Tag Archives: Feeding the Muse

Green Chile Ice Cream and Other Joys of Local Diversity

Every place on this planet has something that makes it unique.

It might be a local food dish like green chile ice cream. It might be a rock formation in the shape of a camel. It might be a battle that was fought there, or an eccentric person who lived there. It might be the smell of the wind at night, or a plant species to be found nowhere else on Earth.

But that uniqueness is there, waiting to be discovered, if we go in search of it. And I’ve come to believe that the search for it not only feeds the muse, it enriches our lives.

It also helps to support a local uniqueness from going extinct.

About a year ago I started to make a conscious effort to find stores that were locally owned that either had locally made or grown things, or else had a unique passion for something (like the English tearoom experience).

I still planned to shop at big box stores (and I still do), but I wanted to go find what my fellow New Mexicans were up to. Also, have you ever noticed how in a big box store you can be anywhere in the U.S. and they’re all the same, except for a few items and the tourist knickknacks in the checkout lanes? Predictability is their strength, but it means that diversity is gone. Bland and boring are in.

It wasn’t until I went searching outside the big box experience that I discovered a local farmer’s food co-op that is bringing me melons and tomatoes the like of which I have not tasted since my grandfather’s garden.

And a funky locally owned furniture store that has an egg-shaped chair straight out of a 1960s James Bond movie.

And an English-style tearoom considered one of the top five in the country. The owners say that it is the support of their local community, not tourists, that keeps them in business.

And locally owned restaurants that put the big chains to shame in flavor and pricing. Restaurants with stuff like chile relleno sushi, and green chile ice cream.

I didn’t find everything overnight. I just decided that each month I’d keep my eyes open for one new thing to go try out in my hometown. I’d get clues about things to try out by reading the local magazines and papers. Coffee shops often have the free papers that list local events and do interviews with locals.

The more I dig, the more quirky stuff I find. It’s the sort of fodder an artist’s muse loves to munch on. But I’ve also noticed I feel more connected to my community and I’m helping to provide money to pay for jobs here in town.

It doesn’t have to be big box chains or local stores. One can do both kinds of stores. But if one is doing only big box chains, one is missing out on some truly wonderful stuff hidden out there.

One just has to go looking for it.

Becoming a Patron of One’s Local Community

There were days this fall when I felt completely disconnected from the world after working in the home office too long. That feeling of “Do I actually exist?” Once that particular thought pops into my head, it’s a sign that I need to get out of the house more often.

I’ve discovered that getting out and about in my community doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.   It can be as simple as being a repeat customer (i.e. a patron) of a locally owned restaurant or coffee shop.

My dictionary tells me that a patron is someone who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause or activity.

Lately I’ve found two Mom & Pop restaurants I frequent regularly as a patron to get myself out of the house and support my local economy.  I’ve also discovered a fabulous local tea room, the St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, to go to on a special occasion that gives me wonderful ideas for stories.  And then there’s Satellite Coffee for regular tea and coffee breaks.

I am also getting out more often to non-writing arts events in my community.  It’s a wonderful mental break to simply go out to an event to appreciate another artist’s work without feeling like I have to network or do market research.

I also encourage people to consider finding 2-3 local charities that they’d like to contribute to as a patron on a regular basis.  Even if one can only afford a few dollars a month starting out, it’s worth it–and it gives one an incentive to work harder so that one can donate more in the future.  Lately I’ve been worried about homelessness in my community, especially with the holidays coming, and found two local homeless shelters that I could support with regular donations.

Anyways, patronizing locally owned restaurants, local artists, and local charities can be a great way to feel less disconnected in the world.   Hmm, reminds me of that old saying to “Think global, act local.”

Feeding the Muse by Enjoying the Works of Other Artists

In the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to see a live performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” by the Santa Fe Opera, as well as paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh.  Money was tight, so it was a  Youth Night dress rehearsal performance of “The Magic Flute” that I took my family to.  And the paintings were part of a traveling exhibit that had come to our town for the summer–I went on a Sunday when there’s free general admission to the museum so that I only had to pay for the special exhibit.

Even when money is tight, there are ways to get close to art without spending all the grocery money.  Keep an eye on the “Events” section of a community magazine or local paper–often these can be found at coffee shops and city community centers in the racks.

These days it’s hard for me to relax when reading or at “writer events” since I’ve gotten so serious about writing.  But there are many other wonderful art forms to enjoy and admire.   I’ve started paying attention to what exhibits, concerts, plays, and films are happening in town, and making an effort to find ones I can afford.

Making this effort to bring other arts back into my life has provided a source of inspiration and a buffer against despair.   To get close enough to see the brushstrokes of a Monet painting was exhilarating:  so much so I accidentally set off the silent alarm in the museum room by getting a little TOO close.  But I didn’t touch the painting or get close enough to breathe on it, and never would.  I should also point out there were no signs anywhere saying “Don’t get closer than 1 foot from the paintings.”

Oh, and I didn’t get in trouble with the security guards, just a lecture on the proper distance to maintain.

So keep an eye out for concerts, plays, art exhibits, musicals, operas, films, etc. that could be sources of inspiration.  There are times when it’s so enjoyable to just sit back and admire the work of other artists.

Feeding the Muse by Going on Travel

I just came back from ten days of travel.  Due to the circumstances of the trip, I was unplugged from the internet for those ten days–no web surfing, no emails, no blogs.  I still had my cell phone, but only did texts or calls during a certain designated time period in the afternoon.

I was curious to see if I would notice anything different about how my mind worked, and how I would view my internet usage when I got back.    Was my usage having an impact on my creativity and ability to focus?

Very quickly, I found I didn’t miss the internet at all.  In fact it felt like a burden had been dumped off my back–I didn’t have to worry about getting back to emails, I blew off my blog, I didn’t waste time web surfing.  Instead I was out and about each day seeing places, meeting people, and reading books to relax in the evenings.

Two effects were noticeable within a few days–1) I found I could quickly plow through novels again (and so raced through Jane Austen’s EMMA and John D. MacDonald’s DRESS HER IN INDIGO), and 2) I found myself getting braincramps from all the story ideas that kept coming up due to the travel itself.

Travel can be a great way to get ideas for stories:  museums, historical places, cultural landmarks, art spots, local restaurants, national and state parks, long walks down the street, people sitting around chatting in hotels….

Keep a pen and notepad around during the trip.  Make an effort to see the places and people that make a location “different” from everywhere else.  By doing so, I’ve now got more ideas than I can deal with, even if I write non-stop for the next five years.


Going forward, I’ll be posting on Wednesdays.  I’ll also be cutting back my email and web time, limiting it to evenings after a full day of work and writing.   So there’ll be a noticeable lag time in moderating comments.

Feeding the Muse by Doing Something Different

On the spur of the moment, I got involved with putting together for a relative a slide show of old 1940s photos that could be played on a DVD.   Had to do the project in a week’s time.

So I spent quite a few evenings scanning in photos, then editing them, then putting them together in a sequence that made sense, and then adding music that seemed fitting.   It was artistic work, playing around with visuals and music.

What I didn’t expect was getting flooded with story ideas to write.   Felt like I had “mindcramp.”

Also, I found that I came back to my writing with heightened sight and sound–i.e. able to visualize settings with vividness and new perspectives.   Somehow the work on the DVD had stimulated those parts of my brain.

So I now understand what Julia Cameron was talking about in her creativity books (like THE ARTIST’S WAY) about allowing yourself to do side projects in artistic fields that aren’t your “chosen” field.   For example, a painter doing acting and poetry to relax.   I’ll continue goofing around with iPhoto and iDVD to make stuff since I enjoyed them so much.


After I post this, things will be quiet here for a bit.  I’m headed off on travel and will be checking in sporadically.  Next post Wed. Jun 16.