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Archive for November 2015

I'm What's Happening: December 2015

Wow, it's been about three months since I've written a summary on what I've been up to! Last time I closed with a teaser about news, but I didn't want to spill the beans.  By now, you may have figured out that I was referring to the writing retreat I attended last month in Costa Rica.

I didn't want to give too much information at the time I wrote my last I'm What's Happening post because although I knew I wanted to attend the retreat, I was still in the process of figuring out the ins and outs of making that happen.

Still, the prospect of going was enough to get my creative juices flowing and I started writing a couple of short stories. But because the retreat was intended to be a holistic getaway - caring for our entire being but putting good stuff into our minds and bodies so that good writing came out - I became more disciplined in my home spiritual and physical life as well. Not only was I praying and meditating every day, I also changed my diet and began working out every day. By the time I left for the retreat, I was feeling focused and creative.

I'm not going to go into the entire experience again because you can read about it either in my Reinspired...Again post or in detail on my travel blog. But in summary, while there, I was able to nearly complete a piece I had been struggling with for almost seven months!

So yeah, the past couple of months haven't left any time for crafting. But, taking the subway to work every day does give me time to keep up on my reading. And last month, I read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It reminded my of an in-depth profile, but while the main character's artistic progression was believable, the way he interacted with his world was not. Overall, I didn't love the book. You can read more of my thoughts about it in my review.

Since finishing A Portrait, I moved on to another profile piece, The Picture of Dorian Gray. So far I'm liking this one a lot better. Some of the language is a little fluffy for my style, but because Oscar Wilde, the author, wasn't overbearing in his philosophies, it's much more bearable than Joyce's novel.

And last but not least, after about five years, I decided to pick my guitar back up. I've been teaching myself for a little over a week and have learned six notes and the beginning of Bob Marley's Redemption Song.  But I have some questions about technique and I know the Type A in me won't let me feel like I know how to play unless I know how to play correctly. *shaking my  head* I know. Anyway, I found an instructor whose philosophies sound great - most importantly to me is he'll teach me how to continue teaching myself. We start working together later this week - I'm excited!

That's all, so until next time!

Book Review: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Okay, I'll admit it, I had never heard of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man until I listened to Talib Kweli's Memories Live
"It kinda make me think of way back when
I was the portrait of the artist as a young man
All them teenage dreams of rapping
Writing rhymes on napkins
Was really visualization making this here actually happen
It's like something come through me
That truly just consume me
Speaking through the voices of the spirits speaking to me"

I related to feeling something higher than myself speaking through me and me having to run to find anything I could use to write the message down. So, if that was the definition of an artist, I wanted to read more about others' similar experiences. And after 15 some years, I finally got around to doing that. In my defense, my 'To Read' list is ridiculously long.

Because of the amount of time it took me to get to this book AND the fact that it's considered a classic, I want to give it a glowing review. I really do. But I can't. And maybe I need to accept that the classics are just not for me, but I still feel the need to see what all the hype is about for each of them. *Kanye Shrug*

Where do I start? I loved the depth Joyce gave the main character Stephen Dedalus. What I mean is, he portrayed him as sensitive to the world around him, a deep thinker and someone struggling to find his way in the world before really coming into his own and standing up for his own belief system.

Let me provide a recap of the story so my last statement makes sense: It begins with Dedalus as a young boy who doesn't come from the best background, but who has the opportunity to attend Catholic school. He's a people pleaser and spends his time practically walking around on eggshells in an attempt to ease things such as the discomfort his peers feel about his curious last name or the disbelief the head of his school has about him actually breaking his glasses. He grows from that insecure boy into a young teen whose lack of response to a young, female peer's interest drives him to regularly seek the company of prostitutes. Catholic guilt from that response spins him into a complete 180 and he becomes so devote in his religion, the heads of his school pull him aside and ask him to consider a life as a priest. At this point, he develops his own philosophical theories which he not only freely expounds upon with his friends, but which also convince him to leave his hometown and all its ideals so he can find his own way in life.

So, although areas are exaggerated, I think most artistically inclined people can relate to Dedalus' journey.

What I didn't like was Joyce seemed to be using Dedalus to push his own philosophical agenda a little too hard. It became unbelievable that a young adult would have all these extensive theories and that they were all he and his friends talked about. I'm in my 30s and my friends and I don't even have conversations with the depth these kids were reaching.

Also, probably my biggest problem with this novel was I felt like I was in the mind of an artist. I know that sounds strange, but bear with me. While I was on the writing retreat, one of the underlying themes that kept reaching me was, write so your reader doesn't have to piece together what you're thinking. Because all artists know that our thoughts can be random and scary at times, but it's our responsibility to bring some sort of order to them before sharing.  And as writers, it's easy for us to craft things that sound good, but may not have any real meaning or are so convoluted, the reader gets tired before finishing sorting thoughts out. I felt some of the former and a lot of the latter with this novel. As a result, I ended up skimming through much of it.

For me, the sign of a good book is if it can make me slow down and digest every sentence; when a sentence makes me smile, re-read it multiple times, pull out my pen and underline it. I didn't have any moments like this with A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man.


The older I get, the harder it seems to do something that once came so naturally to me - writing.  It's not that I've lost the passion. On the contrary, I've never been able to say I am a writer with more confidence than I do now. What it is, is that life got harder. And because I write on a very personal, emotional level, the topics I am exploring and writing about have gotten tougher.

A couple of months ago, I recognized this as writer's block and set out to learn how to counteract it. I thought the answer was a writing retreat, a space where I could sit in nature and have all my basic needs cared for by someone else, leaving me free to do nothing but write. So, I found one in Costa Rica, a place I've wanted to visit for the better part of a decade, and set out to learn more about myself as a writer.

One of many important lessons I learned while on the retreat is that, while I have a very distinct, poet voice in much of my more formal writing, it sometimes allows me to lightly touch on sensitive topics while hiding behind the emotions they evoke rather than exploring them in depth.  I've received feedback in the past that alluded to this, but it always came out as "give more details," so I never really grasped the meaning.

But something about knowing I had to sit in front of the other women on the writing retreat, read my work and have them truly understand it, made me step outside of my comfort zone and dig up to my elbows in the gritty side of human nature.  The above picture shows me reading something I wrote, out loud to other people for the first time in my life. The ladies were all incredibly supportive and I walked away feeling accomplished.

I apologize for rushing through this post, but I have been attempting to maintain some of the feeling I felt the night I presented my work. Trying to maintain the creative energy and discipline for writing that I achieved over the course of the retreat. Part of that attempt is revamping this blog, but more importantly, I'm trying to write for myself for anywhere from 10-60 minutes a day. I've been writing all day today, so I'm exhausted, but I still felt it was important post today, the beginning of the first full week I've been home from the retreat.   If you want to read more about my experience in Costa Rica, visit my travel blog.

Until next time...

~ With ♥ from Halima

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