Thursday, December 30, 2021

Gail Pasternack's advice on living creatively

HALLIE EPHRON: Today it gives me so much pleasure to introduce you to Gail Pasternack. She's a writer, a storyteller, and all around beautiful person. She's president of Willamette Writers, the largest writing organization in the Pacific Northwest. If you ask her what she's about, she'd say, "I’m passionate about living the creative life and dedicated to writing and storytelling, but I’m also devoted to helping other writers and creative people."

With the new year just inches away, I thought it would be a perfect time to invite her to share her advice on living creatively.

GAIL PASTERNACK: Before the pandemic, I sat in a Portland Pearl District café with my friend Willa. While I breathed in the scent of roasting coffee and baking pastries, she sipped her green tea.

“Thank you for being flexible and rescheduling.” Willa put down her cup. “A client had a crisis.”

As far as I knew, Willa epitomized success as a writer and an artist. She’d published five poetry anthologies, had shows at the Oregon Jewish Museum, and traveled the world to conduct writing workshops. I didn’t know she had clients.

The waitress placed a croissant in front of Willa and a cheese tart in front of me.

“I’m a psychotherapist,” Willa said after the waitress left. “My specialty is helping people find creative outlets. You’d be surprised at how many people need art in their lives.”


I took a bite of my tart and savored the tang of the creamy goat cheese. “Makes sense,” I said as I wiped the buttery pastry off my hands. “What a great focus.”

This meeting with my friend got me thinking about just how much I needed art in my life.


When I lived in New York City, I enjoyed live music, dining out, and visiting art museums. That was until I had children and had little time for artistic outlets. I’d eke out a few minutes to experiment with creative writing, which was wonderful, but not enough.

After moving cross country, one evening, my husband and I attended a fundraiser for the Portland Symphony Orchestra. It was tango night, and local dance instructors had come to demonstrate and teach. My husband and I didn’t know what we were doing but had a blast trying. That was almost twenty years ago, and we’re still dancing tango.

Since then, I have embraced jazz singing, the art of creating cocktails, and storytelling. I became so passionate about telling stories that I trained for two years and became ordained as a Maggidah (Jewish storyteller) this past summer.

Of all artforms, I love writing most.
After publishing several short stories and articles in literary magazines, I’m truly excited about the recent completion of my first novel’s manuscript, which I couldn’t have done alone. Fellow writers and book coaches, all of whom I found through the Willamette Writers community, helped me develop my craft. I’m so grateful for Willamette Writers that I now volunteer as president of its board of directors.

With each new art form I explore, my life gets richer. Since it’s hard to know where to begin a creative path, I wrote my e-book, Living Creatively, and I share my creative endeavors in my monthly newsletter, Gail’s Art Encounters. I hope to inspire others to find art in everything they do.

Now is the perfect time to celebrate life to its fullest by living creatively. You can sign up for my newsletter and download my free e-book at my website, gailpasternack.com.

Come join me, and together we can find joy in art everyday!

HALLIE: I agree! It's the perfect time to add a twist to your New Year's resolutions, inspired by what gives you joy. Jazz singing isn't in my wheelhouse, but storytelling and cocktail making certainly is.  Though not at the same time. Tango is out, but Western line dancing... Now there's a thought.

What about you? What might you add to your life to bring you joy in the new year?

70 comments:

  1. Celebrating creativity sounds like a perfect idea to me, Gail . . . I’d never really thought about the joy of it in quite this way.
    I believe I shall add more music to my life in the new year . . . .

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    1. More music sounds like a perfect "add" - my kids gave me a blue tooth speaker that can stream audio from my iphone... anywhere!

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    2. More music does sound perfect! When I learn a new song to sing, I love to make a playlist of as many versions of the song I can find and to study its history. So much fun and fascinating!

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  2. How wonderful to discover those outlets, Gail!

    I'm a hardworking novelist, but this week I've been writing two short stories, in which I change things up, using a darker voice in one and returning to a historical era I no longer write about in the other. It's a fun break from the WIP.

    That said, I love dancing and don't do enough. A friend in the next town teaches belly dancing. I might have to see when her next class is.

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    1. Whoa, belly dancing? I need to stick my fingers in my ears and hum to even imagine myself doing it.

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    2. I so agree that taking time off from writing a novel to write short stories is so much fun! I'm doing the same now. And belly dancing sounds great. Years ago, when I was taking tango lessons in a dance school, there was a belly dancing class taught next door. It looked like a blast!

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    3. It's also a traditional labor-assist dance, and since I write about a historical midwife, it's tax deductible!

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    4. But Hallie, I'll also go line-dancing with you, once it's safe.

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  3. Inspirational, Gail. Kol ha kavod!

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  4. GAIL: Celebrating life and adding more creativity sounds like a positive move forward for 2022!

    But I have not been able to enjoy doing creative things that many others love doing.
    Drawing, dancing, knitting/crocheting, sculpting? Tried all those and nope, I did not enjoy any of them.

    And after spending 30+ years writing/publishing scientific pieces about climate change, drought and water availability issues, I wish I could get my creative writing muse to work. But it definitely does not come naturally at all. Instead, I will just enjoy reading the wonderful words written by the Reds and other authors who are part of this online community.

    I do love to cook (and eat), so creating my own variations of new recipes is easy but is that enough creativity in my life? Not really...so I am still on the search for some new creative item to try and make part of my life.

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    1. OK, I thought of something. I love to take photographs (nature, travel, food), so I could take a photography course to hone my ability/craft.

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    2. Though your cooking is definitely creative Grace, and gardening too!

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    3. Photography is a great idea, Grace. You could share your balcony garden, season by season -- and Satan the Squirrel's visit by visit!

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    4. AMANDA: Thanks, good idea although I really don't want to give Satan (and his new buddy Gray) anymore limelight next year as they pillage my edible garden! FYI, they are both alive and well and checking out my use of the balcony as temporary freezer #3.

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    5. I wonder if you have to force it, if it doesn't defeat the purpose...

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    6. The important thing is to do what you love, so if cooking, eating, and photography give you joy, then go for it! And yes, eating can be creative : )

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    7. HALLIE/GAIL: Yes, I was trying too hard to make those creative activities work, and they didn't. But I can easily come up with new scientific hypotheses to test. And I definitely can create new dishes to cook/bake and eat!

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  5. Hallie, I don't know for sure but I think the stories that would be told if you mixed in cocktail making would make for an even more entertaining experience.

    As for me, I have no idea what would bring me "joy" if I added it to my life. I just do the things I like to do and that's good enough for me. I can't think of anything new that cries out "Jay's New Joy".

    I'm kind of boring that way.

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    1. Jay's new joy, that's a good one! I think doing what you like to do is similar anyway, right?

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    2. If I mixed cocktail making with anything else, I wouldn't remember the "anything else."

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    3. Jay, you bring US joy every day:-)

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    4. Doing what you like to do sounds perfect if it gives you joy! Nothing boring there

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    5. Lucy, doing what I like to do is my joy but my reading of the piece was asking if their was something new that could be added for the upcoming year, which is what prompted the "Eeyore" response. LOL

      Hallie, that's what phones and Youtube are for, so you can remember after the fact. :D

      Deborah, Thank you.

      Gail, I agree but I understood the piece you wrote to be asking about something NEW that could be added, which is what prompted my original response. Believe me, I am fine with the things I do. I just was stumped when trying to think if there was something I wanted to try that would be a new source of joy.

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  6. Welcome Gail, you will be an inspiration to all of us who are feeling a little glum about the new year...

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  7. Oh, how I wish my husband and I could tango together. He's a graceful, athletic man, until he hits the dance floor, alas.

    However, over Christmas we were with two of my daughters, and along with a friend the four of us had a fabulous dance party, and I rediscovered an old joy. Middle daughter has already scoped out some YouTube dance workouts for me to try here at home.

    I also used to sew virtually every day of my life, until the past four years when we started planning our new home. We dismantled my sewing room so my husband could use it as a temporary office, and due to a chain of weird events I've never gotten another one. However, I was able to make a dress for a 20s-themed party a couple weeks ago, and have rediscovered that joy, as well. One of my plans for 2022 is to get that next phase of our home achieved.

    Thanks, Gail, for the inspiration! And what kind of cocktail are you making in the photo above?

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    1. Karen, you tube dance workouts - will you share with me? That sounds so fun and just what I need. In years past, certain gatherings with my sons and with a family we're close to have turned into Kitchen Dancing! I hope for that to happen again.

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    2. So far, Robin has shared ones from Pamela Reif, Edith. I think they're sponsored by Noom. She's very goofy, though, so we are still searching. I'll let you know if I find some other good ones.

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    3. YOUTUBE DANCE WORKOUTS! I want them, to...

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    4. It's a black Manhattan, which means that I replaced the usual Vermouth with an Amaro. In this case, the Amaro I used is Cynar, a glorious digestive made from artichokes. It's one of my favorites!

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  8. Dancing it is! I'll add dance workouts to my usual inside regimen. I usually workout on a rowing machine listening to opera CD's.

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    1. I love the idea of rowing to opera! And yes, dancing is a great add : )

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  9. Photography for the win! I love the idea of adding (more) art to one's life. And youngest nephew has a camera that he doesn't seem to use much right now--his passion is his music, as is his brother's. The little guy likes to sing, draw, write stories, build--he sets a good example for all of us!

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  10. Dancing is a good idea; maybe I'll add some in to my days. But for sure I'll continue with my collage making -- playing with images, scissors, glue and paper remains a most favourite creative activity of mine.

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    1. Amanda, maybe one day we could host you and your collages and a quick how-to on the front of the blog?

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  11. Note for Gail if she's here this morning: I've tried to download your e-book, but am not able to because the captcha function isn't working -- I cannot see it to complete it. What am I doing wrong?

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    1. AMANDA: I got the same error message when I tried to download Gail's book.

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    2. Gail is on the west coast... it's still pretty early there.

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    3. Amanda, Grace - I haven't tried yet, but often a different browser works? Esp if you're trying to use Safari - either Chrome or Firefox are a more reliable bet. Worth a try...

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    4. Thanks for letting me know, Amanda. You're not doing anything wrong. It's a coding issue. I'll contact my website person and see if I can get it fixed.

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    5. Thanks, Gail.

      Hallie: I tried both Safari and Chrome...

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    6. Amanda, Grace--The captcha issue is now fixed, so if you go to the site, you can download the e-book. Thanks for letting me know about the issue. I hope you enjoy the e-book!

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  12. How wonderful to read this! Cooking has turned out to be wonderfully creative during the pandemic… Somehow it has given me the courage to try new things, and to experiment, without using recipes! And it has been really rewarding!

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    1. Yay! Courage to try new things and experiment is the best! I think that's one of the things I love about food--it's so easy to experiment.

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  13. The perfect question for the end of 2021. As for me, more time in the woods hiking and writing! There's something about sitting on a rocky shelf, tablet in hand, while the wildlife and birds move around you.

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  14. I love your ideas about creativity, Gail, and I agree - creativity feeds creativity. I've been thinking about the old crafts I used to enjoy before my kids came along, needlepoint and sewing. No little ones around now, and plenty of space to set up a sewing table in the guest room... why not start again?

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    1. Go for it, Julia! A local friend texted me today about how happy it made her to set up a sewing/quilting corner in an area of her bedroom that she never uses.

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    2. Yes, as Edith said, go for it! I stopped quilting when my kids were little--too many needles and pins for curious, little fingers--but before that I really enjoyed it. Sewing and needlepoint are great art forms.

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  15. I've crocheted for years but sometime in the last 18 months I stopped. I moved across town, made sure the current WIPs were easy to access and then let them sit. This past week I have picked up my hooks again. Hopefully the good feeling while crocheting will continue into the new year.

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    1. Just this morning I discovered Tunisian crochet, Deana! I've bookmarked some videos to watch later, but it looks really interesting.

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  16. I have fond memories of speaking at a Willamette writers conference a quarter of a century or so ago. Perhaps someday, when it's safe to get into an aluminum tube filled with recycled air, I can do it again. (Once upon a time, I was an itinerant speaker on copyright and publishing law....)

    I used to love to dance, but that was when I still had functioning knees.

    Maybe this weekend, I will check to see just how badly out of tune my piano is, and whether the sheet music for the Debussy piece I was working on is still in the piano bench.

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  17. Well, my response disappeared. I’ll try to remember what was in:
    I recently saw an item on a local Facebook page about a Zentangle workshop for beginners. Today’s post is a reminder to me that I want to try it! I’m having lunch today with a couple of friends whom I think would be interested, too.

    And maybe I’ll try some YouTube dance videos on days when it’s too cold to go for a walk!

    I hope this response doesn’t go off into cyberspace!

    DebRo

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    1. I've never tried Zentangle, but it looks fascinating!

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  18. What an inspiring post, Gail! Gardening and cooking are creative for me, but I really want to learn to draw, so making a resolution now to pick that up again.

    We've been watching the Peter Jackson's documentary about the Beatles recording Let It Be, Get Back, and I'm finding that watching their creative process is incredibly inspiring, even though I am not musical.

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  19. This is one of those things, like exercise, I know I should do more of but don’t because I feel drained from work. Part of my brain knows this is an important part of the recharging process, so thanks for the nudge.

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  20. We used to do English Country and contra dance and I used to embroider but both are too hard on my joints. ECD music though is a joy. Cooking is creative for me and I've decided that in our retirement, we will have more space and grow more of our own food. Gardening satisfies one's soul in so many ways. It is also one of the most disruptive technologies that exists. I would like to improve my writing skills and produce a short story that I'm not scared or embarrassed to share with the world.

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  21. My comment from earlier doesn't appear to have posted. I need to stop talking about picking up my counted cross stitch and just do it. The bag is right there - I just need a new hoop. Sheesh.

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  22. Gail, what an uplifting post this is! My creative outlet is currently reading and reviewing, and it does fulfill a deep-seated need for me for the love of words. I'd like to try some different things, too, but I'm at a loss where to find them. The jazz singing sounds wonderful, but where do I find somewhere to try that. I live in a small (60,000) town where creative opportunities of a more unique kind are hard to find.

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    1. There are some online options for singing lessons. That might be worth a try.

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  23. What a wonderful post! I think creative types always find a away to express themselves which speaks to them whether it's art, music, writing. The process seems to be a calling that can't be ignored.

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