About the Author
ROBERTA ALLEN is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Playful Way to Serious Writing and Fast Fiction. Currently on the faculty of the New School, Allen is also an established visual artist and has exhibited worldwide, with work in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
One day as I walked along a beautiful beach under a bright blue sky, I glanced at a woman in a chaise longue-a tourist like myself-and wondered, when she looked at the sky, if we saw the same blue. Was the shade she saw determined by the margarita she was drinking or by an argument she had had with her husband? Was the blue I saw determined by the elation I felt over giving myself this vacation? Who was I here on this tropical isle? Was I the writer who had just finished a book? Was I the artist who drew pictures and took photographs? Who was I with my boyfriend? My family? My friends? My colleagues? My students? There are so many different parts of me, I mused. Are some parts more real than others? The day I was thinking these thoughts I could have chosen to explore more of the island. But, instead, I sat in a chair by my cottage on the beach and opened a sketchbook I had brought just in case I felt the impulse to write or draw. I began jotting down ideas that became the basis for this book. As an artist, Ive always been interested in how we see ourselves and the world. Ive always been interested in breaking down barriers of rational thinking so we may see beyond our usual limits, beyond the demands of our everyday lives, into our spirit, our soul. Our views of ourselves are limited by our experience and by what weve been taught. My aim here is to redirect your focus instantly so you see yourself and the world in ways that not only ring true, but surprise you. As a writer, Ive always been impressed by the power of words: how writing things down helps us find what is true. As a teacher, Ive seen how a single word, such as "envy" or "leaf," triggers a different response when each student is asked to write about it. Sometimes when I see my students writing with great intensity, I am reminded of the faces I drew with that same intensity when I was a child. Those faces were my companions, my friends. They kept me company in my loneliest hours. Since I was not allowed by my mother and grandmother to play or get dirty, all my pent-up energy-my "aliveness"-went into my drawing. I put so much pressure on the pencil when I drew that I deformed my middle finger. But that still seems to me a small price to pay. Years later, I would realize that pressure brings energy to the surface. Years later, I would call that "aliveness" energy. I remember how afraid I was the day before I left on my journey alone to the Peruvian Amazon, and how alive I felt when, two days later, I walked the streets of Iquitos, Perus largest Amazonian town. All my senses felt heightened. The hot, sweet-smelling air made me feel as though I were in a greenhouse. I felt present, connected. I saw myself and the world from a state of "aliveness," in which I was no longer separate and alone but part of something much greater than myself. I did not realize until later the tremendous energy that had been locked inside my fear. Living my childhood dream of g