Offering The Creative Collective To Artists, Writers, and Creatives

the-creative-collective-coverYesterday, out of a strong desire to create a “safe space” for creatives to share ideas, prompts, strategies, and inspirations, I created a new Facebook group called The Creative Collective.

Here, writers, artists, and all creatives now have the opportunity to share and be inspired to rediscover and strengthen their creativity. Nothing is being sold or pitched here; this is purely for imagination stimulation.

If you would like to join us on Facebook (it’s free and open to the public), go HERE.

The Woman at the Cross

girl-at-altar

Earlier today, my lifelong friend Kelly shared the following on Facebook:

You know how the Mona Lisa is so intriguing because there are all sorts of ways to interpret her smile? I encountered something this morning that evoked that same feeling in me, making me wish I could have snapped a picture of it: I saw a middle-aged woman overlooking a darkened chapel At Stella Maris. She had her back to me so I couldn’t see her expression. She was leaning against the entry door with her head cockeyed in such a way that her head rested on the door frame. She stood there just staring at the altar. Was she looking for a buoy to help her? Was she in awe of God’s mercy? Was she just resigned to the sad fact that all life ends? Hard to say.

I was so taken aback by its description that my mind was creating a thousand different scenarios for her being there. I think Kelly did a great job of “painting” a picture with her words, and so I created the image above to help guide me in my response, which is below.

A huge shout out to Kelly for taking the time to share this observation with all of us. As an artist and writer, I was grateful for the connection I made with her words. Enjoy…

The Woman at the Cross: My Response to Kelly

The older altar boy looks on from the entrance of the Tabernacle, and he sees a woman old enough to be his mother. She lowers her head toward the cross. He sees disappointment, as if she feels failure in how she is raising her only son. He rubs the edges of his sleeves with his fingers, a nervous habit he developed when he was younger. It was just another thing he did “wrong” when he would endure the lectures for stealing food from Parkers, or lifting a few cigarettes from her pack of menthols that she kept in her replica Bottega Veneta handbag. He remembers the night her sobbing woke him just before dawn, and when he went downstairs to see if she was okay, he stopped on the third step from the landing, looking at his broken mother, rosary beads laced through her fingers, praying for something, anything to make him a better boy.

When she died later that month from the cancer that consumed most of her organs, he laced the same beads around his own fingers, vowing to do right, vowing to honor her prayers.

He wants to console her, tell her that it’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to work out the way she wants it. He remains in the doorway, though, and lowers his own head as he makes the sign of the cross. “Oh, Lord, for the moms who are hurting today, hear my prayer….”

From the other side of the altar, the young musician restrings her guitar in preparation for the 5:30 mass. She notices the older woman leaning against the wall, head bowed toward the cross, and she smiles. She remembers when she was younger, a “basic” singer/songwriter still trying to find her voice. How she would lean into the sacred space of the cross, pray for musical divination, and vow to keep the creative channels open as she continued to play morning, noon, and night. It wasn’t until her third year strumming a set of new nylon strings when it hit her: it was time to stop playing covers and replicating everyone else’s sound. It was time to write her notes, and her lyrics, and her arrangements.

Soon, she would put her restrung guitar into the simple stand by mic number 3, and lean into the sacred space, praying for continued musical divination, channeling God’s message through C chords played a few frets south of the nut. The musician smiles as she watches her whisper the Lord’s Prayer. Later she will watch her from the stage as she sings along among the others in the congregation. Their eyes will catch for the first time, but that’s all it will take for them to understand the mutual love they share for the Trinity. Heads bowed, prayers whispered, notes played, words sung. The Universal love for Christ knows no boundaries.

From the back of the church, Father Rossi prays for the woman at the cross. He has known her since her baptism. He remembers her reverential fear in her first communion, her shaky but certain voice as she shared her vows at that same altar, the cold, clammy touch of her hand as they prayed before her husband’s funeral, and her muted gratitude 7 weeks later at her own son’s baptism. Today, Father Rossi knows that she prays not just for strength to carry on another day, but she prays as well for strength for her son, now five. She prays for those who have lost their spouse. She prays for divine guidance to lead her where she is needed the most. She prays for her husband, for the altar boy by the Tabernacle, for the singer/songwriter on the stage. Father Rossi knows of her struggles, but he also knows of her strengths through God. Most importantly, he knows of her faith and gratitude in these gifts of strength. She is unique, and she is no different from any of his other parishioners. She has known love, and loss, and hope, and grief.

He knows these are the people of his parish. Unique, struggling, and strengthened through Christ.

The altar boy begins to light the prayer candles, and the woman in prayer makes the sign of the cross, genuflecting before she rises once more and heads to the back of the church.

“Thank you, Father,” she says, and he just smiles.

She grins, walks on, and carries the prayers on the cross with her as she passes through the threshold and enters the world a little more protected, a little more forgiving.

Behold: The power of prayer.

What’s In Your Creative Vision Tile for 2017?

With the new year quickly approaching, it’s a good time to think ahead to what we really want to focus on for ourselves (I know that I preach selfless acts a lot, but we also need to think about what’s best for us). It’s easy to look back at 2016 and reflect on what we did wrong, or where we went astray. That’s important, for sure. It’s equally important, though, that we look at where we are right now and focus on what we want or need to refine or change in the next 12 months.

One way to do this is by creating a vision tile for 2017.

tile

The tile above was created by a few of my students about 6 years ago, but it serves as a testament for capturing a bit of self-love and vision for what we want for ourselves in our immediate future. Whether you are (Super) Dave or Jalagna, you’ve made a statement that you are proud of.

So what’s in your creative vision statement for 2017?

First, brainstorm a list of what goals and dreams you want to experience in 2017. Find words, pictures, and images that capture the essence of what you want to achieve.

Second, find a square paper, card stock, or even ceramic tile and design a powerful layout. You might want to begin with a skeletal mandala frame (see below) that gives you some real focus and forward motion in reaching your vision.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-1-21-45-pmThird, be creative in your layout and don’t be afraid to bring your vision to life. Use every inch of the tile to capture the essence of the 2017 YOU. 

Here’s one sample of a polished vision mandala that focuses on new energy for the new season. You can really see the swirl of movement and motion showcasing the interconnectedness with the various elements.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-1-34-43-pm

Finally, put the polished vision tile in a prominent place where you can keep your vision present. Take a photo of it and make it the wallpaper on your laptop, phone, or tablet.

Keep focused on your vision for 2017, and capture the energy and possibility of what certainly awaits for you — if you visualize it!

Understanding Opportunity

Yesterday, in my daily email from Church of the Nativity, Evan (the author of the emails) was discussing the plight of John the Baptist, who absolutely believed he was pursuing an opportunity to follow God; instead, he ended up in prison and began to doubt his mission.

Evan posed this question toward the end of his email: 

“Have you ever been totally convinced and sure of an opportunity — all the signs seem to be pointing in the right direction — but the situation doesn’t seem to work out as planned?”

I laughed when I read this, because I thought that many of the opportunities in my life had ended up this way. But if we are to truly understand opportunity, we need to look beyond the initial outcome of that opportunity and see the interconnectedness with new opportunities previously unrealized.

In 1988, I had a great opportunity to move into an old farmhouse with two brothers who were paramedics. The place was close to school, and it was an ideal situation for me. Although that experience was short-lived, new opportunities presented themselves that I could have never imagined. Many of them are still a big part of my life (to read some of the deeper stories, download a free copy of my latest book, Faith, Hope, and Legacy).

My point is this: when presented with opportunities of any kind, we must look beyond our initial expectations and open ourselves to new opportunities that may present themselves, especially when we least expect them. It is a humbling thing to remember that the purpose of any opportunity may be completely different than what we had hoped for. Be mindful, in all ways, and widen your perspective to receive the unexpected.


Photos taken along the trails at Loch Raven Reservoir, 12/13/16. 

A Walk To The Church

Yesterday, I touched on my walk in the woods. These walks have always brought me closer to my spirituality.

In years’ past, that time spent in the woods was absolutely communal. Now, though, as I sit outside Church of the Nativity after my Catholic studies group, I see my communion in the woods as being the extension to the purpose of the church itself.

I see God’s beauty all around me, especially in the untouched woods and natural lands. But now I am beginning to understand how the church itself is the center of that source of spirituality; it is the core, the very sun and light of my worship. It completes my walks in the woods.

Our church is currently under construction to open ourselves to an ever-expanding congregation. I see myself under the same construction, expanding my heart in my journey of sanctification toward a greater holiness. May my house that I am building be as welcome and as serving as Church of the Nativity in their own rebuilding.

Ever grateful for such light and truth, as I am grateful for the light of God in all things around me.  

Taking A Walk In The Woods

I’m sharing this on the trail here in Gunpowder Falls State Park, where I’ve decided to take a little walk in the woods to reconnect with the Earth. This is my first mobile post here at The Baltimore Writer, an experiment to bring you my experiences more immediately, perhaps a little raw and incomplete. 

It’s authentic, though, and that’s what I’m going for. An authentic presentation of my life as I am living it.

It’s cold out here, just above 30 degrees. I’m in the middle of an abandoned archery range. It’s like visiting a ghost-town zoo, where the remnants of the animals’ souls remain, a reminder of their once-abundant presence.


I feel like we came here, pushed our way through, cleared out the wildlife, and then left-moved on to the next space to conquer.

And all in a state park.

I know it’s not this way. I’m sure that this archery range has brought delight to a lot of people, young and old. But I know this isn’t the case in other natural parts of the county (and elsewhere).

I’d rather walk in the wild and take my chances than step on these state-park scrubbed paths, these sanitized stones void of the very life forms that it once provided for, these thriving creatures small and large, now nothing more than bullseye props for us to play the role of the man-in-the-wild.

Oh, irony, how you are too close, too often, these days.

Share More, Think Less

TBW writing spaceI spend a lot of time in my head, thinking and thinking and thinking about what to write about. Even though I keep a little Piccadilly notebook with me at all times, capturing little snippets of life that I find interesting, I don’t do enough with them.

In those moments, I am happy that I jotted them down. Good to make that thought concrete, I think to myself. And it is good. I believe there’s a lot of life that passes us by that is fascinating, especially the small things that we see between the bigger events.

Sitting at a table with a group of high school friends, listening to one tell a fascinating story of saving her small business, I glance across the crab cakes and buttered vegetables to see another friend pick up her napkin, dab the corner of her eye, and try to push a smile to support the success of her friend. Try to fit in. Try to not let the world see that she is elsewhere, caught in her own memory. I meant to mention something to her after the dinner, but by then she was — or seemed — totally fine. She moved on, and so did I.

Later, I remember and I jot these observations down in my little notebook, then go about my busy life. Months later I page through the old notes, and there it is:

Kelly’s tear when Tracy was sharing her business story. What memory composed that tear?

My notebook is filled with notes like this one, and many of them are left unexplored. While that little journal is capturing the immediate observations, I just don’t do enough to follow through with the deeper stories, whether they might be real or eventually fictional, as “Gretchie’s Gift” turned out to be.

There’s a reason for that. Simply put, I need to think less and share more.

I’ve always enjoyed coming here to the Baltimore Writer and sharing my ideas and observations with you, but I just haven’t done it enough this year.

In fact, when I take a quick glance at the stats, I’m pretty ashamed of what I see. The last five years have been ridiculously light, posting 40 or fewer pieces each year, with just 11 posted thus far in 2016:

published-posts

Now, these stats don’t mean that I haven’t been writing. When it comes to constructed fiction for the purpose of publishing with a larger audience (beyond this blog) in the 11 years since I started blogging regularly, I’ve written nearly 500,000 words. And my larger daybooks are filled with hundreds of thousands of more raw words that have never been shared with others.

But what I am sharing with all of you here at the Baltimore Writer… That needs to improve — not because I don’t think that I am writing enough. It’s because I don’t think I am sharing and publishing enough. What good are the thoughts if they never reach the hearts and the minds of my readers, both today and tomorrow?

That’s why I created the Baltimore Writer. I wanted to reach all of you more with my daily thoughts, even the mundane ones, about what life is like through these eyes. It would be easy for me to make this a goal for 2017, but I don’t want to wait until the new year begins to do that.

So, it is my intent to resume publishing posts here as daily as possible about writing, about living here in Baltimore, about being a dad, about being spiritual, about being a human being just trying to manage a complicated life that needs to be simplified.

I expect the entries will be a little less polished, but you will hear a genuine voice, uncensored, about life as observed through these eyes. What my readers wish to do with it… well, that is up to you. My hope is that it will leave you thinking a little about what you are observing (and maybe eventually writing and sharing). But even that’s pushing it. In truth, I am just throwing these thoughts into the Universe; may they be used as necessary, now and tomorrow.

I appreciate that so many of my friends do this via social media platforms. Those posts, stories, and pictures capture what I believe is becoming a more genuine reflection of their lives. I’m seeing less of the cherry-picked moments of joy and perfection and more of the authentic experiences, both good and challenging.

That’s all I want to do here: give you the good and the challenging, and more often.

I look forward to sharing them with you in the days, months, and — God willing — years to come.

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You can read more on my professional site, The LifeStory Lighthouse, where you can also download my latest collection of Christmas stories, essays, and reflections (featuring “Gretchie’s Gifts).