Category Archives: Writing

Falling Into Books

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Sometimes when I’m reading a book, I have to lay it down because a certain sentence or a phrase has just passed through my body and forever altered me. It takes a few minutes or a few hours to adjust to the frisson of energy carried by those words.

I have to stop and breathe those words deep into my body. The soft caress that comes with a phrasing so beautifully gentle it’s as if they are growing down from the heavens and up from the earth at the same time. The first green shoots of the daffodil in January, the crocus in February (here in Vancouver anyway). Strong and resilient, yet tender and vulnerable.

Sometimes they are the sudden crashing of a heavy spruce into the ground. My body shudders with the strength and fury of the sentences driving deep into my being.

They are words that meet and grow in my heart.

Oh, how I want to write like this!” I think, as I lay the book across my heart, hoping to infuse myself with the talent through some kind of magical osmosis.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. And then I wanted to be a dancer on the Carol Burnett Show. And when I was introduced to the world of plays I added Actor to that list. To me they are all interconnected threads of creativity, cut one away and my entire world begins to unravel.

I feel so at home surrounded by words. Surrounded by the world of storytelling. I grew up the daughter of a broadcaster, playing among sets at the TV studio, appearing in TV shows, specials and commercials. By the time I was six years old I was winning public speaking contests, too young to even know to be nervous. It was as natural to me as breathing.

I wrapped my imagination around me like my own favourite blanket. I still do. Whenever I am feeling lost or alone, I reach for a book and immediately ground myself in the wonders of the world within.  Reading and writing (and acting) are as integral to my spiritual practice as is meditation and prayer.

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Filed under Spirituality, Writing

The Discovery of Writing

What treasures lay hidden right out in the open?

What treasures lay hidden right out in the open?

When I meditated this morning I asked for guidance on what was stopping me.  The answer came to me from my beloved Inner Being who reminded me that writing should be a form of discovery.  Just like when I’m onstage playing to be in the moment, not simply reciting the memorized lines, but instead, discovering afresh each new line as it comes to me.  Memorize the words, do the work and then let it go.  Let the audience see the discovery happen.  This is what engages, connects and makes the performance so much more powerful.

Marion Bridge rehearsals...

Marion Bridge rehearsals…

I need to strive to do the same thing with my writing.  When I know the story, because I’ve lived it, it’s the same thing as having memorized the lines of the play.  I need to allow myself to wander through at random and not worry about what came first. The linear aspects of the story.  Blurred lines and muddy waters.  Simply swim through those waters and see what weeds get tangled in my thoughts.

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Filed under NoBloPoMo, Writing

The Alchemist Within

Sunrise over the lake. Kate O'Neill photo

Sunrise over the lake.
Kate O’Neill photo

I’m sitting at my makeshift desk on the deck at the lake.  Down below I can see the back of my niece Lauren as she relaxes on the dock.  A quiet breeze is brushing through the branches of the trees and rhythmically lapping the water onto the shale rock shore.  The perfect background music for writing.

I was fortunate enough to realize a long-held dream last summer when I purchased this piece of heaven on Shuswap Lake not far from where I spent many happy years growing up and where my mom still lives.  It’s a bit rough and ready, but it came with a couple RV’s that are just perfect for the warm summer months, and even the cooler and rainier book-end weather.  Plans are underway for a more permanent all-season cabin in the near future, but for now my plastic patio table desk is sublime.

photo (5)I feel a bit like a kid at an overlarge desk because even propped up on a pillow my laptop is still chest high.  Bailey is perched behind me, removing all possibility of simply reclining, mesmerized by the view and sounds of nature that has become my writing studio.

Image credit: raywoo / 123RF Stock PhotoMy dream within this dream is to write the book on my Forgiveness journey.  I’ve been writing, in splits and splots, but now I think I’ve finally found the structure that will hold the splatter of what has been feeling like a rorschach test in writing.

By sharing this here, I’m invoking the powerful Alchemist archetype within me to transmute the ephemeral of the Dream into the more palpable Intention.  My Will will carry me through to the gold of Destiny.

And now I’m off to stack a few logs….

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All Trees Are NOT The Same ~ Truth in Storytelling

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I’m a Storyteller, sometimes through acting and sometimes through writing.  It’s both my vocation and my occupation, so I take it very seriously in a not so serious way.  After all, I’m not a brain surgeon.  No one will live or die by my words, but sometimes those words, either through my pen or through my body, will bring the beginning of a healing.

I’m also a voracious reader.  I think it’s a requirement of my vocation and occupation.  If the only thing around to read is a cereal box, I’ll read that…often while pretending to film a commercial at the same time (that’s where the line between acting/reading/writing often blurs)

Another word for my vocation might be Truth Teller.  This is where the ‘serious’ part of being a Storyteller comes into play.  “Play.”  I don’t use serious to mean ‘severe’ or ‘humourless’; I use it to mean ‘with conscious intent.’  We build a world with our words, and our trust and believability is built on a foundation of truth.

I’ve written before about a ritual I have as I wait in the darkened wings to go onstage when I’m acting.  “I close my eyes and go within.  I ask to be used as an agent of healing and to honour the words of the playwright.  May I dwell in the breath of the Truth.  May my healed wounds touch one within you and so begin your own healing.”

Before my fingers touch the keyboard of my laptop I sit quietly with my intention.  May I dwell in the breath of Truth and write without shame, blame or guilt.

State of WonderI’ve just finished A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, one of my favourite authors.  The vast majority of the book takes place in Manaus and then the jungle along the banks of the Rio Negro in Brazil.  The setting is one of the major characters of the book and the only non-fictional element.

I’ve recently returned from a pilgrimage in Brazil, where I spent magical days on a small boat cruising the Rio Negro and I was excited to be immersing myself once more in the sublime peace that washed over me there.

But the Rio Negro that I experienced is not Patchett’s Rio Negro.  In fact, it is so far from my experience that I wondered which one of us had gotten it so wrong.

Before I left on my journey I did a bit of research, reading the requisite guide-books and getting advice and inoculations from the travel clinic.  “Take lots of mosquito repellant, with the highest concentration of DEET possible!”  And so my suitcase was weighed down with numerous bottles of DEET packed neatly beside an equal amount of sunscreen, just waiting to ward off the hoards of mosquitoes and other winged annoyances that promised to surround my every moment in the Amazon.

I used the sunscreen liberally and often but squirted myself with DEET just once, a precautionary covering my first evening on the river in advance of the swarms of mosquitoes and bugs that never did materialize.  I asked our guide, Luiz, “Where are all the mosquitoes?”

Sunset boat on Rio Negro

Sunset boat on Rio Negro

It turns out that the Rio Negro (the largest left tributary of the Amazon), unlike her more famous sister, the Amazon River, rarely has a problem with mosquitoes.  The river gets her rusty black appearance and name from the biodegradation of the surrounding jungle, and that biodegradation of the dead organic matter also makes the river very acidic, something the mosquitoes and other pesky insects don’t like.

The meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon

The meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon

This is where Truth comes to play in the fiction sandbox.  If an author, such as Ann Patchett, chooses to set her story in a location that actually exists, then she is beholden to use that location truthfully, most especially if that location is so central to the story that it becomes a leading character.  You can’t insert constant swarms of mosquitoes and insects into a story just because you want to if doing so means lying.  Either change the location or change the elements of the story to maintain integrity and truth.  Believability and trust.

It turns out that Ann has never been to Brazil and certainly has never set foot in the jungle along the banks of the Rio Negro.  She decided to do her research along the Peruvian Amazon.

When asked if she visited the jungle about which she writes so extensively, she replies in part, “I wound up going to Peru instead of Brazil because I wanted to go on a boat trip and I wanted a certain type of boat. I didn’t want to go on a cruise ship or on some nasty little raft with cockroaches.  In Peru, I found a boat which was so perfect. I thought the Amazon in Peru is the same as the Amazon in Brazil. A tree is a tree, a snake is a snake.

(read the entire interview here.)

She thought wrong.  She lost my respect when she said, “A tree is a tree, a snake is a snake.”

One tree....

One tree….

One tree is as different from…

High water mark from record flood in 2012

High water mark from record flood in 2012

…another tree….

A buttress rooted canopy tree

A buttress rooted canopy tree

….as another tree.

She also gets her snakes wrong in State of Wonder, giving the anaconda the characteristics of a python in one crucial scene.  How could Ann Patchett, who writes with such beauty and such power, get it so wrong?  I sit in sadness when I think how cavalier she seems.

The job of a storyteller is not simply to tell stories and entertain. We are Truth Tellers.  It is our responsibility to weave our tapestry of tales using the strong threads of truth.  To do otherwise does us all a disservice.

What do you think?

my hand outstretched over a background of summer grass, the word truth written in red inside a red heart

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Balancing In The Sea of Creativity

I find I am unable to focus on multiple projects at once.  Multi-tasking between creative platforms seems beyond me, and so while I’m immersed in the world of acting, my writing becomes the forgotten child crying for attention.

It feels like I’ve been in rehearsal for forever, there are so many characters living inside me, like multiple personalities, that it’s beginning to feel a bit over crowded.  It’s a high-class problem, but my writing child is crying louder and louder and it’s getting harder and harder to put her back to bed.  I’ve got one more play, one more character to bring to life before I can slip out the backstage doors of the theatre and bring my writing child out to play again.

Finding balance is always a challenge for me.  Living a creative life can be exhausting instead of fulfilling.  As an actress I never know when the next gig is going to come, each job feels like it might be the last, each opportunity too good to pass up.

I’ve gone from Queen Margaret in Henry VI and Mistress Page in Merry Wives of Windsor, to Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire, to Annie in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests.  Great characters, all of them!  And now I’ve been given the opportunity to bring a character to life for the very first time in a two-hander written by a wonderfully gifted playwright friend of mine for the upcoming Vancouver Fringe Festival.  Grace, in the world premiere of Slumming, written by Barbara Ellison.

I’ve gone full out since early spring doing what I absolutely love, and jumping with both feet off the highest cliff into my deepest fears and my biggest, thickest blocks.  And I really feel in need of a deep rest.  This month of rehearsals and production meetings, heading towards our opening night September 6th, I’m working to find balance.  Giving myself permission to sit quietly and read out-side, surrounded by my over-run garden and allow my physiological, spiritual and creative batteries to recharge.  Finding balance.  Creativity needs some alone, quiet time.  Simmering time.  Meditation.  Balance.

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Filed under Meditation, Spirituality, Theatre, Writing

Slipping Sideways And Finding Seeds of a Book

 When you’ve stopped writing for a period of time, say for weeks, or more truthfully, months, then that blank white  page glaring out from the LCD screen of my laptop looks more like a big black chasm waiting to claim my tumbling body as I scream, (wordlessly, because the problem is the lack of words) to my uncreative death.  The black curser buzzing like a mosquito around my head.  Blinking on and off in a repetitive Chinese water torture rhythm in front of my eyes.  The only time any kind of creative muse hits me is at 4:00 o’clock in the morning, drumming words and phrases into my brain just when I’m trying to stop from thinking and get back to sleep.  The adrenal fatigued upstart that my brain is, goes to sleep during the day and becomes fully awake during the night.  Upside down, the words fall out of me and float back up to the realm of inspiration instead of down, down through my fingers and onto the page.  I’m a dried old husk waiting for rain, and my creaky, arthritic fingers don’t have the strength to turn on the tap for the word sprinkler anymore than my cloudy, sleep-addled eyes can find it.  My ass is numb from sitting on my chair pretending to write, and instead spending hours reading emails, blogs, facebook and yahoo news, even people.com.  The only typing my fingers do is to click on the link to see what the celebrities in Hollywood are wearing.

And so I find myself just typing random words, thoughts as they float through my brain, thoughts that make no sense whatsoever, in an attempt to guide myself back to the highway where inspiration drives.  The hum of the refrigerator reminds me that I’m hungry.  The chirp of a distant bird outside and the sun warming my left shoulder (and aging the left side of my already sun-spotted face) makes me want to leave this laptop and take my book and cup of tea to the brown couch swing out on my back patio.  Surely I’ve earned some reading time? – Even though it seems that’s all I’ve been doing for the past month.  Reading everyone else’s words instead of writing my own.

It seems the thing I most want to write about is the thing that is the most elusive.  Betrayal.  And so I betray myself by writing about anything other than that.  Skirting around the topic like the purple flowered cotton fabric that gathered itself around my sister’s teenage vanity, hiding the worn, water-spotted cardboard boxes containing her childhood dolls and stuffed animals.  Memories hidden haphazardly between Chatty Cathy and the regal stuffed black cat from Avon snapped onto her round red cushion, locked securely with packing tape underneath the table.

Edging in sideways.  Peeking through the lashes of almost closed eyes, I can see what I want to write about lurking behind the hydrangea bushes, poking up like a weed in my newly planted vegetable garden, its roots winding around my life like the pernicious ivy I spend hours pulling and pulling and pulling from the ground.  Betrayal is like that.  Once planted, it reaches out and wraps itself around everyone around, and then everyone around them, choking and choking and choking.  It’s insidious like that.    

But what stops me from writing, one of the things that stops me from writing, is the need to somehow honour both the full colours of betrayal AND the gifts received because of it.  To give homage to the damage betrayal causes and to the healing that can follow.  To give full weight to the incredible hurt and destruction, but also to the equally incredible joy and freedom that comes from the inner work of healing.

I’ve come to realize that I can’t do it within a blog.  I’ve never been able to write short, fast and easy to read posts.  Not about this, at least.  I’ve discovered that I’ve been gestating a book.  I don’t know what it will look like, what form it will take, how it will start or even how it will end.  The only thing I do know is that it will be about betrayal.  About my pilgrimage through that dark wasteland looking for the holy grail of forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Murder of Creativity

I’m sitting at the corner table in the Park Royal Village Starbucks sipping a tall, soy, no-water chai tea latte, listening a duet of “Baby it’s Cold Outside.”  I’m also sitting in front of a blank document, curser blinking, waiting for letters to be typed into words.  Words that have been written in my head for days.  Words that are supposed to be the conduit to bring my thoughts from the ephemeral world inside my head to the concrete world we can all see and touch.  It shouldn’t be so difficult.  I’m thinking thoughts all the time, whole words and even complete sentences!  Why are they never here when I’m sitting in front of my laptop or with pen and paper?  Where do they go, these little things with wings?  Where do they fly off to when they don’t want to be permanently etched onto paper or digitized into my laptop?  There is an entire flock of words soaring around up in the realm of my imagination, calling to each other, “Quick, come this way before you’re captured!  Follow your brethren and you’ll be safe!”

I imagine first a dark cloud of words, like the murder of crows that gather by the hundreds each evening east of the highway just past Boundary Way, cawing to each other as they circle and swirl in the sky, sharing the news of the day.  Hitchcock’s crows looking for Tippi Hendron, their dark wings disturbing the air as more and more of them join the birdley hurricane.  A force not of this world.  Us, down on the ground, humans walking, driving in their cars along the highway, going about our business, we are inconsequential.  For once, we are in their world….or is this where our two worlds meet?  The world of the crows and the world of the humans.  Am I the only one who looks up and watches?  Am I the only one who stops and wonders at the awe of the black dance in the twilight above us?  At the beauty and the grace of the word birds as they fly sky-poetry?  Or is it a short story?  Perhaps another chapter in a continuing saga, a never-ending novel, an ever-shifting memoir.

I imagine next a murmuration of many coloured starlings.  Red ones, yellow ones, orange, green, purple, pink, painting the sky.   Adverbs and Adjectives flitting about like hummingbirds and darting here and there like swallows.  Resplendent joy as they dance just out of reach, playing tag.

Sometimes, when I’m looking too hard, with my forehead bunched up in wrinkled concentration, I catch a glimpse of a word bird of many colours, a kaleidoscopic bird or a tie-dyed bird.  Metaphors and similes, that when splashed across the page in a wondrous technicolour luminocity, lift from the page and hug my heart.  The “just right” birds that fly onto my page when I’m not even looking, when I’m not even trying.  These are the touches of grace that every so often kiss my fingers and caress my soul and keep me coming back to the blinking cursor or empty page again and again and again.

But I didn’t intend to start out writing about birds, or even word birds at all.  See how they can fly about and disturb the best of intentions?  I want to sit down and begin the story of a great Warrior who did battle with the Demons of Betrayal.  I want to write about how this Warrior was thrust into the battle against her deepest wishes.  About how, when she found herself suddenly in the seering nuclear wartime winter, in the cold, wet, muddy trenches, her Spirit Warrior sent out the call to arms to all archetypes, and she became like the Amazon Warrior of legend.  For this is how legends are born and reborn again.

Red Bird of Betrayal ~ line drawing by Patrick O'Neill

Like all great legends and myths, the woman who becomes the Warrior is unconscious and unaware that she is waging a war.  She is sleeping when the call to arms is sounded and an army of archetypes gathers in the kairos, bringing with them all manner of weaponry and protection, guided and directed by her Spirit Warrior.

Two weeks later and I’m sitting in another Starbucks, surrounded by students and jazz music, waiting for the start of my son’s soccer game.  I smile at the girl across from me as she looks up from the text book she has spread open before her.  My Warrior is resting.  My Storyteller moves my fingers, typing the shared Truth, dancing in sideways through the door.  The red Bird of Betrayal drips blood as it flies overhead, small droplets of warrior wounds.  Creativity breaths in the Realm of Possibility, where the birds of inspiration nest and where all truths live.  Mine and his.

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February 8, 2012 · 5:13 pm