Monday, February 28, 2011

Enter Like a Rock Star - It Would Work for Writers, Too

For the past several years I've been watching baseball players and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. When LaRussa enters a room or comes onto a baseball field, he moves with authority and confidence. I get the feeling, he's entering like a rock star. Other high-paid players show the same confidence when they "come on stage."

The same is true of many well-known authors such as Nora Roberts. When she enters a room or takes the podium to make a talk, Nora exudes confidence. The Mary Burton author photo that depicts her standing tall, arms crossed is another example of an author with a fearless approach to the public. These people--ballplayers and authors--are confident, and they are successful.

As writers we can learn a big lesson from these celebrities. I love the idea of entering like a rock star. If you do, how can you fail to have self-confidence? Think about it. Shoulders back, standing tall, you are self-confident. Try it next time you make a talk, have a book signing, or enter a room. You may be surprised what happens if you enter like a rock star.

Does self-confidence aid a writer in promotion?

What part does self-confidence play in creating a star in any field?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Historical Look at the Randolph Family in Virginia

Several months ago, I purchased The Randolph Women and Their Men by Ruth Doumlele. Since I don't often read historical or biographical prose, it has taken a while for me to open this book. But now that I have, I am captivated. Ruth Doumlele spent many years of her life researching this project which chronicles the years 1787 - 1816 in the history of the Randolph family in Virginia. So far I have been amazed to discover the relationship of the Randolphs to so many famous historical figures including Thomas Jefferson. I never realized the connection of communities such as Varina and Tuckahoe to Virginia history.

After I finish reading this book, I plan to post a more complete review. In the meantime, I wish to compliment Ruth Doumlele, a fellow member of the Richmond Branch National League of American Pen Women, on the amazing research she put into making this book project a reality.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jimmy We Loved You, Goodbye

"Jimmy We Loved You" copyright MMSikes
Jim Edmonds, my favorite St. Louis Cardinals player ever, has retired. I'm saddened and disappointed because he recently signed a minor league contract with the team and planned to come to spring training this year. Then his injured ankle didn't heal properly. He decided not to take a chance with it and announced his retirement last Friday.

For my writer friends, this is not just a baseball story. This is a story of doing what you love with focus and with passion. That's the way Edmonds played the game of baseball. He chased down fly balls, leaped over fences, and dove for balls he didn't have to. He was spectacular. He brought excitement to every game he played in. He was "Jimmy Ballgame." Several years ago, to add a little spark to the team, he decided to give a game ball to the team's best player following every game. He was that kind of leader in the club house.

If his fielding wasn't special enough to make Jim Edmonds a great baseball player, his hitting was sensational as well. He was a clutch hitter, and he was only seven home runs away from having 400--a level few players ever reach.

Five or six years ago, the last time Edmonds came to spring training with the Cardinals, I was thrilled to watch him practice and play in exhibition games. He signed an autograph for me on a ticket cover which was the only thing I had with me at that moment. That spring, I took lots of photographs of him and of the team.

Three years ago, he wound up playing a few months with the Chicago Cubs. I was horrified and created the collage, "Jimmy We Loved You, Goodbye," using one of the photographs I took in 2006.

Having Jim Edmonds at spring training one more time was something I really looked forward to. I wanted to see his passionate determination showing up one more time in a Cardinals uniform.

Thinking about his passion, focus, and determination has made me consider what makes a writer and/or an artist special. Those same traits stand out. The most successful creative people I know are focused, determined, and they show passion in their work.

Jimmy, we loved you. Maybe someday we'll see you once again in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. And maybe you'll be wearing the number 15. It's a number that no other Cardinal should wear.

Please note that on Monday February 21, I am guest blogger on Dames of Dialogue. My post is on travel to spring training in Jupiter, FL. Please visit that day and make a comment.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sharks Along the Atlantic Shore

"From the Shore" MMSikes
This morning our television screen was filled over and over with ocean views of shark-infested waters along the Atlantic Ocean side of the south Florida coast. The sight was impressive and a little scary if you're planning to visit those waters. However, the commentators kept emphasizing that these sharks aren't dangerous.

Maybe if you're not going into the water, they aren't dangerous. Maybe if they are toothless sharks, they are not so dangerous. Still they looked like pretty large creatures, and one vacationer said they were as close to the shore as the knee-deep water.

This is an annual migration of thousands of sharks. Last year about this time, I took photographs of the same area of the waters at Palm Beach. I didn't catch photos of any sharks, but if I'd been patient and waited I might have. After all I heard they were there.

The beaches are beautiful right now. But maybe it's best to look and not touch.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stop Stressing Out Your Kids

Focus on a cloud  - MM Sikes
Stop Stressing Out Your Kids was the topic of a February 11 segment on the NBC Today show. The discussion centered on how children from elementary age through college are more stressed out today than ever before. They live in a more competitive world. They have concerns about the economy. They're over-scheduled and feel pressure at home.

At school the children are unable to focus and concentrate due to this stress. They suffer from headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and emotional problems.

A way to overcome these problems is to teach coping strategies. Teaching children to take a deep breath was one of the strategies mentioned.

I had to smile because for a number of years I've been using that strategy in my art classroom. As soon as the children come in and sit down I have them close their eyes, take a deep breath and focus on something. It might be a star, a cloud, a circle, a colored dot, a square--whatever seems appropriate for the day's art work. I want them to relax and concentrate. Some of them are coming in from outside or from a physical education class, so they really need a moment to relax and regroup.

When I first started doing this little relaxing exercise, I planned to do it just for the day and then I decided to do it for another week or so. But then I found it worked well with them to help gain focus and the children came in expecting to do it. Now I am seeing it as more important than ever. It's a little like the deep breathing exercises used in yoga which also help with focus and relaxation.

The NBC program concluded with the suggestion that the child might have a positive mantra to say to himself or aloud. The suggestion was, "Go away, worries; don't bother me."

Perhaps I should add a mantra to my relaxing exercise. It might be, "Focus and let my creativity flow."

My wish and hope is for children who have a time to decompress at home and a place to feel unstressed in my art classroom.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Special Television Production Comes to an End

Last night, the last episode of Friday Night Lights aired on Direct TV Channel 101. Even without commercials, the show lasted almost 70 minutes. Since NBC will present this last season of the show later this year, I won't say anything to give away what happens, but the last program was much more satisfying than the final episode of The Medium.

Apparently, Friday Night Lights did not have a wide audience which is sad. The quality of this production--writing, acting, camera work, etc. has been outstanding. Last night's program brought back many of the characters from previous years. That was done by having it start out during the Christmas season when so many folks come home for the holidays. Much of what happened was not unexpected, but the characters  interacted in ways to which all of us can relate.

The Taylors--Eric and Tami are a couple that despite their disagreements and bumps in the road always worked things out. They showed a love for each other and for their family that most of us want to have in real life. Perhaps since Friday Night Lights is no more, a new show could be developed that follows the Taylors.

Because the show was about football and  a small town in Texas and most of all about life, no matter what happens in the future, I believe Friday Night Lights will become a classic television drama.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Fascination Abounds with Jungle Paintings and Jungle Settings

"Jungle Thicket" MMSikes
On our first visit to Jamaica a few years ago, I discovered a fascination with jungle flowers and foliage that follows me to this day. When I returned home, I couldn't stop creating pastel working drawings and large acrylic paintings until I had a large series of these works of art. I named that series "Tropical Fantasies" because of the love I had developed for the tropics.

Now I am bringing that jungle obsession into my writing. From my first novel, set in Jamaica, I have wanted to place my characters into warm, tropical climates.

Much of the setting for my WIP (work in progress) takes place in the jungles of Central America, including Costa Rica. I have taken the characters from an earlier novel, Secrets by the Sea, and cast them in this book. While it is a story that will stand alone, it will be helpful to the reader to have read the earlier book first.

I find it inspiring to have photographs of jungles around me as I go deeper into writing this story. And we sleep beneath a 4 x 6 foot acrylic painting of Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica from my "Tropical Fantasies" series. This painting was the second large art work I created of this dramatic jungle waterfalls setting. The first was purchased by a large hotel chain to place in a new facility when it opened. I missed that painting so much I had to paint another of the waterfalls scene to hang in my own home.

Do you, as a writer or an artist, find a subject that attracts you over and over again? My fascination with jungles abounds. I wonder how much farther it will go...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Finding Kindred Spirits

"Kindred Spirits in a Garden" - MMSikes
Finding "kindred spirits" is like making an unexpected discovery of a lovely piece of art. You don't find them often, and when you do you relish in the discovery.

Last summer, by complete chance--is there really such a thing?--I found Daisy Hickman's Sunny Room Studio and there I discovered a kindred spirit. Since then I have found other spirits kindred to me while visiting her site.

What an amazing thing this Internet is! Daisy and the other special people I've discovered using the electronic wonders of our world live far across the country or even across the globe from me. Without the Internet, it is doubtful we ever would have known one another.

What are kindred spirits?

"Kindred Spirits" is a painting by Thomas Cole created in 1849. It's from the Hudson River School--among my favorite paintings because of the mystical feeling generated by that series of works. This painting may be the best known of the glorious, evocative work by an adventurous group of artists.

For me, kindred spirits are those people with like thoughts and interests. I hope I shall encounter many more as I travel and make notes along the way...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mothers, Fathers Please Keep Your Children's Art Work

"A Vision Beyond" MMSikes
This week I'm a guest at Sunny Room Studio. Daisy Hickman's beautiful site is pure poetry and an incredible place to visit. I feel privileged to be there.

When she invited me, I thought I would write about my experiences with creating a Gathering Book--actually many Gathering Books. But then I came across a forgotten portrait I'd painted of our children. That started me to think about how much I loved these portraits and how much they mean to me. They were painted during a time of rushing about, driving children here and there--a time that I did not appreciate then. They were among the first real paintings I ever did. These paintings are my treasures now, and I found I had to write about them instead of the Gathering Books project.

Over the years my painting style has changed. It is different now from when I painted "A Vision Beyond" that was part of my Tropical Fantasies series of work from a few years ago. I don't have any paintings--although I created them--from my childhood. Perhaps that's why I love children's art work, and why I love working with children as they create it. I hope their parents will keep their work and treasure it. Art is special at every age in life.