give me a daisy

~ ~ ~ ~ read ~ write ~ look ~ listen ~ create

Archive for the category “Writing”

Your Brain on Art, Writing, and Music




Here are some recent stories about what goes on in the brain when we’re writing, making music, and appreciating art. (Originally posted on Farther to Go!)

Click on the titles to read the complete articles.


Our Brains Are Made for Enjoying Art

Ann Lukits (The Wall Street Journal)

Analysis suggests art appreciation is a natural biological process.

“Viewing paintings engages a number of different regions of the brain, suggesting art appreciation is a natural biological process, according to the report in the June issue of the journal Brain and Cognition. The study found that paintings activated areas of the brain involved in vision, pleasure, memory, recognition and emotions, in addition to systems that underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning.”

This is Your Brain on Writing

Carl Zimmer (The New York Times)

Becoming skilled at writing may activate the same areas of the brain that are activated in people who are skilled at other things, such as sports or music. This study showed that the areas of the brain activated in novice writers were not the same as those activated in the skilled, “professionally trained,” writers.

“During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.”

It would appear that training is training is training—no matter what the training is for.

Musical Training Increases Executive Brain Function in Adults and Children

Jeremy Dean (PsyBlog)

“Both the brains and behaviour of adult and child musicians were compared with non-musicians in the study by researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital. They found that adult musicians compared to non-musicians showed enhanced performance on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency. And musically trained children showed enhanced performance on measures of verbal fluency and processing speed.”

Music Changes the Way You Think

Daniel A. Yudkin and Yaacov Trope (Scientific American)

Different music encourages different frames of mind.

“Tiny, almost immeasurable features in a piece of music have the power to elicit deeply personal and specific patterns of thought and emotion in human listeners….Ponderous, resonant, unfamiliar tonalities—the proverbial “auditory forest”—cause people to construe things abstractly. By contrast, the rapid, consonant, familiar chords of the perfect fifth—the “auditory trees”—bring out the concrete mindset….That music can move us is no surprise; it’s the point of the art form, after all. What’s new here is the manner in which the researchers have quantified in fine-grained detail the cognitive ramifications of unpacked melodic compounds.”

the periodic table of storytelling


Please check out the periodic table of storytelling, created by James Harris. It’s fascinating, fun, and even useful for both writers and readers.

I found this gem through Open Culture.

We Are

I just want to share these beautiful and heartfelt words with as many people as possible. Thank you, Connie.

Sorting it Out

flowers 2We are flowers, reaching, reaching, napping in the September sun, warming our skin, unwilling to say good-bye. How many more days before it has travelled too far south to impart even an ounce of warmth?

We are the moon, hanging orange and low and pregnant, keeping quiet company in the dark, waiting for birth, for daylight, whispering that you were conceived in love and brightly shining hope.

We are the wind, invisible, lonely, unable to stay in one place, unaware of our power, at times troubling, at others soothing, at others yet fanning the coals of a cooling fire.

We are cloud and rain, watering and cooling, then pooling back into ourselves.

We are bright bursts of electricity and light; we are loud unsettling rumbles of thunder. We are weeping willows and whispering pines; we are raging hurricanes and crushing surf.

We are, you and I in turn, the grandeur…

View original post 128 more words


drawn to the light
the nightlight


I am drawing light
and growing;

Drawing butterfly pictures,
spectral ink blot samples
of a state of mind,
a moment in time,
a momentary rhyme,
a sign;

Tracing the sunlight
on paper
or determining the nature
of myself
of yourself,
and the world
of light flowing,
water growing,
earth shining

On this space
between places
we have found
to live in for a while.

the key

Big old roll-top desk

 Paul Forrester’s eyes opened. With a single jolt of adrenaline, he was wide awake and breathing hard although his body still felt heavy and numb. The light was dim, but even without consulting his wristwatch, he knew the sun was up, and he didn’t have much time. He felt for the key in his right hand, running his thumb over the curved surface and then the smooth jutting foot at the end. Paul smiled, the urgency to move now tempered by anticipation. He stretched his legs and arms and wriggled his shoulders before rising to a sitting position on the lumpy, mildewed sofa in the basement of his parents’ house. Or what used to be his parents’ house. They were both dead and he doubted anyone had been inside the place for over a year—until he broke in two days ago, that is, and started searching for the key to his father’s desk.

He hadn’t really had to break in. He could have asked his brother for a key to the house. Henry Forrester knew nothing about their father’s unfinished manuscript and wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about it if he had known. But Paul didn’t like having to explain himself to his stolid, practical, and completely unimaginative older brother. According to Henry, Paul was willfully refusing to live up to his potential just to spite the rest of the family.

He couldn’t deny the whole thing had been impulsive: taking time off from work without notice, driving across the state, and living on junk food for three days while he hunted through the detritus of his parents’ 25 years together. It was hard not to think of them lying a few feet apart in their graves in the cemetery he’d passed on his way into town.

But now he had the key. It seemed like a fluke. He’d gone through every room in the house three or four times and given the basement a couple of cursory searches, too, not really expecting to find the key down here. He had been tired, sore, frustrated, and ready to give up. Just as he was about to call his wife, Brenda, and tell her she’d been right about this being a wild goose chase, the image popped into his head, clear and bright as if it had happened last month and not over 20 years ago.

The summer when Paul was seven years old, his father was already middle-aged, his hair thinning and his waist thickening. Paul had become fascinated with the night sky and was amazed when his father came up from the basement one evening carrying a telescope. It wasn’t very powerful, but Paul didn’t realize that then. To him it was magical—almost as magical as the fact that it belonged to his father. The two of them spent many hours in the backyard that summer, identifying constellations or just admiring the moon and the bright spots of light. They shared an interest no one else in the family had. For a few months, Paul had felt close to his father, as though they had a secret bond. It hadn’t lasted, of course. With the shorter days, his father grew distant again, closing himself off in his study for weeks at a time.

So on a hunch an hour or so before dawn, Paul went into the basement one more time to try to find the battered and scratched brown leather telescope case. As soon as he saw it it, he knew that’s where the key was. And he was right. Once he found it, he only had enough energy left to stumble to the couch, clutching the thing tightly in his fist. He was out within seconds.

He stood up and headed for the stairs. Henry had sold the property and all its contents for what was to Paul an unbelievably large sum of money, considering the owner intended to raze the place and build a new house on the site. If Paul didn’t get a move on, he would get bulldozed along with the house. Sunlight flooded the first floor. He had to hurry. He went directly to the old-fashioned roll top desk, now covered in dust, in his father’s study. The day before, Paul had considered trying to have the desk removed from the house, but he had no way of hauling it back home. Besides, Brenda would have really flipped out if he brought this monstrosity back with him.

He stared at the tarnished lock, took a deep breath, inserted the key, and twisted it to the right. Then he grabbed the round knob and pulled. The drawer slid open smoothly, revealing a small leather-bound journal and a stack of typed pages that had once been held together by a rubber band that was nothing but crumbled remnants.

A note was paper clipped to the top page. “Paul,” it began. He was so startled, he nearly dropped the piece of paper. “You and I are more alike, I think, than we’ve ever acknowledged to each other. If you’re reading this, then maybe you’ve realized it, too. I hope so. I put more of myself into these pages than into anything else I’ve written. It’s more ambitious, riskier, than anything else I’ve ever done. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to complete it. But I have a feeling that if you’ve found it, you’ll know how to finish it. Write the end of the story, son. Make it yours. Love, Dad.”

Paul felt a surge of longing for the father who had been absent in spirit, if not in fact, for most of his life. At the same time, he felt more connected with him than he ever had before. But the rumble of the bulldozer making its approach up the driveway brought him back to the present. He scooped up the manuscript and journal and headed for the back door. After a few steps, he turned around—on impulse again—and went back for the key. He slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans before departing from his father’s house for the last time.

~ ~ ~

Note: This story resulted from a writing exercise. Imagine that you wake up in the morning with a key clutched in your hand. What does it unlock? 

Enhanced by Zemanta

a poem a day, that’s all we ask

logo-napowrimoIf you are a poet, maybe you’re already participating in NaPoWriMo—National Poetry Writing Month—an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month now in its 11th year.

If you don’t know about NaPoWriMo, the intention is for people to commit to writing a poem a day for the 30 days of April. Yes, we’re two-thirds of the way through April already; nevertheless, the site has much to offer for poets and appreciators of poetry.

There’s a fresh new prompt each day for poets. And both poets and poetry readers can find links to the websites of hundreds of poetic participants—a treasure trove that is definitely worth checking out!

With the links to those sites, participants can see what other people are doing with the same prompts (the prompts being optional, of course). That’s a very cool aspect of NaPoWriMo. Thanks to Maureen Thorson for getting this great project off the ground in 2003 and making a difference by keeping it going each year.


Liquor Bottles

The bar in the basement of my parents’ house held all sizes and shapes of bottles; big ones in the back and tiny decorative ones along the side; whisky, gin, and vodka—serious stuff—as well as colorful concoctions like sloe gin and blackberry brandy. The men in my family all drank lots of beer, too. At parties and gatherings, it was carried into the house in cases. Nothing exotic there; mostly Stroh’s and Budweiser, if I remember right.

Once I got drunk on vodka and grapefruit juice in the basement of a girlfriend’s house when her parents were away. We spent the evening listening to records and drinking our vodka mixed with too little grapefruit juice out of paper cups. It was briefly exhilarating. Later, when I felt sick and dizzy and out of control, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Subsequently, I remained sober.

When the wind was red, like a summer wine
When the wind was red, like your lips on mine
It caressed my face and it tossed my hair
You were there.

I don’t recall ever seeing a bottle of wine in my parents’ house. John often brought wine, though, bottles of deep red wine made from grapes grown in Italy. He was Italian. The red wine John brought tasted of other, older worlds, of things mysterious and sophisticated and foreign. It also tasted of him and of this reckless, improbable, and hopeless love.

Does anyone even remember that song? I’d never heard it before I met John. I’d never heard of Chris Connor.

When the wind was green, at the start of spring
When the wind was green, like a lving thing
It was on my lips and its kiss was fair
You were there.

He gave me that scratchy old 78, and listening to it puts me right back inside my dark apartment in 1967. It’s 2 or 3 in the morning, after John has gone—after John has come with a bottle of red wine and this old music, and gone. If the few hours with John were the height of my week, the hours following his departure were the depth. I’d always leave his wine glass on the floor or table where he’d left it, at least until the next day. And I’d sit in the dark for a while and look around the apartment and out the window at the night sky in a kind of pained ecstasy or ecstatic pain, if you know what I mean.

Then came the fall and all of love came tumbling,
stumbling down,
Like leaves that lost to frost and found they were
flying, crying, in a brown wind

My father knew a disc jockey, and he used to bring home dozens of used 45s. I grew up listening to The Mills Brothers, Patti Page, Theresa Brewer, Gogi Grant. The Gandy Dancers’ Ball was one childhood favorite. And I’ve never completely gotten There’s a Pawnshop on a Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania out of my head. My brothers and I always watched the Hit Parade on TV on Saturday night after we took our baths. Snookey, Giselle, Dorothy, and Russell performing the top 10 tunes of the week.

And of course my girlfriends and I were glued to the TV every afternoon for “American Bandstand.” As soon as I had a disposable income of my own, I invested part of it in growing the collection of 45s, favoring Sam Cooke and Connie Francis.

In college, I listened to folk music and tooled around town in my 1966 Candy Apple Red Ford Mustang listening to a guy with a gravelly voice sing about The Eve of Destruction. What the heck did I know? There was other music around—Sinatra, Streisand, Nancy Wilson. A few of my friends listened to jazz and blues, but the music always seemed too ripe for them. Most of them hadn’t even started to live.

John was eight years older. When he played the blues, it sucked me right in. He filled my head with his recollections of sitting in smoke-filled clubs in downtown Detroit listening to all of these musicians. He brought me No Sun in Venice by the Modern Jazz Quartet. It took me 15 years to track down a copy of that album at Tower Records in San Francisco after I looked for it in record stores all over the country.

In turn, I introduced John to Simon and Garfunkel and The Moody Blues. He said 59th Street Bridge Song reminded him of me. “Feelin’ groovy?” Really? Was I like that? Or was that just how he preferred to see me? For that matter, was he the person I thought he was? Who can say?

The two of us spent so little time together, and being with him was so intense, that all the incidental elements—his cigarette smoke, the wine, and most of all the music—fused together. I couldn’t separate those things from him. He left a couple of his albums with me, the one by Chris Connor and another by Billie Holiday. They evoked such bittersweetness for years and years, long after the end of John and me.

But the winter’s come and we both should know
That the wind is white like the swelling snow
And we’ll never see all the wonderful things to be seen
When the wind is green.

I never drank enough of that Italian red wine to get drunk. I got drunk on John and his music instead. It was briefly exhilarating. Later, when I felt sick and dizzy and out of control, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Subsequently, I remained sober.

this is what the whole thing is about

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry month, two poems from a poet I just discovered, alas long after his death. William Stafford was born in 1914 and died in 1993.

He was born in Kansas and received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937. A pacifist, he declared himself a conscientious objector and did forestry and soil conservation work during World War II. His first major collection of poetry, Traveling Through the Dark, wasn’t published until he was 48. It won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1963.

when I met my muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.


just thinking

Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window.

No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held
for awhile. Some dove somewhere.

Been on probation most of my life. And
the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments
count for a lot–peace, you know.

Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one
stirring, no plans. Just being there.

This is what the whole thing is about.



Stafford’s poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost’s, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination. Among his best-known books are The Rescued Year (1966), Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (1977), Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation (1978), and An Oregon Message (1987).

radio writing: magic carpet ride

The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). ...

Why don’t you come with me, little girl, on a magic carpet ride? Tripping. Of course. Sex and/or drugs—the basic subjects of rock’n’roll.

Close your eyes, girl, the singer croons; look inside, girl. And then I realize this is just as much a song about writing as it is about sex or drugs.

Look around you, he implores. And I think, yes, you have to look around, observe what’s going on, from the minutest flicker of grasshopper wings to the cataclysms of birth and death, war and the striving for peace.

Let the sound take you away…the sound of the world around you, the sound of your own inner voice, and especially the sound of the words on the page. If the sounds don’t take you away, then maybe you have nothing to say.

You don’t know what we can find. You don’t know what we can see. Writing is always a voyage of discovery. You can’t be sure when you set out where you will end up. That’s part of the mystery and the magic of the writing process, the thrill of the “ride.”

Fantasy will set you free. There’s as much truth in fiction as there is in reality, and the truth in fantasy will set you free, but only if you really look and really listen. Then your story will have the power to take its readers on a magic carpet ride.

Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf)

I like to dream, yes, yes
Right between the sound machine
On a cloud of sound I drift in the night
Any place it goes is right
Goes far, flies near
To the stars away from here

Well, you don’t know what
We can find
Why don’t you come with me little girl
On a magic carpet ride

Well, you don’t know what
We can see
Why don’t you tell your dreams to me
Fantasy will set you free

Close your eyes now
Look inside now
Let the sound
Take you away

Last night I hold Aladdin’s lamp
So I wished that I could stay
Before the thing could answer me
Well, someone came and took the lamp away

I looked
A lousy candle’s all I found

Well, you don’t know what
We can find
Why don’t you come with me little girl
On a magic carpet ride

Well, you don’t know what
We can see
Why don’t you tell your dreams to me
Fantasy will set you free

on sunday morning


Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

On Sunday morning, Lessie woke up late, tangled in a nest of her own black hair, which she hadn’t pinned up before falling asleep. She’d been too downhearted last night to do the normal things she did on a normal evening before going to bed—things like washing her face and brushing her teeth and breathing a prayer of thanks for the wondrous day and asking for a dreamfull night. Yesterday hadn’t been wondrous or any kind of normal and she hadn’t wanted to dream. All she’d wanted to do was fall into a senseless void where she could forget herself, forget her body, forget the things her eyes had seen and her ears had heard when she walked into the house late in the afternoon. The blue canvas shopping bag had slipped from her fingers to the floor, so the eggs smashed and the milk spilled, and the frightened cat dove out the open window. Thelma and Eddie just got up from the couch, fixed their clothes, and walked out the front door together, slow and easy, with only a sideways glance in her direction, while her heart fell on the floor and got stuck together with the broken eggs and the spilled milk. She had left the whole heartbroken mess where it was, to be cleaned up in the morning; which was now.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: