The Ritual of Writing

by Diane Lowman

The space is set just right: far back corner table at Barnes & Noble café. Venti green iced tea cuddled in a cardboard sleeve to prevent condensation from dripping onto the page.

the procrastination demon
The paper spread pristine before me. Today, it’s a placemat: the ones B&N uses to create an aura of luxury atop the beige cafeteria trays on which it serves food. I keep the unstained ones because I enjoy the feel of the braille-like raised faux lace pattern under my pen. Which is a blue BIC Round Stic. Blue because black feels like a bad omen.

I arrange everything on the small, red, round table – just the right size for all the accouterments, and no texture to skip and stutter over. Smooth. For a smooth writing session. I pick up the pen. And put it down.

And pick up my phone. I ought to check it before I start. What’s happening on Facebook? That’s such a cute cat video. I should send it to Ned. He loves cats. I miss my cat. Six games on Words With Friends? I will take care of those so I’m not distracted. And let me just see if anyone “liked” the haiku and photo I posted on Instagram this morning. Four likes. Hmmm. But Nina liked it. That’s sweet. The nail on the middle finger of my left hand keeps snagging on things. I must have chipped it. I’d better file it so it doesn’t keep catching. Do I have a file in my writing bag? No. I need to remember to put one in there. I know there’s one in my purse. It’s so cold in here. Why do they always have to have the A/C on so high? I’m so glad I brought the poncho and the scarf.

I have what, in golf parlance, is called “the yips.” I cannot make the pen touch the paper. Do I resist the simple exertion of the effort I know it will take to write? Do I fear failure? Expect perfection? Am I awaiting a lightening bolt of inspiration to come through the skylight, hit my cranium, travel down my arm, and send sparks shooting out of the pen?

“I like your scarf,” says a woman as she sits down with a Cro-Muffin and very light iced coffee at the table in front of mine.

“Thank you. It’s always so cold in here.” We nod knowingly. Now we’re friends.

Except that she sits down and starts to talk on her phone loudly in a thick southern accent to someone about bad downpours. We are not friends anymore. She is dead to me now.

A three-year-old girl bounces and squeals on the bench just below me trying to get her father’s attention. “A book! Daddy! Daddy! Dad!” She is Stewie from Family Guy. “Dad! Daddy! Dad!” The thought bubble over his head reads, “I just want to read Rolling Stone for five minutes. Is that too much to ask?” But when his slightly older son comes rushing over holding the seat of his pants and says, “Daddy, I have to go poops right now and mommy says to come get you. You have to go with me!” his time is up. This is the trump card. No defense. Off they go.

Good. It’s quiet now. I can write. But maybe I should get some food first so hunger doesn’t distract me. Am I even hungry? Those Cro-Muffins smell so good. I wonder how many calories they pack? Some soup would be healthier, and it’d warm me up. I go back to the counter.

“Hi! What can I get for you this time?” The cashiers know me.

“A bowl of the tomato basil please.”

“Sounds great. What are you working on?” he asks.

“I’m writing,” I say. Maybe this will encourage me to do so, I think.

“That’s great.”

 All this greatness. I wish some of it were on my page.

Back at the table, I won’t write until I slurp down the orange-red soup. I don’t want to stain the virgin white snow of the empty page. Two more Instagram ‘likes.” That’s nice. The soup is too, and then it’s gone. The phone is stashed. The café is quiet. The lights dim except for the spot shining on the satiny surface of the paper.

And then, finally it happens. No external impetus shocks me to life. Instead, from some deep pool inside springs my own geyser, and yes, the pen comes to life and yes, blue flows forming a new pattern over the embossed lace, and yes, yes, yes. I write.

Diane Lowman, writer
Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, currently living in Norwalk, CT. In addition to writing, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She is looking forward to what’s next. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her websites [My Life On The Post Road, Lotus Haiku, and The Shakespeare Diaries]

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How Creativity Therapy Saved My Life

by Amy Oestreicher

My name is Amy Oestreicher, and according to doctors, I am a “surgical disaster.” However, at 28, I feel truly blessed. I may not have a stomach, but I sure am hungry for life. It started in 2005 – a week before my senior prom. It was our second night of Passover, and my stomach started hurting. My dad said it might be gas, but he took me to the ER for an x-ray, just in case. On the way there, my cheeks actually puffed up, soon after, I collapsed.

I woke up from my coma months later. 

painting by Amy Oestreicher
Painting 'She Sees' by Amy Oestreicher

Apparently, there was a blood clot on the mesenteric artery that caused a thrombosis, and when they cut into me, my stomach actually burst to the top of the OR. Both of my lungs collapsed, I went into sepsis shock, and I needed 122 units of blood to keep me alive. At 18, I was read my last rites.

When I finally awoke from my coma, the doctors told me what was going on. I had no stomach, I couldn’t eat or drink, and it was not known when or if I would ever be able to again. What do you say to that? I was shocked – I had been too sleepy to be hungry, but now that I knew what the real circumstances were, I was devastated. I was confused, like I had woken up in someone else’s life – where was I? Who was I? I remember I was once so desperate for answers that I googled “How do I find myself?”

Part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear, part of me wanted to throw something. I was frustrated – I had just gotten my college acceptance letters – was I the victim of some cruel joke?

One day, I picked up a paintbrush. And my world changed. I had found a way to express things that were too complicated, painful and overwhelming to put into words. Suddenly, when the uncertainty around me seemed frighteningly 
unmanageable, the strokes of my paintbrush could soothe me as I
 created a peaceful world that my soul longed to rest in. My passion could ignite instead of my anger and
 despair. And slowly, the good feelings overwhelmed the bad because I
 could control the positive world portrayed on my canvases with what my
 subconscious chose to create. And I still believe that attitude is

You don’t need to be an “artist” to make art – all you need to do is start somewhere. Art doesn’t have to be “good”, it just has to be “real.” What draws me back again and again to my paintbrush is that when I hold it in my hands, no one can judge me – all that matters is what I’m feeling inside. Through painting, I’ve discovered feelings I’ve suppressed that I had never even anticipated. Every day I come to my painting, I may be feeling something different. I could paint the most joyful expression in the world, or just a giant tear drop – but every time, I always walk away feeling better. I’ve realized what I was feeling – and I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.

Creativity became my lifeline. When I wanted to keep my mind and heart numb to avoid dealing with difficult circumstances, art could help me unlock those feelings and truly express myself.

Who knew that art would make my medical trauma become the most amazing adventure and lesson of my life? Art helped me process what I was feeling. But most importantly, art served to be the greatest reward, acting as a medium where I could
 still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a 
difference in this world while utilizing my passion. Arts were my way
 of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my 
message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings
 you. My art may be self-taught, but it is personal, uniquely me, and a mosaic of what I 
have been through.

As a child, the arts were my passion and identity. When my traumas occurred, they became my lifeline. Now that I am out of my medical crisis and enjoying a life 
of health and vitality once again, the arts are how I can reconnect
 with the world, make a difference, and raise awareness – awareness of
 the power of ones internal resources, awareness that there are many 
ways to heal externally and internally, and awareness of the human
 potential and spirit. An awareness of gratitude – that every day and
 moment should be celebrated – that life is a canvas, an open score, a
 bare stage, waiting for us to join the dance!

I found art accidentally on my way to healing physically, emotionally and
 spiritually, and have learned that it is one of the most rewarding,
 forgiving, beautiful ways to find my way through the darkness and into 
the light. I may have found it accidentally, but because of art, I have found myself again. Although left with a few scars, I am long past
 my bleak days in the hospital. With my wonderfully supportive family, my passion and a paintbrush, I was able to keep my soul alive for that uncertain time
 in my life. Life may not always be predictable, but art can always find
 the beauty in the detours.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer's Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. "Detourism" is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.
As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she's contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC's TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.
She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide, and is this year's keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability. Learn the art of navigating beautiful detours and sign up for updates at

Watch for another post from Amy next week!

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Harper's Bizarro

by Merle Amodeo

Yesterday started off
like a bugle blast.
I did the crossword –
quick version – not the cryptic
in 4 min. 37 sec.
to the delight of my Schnauzer
who watches my daily challenges
silently shifting from paw to paw.
He’s figured out the quicker I scratch down
the words, the sooner we’ll bounce along the sidewalk
on our 2 kilometer trek.
But little did he know
we’d be delayed by a knock as we prepared
to walk out the door.
Stephen Harper stood there, a smile on his face
honestly, a warm smile, hand extended,
asking for my vote.
This was the first time a Prime Minister
had interrupted our walk.
Bruno was unimpressed with the timbits Harper offered,
but my mother always told me
that if ever a Prime Minister drops in,
it’s always fitting to offer your finest fare.
I popped a leftover Big Mac in the oven,
opened a cool can of Canada Dry,
fitting, I thought, for the moment.
Then poured a cup of Timmy’s,
cold but bracing.
We sat on the green leather couch
I’d bought at Leon’s in the Labour Day sales.
(I must have had a premonition!)
Stephen wanted to know how I felt about
the HST and private medicare.
I insisted that everyone’s health should be private,
especially mine.
When we’d cleared away the leftovers,
I wanted to take Stephen to Canadian Tire,
patriotic as I am, but by then,
Bruno was chewing on Harper’s pant leg.
Decided Pet Smart was more suitable.
I drove Bruno and Stephen in my Mazda
(shamefaced that it wasn’t a Chevy.)
But he didn’t seem to notice
as he counted the fading Liberal signs on my street.
I realized after we entered that Stephen didn’t comprehend
this was a store where dogs are king,
or Prime Minister, as the case may be.
I watched him as he glad handed the customers,
pumping their arms as though the well had gone dry.
I wondered if it was time to tell him the awful truth
that the election was over
and he was now a private citizen,
or at least would be momentarily,
but I didn’t have the heart to do it.
So the next time you buy Alpo
whether it’s in Oshawa, Duncan,
Brandon, Swift Current, or
Moose Jaw,
Please, break it to him
that he won’t be coming back again.

Merle Amodeo was born in Toronto and now lives in the Beaches area of the city. She remembers writing creatively as soon as she could form letters into words. She taught in elementary schools in Toronto and Oakville and at Durham College in Oshawa for more than thirty years. Her novel Call Waiting was published by Hidden Brook Press in 2009. In 2011, ten of her poems were published in Spanish and English in Taste of the Rainbow by Sand Crab Books. After Love her first book of poetry was published in 2014. You can visit her webpage at Merle is a member of the League of Canadian Poets and is available to do readings from her book in the GTA. 

Watch for two more poems coming from Merle in our September 2016 issue of Blank Spaces!

How to Use Compelling Themes to Strengthen Your Writing

by Rollan Wengert

You have something to say, but how do you craft your writing in a manner that will get an audience to contemplate your themes? Or, at least not let them reject a work solely because of a theme? Of course, your first step (as hammered in by English college professors) is to know your audience. But, what if you’re not necessarily out to target the like-minded? How can you project themes so that people will at least consider your message?

use compelling themes in writing

Ultimately, your writing is art. And isn't art a means to get a divergent audience to contemplate themes? 

There are three thematic spectrums to consider that affect the palatability of your content. Shifting your content within these spectrums may help broaden your audience (or narrow it if you so wish).

The Controversy of a Theme


Certain themes are more polarizing than others. The more controversial a theme, the smaller the audience (possibly) — you should not consider people who will read your content solely to mock it part of your audience. The real goal of a theme is to get people to intellectually contemplate what you have to say. Being controversial isn't the same thing as creating a theme!

controversy of a theme - safe to dangerous
That being said, some themes are controversial. So, how does this spectrum help keep your work compelling? This is the easiest spectrum to manipulate in order to gain the broadest audience. Simply stated, don't write controversial themes. You're not likely to offend audiences by suggesting hard work and determination help build character. Or that babies are cute. Sure, certain stances do have a built-in audience. Some Christian movies often sell because they are Christian, not because they are quality--vice versa with both conservative and liberal pundit lit. Perhaps though, speaking to those who already agree with you, is your goal.

However, by avoiding controversy, your work may lose some appeal. At times, people are drawn to controversy. Moreover, maybe what you want to say is controversial. Maybe you’re not out to say something radical solely to get attention. Should you always be forced to hold your tongue? Why speak to a safe audience alone? How can you change the world that way? So, if you want to get others to contemplate more provocative themes, read on to the next two spectrums.

The Clarity of a Theme

the clarity of a theme - ambiguous to blatant
You do not have to be sneaky, manipulative, or underhanded with your themes; but, by being in-your-face blatant, you may turn people away before they've had the chance to hear you. A shut-down reader is not a contemplative reader. In turn, you can try to be a bit more ambiguous with your themes, especially when they are more controversial. There are various ways to accomplish this: perspective, allusion, allegory, subtle references, etc. 1984 (by George Orwell) is a good example. There is a reason why polar thematic opposites prop the work. Some see anti-communism jabs and pro-capitalism comments. Others hear freedom of expression hummings and anti-tradition whispers. Sure, 1984 carries the overarching themes people love to embrace, but it is the subtleties that cause both Liberal and Conservative spectral opposites to embrace it. This is also the danger in being too ambiguous. Instead of getting an audience to contemplate your themes, you may simply reinforce their views.

Complexity of a Theme

complexity of theme - complex verses simple
Socrates acknowledged he was the smartest man alive, solely because he was the only one who knew he didn't know anything. Worldviews are riddled with human-reasoned fallacies. To acknowledge that of your own view is the pinnacle of honesty, and honesty is the purpose of compelling art. One way to counter shut-down mentality when an audience reads your work is to acknowledge the opposition's understanding and admit the weaknesses of your own view. It's frustrating when I read simple-themed works that turn my perspective into a straw-man while making its own case a superman. If you want to convince the opposition, do not do the same. Of course, just because you acknowledge weakness, doesn't mean you are wrong, or what you want to say shouldn't be said. As you work out expressing your themes consider the opposing view. Ask how you would respond to the work had their view been your own. Also realize, if you dwell too long on certain complexities, you can confuse your audience — or even send those who agree with you into despair. You may incidentally reinforce the opposition.

Themes can be a tricky lot to work with. Many don't bother with them at all, and even that is a theme in of itself. Others strive to be controversial but lack a complex understanding of certain nuances. Or, they simply believe because their writing is beautiful and entertaining, the broad audience will be magically transformed to their way of thinking. Some think they're being provocative, but are in fact recycling years of the same themes that general audiences have already accepted. Others bury themselves in nuances and symbolism creating an ambiguous message that can be interpreted anyway a reader sees fit — which may be your goal. 

So ask yourself, "What do I want my audience to think about?" And, "How can I best get them to think about it?"

Rollan Wengert lives in Tea, SD with his wife, Maria, and three rowdy boys (and a foreign exchange student for much of the year). He currently works overnights at a boys residential treatment facility, which gives him a lot of time to write. As a youth, he spent hours in his room typing stories. Stories of all kinds. Stories that were never finished. Then, he grew up. Hints flowed, that maybe, he ought to choose a 'realistic' career path. So, he did what any confused teen would do: joined the army. Four Army and another four college years later, he began writing again. Check out his author page or follow on twitter @caveatties

~ this post originally appeared on Rollan's blog, graphics are based on his design 

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Ten Signs You May Be A Writer

by Alanna Rusnak

Writers move to their own beat and it's only through accepting their personal rhythm and embracing the call that they can feel ready to proudly say, "I AM WRITER, HEAR ME ROAR TYPE!"

No one can tell you you're a writer. Only YOU can make that claim.

But there are a few indicators that might help you realize your own truth... 

10 signs you may be a writer - story matters - blank spaces blog

1. You view everyone as a potential character.  Inspiration is everywhere: in every conversation, in every moment you eavesdrop on, in the colour of someone's hair or the texture of their skin, it is in every single person that has ever crossed your path ever in the entirety of your life. No one is safe from the workings of your imagination (though your job, as writer, is to make them feel safe even as you suck ideas from them like a vampire).

2. You LOVE words and one of your great joys is manipulating them to provoke feelings in others. You mentally punch the sky in victory any time someone tells you they have laughed or cried or had nightmares or been inspired by anything you wrote because all you want is to move people with your WORDS!

3. You study nuances - so while the person you're speaking with may think you're deeply engrossed in the conversation, you're really memorizing the crinkle by their eyes and the way their lip catches on that one crooked tooth and how their hair moves when the door opens and that their jacket smells like Axe Body Spray.

4. You read. A lot. And you buy more books than you need. And when you're not buying books, you're dreaming about buying books and you think true happiness would be living in the library from Beauty & The Beast.

5. A trip to the bookstore is a bi-polar experience. While you feel completely at home among the shelves of beautiful tomes (among which you may or may not burst into the same song Belle sang in the village bookshop), you also wish there was an entire shelf with your name on it and this causes you to jump back and forth between daydream euphoria and unequivocal self-doubt.

6. You ALWAYS read the author bio.  Because why are they so special that they got published? How are they better than you? Or - more honestly - how are you better than them?

7. You are NEVER without a notebook. Because you never know when inspiration will strike and if you don't have immediate access to pen and paper you know you will surely die hating yourself for losing the very idea that would have thrust you into the beautifully blinding spotlight of success.

8. You proofread everything. Books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, signs, your children's homework, your own to-do lists... because you LOVE WORDS and the idea of them being abused makes you want to punch a wall {just as the idea that you might ever put your own mistakes into the public eye makes you long for a toilet to lean over}.

9. You have the kind of emotional capacity that others envy. You feel things more deeply and you experience the world with a wider heart. You know it's important to remember each phase of each feeling so you can someday express them perfectly through a character you probably haven't even created yet.

10. You have celebrity crushes. On writers. Because anyone who can spin words with such poetic genius... *swoon*

And a bonus...

You write! A writer writes! Being a writer doesn't mean you're getting paid or recognized. It doesn't mean your name fills the shelves of a prestigious bookstore or that people line up to let you scribble across the inside cover of a masterpiece. A writer writes! Own it! Be proud! And go write!

Do you write? Then you're a writer!

I can't wait to read your stuff!

Alanna Rusnak is an author, a blogger, and a seeker of the extraordinary. Living with her husband, three children, and an overweight cat (who's kind of an idiot), on a small patch of untamable land in Southwestern Ontario. Trying to do it all with some measure of grace. (She is also the founder and Editor-In-Chief of this pretty little magazine!) [author website, twitter, facebook, instagram]