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June 27, 2012 by admin
February 15, 2012 by katemeadows
I have been very excited to share my latest work, an essay that pits the art of the writing life against the art of motherhood. However, due to contract obligations, I cannot keep the piece posted here. A hard-knock lesson learned on my part. I will post a PDF of the essay in my “Portfolio” section once the current issue of Writer’s Digest is off newsstands. Until then, be bold and buy a copy of the March issue! You can read my piece, “Artmaking,” on pg. 14.
Otherwise, stay tuned for a non-sappy love piece, coming tomorrow. Cheers!
December 1, 2011 by katemeadows
This past month, after many months of abandonment, I took my flute out of its case.
I had been asked to play with a praise band for a church service, four songs in all. It was a request to which I had said a breezy, “Yes,” feigning confidence that I could do what was asked of me.
Inside, though, I wavered. I hadn’t practiced my flute for months. My chops – those mouth muscles you need for good tone – were down. My fingers were not as limber at the notes as they were back when I was in college and practicing for an hour a day. In two weeks, I would somehow have to put all of those skills together again in attempt to make something beautiful: build up my chops, get the notes under my fingers, and put it all together to make music that stirred.
The practice was rough at first. My mouth and face muscles were tired after ten minutes of playing. My scales were rocky. I found myself having to clap out the beats of the notes on the page, rhythms that five or six years ago I would have breezed through on a first read.
But then something happened. I kept practicing, every day, and the more time I spent with my instrument, the easier the songs became, and the longer I found I could play without getting physically worn out.
Do you see where this is going? That same story of practice, practice, practice, is true for writing. The first two or three times you show up can be daunting, a reminder of how rusty your springs are. But if you just keep showing up, just putting that butt in a chair and plinking out words, sentences, paragraphs, pretty soon you will start to make music.
My writing life these days has been a total testament to this. I am writing a lot. I am showing up to my computer, and I am churning out pages and pages of new work. The ideas keep coming – and more ideas, I find, the more time I spend writing. I am trying to keep up with everything that is going on in my head, and even the fact that I sometimes can’t keep up is really a nice problem to have. I am finding that, like flute practice, the more I write, the easier writing becomes.
*What regular habit do you employ for your art?
November 10, 2011 by katemeadows
I am listening to an audio book by the Wyoming writer Alexandra Fuller, called Scribbling the Cat. The second of four books she has published, it tells the story of her encounter and subsequent … friendship(?) … relationship(?) … I struggle to find the word here … with K, a former soldier of Africa’s Rhodesian war who, after passing a series of brutal tests, was given a Bazooka and told to go out and scribble (Rhodesian slang for
Fuller grew up in Africa in the midst of political turmoil, as small writhing African nations like Rhodesia and Zambia desperately tried to break away from European control. The upbringing she describes in her first book (Don’t Let’s Go the Dogs Tonight), and to some extent, her second, mirrors the personalities of the African countries that were so doggedly trying to carve out their own identities: scrappy, restless, relentlessly perseverant. Fuller comes across as sad and tough, determined and in despair.
This week, between errands to the post office and Target, to and from church music rehearsals, and on a trip down the mountain from an exhilarating camp trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I came to the part in Scribbling the Cat in which Fuller describes her return to the United States and Wyoming, after having spent a number of months in her home African country. It is after Christmas:
“In late December, I went home to my husband and children, and to the post-Christmas chaos of a resort town. But instead of feeling glad to be back, I was dislocated and depressed. It should not be physically possible to get from the banks of the Papani River to Wyoming in less than two days, because mentally and emotionally, it is impossible. The shock is too much, the contrast too raw. We should sail or swim or walk from Africa, letting bits of her drop out of us and gradually in this way assimilate the excesses and liberties of the States in tiny, incremental sips … before trying to stomach the Land of the Free and the Brave. Because now, the real, wonderful world around me, the place where we had decided to live with our children because it had seemed like an acceptable compromise between my Zambia and my husband’s America, felt suddenly pointless and trivial and insultingly frivolous. The shops were crappy with a Christmas hangover, too loud and brash. Everything was 50 percent off. There was nothing challenging about being here, at least, not on the surface. The New Year’s party I attended was bloated with people complaining about the weight they had put on over Christmas. I feigned malaria and went home to bed for a week.”
Her words are so depressing and honest, her outlook so miserable and raw. And this is where I wonder: What do we do as people who have been, not by our own choice, born into a country of such privilege and freedom and excess? How do we respond to those gifts? (I think they’re gifts. You might disagree.)
I remember the day in 2010 that the devastating earthquake struck Haiti. I remember talking to my mom over the phone, telling her how I felt so guilty and disgusting for continuing to go about my daily duties, completely unaffected physically by the natural disaster that had scarred and killed so many. “I don’t want to eat,” I told her. “I want to forget the grocery shopping this week and send a $100 check to Haiti instead. I feel like I should starve.”
Mom responded: “You can’t feel that way. It doesn’t do anybody any good.” In other words, my starving myself does nothing to help the person half a world away who is starving for reasons out of her control.
So then, how do we respond? Do we complain and make ourselves sick over the excess and greed that consumes our country? Do we shell out a hundred bucks to the next organization asking for a cash donation? Do we turn our backs and shrug? Eh, sucks for you. Glad I’m not in your shoes?
Here is the answer I have come to. I cannot feel guilty for the tremendous privilege I was born into. Doing so would dishonor my God who gave me those blessings in the first place. So I start with thanks, doing my best not to take anything for granted. Obviously I falter and fall short. But at least I can say “thank you” every morning. Then, I seek to serve those around me. My family, friends, acquaintances who are quickly becoming friends in this new home of ours called Orange County. Then, I turn my focus to a few causes I am passionate about. Involving myself in every legitimate organization or cause that needs help would do no good; I am not giving anything if I am not giving wholeheartedly. Broken down, it goes like this:
At 4 a.m., wide awake with the world on my mind, I stare at my coffee cup from the couch.
The word on the cup.
“It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
And finally, consider this. Joshua Tree National Park, a spectacular and intimidating expanse of desert and mountain not three hours from the place where I now live, springs forth both life and death. It is a land of waste or abundance, depending on how you look at it.
November 3, 2011 by katemeadows
November is National Novel Writing Month, known in the writing world as NaNoWriMo. Tons of people, professional writers and hobby writers alike, burrow down in beds of words for one month – 30 days – and ideally emerge with a complete draft of a novel. Whew. That’s a lot of work, folks.
A grad school friend of mine is participating in this (you can learn more or get involved at www.nanowrimo.org), and she posted her progress yesterday on Facebook. I asked her what she was writing about, and she responded with the most compelling, gripping plot line. (I won’t share here, because it is her story, not mine!)
I was jealous. “Holy cow,” I commented. “You have a knack for plot. I envy.”
It’s true. As a nonfiction writer and essayist, I excel at description, character development, setting. As an over-thinker, I excel at symbolism and thematic images. But plot? It is my downfall.
Wow, you might say. A writer who has not mastered plot? Perhaps that’s like a chiropractor with a bad back, or a heart surgeon who smokes. I admit, there are areas in my profession where I could improve. But isn’t that true of us all?
I often think my lack of knack for plot (oh, the inadvertent rhyme there – sheesh) is one of the reasons why I choose to write nonfiction. In nonfiction, plot lines are playing out all around me. I don’t have to make up the story. I simply get to re-tell it. As the writer, I get to be the artist and craft the story however I choose, as long as it stays bound by truth.
Here are a couple of other reasons why I write nonfiction. First, there are way too many talented fiction writers out there already. If I added my voice to that mix, it would simply blend into all of the grey and be lost. God did not create me to be a fiction writer. Second, a good ‘ol college professor. During my sophomore year at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, I wrote a cute little story called “Strawberries in Spring” for a fiction class I was taking. I fell in love with the story, for its beautiful language and symbolism. It was a winner, I was sure. An “A.”
I think my professor gave me a B- on the assignment. So much had I invested in those few pages of work, I asked to meet with him after class. I wanted to know why he didn’t love it as much as I did.
Quite simply, he said, “It lacks plot. There is no story here.”
That stuck. He was honest, and it felt to me at the time, brutal. That was good. It was an important lesson. We all excel at some things, not at others. While I still love that story for its language and symbolism, I see what he was saying. There was no action, no real meat of conflict taking place. Therefore, the story was incomplete.
I applaud all of the writers and amateurs out there who are undertaking NaNoWriMo this month. I especially stand behind my grad school friend, because I can’t wait to see what she produces out of that rocking idea she has. I hope she’ll share it with me when she’s ready.
As for me, I am going to stick to what I have found to be my own true passion: seeking to understand people and their real plights, in all of their complexity and beauty, and paint portraits with words that aim to make sense of all of our very real struggles and triumphs.
*What project are you currently working on? What one thing are you struggling with the most on it?
October 29, 2011 by katemeadows
I was talking to my mom yesterday about an old couch. It is yellow and brown and orange, all those dingy colors of the 70’s, and it lives in the room in their house we call the Addition. The couch collects stuff: empty boxes and wrapping paper and old bills and pieces of mail. It intercepts items whose intended homes are elsewhere.
Yesterday, it was my mom’s goal to clear off that couch. She wanted to rid it of clutter. She wanted to put all of the things that had gathered there where they belong. She was telling me about this daunting project, explaining how hard it is to keep that particular space clutter-free. That couch so easily becomes …
… a gathering place. I finished the sentence for her. And that got me thinking about, well, gathering places. These are spaces that need to exist so we can dump or be free or let go. I started thinking about my own gathering places. Here are some:
-my journal, to dump words and ideas and sort through it all later
-the hope chest at the foot of my bed, which is like a magnet, pulling objects into its field around it (clothes, books, stray socks …)
-church, to surround myself with other imperfect people and purge our sins
Heck, this blog can even be a gathering place. Of words. Ideas. Art. Maybe even of something beautiful.
What are your gathering places? Some may be obvious, physical spaces like a bar or a community center. But others, less so. Think about it. Where do you go to collect, dump, let go?
October 25, 2011 by katemeadows
I struggle here with how to begin.
I want to say, “Hello” and “Welcome,” but somehow that makes me feel stiff and robotic, like a clean-cut stewardess greeting airline passengers. I am not any of that: not stiff (I hope), not robotic, and definitely not a stewardess. (I get too motion sick to even hope for such a high position. Pardon the pun.)
But here is who I am. I am a writer. I am a writer who loves to explore human relationships and experiences. I write nonfiction, essays, and poetry. I love photography. I love coffee. I love rain and mountains and campfires. I love Jesus. I am fiercely in love with my family – as an only child, a daughter, a wife, and a mother. While not new to blogging (I write about ‘Mamahood at www.sugarbeanscribbles.blogspot.com), I am new to WordPress. And I created this blog to talk about writing.
Writing. In all of its beauty and chaos. As a way of art making. As a way of communicating. As a way of understanding. Here I hope to be a vehicle through which creativity, expression and communication dance. Here I hope you will find inspiration, creativity, and perhaps even understanding. Whether it’s understanding of the writer’s life, of your own work, of yourself or of the chaotic world, I hope to build community here.
Take a look, give me feedback. Follow. Join. Communicate. Let’s see and make art together. Let’s see what happens.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. But here I am. So Hello. And welcome.