Start the New Year Right: Submit Your Work

VoiceCatcher will open for submissions in early 2017, but until then, we encourage you to submit your work to these other journals who support the work of female writers and artists 

Bone Bouquet

Calyx

Cordella Magazine

Damselfly Press

Dying Dahlia Review

Moonsick Magazine

Persimmon Tree

Quaint Magazine

Roar Magazine

Room Magazine

Yew Journal

Did we miss a publication, or have you been published in these journals? Leave a comment and a link below! 

Healthy Mind, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities

The Five-Minute Experiment
by Kari Pederson

This time of year makes me feel tired. Perhaps my circadian rhythms are adjusting to less daylight or my body is preparing for cold weather hibernation. Or maybe I feel weary because of a seemingly endless to-do list. For many of us, late autumn can be a hectic season. Nonetheless, my tempo has shifted, and my body and spirit definitely want to move more slowly.

As I was attempting another internal pep talk to feel energized, two intriguing questions popped out of my subconscious. Why not embrace this new rhythm and allow myself to slow down? And, how could I use this slower pace to my advantage?

The practice of mindfulness has been around for eons and is often considered a type of meditation. Instead of traditional meditation where you try to quiet your mind, the goal of mindfulness is to put your complete focus on whatever is happening in the present moment. Think of it as immersing yourself in a situation and getting everything you can out of the experience. Pay close attention to anything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel – experience. If your focus wanders, gently bring your awareness back to the present moment.

Mindfulness has been linked to improvements in health, working memory, creativity, cognitive flexibility, insight and productivity. My inner writer and artist could sure use more of those enhancements! However, my biggest perk from experimenting with mindfulness has been how much more I enjoy previously mundane activities. My daily walk to the streetcar stop has transformed from a chore into a satisfying journey.

I ignored the potential benefits of mindfulness for a long time because I feared the process might be complicated or time-consuming. In reality, I have discovered endless opportunities to practice mindfulness and just five minutes is enough to reap positive benefits. Every moment in your day is right for mindfulness, including ordinary experiences or special events.

For those of you who already have a full schedule, I am not suggesting you quit your job, stop parenting, or throw your responsibilities out the window. Although right now, three weeks in the French Riviera sounds pretty good to me. I am suggesting you take five minutes every day to practice mindfulness, whenever or wherever it feels good to you.

Let your creativity go wild and design your own mindfulness moments, or try some of the options listed below. Remember you cannot do this practice incorrectly, and your goal is simply to focus on the present moment as much as you can.

Need help getting started? Practice mindfulness by doing any of these activities:

  • Color a page of an adult coloring book with colored pencils.
  • Ask a friend to share a favorite story and listen more than you talk.
  • Nibble on your favorite mini-candy bar for at least five minutes.
  • Play music that makes you tap your toes or sway with the beat.
  • Make the perfect cup of coffee or tea and pay attention to every sip.
  • Cuddle with a loved one or a furry friend. Repeat often.
  • Browse at Powell’s Books, Blick Art Materials, or another favorite store.
  • Watch the last few minutes of a sunset or sunrise.
  • Use sidewalk chalk to create a masterpiece in an unexpected place.
  • Pick your clothing or accessories with care.
  • Explore new products at the grocery store. Bring one home.
  • Build a creation out of Legos, paper clips or coins.
  • Smile at the next ten people who make eye contact.
  • Walk a labyrinth or a favorite trail. Walk slowly.
  • Take a little extra time with a hot bath or shower.
  • Count the raindrops you can hear or feel.
  • Repeat a tongue twister to yourself or practice an impression.
  • Stand up and stretch. Feel each muscle expand or contract.
  • Chop veggies or mix up a cake by hand.
  • Thank someone for his or her help or inspiration.

In addition to all the benefits already touched on, mindfulness is effective and efficient self-care. Artists give a lot of themselves by creating their art and sharing it with others. Sometimes we need to recharge our physical and emotional batteries. Mindfulness gives us a great excuse to focus on ourselves for a few minutes and enjoy whatever task is at hand.

** If anyone is willing to post a reply to this article, we would love to hear about the results of your mindfulness experiment.

Kari Pederson Age 6

Kari Pederson
Age 6

Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the ninth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.

 

A Woman’s Poet: Kristin Roedell

Kristin Roedell

Kristin Roedell

This Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, VoiceCatcher Kristin Roedell is the featured reader at the Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic, held at the Angst Gallery, 1015 Main Street, Vancouver, WA 98660, 7:00 p.m. Meanwhile, fellow VoiceCatcher Tammy Robacker caught up with Kristin last month to talk about her newly released collection of poetry, Downriver; her creative writing process; and what is on her horizon.

Kristin Roedell graduated from Whitman College with a bachelor’s in English in 1984, and from the University of Washington Law School in 1987. She practiced family law for 13 years in the Pacific Northwest. Her poetry has been published in more than 50 journals and books since 2009, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, Switched on Gutenberg, Ginosko, CHEST, Tacoma City Arts, Soundings Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Sierra Nevada Review. She is the author of a chapbook (Girls with Gardenias, 2012, Flutter Press), and a full-length poetry collection (Downriver, Aldrich Press, 2015.) She has been nominated for Best of the Web and the Pushcart Prize, was the 2013 winner of NISA’s 11th Annual Brainstorm Poetry Contest, and was a finalist in the Crab Creek Review Poetry Contest. She lives in Lakewood, Washington with her husband and daughter, and she enjoys traveling overseas.

Tammy Robacker

Tammy Robacker

Tammy Robacker: In Downriver, you write a lot about family – your mother and daughters, in particular. Why do they feature so prominently in the poems?

Kirstin Roedell: I’ve been called a “woman’s poet,” and although I do try to write poems that relate to the human experience as a whole, my poems come from a very deep, female place. I write my poems in the quiet, when I am alone, and I write to process the past. One day a friend of mine suggested that I share my story. I sent out some of my work, and found that it speaks to other women. I learned that a simple but powerful commonality exists between mothers and daughters, and that we are a community. It takes courage to love, and that courage can arise from the knowledge that we are not alone.

TR: Many of the poems in Downriver incorporate the natural realm as your metaphor to speak about life, loss or courage. Why is that?

KR: As a child I spent a great deal of time reading; I took my books outdoors, where a peace existed that was not present in my home. I found comfort in the natural rhythms around us; at heart our experiences are not so unusual. They echo the simplicity of our surroundings. It comforts me to think that nothing is so new that it does not resonate and reverberate with the natural realm.

TR: As a VoiceCatcher poet, how does sense of place and the geography of Washington and Oregon figure into your poetry?

KR: I live in the Northwest, and believe that the place where we are born creates a lasting connection. I feel a kinship with the Northwest tides and shores. The animals here speak to me, the whales and seals and shellfish. I love the sound of the gulls and the salt spray that exists only here, in this green place we call home.

TR: Would you tell us about your personal poetry-writing process?

KR: I write in the silence, wherever I can find it. Sometimes this is late at night while my husband and daughter are asleep, and often it is when they are both out, busy with their own pursuits.

TR: What is next on the horizon for you and your poetry? Are there any new book ideas in the hopper for you?

KR: Right now I’m trying to accumulate a newer body of work; most of the work I’ve written in the past has been based on the growth of my young family, but now that my daughters have left home, I am learning what it is to be an older woman. There are challenges that come with this new place that I now inhabit, and I want to express that.

This Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, VoiceCatcher Kristin Roedell is the featured reader at the Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic held at the Angst Gallery, 1015 Main Street, Vancouver, WA 98660, 7:00 p.m.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities

Do You Dare to Call Yourself an Artist?
by Kari Pederson

At age 10 I discovered proof that a seemingly ordinary woman could be an extraordinary artist. There, nestled in the pages of my stamp-collecting catalogue, was a commemorative stamp designed to celebrate a painter nicknamed “Grandma Moses.” My curiosity was instantly piqued by her name. Grandma? I was lucky enough to have two grandmas I adored so that must be good! The stamp was also colorful and depicted a country scene full of energy that instantly pulled me into the action.

As I grew older and became a history buff, I researched more about Grandma Moses and her life. What I learned increased my admiration for her and changed how I view art and my own creative potential.

Anna Mary Robertson was born in 1860 and grew up on a family farm as the eldest girl of ten children. In her autobiography My Life’s History, Anna describes her childhood as “happy days, free from care or worry.” From an early age, she drew and painted with whatever materials she could get her hands on. Anna became a hired girl at age 12 and married Thomas Moses in 1887. She continued to dabble with crafts, but the demands of adulthood often took priority over creative pursuits.

The couple farmed for many years as they raised their family. Anna describes these days as “nearly all the same,” but for me, her life holds simple truths that widely broadened my artistic viewpoint.

Anybody Can Be an Artist
I watched my mother paint wonderful scenes for my childhood bedroom, but I had thought all famous painters were men who lived somewhere in Europe. Anna not only had her first exhibit in 1940 long before gender equality, but she often described herself as a regular person. She answered queries about why she started painting by saying, “If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.”

Anna appeared to have no formal artistic training. She simply used her talents to the best of her abilities and taught herself the painting techniques she wanted to learn.

Art Can Be Anything
Anna primarily painted nostalgic scenes from her own memories of rural life. Despite the simplicity of her topics, her work became widely popular and was often turned into greeting cards. Although some people criticized her for her mainstream appeal, I still remember the powerful moment when I first saw one of her paintings. That was the moment I realized that art could take many forms. Art became accessible to me and I started exploring many other types of art.

The Right Time to Stretch Your Wings is NOW
Anna did not start exhibiting or selling her work until she was in her 70s, earning her the nickname “Grandma Moses.“ Her previous art had been gifts for others or done for her own amusement. Anna’s example inspires me to ditch the excuses I use to avoid trying new things and encourages me to step out of my comfort zone.

Grandma Moses did not appear bothered by critics and commented on an unfavorable review in a letter to her agent, “This is a free country and people will talk. Let them. If we do what is right, they can’t hurt us.”

The Sky is the Limit 
Grandma Moses began painting more in her later years because this creative outlet was easier than needlepoint on her arthritic fingers. She put paintings in a drugstore window only hoping to make a few dollars, and ended up being discovered and launching a prolific second career. Experts believe she painted 1,500 to 2,000 pieces from her mid 70s until her death at 101 years of age. Her pictures initially sold for $3 while her highest grossing painting to date was purchased for $1.2 million.

I believe the real power of Grandma Moses’s legacy has little to do with whether or not you like her art or are intrigued with her personal history. The true power of her story challenges all of us to see ourselves as the great artists we have the potential to become. If something is stopping you from exploring your artistic side or taking your art to a new level, perhaps it is time to take a step forward and just see what happens. Or in the words of Grandma Moses herself, “life is what you make of it.”

**All citations for the biographical material about Grandma Moses come from her autobiography, My Life’s History by Grandma Moses.

Kari Pederson Age 6

Kari Pederson
Age 6

Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the eighth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.

 

Healthy Mind, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities

Whistle While You Work: Why happiness is a useful tool for success
by Kari Pederson

Mr. Smiley FaceAs a teenager I had big dreams for my career. I wanted to publish books, design greeting cards, and earn a good income. Conventional wisdom taught me hard work and sacrifices were necessary for success. Being successful meant drudgery, long hours and paying my dues.

My ambitions were also designed to help me lead a happy life, but happiness was always something to enjoy AFTER attaining my goals. I will be happy when I publish my first book. I will be happy when Hallmark picks up my line of greeting cards. I will be happy when I have thicker hair. Ok, so I still want that last statement to be true, but most of us can relate to the joy of a good hair day.

Research in the field of positive psychology proves that happiness actually fuels success in our careers and businesses as well as in the areas of creativity, relationships, health and community involvement. Happiness also improves productivity and is an important precursor to success, not just the reward.

In 2005, researchers Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener completed an impressive meta-analysis of previous happiness research, examining over 200 studies involving more than 275,000 people. Their findings strongly reinforced the conclusion that our feeling happy helps us achieve our goals.

Hundreds of studies completed since that publication continue to underscore the idea that happiness improves just about every facet of our lives. For more hard science on the effectiveness of happiness, check out Shawn Achor’s book: The Happiness Advantage: Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work. 

By now you might be thinking, “Sure, Kari, thanks for sharing this information, but where do I start or what can I do to feel happier?” First, it is important to know that everyone has a natural happiness set point. Genetics, circumstances, thoughts and behaviors directly impact your set point, which can change throughout your life. Your DNA accounts for fifty percent of your happiness level so I hope you got sunny genes. If not, you can still raise your happiness set point. Contrary to popular opinion, your life circumstances affect only ten percent of your score while your thoughts and behaviors make up the other forty percent. Changing perceptions or adding new habits can instantly increase your happiness levels. To help you get started, I have outlined four simple yet potent actions you can take immediately to feel happier.

1. Do a little digging to find the right strategies
Learn more about the science of happiness and discover tips and techniques that resonate for you. One resource I love is the University of Pennsylvania’s website on authentic happiness where you can take free happiness questionnaires, read the latest World Happiness Reports, and explore the field of positive psychology. If you prefer more humorous resources, read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff, or anything written by Shawn Achor. These writings are also based on the science of happiness but can be a lighter read. Happiness research can be fun!

2. Kindness Matters
Most researchers agree that one of the most effective ways to boost your happiness set point is to do something for others. Volunteer at a VoiceCatcher event, mentor another artist or do random acts of kindness. I recently gave dog treats to some pet parents without means and the results were priceless.

3. Beef up your social connections
Social capital is a very powerful strategy for increasing your happiness. Meet a friend for coffee, send an unexpected thank-you email or be brave and attend a new social event. Make this strategy even more effective by surrounding yourself with people who help you feel good.

4. Positive rehearsal works
Humans respond well to suggestion and our brains typically do not distinguish between doing something or rehearsing the action in our minds. The benefits of using positive rehearsal or a placebo are well documented and you do not have to be a research subject to use these techniques. While you might not need to grow hair, win an Olympic gold medal or avoid knee surgery, visualizing positive outcomes for a speech or reading can help you be more successful at the event. Plus, the preparation helps you stay calm and lowers your blood pressure.

Happiness is not only about smiley faces, unicorns or a great, big, belly laugh. Deliberately putting yourself in a more positive frame of mind is a fantastic secret weapon for your healthy artist toolbox. As I continue to work on raising my own happiness set point, I am happy to report (pun intended) that my life gets better and better.

 

Kari Pederson Age 6

Kari Pederson
Age 6

Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. This is Kari’s seventh article for VoiceCatcher, and she is still thrilled to be part of VoiceCatcher’s mission. See the rest of her series: Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.

 

Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

You Are Not Alone: Resources for Cultivating the Mother-Artist Life
by Claudia F. Savage

Although I have seven nieces and nephews, I was still completely unprepared for the way motherhood affected my artistic life. Resources about raising children hardly ever address problems that mother-writers and artists contend with daily: how do you access that necessary state where creativity lives? And, then, if you find that place, how can you create when you are interrupted a hundred times a day? Over the past two years, a small selection of books have provided me with solace and advice as I have struggled to keep creating while caretaking.

Temple by Kristen Case (writer and mother of one) is a glorious book of poems in which the author searches for the writer in the mother, the mother in the family, and her place the world, as in the poem, “Lactoexodus”: “For a time, my body made milk, and I wrote no poems./ For a time, I made milk, and my body wrote no poems.” (page 2)

Grave of Light by Alice Notley (an early poetry collection by the Ruth Lilly Prize winner mother of two) gets me with its alternating child-inspired dialogue and ramblings of the mother-poet, as in the poem, “January.” “I didn’t lose any weight today/ I had clean hair but I drove/ Ted nuts and spanked Anselm on/ the arm and wouldn’t converse/ with him about the letter C…” (page 50)

The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker (writer and mother of three) is a series of frantic, sometimes whiny, pleas for a moment alone with her mind, as in this fragment from “mindful”: “a snowstorm so no school I cried & said/ Mayor Bloomberg should be scalded with hot/ cocoa when someone said Yay for snow! I’m/ cutting it too close Erin if a blizzard makes me/ cry…” (page 83)

Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy (writer and mother of two) is a fantastic, sometimes scathing dialogue between what we imagine a mother’s life to be and what it actually is, such as in the poem, “Liquid Flesh”: “Mother. Baby./ Chicken and egg. It’s so obnoxious/ of me: I was an egg/ who had an egg/ and now I’m chicken,/ as usual scooping up/ both possibilities,/ or what I used to call/ possibilities.” (page 25)

The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood edited by Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman is a series of interview-essays about different mother-poets and their styles of dealing with motherhood and artistic creation. The poets chosen to be interviewed are phenomenal, from Carol Muske-Duke and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge to Maxine Kumin and C.D. Wright. As C.D. Wright said, “When my husband and I met other couples with a baby, we joined heads and bored into their glowing faces to ask in abrupt, strained unison if ‘it’ slept. And if ‘it’ did, we shunned those people.” (page 195)

Strong Hearts, Inspired Minds: 21 Artists Who Are Mothers Tell Their Stories by Anne Mavor (visual artist and mother of one). In her introduction, Anne says, “The biggest shock was that I … couldn’t stay up late anymore and my artist friends dropped away …. Rowan was and is, of course, beautiful and smart and funny and amazing … but he cannot satisfy my artistic urge.” (introduction)

Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else by Carmen Gimenez Smith (writer and mother of two). Smith’s book deals with her own issues as a writer and mother, as well as her relationship with her dying mother. Echoing the fragmentary style of Carole Maso’s Ava, it is a deeply reaffirming work about the changing landscape of the artist’s life and how we define mother within it.

Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson (anthropologist, writer, and mother of one). One of my favorite books about life as a creative act. Some aspects of it will feel antiquated to younger feminists but it is still good to be reminded where we come from and the paths forged for us. Five women from diverse backgrounds and experiences in various professions, including writers and artists, focus on the way they still create when their energies are divided. Affirming gems such as: “Life is an improvisatory art … in which commitments are continually refocused and redefined.” (page 3)

May some of these allow you to hear your own story echoed, be renewed, and keep on.

Bibliography:

Bateson, Mary Catherine. Composing a Life (Grove Press: New York, 2001)

Edited by Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, CT, 2003)

Gimenez Smith, Carmen. Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else (University of Arizona Press: Tucson, AZ , 2010)

Mavor, Anne. Strong Hearts, Inspired Minds: 21 Artists Who Are Mothers Tell Their Stories (Rowanberry Books: 1996)

Notley, Alice. Grave of Light (Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, Connecticut, 2006)

Shaughnessy, Brenda. Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press: Seattle, WA, 2012)

Zucker, Rachel. The Pedestrians (Wave Books: Seattle, WA 2014)

*  *  *

VoiceCatcher deeply thanks Claudia F. Savage for contributing this meaningful, well-researched and well-written series on how to develop an artist-writer practice while raising children. We look forward to future collaborations with Claudia!
                                                                             –The Editors

*  *  *

Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album came forth in spring 2015. This article is the final in her series for VoiceCatcher, Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities

Tools to Combat Your Fear
by Kari Pederson

Ever since I disclosed my fear of sharks last month, they seem to be everywhere. Recently, live footage of a shark attack was captured during a surfing competition, and I was watching the event as the skirmish unfolded. I sincerely apologize to everyone in the gym who was startled by my high-pitched screams. Other shark encounters have also made the news, and every incident seems to reach my ears. I think the sharks may be mocking me.

The good news is I am not a helpless victim waiting for Jaws to ruin my next trip to the beach. I can use tools to combat my fear and keep my emotions from limiting the life I want:

1. Get Your Head in the Game
Like it or not, certain universal truths exist regarding fear. Accepting these truths can put you in the mindset to move forward and avoid a lot of frustration. Here are my versions of two of my favorites from fear guru Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.

  • The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to do the thing that frightens you.
  • Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from feeling helpless.

For more information on universal fear truths, check out the book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.

2. What Is the Worst Outcome?
The tool I find most helpful is to imagine the worst possible outcome from a situation and how I would handle it if it happened. For example, the most negative result from exhibiting my paintings would be my art show getting a bad review. If it does get a bad review, I will take the opportunity to learn and grow as an artist. Many well-respected artists have had unfavorable scrutiny. Most fears trace back to the real worry of not being able to handle a negative circumstance. You build trust in yourself each time you make it through a fearful event or disappointment. As you trust yourself to handle whatever comes, fear levels significantly diminish.

3. Widen Your Comfort Zone
Face the thing that frightens you as often as you can. Take baby steps if necessary, but consistently take steps towards doing what frightens you. If you fear rejection from a publisher, identify three publications that might be interested in your work. Then identify pieces that might be ready for submission. Work your way through each necessary action until you achieve your goal. You can also keep a success journal to celebrate each courageous risk.

4. Become a Pollyanna
Hard science now backs up what top performance athletes have known for years. Using positive self-talk and visualizing positive outcomes increase the probability of success. Spoiler Alert: Next month we will explore the science of happiness in much more detail.

Still not convinced? Try this simple muscle testing exercise with a friend. Stand up and hold your arm out to the side. Think of something that makes you feel happy or powerful. Invite your friend to try and push your arm down and record the level of resistance. Then repeat the same experiment while you are thinking negative thoughts about yourself. The results speak for themselves.

5. Reward yourself
Do something nice for yourself after EACH time you do something that frightens you or widens your comfort zone. Your brain will start to associate taking risks with pleasure and this makes it easier to take the next risk. Just remember, safety first.

6. Perfection is an illusion
Practice makes progress, not perfection. If anyone figures out how to make perfect pills, can I please be your business partner? We are often harder on ourselves than others. Please be patient as you continue to make progress in facing your fears. And remember, any action you take to address your fears counts as progress.

7. Take Time Out
Facing your fears can create a lot of nasty physical and psychological symptoms and feel downright unpleasant. If you need to take a break, do it. Take a walk. Call a friend. Meditate or take a nap. Go back to fighting your fear when you feel ready.

8. Get Help When Fear Really Gets in Your Way
Sometimes fears can start to negatively affect relationships, your career, or daily activities. Please reach out to a counselor, doctor or certified coach if fear has a consistent negative impact on your life.  Many helpful resources are available if you need extra support.

Combatting your fears takes practice and effort. So prepare yourself to enjoy the journey, just as you would need to do when learning how to take fabulous photographs or write beautiful calligraphy. More self-confidence is the huge prize for doing the work. And you might even get the chance to have a few laughs along the way. I definitely chuckle now every time I enter the gym.

Kari Pederson Age 6

Kari Pederson
Age 6

Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the sixth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.

 

An Embarrassment of Riches: Inspiration from Folk Tales, Mythology and Dreams

Writing Your Own Folk Tale
by Jennifer Kemnitz

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I could write half a dozen tales just spinning off the chicken hut passage in last month’s article. First, though, let’s look at general motifs to understand the structure of these tales and how they tick. Padraic Colum, a 20th-century Irish folklorist, says in his introduction to The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, pp. ix-x, that special patterning in folk and fairy tales makes them recognizable.

One patterning feature is the use of chiming words to highlight passages. This might be actual rhyme, such as in “If you ride straight ahead, it is into the marriage bed.” Or, the rhyme pattern might be looser, such as vowel or consonant rhyme (termed assonance and consonance in poetry). Repetition may also appear, such as the hero’s incantation beginning, “Little hut, little hut.” This device increases suspense, as in “Little Red-Cap” on p.142 of Grimm’s. The heroine remarks to the wolf in disguise, “Oh! Grandmother … what big ears you have!” Then the phrase is repeated with the body part changed, focusing on eyes, hands, and finally the mouth, when he eats her.

A second feature is the tangible thing at the center of the story. These tales usually give special importance to a useful, familiar article, such as a hairbrush or a mirror. This grounds the story in reality and pulls in its listeners and readers; it also enchants the everyday world after the story. Will using a mirror ever feel quite the same after “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”?

The third feature is a combination of the first two: items that correspond with each other, perhaps through echo or chime. Examples of correspondences are the mirror and glass coffin in “Snow White,” the spindle and thorns in “Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose,” and the tall tower and long hair in “Rapunzel.” Having these elements mirror and talk to each other gives an internal coherence to the world of the tale, no matter how different it may feel from our everyday reality. Using items of symbolic value to the tale is also key.

Writing a folk tale puts you in a special frame of mind; you are approximating dream space or mythological time-space. Focus on the meaning behind the action rather than on how things actually happen in our world. Think of how your dreams work, how abrupt and illogical the scene changes can seem, how the dream story feels to you, the effects in the psyche.

The folk style can give rise to interesting authorial voices, voices full of crackle and charm. This vitality can arrest the readers and catch them up in the narrative. I have felt freed by experimenting with these voices, myself. Simply donning a magisterial, omniscient voice or a winking, comical one leads to interesting outcomes in narrative.

I have written a few fairy or folk tales, and an even greater number of hybrid tales edging into surreal or uncanny territory. A larger dose of realism mixed in with folky elements might yield magical realism and other possibilities. Some of my poetry also carries these elements and influences. A poem might start with a kernel from a dream and then become more realistic. Or, it might begin as realistically descriptive, then flip over suddenly into another dimension. You can achieve various effects this way.

Here are starting points and exercises to integrate fairy tale motifs into your own work:

  • Find an incident or experience in your or someone else’s life and start spinning a folk story around it. Just start playing and see what happens.
  • Pick a plant, an animal, and a human with passions and a problem. You probably have the beginning of a tale right there if you inject some dream logic in the telling.
  • With a particular person or character in mind, what kind of magical tale might that person find him or herself in? For instance, I am writing a fairy tale starring my grandmother as a child. She was unknown to me in many ways; she was not forthcoming about herself and her feelings, much less her dreams. I want to know more, but she has passed on. Now I am writing her into an interesting imaginal space of my own, based on her time period and place of origin. While the character will probably end up with few similarities with my actual grandmother, she is a starting point and an impetus to write.
  • Another jumping-off point might be a public figure you are fascinated with or even tired of hearing about in the media. Mine the National Enquirer for ideas. Names can always be changed once the tale is spun!
  • Or, pick a familiar, practical object you would like to explore by infusing it with fairy tale associations. Make the story hinge on this object, maybe making it useful to one of the characters at a crucial point. I once read a funny Lithuanian folk tale about a bread roll and its adventures in the world. Really! So it could be anything. Wouldn’t it be exciting to read a modern folk tale that incorporated a smart phone? Or a lawnmower?  How about a can opener? And how fascinating to imagine what these objects might symbolize.

Finally, what are your favorite stories – written, oral, or from television and cinema? Write down the bones, figure out why they work, and transform them with the symbolism of dream. After all, many fairy and folk tales in the Western canon originated in India. As they spread out, over centuries, they changed according to people’s local tastes and the times. Let’s keep that ball rolling!

 

Jennifer KemnitzJennifer Kemnitz is an herbalist-poet who lives and writes in Portland. She is a great defender of plant life, and can be roused at any moment to an impassioned discussion of its innate intelligence. Jennifer has been published previously in VoiceCatcher and anthologized by Poetry on the Lake and The Poetry Box. Her work is forthcoming from We’Moon and the Kerf.  This article is the third and final in her enchanting series, “An Embarrassment of Riches,” special to VoiceCatcher.

Reading Out Loud

by Jackie Shannon-Hollis

Mom used to recite poems to us kids. She recited them beautifully, with upbeats and downbeats, pauses and accents. “The Raven,” “The Highwayman,” “Little Boy Blue,” “The Spider and the Fly.” I got lost in the stories of those poems. When I grew older and had to recite poems for school, Mom coached me on how to have just the right inflection here, to raise your arm there. I wanted to do it as perfectly as she did. I wanted others to feel as I did when she spoke those poems to us. With her encouragement and with practice, I came to love reading out loud as much as Mom did.

Years later, when I was invited to read one of my stories at a public event, it was time to refresh my skills. I was nervous. I was excited. I would be reading my own work, and not just to a bunch of kids who had to sit and listen. This audience would be there by choice, and with different expectations. I asked a friend – a stage actor – to coach me. Her tips and Mom’s early guidance have been with me as I have prepared for every reading since.

Here is what I have learned.

I get nervous right before a reading. This can be helpful in creating a good kind of energy. But if it overwhelms us, we do not do such a good job. Usually we get nervous when we think the focus is all on us. The best remedy for this is to direct your focus outward, to your audience members. They want you to do well and you are there to give them an experience, to be moved, to be touched in some way, to laugh, to recognize themselves.

Your job is to provide them the experience of your story. Consider the tone of your story. What is the feeling or emotion you want to convey? Your pacing, your tone of voice, your beats and pauses should reflect the emotional tone of your story. Where do you speed up, where do you slow down? Where do you pause? Where do you gesture, or do you? Mark your pages, to remind yourself as you are reading: pause here, slow down, staccato. Breathe.

Ask a friend to coach you. Or, better yet, find a coach. Jane Geesman is a friend of mine and an actor. She coaches other actors, writers and others who speak in public. She and her business partner, Sarah Lucht, also offer classes applying acting techniques to other areas of life. You can find them at Act Natural. The classes, or individual coaching sessions, can help improve your diction, reduce nerves, and improve your sense of presence and intention.

Practice. Yes, you are a writer not an actor; no need to have your lines memorized. And you need not over-dramatize your reading. In fact this can be a turn off unless you do it really well. But it is important to commit to the story. Do not over do, but do not under do. And watch out for taking on a “This American Life” voice. Use YOUR own voice.

Practice some more. You are telling your story. The more you prepare, the more comfortable you will be. This is the place where the emotional tone of the story walks in. Practice in front of a mirror. Look up and see yourself, so that when you are in front of the audience you will feel comfortable looking up and away from your pages. Maybe even make eye contact. It is far better for the audience to see your face than the crown of your head.

All this practice will improve your writing. It will force you to examine every line, pause and word. You will find flaws in logic, language or pacing and clean them up. That is good news for your work. I have had several stories accepted for publication after I read them in public.

Think about what you will wear. What is the venue? I seem to get colder when I read, but then there is a sudden burst of warm. Wear layers for varying temperatures. Avoid noisy jewelry or items that might distract the audience. If you have long hair, wear it so we can see your face. Dress comfortably but keep in mind that you are there for the audience. Prepare for them.

Prepare your pages so they are easy to read in any kind of light. I use a big font so I can avoid wearing reading glasses. Make sure your pages are in order. At my reading for VoiceCatcher my pages were not in order. A silly mistake, but a good reminder to check and check again.

Arrive early. Speak with the event host. Go stand at the lectern or on the stage, and see what the light is like and where it is comfortable for you to stand. If you are part of a line up of readers find out where you are in the order so you can pace your energy accordingly. Be present and supportive of any readers before you. Be a part of the audience, be entertained, maybe even learn a few tips for your own reading.

When it is your turn, take a moment to take in the moment. Say something to ground yourself and connect with the audience. An acknowledgement of the occasion. An appreciation of their attendance. What the reading means to you. Then begin reading. Commit fully, with intention, to the beauty of your work.

Say “yes” to whatever presents itself in the course of your reading: people entering or leaving, a loud noise, messed up pages. Go with it. Keep reading if you can.  Acknowledge the distraction if needed. If the noise is too loud for the audience to hear you, stop and wait until the quiet comes again. If you lose your place, pause and find it again.

This is a wonderful opportunity to share your work. Have fun!

 

Jackie Shannon-HollisJackie Shannon-Hollis’ work has appeared in journals including The Sun, High Desert Journal, Inkwell and Slice Magazine. She is a native Oregonian, born and raised surrounded by wheat on the dry, east side of the state – now thriving in the cedars and wet on the west side. Her essay in the VoiceCatcher Winter 2015 issue is part of a memoir in progress.

 

 

Healthy Mind, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities

Name that Fear and Claim It
by Kari Pederson

I loved watching the game show “Name That Tune.” For those of you unfamiliar with this television gem, contestants were forced to guess how many notes they needed to correctly identify a song. Some participants knew a tune after one or two notes, but I never did this very well.

However, I instantly recognize one particular song that quickly: the theme song from the movie Jaws. Sharks have terrified me since I was a little girl.

No big deal, right? Just stay away from bodies of water and everything will be fine. Except for the irony that I LOVE water as much I hate sharks. This paradox constantly pushes me to confront my fear in order to do something I really enjoy.

Before I could deal with my fear, however, I had to change the way I thought about fear. Handling fear effectively is really two topics: understanding your fear and finding the best tools for dealing with it. This month’s column is an invitation to claim your own fears and make peace with having them.

1. Ready, Set, Go? 

Step one on the path to understanding your fears is to decide if you feel ready to examine them. If you are dealing with a tough issue or important deadline, or are feeling vulnerable or exhausted, it might not be the right time to open this Pandora’s box. Waiting until you feel ready to look at your fears is not only a smart choice but an honorable one.

2. Fears can protect and guide us

Fears are natural, healthy and hardwired through evolution into our DNA. Fear kept us on the lookout for prehistoric beasts, hidden dangers and helped the human species ultimately to thrive.

Fear also protects us from modern day attackers. Many assault victims describe a moment before the attack where their brain warned them, “All is not ok! Get away!”

Sometimes fear guides us by not letting us be complacent about important issues. Those butterflies in the pit of your stomach are a signal that something important needs your attention.

3. Embrace Your Fears and Claim Them

For a long time, I kept my fear of sharks hidden. I felt ridiculous having this phobia when I lived in a landlocked state known for its abundance of fresh water. I knew sharks could not survive in a lake or pool, yet I still panicked whenever I thought about what might be lurking underneath the ripples. I was ashamed of my fear, but this extra guilt only kept me from taking positive action. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself permission to own your fears without extra baggage.

4. Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

While researching fear and courage, I discovered many descriptions of people taking amazing actions while they felt fear. Courage is not the absence of fear but taking action in spite of it. Soldiers, policemen, fire fighters, bystanders and parents routinely put themselves in harm’s way even though they were afraid.

The good news is that most present-day fears are imagined or artificial. We might feel like our giving a presentation is life threatening, but we are not likely to be in actual danger. Fear can make our hearts race, palms sweat, and otherwise feel terrible, but most fearful situations are actually benign.

I find it helpful to remember that these feelings of discomfort are just part of the process of exercising my courage muscles – much like I might expect to have sore muscles after a new physical workout.

5. Allow Yourself the Journey of Self-Discovery

If you are unsure what gets the attention of your inner “fraidycat,” take some time to notice the situations where you feel fear. This self-awareness allows you more control about when you want to face your fear. If you know cocktail parties are a fear trigger, you can skip gatherings not worth the extra effort.

Social psychology research suggests that fears of public speaking, rejection or judgment affect all of us at some point or another. If you share your work as a visual artist or writer, then chances are you will have opportunities to face fear. A little preparation can go a long way in helping you be ready to flex your courage muscles. In next month’s column, we will focus on specific tools you can use to face your fears head on. “Watch out Jaws, I’m coming for you!”

 

Kari Pederson Age 6

Kari Pederson
Age 6

Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the fifth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.