Berkeley Publishing Group, NY, 2000. ISBN 0399525777.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 03/21/2002
Nonfiction: Creative Life
While visiting Ghost Ranch in New Mexico last spring, I checked out the workshops offered at the place once the home of artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Among the presenters was Elizabeth Ayres, who also gives writing workshops in the nearby village of Abiquiu. Ayres taught writing at New York University for 25 years and operates her own Centre for Creative Writing in New York City, offering workshops as well as salons for people to gather to listen to one another's work. She suggests that writers' salons are a excellent way for writers to share their work without waiting the years it may take before it makes its way into print.
Evidence of whether or not a book has engaged me is the trail of highlighting, margin notes and post-its after I have read it. This reveals the work has resonated with me or given me food for thought, including ideas for my own writing. My copy of Writing the Wave is full of highlighting and my own notes. At first, I was irritated because you can't just read it—you must DO the exercises. Little foot symbols indicate you must stop and write. Next, a hand symbol tells you not to continue until your have completed the previous exercise. Now that's irritating—especially since my approach when leading a writing circle is to follow a prompt and see where it leads, observing what is uncovered along the way and being amazed at the process. Thus, Ayres became my personal trainer by having me follow the rules when I thought I was too tired to do anything else. I kept going because, according to the author, I was in a workshop. She calls Writing the Wave a workshop in a book. Besides, the water metaphors were just right for me since my writing circles are named "Flying Mermaids."
Ayres says the book exercises "help you connect your own creative impulse with a larger, Divine Source. This non-intrusive spirituality will make you bold enough to reach for the stars with your writing." She got me there. I agree. In fact, my primary aim in writing and life is to tap into my own creativity, which I believe is part of a magnificent spiritual system.
Readers are advised to forget about genre. The exercise illustrating that point calls for the reader to invent a dream, using a timer set for five minutes. As there are no rules in the dream world, anything goes. Nothing has to make sense. It's a great way to unearth raw material. My dream was about being torn between a boat ride with my father on Lake Louise and sitting down with Georgia O'Keefe to see her pictures and interview her. Ayres suggests devoting five minutes a day to inventing a dream. By the end of a month, you would be "fabulously wealthy, with a panoply of possibilities tucked away in your notebook."
Other exercises in this workshop-in-a-book include circles, a compass, a tree with apples and apple baskets, a coin toss onto a sheet of words, the Southern American Medicine Wheel, a butterfly, and lists of words that rhyme. Another interesting activity included describing your writing space, envisioning a book you have written there. Next, the reader is asked to describe the language of their book and to engage in a dialogue with it, even begin writing it. I realized that my book would blend all the pieces—essays, poems, photos, collages. Rather than viewing all these elements as separate projects, I noted that they could be combined into one "lyrical, humorous, sad, sexy, beautiful" book.
Inspiration, the author says, is a gift to be shared. She has done so profoundly and with heart. Some inspiration arrives unbeckoned like a gift. Other ideas are prompted by books like this. Ayres also shares a personal, poignant story about her adoption and search for her birth mother. Her book is dedicated to a divine mother, Hagia Sophia, who represents holy wisdom "who creates, sustains and inspires us all." She ends this book as a fellow artist sharing her poetry and its relationship to the techniques in the book:
Swimming the River of Stone
I placed several asterisks beside Ayres' statement that "self-knowledge is a writer's greatest resource." No matter what type of writing we want to do, knowing ourselves and our take on our personal experiences, as well as world issues, is invaluable. I'm glad I stuck with it, as I now have lots of grist for the writing mill and new insight for a writing project.
This I have learned from the desert:
that to know a thing, you must become that thing,
dip yourself in it like pen in ink,
let it write you in its own words."
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