THE CREATIVE HOUR?

There’s a question I’m invariably asked: When is the best time to write – morning, afternoon, or evening? I shudder at the implied idea that creativity goes by the clock. Not even London’s Big Ben can promise a completed novel.The truth is, there’s no special creative hour.

I can only share my own journey around the clock. Having been an actor in my “other life,” I enjoyed being up half the night and sleeping until noon. When I switched to another career – as a freelance writer – I still believed I could best be creative when “burning the midnight  oil.” But reality soon showed me that evenings were far from productive. I was usually too weighed down by everything that had happened during the day to to think creatively.

What triggered a change was coming across a little 1930’s-era book entitled “Becoming A Writer” by Dorothea Brande, associate editor of The  American Review. Brande contended that the best writing is done if you go straight to the typewriter (sic) after breakfast and start working before imagination is diluted by the days distractions. Though dubious, I gave it a try while struggling with my first book, “Widow’s Walk.”

Carrying Brande’s advice even further, I announced to everyone that I wasn’t available for phone calls before 3:00 In the afternoon. Nor did I permit myself to listen to the radio, glance at the TV or read a newspaper. during that time, The world (as far as possible) had to be off limits. With no intrusive voices from the outside, my memoir was able to breathe and eventually come to life. I’ve lived- and written by – these rules ever since.

(Warning: You may find some people unable to understand your lack of availability. In my case, the only friend who had a problem with my new schedule was a therapist who said I needed to see a shrink if I couldn’t take time to answer phone calls!]

As with anything else, there’s no one-size-fits-all. If you have a full-time job, you may have to switch that off-limits time to a much later – or even earlier – hour. Meeting Michael Korda at a writing panel,  I asked him how he’d managed to write so many books while also working as editor-in-chief of a major publishing house. He said,”I get up two hours earlier.”

You might also be forced to write around the edges of time. I know an awesomely dedicated writer who has written two books and is working on a third while holding a demanding full-time job. Her secret is to steal moments whenever she can – even if it’s for a paragraph – and even on the subway.!

So my answer to that question about time is that it isn’t when you write as much as how,. And the question to ask yourself is: Am I willing to make writing an absolute priority?

Website: annehosansky.com
Books: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com;; Turning Toward Tomorrow – Xllbris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play – through CreateSpace.com and Amazn.com. Also Amazon Kindle.

CINEMA CLUE

“See what isn’t there.” A Sherlock Holmes directive? A message from outer space?

On the contrary, it’s powerful advice about creativity voiced in a film I’ve belatedly gotten around to seeing – “The Magic of Belle Isle.” It’ was recommended by a friend who told me I’d “love it,” because “it’ s about a writer with a writing block.”

It is, indeed, about a writer (superbly played by ever-dependable Morgan Freeman) and filled with quotes that reverberate, not only about writing, but life, love and the advantage of typewriters! “They’re a bit slower (than computers) but the teeth bite into the paper and you know there’s a genuine human being at work,” declares Freeman’s crusty character.

He’s a well-known author of Westerns, but his wife ‘s death has put out any spark of creativity in him.   A bitter man, he’s been confined to  a wheelchair most of his life because of an accident when he  was young. For years he found salvation in the cowboy hero he created who “can do all the things I can’t.”

He moves to Belle Isle, a lakeside community, for the summer. There he meets an aspiring writer who’s all of nine years old. Finn, as she’s named, begins by asking him to give her three important words she’s been told to learn. When he says, “Imagination,” she wants to know why that’s important. He tells her,”It’s the most powerful force ever made available to man.”

She wants him to teach her how to write,  naively asking, “Where do stories come from?” (something we’d all like to know!)

He tells the child to describe the road outside, which is clearly devoid of people or vehicles. When she complains there’s nothing there he gives her a mystifying order: “See what isn’t there.” When she asks how that’s possible he tells her: “See it with your mind’s eye.”

Ultimately she manages to “see” a young girl walking on the empty beach. and goes on to verbally make up an entire episode. Freeman informs her she has now written her first story.

This freezing March morning  my own creativity seems frozen, and there’s nothing to see but my familiar room and the icy world outside,. But those lines from the movie are reminding me that inspiration doesn’t have to depend on some bustling exotic scene. The story waiting to be written is there for the taking, if we learn to see what may be invisible to others.

Website: www.annehosansky.com
Books: ”Widow’s Walk” – iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – CreateSpace and Amazon.com. Aso Amazon Kindle.

OTHER DOORS

Anyone who does interviews knows you can get a lot of predictable – and evasive – answers. But sometimes I get a gold nugget of a response. That was the case with a woman I interviewed for my book about the loss of a spouse or partner, “Turning Toward Tomorrow. “ She had requested the interview, oddly enough, though she was still happily married. What she said was: “Some of my losses are still walking around.”

She was referring to the debris of relationships that were dead – or on life support. It’s a familiar syndrome to many of us. Relationships change for myriad reasons. When my husband died, some of my friendships were strengthened by supportiveness. Other friends, who apparently couldn’t take the reality of my new life, fell by the wayside. I’m thinking of one formerly close friend who stopped phoning because, she admitted, “I’m afraid you’ll sound depressed.”

It isn’t just death that can end a relationship. We all know how a marriage that began as a love affair can end in the ashes of divorce. We don’t often admit, however, that sibling relationships may also undergo transformation, especially if one of the siblings becomes more successful that the other. I confess that my closeness with my sister turned testy when we became mothers. Childhood resentments that had been hidden under the rug were resurrected via competitiveness about our children.

So what do we do when a connection we need is no longer there? We can walk around wrapped in self-pity and anger (as I’ve too often done). But that’s a dead end street.

Neediness can make us cling to the remains of a relationship, which puts us in a beggarly position. So I was struck by the words of Phillip Galantes, who writes an advice column for the Styles section of “The New York Times.” A few months ago he received a letter from a woman complaining that her daughter-in-law doesn’t include her in holidays. “What should I do?” she asked mournfully.  His advice? “Knock on other doors.”

That resonated in my head. A holiday dinner was approaching, but my grown children had plans that didn’t involve me. I did feel a rising tide of self-pity starting , but I also became aware of the warm connections I’ve deliberately developed with my nieces and nephews. Hesitantly I called one niece to ask about the holiday dinner. She said, “There’s always a place for you at my table.” Hard to feel sorry for yourself with an invitation like that!

Finding new friends to replace lost ones isn’t easy. but I reject the attitude of a former neighbor who said, “It’s easier when you’re young and sit in the playground with other mothers.” The common belief that you can’t make new friends in later life is a myth. Yes, old friendships are meaningful because you share a history, but their loss doesn’t have to result in an isolation chamber. One of my most generous friends is a woman in my current writing group. It isn’t past years that connect us, but our shared passion for writing.

In fact, groups can be fertile meeting grounds.Although men often find it harder to reach out, a widowed colleague told me he’s finding stimulating friendships with “kindred spirits” he meets at political demonstrations. (Plenty of those these days!)

I welcome Emails about your experiences. If I don’t reply immediately it will be because I’m busy finding doors to knock on.

WEBSITE:www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: WIDOW’S WALK – available through iUniverse.com;TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW – xLibrius.com; TEN WOMEN OF VALR and ROLE PLAY- amazon.com & Amazon Kindle.

A NECESSARY BLENDING

Of all the blogs I’ve posted, the most recent one – about coping with life when I became a widow – has drawn the most comments. As a reader wrote, “This isn’t just for widows, it’s for everyone who has had a loss. In my case, it was my best friend.” (Is there anyone who hasn’t known loss?)

I also had a few Emails from readers curious to know why I had ‘switched” from a theme of writing to the issues of loss. Actually, there was no “switch.” From the beginning, my blog has had two titles: A Writers’ Blog and Surviving Loss. Nor is there a canyon between them, but an overlap. As the wonderful author Richard Ford wrote,”If the disease is loneliness,the story is the cure.” He may have been referring to reading, but it’s even more apt for writing.

The problem for many of us is the same syndrome I’ve had for the past year. I constantly complained that I couldn’t write because of all the problems in my life, needed a clearer head.

But this week I suddenly had a different view, as if I were handed a new pair of glasses. For the first time it struck me that it doesn’t have to be a battle between my problems versus writing time. I don’t have to struggle to find a way to separate my life from what I want to write. I can include  whatever is happening — not the facts, perhaps, but the tsunami of feelings: anger, frustration, grief. We can make use of them in disguised forms.

As a result of my altered view I’ve just written my first entirely new piece In over a year. Since I’ve been feeling somewhat lost at sea it fascinates me that the piece was inspired by a child lost in a sea battle. I didn’t plan to use my feelings , but they found their way into this story. It’s what’s known these days as Creative Non-Fiction. (As opposed to the Uncreative kind?) It may not be the best thing I’ve ever written, may or may not get published, but it’s new and it’s mine – in a mixture that not only blends in my turbulent feelings, but helps me to survive them. This gives me hope that’s been alien lately. And a sense of freedom.

We really don’t have to rent an ivory tower in order to write. As the late multi-talented Carrie Fisher said more succinctly:Take your broken heart and turn it into art.

Website: annehosansky.com

BOOKS:  Widow’s WalkiUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrowxlibris.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor – CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.

INCLUDING

I’m writing this on Christmas, midway through a season to be “jolly.” But for many people “jolly” is a mockery, if they are coping with loss.

That’s how I felt my first holiday season after my husband died. I dragged myself to a friend’s dinner party, where I tried to act normal. A joke was told. Everyone at the table laughed. I said,”Mel [my husband] would have liked that one.”
Silence.
I had thrown a damp rag over their merriment. Was it no longer permissible to mention my husband? These had been his friends, too.
“Let’s keep this happy,” my host whispered.

In the years since then I’ve interviewed scores of bereaved men and women who had a similar experience. Perhaps speaking of one who’s gone reminds people of their own mortality. But mentioning my husband at that dinner party was my way of including him.

Each of us have to find our own way to keep that person with us, especially on holidays shared in the past. Some write a letter to that loved one, saying ,“I miss you,” but also telling about the ways you’re getting on with your new life.

Many people keep a photograph of the missing person visible. Actually, this isn’t doesn’t have to be limited to holidays. It’s helpful on any important occasion – birthdays, graduations, whatever. At my grandson’s bar mitzvah, a framed photo of his grandfather was prominently displayed. His words were also there, when a poem written by him was read aloud. It was the family’s way of saying,”You are with us..”

During my first months of widowhood, I was invited to a 30th anniversary party for my brother-and-sister-in-law. A wedding anniversary was the last thing I felt like celebrating. But this was my husband’s brother, who had been so caring of us. I consulted a bereavement counselor about my dilemma. Knowing how prone I am to guilt, he advised me to go. But he advised: “Make space for yourself within the socializing.”
At the party, where everyone was talking and laughing, I fell into a pit of loneliness. “Make space,” I remembered, and escaped outside to the garden. It was bathed in moonlight, and far above the stars were clear. Looking up at them I had a feeling my husband was up there in that immensity.. “Are you there?” i asked – and felt he was, and that he was still with me. I rejoined the party, no longer totally alone.

Wherever – and however – each you is at this difficult year’s ending, I wish you a new year of unexpected blessings.

(Adapted from “WIdow’s Walk”.)

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS:: Widow’s Walk– iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow – xLibris.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor – CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.

TO TELL THE TRUTH. . . .

You have a memorable experience  and yearn to capture the memory by writing about it. You then have a choice: hide within the safety of fiction or reveal the often difficult truth.

I ran into this challenge when I decided to write about my husband’s illness and death, and my struggle for independence as a single woman. Originally I planned to write a non-fiction book about what other people had gone through with the often bizarre medical world. During a walk with a friend who had spent many years in publishing, I asked if she thought my plan was marketable. Her answer turned it around for me: “I think you should write about your own experiences first.”

Those words lit the way for Widow’s Walk. I decided I would write it as a memoir. The truth, nothing but the truth, I swore. (Note: This doesn’t necessarily mean the whole truth! I had children to protect.)

I began writing the book some four months after my husband’s death, referring to fragmentary journal jottings, but primarily ransacking my memories. Fortunately ((or unfortunately) , I had total recall of every word and gesture between my husband and myself, as well as with the world, during the 21 months of his illness.

Like most writers I had frequent bouts of doubt about what I was doIng. Was I telling too much or not enough and – daily! – who would care about some couple named Anne and Mel Hosansky.?

Halfway through I heard that the wonderful Israeli author Amos Oz had written a new book based, apparently, on his experience as a widower struggling wth his new life! The same theme as mine. However, he had chosen to write his book as a novel. Masochistically I read it, knew I could never write as well as he did, and came perilously close to pressing the Delete key on my total book.

In a despairing moment I shared my plight with a neighbor who was a freelance editor. “I give up,” I announced in a tone that indicated jumping off a cliff. “I should have written my book as fiction.”

The next morning a note was slipped into my mail box. “It will help other women more if they know your story is true,” she wrote.

I pressed the Save key and went on with my memoir.

Yes, it was painful to write the book truthfully. Hard to reveal my love/hate for my husband for “abandoning” me. Even harder to confess to being attracted to a man in my bereavement group just months after my husband’s death. I skirted around some of my children’s behavior, and consulted a lawyer about a sister-in-law who had treated me cruelly but whose act made a dramatic scene in the book. (“Change her name,” he advised.)

Miraculously a publisher (Donald Fine) was enthusiastic about the manuscript. So Widow’s Walk and my naked feelings saw the light of day. When I mailed the first copies to my children, I fled from the post office as if I were being pursued. Their reaction was – shall I say? – polite. As for the sister in-law, I needn’t have worried. She wasn’t interested in even looking at the book.

On the other hand I did hear from numerous readers who sent variations of, “You made me believe my feelings are normal.” Of all the poignant letters I received, the one that still echoes in my mind came from a widow who wrote simply: “Thank you for giving my grief a voice.”

I’m not saying that every life experience needs to be revealed in a memoir. But in my case it was enormously rewarding, even freeing. As I answered readers, “It’s gratifying to know that what Mel and I went through is lighting the way for others.”

In telling my story as truthfully as I could, I gave my grief a ”voice” too.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: WIDOW’S WALK (available through iUniverse.com); TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW ((xLibris.com) ; ROLE PLAY and TEN WOMEN OF VALOR  (Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle); MAYA’s MAGICAL ADVENTURES( children’s book , available through ahosansky@gmail.com).

 

ELECTION POSTSCRIPT

 

During all those months of a shameful political campaign, I avoided writing about the election.  Now I find it inescapable, for the aftermath is all around  – and within – us. 

Facing my writing students two days afterward, I saw how shocked they were. I had to make an immediate choice: should they – and I – try to fence off our feelings or incorporate them  into our writing?  I tore up my  lecture plan and, instead, told them that the assignment for the day’s ’“prompt” (impromptu unedited writing) was to write what they were feeling. When they read these to the class afterward, I heard  grieving frightened angry words.  One man called the election an “apocalypse.”  There was a general feeling of helplessness and concern about the effect the election had on their grandchildren. “We’ve  failed them, ” a woman wrote.

The  most general complaint from them and from all my friends is: “I can’t even write.”  It’s as if, for so many of of us, the election was a tsunami that tore away anything creative.

Writing about the election that morning, my students said, helped them cope with it. But there are many other events in our lives – personal as well as political – that threaten to take over our minds, driving away  that story or article or  poem we were trying to create.  We have to find ways to write our way through.

This doesn’t mean trying to ignore what we’re feeling.The interesting thing  I’ve  discovered is that including – rather than excluding – our feelings in our work can actually add to what we’re writing.  Revising my novel this week, I found myself adding potent amounts of my current rage and cynicism to passages that now felt too sentimental.

Angry about events? Despairing?  Use these feelings. You may find, as I have, this can bring your story to a deeper level. It may also help  you feel you’re still in charge of your life. 

Website: annehosansky.com

BOOKS:  Widow’s WalkiUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrowxlibris.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor -CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.

 

BALANCING ACT

If there’s one thing I can be counted on to complain about, it’s having time taken away from writing. “How can I concentrate on my book if I have to do all these other things?”runs my very vocal monologue.

I live with a partner who has become disabled. The chores we used to share – shopping, laundry, cleaning – are now on my shoulders alone. Plus escorting him to doctors, dentists, audiologist, ad infinitum. Though I try to fight for uninterrupted writing time, it’s usually a losing battle.

My problem is not unique,of course. How many writers have to spend hours in a job they are bored by or actively dislike?

The reality is that life gets in the way for most of us.  But recently I read an oped piece in The New York Times that gave me a new view of this dilemma. It was written by a woman who had been accepted by a law school (a rarity for women in the 1950’s) but who had just had a baby. Torn between her ambition to become a lawyer and the attention she owed her child, she considered abandoning her professional dreams. But her father-in-law told her, “If you really want to study law, you ill find a way to manage both school and child.”

That’s what she did, she writes, by “prioritizing” her time. The exhausting schedule she arranged was to be in classes all day until 4:00 in the afternoon (while a nanny took care of the baby), then take care of her child for several hours, then return to her studies in the evening.

Did her professional dreams succeed despite this two-sided struggle? They did on the highest rung of the legal ladder, for that young student and mother evolved into Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Though Ginsburg admits she was fortunate to have enough money to hire a nanny, and even more fortunate in having a totally supportive husband (he even became the family cook), l she contributed the most important factor: her positive attitude. Instead of giving in to resentment (time away from her studies) or guilt (time away from her child), she deliberately gave full attention to each activity as she was doing it. Attending classes, she “studied diligently,” she says. During the baby’s time, she gave equally diligent attention to “playing games and reciting nursery rhymes.” After bathing and feeding her child, and putting her to bed, an inexhaustible Ginsburg went back to her studies every evening with what she calls “renewed will.”

Surprisingly Justice Ginsburg claims that “my success in law school was in large measure because of baby Jane.” This is because, she says, “Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion,”

It’s easy to resent having our writing interrupted by obligations we’d rather not have. But barring a genie or ivy tower, we have to accept the fact that these other activities are where we are in our lives. Finding ways to pursue writing – or any dream – may require finding a way to fit disruptions into our life. And since the characters we create often have to do the same tasks, what we’re forced to do away from the computer can actually make our writing more real!

TO COMMENT, CONTACT ahosansky@gmail.com.

PIC ANNE --Small 2

Website: annehosansky.com
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk- iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow – xlibris.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor -CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.

A CARDBOARD BOX

 

A famous question asks, “If you had to escape from your burning house what would you save?” I’ve always had trouble with that because there are so many things in my home that are meaningful to me. So I was intrigued when a woman named Romaine Horowitz (dubbed an easy “Ro” by friends) wrote about about how her parents  struggled let go of the accumulation of years. Since this is a challenge many of us ultimately face, I share her moving recollection.

My parents sold the house they had lived in for 40 years. This meant an archeological dig, unearthing shards and fragments of family life, Their house was very spacious and after we three children grew up and moved away, my parents felt like a pair of dice rattling around in a cup. In order to move into a smaller house they had to winnow, discard and choose what to take.

Years later my mother died. My father moved to a tiny apartment which meant – again – reducing and letting go.

That summer I took my children to visit him in Chicago. My father told his grandchildren,”I want to show you something.” Then painfully, arthritically, he reached up to a closet shelf and took down a cardboard box.

With great care, he removed the contents.There were faded newspaper clippings from a time in his twenties when’d been a prizefighter! Photographs of my mother. Dog-eared menus from restaurants he had briefly owned. His high school album. It seemed as if he were telling his grandchildren, “This is who I am.”

Recently I had to sell my own house, that I had lived in for 39 years. My children, too, have grown and my husband has died.I realize that a house is only a receptacle, a container. It feels very empty, very lonely, Even so, I have started the elimination, the relinquishing. The picture I see firmly and indelibly in my mind is how full of life my father’s cardboard box had been.

Ro passed away a few years ago. I think she would be pleased to know that her brief memoir is in my own equivalent of a cardboard box. It reminds me that we all need to learn which items best express who we are – and let the rest go.

[For more about Ro, see my interview with her in TurningToward Tomorrow (available through xLibris.com).

Website: annehosansky.com
Additional books: Widow’s Walk- iUniverse.com; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor -CreateSpace.com and Amazon Kindle.

“THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER”

There’s a popular saying in therapy sessions that life isn’t as much what happens, as our perception of what happens. The unspoken postscript is that those perceptions are as changeable as the weather.

I thought about this the other day when I was looking at a 3-inch high sandstone bear clutching a baby bear in her arms. It’s a souvenir I was given years ago.

My original perception was of an adorable mama bear holding her baby, who’s nestled within her arms. But when I recently unearthed the bears I had a completely different perception. Maybe it’s because I saw an actual bear (at a safe distance!) during my vacation, but my sandstone one suddenly looked menacing. Those downward lines indicating Mama’s mouth, certainly not a benign smile. Those two dark button -like eyes looked threatening.. And why is she clutching that baby so tightly? Is she one of those over-possessive mothers? What does the baby bear’s unreadable expression mean? Comfort being In Mama’s arms? Or, “Let me out of here”?

The other day I studied the bears more closely and had still another reaction. The mother bear’s expression isn’t menacing; it’s worried, on guard. She’s holding her baby close because the world has become so frightening. There are hunters (terrorists!) gunning for everyone, even helpless children. The baby senses this, is trying to hide within those protective arms.

Obviously my souvenir hasn’t altered, so it must be something within me. A reaction colored by the pervasive fear we all seem to have these days?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that vision is very personal. It’s also variable, reflecting our emotional temperature. How many times does a person you thought one way about seem to become a different character? I know a woman I always considered enviably self-assured, even intimidating. Meeting her after several years I saw a shy insecure woman. Has she changed – or has my view of her?

We may have favorite vacation sites. Then something shifts – it no longer seems like Arcadia. Instead of seeing just the beautiful scenery we may focus on too many tourists, too many motels. Or the other way around. Where we once saw only the unpleasant aspects we now see, as if for the first time, how beautiful the lake is, the beach, whatever. The same is true of looking at art and in the books we read.

A fixed point may be integral in mathematics, but it can be fatal in literature.. When it comes to the characters in books, change is fascinating. It’s also what makes or breaks the book for many of us.  A static character doesn’t compel us to keep reading . The worst critique, for me, is “predictable.”

We have to find ways to surprise a reader. In many of my stories and books I tend to create women who are needy and weak, and then – through various steps and stumbles – develop into far stronger women.. If they didn’t go through unexpected phases along the way, readers would be bored — and so would I in writing them!

Of course, readers have their individual ways of interpreting our stories, often in surprising ways we never meant. As abstract artists say about their often indecipherable paintings, “The view is in the viewer.”

Comments welcome! Send to annehosansky.com
BOOKS: ROLE PLAY and TEN WOMEN OF VALOR – available at CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle. 
WIDOW’S WALK – iUniverse.com.

 TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com