Inspiration and Creative Expression

People often ask me where I get my story ideas. Some assume they are ripped from the lives of my family and friends, to which I reply, “Of course!” I say this because, in some form, my experiences certainly influence my work. However, I also find inspiration in a good song lyric, a wonderful quote about love or life, interesting documentaries, and art.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Wow! I am awed by the creative genius of so many people, who combine every day things (including trash) to make something that is both visually exciting and often educational.

When I sit down to write, I try to do the same thing with words. I think, however, that as powerful as words are, and as much as they can stimulate the imagination of readers in infinite ways, when words are combined with other art forms (like music or paint or video), their power multiples exponentially.

 

 

     

Perhaps one day I’ll take on the challenge of writing a screenplay so I can create something that combines words, photography, and music. The trifecta! For now, I have to settle for Pinterest boards and Spotify playlists to give my readers a multimedia experience of my stories.

If you’re interested in seeing and listening to my vision, check out my extras page!

XO-Jamie

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Summer Reading Recommendation

I haven’t offered a reading recommendation on my blog in quite some time, but I’m inspired to do so today. I spent the better part of my free time this past weekend reading Elinor Lipman‘s On Turpentine Lane. This author had been highly recommended by many, but I’d never actually read her work until now.

To orient you, here is the book blurb:

At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater.

It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state). And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall.

When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence…

Ms. Lipman has drawn a wonderful, kooky cast of characters and combined it with great wit, snappy dialogue, and a nice little mystery to keep you guessing. This is the first book I’ve read in a while that I resented having to put down throughout the day in order to attend to chores and other matters.

My only quibble with the story is the fact that, at times (especially the first half), Faith could be somewhat dim-witted when dealing with Stuart (although she did wise up before the halfway point in the story). In all other regards, she was quite worthy of affection for the way that she handled her family and co-workers. Her neuroses made her quirky in the best way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story’s secondary characters, all of whom were well-developed and interesting. The Frankel family certainly encountered its fair share of drama–some manufactured, some real, and always portrayed with real warmth and endearing peculiarity. There were several moments when I laughed aloud and recognized some of my own family dynamic being played out on the page.

If you enjoy humorous fiction with a hint of romance and mystery, I highly recommend this book. If you grew up in a big, nosy family, I also recommend this book!

And although it wasn’t a romance, Faith’s friend/crush Nick will make your heart flutter with his humor and thoughtfulness. Without spoiling anything, let me also add that I was extremely glad with how Faith’s mother ultimately handled her marital woes!

Now I’m off to decide which other of Ms. Lipman’s other books I should read next.

xo-Jamie

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Summer: Bring It On!

Here comes summer!

Temperatures have jumped dramatically. My kids are currently taking finals. And the gardens are in full bloom. Yes, summer is officially here. As usual, our family calendar is stuffed with various out-of-town sports and leadership camps, as well as pleasure trips and family visits. My car will gain thousands of road-warrior miles, along with plenty of battles for control of the radio. But wait! This is supposed to be a season to kick back and relax, right? Yet you can probably feel my anxiety tripling because I’m unconvinced I can balance family time with my work obligations. Add to that the pressure to “have fun” and all of the hiding from the sun to prevent skin cancer and premature aging, and summer can be anything but relaxing.

This year, I’m determined to map out a daily plan so that I can both accomplish my work and enjoy my kids’ time off. They’re teens now, and I know I only have a few precious years left before they no longer spend their summers in this house. That thought forms a lump in my throat, so I won’t dwell on it.

I look forward to reconnecting with my cousins in Virginia, Maryland, and on Hilton Head Island. I also look forward to hearing about my kids’ adventures at camp (which hopefully won’t be tales of misadventures!). I have a lengthy “to be read” list that I hope to tackle at the beach. Grilling and eating outside is always one of my favorite things about summer evenings. And I’m particularly fond of the summer day dress. Is there anything more comfortable on earth? I doubt it.

So I’m breaking out the bright nail polish and reminding myself to smell those gorgeous roses in my yard.

What’s your most-anticipated summer activity? And tips for keeping cool on a hot, busy afternoon?

xo-Jamie

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Goodbye, Stitch…

Our neighbor’s cat, Stitch, was a fixture on our street for a dozen years. He’s been in everyone’s home from time to time–sometimes invited, other times not. As he aged, he became rather bold, lying in the middle of the road or driveway and refusing to budge for cars. Love him or not, no one would deny that he was a bit of an old soul and a vagabond (often being spotted a mile or farther away from our street).

My husband adored this cat. Several times per week he’d sit on the front or back porch with Stitch, feeding him milk and tuna. He’d purr at that furry friend while petting him. In truth, he and my kids considered Stitch “our” cat, and based on the number of hours he spent with us, maybe they weren’t wrong.

On the other hand, I’m allergic to cats. I could also get easily annoyed by Stitch barging into my house or racing to the grill and standing at my feet whenever I cooked. I’d have to watch for him in the driveway and physically move him so I could come or go. He’d chase me into the garage, too, which would make me grumble when trying to carry the groceries inside the house without letting him slip past me.

Although he could be a nuisance, when I noticed how slow he’d been growing–how hard of a time he had getting up and down–I worried about how my family would deal with his inevitable death. In order to preserve his memory, I wrote him into my upcoming release, BEFORE I KNEW. When I made that choice, I didn’t know how or when the end would come, just that it would come.

Well, it came today. I wish I could say it was peaceful and that his owners informed the  neighborhood. Sadly, I discovered him in our yard this morning, clearly the victim of a coyote attack. It was heartbreaking, to say the least, which surprised me because I had not loved him like my family had.

But tonight when I go to the grill, I know I’ll feel his absence. Even now, writing this simple post, my eyes are a little dewy. My husband was right all along: Stitch was a cool cat. I now wish I’d appreciated that more before it was too late. This isn’t the first time I’ve been slow to realize something like that, but I hope it’s the last.

It’s a good reminder for me to be more present and to appreciate all the little things that are part of my journey. And when we all face the sad reality that nothing lasts forever, perhaps we should emulate Winnie the Pooh’s attitude and think to ourselves: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

xo-Jamie

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5 Things To Do With Your Friends

Being a woman can be hard. A lot is expected of us. Not only do we hold jobs, raise kids, and keep a household running, but we’re expected to do it all with a smile (and to look fit and pretty, too!). It can be daunting at times, which is why it’s so important to keep connected to our friends.

Sure, your mom and sisters can be a source of support, as can your partner. But there’s something special about friends–the people who choose you to be a part of their life journey–that nourishes the soul and rejuvenates the spirit. Here are a few of mine on a recent girls’ trip we took to Arizona, where I laughed more in five days than I have in the past month. I can’t tell you how much that hit the reset button on my stress level.

But you don’t need to spend a ton of money to enjoy the benefits of friendship. Here are five inexpensive things you can do to keep connected with your friends:

  1. Start a book club (or another club involving a mutual hobby or interest, like knitting, hiking, or music). Naturally, talking about books is a favorite pastime of mine, but book club evenings eventually evolve into sharing stories and laughs over wine. What’s nicer than that?
  2. Host a potluck. This sounds old-school, but it’s a nice way to host a party without doing all the work and spending all the money. The host can prepare the main dish, but assign others the salad, sides, and dessert (dessert to be given to your most-trusted friend, as it is the most important part of the meal!).
  3. Take an exercise class (or meet for a long walk). The long walk allows for lots of catching up, but then again, going to Pilates with a friend makes that endeavor less painful.
  4. Watch a series togetherliterally. When I was young and single, I did this with a friend (Melrose Place, anyone?). More recently, a friend and I did this for LOST and American Horror Story. We’d take turns going to the other’s home to watch, leaving the hubby and kids to fend for themselves for an evening each week. It turned TV watching into a social endeavor, and it was fun to snack away while discussing the episode (my husband hates when I ask questions during a show–and during LOST I had a lot of questions).
  5. Plan an “at home” spa day. Drug stores sell a ton of inexpensive face masks and nail products. Pick up some collagen masks, Emory boards, and brightly colored polish and call your friends. You might want to send your partner and kids out to the movies so you have the place to yourself, but it can be fun to engage in these girly activities no matter your age, and you end up feeling fresh and pretty when it’s over.

Those are a few of my ideas, but I’m sure there are plenty more. If you have a good idea, please share!

xo,

Jamie

 

 

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