Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

Why You Need a Writers Retreat: The Dopamine of Anticipation

Recently I was gifted the use of an empty condo in the Colorado mountains for the weekend, a glorious three days with just myself and my writing. I’d been looking forward to my own mini writers retreat for weeks!

I bet everyone here can relate: Having a retreat or vacation (of any length!) to look forward to gives you an instant dopamine hit–the body knows something is coming and it’s already happy, already excited.

Ah dopamine. It’s that chemical that makes us feel good. It’s released when we fall in love, ride a roller coaster, win a prize for that story we wrote, and it’s also the culprit in all sorts of addictions, from chocolate to sex to the constant “ping” of our text messages. When dopamine is released we get the message that “this feels good” and we keep coming back for more.

But here’s something interesting: Researchers have found that it’s the anticipation of pleasure, rather than the pleasure itself, that gets those feel-good chemicals in our brains going. Meaning we are already feeling good BEFORE we even get the reward.

According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, vacationers already “started experiencing a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because they were looking forward to the good times ahead.”

Which means looking forward to pleasurable things is as good for your overall happiness and well-being as the actual experience of them. You are already getting that “hit” of pleasure every time you think about the exciting thing that’s coming.

Stanford biologist and neurologist Robert Sapolsky says from his studies with monkeys that “dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than the happiness itself.”

Want to geek out on the science a bit? Check out the 5-min clip fromRobert Sapolsky’s lecture on the Science of Pleasure below:

So what’s the takeaway here? The bottom line is that the anticipation of an upcoming vacation or artistic retreat is already releasing sweet, sweet dopamine into your system. Every time we think about it, talk about it, every time we look at pictures, every time we do research and tell others about it.

So…are you excited yet?
~Nancy

P.S. Join us on an upcoming retreat!

Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

Review of Debut Chapbook “Glimmerglass Girl” by Holly Lyn Walrath

 

Holly.jpg

 

A graduate of the University of Denver’s Creative Writing program, Holly Lyn Walrath is returning to Colorado this August to join Kathy and I for our Rendezvous in the Rockies Retreat. And the retreat will serendipitously coincide with the release of her debut chapbook of illustrated poems, Glimmerglass Girl, from Finishing Line Press.

Bold yet delicate, sharp, intricate, and woven with fragile strength, there are many things to like in Glimmerglass Girl. The first a reader might notice is the interplay of words and images, something many writers attempt but not always with such success. Glimmerglass Girl uses classic and vintage fairy tale images to give the book an aura of innocence and nostalgia; I’m reminded of my early copies of Alice in Wonderland or my treasured illustrated Grimm’s Fairytales.

But this is not a children’s book, and the reader quickly understands that innocence and nostalgia is working to contrast darker, more serious subjects. Placed against this whimsical background we get a modern treatise on womanhood and femininity, the fragile image of woman distorted behind the glass. This idea of reflections–the ways that women are both seen and unseen by ourselves and others–is demonstrated skillfully in one of the opening poems:

Self Portrait through an iPhone

At first glance is surprise—is this what I look like to him—eyes down-shot—drifting left to right—the act of self-interrogation— and yet what redeems me to you—female recompenses mean nothing—the twinge of hair burned red by the sun—the lips on which fine lines of aging make deeper, harder—the smoothness of cheeks still pink with sylphen shock—in the background hangs a version of you—a younger interpretation—so little changes since the act of self-love—blackening her eyes—bruising her lips like throwing an apple at a wall—these things seem natural—but I still don’t recognize you like I should—I still don’t know how to love you like myself

Says Walrath about Glimmerglass Girl, “I wanted to shine light on the darker parts of my own personal history as a woman, while acknowledging that society expects us to be as delicate as a butterfly….Butterflies are actually incredibly strong creatures in the natural world. I think women are the capable of great acts of strength so I wanted to highlight that irony.”

And she does. This dichotomy of delicate and strong, girl and woman, power and power distorted comes through beautifully in this debut chapbook of illustrated poems.

Pre-order from Finishing Line Press now.

Read an interview between Kathy Fish and Holly Lyn Walrath here.

holly 2

 

Uncategorized

Review of Paul Beckman’s Newest Flash Fiction Collection, Kiss Kiss

Prolific flash fiction writer Paul Beckman is joining Nancy and me for our Rendezvous in the Rockies writing retreat in Breckenridge, Colorado in August. His most recent collection of stories, Kiss Kiss, published by Truth Serum Press, is arguably his best to date. If I counted right, there are no less than 78 new flashes compiled here and each one is a tiny, glowing gem of a story, with characters you’ll not soon forget.

Not included in this collection, Paul’s story, “Healing Time” is illustrative of his craft and was one of the stories most often called out and admired in reviews of Best Small Fictions 2016 edited by Stuart Dybek. There, he perfectly conveys the best and worst of a family confronting a crisis. Paul’s gift is the honesty and relatability of his stories and his people. He finds the moments that convey a lifetime. Human dynamics distilled and potent.

One of my favorites from Kiss Kiss is “Birthday Beer” which opens compellingly and deliciously:

“My wife called and told me to come home. I finished my birthday beer and drove home and the driveway and yard were filled with cars. Some surprise birthday party. I grabbed a drink from someone’s hand and walked around the gathering. I look and these were not my closest friends, in fact, not my current friends at all but people I’d played tricks on, rolled over in business deals, and spoken against to others. They climbed the deck stairs and I was people-pushed into my living room and told to stand in a square taped onto the floor.”

Paul is one of my favorite flash fiction writers and he just keeps getting better. Read this collection for lessons in style, voice, concision, and emotional honesty, but mostly read these stories to be entertained. I promise you will be.

Kiss Kiss may be purchased directly from Truth Serum Press / Lulu or from Amazon.

Interviews, Kathy fish, Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

“Free and Rebellious”–Jan Saenz on the Art of Flash Fiction and Collecting Weird Objects

Kathy Fish and I are thrilled that Jan Saenz will be traveling to Colorado this August to retreat with us! I chatted with Jan about writing, flash fiction, and collecting weird objects:

fullsizeoutput_1ee7

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Jan Saenz: It used to be so easy. I’d put the kids to bed, kiss the husband goodnight, sit on the couch and write like mad. The night would disappear and before I knew it, the sun was up and I was driving the kids to school in a stale, zombie state of mind. Those were the days.

I don’t know if it’s age or pressure or what, but nowadays retreating involves so much more premeditation. Literally. I have to sit and stew before I write. Coffee is a much. Quiet helps. I see writers in coffee shops on their laptops and I’m like, How are they doing that? And how do they manage to look cool while doing it? I look like a psychopath when I write. I talk to myself. I suppose that’s my most common retreat, mentally playing out scenes throughout the day. Listening to the flow of dialogue, saying it aloud. It’s looney.
Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Jan: I was a crap student in school. Slow reader. Bad speller. Creative writing was something I could do, but was never encouraged to do. I don’t remember teachers or professors ever saying, “Be brave! Forget the rules, ignore standards—write like you are in a dream.” Maybe that’s why I like flash. It feels free and rebellious. And the limited word count has a way of making the story feel almost dream-like. There’s a real art to it. I like working in the attitude of flash. Do what you want, but be picky about it. Say it all, but be brief. I love Puberty by Kat Gonso. V-Card by Meghan Phillips. The Hollow by Kathy Fish. That’s just a few.

 

Nancy: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Jan: “Write the book you want to read.” It’s a common quote, but for good reason. I went through a (miserable) phase about two years ago. For some reason, I could not write anything without first considering what a reader would want. I would change certain details in my stories so they would be more “acceptable” to a wider audience. I cut curse words. Toned down sex scenes. Worried about female likability. That shit did nothing but kill my writing. Nowadays, I try to focus more on editing the execution, not the personal taste. Because the taste is mine. Haha.

 

Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Jan: Paper Darts recently published one of my pieces. It’s the weirdest, coolest feeling when editors you greatly admire come back and say, “Hey, I really liked this.” Like, wait what? You get so used to rejection, acceptance starts to feel foreign. You can read it here:

 

Nancy: React to this quote by Frank Capra: “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”

Jan: I think most artists have a certain intuition when it comes to their craft. When inspiration pops up, they automatically recognize it. They study it. Obsess over it. And if they’re lucky, they’re able to follow through with it. Make it into something special. But there’s got to be a back-up plan, you know? I can’t sit around waiting for “hunches” or creative intuition to set in. I’ve got to live my life and experience things outside of writing. Otherwise my work suffers. It doesn’t evolve.

 

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Jan: I collect things. It’s weirdly therapeutic. Chess boards. Religious items. Afghan blankets. Old photographs of horses. Teeth. The list goes on, and yes it gets weirder. My best friend and I are really passionate about aesthetics in homemaking…that sounds so pretentious, but I swear we’re just giggly moms who geek-out at Goodwill. We have an IG account called Hoardhouse Vintage. If you like eclectic home decorating, check it out:

 

Jan Saenz is a writer and serial thrift shopper. She has work in Paper Darts, Bending Genres, and is currently working on her third novel, a dark comedy about amateur drug dealers and the female orgasm. She has a doctorate in useless pop-culture facts. For more information, visit www.jansaenz.com or follow @jan_saenz