SHARED LESSONS: Harpists and Writers


"See" your words.  Write on paper, in the sand, on a computer...doodle, draw, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.

“See” your words. Write them on paper, in the sand, on a computer…doodle, draw, paint, dream. Switch hands and see what new thoughts appear.



Practice!  Practice!  Keep practicing!  Move around; change locations, but do your work.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Practice! Practice! Keep practicing! Move around; change locations, but do your work. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

What’s the definition of an optimist? ~ A harpist with a tuner.

How long does it take to tune a harp? ~ That’s a hard one. Nobody knows yet.

How many harp players does it take to change a light bulb? ~ 5: one to handle the bulb, and the others to debate which is the best hand position to use.

The members of the Colorado Celtic Harp Society we met at the writing retreat at the Franciscan Center had a delightful sense of humor.  But the truth is, those jokes also apply to writers.  A writer who dreams of writing the Great American Novel is also an optimist, even if the dream becomes a nightmare.  How long does it take writers to write the perfect novel? ~ Nobody knows yet.   And as far as changing a light bulb, writers are always arguing about the right and wrong way to write, edit, submit and publish.

Here are two jokes that aren’t interchangeable: (If it weren’t for the dementia, my mother would love these!) ~ Why are harps like elderly parents? ~ Both are unyielding and hard to get in and out of cars.   And this one for writers: Did you hear the one about the pregnant writer who began yelling, “Couldn’t! Wouldn’t Shouldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t! ~ she was having contractions.

The weekend writing retreat was filled with writing, thinking, drawing, painting, and responding to the harpists playing nearby.  At the harp recital on Saturday evening, there was a great deal of laughter woven in with beautiful music, and that’s one of the lessons that was repeated throughout the weekend:  Creative endeavors require discipline, hard work, and commitment.  There are also difficulties and disappointments along the way, so make the most of every opportunity to renew yourself with the gifts of laughter and shared camaraderie.

For other lesson reminders from the weekend, read the messages written below the pictures.

And for those of you who asked for a writing prompt, here is one to get the pen moving and the ideas flowing: What is one thing you’ve lost that you hope will not be found?

Take a chance ~ When it's dark, don't be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.

“Take a chance ~ When it’s dark, don’t be afraid ~ just try your wings ~ and you can catch your star.” (message on ceramic plate c)Irene’99)


Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to find your own way.

Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality; learn to enjoy your own journey.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

Painting on the dorm wall of the former convent; oil by Sister Carmillia. The lesson? Share your visions and talents.

It's never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!

It’s never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art!



Filed under art, celebrations, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren

86 responses to “SHARED LESSONS: Harpists and Writers

  1. Uncertainty. That’s what I hope will never be found, I used to be a great procrastinator, always thinking “what if ” – but with age I’ve learnt to be positive and go with instinct. It’s not always the correct course of action but again, with age, I have the tools to deal with it.
    Great thought provoking post as always, Marylin 🙂

    • Thanks, Jenny.
      I’m right there with you on the procrastinating thing. I still haven’t completely “lost” it, so it keeps popping up again, but I am getting a better grip on it. It comes with age…;)
      What’s that saying? Too soon old, too late wise, or something like that…

  2. Don

    I must say I’ve never thought of how difficult it must be to tune a harp. Just thinking about it now, it can’t be easy. Marylin I so enjoyed your post. Those two jokes have ushered me in to my day with a laugh and that’s good. Your words on our creative endeavours are are so true. For me it’s always trying to keep that initial spark and vision alive. Sadly, it can subside so quickly. 🙂

    • Just between us, Don, after watching the process the harpists used to tune their harps, especially when an ensemble was preparing to perform, made me give up ever trying to play a harp.
      When they moved from classical harp music to playing John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” I was inspired to tears. When writers are on their game, and harpists are on their strings, it’s an amazing thing.

  3. Excellent post that has me thinking.
    What have I lost that i would not want to find? Innocence (ie naivety).
    Wisdom; albeit often borne from pain, is the reward.

    • I agree — I also am glad to have lost my naivety. It made me so much more vulnerable, and not in a good way. I was so naive and trusting, I used to often put myself in danger.

      • Tracy, you have the same Part 2 of the prompt to write about as Elizabeth.
        If you again found yourself to be naive and trusting–and not in a good way–what would you do? What would you learn?
        Every good prompt is actually a set up to get you started…and to force you to think and write on the next level of the prompt. So…are you going to try it, Tracy? 🙂

      • Very good questions–I could run with these, and it would be interesting to see where they take me.

        I’ll file this for a day when I need a good prompt. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, my writing schedule is very intense, focussed on finishing 3 different projects (1 fiction; 1 non-fiction–but not memoir; and 1 editing project — not much time for thinking about my inner life right now, unfortunately.)

    • Now for Part 2 of the prompt, Elizabeth. You’ve identified the innocence as being lost but not necessarily what you’d want to find again…but create a scene when you DO find it again. What happens next?

  4. Great analogy between harpists, writers, and creativity in general. Are you a Celtic harpist or do you just enjoy them? – Either way the association is great! The scrabble game and harp provide intriguing metaphors.

    What have I lost that I would not want to find again? As Elizabeth states, Innocence/naivete would be one of them. In the literal sense, another would be pounds lost – would want them to be found again – ha!

    Experimental persistence is a bit of wisdom I am taking from this post today. You aways make me think, and in new ways. The visit today, once again, was worth it. Thanks, Marylin.

    • I love the way you think, Marian, both literally and metaphorically. The experimental persistence you’re taking from this post has got me thinking now, so we’re both thinking in new ways.
      Before the writing retreat at the Franciscan Center, I liked harp music in small doses, but now I’m a big fan of Celtic harpists, for the wonderful people I met and their talents. For me, that weekend was true serendipity.

    • A million thanks for posting this inoftmarion.

  5. Thank you for the kick in the pants! 😀

  6. Jane Thorne

    You lift us to carry on creating our dreams Marylin…thank you. ❤

    • You have a wonderful ability to create your dreams already, Jane, but I’m glad if I gave you a lift with this post!

      • Jane Thorne

        Hello Marylin, I went one step further tonight and pressed ‘Send’ on my competition entry for ‘Tell it straneg…’ I have been pondering my story for a few weeks (since your post) and it came out today. As I pressed ‘submit’, they requested an entrance fee, which was a surprise. However, I know my pennies are very tight right now, but I put my heart and soul into that piece, so I ran with it. I will keep you posted on further developments. 🙂 Xx

      • Jane, I am so excited for you!
        That’s truly terrific. Especially when pennies are tight, to believe in what you’ve done and invest in your efforts is priceless! Whatever happens, you have already won!

  7. Lessons we should all take to heart Marylin.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Hugs to you, too, David! Get Reuben some sidewalk chalk and baby paints to smear around on the top of his high chair. When he starts humming and laughing and using both hands, get him a little tykes harp. It’s never too soon–or too late–to start!

  8. Oh, those jokes gave me a laugh. As for losing things that I would rather not find again….I think my problem is trying to lose those things in the first place.

    • Oh, I can think of a couple of things that I keep trying to lose, too, but they just won’t cooperate! 😉 The jokes gave me a good laugh, too, especially the one about the similarities between the elderly and harps. I really do wish my mom’s dementia would drop away for awhile so she could have a good laugh at things like that.

      • Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Are there still things that make her laugh? Does laughing disappear with dementia?

      • During this trip for Mother’s Day, she had a cough that we expected was allergy related. The meds nurse and Mom’s caregiver were there, too, and we gave her an allergy pill and some root beer to wash it down. It was fast and easy, and the others were glad. I watched and waited, and before I could count to five, Mom stuck out her tongue with the pill still on it and smiled. I think she would have maybe laughed at her trick, except the pill was very bitter and she had to try again to swallow it. But I still am glad for these little moments!

      • Lovely. I am glad there is a sometimes smile. 🙂

  9. Lots of smiles to cheer us up. What have I lost that I would not want to be found? Many things from my old life. This one is so much better.

  10. I’ve been doing writing exercises for decades, but have never tried switching hands. Now I’m excited to see what will happen…

    Prompts like these and writing friends like you are why the act of writing never grows stale for me.

    So, I just did the “lost” prompt with my left hand and discovered this:

    I’m embarrassed to admit that when I was young, I was incredibly self-absorbed. It wasn’t obvious, because I was well-trained to “do” for others. I was helpful and obedient. But honestly, I found my own interior life quite fascinating. (Interesting, how using the other hand is something like using a mirror.)

    I’ve lost that fascination with self, with my own life and my own story. These days, I’m much more interested in what is going on in other people’s hearts, minds, souls, and I feel so much richer for it.

    Not to be too hard on myself, perhaps by exploring the depths of myself it has become second nature to be empathetic. But, I do hope I never “find” that self-centered focus again.

    • Oh, Tracy, you are venturing into new territory by switching hands. You will be amazed at some of the new insights you have.
      When I was teaching high school seniors in my Writing To Publish class, I would sometimes give them a writing prompt for the last few minutes of class. I’d have them stop in the middle of a sentence and turn them in. I didn’t ever read these–and they trusted me not to read them–but at the beginning of the next day’s class I returned the papers. I told them to start where they’d left off, in the middle of the sentence, but write with the opposite hand. It had the most surprising effect on them.
      Even now, when you’re much more interested in what’s going on in other people’s hearts, minds, and souls, as you write about what you’re learning, occasionally stop mid-sentence, and when you return to writing, use the other hand.

  11. juliabarrett

    Truly interesting writing prompt. I’m not sure I’ve ever lost anything, either negative or positive.. Does that make sense?

    • Wow, Julia. Usually, when I give this prompt in a writing workshop, the participants start making lists. Things they literally lost–a ring, a bet, a key, a race, a dream–and then when they get into the emotional or spiritual or psychological and have to choose from their long list which thing they’ve lost but would NOT want to find again, the writing gets very tense and intense.
      Maybe you’ve made peace and accepted things you’ve lost, could that be?

      • juliabarrett

        Maybe. I guess I feel if I lost something I never really wanted or needed it to begin with. And the bad stuff? Even the bad stuff makes me what I am so I would be sorry to lose that as well.
        When I consider a loss, I think of an emotional loss. Objects are neutral and of little significance to me.
        On the other hand, I can think of millions of people and experiences I don’t want to lose!

      • If you had lost someone important to you, then the writing prompt would begin there, if suddenly you “found” that someone again.
        Have you seen the movie THE VOW with Rachel McAdams? It’s based on a true story and is an interesting twist on that prompt. If amnesia made your lose someone important to you, what if they were still right there but you couldn’t find them again?
        It is an interesting prompt, and there are all kinds of twists and turns we follow when writing a response.

  12. I’m giggling here with the contractions joke! I love the messages on the pictures. This one is quite fitting for me this weekend “It’s never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project. Art begets art”! I’m getting ready to contribute one page to a group effort scrap book. I have no experience with this kind of stuff. I hope I can do a good job.

    Have a great week end, Marylin!

    • This is a great time for you to contribute to the group scrap book, Elaine! Have some fun with it…try several approaches–serious, funny, wise, etc.
      –practice one out in the sunshine, another inside at night, using a flash-light, etc. One thing I really picked up on during the writing retreat is that we expect too little of our talents. We limit ourselves by thinking we have to always do one thing, or do all things in the same way we’ve always done them.
      I hope you’ll let me know what you finally come up with!

      • Thanks for the encouraging words 😄 I went to the craft store today to buy some glue (I wanted to use the correct glue) and left with over $40 worth of items. Expensive glue, right? 😄

        I worked on my page diligently today. I’ve put it aside until later when I can look at it with fresh eyes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the scrap book project manager finds my page worthy.

      • Fingers crossed here for you, too!
        Quality supplies are important for a project. And good glue, too…uh, as long as you’re not sniffing it…right?… 😉

  13. Jim

    Thank your for sharing all the stimulating aspects of the writers’ retreat and giving us ways to apply them to our own lives. I love the comparison between harps and elderly parents in today’s post. I hope Molly doesn’t think we are elderly yet or unyielding, but one thing is for sure. We both have noticed how it is becoming more difficult to get ourselves in and out of our squatty little Honda Del Sol that we have enjoyed for fifteen years! Oh well, each season of life has its place and own richness.

    • I know, honey. I pictured the same thing. At first I remembered trying to help my mom in and out of my FJ Cruiser to go for a ride, and then how awkward it was to get her into my dad’s old wheelchair so I could take her for a walk. It was exhausting and almost comical.
      THEN I realized what I must look like trying to get out of the little Del Sol, and how you have to take my purse, hold on to my arm…and pull. Now the comedy is on us!
      We’ll be okay. Right? 😉

  14. Thank you for your jokes and inspiration. I love your prompt: “What is one thing you’ve lost that you hope will not be found?” That’s a toughie for me.

    I can think of many things I’ve lost that I’d like to find again. Unlike what several of your commenters stated, I would like to find my lost innocence. I do recall a day many years ago when a co-worker told me: “You’re always so happy, like you don’t have a care in the world.” I thought ‘if only she knew.’ What happened did reshape me. While I learned how to navigate life and realized my inner strength, I would rather not have had some of those ‘tests.’

    But Tracy Lee Karner’s experimenting with your idea of writing of switching hands when writing has me excited to see just what the result will be. Loved your post, Marilyn.

    • Thanks, Judy. I think you, Tracy, and I should all make a plan to do more of the switching hands and see what it opens in our minds.
      In 1st grade when the teacher made me stop using both hands and use only my right hand to write, from that point on, little by little I lost the use of my left hand. When I retired from teaching after thirty years, that first summer I took a mask-making art class where I used both hands, and immediately I moved the mouse of my computer to the left side. Just doing those two things made a surprising difference.
      I really related to your thought, ‘if only they knew’ about the things that reshaped us and taught us how to navigate life.

  15. What an enjoyable writers’ retreat, jokes and all. Inspirational and thought provoking. The prompt is a tough one for me. Have a lovely weekend.

  16. What a great writing prompt, Marylin. One thing I’ve lost that I hope is never found is my desire to care and stress about what other people think of me. There’s only one who matters…it took time for me to learn this.

    • And now, Jill, I’ll ask you what I asked Elizabeth and Tracy.
      You lost your desire to care and stress about what other people think of you; what will you do if you find that desire again?
      Hmm… Try writing about that. 😉

      • What a great example of relaly know your audience.’ Meetings and events are similar to other forms of communication in that if they don’t address your audiences specific needs and speak in their language you might as well just save your money. But, when you get it right, nothing beats a meeting that gets people interacting with other people and relaly pumped up. Nicely done Esprit.

  17. Nancy Parker Brummett

    I love that retreat center, Marylin. Once took myself for a one-day “personal retreat!” Thanks for all the inspirational thoughts…and laughs!

    • Did your one-day retreat include one night in the former convent, Nancy?
      For me, those simple, clean, quiet rooms are a perfect place to look out the window at the deer and think and write and draw. I remember the first time I had a ground-level room in Marian Hall. Early the next morning I thought someone was trying to get in through my window.
      It was two deer. One was munching grass. The other had small furry antlers, and he was scratching them on the screen. He gave me this look like, “Do you mind? I’m kind of busy here.”
      The retreat center is truly an amazing place.

  18. This post reminds me I MUST get some discipline back into my life….to write and to exercise more again. Dog has finished taking the rest of my “starch”…it must stiffen up again and get to work.

    • Being around the harpists reminded me that discipline is truly a MUST, regardless if we’re writers, artists, musicians…or even just cleaning out the spare room or raking leaves.
      I’m like you, Claudia, I’ve got to get my starch back and get to work!

  19. Thank you for visiting my site, and the kind words. Things are a bit cattywampus around here so your post here is a joy to read.

  20. Oh Marylin, I just love this post.Sounds like you had a wonderful time and your thoughts and quotes are so funny/sweet/inspirational! Where does one find out about writing workshops? I would love to go to something like this someday! Joanne

    • Hi, Joanne.
      Do you belong to any writers’ groups? I belong to SCBWI (which sponsored this one), and also Colorado Authors’ League and National League of American Pen Women, and through each of them I receive informations about writing retreats, workshops and conferences. POETS AND WRITERS Magazine, THE WRITER, and WRITERS’ DIGEST Magazine all also have sections where they list opportunities. Or you can Google “writing retreats and conferences in STATE”
      Through the years I’ve attended Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Michigan, New York and New Hampshire writing retreats and conferences that varied in size from 20 to 350+, and through them I’ve learned a great deal and met many other writers.
      I do hope you’ll find one that offers what you want/need. Read the description and don’t hesitate to email or call the contact person and ask questions. I think you’ll be very happy and encouraged and challenged by the results.

  21. Molly

    Hmmmmm ….. something that I have lost that I hope is never found………….hmmmmmmmmm I guess I can’t put any of those things on here, in case my mom or my kids read this! 🙂 But it is kind of fun to think about!

    As for Dad’s comment above, I do not think of you guys as elderly. I see you guys as fun, and energetice grandparents that totally enjoy spending time with the babies! Although it has been awhile since I have seen the two of you get out off DOHC….perhaps I need to see that!!

    I hope that you kind find more retreats like the one you went on…it seems to have refreashed you. Thanks for sharing pieces of it with us all!

    • Why, thank you, darling daughter! When I compare the activity level of my grandparents with us as grandparents now, we are definitely younger, more active and involved now than they were when I was the same age as Grace and Gannon. But watching you coach their soccer team–and do such a successful and energetic job–Dad and I looked at each and were so grateful we didn’t have to be out there on the soccer field running around, filling in for one of the helpers!
      If we’re still even marginally young, it’s because of our grandchildren keeping us that way, and we love being part of their lives. 🙂

  22. That is one great writing prompt. I’ll give it a try. Thanks for always challenging us to reach for more and not give up.

    • You’re very welcome, Darla. Thanks for the compliment. You have no idea how many of your posts have helped and encouraged me with my writing, and made me smile (or fight back tears) because of the kind and supportive things you’ve said about or to my mother. So I’ve very grateful for all your help, too.

  23. I like that philosophy of taking every opportunity to renew yourself with camaraderie – creating can be a lonely process, which is possibly why we’re so hard on ourselves a lot of the time – it’s great to share, whether with laughter or commiseration!

    • You’re so right, Andrea. We can work with other writers or writing groups, but when it comes to the blank page, we’ll alone. This retreat reminded me that for everyone struggling to creating–including the harpists–there’s a time of alone-ness in getting it done. The harpists were thrilled when they gave their “recital” at the end of their retreat and so many from our writing retreat accepted their invitation to attend.
      Any encouragement and praise and inspiration we can give each other is very important; it relieves some of the loneliness.

  24. Learn to enjoy the journey…I know you’ve said this so many times before Marylin and each time I read this I need to read it again and again…and ‘accept the solitary work to reach my goal and make my dream a reality’ because I’m struggling but I go through this. Coming here refreshes my soul and renews my sense of purpose and my vision so I no longer feel like chucking it all in. Even with all you have on our plate you still inspire and encourage and share all you have gained with us to help us along our journey. I love all your writing prompts, the fun you bring to your posts with all your jokes and clever and beautiful insights sprinkled throughout. You bring me such joy dear Marylin, thank you so much 🙂
    What have I lost that I hope won’t be found? My fear of people ridiculing me when I share my heart in my writing.

    • Sherri, I hope you never again have people ridicule you when you share your heart in your writing. You have a beautiful, honest and warm writing style–part British and part Californian, such a great combination–and your writing is filled with keen observations and tiny important details.
      If I’ve helped or inspired or encouraged you with your writing journey, I’m very glad. Keep writing, posting, submitting, sharing your talent. Do not give up on your dreams–neverNEVERneverNEVER!

      • Oh dear Marylin…what more can I say to this? Other than you have and thank you, thank you and thank you some more…and I won’t, I promise…. 🙂 x

      • Excellent! I fully expect to be buying your book down the road, clapping and saying, “This is wonderful! I knew she would do it.”

  25. I have sometimes lost my temper. I don’t want to find my bad temper again.
    Loved the jokes.

  26. Love the quotes on the pictures! Accept the solitary work required to reach your goal and make your dream a reality..and it’s never too late to expand your creativity and pursue a new project! Yes! working on it 🙂 Our dreams don’t have expiration dates.

    • You’ve got it. The work is definitely solitary and takes a hunk out of your life, which is why it’s so good to connect with other writers, artists, musicians, and all creative people and support one another.
      I love your final summary: Dreams don’t have an expiration date.

  27. The messages written below the pictures really got to me. You are a wonderful, talented teacher Marylin. Thank you for the inspiration! I’m going to try moving the mouse of my computer to the left side.

  28. Thank you, Theresa!
    Let me know if you see things just a bit differently when you move the mouse of your computer to the left side. It might take some getting used to, but now I can’t use the computer smoothly unless I do it.

  29. Oh, what an artistic retreat on so many levels. I can imagine how wonderful it was. I loved all of your jokes and thank you for making me laugh 🙂 I love the analogy of getting a harp or elderly people in the car. I had my grandma and her funny sisters a lot in my car!

    After all I’ve learned here about tuning, I guess I will stay with my piano!

    What I have lost through lots of talking and prayers is my ‘perfectionism’. I still like to strive for ‘excellence’ but with a relaxed attitude and the freedom to let go. This is a big relief! And I guess it makes life so much easier for myself and for the people around me. They like the relaxed, positive, smiling me much more 🙂

    • There’s a Big difference between perfectionism and excellence, Ilka, so I’m glad you’ve lost the first and kept the second! And I love your description of striving for excellence but with a relaxed attitude and the freedom to let go–what a great combination!
      You would not believe what went into tuning the harps. I was stunned, and it gave me such appreciation for what the harpists do for their music. And that was part of making the weekend an artistic retreat on so many levels.

  30. Diana Stevan

    Great prompts. Love the comparisons to harpists. So much out there to inspire us if only we pay attention.

    • There really is, Diana. You’re right that it’s there if only we pay attention, and that was a valuable part of what I learned at the retreat. I was too preoccupied with many other things and not paying attention.
      It really has changed how I pause now, take a deep breath, and make the time to pay attention to everything going on around me.

  31. I feel that the best things come from laughter, so enjoyed your jokes. Seriously, I worked a ten hour day, so may not be able to use your prompts but loved the fact you really wanted us to think and also, answer what we lost and how to find what we lost again. I think I am talking in circles but wanted to say thank you for getting us to think on the one word post, now this one. You are so caring to challenge us to go one step farther in our writing! I will take that lesson and heed it, Marylin! Thanks!

  32. You’re very welcome, Robin. After a ten-hour work day, I hope you’ll soon be able to find such a retreat for yourself and set aside responsibilities, and have others cook for you while you rest, rejuvenate, write, think, laugh, and just unwind.

  33. TBM

    Tuning a harp. I never even considered that it had to be done. If you knew my musical abilities you’d understand. They wouldn’t even let me sing in the school choir with 50 other kids. Wouldn’t even let me lip sync.

    • Now, that’s just cruel. To not even let you stand among all the other children and lip sync. 😉
      Still, you would love watching harpists tune–again and again–and then perform. I knew nothing about harps and all the layers of strings and sounds, but they became such a perfect melody on the other end of the building that our group of writers found our words taking on their own rhythms, too. It was wonderful.

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