Aftermath

"Old Glory" by Sally Wiener Grotta

Writing is how I process the world into story. When my fingers are on my keyboard, my brain accesses a deeper part of me where fictional characters live out their complex lives and whisper their tales to my subconscious. When I tap that area of my mind, I can create reason and beauty out of trauma, though I’m not always sure how that happens. That’s why one major driving force behind my work is that I write to try to understand what to me is unfathomable.

For instance, hate, cruelty and war might be human nature, but they don’t make sense. Why would any individual or group want to expend precious time and resources on something so self-destructive? Life is too short, too jam-packed with responsibilities, pleasures, needs, hopes, and perhaps, if you’re lucky and you work at it, love. And yet, people waste their lives hating, hurting and killing each other. Some even appear to get pleasure from acts of cruelty, I guess to prove that they have a modicum of power over another’s life. It boggles my mind, trying to understand why. The pain of it slices through to my inner self.

So, I write fiction, poems and essays to try to dig my way through my discomfort and confusion over what I’m told is simply how human beings are built. In my novels and short stories, I create characters I learn to love and, as part of the process of crafting a tale, Read More

Welcome to the (soon to be) New Roaring Twenties

Flapper dancing at 1920s party100 years ago, the world erupted into the mayhem and creative verve of The Roaring Twenties. Given the popularity of gangster and jazz movies, we’re all familiar with the frenzied world of 1920s wild parties and speakeasies. Liberated from the horrors of World War I and the terror of the Spanish flu pandemic, the world went crazy. The sexually charged sights and sounds of what F. Scott Fitzgerald called ‘The Jazz Age” were emblematic of a sense of pure abandon. Social relationships, personal constructs, public behavior and political philosophy became fair game, as people broke through at traditional boundaries and constraints.

The 1920s were also a time of great art adventures and experimentation that altered the nature of creativity not just Read More

The Power of a Single Word

Self-portrait: Sally Wiener Grotta, storytellerFor years now, whenever I’ve spoken at book clubs, I’ve told my audiences, “The book you read is not the book I wrote.” That’s because reading is a participatory experience. We bring our personal histories, prejudices, expectations, hopes and concerns to our interpretations of what we see on the page. That, in turn, can color the narrative and dialog, often making our reading of a book uniquely our own.

I’ve understood that concept for so long that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was blindsided by a friend’s adverse reaction to a word I had written. I consider the word in and of itself a neutral description. But as far as she was concerned, it was a highly charged, derogatory expression.

Read More

Renewing My Creativity with a Little Help from My Friends: Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bob Dylan… and You

Please click this image to read the full newsletter.

I was very gratified how many folks sent me emails and notes in response to my most recent newsletter, in which I invited people to share what inspires their creativity. I’m reprinting the cover letter below and providing a link to the full newsletter (please click the image to the left), in the hopes that even more of you will share the experiences that helped you “reach deeper and wider” within yourself.

“A couple of weeks ago, I spent Wednesday evening wandering around the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a new friend, sharing some of our favorite works of art as a way to get to know each other. So we visited a few of my old “pals” — Cezanne’s Bathers, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Duchamp’s Nude Descending Staircase, the chapel-like room of Brancusi’s sculptures, and other works of art that are my current points of reference. These are among the artists whose pieces I visit when I need to be pulled outside myself, to find new paths into my own creativity.

“I crave the fellowship of artists, writers and all kinds of creative thinkers, the many who came before, as well as those who “walk” beside me. I need them almost as much as I need air and water and chocolate. Read More

Thank you Toni Morrison… and Trapeta B. Mayson

Trapeta B. Mayson, Philadelphia's Poet Laureate, speaking about Toni Morrison at The Rosenbach
Trapeta B. Mayson

This past Tuesday, I attended my first Rosenbach lunchtime talk. The Rosenbach museum and library is one of Pennsylvania’s hidden treasures, though it is open to the public and is now affiliated with the Free Library of Philadelphia. The elegant Delancey Street double townhouse contains a remarkable collection of rare books and documents originally assembled by the Rosenbach brothers, famous dealers in books, manuscripts and art. It’s also the site of frequent public discussions, readings and lectures that fill the intimate rooms with interested and interesting people from near and far – such as the monthly lunchtime talks.

I didn’t know what to expect, except that the topic was one of my favorite authors – Toni Morrison – and the speaker would be Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson. I was sure that it would be a hour well spent. Besides, I needed to get away from my writing for a bit. I’d been struggling with the first draft of my new novel’s second chapter, and the more I fought the words – the more I wrote, edited and deleted – the more frustrated (and, yes, self-doubting) I was becoming. Perhaps, I had finally bitten off more than I could chew with this ambitious project.

"I never asked Tolstoy to write for me." Toni Morrison

Throughout the hour, Trapeta interspersed Morrison quotes and her own poems, a weave of words and ideas that illuminated the ideas she shared, until they shimmered with energy and life that could not be denied. She spokeRead More

Looking Back, Dreaming Forward

Sally Wiener Grotta's January 2020 newsletter

 

Here’s my first newsletter of the new decade which explores how creativity is fueled by venturing beyond our comfort zones. I wonder if all creativity requires that we throw away old templates and let ourselves be a bit unsure, unrooted. Is that the key to true creative thinking? What do you think?

Please click the image the the left to read the newsletter.

I’d be delighted to have you sign up to receive future newsletters. Of course, I will never share your contact information with anyone, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Living the Creative Life: Embracing Reciprocity Failure

On the razor-edged border between the possible and the impossible, creativity flourishes.

When I was a young photographer, I enjoyed experimenting with reciprocity failure.

While it may sound like a philosophical or psychological concept, reciprocity failure relates to the chemical limitations of film. Back in the 20th century, photographers quickly learned that each type of color film (known as the its emulsion) was rated for certain light parameters. Push an emulsion beyond its rating by using a longer than acceptable shutter speed (to capture a picture in low light situations), and you’d end up with false colors. Those were the barriers inherent in the technology that pro photographers just didn’t overstep.

But… well… I never did color within the lines.

When I toyed with reciprocity failure, I purposely pushed beyond what was “correct” to seek new creative visions. I remember one moonless night Read More

Gesundheit! Catching & Spreading the Creativity Bug

 

My most recent newsletter opens up a discussion about how creativity is contagious. It leaps easily from one person to the next, generating a feedback loop, as well as flows over from one area of our lives to another.

Please read the letter, then respond here on this blog or via email, sharing similar experiences that you’ve had. Once creativity is part of a single aspect of your life does it infect everything else, inspiring you to try novel solutions, or to attempt something that you might not have previously considered possible? What circumstance or person has caused you to catch a particularly fervent case of the creativity bug?

Also in this newsletter are links to an essay about how my photography and writing inform each other, a video and other information about my American Hands portrait project, and an invitation to do guest blogs/essays on this website.

What Photography Has Taught Me About Writing… and Vice Versa

 

 

Behind the Veil by Sally Wiener Grotta
Behind the Veil by Sally Wiener Grotta

 

 

I am often asked what I mean when I say that my photography and writing inform each other. Photography, storytelling, and, yes, life… it’s all about what we see, how we convey it to others and whether we can make it meaningful.

When I look at the world through the lens of my camera, I see so much more. My field of vision might be more limited, but everything becomes more focused, limned with greater clarity of shadows and light. Life resolves into aesthetic patterns and colors, giving definition and meaning, and making the ordinary everyday more noteworthy and memorable.

It’s as though my lens has the magic ability to see through to the essentials of a moment or of a personality, to tell me story that I might have missed if it weren’t for my camera’s eye view.

I often think about my photography when I’m writing… visualizing what I want my readers to see, focusing my words as I would my camera lens. To go even further,Read More