Humming Along

Spring comes late to Montana and often, it doesn’t feel like spring until mid to late May. But suddenly, when everything goes green, trees with blossoms bloom pink and white, bears come out of their dens, the robins get fat and squirrels get busy, one of the things I look forward to is the return of the hummingbird. Some fly more than two thousand miles after wintering in South and Central America, some of them soaring over the Gulf of Mexico. hummer_mugshot
Last summer, I wrote a blog about a hummingbird who got trapped in the house we were building and couldn’t get out. We had to capture him with a net to save him and set him free. I ended up finding a metaphor in that story of the hummingbird bashing against the window trying to break out. I compared it to my attempts to break into the world of traditional publishing – the endless queries, the rejections, the reworking and revising of the queries and the opening pages of the book, hoping to find a break.

By October, I had two offers for my psychological mystery set in Glacier Park and was thrilled beyond words. I am still over the moon about it. But I used to think that all I wanted was to get published, and I’d be satisfied. But now I realize I am much greedier than that. I find myself wanting not just for the book to come out, but for it to succeed. I want the next book I’m writing to succeed as well. And by success, I simply mean I want those books to eventually be in the hands of as many readers as possible.

So for me, once again, it is easy to use the hummingbird as a metaphor. For a writer, the journey doesn’t end with getting published. Like these vibrant-throated birds, the journey is only temporarily over when they get to Southern Mexico. There might be some resting time, but they journey back and forth from start to finish, from finish to start, over and over again. And what an exciting journey it is.

Have a wonderful spring and thanks for stopping by!

P.S. You can attract hummingbirds to your yard with red, tubular flowers that offer nectar.

Christine Carbo

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More Writer Madness

If you watched the Oscars this year, you probably saw Robert De Niro’s introduction to the best screenplay nominees. It was kind of humorous, and if you’re a writer, perhaps struck very close to home: “The mind of a writer can be truly a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy.”

My son couldn’t help but smile and nod at me when he heard this. At the time, I was amidst the first round of edits from my editor, and as I began the process of yet another revision, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of those neurotic whispering voices saying I was ruining my story by over-editing, under-editing, over-writing, under-writing, using too much repetition, not enough, too much backstory, not enough and on and on. All of this was going on while I had the flu for several weeks and was still trying to run my Pilates studio after not enough adequate rest.

I found myself sitting at my desk filled with self-doubt, confusion and frustration, but as I plugged along and addressed my editor’s suggestions one by one, I realized that even though the mind of the writer can be truly terrifying, we don’t have to get lost in the madness of it.

Pilates has taught me the balancing act of persistent practice. In other words, when you do something over and over again with energy and care, not only does it become routine, it becomes personal growth. It becomes the present tense of striving, not just the attachment to the outcome. So, with renewed calmness and a deep knowing that the practice, the writing, is what I want – that this is what I choose – I completed my edits with a renewed calmness.

I accept the madness and the frustrations that accompany the creative act because these things comprise the writer’s life. And, because, as Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem”:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags?
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

For me, it does all those things, and surely, also explodes. And the only way to stop its explosion, is to accept the madness, even honor it and eventually create a routine that works, all the while realizing that the dream and the desire to create is a true gift, not a torture chamber.

As Albert Camus stated: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

It’s worth some thought: what do you do routinely that has a deep payoff and brings you madness, but true happiness?

Christine

Catitude By Christine Schimpff-Carbo

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With the holidays around the corner and our women writers group throwing the theme attitude vs. gratitude out there, I was thinking my cat deserved a little gratitude from me. I know I sound silly, but truly, I am grateful to him because he teaches me catitude, reminding me that there is pleasure in being sweet and grateful, but there is also a deeper pleasure in not always giving of yourself, not always saying yes, not always jumping when someone calls.

My cat comes to me on his terms, snuggly and purring. But, if I pick him up and put him on my lap, it’s no good. He hops up and leaves, often returning, but on his terms. Sometimes if I call him to come and he doesn’t feel like it, he’ll stare at me from across the room with that look that says, “who do you think I am – a dog?”

Now, I’m not suggesting we all become narcissists, but there are things to learn from cats:

  1. Know when to say no when it just doesn’t work for you. Life will be much more enjoyable and it will free up time for what you really want to do.
  2. Understand when to be sweet and thankful for the wonderful things and people that you’re blessed with, but know when you deserve something too and don’t feel guilty for being on the receiving end.
  3. Realize when to stick up for yourself, when to stick out those claws and say enough is enough, rather than bottling anger up. Shoving emotion down can make you sick.
  4. Know when to play, when to chase that string around and have fun while doing it. Allow yourself to live in the moment.
  5. Allow yourself to be stubborn and bullheaded. There are things too precious to just give up on because someone else or maybe even your own self says you should.

This fall I’ve been fortunate enough to land a book deal with Atria Books with Simon and Schuster for a mystery. I’m thrilled, grateful and appreciative to a whole host of people in my life for having this opportunity. But, I know one thing for sure, without having a little catitude, knowing when to say no, knowing when I really do deserve something, knowing when to stick up for myself, knowing when to play and knowing when to be stubborn and bullheaded, especially about my writing, I would not have gotten this far. Some of these lessons have taken a very long time to learn and some I have yet to master. As simple as they sound, they can be really difficult for some of us.

So, Happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to add a little catitude every now and again!

 

Inspire, Transition…. Transpire – Christine Schimpff-Carbo

My son was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to a week-long guitar workshop (the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival) that takes place at the end of August every year on Flathead Lake in quaint Bigfork, Montana. This year the artists in residents were from various genres (jazz, blues, rock, classical, folk, country) and included Pat Matheny, Robin Ford, Lee Ritenour, Daryl Stuermer, Scott Tennant, Livingston Taylor and Mac McAnally. Because my son was there every evening, I went to several of the concerts, each one taking place with late summer not-too-warm, not-too-cold western Montana weather. Each one entirely inspiring. 

I have written before on the type of things that help lure my muse: reading other authors, exercising, looking at artwork, visiting with other writers and so on, but I left out watching musicians perform. I definitely need to add them to the list. As I sat under the white tent under the Big Sky and watched the talented musicians get completely lost in their guitars, basses, keyboards and drums, it made me want to get lost in my computer keyboard, drumming out words instead of notes to tell a tale, to weave a plot, to use my imagination.

But as Kathy Dunnehoff mentioned in her last blog, the transition to that creative spot can be tough. Putting aside the daily work, chores and other habits to sit down and practice the craft is challenging, inspiration present or not. Even though my son was having the time of his life in Bigfork at the festival, he was also very stressed because he was missing the first week of his freshman year of high school and the first week of soccer practice. He had many transitions to make.

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I was thinking the word transition had the same prefix as the word transpire, which has the same root as inspire – to breath into. Transpire means to happen, to take place, to materialize and come about. Trans means across or movement, a crossing or conveyance from place to place. Ultimately, we all need to feel inspired from time to time if we are going to make the transition to writing where we have made writing transpire and put words on paper. When that crossing takes place, it’s a very stress-relieving place to be, because ultimately, once that creative work has transpired, we truly feel as if we’ve had life “breathed” into us.

My son is in his third week of school now. His stress has melted away as he has crossed over from inspiration to the daily routine of making his schoolwork, guitar playing and soccer playing transpire. I am also slowly, but surely, making my next mystery happen as well. As we do this, often from pure willpower, we feel better. We feel inspired and the cycle continues until we break it with a bunch of laziness or unforeseen circumstances. When that happens, it’s back to all the old tricks to get inspired in the first place.

And if you can’t get inspired, then you simply have to sit down and do it anyway. As Tchaikovsky declared, “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”  I promise: the very act of doing your creative work will breathe life into you.