, not to mention that stupid daffodil costume to finish for Willow’s kindergarten program.

If there was to be any finger pointing for the 180 lb. dead guy in the next room, it was five-year-old Willow’s fault. If only she was home to own up to her complicity, Carol could send her to a time out and put the responsibility of body disposal squarely on the girl’s petite shoulders.

Unfortunately for Carol, Willow was busy learning her ABCs, undoubtedly while wiping the contents of her nose on Paris Romero’s sweater. Her daughter was blithely unaware of the catastrophic course of events, all because she required a costume in the shape of a spring bloom.

Carol sighed loudly, trying to muster up some righteous self-pity for the situation. If she couldn’t blame her precocious youngster for the foul play, then she knew where the blame really settled.

On the old guy himself, of course.

His spectacularly poor timing did him in. Not Carol Royce, who was head of the neighborhood watch, co-chair of the local chapter of MADD, and author of three yet-to-be-published gluten-free cookbooks. It was all on him.

Him and the last untenable 48 hours.

Two days earlier, Carol woke to the delighted squeals of three ecstatic children. School had been canceled due to heavy snow, high winds, and an apparent unwillingness to educate during predictable, regional weather conditions.

Within two days the unholy trio had eaten everything in the house, traumatized the cat until it refused to come out from under the bed, and built a blanket fort that filled most of the house. With her husband Phil stuck in Saginaw until the storm cleared out, Carol was on her own with the snowbound brood. She also belatedly discovered that the liquor cabinet had not been replenished before the weather came in. The forecast was dire, and not just outdoors.

When the district announced school would be back in session today, Carol almost wept with joy. After more than an hour of shoveling and scraping, she got the car out and the monsters delivered 14 minutes early. It all went downhill from there.

Upon arriving home, Carol discovered that the overzealous city workers had plowed a four-foot wall in front of the same driveway she had just broke her back to clear. After re-digging an entry, she came inside to find the family dog had done his business on her bedroom rug as he was too cold or lazy to venture outside like other dogs.

Then as she brought an arm full of firewood to the den for the wood stove, she dropped a log on her foot, thus releasing such a torrent of expletives that the dog wisely retreated and tried to wipe up his own mess. Carol was 96% sure she would lose a toenail in spite of the recent coat of Maui Nights polish.

When she realized the wood stove wasn’t making a dent on the cold, Carol learned that the pilot light in the ancient furnace had gone out. Again. She completely split out the butt in her favorite yoga pants when bending over to light it. The noise of the seam popping was so loud the dog piddled again.

Once the furnace was working, the dog mess cleaned up and all 328 blankets and chairs were returned to their rightful place, Carol sat down with a cup of coffee spiked with cherry flavored cough syrup. It didn’t taste great but she imagined the pioneers would be proud of her resourcefulness and drank it anyway. She had just about found her long-lost sense of calm when the doorbell rang.

Carol was surprised to see their neighbor, Wally, bundled up on the stoop. The octogenarian was wearing a puffy blue coat that was last in fashion when Reagan was president and only his rheumy eyes peered out between the matching knit scarf and hat.

“Wally, what are you doing out in this weather? Come on in here,” she admonished, leading him into the mudroom. In a couple of hours it would be full of discarded coats, scarves and wet boots, no doubt left for her to pick up. She sighed dramatically, already dreading the onslaught of loud, messy beings that were still young enough to love this weather.

The weather that was reaching its bitter cold fingers through the door as Wally waddled in. She shut it behind him and watched him shake snow and slush onto the clean floor.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, feigning warmth she hadn’t felt since last September. His eyes twinkled as he pulled down the scarf.

“Well, I hate to bother you, but Maude and I are heading to Florida this weekend and I was wondering if you have any sunscreen I could borrow. My nose burns something awful at the beach.” He grinned his 84-year-old denture smile at her and waited expectantly.

“The beach. You’re going to the beach this weekend?”

He nodded enthusiastically.

Carol saw the bright yellow fabric still in her hand that would eventually be a colorful daffodil, then looked out at the blanket of white in the yard, the steel-gray slushy mess in the streets where the crews had plowed. She looked at her beach-bound neighbor and snapped.

Distantly, she heard herself screaming about blanket forts, dog pee and spring flowers as she grabbed the ends of his green woolen scarf and shook the old man. She was still going on about wasted toenail polish and pilot lights when his face turned several different shades of blue and his tongue peeked out between his perfect false teeth.

———

Later that afternoon Carol sat with another cup of coffee – this one spiked with something a little more appropriate than cough syrup – and stared out the window. The kids were watching TV, the costume was sewn and ready as her husband pulled his car easily into the driveway she had shoveled out three times.

Phil Royce waved at Wally’s wife who was walking their well-trained pooch as he unloaded his bags from the car. He and Maude exchanged a few words before he stomped into the now-empty mudroom.

After hugs, greetings and a warm kiss on Carol’s cheek, he asked if she was feeling all right.

“Yes, why?” Carol asked, trying to look away from the monochromatic yard.

“Mrs. Winter said her husband came over earlier to borrow a cup of sugar and you reacted oddly. He was worried you might not be feeling well.” Phil took a sip of his wife’s coffee and smiled appreciatively.

Carol finally pulled her eyes from the snowy blanket covering the hard, frozen earth, still weeks away from being soft enough to till and dig. Her daughter might be a bright yellow harbinger of spring, but there wouldn’t be any blossoms in the yard for a while. March was the snowiest month of the year and Carol doubted her sanity would survive it.

Three kids cooped up inside for two days, a couple of neurotic pets, a visit from old man Winter and an overactive imagination all came together in one afternoon.

She looked at her husband with a lazy smile and reclaimed her coffee.

“Oh, just a little case of spring fever, honey. I’ll be fine.”

Moving Write Along in ’11

Welcome to my New Year’s post for 2011! The next blog entry will be an in-depth look at procrastination and the havoc it wreaks on our society. In the meantime, simply pretend it’s not almost February and I’m not still mulling over edits to my 2009 New Year’s resolutions.

A bittersweet memory of the amazing space I once created. The hot chick on the right looks vaguely familiar. I think she used to drink all my wine.

In (belated) reflection, 2010 was a very transitional year for me – some good, some bad, all necessary. I closed my business in ‘09 and thought I had mourned its loss as briefly as possible, when in fact I had knit a cocoon the size of a doublewide trailer and
didn’t emerge for months. I had really tried to keep the momentum going and looked around for a new space, hosted an art show, made promises I couldn’t keep. I ignored how drained and demoralized I was until a few people and circumstances kicked my ass while I was already down. The cocoon was reinforced and a lovely therapist was enlisted to put up with my emo ass.
I was incredibly fortunate to already have a good part-time job while running my business, and my duties and hours at the newspaper expanded as I burrowed. My beautiful, smart, funny daughter also provided good reason to get up in the mornings. Then a funny thing happened early last year. My crazy community of Twitards migrated to Twitter and I gradually had new friends — friends who didn’t care what failures I was still bleeding over — friends who shared a glass of wine with me from six states away — friends who helped me give birth to my first novel. Priceless friends.
It’s too hard explaining fan fiction to someone who’s never heard of it, not to mention someone who thinks the craze over Twilight is incomprehensible (it is, actually, but after two-plus years, I’ve stopped worrying) so I’ll just direct you to their site if you’re not in the know. Long story short, I wrote a Twilight based story with an original premise called The Family Business. I finished it last November and I’m not going to spew false modesty: I’m really damn proud of it.
Writing that story was one of the best experiences of my creative life. It was a learning tool, a loving community project, an exercise in discipline and obligation, and most importantly, it was a catalyst for a new journey.
This new tease wooing my muse is the written word. The writer within me has flirted shamelessly throughout the years but I’ve studiously avoided considering it a serious suitor. Let’s face it, everyone thinks they can write and the statistics for being published are probably right up there with maintaining a profitable art gallery in the middle of a killer recession. *cough*
Besides The Family Business, I wrote a few other Twilight stories and came up with a half dozen interesting outlines for straight fiction. I returned to the novel I abandoned three years ago and am now approaching it differently, based on my experience. I’m writing more articles for the paper and I recently got a cool – albeit unpaid – blogging gig back in my former world of regional arts and culture.
I’ve since unraveled most of the cocoon and decided I’m still not strong or passionate enough to open another art gallery in the near future. That door isn’t locked but I’ve discovered that being responsible to my daughter and myself — emotionally, financially, and otherwise — is the best I can do right now.

Not the slippers I had in mind, but inexplicably inspiring. (Source: etsy)

Maybe a smart person would have licked their wounds, then went in search of a good secure position with 40 hours and benefits. Yeah, so I’m probably not smart, but I am creative. I write, I draw, I imagine, I tweet, I read YA fantasy, I revel in my kid and I most definitely do not color within the lines. I’ve unceremoniously tossed most of my resolutions in the dumpster and am focused on one: to someday soon work successfully and happily in my slippers. Cute slippers, without a hole in the toe like my current fugly ones.

Write on, 2011.

Opening the doors on The Family Business

If you’re visiting my blogsite via open invitation, then you probably already know I’m a Twitard, and usually proud of it. After giving up on understanding — much less explaining — my obsession with an imaginary universe created by Stephenie Meyer, a couple of mediocre movies and a British actor young enough to be my… well, let’s just say he’s young, I gave in and drank the Kool-Aid.

I was in good company.

I’ve found a community of 834,016 other women in my general age range (I counted, but they all lied about their age) who are just as crazy. And we don’t care. We’re having too much fun to worry about what everyone else thinks is surely temporary insanity in need of a good 12-step program. We’re enjoying the ride and have no intention to stop for non-believers.

One of the unexpected side effects of the Twilight addiction is fan fiction. In case you weren’t aware, there are countless writers out there re-imagining, supplementing or completely warping Ms. Meyer’s magical world. I reluctantly gave in and read one after seeing it mentioned on a daily basis. Wide Awake by Angstgoddess003 is commonly and affectionately referred to in the Twi-community as the gateway drug to all fanfic.

From there, I read a few (read: too many to count) others and was soon in awe of the level of talent out there.* They’re writing stories good enough to publish, for fun and for FREE. Why would they do that?! Being a serious writer *cough*in my head*cough* I knew I would never go there. I love the characters Edward and Bella and couldn’t imagine bending them to my literary will. I had scruples and a mortgage.

You can see where this is going… I got an idea that seemed pretty different than any other story lines I’d read. I wrote a scene or two. Then a chapter appeared. Flash forward a few weeks and I have almost seven chapters written, a full outline of approximately 20 total chapters, a fan fiction account and three amazing people who read, edit, proof, nit-pick and crack-wise on each page I write.

I call it The Family Business and I am having the time of my life. Oh, and so I can rationalize the time spent on a story that will never cross a publisher’s desk, I admit that I’m learning so much about the writing process. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I am creating it. (It’s actually writing itself, but I’ll save that for another post, another day.)

If you’d like to see what Edward and Bella are up to in my world, go to

http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2155721/SuzsPetals

I’ll be using this blog for teasers, artwork and song lists for the story, but I’ll also be writing whatever happens to interest me and perhaps post a few non-Twi stories I’ve written. *I may list a fanfic recommendation sometimes, but I’m warning you – I’m picky.

Summary: Edward Cullen meets the girl of his dreams but keeps her at arm’s length due to his complicated, dangerous family life. When cruel irony brings them together again, he’s forced to make a devastating choice: Save her from a fate worse than death or save her from the family business. Definitely AU (Alternate Universe) It’s not for the kiddies.