Alan (from Oregon): Letting Go of Great Expectations

I’ve dabbled with writing most of my life.  Some poetry, some story ideas that I started years ago and never finished, some musings written in journals.  Probably the biggest stumbling blocks in the past for me as a writer were my own expectations – if I couldn’t write an award-winning novel, or a screenplay that became a great movie, then why bother?  And it’s easy to read a great book, or see a wonderful movie and think “well, I can’t compete with that”.  Plus, I had a lot of other things going on in my life – convenient excuses like working full time, being a dad, getting divorced, travelling, getting married again, etc.  I’m 71 now, and retired 9 years ago.  Those previous excuses no longer hold any water, and I’m not looking to become a famous writer.  I’ve taken some writing workshops, listened more closely to authors talk about their writing practices when they come through town on a book tour, and opened myself up to some new ideas for stories.

Camera on steering wheel (Jan. 1969)

Camera on steering wheel (Jan. 1969)

Consciously and unconsciously, I’ve been gently fanning that creative spark that’s been dormant for quite a while.

Sometimes a simple task will stimulate my creativity (or send a text to the Muse that I’m ready to listen).  While scanning hundreds of old slides into my computer over several weeks, I began to see a free verse poem coming together depending on how I organized the photos.  This resulted in two “Reflections” books, both 20 pages long with one photo on each page.

River Rocks (Aug. 1982)

River Rocks (Aug. 1982)

While putting together Reflections I, one line of writing was added to each photograph.  Reflections II has a theme, but I didn’t put any words with the photos.  It’s more open to individual interpretation, and I preferred it that way, rather than it being limited by my thoughts or words of the moment.  Going through boxes of cards and letters, I came upon many, many poems that my two daughters had written years ago and shared with me – written mostly during their teenage angst years.  I had also been sharing some of my poetry with them over the years, so I decided to put together a booklet with a dozen poems from each of us.  I selected mine, and I asked the girls (ok; grown women now) to pick out the ones they wanted in the booklet.  That took a little cajoling.  They’re older and wiser now, and questioned why their dad would want to dredge up that old stuff.  I finally convinced them that it wasn’t so much about the content of the poems as it was a way of bringing to light how we shared our feelings with each other.  I came up with a creative cover, had the book printed at the local print shop, and sent copies to family and close friends.  (Footnote:  my daughters got lots of praise from people who read their poems, so I think they have now forgiven their dad for his crazy idea).

There have also been some key events in the past few years that have prompted me to write poems.  Finding out 50 years after the fact that my dad committed suicide and did not die in a boating accident, as previously believed; thinking about my mom’s strength in raising three kids on her own, after she died at age 93; a nephew’s struggle with alcoholism; another nephew’s success in having his art shown in a major venue.  I am also working on two stories/screenplays that I’ve allowed to bubble up.  One is a children’s story that has two of my grandchildren as the main characters, and one was prompted by a road trip I did with a friend 40 years ago. My sister and I were recently reminiscing about the wonderful times we had as kids at our cottage on Lake Orion, Michigan, (e.g. in the rowboat, looking for turtles).  I’ve now made a list and started to write about those memorable summers.  Clearly my family has been a great source of inspiration and writing material.

I have a number of writing projects to work on now and, for me, that’s very helpful.  If I get stuck on one thing, I can jump into another one (a convenient way to avoid “writers block”).  I’m enjoying it more because I’ve let go of unrealistic “great expectations” about the outcome.

So, is there a little spark of creativity in you that the Muse fans once in a while?  Some whisper you can barely hear?  Or maybe even a roar you’re trying to ignore?  Then I would suggest trying to find a way to let that out, whether it’s writing, painting, music, needlepoint, whatever – it doesn’t matter.  It’s just important to do it.  What I’ve realized is that I’m not just letting my written words on a piece of paper see the light of day, I’m letting an important part of who I am come out and enjoy the light.


Here are two samples of  work: “Assimilation” and “Darkness (to Dad)”