Creative Writing

Reflections about creativity, the writing process, and the writing life.

  • Creative Writing,  Life Lessons

    Writing Just to Write

    Woman Writing

    Once in a while I want to write a self-indulgent post about nothing. It hits like a craving for chocolate. Snuggled in my favourite chair with a cup of tea I type just to hear the sound of my fingers pushing on the keys, watching to see which thoughts appear. Where will this post go? I wonder. And I’m sure my readers wonder too. (Is it important to ALWAYS know where we are going?)

    Sometimes I want to write just for the sake of writing, just to feel like I AM WRITING. Ideas and phrases move through my mind like smoke. What a blessing to write for writing’s sake! What a blessing to enjoy this practice enough that I find it relaxing to write about nothing.

    At work, primary students have been reading and writing in my office. It amazes me how much work it takes for them to read or write each word. The children delight in finding meaning when they read, they want to read to me to celebrate their progress, to have a witness to the miracle of words. Even though it is hard for them, they persevere, pushing each word from their lips as they trace below it with their finger.

    Today a student was having a tough time controlling his emotions. While we reflected on the conflict he said, “there was something inside of me that just had to come out.”

    Maybe when I crave time with the page it’s because there is something that needs to come out–not really a big dark cloud or locked away story but a surge of everyday life and feelings and ideas. When we write we make connections. Sometimes when I write it’s not to express emotion but to empower insight.

    I could write about nothing every day. The appeal for blogging is that there is space for “blog spam,” permission to indulge in this type of stream of consciousness exploration. And when others do it I find it fascinating to read. Maybe it’s in this type of free-falling style that readers can see glimpses of the truth behind the writer, the truth within ourselves. Maybe sometimes writing shouldn’t be designed and outlined for an audience but a relaxed, unplanned release of whatever the day has caught.

    My wish for children is to find peace in words, to reach a level of mastery that allows them to write about nothing whenever they like.

    When was the last time you opened your mind and let writing take you away?

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  • Creative Writing,  Life Lessons

    Inspired by Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral

    Watercolour by Jessica Outram
    Watercolour by Jessica Outram

    From Sunshine to Spirals

    Metaphors are good teachers. For nearly fifteen years I learned from the metaphor “sunshine in a jar” by exploring it in my writing and thinking. When I started work on The Writing Spiral, another metaphor landed on my page with lessons to share.


    My Crush on Fibonacci

    When I began my research into spirals last spring I started with obvious choices like DNA and nautili shells. Then the list grew. I learned about Fibonacci and the golden spiral—a simple looking curved line that moves and expands in logical proportions. I started seeing spirals everywhere.

    From fingerprints to sunflowers to whirlpools, spirals surround us. Last week a friend (and art teacher) was visiting. Toward the end of the afternoon we spoke about Fibonacci. She teaches Fibonacci in her art classes. I learned that the golden spiral’s proportions are even in our bodies, the distance from my hand to my elbow, my knee to my foot. It’s in architecture too, known as Phi–an angle made up of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. Most of the greatest structures in the world use phi.

    I can finally see the poetry in Math and Science. It is all connected. We are all connected—humanity and nature.


    Spiral Quest

    If spirals are in so many things that we can see, then spirals must also shape things we cannot see. I believe our collective mission is to learn. So how do our life’s lessons move like a spiral?

    I’ve read in psychology books that we repeat patterns in our lives, often repeating the same mistakes. But what if the lessons only appeared the same? What if the lessons repeating in our lives are following a similar shape, but we are different each time? Changed—even a little.

    I want to use the spiral metaphor as a framework for thinking about life. What can spirals teach us about relationships? Self? Purpose?

    What can we learn from spirals about love, courage, respect, spirituality, and creativity?

    To begin this work of making connections, I made a collage using the Fibonacci spiral as a template–much harder than I imagined!

    By Jessica Outram
    By Jessica Outram

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  • Creative Writing,  Sunshine in a Jar Books

    Songs of Sunshine and Snowflakes: My First Poetry Chapbook

    Tomorrow night I am reading for the first time with the Cobourg Poetry Workshop. It starts at 6:30 at Palisade Gardens–if you’re in the area!

    Click here to read an interview regarding the reading.

    I moved to Cobourg nearly two years ago and since then I learned that the town is alive with poetry. I’ve never considered myself a poet before. Poetry is personal in my writing world. But the poets of Northumberland have inspired me with their bravery.

    So over the Christmas holidays I put together a chapbook of 18 poems in a collection called Songs of Sunshine and Snowflakes. I made twenty copies.

     

    The poems are about the journey of becoming a writer, the struggles of balancing two life ambitions (to write and to teach) with daily living, the cycle of getting lost and found, and finally, the dynamic landscape of claiming one’s place in the world.

     

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  • Creative Writing,  Events

    Ontario Writer’s Conference Master Class

    Registration is now open for the Ontario Writer’s Conference, May 3 and 4, 2013. Hope you can join us!

    I will be teaching a Master Class titled: We Write Who We Are.

    Examine ways we collect stories and ways we share them. Whether you are starting a new project or need to infuse life into a work in process, this workshop aims to inspire your process be it fiction, poetry or non-fiction. Since all writing is subjective and you are the writer, this workshop also explores the relationship between the writer and what s/he is writing. This workshop is research based.

    The final piece of this exploration is “autoethnography”– writing about the self within the context of culture, politics, and environment. How has your world influenced you to become who you are? In particular we will look at the question of how your world has influenced you to become the writer you are today.

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  • Creative Writing,  School Leadership,  Sunshine in a Jar Books

    Sunshine in a Jar: The Book

    I am in the process of rewriting my recent Master’s thesis into a book. I feel the topic is timely and important. If you are an agent or publisher looking for a non-fiction manuscript on the topic of resiliency please contact me.

     

    Using memoir, poetry, and collage I recorded a personal story of learning how to “burn-in” after experiencing teacher “burn-out.” Mental health is a hot topic now in education. Currently, I work as a high school vice principal and our recent administrator’s conference focused on mental health and resiliency. Learning to “burn-in” is all about resiliency. Resiliency is a necessary trait of 21st Century educators. This project is about resiliency, the inner landscape, and coming of age as a young educator.

     

    Many teachers and other professionals “burn-out” in their careers for various reasons but what is the next step? Inspired by its working title Sunshine in a Jar, this literary non-fiction book is most like memoir. It explores the lessons a teacher learns on the inside, the lessons few teachers ever speak about.

     

    My thesis utilized a newer academic, arts-inspired form called autoethnography. Its multidimensional nature and explicit links to cultural and environmental influences enhance the typical memoir experience. My current rewrite involves removing the academic language and inserting more personal narrative.

     

    I became a secondary school administrator at age thirty-six. I love my job. The challenges I faced as a young teacher ignited a series of lessons that made me into a resilient educator because I learned from “burn-out.” So many leave education within the first five years of teaching. So many more become cynical and defeated yet continue to teach. By writing about resiliency through the lens of “sunshine in a jar,” I hope to share the inner landscape of a young teacher and encourage others to look at what is in their “jar.” It is a universally human quest for personal insight, understanding, and happiness.

     

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  • Creative Writing,  Events

    Hill Spirits Launches October 11, 2012

    Blue Denim Press presents Hill Spirits.

    “Hill Spirits Anthology introduces a sampling of the diverse range of writers and writing styles found in the Spirit of the Hills Writers Group. In Hill Spirits, you’ll find amusing slice-of-life stories, scary tales to share around the campfire and, in a quiet moment, poems for reflection.”

    I have two poems in this collection. I am scheduled to read at the following launches:

    October 11, 7-10 pm at Meet at 66 King, Cobourg

    October 30, 7-10 pm at Arts Quinte West Gallery, Trenton

    November 4, 2-5 pm at the Rivoli, Toronto

     

    There will be other launches in Port Hope, Norwood, Colborne, and Brighton too.

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  • Creative Writing,  Family History Stories

    Now and Then and Later

    How has history impacted your work? Has it slipped into your created worlds? Has it inspired the people who inhabit them? If we fall too deeply down this well of thought it becomes impossible to separate the influences of history from our work. The stories of the past whisper in all our stories.

    A couple weeks ago in an exercise at a writing retreat I wrote these lines in a poem about happiness:

    I can see in all directions

    confident in now and then and later

    Yesterday I attended the installation at Fort York in Toronto called The Encampment. The contrast between the tents representing 1812 and the dramatic high-rises of 2012 in the backdrop was fascinating.

    I started thinking about time and place, about people now and then, about the next two hundred years, about conflict among groups of people, about the harmonies among various generations. Time ceased to be linear. For a moment I saw the fine threads that weave 1812 and 2012 and 2212 in the same tapestry.

    Who are the gatekeepers of 2012? Where is the power? Who are the soldiers fighting for our freedom? What is our safe house, our fort, our stronghold against the enemy? Who is the enemy? Who are the innocents?

    Although today’s wars are fought away from home, what battles are going on beneath the complex realities of 2012 at home in our communities? Which threads do we need to protect with our lives?

    How can we as writers use words to change the human story?

     

     

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  • Creative Writing,  Family History Stories

    Research and the Writing Process

    On the March Break in 2012 I visited Archives Canada to do some family history research.

    I did not have a plan. I had a thick file holding three years of research notes, an iPad, and some blank paper. Generally, I wanted to know more about the Metis, the Voyageurs, lighthouses, and my family.

    NOTE: When we arrived at Archives Canada we had to sign-up for a Library Card. This process was easy–some photo ID, a computerized form, and a signature. Once our cards were ready we signed in at the security desk and received a key for a locker.  It is helpful to read all the information on the Archives Canada website, Preparing for a Visit.


    Starting the Research

    Prepare to be overwhelmed. We began in the Geneaology and Family History section. Around the space there are lots of brochures and tips for getting started. There is also a full-time staff member in the room available to answer questions.

    I spent the morning reading all the records for St. Anne’s Parish in Penetanguishine. Birth records, marriage records, and death records of family members from the mid to late 1800s. As I found relevant information I recorded it with my iPad. Wireless Internet gave me instant access to everything I had stored on Ancestry.ca too!


    Voyageur Contracts

    After lunch we went to the information desk. I wish I had noted his name–the archivist was helpful and friendly. He shared with us a number of online tools. My favourite: a database of Voyageur contracts.

    The Voyageur Contracts are only available in French. I wish I paid more attention when I studied French in high school! “Ezechiel Solomon et Compagnie” resulted in 87 items. Ezekiel Solomon was my great(x5)-grandfather. He owned the company that hired voyageurs. This is before Northwest Company and Hudson’s Bay Company. The contracts are fascinating!


    New Family Connections

    It is possible that this is a contract for Joseph Normandin in 1820, my great(x3)-grandfather. He would have been 23 years old. It lists St. Anne’s as his parish. Joseph’s family would have been living in Penetanguishine around that time. I have also seen the name David Mitchell, who is listed as the employer, in my reading (although I cannot remember where). Again, I wish I better understood French. He was given a boat and three years to do the south. It includes four cotton shirts, a pair of shoes, a necklace, and some other things I can not determine. He signed his name with an “X.” He was paid “600 livres ou chelins.” At a glance, it looks like the voyageurs were paid in books! But I imagine they were paid in pelts or pounds.

    I found another contract that I believe is Joseph Berger’s, another great(x3)-grandfather. In 1819, Joseph Berger was given a three year contract to work in the Nipissing area, passing through Michilimakinac. He is given an advance of “50 piastres) whatever that means and will be paid the rest until months after he returns. I wonder if the employer worried he was not going to return. His parish is listed as Montreal. I think he eventually lived in Penetaguishine too so I am not sure if I found the right Joseph Berger.

    Finally, I found a 1791 contract for Francois Solomon. He worked for Levy Solomon who was Ezekiel’s brother (or maybe his son). I am still trying to piece together the Solomon family. Francois is listed not as a voyageur but as a rudder. According to a free French translation website here are the terms of Francois’ contract: CHILIMAKINAC, BIG PORTAGE OR OTHER PLACES THAT WILL BE INDICATED HIM AND DESCEND IN THE FALL – ORDINARY EQUIPMENT – 3 A DAY AS TO COUNT DAY OF LEUF DEPARTURE TO GO OF THIS CITY TO THE DAY OF HIS RETURN.


    And Now More Questions to Explore

    Next I would like to search the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives for relatives, although I think the men of my family had moved on from being voyageurs to becoming lighthouse keepers when HBC dominated the waterways.

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