Archive for May 29th, 2007

Hear the Bellow of Your Creative Beast

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeWriting Adventures in Shanghai
By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Sshhh! Do hear that? The bellow of my creative beast? That’s what listening to good writers does to me.

You know what I mean, don’t you?

You go to a conference or a literary festival where a gaggle of writers reads aloud, ponders the universe, asks the big questions, and suddenly…BAM…your head turns on. Ideas crackle and pop like those sparklers you used to light every year on the 4th of July. New pathways open up in your brain. Synapses fire. And without warning, you’re madly curious about subjects you never thought about before: the relationship between population growth and the environment, the protection of Anasazi ruins in New Mexico, a new nonprofit organization that aids orphans in Somalia, a rose growers club that meets right down the street from your house.

Glorious, isn’t it? How the brain works? The kinetic energy of inspiration?

During most of the year here in Shanghai, there are not a lot of opportunities to glean inspiration from writers’ gatherings. There are a few sporadic readings here and there, but for the most part, our connection to the larger writing world is limited to the Internet and books we buy from

But thankfully, for three weekends in March, Shanghai played host to the 2007 Shanghai International Literary Festival. And when I say international, I mean international. Thirty-seven writers from eleven countries gathered to present their work and talk about world issues. There were sessions in English, French, Mandarin, and German. There were playwrights, novelists, non-fiction writers, and poets.

The spectacular line-up included big names we all recognize (Amy Tan, Gore Vidal, Kiran Desai) and wonderful writers with soon-to-be-big names (Mike McCormack, Uzodinma Iweala, Wang Xiaoli, Madhur Jaffrey). All of it was dizzily inspiring, and I was no more than fifteen minutes into Pankaj Mishra’s talk, “The Rise of India,” when I heard the distinct bellow of my creative beast. (I shushed her long enough to get through the session, scribbling in my notebook the whole time.)

Inspiration is like that, you know. Hot, furious, and fleeting. You can’t wait around for it to find you. You have to seek it out. So check your newspaper and local bookstores for listings of upcoming writer events. Go to a conference or a reading, and once you’re there, hunkered down in a nice cushy couch or awkwardly propped on a metal folding chair, keep your notebook open on your lap. When you hear the bellow of your own creative beast, start to write. Let your pen move across the page and take you to the unknown.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe has been living in and writing about Shanghai, China, for over a year. Her articles and essays about the China experience can be found in recent or forthcoming issues of The Baltimore Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, and Highlights for Children. Recently she contributed to To Shanghai With Love, a new Shanghai travel guide. Kristin writes about other stuff as well, including education, parenting, and bears. Her work about those topics can be found in San Diego Family Magazine, The ELL Outlook, The Gettysburg Review, PortFolio Magazine, and other publications. Kristin’s blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” chronicles her adventures in Shanghai (the good, the bad, and the beautiful) and garners the attention of readers all over the world. To learn more, visit

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