Accept the muse’s assignment


2.15.15_Winter woods_620w3“Don’t forget to let it do its work on you.” These words were spoken by a retreat leader in response to my telling him I was eager to get back to work on my novel after the inspiring experiences of the week. It was a beautiful piece of advice, one that I knew immediately to be true on many levels. I was reminded of it again yesterday, reading Steven Pressfield’s blog post on how he healed his self-doubt by working for two years on a book about Alexander the Great, arguably the most confident man in history, one who knew and embraced his destiny even as a child.

Pressfield’s advice on overcoming Resistance in his book The War of Art, fueled me through my novel’s first draft, so I tend to listen to him. His point in yesterday’s post is that the muse gave him the Alexander the Great assignment for his own good, and that all art is a soul contract. What that says to me is: don’t question the inspiration too analytically, just answer the call, put in your best work, and let it do its work on you. Continue reading

The source and craft of “always more”

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A friend recently began working with a new writing mentor, a well-known author who has been at it for over twenty years and has much to teach. It is humbling to be reminded that there is always more to learn, and yet I am aware that it works both ways. There is always more from the source of ideas, of images and words and revelation; I experience it daily in writing this blog. The creative source is boundless and endless, a reliable example of abundance. I have only to tune in, listen carefully and let myself be taken for a ride.

That there is always more I can do to hone my craft is at times inspiring, at times frustrating and depleting. It helps that I started in architecture, which is sometimes called an old man’s profession; it takes a good twenty or more years of practice before you begin to be any good at it. With writing, it’s said that you have to write 500 bad poems before you can write a good one. I’ve heard the same thing about drawing. Both refer to the requisite 10,000 hours of practice before mastery of anything that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in “Blink.” Continue reading

Perfection is the enemy of the fun


I am a recovering perfectionist. I thought I had cleansed myself by adopting the mantra, “it’s good enough,” but a recent dream showed otherwise. My perfectionism has gone underground, migrating from my daytime personality into a shadowland, though not only to sabotage my happiness. This re-revealing of an old truth encourages a new assessment of the ways that perfectionism works in my life, for good and ill.

Yesterday I went to a meeting of a group of design professionals and experts about alternative water treatment and stormwater system design, in the context of a new green building framework called the Living Building Challenge. It’s a deeper, more holistic and ambitious program than the LEED Green Building Rating System you may have heard of. Continue reading

The ten books that changed me


If you want a reminder of the abundance in Nature’s DNA, you have only to think about the number of books in the world, plus the staggering statistics of the number of new books published each year, whether by traditional presses or self-published. That’s a lot of words! My own house has floor to ceiling bookshelves in several rooms and still there are piles on the tables in my office and bedside.

So why write anything more? Hasn’t it all been said already? These questions haunt me.

In a recent conversation, a friend said the only kind of book he was interested in writing is one that can have a profound affect on people, the way he’s been changed by a handful of books. Now, the two of us are in a challenge to name the ten books that most changed us. Continue reading

My villain, myself


Storytelling is a uniquely human activity. One of the fun things about stories is the archetypes, that congress of characters who pop up in folk and fairy tales, as well as film and fiction. There’s the trickster (coyote in Native American tales or Rumplestiltskin), the villain, the wise elder, the hero, and the wicked stepmother, among others.

I’m taking a writing class taught Gregg Wilhelm of the Baltimore City Lit Project and recently we got into a conversation about villains. Like all other characters, the best villains are three-dimensional. We should be able to get inside their skin, as abhorrent as they are. Some villains draw you in, even against your will, like a good shadow figure will. Think Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” or the ego-crazed traders in “Margin Call.” Continue reading

Rediscovering the gift


“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein

As an off the scale intuitive on the Meyers-Briggs chart, I can relate to this. I frequently act on feelings or ideas that draw me out ahead of my ability to explain them to others. In practicing and teaching architecture, I learned that it’s a good discipline to be able to toggle between the two.

Intuition is a wellspring of creativity. When designing a building, I would sometimes get into a trance-like state and just let the ideas keep coming. Continue reading

Growth, surprises and remodeling

Toby-plant_smThis is a drawing my son made in third grade. He has a cameo later in this piece.

Frank Lloyd Wright said the architect’s best tools are the eraser in the drafting room and the sledgehammer in the field. The process of designing and creating something from scratch is a source of endless fascination to me. No matter the medium, there’s a long tradition of craft – the rules, structures, guidelines, and accepted practices to get someone from an idea to a finished product. This applies to everything: cooking, making pottery, and writing included. In every medium, there are always the outliers who push the boundaries and take it to a whole new level. The best of these have a deep knowledge of the rules, though; they aren’t breaking them out of ignorance, but by choice. Continue reading

Scarcity: It’s What’s for Breakfast



I am an aspiring author. There, I’ve said it. Four years of architecture school, two-and-a-half years of grad school, five years of internship, six months of daily studying, a week of exams, licensure, some more jobs, five businesses, dozens of projects and – now you say, you want to be a writer? What are you thinking?

What can I say? I got the call. You know, the call that Joseph Campbell talks about that kicks off the “hero’s journey.” D.H. Lawrence, in this poem, named it the “three strange angels” who knock on your door in the middle of the night. You don’t really want to answer, but you know it can’t be avoided. They’ll just keep coming back until you answer. Continue reading