Monday, June 25, 2012

The reading at Allegory Gallery turned out very well. Besides myself, Amy Yanity, local poet and originator of these particular readings, read from her own work. So did Joanne Mcgough, Jan McLaughlin and Diane Cipa. There was wine and pastries and we all had fun.

The event got me to thinking. There are a number of events in the area held for and by area writers that are not well known, sometimes even among writers. I am aware of only some of them and a quick check with a few of my writing friends turned up a surprising list. Perhaps the most well known group is the Ligonier Valley Writers, which was started a number of years ago by Clark McKowan, who has since moved to California. I am aware of this group because Clark was the first person to give me encouragement in writing and the Ligonier Valley Writers was the first writing group I joined. Another local group is the Beanery Writers, a group that meets in the Coffee Bean Café in Latrobe. I currently belong to that group. Other than those two groups, I understand there are groups located in Latrobe, Somerset, Greensburg, Scottdale, Murrysville and Delmont.

The above is by no means a detailed or complete list and other than writing groups themselves there are events that cater to writers and musicians. One of these is the event I mentioned in the beginning of this piece and which is held at allegory Gallery on the last Thursday of each month. Another is Mellow Mike, held at Ligonier Tavern every Tuesday. Mellow Mike is hosted by Diane Cipa and features local writers, poets, songwriters and musicians. There are other similar events in this area.

I’m going to be doing a bit of searching around to gather more information on other happenings and additional writers’ groups in Ligonier and nearby areas and I will write a bit more about each of them from time to time. There is a lot of talent in Ligonier and surrounding areas. It’s about time this fact becomes a lot better known. Altogether these events provide a rich artistic resource of which we can all be very proud.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reading my work in public is something towards which I am not naturally inclined. In fact, a few years ago I avoided anything of the kind with a firm resolve. I’m still not fond of it, but I have come to accept it. Why, I’m not sure. A lot of it has to do with practice and learning not to be too self-conscious. And, to my surprise, I’m beginning to have fun with it.

Anyway, I’m doing some reading of my work this Thursday evening at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier. Allegory Gallery is located at 139 East Main Street, in the same building with Second Chapter Books. Amy Yanity, a local author, has arranged to have readings as an event there on the third Thursday of every month. It’s a new event for Ligonier and I think it’s really interesting. The sessions started a few months ago. I’ve attended every one so far and I’ve learned something each time.

Any writer is welcome at these sessions. It’s fun to listen to the different genres—prose, poetry, song writing and the different styles of each. A number of writers attend every session so one can’t tell what one will find happening on any given evening. Come out and give a listen. I think you will find the sessions entertaining. It’s a new tradition starting in Ligonier and one that I hope will grow and prosper.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The first thing that anyone sees when he or she sits down to write is a Blank Page. It may be on a computer screen, a fresh, yellow legal pad or the final pages of a worn journal. It doesn’t matter. It is still a blank page and that can be a terrifying thing. There are no guidelines, no map. Where does one start? It is true that the great expanse of white can be exhilarating—there are no restrictions and the possibility that the creation of wondrous and inspiring compositions lie hidden on the page, but that in itself can be intimidating. I once had an art instructor who said that in a blank canvas there is 100% potential. Put one mark on that surface and you have decreased the potential by fifty percent. That thought can put a crimp in your style.

At its worst, the Blank Page can bring on the other dreaded nemesis—Writer’s Block. I can’t say that I am habitually troubled by that malady but there have been times that the words have been slow in coming. And there are times when I’ve tried some roundabout ways to bring inspiration: deep thought, meditation, prayer—tea. Sometimes one thing works, sometimes another. That reminds me of a time many years ago when I heard a springtime talk by a member of the PA Game Commission. The subject was the effectiveness of folk remedies for garden pests. The remedies are numerous and inventive—pepper, garlic, beer. The question was, “Do they work?” The speaker gave the following opinion, which impressed me and I state here as best I can remember it: “You must be aware that each animal is an individual and one individual does not like and dislike the same things as another. Sometimes one thing works and sometimes something else. If you’re bothered by a critter and try one of the remedies and it works, don’t question it. Just use it.”

Stories and poems are much like the critters. Sometimes one thing draws them to the page, sometimes another. I have not found a foolproof way of attracting them with any consistency. At times I find that in order to write I must simply begin writing. I make a joke of it by saying that if you have writer’s block then write about having writer’s block. It’s really not a joke. That’s a fascinating subject. What is writer’s block? What does it feel like to have it? What do you do about it? Does that work? That could be a very interesting and funny piece—or tragic if you are so inclined and are totally serious about it. And maybe that’s one of the secrets—DON’T be too serious about it. Writing should be enjoyable—fun.

One of the best things that I have found is to not try to work on my schedule but to listen to the Muse when she speaks. Sometimes that is in the middle of the night. I keep a pad and pen in my bedside table and when ideas come, in dreams or in the moments that occur between sleep and wakefulness, I jot them down. Those notes, sketchy as they sometimes are, can later be the start of many pages of text.

So there isn’t any formula, any standard method of approaching the Blank Page. The best thing to do is simply to write. Don’t be scared. Don’t worry about it. Just write—about anything. Every subject is fascinating—if you allow it to be.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There is a saying that the only constant thing in life is change. The older I get the more I think that is true. Perhaps that’s the universe’s way of seeing that we don’t get bored. But then, boredom is often replaced by other emotions that are less welcome. From all of this, however, we seem to manage to learn something.

I remember years ago having a friend who was very much into computers. He was working with artificial intelligence and was doing research at what is now Carnegie Mellon University. He tried to explain to me many times the virtues and advantages of computers. I didn’t listen very well. “I’ll never use a computer,” I told him. How wrong I was about that. My change came not too many years after those conversations. I acquired a computer and really became a fan when I began to use it at income tax time. My wife and I had a small business and for years I did the accounts in pen and ink. We were busy with the business spring, summer and fall and I became lax in keeping up with daily accounts. Both my wife and I simply kept receipts of purchases made, material acquired, etc. in no particular order. When income tax time came I made a crash effort to get the books in order. I would neatly itemize months of transactions and then invariably my wife would come in with a whole new batch of receipts. “I forgot these,” she would say and hand me items that had to be entered into three or four or more months’ records. When I acquired a computer and became familiar with spreadsheets that automatically inserted items in chronological order I became convinced that the computer was a necessity and, moreover, my friend.

My change to a computer was voluntary on my part, but some changes I have experienced were not. They were imposed on me and many were not to my liking. And yet I cannot say that, in the long run, they turned out to be totally negative. They always proved to be of benefit when I accepted them and allowed them to be part of my life. I have come to believe that changes that we elect to bring into our lives, if well thought out, improve our lives. Changes that are imposed upon us by the universe, if properly accepted and even welcomed, improve our souls.