GUEST BLOG POST: Finding Inspiration

Today, I’m a guest blogger on CMash Reads, sharing my thoughts on… FINDING INSPIRATION When I told a friend last spring that I was writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, she asked me how I found the inspiration for 30 poems. “It’s like rummaging around in a junk drawer,” I told her.… Continue reading GUEST BLOG POST: Finding Inspiration

INTERVIEW: Bookworm Interviews Author Jen Payne

BOOKWORM is participating in another blog book tour courtesy of WOW (Women on Writing). Today’s guest is Jennifer A. Payne, author of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. Today I’m posting an interview, Q and A style, that I conducted with Ms. Payne so that you can read her thoughts about her calling, her choice of direction for her writing, and her thoughts about mindfulness. I’m also posting a review of her most recent work “Evidence”. Enjoy. (Click Here to read the interview and book review!)


How long have you been writing/ what made you decide to write?

I don’t know if I had a choice, really. Writing is how I’ve always communicated with the world. My earliest memory is writing letters to my Dad when he was away on business trips when I was young.In grade school, I used to write short stories, but I also had a dozen pen pals I kept in touch with regularly. I wrote for my high school newspaper, and studied journalism at UMass. My first job was writing press releases and advertising copy, before I started my own business doing the same. I published a zine in the early 90s, and graduated to blog writing about 10 years ago.

I’ve been writing all my life!


What made you take this direction for your writing/this work?

I think those early days of communicating real-life stories and experiences to my Dad and pen pals have kept me pretty firmly rooted in non-fiction writing. You can see that on my blog Random Acts of Writing (http://randomactsofwriting.net). Over the years, it has hosted everything from my food writing, travel journals and book reviews, to photo essays, social commentary and poetry.In the past couple of years, I’ve been writing more poetry, mainly because that is how my muse has been talking to me. But also, I was invited to join a local poetry group, the Guilford Poets Guild, and they have inspired and encouraged me a lot!

Both of my books, LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness (2014) and the new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind are direct results of my work on the blog. LOOK UP! includes essays, poetry, a collection of quotations by philosophers, naturalists, and famous writers, plus 100 of my original color photos. It’s a journal, really, that narrates my own journey from working 24/7 to reconnecting with our natural world, finding balance and mindfulness in the simple act of going outside. Evidence of Flossing is a follow-up to that concept. It features 73 of my poems and 80 original and vintage photos that continue a conversation about our divine connection to nature, and how important it is to find our way back to that.


What is it about mindfulness that interests/fascinates you?

By day, I run my own graphic design and marketing business. By night (really in the pre-dawn hours of the day), I do my creative work. My brain and I work at a very frenetic pace – as you can imagine – but somewhere in all of that, there has to be some downtime. Some quiet. Some peace.

I tried traditional methods of meditation – sitting on pillows, candles, oms, guided groups, recorded sessions. But nothing really “stuck.” I remember one group meditation…there were 10 of us in a small, candlelit room. We did some breathing exercises, and then the facilitator guided us on a meditation…down a path, into the treetops, up into the sky. I spent the whole meditation frantically running to catch up, because I couldn’t breathe right, couldn’t visualize right…couldn’t get out of my own way!

About that same time, I had started taking regular walks in the woods. There is a nature preserve near my house, and I can do a nice, easy 2-mile walk in a space that feels very far away from everything. I remember this one day very clearly. I’d been walking for about 20 minutes with lots of busy thoughts in my head. But then it was suddenly quiet. All I heard were my footsteps on the pine needle path. I wasn’t aware of my thoughts or my body, just the sound of footsteps, like a heartbeat, and breathing.

It was brief and wonderful.

I think of it now as my “ah-ha, so this is meditation” moment.problems, inspirations for my writing, connections to some mystery I wouldn’t have had time for if I wasn’t allowing myself to disconnect from busy and reconnect with nature. It’s that simple…and that complicated, I suppose. Perhaps that’s what so fascinating about it, and why I write about it. The difficult part of mindfulness is getting there—stepping away from our busy-ness, allowing ourselves that time to reconnect. But once we do, it’s really quite simple. It’s really quite amazing.


Use this space to give yourself a shameless plug?

I was at a workshop last week, and the hostess came over to me and pointed to a copy of my book on her coffee table. “I keep your book here,” she said. “In a place of honor. That way I can pick it up and read something from it whenever I want. Which is often. I just love it.”

She’s not alone. People seem to really connect with these books, with the writing and the photos. I think it’s because they talk about our collective concerns about our society in a way that is heartfelt and thoughtful. They’re smart books that you can skim for meaning, or dive into for a deeper understanding as they apply to your own philosophy and spirituality, your own experience. But they are both easy reads – you can read an essay, read one poem, open to a page and meditate on a photo or quote. They allow the reader to take that moment of mindfulness, to stop and consider…maybe…a better way to move about in this world? I hope.

This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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GUEST BLOG POST: Everything is Connected

Today, I’m a guest blogger on Create Write Now, sharing my thoughts on…

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” — John Muir

In a dream once, I saw the fabric of the Universe. It was clearly laid out in fine strands of translucent white dots, as if one were standing inside a room full of beaded curtains.

In the first few moments after waking, I understood clearly that everything is connected: how, if I touched one of the rows of white dots, that touch would reverberate along the whole system of dots; if I breathed or sang or wept, that too would make waves along those strands.

My understanding of all of that was as fleeting as my ability to still my mind, as transient as my understanding of god. And yet, the image of those dots has remained for me a divine illustration of how it is.

Everything is connected.

Some of our basic tenets as humans remind us of that: “for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and “as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What if that applies to everything?

It is not such a foreign concept. We know that everything around us is made up of atoms. That there is no real separation between you, me, this book, my cat. John Muir wrote about it that summer day in 1869: “One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell.” Carl Sagan called it starstuff. “It’s an astonishing thing,” he said, “we’re so tied to the rest of the cosmos.”

My new book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, is a book about starstuff. It’s a collection of poems that speak to the common heart that beats in you and in me, in the woods and on the streets, across oceans and around this planet.

Part social commentary, part lament, the poems are, at their heart, love poems to the something greater within all of us. Their investigation of the human condition and its folly — politics, religion, development, technology, consumerism — is juxtaposed to a series of poems about our natural world and the possibility of divine connection. Together, they ask the reader to deeply consider the effects of our actions and how they influence everything else in the Universe.

>>CLICK HERE to read the whole post.


This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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BOOK REVIEW: Nicole Pyles Reviews Evidence of Flossing

“I was so impressed with this book. It conveyed a beauty and yet sadness at the same time. I could sense the spiritual struggle within the poetry and a reflection of the world around (and the masks society often puts forward). This book is definitely a conversation piece and I can’t wait to share it with others.” — Nicole Pyles, World of My Imagination

>> Click Here to read the full review!


This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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GUEST BLOG POST: Blogging as a Creative Tool

Today, I’m a guest blogger on Words, Crazy Words, sharing my thoughts on…

BLOGGING AS A CREATIVE TOOL

One of the most inspiring art exhibits I’ve seen in recent years was called “Suddenly This Overview.” On display at the Guggenheim in New York, it featured 250 small sculptures by artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The sculptures were made of a pale gray, unfired clay, and were presented individually on white pedestals around the curving spiral ramp of the museum. Clean, Times New Roman captions explained Pythagoras Marveling at His Theorem, Jesus Walks on Water, the Fish Are Amazed, and (my favorite) Mr. Spock Looks at His Home Planet Vulcanus and Is a Bit Sad That He Can’t Have Any Feelings.

At the time, I was in the middle of a blogging challenge to write a poem a day for the month of April – National Poetry Month. A friend asked what it felt like to write a blog post every day, and I couldn’t help but think of the Fischli/Weiss exhibit.

In an interview with Artspace, Weiss explained “The intention was to accumulate various important and unimportant events in the history of mankind and of the planet — moments in the fields of technology, fairy tales, civilization, film, sports, commerce, education, sex, biblical history, nature, and entertainment.”

That’s a sweeping, broad source of inspiration for them—and for us! (Aren’t those the very things WE write about, think about, create about?)

One of the Fischli/Weiss sculptures was a plain block of clay entitled Without Words. Their starting point, perhaps—a blank page of clay onto which they were challenged to put their thoughts and ideas. It’s that place we all start when we first listen to our own inspirations—what will we create today?

Blogging is like that block of clay. It gives us a place to start and a medium to shape into whatever our Muse suggests — a poem a day, for example. A book review. A photo essay. Random musings about mankind and the planet.

A blog can no more sit idle than that block of clay. It’s very nature is to be used, shaped, molded. To be a vessel for our creative efforts is its raison d’être.

All we need to do is show up…and shape it.

>>CLICK HERE to read the whole post.

This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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GUEST BLOG POST: The Importance of Retreat

Today, I’m a guest blogger on Lauren Scharhag’s blog, sharing my thoughts on…

THE IMPORTANCE OF RETREAT

BUG OUT! That’s what they called it on the TV show M*A*S*H. The enemy is getting closer, someone yells “Bug Out!” and everyone, everywhere packs up everything and bolts!

I use the same word, often, when it’s time to get away for a while. BUG OUT! You know that feeling, right? You’ve been working really hard, your To Do list hasn’t gotten any shorter, you can’t seem to get enough sleep, and coffee just isn’t working its usual magic.

It’s time to Retreat! Regroup! Withdraw! Escape!

I don’t think the battlefront vocabulary is all that off-base. We live in a world of battles — time, technology, schedules, workloads, deadlines. If you’re a creative type, somewhere in all of that you must also make room for the Muse who feeds your soul. And if your Muse is anything like mine, she lets you know when she’s hungry for more attention!

In the Scientific American article “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime,” (https://tinyurl.com/j7v6kyj) writer Ferris Jabr details study after study that confirm the importance of taking time off. He concludes that “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

But we can’t all be like author Elizabeth Gilbert —a little overwhelmed, take a year off and travel the world to Eat Pray Love our way back to our creative selves. Not everyone has that luxury.

But here’s what I’ve learned about downtime…

IF…I give myself just a half hour to meditate or take a nap or walk in the woods? My Muse breathes.

IF…I give myself a day off, like a Sunday-Sabbath-resting day off? Then my Muse dances.

And IF…I am so lucky as to be able to take a true retreat — a suitcase, off-the-grid, away-from-things retreat — my Muse will pack up her stuff and come along with me. We’ll see things with fresh eyes, we’ll come up with new ideas, and we’ll start speaking to each other again.

CLICK HERE to read the whole post.

This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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WOW! Women on Writing Interviews Jen Payne

from THE MUFFIN
WOW! Women on Writing
by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
(Click here for the WOW! Book Tour Launch and Give-away)


WOW: First of all, congratulations on your book Evidence of Flossing! What was the first book you fell in love with? And why?

Jen: There are two books I remember loving as a kid. One was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. It’s about four orphaned children who end up living in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. It seemed so idyllic…living in the forest, eating wild blueberries for supper, making cool things from found objects. The other book was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis—oddly enough also about four young children who have magical adventures in the woods!

I had a big imagination as a kid, and parents who insisted I play outside. Plus I grew up along the shoreline in Connecticut, and there were always places to explore: beaches, marshes, trails through woods. So, I pretended I was like the Alden children living in the woods, or Lucy finding her way to Narnia.

Sprinkle in a little Winnie the Pooh and Emily Dickinson, then later in life Thoreau’s Walden, and I guess you could say I always looked to the woods and nature for inspiration.


WOW: Sounds like we would have made excellent friends as a kid! We had similar tastes in books! So, when did you know you wanted to be an author? What was the first thing you wrote that made you feel inspired to pursue writing?

Jen: I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. My dad traveled a lot for business, and we used to write letters to each other when he was away—I think that’s where it started.

I had a ton of pen pals, too, back when you still did things like that. There was a television show called the Big Blue Marble. I belonged to their Pen Pal Club and wrote to kids in England, Belgium, France, Trinidad, and Korea.

And I’ve always written that way… not made-up stories, but real life experiences. I wrote for my high school newspaper. Studied journalism at UMass. My first job was writing press releases and advertising copy. So, my writing is very much based on that nonfiction foundation, though more creative nonfiction, or nonfiction prose.

WHEN did I know I wanted to be an author? I used to talk about writing “the great American novel” but I could never figure out how my writing fit that genre. Then, about six years ago, a friend of mine suggested my blog writings would make a great book. That’s how LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness came about—that’s the book I published in 2014. It’s a collection of my blog posts.


WOW: I really love that you turned your blog writing into a book! Your blog turned out to be quite the muse for you! What are your books about?

Jen: Both books, really, are about reconnecting with nature, about appreciating the gifts of our planet. LOOK UP! tells the story of my own journey. It’s organized like a journal, and includes a collection of my essays and photographs, plus a bunch of quotes by famous naturalists, philosophers, and writers who have considered the same topics of mindfulness and our connection with the natural world.

Evidence of Flossing is what happened next. After the journey. It’s an examination of the contradictions and tragedies of our everyday world compared to the organic rhythms and beauty of the natural world. But this book is all poetry—73 original poems—plus a quirky series of photographs of discarded dental flossers and other original photos.


WOW: I love how you merge both creative outlets in your book – photography and poetry. Let’s talk time management – you own a graphic design company, write books, find time for poetry reading events, book launches, etc…how do you do it all and how do you do it with a smile on your face? What advice can you give to others who struggle with time management and juggling it all?

Jen: Good question! I have a smile on my face – most of the time – because I truly love what I do. I love my day job and I love my writing life. They feed me. I think it’s easier to make time for things that feed you.

Usually.

My secrets? I get up super early – like I don’t want to tell you how early. And for me, those quiet, early morning hours are the best time to get good work done.

Coffee. Also a good thing. (And always from a Wonder Woman mug.)

Yoga or a long walk in the woods—please, yes.

And then, I eat frogs.

Have you heard of this? It’s a technique from motivational speaker Brian Tracy, who says that if you tackle the most difficult things on your To Do list first, it creates momentum for other things to get done more easily. A friend shared the video with me a few years ago (https://youtu.be/0W7GB5Fh2XM) and it’s really changed how I approach my day. Especially when I am up-to-my-eyeballs busy!

My advice to others? Oh dear, well…find your super powers (like getting up early), go for a walk, invest in 3×5 cards, drink coffee, and eat frogs when necessary.


WOW: I will most definitely have to look up the eating frogs idea later. You’re all about conversations (me too) – so imagine the current you is having coffee and conversations with the teenage you…what advice would you give yourself?

Jen: That would be a LONG conversation, probably involving a little finger wagging—don’t start smoking; more books/more writing/less boys; travel not chachkies. The usual hindsight things.

And then…there is a great parable in Ram Dass’ Journey of Awakening that tells the story of a king who asks his people to come up with something that would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy. The winner presents the king with a ring, the inscription reading “This Too Shall Pass.”

So, that: Don’t worry. Be happy. This too shall pass.


WOW: I’d definitely be telling myself something similar if I could sit my teenage-self down over coffee! So, what’s next for you? You certainly aren’t the “sit around and wait for life to happen” person – so where can we expect to see you next?

Jen: You’re right there! Actually, I’ve been thinking about publishing a short story I wrote called Water Under the Bridge. It’s an epistolary novel told through a series of emails.

But more immediately, I want to do an art exhibit of the (dental) flosser photos from Evidence of Flossing — maybe in the spring. I just think they deserve their own time and place outside of the book. They have a story to tell.

Don’t we all?


WOW: We do! I truly believe that. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today and we can’t wait to see the feedback come in from the book tour about your book Evidence of Flossing!

Jen: Thanks Crystal – it’s been great to talk to you. Thank you for helping to launch the book’s blog tour today!

CLICK HERE for the WOW! Book Tour Launch and Give-away

This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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