Monthly Musings Newsletter
Dorah Blume is an author of historical fiction novels. Her latest, Botticelli's Muse, is a provocative story about Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli, the conflicts of Medici Florence, and the woman at the heart of his paintings.
Dorah Blume, Deborah Bluestein, Botticelli's Muse, Sandro Botticelli, italian renaissance, italian artists, medici florence, historical fiction novel
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Monthly Musings Newsletter

Let Your Creativity Blossom

When it’s the middle of winter and everything is bleak and bare and cold, I remind myself of a Buddhist saying, “When the conditions are right, the blossoms appear.” Creative work requires a belief in the invisible, especially when working on a long project like a novel when all the parts are in a jumble. It feels like I’m never going to find a way to bring it together. That’s when I’ve got to keep on with feeble daily attempts, trusting that someday they will blossom into a finished piece, never perfect, but whole. The question is, what makes the conditions “right”? The answer is time and patience. Not giving up. Trust. Trust that the invisible will become visible. The courage to begin is the first step. And there are never perfect conditions to start, just enough desire, enough curiosity about the outcome, enough determination to feed them and not the fear.

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Risk Creativity

I come from a line of gamblers. My father would leave for a pack of cigarettes and not return for days as he disappeared into marathon poker games. My ex bet on the weather: whether or not it would snow, what football team would win, or what horses could win him the Trifecta.

I now realize that the gambling blood flowed in me with as much force—only expressed itself with a different kind of risk-taking. I saw 9 to 5 jobs as life-threatening. So I crafted a life as an entrepreneur, structuring the 168 hours in a week with multiple income streams to support my creative endeavors and pay the bills simultaneously.

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Hug a Hobby!

Over the pandemic, which seems waning, we lost many things from our “normal life,” but nothing as much as hugging our friends and loved ones. In pre-Covid times, if I should catch my foot on a loose brick and tumble, passersby would leap to my aid within seconds. Once lockdown hit, fear trumped empathy. If I fall, people will scatter away from me! Contamination fear was more potent than the impulse to help. During this love month of February, air hugs over Zoom don’t have the power to pump up the oxytocin—the feel-good chemical and lower the cortisol—the stress chemical. But hugging a hobby—embracing creative impulses and passions can carry us over the dark patches.

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Routines Not Resolutions

Of the three powers: willpower, habit power, and environment power, willpower is the puniest. It’s the one that crumbles first for most people. When you bolster willpower with the momentum of habit power, then add environment power—people, places, and things that support, inspire, and encourage —it’s an unbeatable trio. Environment power can mean having my journal on my bed waiting for me when I awaken rather than keeping it out of sight in a drawer.

A guru whose name I’ve forgotten said, “It’s easy to learn the truth, but hard to remember it.” Learning habits that bring me closer to where I want to go—finishing a novel—is an important tool. Learning a tool without remembering to use it is an exercise in procrastination. Resolving without action doesn’t add up.

In his book Atomic HabitsJames Clear builds a case for what’s needed to make the changes we want to bring into our lives. Make it achievable (small actions). Make it obvious (the journal on the bed). Make it rewarding (a feeling of accomplishment because I did what I said I would do—I’m keeping my word with myself). When I write, I am a writer. Even if it’s only a sentence or a paragraph. Reading his book has inspired me to “build back better” the habits that will bring me where I want to go. Doing it the way he recommends, “tiny changes” can bring “remarkable results.”

The keyword in all of this is “action.” Planning without action, lists without action is a useless exercise—if your to-do list includes walking and you never get off the couch, you’re an idle dreamer, not a walker.

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Thinking Outside the Gift Box

There are many ways to give gifts that are not store-bought. Even though gift cards and gift return receipts enable the receiver to select something they want, receiving something from the heart and hands of the giver has its place.

Recycling possessions that no longer serve us as re-gifts is another option. Jewelry, a nick knack, a book that you have treasured over the years—items long admired by a friend or family member are legitimate gifts. In the interests of downsizing and decluttering, why not pass this item on to someone who might want it more than you do? Someone who can give it a more loving home. Someone who will wear that necklace, treasure that sculpture, read that book.

My six-year-old granddaughter Raquel gifted me with a hand-made bookmark (pictured here), and I will treasure it. Hand-made and recycled gifts are ways to show caring while also helping the environment without depleting your pocketbook.

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364 Un-Thanksgiving Days a Year to Say Thanks

In Walt Disney’s version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice crashes the un-birthday day party at the Mad Hatter’s table. This goofy host goes on to say that each person has 364 days in the year to celebrate their un-birthdays which are just as important as the one birthday day. Since it’s Alice’s un-birthday too, she is invited to stay and celebrate.

During this time of year when December gift giving too often trumps Thanksgiving, let’s celebrate 364 days of un-Thanksgiving Day with grateful living. Why practice gratitude only on a stomach full of turkey when we can practice giving thanks three hundred and sixty-four days of the year?A very merry un-Thanksgiving Day to you, to you, as well as the actual Turkey day before Black Friday when Christmas holiday shoppers too often trample away the spirit of saying thanks.

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Trick or Treat: Unexpected Inspiration

Trick or Treat: A great time to savor the treats of unexpected breakthroughs. As we shed our regular routines and disguise the everyday self, inspiration, Aha! moments, epiphanies, and surprising creative solutions often creep up on us like friendly ghosts.

Hippos gestate for 18 months, fruit flies for twenty-four hours. Everything has its growth process from conception to completion. Leonard Cohen often took years to complete a song, just waiting for the right word to be found, while Duke Ellington wrote the melody for “It Don’t Mean a Thing” during an intermission at Chicago’s Lincoln Tavern in 1931. Nineteenth-century German chemist August Kekulé saw the ring structure of benzene after dreaming of a snake eating its own tail.

Italian playwright Dario Fo painted in between writing projects, John Lennon drew cartoons. Everyone and everything has a timetable and can’t be rushed. Patience, perseverance and plain stick-to-itiveness, though necessary ingredients for completing creative work, aren’t always enough.

Sometimes taking a conscious break from the project is the only way to let the unconscious surface to offer the elusive creative solution. “Chance favors the prepared mind” is the case for not quitting a project when you’ve reached an obstacle. The chance of unexpected inspiration bubbles up because you’ve been working on something intensely and the brain needs a rest in order to receive the “treat.”

In addition to Linda’s story of her unexpected inspiration that led to the mystery novel she’s currently writing, we’re including excerpts from books and articles about how important it is to trick ourselves away from our work to create the conditions for the treat of inspiration to appear.

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Curiosity = Lifelong Learning

Adding to cosmic questions “Is there life on another planet?” or “What is the meaning of our existence?” I have plenty of mundane ones. YouTube helps answer “How do I cut a box spring in half so I can bring it up a narrow staircase then put it back together?” or “How do I remove water stains from my antique library table, untangle techno mysteries so I can get my computer to do what I want it to do, or create a podcast? (Thanks to YouTube, this week I learned how to do the visual mashup you see here.) Curiosity led me to pursue an MFA in creative writing 30 years after receiving my undergraduate degree. It leads me to research my novels. After watching a movie, curiosity leads me to figure out what I loved or hated about it.

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Yoga & Meditation: Portals to Creative Focus

I once had a car whose engine kept going even after I turned off the ignition key. The whole car would sputter and shake until it collapsed into a peaceful stillness. When I begin meditation, my mental motor sputters and shakes. I take some deep breaths, and slowly I settle into a quiet pause that renews me.

There are many forms of meditation. With the plethora of online possibilities, you can try out guided, with or without the gong, silent, focusing on your breath, with or without a mantra, chanting. Whatever method, the key is to still the mind and body, a sensation that is different for each person. Meditation is personal. For me it is a way to escape an overactive, overwhelmed mind for 20 minutes—long enough for my spinning thoughts to slow down. When I come out from that meditative escape valve, I usually know what to do next. And I do it with uninterrupted focus.

Speaking of focus, Patanjali, the granddaddy of all yoga said, “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distraction.” For me, yoga and meditation are the two most important tools in my psychic toolbox. One calms me down and the other gives me the stamina to keep moving in the direction I want to go. Read more:



Photography as Creative Expression

rustWhether capturing the aesthetics of decay—one of my favorite subjects—or magnifying the tiniest flower caught on camera by Jenn J., or journeying through the lines and valleys that Margo D. sees as the landscape of the human face, photography has offered all three of us a tool to freeze a moment, to observe reality more deeply, and to appreciate more fully the often overlooked beauty surrounding us. Our eyes behind the eye of the camera find one more portal to express our creative spirit.

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