Archives: Creativity

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

Inspiration comes in many forms and is often missed for a lack of attention. I met Julia Cameron, in Seattle in 1995, at a Center for Creative Education event. I had no idea that a casual introduction and brief chat would change my life.

Her message, own your creativity, resonated like nothing before.
She became my pied piper. I did morning pages with verve, set ritual artist’s dates for myself and created personal radar to identify and repel the destructive shadow artists in my life.

Morning Pages

At our meeting, I asked, “MS. Cameron do you offer classes on The Artist’s Way or can you recommend a teacher in Seattle?”

            “No, why?”

            “I love this book and I’d like to develop a class around it.”

            “Then do.”

Her ease and graciousness shocked me. As an aside, she wore a hand-painted dress by a Taos artist that I coveted. The dress flowed with the same grace as her answer. In that moment I learned to share my creativity not to hug it to my chest. I took her at her word and offered classes based on her book and its principles.

Teaching became a love. But after multiple cross country moves and many class sessions, I realized I had become a shadow artist as an acolyte of Julia Cameron. My desire was to write. I knew I had a book in me. When asked, on occasion, as I changed jobs and locales, “What do you plan to do next?”

            My cavalier response was, “I’m going to write a book.”

In retrospect, I realize it was an uninformed declaration. As uninformed as when several decades earlier I said, “I want a baby.”

Just as I knew nothing about babies or the speed they turn into self-actualized teens, I had no idea what it took to put one word after another to form a sentence or to compile sentences into a paragraph. Sure, I knew the mechanics. I had written hundreds of business letters and managed multiple product documentation teams but I had not allowed myself to write creatively.

Time to put up or shut up. I bought the perfect desk, placed it in the ideal spot and acquired two drawers full of pens, pencils, highlighters, and multi-hued and sized post-it notes. I used my working knowledge of MSWord to create a chapter and version number scheme. I added three jump drives to my supply collection to ensure sufficient space for regular backup of my masterworks.

50words

I also had multiple blank legal pads, notebooks bound in leather, composition books and a mound of scattered thoughts on scraps of paper.  My despicable computer display reflected every attempt as imperfection.  I needed inspiration.

I didn’t want some words or some sentences, I wanted perfection, the lightning bolt idea crafted into a gold star publication. I was ready. I had the tools of my chosen art.

Where does one find inspiration? I have no idea. True, there are writers who have lived through extraordinary adventures or who have had an idea that nags until writing, medication or insanity are the plausible cures. Based on the thousand plus writers I have worked with, the inspired are a rare breed.

For most of us, books come from work, not blinding inspiration. We must face the demon of the blank page or screen. We must set goals and we must do the work. No one else can tell your story. If not now, when?

  • montegufoni
  • panforte
  • Art-in-residence

Recipes and Novels: Panforte – an Italian Love Story

My friends need nothing. They’ve worked, traveled and imbibed. Holidays are a challenge. I want to remember them but refuse to add to anyone else’s clutter. Halloween is the season to comb well-loved recipes for the unique. Sundry files are combed for sweets or savories to share over the looming post trick or treat season. I sort, categorize and make gift and shopping lists. It is the only time of the year I plot an outcome. As in writing, I find outlines and lists confining concrete-like limitations. Neither allows for mood, weather or whim. My stack of 20-25 gets whittled to 8-10. Annual favorites are the Grammercy Tavern Gingerbread, Jameson laced Irish Cream, Southern Living Peanut Brittle and Worcestershire Sauce, a mélange of 16 ingredients that requires 3 full weeks of steeping. My personal favorite is Panforte first experienced in Siena, Italy. The ingredients always make the list but I don’t bake it because it’s for me not others. Stupid.

Enter COVID19. I want to bake and write. After a morning of Twitter prompt responses the pantry calls. Chocolate powdered almonds, hazelnuts, cocoa, honey and a follies like array of dried fruits line the baking shelf. Yes, I have a baking shelf.

A writing retreat attended long ago pops into my head. Three glorious weeks at the Castello Montegufoni, south of Florence, on sun-drenched patios, glorious meals, side trips, and shared writing. Mid trip I wandered the car free streets of Siena darting in and out of cave like shops. A bakery case held an unattractive disk labeled Panforte. Remember, don’t judge a book by its cover or Panforte by its dusting of flour. The clerk offered a sample of the spicy, chocolate infused fruit and nut laden cake. You’re imagining the fruit cake we use as doorstops in the States, and you’re so wrong. In the intervening twenty-five years, I’ve made it twice and savored every bite.

A quick check ensures that cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg are on hand. What better way to distance a virus and self-care than with the spices of the orient mixed with human ingenuity and extended shelf life? Stories of Hannibal and Marco Polo echo. Each bite linked in memory with a favorite Italian set book – Passion by Jeanette Winterson. It’s surprising how quickly it comes together. The recipe more a concept than a formula. The currants have crystalized and smell of Moscato. I have no edible rice paper but a parchment cut out will serve. The cook time is 50 minutes but in 5 the smell of chocolate spice is redolent. If it could be bottled I’d dab it behind my ears.

From the baking shelf:

Variety of nuts

Array of dried fruits

Cocoa

Flour

Honey

Sugar

Ginger, Cinnamon & Nutmeg

Happy, baking, eating, writing and reading.

© 2020 Lee Heffner – Author