The Art and Practice of Flanerie

The Art and Practice of Flanerie

I am in the midst of preparing my course materials for a writing class I will teach in Scotland next summer through the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad (CCSA). The focus of the class will be the art and practice of flanerie.

I believe this is an ideal framework for a group of writers who will explore the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as the Scottish Highlands, because I know that a study abroad experience teaches as much (or more) about yourself as it does about the places you visit. I also want to design an experience where we study what happened in those places, who lived in those places, and what those places mean — and in the process we can better understand our own places, our own identities, and our own meanings. That is what flanerie means to me — the simple art of wondering and wandering and writing about both.

For me, this marriage of wandering, wondering, and writing, is a wonderful tool that should be applied not just to special occasions such as a class or writing retreat, but also to everyday life. As George Ritzer notes in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology,” flanerie is “a way of seeing the world and being in the world.” Too often we do not spend enough time simply seeing and being and active engagement in flanerie is a way to do more of this. We all need more writing and reflecting about our world and our place in it.

Artistic reflection as well as the collection, and curation, of social artifacts is a central part of flanerie, as described by Aimee Boutin in Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses. Flanerie is more than a simple travelogue or diary because the experience of the urban (or rural) landscape is unique to each flaneuse. In The Death of the Cyberflâneur Evgeny Morozov explains that the flaneur surveys “both his private self and the world at large.” In The Return of the Flâneur, Walter Benjamin says that through flanerie we combine both our own history and the history of the place we wander which leads to “the immense drama of flânerie.” I love this idea of unique and immense drama that flanerie makes possible. We all need more wondering in our lives.

It is also the very lack of specific direction and planning that appeals to me, because our world does its best to discourage such behavior. We must travel fast (by automation) and with a specific destination in mind, but flanerie is best done by foot with frequent stops and as Franz Hessel observes in Spazieren in Berlin, “In order to engage in flânerie, one must not have anything too definite in mind.” We all need more wandering, without purpose or plan, in our lives.

Read more about the art and practice of flanerie:

And related articles:

I fervently believe we all need more flanerie — wandering, wondering, and writing — to help us make sense of our world and our place within it. Do you agree? What are your thoughts about flanerie and when did you last engage in it?

Artwork is Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, Gustave CaillebotteArt Institute of Chicago

A Poem A Day

A Poem A Day

I’ve written before that signing up for the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day was one of the best things I could do for myself as someone still working their way to a place where she might be able to call herself a poet (still not there!). The poems themselves are such an eclectic selection of older works and newer poems that I am constantly exposed to new poetry and reminded of poetry that I once experienced but had slipped out of memory. Not only are these poems wonderful experiences by themselves they also inspire me to write poetry — they are often terrific writing prompts.

In fact, sometimes the poem is the inspiration, making me think about something from my life or think about something in a new way, but often I also find inspiration in the “About this poem” section in which the poet shares their inspiration and/or the story behind the work.

I recommend subscribing to the Poem-A-Day service even if you are not interested in poetry, because the poems and stories can inspire writers on many levels. If you are worried about email clutter (which I understand completely) then simply stop by and visit upon occasion when you are looking for inspiration. You will not be sorry.

Challenge Yourself

Challenge Yourself

One of the things I constantly stress with my students is to move outside their comfort zone. It is only outside our comfort zones that we learn and grow — evolve if you will. While this is important for students, it is equally important for the rest of us. When was the last time you challenged yourself? To learn something new, to attempt something new, to simply move away from the comfortable and familiar ruts we all create.

I haven’t always been good at this myself. The comfortable is so very comfortable after all. Plus, life is busy and it is hard enough to handle the things I need to do let alone make time for new things. But I do try, during the summer, when life is just slightly less busy and full (fractionally), to push myself, to challenge myself.

One of the challenges I have undertaken for the past two summers has been to write more poetry. Despite four post-secondary English degrees, my poetry education is lacking and I still find writing poetry to be a very challenging, sometimes frightening, experience, but the more I read poetry, write poetry, and talk with other poets (I cringe to even call myself a poet) the more I come to appreciate that we all need more poetry in our lives. Poetry helps us think about ideas, both big and small, and explore those ideas in more manageable chunks than different text forms. I recently started subscribing to the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day and I have found so many ideas to think about and write about. One of the ways that I challenged myself to write more poetry was to participate in LexPoMo – a month-long poetry writing challenge for Lexington, Kentucky, and the surrounding region (seems like all of Kentucky!). Last year I wrote a dozen poems and this year I wrote 16 poems. June is a super busy month for me (even though I’m officially not working!) because the Morehead Writing Project has a lot going on, so I am proud to reach both numbers and I think this year’s poems were better than last year’s so that is also a point of pride. Part of this challenge for me was reading The Poet’s Companion and working my way through a number of exercises in the book. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in writing poetry, but continue to struggle (like me).

Another way I like to push myself each summer is to participate in CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration). This community spans the globe and involves a lot of educators but others who simply want to have fun and learn together. There is a lot of playful innovation and experimentation as we contemplate some serious questions about learning and human growth. Every summer I learn something new and am pushed outside my comfort zone.

What will you do to challenge yourself? When was the last time you challenged yourself? Do you think there are benefits to challenging yourself on a regular basis?

Self-Healing With Writing Therapy

Self-Healing With Writing Therapy

Life is hard and sometimes it really knocks us down. Hard. So hard we can’t get up. We can’t crawl. All we can do is curl into the fetal position and cry. Sometimes we are so exhausted and beaten we can’t even cry. For some people it is one big thing, one traumatic event or loss or illness, that has struck the blow and for others it an endless pummeling of small and medium blows that just keep on coming until we can no longer protect ourselves from the pain and devastation.

However, we do not need to fight this battle alone. Therapy and support groups are available for major traumas and often one really good friend can make the difference for those of us who don’t quite fall into a support group category. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. You don’t need to go it alone. There are many resources available when you just can’t cope anymore. There are also steps you can take to self-heal – one proven strategy is writing therapy.

Writing has helped many people cope with stress, trauma, and both physical and mental challenges. Studies have shown that writing can help with mental trauma and suffering and abate physical symptoms for some long-term illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis. Suppressing negative emotions, stress, and trauma can actually be harmful to our physical as well as mental well-being by suppressing our immune function. However, writing can help us release our fears and anxieties. Even more important, writing can help us understand our pain and offers a way to learn from and move past the suffering. Studies have also shown that writing has the potential to boost our immune system and help us heal faster.

James W. Pennebaker is the founder of this movement which is now extensively used for therapy throughout the world. He offers this simple strategy for beginning your journey with healing through writing:

  • Develop the habit: Set aside time every day for several days to write for about 15 minutes
  • Find a safe place: Write somewhere private where you will be undisturbed and you can cry without judgement
  • Write for yourself: Simply freewrite. Do not worry about the rules of grammar, spelling, or punctuation, and do not fret over the right word or a specific detail. Just write continuously and let the words fall as they may
  • Determine the fate of your words: Some people like to save this writing or gradually develop those words into something meaningful, but these are your words and your challenges so you can do with them as you like. If it makes you feel better to burn them, cross them out, erase them, shred them, or tear them into little pieces and toss them to the wind. It is up to you to decide what action is most beneficial for you and your healing journey

What to Write About:

  • Something that you are thinking or worrying about too much
  • Something that you are dreaming about
  • Something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way
  • Something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks, or years

Pennebaker offers the following instructions:

Over the next four days, I want you to write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the most upsetting experience in your life. Really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts about it. In your writing, you might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. How is this experience related to who you would like to become, who you have been in the past, or who you are now?

 

Many people have not had a single traumatic experience but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors in our lives and you can write about them as well. You can write about the same issue every day or a series of different issues. Whatever you choose to write about, however, it is critical that you really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts.

And also this warning: Many people report that after writing, they sometimes feel somewhat sad or depressed. Like seeing a sad movie, this typically goes away in a couple of hours. If you find that you are getting extremely upset about a writing topic, simply stop writing or change topics.

I know that writing it out has helped me cope with life. Whether you are suffering from a major traumatic experience or a series of stressors, #JustWrite it out to help the healing begin.

Artwork by Steve Snodgrass

Writers Must Write

Writers Must Write

If you want to be a writer then you must write. If you want to be a better writer then you must write. If you want to be a more successful writer then you must write. That is the one simple incontrovertible truth of writing. Writers must write. Writing is a habit that must be cultivated and that habit can only be developed by writing. The one dictate I give my students is to write. Just open up your mind and your heart and put words on paper. As activist writer Mary Heaton Vorse O’Brien said: The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

Creating the daily habit of writing will do wonders for your creativity and your productivity – especially if you do not try too hard to focus the direction of your writing at first. Just let the pen scratch across the paper or your fingers fly on the keyboard. I like to start my day off write with a pen and journal. Many days this is simply a way to unburden my heart and vent my emotions, but sometimes I am surprised by the words and ideas that take shape on my page. Those wonderful serendipitous mornings are pure magic, but rarely are those morning writing jags a waste as they help clear my mind and develop my writing muscles. Athletes and musicians condition and train their bodies through repetition – specifically by developing muscle memory for specific motor tasks. Writers need to condition and train their brains in a similar fashion by writing. Not all of this writing will be good or useful, but developing the habit of writing will be very good and very useful.

Even after you have warmed up your writing muscles it is easy for your brain and your fingers to freeze up when you settle down to your intended writing task. I offer my students three pieces of advice to work through brain freeze. These methods work equally well for creative, scholarly, or professional writing projects. First, borrow the wonderful Peter Elbow exercise, found in Writing Without Teachers and other writings, and freewrite for 10-20 minutes. That is essentially what I do when I start my day off write. I simply let the words flow out onto the paper and turn off my inner editor and critic. Just write without stopping and without thinking. Do not look back. Do not worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or any other forms of correctness. If you cannot remember a word or a detail then just write whatever comes to mind and move on.

In her wonderful book about writing and life, Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott offers a more focused piece of advice to move your writing forward. She keeps a one-inch picture frame on her writing desk to remind herself that she does not need to write an entire book in one sitting. She only needs to write the one tiny glimpse of the story or event that can be seen through that one-inch picture frame.  She shares two anecdotes to illustrate this idea. First a quote by E.L. Doctorow who said: “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Then she offers a story about her brother who felt overwhelmed by writing a report about birds and her father offered the advice to “just take it bird by bird.” All of my novels were written while I was married and held down a full time job as a reporter. There were no days that I could spend writing and polishing. My books were written in tiny corners of time that I managed to squirrel away or carve out of my busy life. I was able to make the most of that time because I had developed my writing muscles and because I focused on one scene, one description, one event at a time.

I am not certain about the origin of my third piece of advice, but in a nutshell it is a brain dump. The idea is simple. It is a more focused form of freewrite, because again you are not worried about correctness and simply focus on writing down everything you know about the topic or idea you intend to write about. Do not stop to look things up or find the answers to questions. Just note your questions or add parenthetical notes that you think you already have a source for that information. The idea is simply to let the ideas and information flow in a jumble onto the page. I have found over and over again that the brain dump is an useful way to let my subconscious do the heavy lifting while I go about my day. When I next sit down to write at worst I have a starting point to build off what I wrote the day before and at best my brain has been working over the material to give me fresh ideas to write about.

The beauty of daily writing is developing your writing muscle memory. The genius of using these writing strategies to kick off your writing session is that you can quickly kick-start a project. Even if little or nothing of what you have written using these exercises makes its way into the final project, you have a starting point.  The blank page will no longer mock you into paralysis, because you have words and ideas and questions to build upon. Do you believe in the daily writing habit? Do you think muscle memory is an important tool for writers? What are your tricks for tackling brain freeze?

You need more poetry in your life

You need more poetry in your life

You need more poetry in your life. I was sharply reminded of this epic truth this weekend when I was cleaning. I hate cleaning and often listen to NPR podcasts to make unpalatable tasks more bearable. As fate would have it, the podcast I chose was new to me although after this weekend’s binge I am a big fan: Al Letson‘s State of the Re:Union.

However, it was the Poetry Month show: The Poems, The Poets, The Power that reminded me that poetry is so often the solution for everything that ails me. My life hasn’t been so great lately. I won’t bore you with the details because there are many many people so much worse off than me, but Friday afternoon was a low point for me. I was just so worn down and worn out that I didn’t know what to do. There were some blog posts I wanted to write, but I just couldn’t settle with all these emotions teeming and roiling inside.

That is how I ended up cleaning – I thought maybe if I took control over one small corner of my life and created order in one room that I might be better able to tackle something larger. Isn’t that one of the things people tell you to do when you are overwhelmed? Focus on some small, simple task you can accomplish?

As fate would have it, I chose to listen to The Poems, The Poets, The Power while trying to take control over one small corner of the chaos that is my life and I found myself laughing and crying and, more importantly, writing poetry. It has been weeks since I wrote a poem and clearly there was a log jam of emotions that needed to be cleared. I dumped three word avalanches onto the pages of my journal, cleaning and writing and cleaning and writing and cleaning and writing.

I have since shaped one of those word dumps into a poem (see The Sandwich) and am still working on the other two — in part because I still haven’t settled on the form I need to harness (direct?) all the emotion wrapped up in those pieces. But this is why I need to write more poetry and you do too!

You can’t tell me — in these times and in this world — you do not have a similar log jam of emotions causing all sorts of problems. Put down the whiskey and the antacids and pick up your pen. Don’t believe me? Listen to The Poems, The Poets, The Power and accept your fate as a poet. You don’t have to share your poems as I do although you should. I share my work not because I think I am an awesome poet because I am still very  much a poet in progress. I share my work because I believe poetry inspires more poetry. I hope to make you think “well if she can write poetry” or “my poems aren’t any worse than hers”.

Whatever you think of my poetry, I hope you will pick up a pen and write a poem of your own to release the log jam inside you. And if you feel like sharing please use the #JustWrite hashtag.

3 Reasons For Writing With Others

3 Reasons For Writing With Others

June was a busy month for me professionally, but I still wrote a fair amount of poetry. This is due, in part, to the fact that my professional responsibilities meant leading the Morehead Writing Project’s Online Summer Institute – so I wrote and shared along with my students. However, it is also due to the fact that I participated in #LexPoMo for the first time this year. Lexington Poetry Month was created by Hap Houlihan (formerly of the Morris book shop) and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer of Accents Publishing to get Lexington, Kentucky, writing and sharing poetry for the entire month of June. While the challenge was to write a poem every day, a challenge I failed to meet, I was pretty pleased to end up with 12 posted poems. I have a few more still residing in fragments in my journal that may be finished one day, but considering my workload for June I thought 12 was a pretty good start. I was #LexPoMo Poet # 291 if you want to see what I created. In all, 156 poets participated by sharing their poems throughout the month. Some poets shared only a few poems while other shared dozens.

Both experiences led me to remember how important it is for writers to write with other writers. Many people have a vision of writers slaving away in a cabin in the woods or an attic garret – supply your own stereotype here — but always alone. However, if you read author biographies (like I do) you will realize that, in fact, writers need regular contact with other writers for a number of reasons.

Maintain Sanity

First of all, living inside your head too much can make you a little crazy. Have you read or seen The Shining? Trust me, you don’t want to end up like Jack Torrance. Sometimes you need a break from writing that only your non-writing friends and family can provide, but other times you also need to talk with people who can understand the tragedy of writing your characters into such a corner you had to throw pages away! There are only certain people who will understand your obsession with just the right pen or the perfect keyboard or the need to celebrate the perfect turn of phrase. There is nothing wrong with the people who don’t get it, but they aren’t writers. It is a joyful relief to spend some time with our own kind once in a while. In addition to this understanding that non-writers cannot offer, spending time with other writers writing, talking about writing, and sharing writing can provide three solid benefits.

Inspiration

I know writers can find inspiration in many places. Nature, books, candy aisles… But one of the things I love about attending writing workshops and retreats or reading books about writing by other writers is the inspiration they offer. Whenever I step outside my comfort zone as a writer it is because someone pushed me there (or sometimes enticed me with treats). I try to write my way into my day every morning, but I have a few comfortable ruts that I fall into as a writer. I write blog posts. I write rants. I write 6-word stories. I write Tanka poems. There is nothing wrong with that writing, but too much comfort is not a good thing. So this summer I was inspired by various writers to branch out and I am happy that I did as some of the coolest work I’ve done for a while came out of that experimentation.

Learning

You can learn from your fellow writers in a number of ways. I always learn from reading their work as well as talking to them about their methods, struggles, and triumphs as well as what they are reading to inspire and teach them. My journals are always sprinkled with the names of books and writers along with my own writing. Every writer with any miles on their odometer has some tricks and tips they can share, so don’t try to reinvent the wheel yourself. If nothing else ask them what they are reading as well as what they are writing. Writers need to read a lot to refill their well with inspiration and to provide models and guides for our writing. There isn’t a writer on the planet who cannot learn something new from another writer. I learn from my students as well as my fellow teachers whenever we write together.

Growth

One of the ways that writing has benefited me as a person has been the ways it allows me to explore and understand myself, others, and the world. Sharing pieces of our writing (you don’t have to share everything all the time!) with others can bring perspective and help us on our journey of growth. Sometimes another writer might hear something in our words that we did not even know was there or provide a nudge that will benefit our work and our understanding. Also, there is the simple fact that writing is communication. It can be an intensely private act, but if we never share our writing with others then we will never feel like a writer. While family and friends can sometimes be a good audience, although not so much in my own experience, other writers can be sympathetic and challenging in ways that non-writers cannot. They know responding to writing can be a tricky business and will often feel their way carefully through the shifting sand. There is something magical about coming together to share our words and thoughts, our hearts and souls, that can inspire my writing for days after we share.

While writers can write alone, they should, ever so often, resurface into the real world to live and love like a normal human – and, most important of all, they should occasionally connect with other writers to find inspiration, learning, and growth. Where do you find other writers? How do other writers benefit your writing? How do you benefit from other writers?

Artwork by PexelsCreative Commons license

The Importance of Creative Play

The Importance of Creative Play

An online community has been challenging me to play more this summer and it has reminded me how important creative play can be for our mental well-being. I think physical play is important, but there is something about letting our creative juices flow that makes us feel more alive and removes (or at least reduces) the stresses in our lives. There are lots of ways to be creative and not all work equally well for all people. I love making music, but sometimes playing an instrument has added stress rather than relieved it. Painting is not something that interests me a lot, but working with words and images – now that is something I can lose myself in for hours at a time.

I have rarely met a person that doesn’t agree that children need time for creative play and there is much lamenting among adults I know that today’s kids don’t spend as much time in creative play as we did when we were children. However, there is a point when we stop allowing ourselves time for creative play and I think adults need it even more than children. I know many adults who manage to find an outlet with creative hobbies from knitting to cooking to woodworking, but often they justify the time spent on these hobbies by creating scarves for the homeless or quilts for their grandchildren. Why do we need to justify anything? Why can’t we just create something for the fun of it and simply for the pleasure of creation? I think more adults are experiencing this urge. I have friends who take painting classes or visit pottery workshops and there is apparently a rising interest in adult coloring books. Now that’s what I’m talking about – something fun and simple and creative that soothes your soul.

One of the things I hope to encourage with this web site is more fun simple creative word play. You can write longer pieces if you choose, but if you don’t want to today (or ever) that is OK, too. I recently had a lot of fun playing the simple #SharkBooks game. Read more about the game on Azula.com but essentially it is a pun game where you adapt a real book to something sharky. Here are some examples of the puns I made with books on my desk:

biting-alone-and-with-thers

bite-by-biteFrankly, I could have spent all day on this pulling books off my shelves and every time I visit the hashtag it makes me laugh.

Another clever game that I absolutely love was created by a friend (Margaret Simon) in the online community I mentioned above. She adapted the card game Apples to Apples to become a simple writing prompt. I love it and plan to steal the card game from my son so I can have it whenever I need a quick dose of word play. The Apples to Apples game inspired me to create my own word play game: the Muse Game. I played just today and came up with this easy found poem about my hometown Mt. Sterling, KY, but tomorrow I plan to use the Apples to Apples prompt because it will work well with my other newfound love of Tanka poems.

So spend some time playing with words today and every day! Share your word play using the #JustWrite hashtag.

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7 Reasons To Write For Yourself

7 Reasons To Write For Yourself

We have been writing most of our lives and much of that time, since our fingers first curled around that thick primary pencil, we have been writing for purposes dictated by others. You have written school essays and business reports and job applications, but when was the last time you sat down to write something just for you – to investigate what you are thinking-wondering-remembering-feeling. When was the last time you sat down just to create something with words you pulled from the well inside you for no reason other than you could?

We owe it to ourselves to spend more time writing for ourselves and writing for no other purpose than to find out what is on our minds. I spend so much of my time teaching writing, creating writing experiences, and teaching writing teachers that I sometimes forget how much fun and how relaxing it is to spend regular dedicated time writing. I have newly dedicated myself to writing just for me and here it what I have learned. I hope at least one of these seven reasons to write for yourself will inspire you to do just that — write for you!

Writing Is Fun and Creative

This last month or so I have spent time just playing with words in a variety of forms. Sometimes choosing an easy path and sometimes challenging myself, but not really worrying about what or why I’m writing and writing only to please myself. I’m just letting my muse have her way with me and it is so much fun to simply be creative for the sake of creativity. We can all benefit from losing ourselves in moments of creative expression.

Writing Is Feeling

Sometimes I need to write out my feelings of rage and worry about the state of our world, my life, the road I drive on every day, or my dog’s health. My mother, my husband, my friend, and my child certainly don’t want to listen to an incoherent stream of my feelings, but my notebook (and my dog) will take it all in without judgment and I’ve found my notebook is impossible to scare (unlike my dog) and I will feel better for the release.

Writing Is Inspiring

Sometimes something comes out of my pen, sometimes only a snippet or a quote, but I find it meaningful and it is a truth that resonates with my life. Writing can help me uncover inspiration in myself, in my world, and in the words of others. Maybe, sometimes, my words can even inspire others.

Writing Is Remembering

I recently embarked on a journey down memory lane and it was a tremendously rewarding writing experience to think about the sights, sounds, and scents of my childhood haunts. I shared some of that work with the friends who shared that journey and they loved it, too. It was a place we hadn’t visited in a long time and so it was especially meaningful for us.

Writing Is Capturing

It can also be important to capture those moments when they are still fresh and raw before we forget important details and emotions. Writing can help us lock down memories and keep them forever.

Writing Is Thinking

I often use writing to help me think through a thorny problem or worry. Writing is thinking because it helps me organize my thoughts by simply capturing them in written form whether it is a list or long meandering rant.

Writing Is Cathartic

Many of these reasons can be summed up with this one benefit – writing is cathartic whether we are writing to think, to feel, to remember, or to capture. One of the primary benefits of the art is that it can be a simple release valve to help us live more fully and survive the trials and joys of life. Modern life is so full that we can all use a release valve from time to time so our heads and hearts don’t explode.

I have come up with this list of seven reasons why you should #justwrite for yourself. Why do you #write? Why should you #write for yourself? Need help getting started? Check out these writing prompts to inspire your writing.

You Are A Writer

You Are A Writer

You are a writer.

You just don’t know it yet.

You have words trapped inside your soul

Beating wings against your rib cage

Desperate to escape.

 

You are a writer.

You are just afraid to commit pen to paper

Wary of sharp blades dripping red

Baring your tender core

To worldview.

 

You are a writer.

You have messages to send

Songs to sing

Words to shape

Worlds to save.

writer

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