A few weeks ago, Writer’s Digest put out an intriguing invitation to readers: Submit a photo (or two, or three) of your workspace, along with comments on how you use it, why it’s set up the way it is, or anything else you'd like to say about it. The editors will pick a few to publish in the magazine.
I had every intention of submitting mine, but before I managed to assemble the pictures and send off the entry, the deadline had passed. Still, the challenge got me thinking about my own work space, not only how I use it, but also what I call it.
When I worked from home for my regular job or on freelance assignments, I called my workspace—in our previous home as well as our current one—my “office.” But something about that term grates on me now. It conjures images of deadlines, dingy cubicles, and that sense of being chained to a desk, unable to escape and have fun.
Nowadays, although I still spend a lot of time in the room where my desk resides, I’m not always working in the strict sense of the word. Sometimes I’m practicing yoga. Sometimes I’m brainstorming ideas for writing projects, or organizing and editing photos, or sorting and cutting out pieces for collages, or creating music playlists, or communicating with friends, or yes, writing. It’s as much a playroom as a workspace.
So what to call it?
“Workshop” sounds crafty—a good place to build things. But still a little “worky.”
“Study” is what spaces like mine used to be called before the home-office kick. Filled with books, as my room is, studies were places for contemplation and rumination. I certainly do contemplate and ruminate. Yet “study” sounds so studious. Not playful.
I’m partial to “studio.” With its artsy connotations, it leaves open possibilities for all sorts of creative activities. Why, I could even dance in a studio (and sometimes I do!). So for now I’m sticking with studio. And just for fun, I’ll take you on a tour.
Then, I invite you to send me photos of your own creative space and tell me what you call it and how you use it.
Where will your workspace--or playspace--take you?
Happy New Year!
Is today just like any other day for you, or do you see the beginning of a new year as a time to reflect and set intentions?
As I wrote here a year ago, I no longer make formal resolutions or long lists of goals and aspirations for the coming year. Still, the idea of a fresh start is so appealing I can't resist trying to do a few things differently.
Or maybe just one thing. This time last year, I vowed to break the habit of starting my day by checking my inbox and scanning headlines. Too often, that practice left me agitated and unfocused--exactly not the way I want to be when I sit down to write or tackle other tasks that require concentration.
It was a worthy goal, one I tried all year to accomplish. But the busy-ness of book publishing and promotion and the enticement of never-a-dull-moment national news was too seductive. I just couldn't keep myself from going online before breakfast.
Until a few weeks ago, when I finally found the mettle to break the habit. What flipped the switch for me was a piece by Colleen Story on her Writing and Wellness website that caught my attention with the subhead, "Why Writers Should Avoid the Internet First Thing in the Morning."
In the article, Colleen cites research suggesting that hopping around on the internet interferes with the ability to focus even after getting offline. She goes on to list five first-thing-in-the-morning activities that are more conducive to all-day productivity. I won't repeat the list here--you can read the full article for that.
But I will tell you about the change I've made. For the past three weeks this has been my morning routine: yoga, reading poetry, writing down dreams or other thoughts (but not to-do lists), then working on my novel-in-progress. Email and other online business come only after all of that.
I was astonished at how quickly changing that one habit made a difference in my mindset. As I wrote in my journal after just a few mornings of the new routine, "Ideas flow, I feel calmer, less focused on my to-do list; I think instead about what I'm reading and writing. This is good."
In short, simply by changing one habit I feel recharged and ready to put my creativity to work in whole new ways in a whole new year.
Do you have a habit you'd like to change? Need a little help making it happen?
Here are some suggestions I've gleaned over the years:
May 2020 be a year of creativity, connection, and contentment for us all!
You know how it is when the day you’ve dreamed of for a long, long time finally arrives? Sometimes it’s every bit as magical as you imagined it would be. Other times, compared to that glorious fantasy, it’s a dud.
I recently experienced the dream-come-true of celebrating publication of my book, Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta, with friends and loved ones. Fortunately, the reality was anything but a dud.
It was pure magic.
Looking back on the occasion, I realize it was more than a book launch. It was equal parts reunion, time capsule, and celebration of friendship.
It was, of course, also a fabulous book party. Newaygo County Council for the Arts/Artsplace generously hosted the October 25 event, three days after the official publication date, and Artsplace knows how to throw a party. Everything was set up beautifully (who knew stacks of books could be so artful?), and the mood was festive.
Many guests dressed in tropical attire, adding to the merriment, and my publisher Behler Publications even provided an enormous, lavishly-decorated cake.
As for the reunion part, three friends from Samoa days—Valerie, Barry, and Beverly, all of whom are in the book—traveled from afar for Mangorama weekend. Though I had spent time with all three of them in recent years, Val and Bev hadn’t seen each other since Samoa days, more than 50 years ago, and it had been almost that long since Val and Barry last crossed paths.
As we continued the celebration over the weekend, we reminisced and laughed over pictures (did we really ever look like that?) and reinforced bonds that formed in that remarkable time and place: Samoa in the Sixties.
Other friends from my Detroit and Ann Arbor days also made the scene. That’s where the time capsule comes in. My whole writing life flashed before me, remembering time spent with these friends back in our Detroit Free Press, University of Michigan News Service, and Ann Arbor writers’ group days.
Those flashbacks continued into the following week when I had a second book signing at Artworks in Big Rapids. For several years, I belonged to a writers’ group at Artworks, and during that time I revised the manuscript that became Mango Rash. It was such fun to see friends from the Artworks writer’s group at the reading and for all of us to reflect on the long journey from manuscript to book.
Still more memories came flooding back at the Croton Township Library book signing a few days later, where I connected with another writing friend. Kendra Lachniet and I were in the Fremont Area District Library’s writers’ group together, and Kendra has been supportive of my work all along.
So have all my friends, writers and non-writers alike. Celebrating with them over the past couple of weeks has reminded me over and over how blessed I am to have a circle of such kind, caring, generous, and FUN pals.
Whether or not I published a book, whether or not I ever publish another, I couldn’t ask for more.
Chris Martin at www.chasinglightphotos.net
Outside my window, the maples are beginning to blush. Soon, the whole woods will be bright with scarlet, gold, russet, and burgundy. In such a dazzling display, it's easy to lose sight of the individual colors.
Life can be like that, too. With so much going on in the real and virtual worlds, not to mention our own imaginations, it's sometimes hard to narrow our focus. Yet often that's exactly what we need to do to feel calm and grounded and to nurture our creativity.
I recently came across an intriguing exercise that reminded me of the benefits of concentrating on one thing at a time. In her Writing and Wellness newsletter, author Colleen M. Story wrote about boosting creativity with color walks. You pick a color before heading out on a walk and then let that color lead you as you search for objects of that hue.
Colleen's article goes into more detail, with tips on how to get the most from the practice.
I'll let you read that on your own, because I'm eager to show you what I found on my color walk. On the summer day I chose for my walk, everything was green, so as a challenge to my powers of observation, I picked yellow. I was surprised how many yellow things I found and how paying attention to them helped me see my familiar environment in a whole new way.
I hope you'll try a color walk, too, and tell me how it goes.
In this week’s blog, you’ll meet Mark Andrews, one of my favorite West Michigan photographers.
Born and raised in Newaygo County, Mark got the travel bug early in life on trips with his family. He went on to work in the travel industry, for airlines and tour companies, including a stint in Barbados.
“I started with photography in the 80s with an old film camera and fell in love with taking pictures,” says Mark. “I worked for Kodak in the early 2000s as a sales rep selling digital cameras and had some training over the years with them. Most of what I’ve learned has been over the internet and practice, practice . . . ”
Mark is especially fond of photographing places that evoke a sense of the past – Cuba and old Route 66, for example.
In addition, he has visited and photographed Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Turkey, China, Russia, Philippines, Mexico, much of old Route 66, Hawaii, and National Parks including Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Arches, Grand Canyon, Zion, Great Smoky Mountains, Canyon Lands, and Monument Valley.
Where hasn’t he been, you might ask. Well, still on his list are the Amazon, Ecuador, Israel, Italy, Spain, Lisbon, “and a whole lot more.”
In this post, Mark shares tips for taking better travel photographs, as well as advice on finding travel deals to your dream destinations.
Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.