Try 101

Practice — Process — Projects

Month: November, 2012

Notes to Self: circa 11.28.12

by tjbeitelman

Yesterday a dear friend posted this link on his Facebook page.

It’s all about the daily routines of famous writers. Fittingly enough it’s called “The Daily Routines of Famous Writers,” and it consists of a bunch of quotes from said Famous Writers regarding what makes their respective creative processes tick. Very discipline-y and don’t stare out the window! etc. Which is fine. It’s instructive and inspiring. Discipline is good. Words on the page: good.

But. Here is the comment I posted on said dear friend’s Facebook page in response:

Obama’s a communist! #Benghazi

Ha. No. I didn’t do that. That’s so early November. (And also insane.)

But I did write this:

[These invariably make me feel bad. Because, like, for a million reasons. First, mostly they always imply the vast stretches of unencumbered time these folks have on their hands. Which. I mean… Plus they’re mostly fiction writers. Which is like accountants. Or joggers. Third: there’s always somebody who says you’re not supposed to stare out of windows or even ever wait. Ever. At all. For anything. Much less magic. You’re just supposed to yoke yourself to the typewriter (always it’s a typewriter) and bleed words. Thing is, waiting’s what I’m best at. That and staring out of windows. But. I mean. I’m a poet. Rilke said waiting’s okay. Better than okay. Rilke said waiting is the most important thing. ‘It does come,’ he said. I believe him.]

There’s definitely a chance I’m being too easy on myself.*

[*I’m probably being too hard on accountants and joggers. Also probably fiction writers too. Or maybe it’s not that I’m being hard on them, per se. Who doesn’t want to be considered, generally speaking, productive and efficient? But, generally speaking, I am generalizing, which, at best, only yields lazy half-truths.]

I don’t think I’m being too easy on myself, though. I mean. I’m not Joyce Carol Oates, but I’ve produced some stuff. I’d like to produce better stuff and I will keep trying to do that. I’m also gonna keep staring out windows. And — sometimes, maybe most of the time — I’ll keep doing nothing.

Because nothing (in my experience) is almost always something.


Notes-to-Self are real-life excerpts of resurrected insight from real-life notebooks Facebook pages. (What do your old notebooks social media posts still want you to know? Feel free to share it in the comments section, if you’re feeling generous…)

30 Things I LOVE Right Now..

by theyogaofcake

1. Vinnie my busser. 2. Billie Holiday Radio. 3. Brown rice, navy beans, steamed greens & black sesame dressing. 4. Futo- maki vegetable sushi roll with everything vegetable plus tamago (egg) & tofu. 5. Practicing not running- Not running!  Not running even when I’m literally running. (It’s a bad habit to escape that which is happening *now.*) 6. This little notebook with a smiley alien on the cover that someone I love dearly gave to me-I write down ideas related to my project inside. 7. The painful New England chill. 8. Colby. 9. Monterey. 10. Running and not wishing it was over with. 11. Feeling disappointed really feeling disappointed and  finally coming to that place of the let go to be brought back to the BIG-ness again. 12. Feeling even if the feelings take months to get over believing that they will be gone when they are ready. 13. This house and how perfectly still it feels knowing I could/can stay still here or somewhere like here if that happened to be my luck. 14.a. The Last Waltz revival and the musician who sang Forever Young and how the two of us fell in love that night. 14.b. ha ha. 15. Knowing the difference between solitude & isolation= loving solitude. 16. The love/hate things I love/hate; this cramp in my leg from running up hills. Being here I love/hate being back here. 17.These ducks on my front lawn. 18. Sylvia my friend at work who I laugh with like a teenage girl.19. Magic the pops out of the *air* when I’ m convinced I’ve used all my magic up and I have to start living the struggle to be reminded that I’m not meant to be a struggler. 20. Fireplaces. 21. Hikes. 22. Nanas. 23. All these good movies coming out. 24. Yankee Candles. 25. Greek Yogurt. 26. The thrill I get when I start reading plays again. 27. My Gratitude Tree not poking anyones eye out. 28. Not having caught what she has and some days being able to still love her. 29. The container of sweet potato mash in the fridge.

30. This article about Thanksgiving; Nothing lasts; everything changes. People die, and marriages dissolve, and friendships fade, and families fall apart, whether or not we appreciate them; whether or not we give thanks every waking moment or one night a year. For the act of returning to the same table, to the same people and the same dishes–to the same traditions–can blind you to life’s transience. It can lull you into believing that some things, at least, stay the same. And if that’s what you believe, then what have you got to be grateful for? None of our Thanksgivings are ever coming back; we’ve lost them. They’re gone. And so this year, let’s go somewhere with strange customs and unfamiliar recipes and the latest collection of ill-assorted chairs, and give thanks–not for everything we have, but for everything, instead, that we have lost.

Writing Exercise (sort of): Diary of Progress

by ajanefountas

Believe it or not, we’re coming upon a new year. I mean, Thanksgiving is literally around the corner (see it lurking behind Wednesday?), and the many splendid holidays of December will follow suit. So why not start setting intentions of the creative kind for the new year?

If making progress with a creative project will be on your list, use a Diary of Progress (doc) to help. Each day of the week in the Diary includes three elements:

  1. Plan
  2. Progress
  3. Obstacles

Start daydreaming about what you’d like to accomplish creatively in the coming year. As January approaches, do a rough draft of your Diary of Progress for one full week. As the actual first week approaches, fill out your final plan for each day of the week. Take into account what you’ll have going on each day and what’s realistic to accomplish creatively. Then when each day is done, record your progress in light of your plan and list the obstacles that got in your way.

At the end of each week, review your Diary and take what you’ve learned from progress and obstacles to help you do better the following week, i.e., spend more time on creative pursuits.

In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving!

30 Things I Love Right Now by Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis

by tjbeitelman

1. Paint swatches.  The names and bookmark shape of them. The endless particular color.

2. My penchant for threes. Lists. Three times ten and so on.

3. Fostering cats. It feels like an important thing that I have been meaning to do all of my life.

4. Feeling connected the country I live in and yes, I do love it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is president.

5. The end of political ads for awhile. Living in Ohio means my vote means so much. Living in Ohio means that we are being wooed, solicited,courted, stalked and harassed by political rhetoric during election years.

6. The deer wandering the yard this morning. The miracle of antlers–how are they so treeish and elegant? How to carry so much organic chandelier around and still stay so graceful and stately?

7. The doe and the fawn, too. The bound made over our firewood.

8. That a fallen ash tree has already yielded two grave markers for our beloved kitties and some stools for sitting around the firepit.

9. Last night, I received a miniature rose plant for the election night. And a beer cozy. That odd, silly combo made my night.

10.  Indian-spiced Roast Chicken. We rocked that dish around here. Can’t wait for leftovers.

11. That when the leaves fall of the trees around here–so vibrant and so missed–they give back the view of the reservoir. There is something so profound about that relinquishing and the gifts every season presents.

12. My niece and my nephew. They inspire a whole new set of feelings in me that I didn’t know I had. Also, major gratitude and delight, those too.

13. My niece’s mood ring eyes and my nephew’s giant, sparkling dark eyes that signal his mischief the same way that my daddy’s do.

14. Peace. I never knew I had it in me.

15. Directed restlessness. I write, I teach with a certain raw energy that I used to misuse on my heart and soul.

16. A savings account.  Years of feeling bad about my fiscal shakiness make me feel proud of my modest savings.

17. My sisters: each with their own perfect-fit dovetail into different parts of my soul. It’s a perfection, really.

18. Birdfeeders. The frenetic affections they inspire.

19. Eggshell, buttery cream, even beige, my much-maligned color. I am learning to enjoy quiet hues and really appreciate them: in people, in colors.

20. Teaching. The various ways it saves me and ignites me. That love that I have for a whole class or a sense of connection with individual students.

21. The college where I work. It breathes art.

22. An owl propped in a tree made of cantaloupe and gorgeous plumes of purple lettuce. At my school, of course.

23. Early winter when I begin composing soups in my mind like poems.

24. Sunlight on early winter-bare trees, especially the white bark of the sycamore.

25. Cowboy boots with red roses embroidered on their toes.

26. Walks in brisk weather.

27. How to list friendship without sounding corny? More and more, I just feel deep gratitude for my friends. There is so much trouble one must face in this world and friends really do help carry those burdens.

28. A bed heavy with quilts, each faded and patterned in their own way.

29. Chipmunks and their striped sartorial savvy.

30. Stoneware bowls, the sandy-heft and grit of them. The glassy glaze that always lets the pottery push through.


A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Ariana-Sophia M. Kartsonis received an M.F.A. from the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. at the University of Cincinnati. Sophia is an assistant professor of Liberal Arts and Graduate Studies at Columbus College of Art and Design, where she teaches fiction writing, poetry writing, contemporary literature, and special topic literature. Her collection of poetry, Intaglio, won the 2005 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and was published by Kent State University Press. Her work has appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Florida Review, Glimmer Train, Margie, and other journals. She edits the online journal

[PS: As a few of Sophia’s 30 things might indicate, this list is circa Nov. 7.]

Quotes to Create By: Jeff Mangum

by tjbeitelman

I think the biggest obstacle for people with their creativity is that they feel they have to sit down and create this finished, polished product. Especially nowadays, it’s so easy to have a library of two thousand CDs, books and records. So many things. We’re used to having all of these finished works of art in our life that seem to arise out of nothing. I think that so much of the creative process is a fragmentary one, and then it’s about just allowing your intuition to put it together for you. It’s funny how you create something and you think you’re going in a million different directions, and then the thing you end up with is the thing that you wanted to create your whole life, but you’re just as surprised by it as anybody else. —Jeff Mangum @ circa 2002

Quotes to Make Things By: Jim Jarmusch

by laura didyk

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal…that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

—Jim Jarmusch

Fuel, films, bridges, and theft…I’m laying down the gauntlet and going to steal someone else’s.

30 Things I Love Right Now: Rebecca Wendt

by tjbeitelman

1. The phrase/the concept: “attainable indulgences.”

2. This: “She was catching and recording life’s visual fireflies.” Written by Ken Tanaka in reference to the photographer Vivian Maier.

3. The story of the discovery of Vivian Maier’s photograph collection and being able to see her enormous body of work. See but I like the newest book, Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, too.

4. Vivian Maier and the mystery that surrounds her.

5. That friends send me photos of weird bugs for me to identify.

6. Walkingstick Bugs (the latest photo was of a Western Short-horn Walkingstick – Parabacillus hesperus). So darn cool.

7. I live in a country where it’s normally pretty easy to register to vote and to vote.

8. Watching parents bring their kids to the polls so they can see how it all works (and getting surprisingly teary-eyed because of this).

9. Thinking about when my parents did the same for me lo these many (many) years ago.

10. People who wear their “I voted” stickers.

11. That said, I’m ever so glad that the ridiculous election robo calls, icky ads, and other election nastiness are finally OVER for a spell.

12. That what I worried about on Tuesday didn’t come to pass.

[*…And skipping the number 13.]

14. A Red-tailed Hawk circling above downtown during rush hour traffic.

15. Leaves falling in slow spirals.

16. Finding inspiration during a long walk.

17. That I made a couple of nice pieces during the beginning pottery class I just finished.

18. Feeling free of extra commitments for bit.

19. Contemplating what new art/craft/skill to try my hands at next.

20. Cell phones for the ability to communicate in otherwise scary situations.

21. Cold weather is heading our way after persistent temperatures in the 80s (80 is great but just weird in November).

22. Belatedly planning a winter garden.

23. Planning home-made gifts.

24. Anticipating a long weekend.

25. Reflections of fall foliage in the river.

26. Watching the dedicated fishermen standing in the river as I make my way to work every morning.

27. Homemade minestrone with lots of freshly grated parmesan.

28. Butternut squash barlotto (again with the freshly grated parmesan).

29. Paint is on sale at Sherwin Williams this weekend.

30. The thought of freshly painted walls.


Rebecca Wendt is the editor-in-chief of Quarterly Speed Bump Magazine.

Quotes to Write By: Regarding John Berger, Jonathan Safran Foer, Michiko Kakutani and (mostly) Mystery

by tjbeitelman

I am a teacher who talks about stories (among other things) most of the day.

Which is to say: I’m lucky. I like to talk about stories.

Today I talked about Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, in which the protagonist, a nine-year-old boy named Oskar, struggles to cope with his father’s death in the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11.

In so doing, we talked a little bit about Michiko Kakutani’s famously “mean” review of said novel (it’s not that mean, really: she likes Foer, she doesn’t like his book all that much, except for some parts that she liked a lot) in the New York Times. Cloying, she called it. Contrived.

It’s a polarizing book but that’s not really what’s important. (For the record: I like it. It ages well. But I like contrivance and have a high threshold for self-indulgence.)

Mostly I’m (still, always) just thinking about mystery, and this novel is a catalyst for that.

There’s a book, a sacred text. For me. It’s called Bento’s Sketchbook (How Does the Impulse to Draw Something Begin?) by John Berger. Here is a particularly sacred passage:

There are two categories of storytelling. Those that treat of the invisible and the hidden, and those that expose and offer the revealed. What I call — in my own special and physical sense of the terms — the introverted category and the extroverted one. Which of the two is likely to be more adapted to, more trenchant about what is happening in the world today? I believe the first.

Because its stories remain unfinished. Because they involve sharing. Because in their telling a body refers as much to a body of people as to an individual. Because for them mystery is not something to be solved but to be carried. Because, although they may deal with sudden violence or loss or anger, they are long-sighted. And, above all, because their protagonists are not performers but survivors.

For some reason, this passage either gives me goosebumps or brings tears to my eyes (sometimes both) whenever I read it.

Carry the mystery. That’s what Oskar does in Foer’s book. That’s what we do, whoever “we” are exactly.

Maybe we are writers. Painters. Poets. Presidents. (Ahem.)


Maybe we’re lovers. Survivors.

Which is to say: maybe we’re just upright hominids with opposable thumbs.

What makes us most human is we carry the mystery.


by theyogaofcake

Sometimes I need to give gifts. These gifts can come in all sorts of forms but mine tends to be the gift of cake (double chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.) I made this cake to show this man that I believed in him and that I knew he/we could do it. Sometimes giving gifts to show you believe helps you out just as much as that person you made the gift for. What can you give today to show that you believe? It doesn’t have to cost money or take a long time it just takes a little creativity and thinking big. Here’s to believing in one another and ourselves. Here’s to these next 4 years.

30 Things I Love Right Now

by ajanefountas

(1) New York Historical Society. | (2) New York Foundling Hospital (NYFH) biennial reports. | (3) Ellis Island (which I hope wasn’t too battered by Sandy). | (4) Memories of a burger I ate at Veselka on Bowery. | (5) Historical photos from the NYFH. | (6) Pears. | (7) Hot tea. | (8) The sound of the rain. | (9) The 3,008 new words I have toward my new writing project. | (10) Revisiting a previous manuscript to send out to a contest, with fingers crossed. | (11) The Tenement Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where I took the Irish Outsiders Tour on the 22nd (which is sadly closed as I write this due the hurricane’s aftermath). | (12) The Irish Outsiders Tour. | (13) The bookstore within the Tenement Museum’s corner building. | (14) Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. | (15) The little pumpkin on my desk. | (16) Shorter days. | (17) Yellow, orange, and red trees so bright against the gray skies. | (18) Memories of a dear friend who took her leave after 98 years on this planet. | (19) A copy of the postcard depicting John James Audubon’s Summer Tanager (with three birds), which I mailed to my dear friend too late for her to receive it. | (20) Little green notebook from my NYC trip. | (21) Call the Midwife on PBS. | (22) 826 Seattle style club. | (23) Hanging with the kids at 826 Seattle. | (24) The “Concise” Standard Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1945 by Funk & Wagnalls Company. | (25) Looking up words in both my physical and electronic dictionaries. | (26) Words. | (27) Writing words toward one piece. | (28) Having a new writing project. | (29) Letterpress notepads from ilfant press. | (30) My blue Gelly Roll Fine pen.