Unmarked Trails

August 21, 2011

This week I received delivery of my new wicker furniture in my downtown space. It feels extravagant. For years I have been claiming that possessions are burdensome, and that I want fewer, not more. So why this burst of material consumption?

I think of these furnishings as a means to an end, though I’m not sure yet what the end might be. I believe it has something to do with connection and hospitality. (It’s a conversation grouping, after all.) It has something to do with creating beauty. And it has something to do with having a room of my own.

Roethke said, “I learn, by going, where I have to go.” I suppose this is an experiment in moving toward the unknown, following unmarked trails, doing something entirely different. My hope is that it will jump start my creativity.

What have you done lately that is uncharacteristic, that shifts your perspective, that challenges your habitual preferences a bit?


Soul Adventure

July 31, 2011

Today, I discovered the delightful Fridaville. I was prompted by a search that showed up in my blog stats for Nikki Hardin, which led me to a comment she made on one of my posts here back in 2008, which led me to her blog. So funny that her tagline is “where my imagination rents a room.”

I visited my new un-virtual room yesterday. Tomorrow I will go and clean in preparation for…what? It is strange and wonderful to not know what I will do with this room. I have some vague notions: listening to myself, inviting poets and friends in, wicker, beauty, play, tranquility, possibility. But mostly, it feels like a grand soul adventure.

What is your latest adventure–or your next adventure to be?


Busy Summer

June 2, 2011

Summer is here. Over 90-degree temperatures expected for several days! For me, it promises to be a busy time. Here are some of the things I have going on this summer. I hope to maintain equanimity in the midst of all this activity.

Teaching: I am co-teaching a class (with Kathleen de la Peña McCook) for Valdosta State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program. It is called “Community Building” and it’s all about how to build community through public libraries. I believe this is the future for public libraries if they are to stay relevant and essential. In this blog post, “What Is a Library(an)?” architect Philip O’Brien says that librarians at the 2011 ALIA Information Online Conference in Sydney, Australia, had this to say about the future of the library: “a physical space, complimented by online space, a place of connections; between people and information, and between people and community, a community gathering space, and a social, cultural and learning hub, where people can find information, or create their own information.”

Consulting: (1) I am working with Stephen Spohn of LYRASIS to help Wayne County (PA) Libraries with an exciting project called “Redesigning the Public Library: A New Model for a New World.” (2) I am continuing to help a local nonprofit, the Community Helping Place with their strategic planning effort. (3) And I am doing some library board training.

More teaching: In fall (in addition to another section of Community Building), I will be teaching a continuing education class for North Georgia College and State University, using Julia Cameron’s (The Artist’s Way) suggestions for creative clusters. So I am also tuning in to anything that I can use in that class. Any ideas for me?

Other: This is in addition to yoga three times a week, monthly poetry group meetings, and a fair amount of time spent playing Rummikub online!

How’s your summer shaping up? And what will you do for yourself that keeps you grounded?


Same Site, New Name

February 12, 2011

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is the only moment.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Hello, quotesqueen readers. You’ll notice my new blog name, “Only Moment.” The URL has not changed. It’s great to be back!

This present moment I am sitting in the sunshine that is pouring into my kitchen. I have just come in from the back deck, where I heard lovely birdsong I don’t usually hear–a lot of melody, a varied repertoire, not at all like the squawky, fussy noises of the titmice, chickadees, and goldfinches that throng our feeder.

I am about to finish Julia Cameron’s book, Finding Water, and I have proposed a 12-week class through North Ga. College & State University Continuing Education to explore creativity using The Artist’s Way. Cameron offers guidelines for “Creative Clusters” here. I am hopeful that the class (if accepted for the fall) will result in a continuing group. But even if it doesn’t, we should have fun going through the 12-step program Cameron outlines for “creative recovery.”

How do you nurture your own creativity? I’d love to hear your ideas.


Things That Make Me Want to Write

August 5, 2010

I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to earth. ~Pearl Buck

Lately I have found myself not in the mood to write here, forgetting that this blog was supposed to be a writing practice. It is time to get my mind down to earth. I could list many excuses, but where would that get me? Instead, I think I’ll make a list of things that make me want to write.

The new fancy, retro pen I bought today (photo above) * the fact that I finally got a refill for the other fancy pen I was given many years ago * getting comments on my blogs * my 3-page-a-day “morning pages” practice * the joys of air conditioning * reading other blogs about writing or with examples of writing * rereading my own blog posts * getting comments on my blogs * actually writing * talking to writers * remembering dreams * reading about writing * having something else I should be doing (I know, this is a negative-positive, but what can I say?) * going for a walk * hearing writers read from their works * getting comments on my blogs * emotional intensity * not playing computer Scrabble (another np) * watching butterflies * reading classic literature * attending my writing group meetings * getting comments on my blogs * waking gently * learning new words * people-watching * oh, and did I mention getting comments on my blogs?

What makes you come alive? What inspires you to do whatever creative thing(s)  you are meant to do in this world?


Praise, Blame, and Failure

June 28, 2010

This has been going on through the ages.
They criticize the silent ones.
They criticize the talkative ones.
They criticize the moderate ones.
There is no one in the world who escapes criticism.

There never was and never will be,
nor is there now,
the wholly criticized
or the wholly approved.

~Buddha

Fall down 53 times. Get up 54.
~Zen slogan

This morning, walking down the hill to my mailbox, I stepped onto uneven pavement or slipped on loose gravel, twisted my ankle, and fell with all my weight onto my left palm, which now has a nasty cut that won’t stop bleeding. Then about 10:15 I had a call from my doctor saying I was supposed to be at her office at 10:00, a missed appointment that I will have to pay for. In my earlier morning pages,* I reflected on haunting missteps from my past, resolving to move forward with what I have learned, rather than dwelling on what I should have done differently.

So it felt like a personal message from the universe to open my email and find these quotes and other wise words from Margaret Wheatley, an excerpt from her new book, Perseverance. You can read her brief excerpt here. (Be sure to click the arrow on the first page, “Praise and Blame,” to get to the next, “Failure.”)

Wheatley says praise and blame are two sides of the same coin. I couldn’t agree more. For my take on that subject, see a previous entry, “Judgment.”

And now I’m going to get my hand stitched up. May we all walk more mindfully, with acceptance that we are human, and with compassion for ourselves and others.

Namaste.

*If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need the explanation that writing three pages in the morning (“morning pages”) is a technique for enhancing creativity described by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way


Book Arts

May 31, 2010

Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do?  Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.  Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it.  And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?  ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

I have just returned from a wonderful creative weekend at the John C. Campbell Folk School. My teacher, Joyce Sievers, embodied what I feel all good teachers possess: some ineffable combination of inspiration, acceptance, and equanimity.

I notice I am again choosing a Brenda Ueland quote. Seems to be my theme for May, so perhaps it is time to reread her classic, If You Want to Write.

Meanwhile, am reading a fascinating novel by Olga Grushin, The Line. I loved her first book, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, and had hoped her second wouldn’t disappoint me. Instead, my attention is riveted, and I am loving her beautiful prose and her ability to weave a story that is compelling and surprising.

What are you reading? What are you creating?


Seeing, Doing

January 30, 2010

What you will be is what you do. ~Buddha

Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing? ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Today I will do yoga, engage with my husband and my life, enjoy the icy wonderland outside my window, rest, read, and write. I have resolved (again) to be more mindfully present for the unfolding of my days, to practice healthy eating and exercise, to remember that creative efforts sustain and feed me.

When I stop long enough to see clearly, I know what is right for me to do. Avoidance behaviors, comforting time-killers (for me, playing computer games, eating sweets, and other non-nutritive activities) are the way we keep from seeing clearly. After all, if we can hide what is needed from our conscious mind, we feel free from responsibility. I think this is true in both personal and social action. How can I change the world if my own house is not in order?


Let Your Life Be a Poem

January 24, 2010

When I say be creative, I don’t mean you should all go and become great painters and great poets. I simply mean let your life be a painting, let your life be a poem. –Osho

Rainy morning
writing at my desk–
a ticking clock
marks Sunday time
suggesting rhythms,
line lengths,
heartbeats.
Where is the poetry
we have lost in data?
Can the mist of our lives
open to clear sky?


Creative Every Day 2010

December 24, 2009

Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about…Say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe. ~Rumi

I have again signed up for the Creative Every Day challenge–click on the badge at the right for details. Last year, I signed up, too, and posted a long list of possibilities for things I could do to follow through on that intention. In reviewing the list from my previous post, reprinted below, I see there are some things I actually did do in 2009! (I’ve made them bold.) Not bad, but lots of possibilities remaining for 2010. What will you do creatively this year?

draw from nature * write a poem * start a (joined a) local writer’s group * make greeting cards * visit a gallery * crochet a scarf * post photos to Flickr * finish my afghan-in-progress * take a new route home from work and see new sights * dye Easter eggs * build a bonfire * play with dots * write a short story * make a book * wear a new and different style of clothing * design a journal * see a museum exhibit * volunteer for the local arts council * write a nonfiction book * write a letter to someone in longhand * create a new smoothie flavor * make something from fabric scraps * take a creative day off work * make a dream book * learn to dance * knit a pair of socks * create a collage * make paper * visit a craft shop and see what attracts me * take a pottery class * weave a basket * make a gift for someone * try calligraphy * plan a vacation * find interesting objects in nature * play with words in a new way * fingerpaint * make beaded jewelry * do origami * take a walk someplace new * change my hairstyle * sleep outdoors * make a Hallowe’en costume * doodle * play the piano * design a workshop * browse an antique store * learn to quilt * go to a concert * write a chant * plant a garden * attend a theatrical production * read poetry out loud * organize photos in an album * try a new fruit * give away what no longer suits me * take someone flowers * sing * make a Zen garden * use the Milliande Creativity Club “artist date” prompt for the month * play a wooden flute * design a cross-stitch picture * decorate a box * make a list of funny words * read about a new craft * arrange some flowers * jump rope and make up rhymes * create a brochure * go to an arts festival * challenge a self-perception * burn candles * take nature photos * plan a party * illustrate a journal * create an arty wardrobe * dance to rock favorites from the 70s * make a snowman * play with crayons, colored pencils, or paint pens * plan a surprise for myself * make my own gift bags * recycle old earrings into new jewelry or sculpture * splurge on soft sheets * draw a picture of who I am becoming * write a fan letter * build a sand sculpture * think up arguments to quiet my inner critic * tell someone off in my head * play with stripes * buy myself a toy * create a mantra for each day * observe in moonlight * make love in a new way * make a drum * go caroling * light some incense * daydream in a hammock * create an altar * tell someone how much I care about them * meditate * shirk responsibility * rent a bicycle * build a studio * draw a cartoon * play on a playground * draw a picture of my creativity * have a pillow fight * press some leaves or flowers * rearrange the furniture * join a book discussion group * do some bad art * learn Spanish * climb a tree * pamper myself * write a Dear John letter to the part of myself I want to shed * try out for a play * write a letter to the creative child in me * take voice lessons * participate in an open mike poetry reading * enter a contest * make an artist totem * write a good review of my work * cuddle up with a blanket and my stuffed puppy * write verses for children * notice ceilings * make a spiritual corner in my house * make a junk sculpture * draw a mandala * take tap dancing lessons…


Reading, Not Writing

August 30, 2009

It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. ~Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

I have just finished Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, from which this quote comes. I’m on a reading jag; I’ve read 3 books and 2 magazines this weekend!

The other quote I flagged in the book was from sculptor Anne Truitt: “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.” I can relate.

This week I will attend my writer’s group (for only the second time, since they took a summer break). There’s something about being in a group of creative people that makes the air vibrate with energy. I am hopeful that it will be an inspiration for me to write–that, and my new book of poetry by Jane Cooper. Here’s a short one of hers:

Praise

But I love this poor earth,
because I have not seen another….
~Osip Mandelstam

Between five and fifty
most people construct a little lifetime:
they fall in love, make kids, they suffer
and pitch the usual tents of understanding.
But I have built a few unexpected bridges.
Out of inert stone, with its longing to embrace inert stone,
I have sent a few vaults into stainless air.
Is this enough–when I love our poor sister earth?
Sister earth, I kneel and ask pardon.
A clod of turf is no less than inert stone.
Nothing is enough!
In this field set free for our play
who could have foretold
I would live to write at fifty?


Moodling Day

August 2, 2009

still water

Who is it that can make muddy water clear? No one. But left to stand, it will gradually clear of itself. ~Lao Tzu

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I was wrong about being through with this blog! It had begun to feel like an obligation rather than a pleasure, but perhaps I just needed a break. (And Karen, it didn’t hurt that on Friday you said you missed it–made me realize I missed it too!) Today I was drawn to it, and after reading a while, am ready to write again.

There is soft rain here, much-needed rain, and the trees are rejoicing. Which reminds me of the hymn we used to sing at the UU church that takes its text from Isaiah 55:12–“For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

I am having a pleasant morning moodling (for a definition, see this entry). I think it is necessary for creative work. I am going to think of Sunday as Moodling Day.

Today, I want to be in the moment, engaging in process rather than fretting about product, listening to my heart instead of my head, following my body’s rhythms, slowing down to notice details. Listening to that gentle rainfall, breathing, smiling, being part of the miracle.

How do you set aside or ensure time for moodling?


Writers Group

April 4, 2009

Writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like in anything else. ~Katherine Anne Porter

Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see. ~William Newton Clark

This week I stepped out in faith to read my work and be critiqued in a writers group. I am thrilled to be part of a creative community, and I hope it will result in greater inspiration and courage to confront the blank page, as well as a honing of my craft.

This encounter suggested to me that my confidence often lags behind my skill, and I have to wonder if I sometimes come across as having false humility. It is not approval that I want so much as to embrace a realistic view of my writing, to see more clearly what I want to say and how well I am communicating it. (For more reflections on approval, see Judgment.) I believe participating in this group will lead to greater clarity.

Today, I am grateful for the Stonepile Writers, for the creative process, for this blog, for all artists everywhere!


Not Knowing

March 9, 2009

Eventually we realize that not knowing what to do is just as real and just as useful as knowing what to do. Not knowing stops us from taking false directions. Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention…If you think you know where you are, you stop looking. ~David Whyte, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship

Ah, here’s the theme of living the questions again! But it’s this line that strikes me today: “Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention.” Jose Ortega y Gassett said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

To what are we paying attention…as individuals, as groups, as a nation, as a world? Have we stopped looking because we think we know where we are? I hope not. We need unknowing in order to come up with new, creative solutions for old and growing problems–global warming, economic collapse, the shameful disparity of wealth and health and education in this world.

Einstein observed, “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem–in my opinion–to characterize our age.” We need to stop taking false directions and sit with unknowing. Otherwise there will be no space in which to welcome creative solutions. He also warned us: “Without changing our patterns of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems we created with our current patterns of thought.” I believe changing our patterns of thought requires spending some time in unknowing. What do you think?


Generativity

February 9, 2009

Where there is a path it is someone else’s way. ~Joseph Campbell

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real? ~Ray Bradbury

Like most of us I guess, I have followed a lot of worn and recommended paths, made fairly safe choices, and rested in the familiar throughout my life. In recent years, though, I have been bothered by the question concerning what my authentic path is. What is it that’s right for me, that allows me to contribute creatively to the world in a way that no one else can?

It is this exploration that is to be the excitement of my old age, I think. There’s nothing inherently wrong with worn paths, and I have learned a great deal by following them. They save us a lot of time and energy in a way. But I feel the urge now to blaze my own trail, to better understand my gifts and how to share them.

I don’t think this necessarily requires a dramatic change in what I do and how I live; it is more an internal shift in perspective. I expect only gradual changes in the ways I engage in the world, the activities I choose, the invitations I accept or decline, the work I do in retirement, and so on. (But who knows, really?)

And this is not just about creative self-expression (no–I promise–it’s not all about me!), but about generativity. As someone who did not raise children, I want to help future generations in the only way I believe I can–by living my authentic life, by sharing what is uniquely mine to give.

What is your authentic path, your unique contribution to the world? Are you bothered by the question?


Courage to Create

February 8, 2009

Do one thing every day that frightens you. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E. L. Doctorow

An artist feels vulnerable to begin with; and yet the only answer is to recklessly discard more armour. ~Eric Maisel

The word courage, as Rollo May reminds us in his book, The Courage to Create, is related to the French word, coeur, meaning “heart.” What I give my heart to, I commit to, I also fear to lose. This is one kind of creative fear, the kind Shakespeare described in these lines:

Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007) talks about another kind of creative fear: “For years I persuaded myself that it was hard to use my imagination. Not so. The only hard part in using it is the anxiety, the fear of being mediocre.” This fear of being mediocre is the one that manifests for me as paralysis before a blank page. So I try to remember that I have to write a lot of bad poems in order to write a good one.

Social courage, the ability to be open to new ways of thinking, is its own danger. Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

And then there is the existential anxiety of nothingness. “To live in to the future means to leap into the unknown,” says May. Creative effort is encounter. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger” ~James Baldwin

May reminds us that if we do not engage the creative encounter, if we do not listen to our own creative impulses, we will have betrayed ourselves. Further, we will be depriving the human community of our unique contributions. Let us find the courage to create.


Mandalas

February 7, 2009

We will know what both the fullness and fulfillment of life mean only when the consciousness that the Spirit is our own very self comes to life within us. ~Paul Brunton, Perspectives

Be careful reading Carl Jung! As a result of delving into Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I became interested in mandalas. I found Creating Mandalas, by Susanne F. Fincher, and then of course I had to try my hand with my sketch book and colored pencils.

Thunderbird

Thunderbird

Within a circle of growth, I am emerging from a dark night with boldness and hope. I connect to the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. The sun is shining on me, but I also walk a dim labyrinth. Pushing up from my unconscious are the will to thrive and bloom, and greater understanding of and groundedness in the man-made world, society.

Well, that was so much fun, I had to draw another one!

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tightly closed in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom. ~Anais Nin

Flowering

Flowering

Dark seeds in my heart are dwarfed by healthy growth, the will to thrive. The path is winding, but I am flowering, bathed in light, moving outward from a solid heart center.

What will your mandalas reveal?


Play

January 7, 2009

It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self. ~Donald Winnicott, as quoted in Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts (p. 50)

More play, more fun, more laughter in 2009! On Saturday I will gather up my toys (scissors, papers, pens, paints, glue, trims, stamps, fabrics) and spend a couple of blissful hours being creative. And it will be play and process. I will not be afraid to make bad art!

How will you discover yourself this week through play?


Creative Every Day: My List of Possibilities

January 1, 2009

Change and risk-taking are normal aspects of the creative process. They are the lubricants that keep the wheels in motion. A creative act is not necessarily something that has never been done; it is something you’ve never done before. ~Margaret Mead

As part of the Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009, I might:

draw from nature * write a poem * start a local writer’s group * make greeting cards * visit a gallery * crochet a scarf * post photos to Flickr * finish my afghan-in-progress * take a new route home from work and see new sights * dye Easter eggs * build a bonfire * play with dots * write a short story * make a book * wear a new and different style of clothing * design a journal * see a museum exhibit * volunteer for the local arts council * write a nonfiction book * write a letter to someone in longhand * create a new smoothie flavor * make something from fabric scraps * take a creative day off work * make a dream book * learn to dance * knit a pair of socks * create a collage * make paper * visit a craft shop and see what attracts me * take a pottery class * weave a basket * make a gift for someone * try calligraphy * plan a vacation * find interesting objects in nature * play with words in a new way * fingerpaint * make beaded jewelry * do origami * take a walk someplace new * change my hairstyle * sleep outdoors * make a Hallowe’en costume * doodle * play the piano * design a workshop * browse an antique store * learn to quilt * go to a concert * write a chant * plant a garden * attend a theatrical production * read poetry out loud * organize photos in an album * try a new fruit * give away what no longer suits me * take someone flowers * sing * make a Zen garden * use the Milliande Creativity Club “artist date” prompt for the month * play a wooden flute * design a cross-stitch picture * decorate a box * make a list of funny words * read about a new craft * arrange some flowers * jump rope and make up rhymes * create a brochure * go to an arts festival * challenge a self-perception * burn candles * take nature photos * plan a party * illustrate a journal * create an arty wardrobe * dance to rock favorites from the 70s * make a snowman * play with crayons, colored pencils, or paint pens * plan a surprise for myself * make my own gift bags * recycle old earrings into new jewelry or sculpture * splurge on soft sheets * draw a picture of who I am becoming * write a fan letter * build a sand sculpture * think up arguments to quiet my inner critic * tell someone off in my head * play with stripes * buy myself a toy * create a mantra for each day * observe in moonlight * make love in a new way * make a drum * go caroling * light some incense * daydream in a hammock * create an altar * tell someone how much I care about them * meditate * shirk responsibility * rent a bicycle * build a studio * draw a cartoon * play on a playground * draw a picture of my creativity * have a pillow fight * press some leaves or flowers * rearrange the furniture * join a book discussion group * do some bad art * learn Spanish * climb a tree * pamper myself * write a Dear John letter to the part of myself I want to shed * try out for a play * write a letter to the creative child in me * take voice lessons * participate in an open mike poetry reading * enter a contest * make an artist totem * write a good review of my work * cuddle up with a blanket and my stuffed puppy * write verses for children * notice ceilings * make a spiritual corner in my house * make a junk sculpture * draw a mandala * take tap dancing lessons…

Whew! That was FUN! What else would you include on your list of artistic possibilities for the new year?


New Year’s Challenges

December 29, 2008

If I leave my writing for one day, it leaves me for three. ~Madeleine L’Engle

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~Julia Cameron

Despite Julia Cameron’s words, I have decided to participate in the somewhat controlled Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009. Within this very loose framework (the creator gives full permission to participate stress-free–that is, however and whenever you like), I hope to enter that process of creative surrender more often in the coming year.

My first act in the CED challenge will be to create a list on this blog of as many possible creative activities I can think of that I might like to try this year. I hope you’ll add your creative ideas to the list when it’s posted in early January.

In addition, I’ve signed up for The Power of Less New Year’s Challenge at Zen Habits. This requires a pledge to practice something, anything, but only one thing, 10 minutes a day for 30 days. I figure surely I can work in 10 minutes of yoga every single day during January. Don’tcha think?

So rather than resolutions for the new year, I am giving myself two challenges. No one has asked, but I’ll confess to having fallen off the strength training wagon I committed to here. It seems like a great program, but it’s just not right for me, I discovered. So I am going to call that not failure, but learning!

Will you set challenges for yourself in 2009?


Making Meaning

December 22, 2008

It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard. ~May Sarton

I awoke (awakened?) at 3:30 with the images from this morning’s poem and had to get up and write. It was influenced by my reading of Dr. Eric Maisel’s book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression. Maisel contends that all creatives suffer depression, and that liberation from depression is possible by creating meaning, forcing our lives to mean. He offers a prescription, in fact, consisting of such things as nurturing self-support, opting to matter, braving anxiety.

Maisel acknowledges that there is a role for anti-depressant drugs, and that early trauma is often a contributor to depression. But he clearly believes that creative people are primarily depressed as a result of their need to make meaning of their lives.

I am just a little over halfway through with this book, but I have found it both fascinating and practical. For example, he offers a sort of mantra of self-soothing in the following passage: “You have to tell yourself, ‘I am the beauty in life’…You combat what shaming did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what criticism did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what a sterile environment did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.'”

Meaningful creating seems to involve working soulfully, a path with heart. How do you create meaning?


Solitude, Silence, Spaces

December 13, 2008

Every kind of creative work demands solitude, and being alone, constructively alone, is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process. ~Barbara Powell

Winter is a natural time for hibernation, re-creation of ourselves, inward exploration. After three days of being with others, I am relishing my Saturday morning solitude. Jung said, “Silence is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.” I can relate to that!

Yet how many of us take time to listen to ourselves, to retreat into silence and solitude as healing practices? It is very difficult in today’s world of instant and ever-present communication. Our environments have increasingly become loud, busy, cluttered palettes without the pauses that allow us to make meaning of them.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says,”Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.” In a world where there are few spaces and silences, I think we must protect that dreamy idleness Ueland calls moodling (more here); that percolation process Bonni Goldberg writes about in her book on writing, Beyond the Words.

How do you create spaces and silences that help you digest your experiences, that make room for creative response?


Living Creatively: 10 Ideas

December 9, 2008

I embrace emerging experience.
I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly.
I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.

~William Stafford

Recently I stayed overnight at Pat’s apartment, and was inspired by her creative spirit, the art on her walls, and her projects in progress. Then I saw this post on Creativity Portal–Deanne Fitzpatrick’s 101 Ideas for Living Creatively. I decided to come up with some of my own ideas for living more of an artist’s life.

1. Write or draw in a new place–in a coffeehouse, in nature, in the kitchen, at the library.
2. Find something around the house to alter or decorate and recycle as a gift.
3. Think of a game I loved as a child and play it.
4. Surprise someone who needs a lift–with a handmade card, a homemade treat, or just an act of kindness.
5. Just say no to computer games, and blog or write a poem instead.
6. Walk somewhere instead of driving. Notice the smallest things I can see along the way.
7. Carry a writer’s notebook at all times, and capture ideas, images, overheard conversations, anything that sparks my imagination.
8. Tune in to the natural world for a while with my senses. Watch birds, smell the earth, sit on the grass, listen to a flowing stream, sway in the breeze, bask in the sunshine.
9. Give myself a gift–a nap, yoga, a massage, or whatever my body needs at the moment. See what images come to me when I am nurtured and relaxed.
10. Ask a “what if” question about everything that comes my way for a day.

What helps you stay connected to your creative spirit?


Woundedness

September 18, 2008

Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you. ~Rumi

There are things in this life that hurt! The challenge of the wounded, I think, is in not identifying with woundedness, in being more than that. But when we avoid or repress the woundedness, we don’t heal properly. Recently, old repressed pain has been bubbling to the surface for me (see also these references to heartbreakthroughs). An image came to me this week of a wounded bird, trapped and panicky, in need of soothing. I want to open my heart and let the grief and pain pass through and away, but it is difficult work.

When I considered the image of the bird, two things came to mind: a ring I have worn for years, and a collection of spirit stones my friend Elaine made for me a long time ago. The ring came from the Southwest Indian Foundation and has a prominent thunderbird motif. The spirit stones Elaine chose for me, and the characteristics they represent, were the following: Otter-laughter; Spider-creativity; Bee-organization; Loon-solitude, singing; and Thunderbird-spirituality. Some Native Americans believed that the water animals were healers, the land animals protectors, and the air and sky creatures embodied spirituality and wisdom. I like the idea of protecting (bandaging) myself with creativity, and of healing with laughter (and perhaps solitude and singing, too)!

I have resisted the thunderbird, though. In fact, when the ring came in the mail, I was disappointed, since the catalog image was a ring with tiny pueblos in relief. On my ring, little sections of pueblos flank a large central bird. I knew each piece was hand-crafted and so a unique design, but I expected the ring to look more like the photo. I even asked if there was any possibility of exchanging it, but received no reply. Now I think it might have been meant for me. Perhaps my life journey is moving from wounded bird to powerful thunderbird, eh? For now, I’ll do my best to keep my gaze on the bandaged place where the light enters.


Words That Sing

August 29, 2008

In journalism, there is no music that does not conform to truth; in poetry, no truth that does not conform to music. If you can’t find truth that makes music, you must change truth to make music. ~Judson Mitcham

I’m sure that is not an exact quote, but it is the gist of an idea I heard Mitcham express in a writer’s conference in 1996. He asked, “Where does the poem sing?” At the same conference, Mike Fournier asked us to consider how a poem would sound to someone who doesn’t speak English. He said the sound of a poem is what makes it memorable.

The two books I remember from my earliest reading days were a cloth book and a Disney book. The cloth book began, “How big are you baby, why don’t you know? You’re only so big, and there’s still room to grow.” The Mickey Mouse book began, “Bang, bang went the hammers, and zzzzz went the saws. A new house was being built.” I remember these lines because they were music. As were the Cautionary Verses of Hilaire Belloc I memorized and recited as a child. (“The chief defect of Henry King/was chewing little bits of string…”) Verses may not be poetry, but they can teach us about words that sing.

Charles Olson talked about the poem as syllable + line: The head, by way of the ear, to the syllable. The heart, by way of the breath, to the line. Makes perfect sense to me. I don’t know if this one sings, but here’s a poem from 2004.

Wildflowers

The ones we saw: violets in profusion,
dwarf crested iris, trillium,
the ubiquitous cinquefoil.

We stooped to see the brilliant red stamens
on the tiny star chickweed
and exclaimed at acres of mayapple
umbrellas all along the trail.

The ones we didn’t see–
pink lady’s slipper, mountain laurel,
and the majestic rhododendron–
will come in their own time.

And the ones we overlooked
will keep their secrets, while we
will go on planting our huge feet
one in front of the other until
we must lie down with our sisters
among the leaves.


Do What You Love

July 24, 2008

Pursue the things you love doing, and do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. All other tangible rewards will come as a result. ~Maya Angelou

I love blogging! I am surprised by that, as it is not something I would have ever thought I would enjoy so much. I’m astonished that I have been writing here for almost a year. I’ve always known I loved words and writing, and all my writing came out as poetry until I found this medium. But I’ve discovered that I really like writing these short, personal essays and ruminations. As I said in the last post, writing pulls me along into the work I need to do, suggests new ways of looking at life, and helps me make sense of the world. Grace Paley said, “You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.”

What do you love doing? If you can’t do it for a living, how can you do it as an avocation? Or what small bit of it can you integrate into your life right now?


Finding Flow

July 19, 2008

The real challenge, however, is to reduce entropy in one’s surroundings without increasing it in one’s consciousness. The Buddhists have a good piece of advice as to how this can be done: “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” ~from Finding Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I finished reading Finding Flow* last night. It was very different from what I expected, but interesting! The subtitle is “The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life,” and the book reads more like a science-meets-religion treatise than a self-help book. In the end, I found myself thinking optimistically of the “new earth” that Eckhart Tolle talks about.

In Finding Flow, the author encourages us to engage mindfully, to take ownership of our actions, rather than spending our leisure in passive entertainment. This, he says, will create flow as well as increase happiness. I have certainly found this to be true in my experience. It’s easier to work a crossword puzzle than to stare down a blank page and write a poem, less effort to watch TV than to call a friend, but I know which of these feeds me and leads to greater happiness.

And again the idea of loving what is pops up–what Nietzsche called amor fati–“the love of fate.”  Csikszentmihalyi warns us that people can also learn to love what is destructive, so we must choose our goals wisely. Science has helped us to understand what promotes and sustains growth, life, and order, and to understand the uniqueness of each of us. He says “each one of us is responsible for our particular point in space and time in which our body and mind forms a link within the total network of existence.” Being virtuous (that is, acting to preserve order, taking into account the common good, the emotional well-being of others) is not the easy path, but the satisfying one, and connects one to the flow of all that was, is, and ever shall be.

*Finding Flow was previously mentioned here.


Love and Creativity

July 12, 2008

For I know that the energy of the creative impulse comes from love and all its manifestations–admiration, compassion, glowing respect, gratitude, praise, compassion, tenderness, adoration, enthusiasm. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live. ~Thoreau

Two of the poems I submitted recently (see Submission), “Easter” and “White Pine Cabin,” will be published in the anthology at Kennesaw State University (Poetry of the Golden Generation, volume IV)! I think Ueland was on to something, because both of these were written from love and its manifestations, and I do believe that all my poems are from that place, regardless of their subjects.

Today I want to be grateful, loving, compassionate. I want to recover enthusiasm, so noticeably absent lately. Perhaps instead of sitting down to write, I need to stand up to live.


Blogsickness

July 2, 2008

There is nothing that can stop the Creative. If life is full of joy, joy feeds the creative process. If life is full of grief, grief feeds the creative process. ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, in Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts (p. 196)

Again I will say that this is one of my favorite books. The last chapter, from which the quote is taken, is called “Heartbreakthrough.” I love that idea, and in fact have been having visions of my heart breaking wide open. Although I must say, I have not been able to tell that my grief of recent days has fed the creative process. It must have (else from whence came visions?), but I’ve been “blogsick” at being unable to write here lately.

So I’m glad to be back at the keyboard today, talking to myself with a hope that someone kind is eavesdropping. Iris Dement in person last week, what can I say? Claudia said I was acting like it was Elvis, and I said, “Iris is my Elvis.” The enormous fun I had with friends brought my loneliness into sharp relief. Iris didn’t sing “Got No Time to Cry” but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Have you ever had a heartbreakthrough? I feel one coming on…


Attention!

June 21, 2008

We create ourselves by how we invest the energy of our attention.  ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Finding Flow

Oh, dear, another book to put on my list. But what a pithy quote! (I got it from a post at Changing Places, where you can find more quotes on attention–thanks, Donna!) In spite of my desire to pay attention to my attention, I often forget how important and powerful it is–that I am literally creating myself through it.

I have paid too little attention to this blog recently, partly because of busyness, partly from avoidance. It is so much easier to play computer Scrabble against the maven or space out doing crossword puzzles. While I’m told that both of these activities are good for my brain, they feel like time-killers. How much more satisfying (albeit more difficult) it is to write something new.

I realize I need “down time,” but more attention to my down-time activities could result in choosing things that feed me, rather than numb me. A walk in the yard, a blog entry, or contact with a friend. Something that makes time expand (rather than disappear) because it requires a special kind of attention.

How do you squander your time and/or attention (if you do)? What feeds you?


The Case Against Will

June 1, 2008

When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it. 

So you see, the imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  ~Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write (Graywolf Press, 2007)

It is easy to see why Ueland’s work is a classic and hard to believe I have not read it until now. I know already that it will be one of those I will want to reread every couple of years, as I do other books of distilled wisdom (Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for example).

As one who has struggled for years to will self-care, I could not agree more with Ueland’s case against will. The harder I try to force myself to eat right and exercise more, the fiercer the rebellious resistance becomes. (If I knew I would do it, I would just smile happily and set about it!) She shares what I find to be an interesting insight: “People who try to boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas.” (God forbid.) Describing herself as “a fearful self-disciplinarian” who has learned a better way, she promotes “dreamy idleness” as a way of quietly letting in imaginative thoughts. 

The best news is that Ueland’s “moodling” is (for the most part) simply being in the present moment! She says, “…when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.” She tells us that “…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful, and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.”

P. S. Did Ueland coin the word “moodling?” Merriam-Webster does not know it.


Clear Space

May 28, 2008

Present-moment awareness creates a gap not only in the stream of mind but also in the past-future continuum. Nothing truly new and creative can come into this world except through that gap, that clear space of infinite possibility.  ~Eckhart Tolle, from The Power of Now

Thinking about that clear space, ironically, as I prepare to return to work after a week-long vacation. But the space Tolle means is space we can have access to anytime. Ceasing our obsessive thinking, coming into the present, we understand that time and space are one, here and now.

This is good news. It means creativity is available to me virtually anytime, anywhere. I don’t have to have a special writing pen or desk, a lot of free time or extra energy, or even inspiration (especially not ideas!). I have only to stop, notice, be in the now. Surrender to life, to the moment. Tolle says, “No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.”

How do you experience creative moments? Do they come unbidden; do you arrange conditions to induce them? What if you surrendered to the gap, that clear space of infinite possibility?


The Soul at Work

May 26, 2008

Tell a wise person or else keep silent.  ~Goethe

Our deeper struggles are in effect our greatest spiritual and creative assets and the doors to whatever creativity we might possess. It seems to be a learned wisdom to share them with others only when they have the possibility of meeting them with some maturity.  ~David Whyte, inThe Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

This post began as a follow-up to the previous post, a balancing admonition about trusting others to understand our truths. It was prompted by my rereading one of my favorite books, from which these quotes are taken. I originally read The Heart Aroused in its first edition (published in 1994), and when I decided to buy a copy, I was delighted to find that it was revised in 2002. Exploration and revelation of our most authentic selves is certainly risky in the traditional workplace. But in the end, this post is less about the risks of disclosure and more about the broader subject of the soul at work.

Whyte helps us reconcile the world of work, or doing, with the soul, or being. He characterizes this divide as “a veritable San Andreas Fault in the American psyche: the personality’s wish to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul’s wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be.” Whyte cautions that “with little understanding of the essential link between the soul life and the creative gifts of their employees, hardheaded businesses listening so carefully to their hardheaded consultants may go the way of the incredibly hardheaded dinosaurs.” I believe this book should be required reading for all managers and students of business management.

Thankfully, there are environments that encourage the messy soul work that employees long to do. I came from (and helped create) one of those places, imperfect as it was, and I have since grieved for the belonging I experienced there. Whyte holds that when we do not feel belonging, “no attempt to coerce enthusiasm or imagination from us can be sustained for long.”

Whyte takes his title from the famous William Carlos Williams poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” which poignantly reminds us that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.” Using poetry, psychology and myth, Whyte encourages us to face our fears and claim our authentic soul power in the world of work.


Experience

May 4, 2008

Zen is essentially about rebirth from the experience of Being. Zen teaches us…to “taste” divine Being in the here-and-now. But to have this experience and have it validly, we must first discard the old consciousness, which has hardened into habit and determines the way we think and act.  ~Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

Discarding the old consciousness…changing habits…not the easiest of tasks, but one that will keep us fresh, I think. I am drawn to poetry when it surprises me–with unlikely juxtapositions, unusual or melodic words, or unexpected rhythms. Perhaps such poetry plunges me into experience, the Being that Dürckheim talks about.

I was disappointed when I attended a poetry workshop with Amy Clampitt several years ago. She critiqued my submitted poem harshly, complaining (as best I could understand) that the world didn’t need another poem about a photograph, and that what I needed was experience.

Here is the poem. Tell me what you think.

After the Fishing Trip, 1953

Swayback with the weight of a child
unborn and of salt-water bass
hung by the gills on each middle finger,
my mother poses with painted fingernails
in front of an empty playpen on the grass.
Her eyes are deep, black,
and I wonder who caught those fish.
My father (I imagine)
snaps the picture and takes the fish
to slit their stomachs on the scaling table.
Perhaps he frees a lucky fiddler crab
that needs no help to find its way home.

 

 


A Hand Up

April 25, 2008

What do we live for, if it is not to make life a little less difficult for each other?  ~George Eliot

I am writing less, working more, and handing power over to stress these days, in spite of the beautiful greening and flowering of spring. Stop. Breathe. Rest. Pay attention. I have to remind myself. It is easy to get far removed from creative impulse, to forget to listen to inner wisdom, in this world so full of distractions.

Last night my friends made me laugh in spite of myself. Eliot’s quote makes me think of a bad poem I once wrote with an ending something like: “Why would we be here/if not to offer a hand up/still reaching with the other?”

This evening, the indigo bunting is what takes my breath away.


Just Write It!

April 17, 2008

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.  ~Erica Jong

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.  ~Ray Bradbury

More writers on writing (there’s an earlier post by that title). Today I broke down and bought a Moleskine notebook at Barnes & Noble. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I have been lusting after one since I read this post at Put Things Off.

I want to write, to be drunk on writing, to be a writer (and NOT a writer-who-doesn’t-write). This blog is the closest I’ve come in years to having a consistent writing practice. Maybe I’ve been avoiding the dark places or the scary blank page or my own power. But, as with many situations in life, the best solution is to act with courage. To write.

so much depends
upon

a black Moleskine
journal

lined, with back
pocket

beside the blue
notecards.


Being Flow

April 11, 2008

You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.  ~Grace Paley

When the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.  ~William Baziotes

Writing (or any creative work) is discovery. That is why it is so frightening, so exhilirating, so compelling. This blog is my exercise in writing in what I don’t know. When the blog entry is finished, the subject reveals itself. I merely try to follow my mind and heart where they lead–first in choosing a quotation, then in my response to it.

This is good practice, I believe, for surrendering to life, for letting myself “be carried” by the universe, for loving what is. Perhaps writing will save my soul. I keep returning to Ray Bradbury’s advice from Zen in the Art of Writing: “WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.” There is so much wisdom in that simple exhortation. I am not sure how it could be more perfect.

William Stafford said, “Intention endangers creation.” May I approach my work with relaxation and a spirit of inquiry. May I surrender to the world with faith that I will be carried. May I set aside intention, will, and the illusion of control in order to be in the flow–no!–to be the flow–of all creation.


Creative Work

April 5, 2008

If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.  ~Van Gogh

If someone thinks writers are crazy when they writing, he or she should see them when they’re not.  ~Hilda Downer

April is National Poetry Month, and I have subscribed to a Poem-A-Day during the month of April from the Academy of American Poets. I have hardly written any poetry in years, but I still yearn to do so. I am finding the Poem-A-Day a sort of lifeline to my creative self!

No writing, yet, mind you…but I feel that the stage is being set. Daily life has intruded for far too long. Too much busyness over the last few months–work, a heavy travel schedule, and two simultaneous post-graduate classes. But today, I am going to stop and see the mist hanging between the hills, the red-bellied woodpecker at the suet feeder, the graceful redbud branches heavy with blossoms. I am going to stop and hear the gentle rain, feel the cool, heavy air, and smell the cheerful hyacinths in their barrel.

Poetry is, after all, rooted in mindfulness. “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams. And saxifrage can split the rocks.


Living in Process

April 1, 2008

Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensely absorbed in the process and giving it form.  ~Susan Smith

In creative endeavors, I have tried to remember that process is important, usually (always?) more important than product. But I don’t know that I’ve applied this principal consciously to living itself. At least this seems to me a new way of thinking about familiar ideas. What does it look like to live in process? Smith gives us some definition: being open to insight and encounter.

Cultivating openness seems a worthy goal. And I love the fact that the quote addresses openness both to intuition (self) and in relationship (other). If we think beyond subject-object dualism, this is one and the same, I suppose. An open heart is an open heart. And I long for a truly open heart.

It is fear that prevents the heart from opening fully to experience. Creative moments are so ecstatic because we flow, for a moment, in the stream of process, without fear. Because we open our hearts to the experience, surrendering the illusion of control. In that place, fear has no substance, no power.

When are you most open to insight and encounter? How can we expand those opportunities for living in process?


Balance

March 2, 2008

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. ~Stephen Covey

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth and the soul requires inward restfulness to attain its full height. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Without great solitude no serious work is possible. ~Pablo Picasso 

I have recently submitted requests for vacation days several months in advance. In May I will travel with friends to a state park for a few days R&R; in June, I plan to see Iris DeMent in concert; and I have scheduled several Mondays off to extend my weekends. The Mondays in particular will allow me space and time for silence, solitude and creativity.

For too long, my paid work has been a priority that crowded out others. While I love my work, I have to consciously attend to relationships, home, solitude and rest in order to maintain balance. How do you achieve balance in your life among the many demands you face and roles you play?


Free Time

February 24, 2008

…the Chinese pictograph for busyness is “heart killing.” ~from Sue Monk Kidd’s Firstlight

Whenever we have a little free time, most of us seek some form of amusement. We pick up a serious book, a novel, or a magazine. If we are in America, we turn on the radio or the television, or we indulge in incessant talk. There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves….Very few of us ever walk in the fields and the woods, not talking or singing songs, but just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves.  ~J. Krishnamurti

Today I celebrate space, free time. In addition to my work, which includes a lot of travel and a 3-hour commute 3 days a week, I am taking two post-Master’s classes this semester. So it is rare these days to have hours without busyness and obligations, but today I have virtually nothing I have to do. No “heart-killing” for me today.

I find that order, space, and free time are helpful in stimulating my creative impulses. So I will first tidy my office and then surround myself with the tools of creativity: paper and pencil, my favorite books, art supplies, and other familiar playthings. Even the computer is a tool for creative work if I refuse to be seduced by stumbling upon new Web sites, playing computer Scrabble or checking e-mail.

Later, I may “walk in the fields and woods…observing things.”  Or practice yoga and mindfulness meditation. How do you use free time?

P. S. This is a quote that belongs with my previous post on the ineffable creative process:  Art criticism is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds. ~Barnett Newman


Resistance

February 19, 2008

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. ~Steven Pressfield

So begins the third chapter in Pressfield’s The War of Art. The author goes on to characterize this enemy of art (and of everything that calls forth our higher nature) as invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, impersonal, and infallible.  And that’s only the beginning! “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work,” Pressfield continues. “If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” 

I’m glad to add this book to my list of favorite books on writing and the creative process. I believe Resistance has a lot to do with why I blog. It is oh-so-much-easier than writing poetry. And even now, I want to get up and pour a glass of wine or pet the cat, instead of finishing this post, taking my clothes out of the dryer, and then walking on the treadmill.

The only cure, of course, is that old Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” The work itself is all that saves us from evil Resistance. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to get to work.

What’s your experience with that grumpy old bear, Resistance?


The Art Spirit

February 13, 2008

The brush stroke at the moment of contact carries inevitably the exact state of being of the artist at that exact moment into the work, and there it is, to be seen and read by those who can read such signs, and to be read later by the artist himself, with perhaps some surprise, as a revelation of himself.  ~Robert Henri

I can hardly believe I omitted one of my favorite books on creativity in a previous post: Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. And now, looking for it on my bookshelf, I believe I must have lent it to someone who has not returned it. As I can’t imagine being long without it, I’ll have to order another copy!

I’m listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now on my commute. Too soon to tell what I think of it, but so far I haven’t heard anything I disagree with. He invites us to imagine a world without people. Would you ask a tree or a bird what time it is? If you did and they were to answer, they would say, “It is now, of course.” I believe being here now is what enables us to channel creativity, to achieve “the brush stroke of the moment.” If we are not fully present, that stroke does NOT carry us into the work.

May I pause in the next busy days to be here in my life. May I listen for the winds of creativity blowing through my spirit.


Creative Space

February 2, 2008

Creative endeavor requires physical and mental space; without privacy, solitude, and time it suffocates. It is not easy to be independent in a crowd and it is impossible to pursue independent thought in the scattered remnants of a day or of a lifetime….Finally, the creative life requires an environment which is free, open, and never so logical and efficient that it cannot be unpredictable.  ~Judith Groch

I have been too much with the world the past few weeks. Today I am enjoying a little window of space and time before I go back to that hurried existence. There are days when I long to retire in order to have that “physical and mental space” Groch talks about. I remember a luxurious, solitary, twelve-hour train ride on Amtrak’s “Southern Crescent” that resulted in this little poem:

From the Crescent

Dry, brown kudzu climbs the banks
as the river sludges, rain-red,
beside the train.
Walls of windworn rock
loom suddenly, then fall away.

Language spatters the whitewash of sound
on board: floating phrases, murmurs,
an occasional cry.
Hours stretch before me–grace–
and I rock in the rhythm of all things.


Slow Down!

January 14, 2008

Beware of the anti-muse, she who distracts you and leaves you exhausted in a state of pique.  ~Christopher Richards

This quote made me laugh with recognition, as does Christopher’s site today with the animated cartoon advertising Slow Down Week (who knew this was Slow Down Week?) For me the anti-muse is decidedly busy-ness. Distraction, exhaustion, pique. I’ve never heard more apt adjectives for the effects of busy-ness.

And the antidote to the anti-muse, for me, is mindfulness. Noticing. Curiosity. Being present in my body (hmm, my hands are cold; hmm, my back is tired; hmm, I need to take a deep breath; hmm, something smells wonderful in the kitchen). Stillness. Pausing. Engaging. Being here now.

My best writing practice sessions begin with sensing the world around me and describing that as unconsciously as I can. “DON’T THINK,” is Ray Bradbury’s wise advice for writers. Thinking is the death of creativity, bringing with it judging, censoring, intention, self-consciousness, and abstraction, none of which will engage the reader. 

So, I for one will participate in Slow Down Week for the remainder of this week (as best I can in the midst of overstimulation, hyperactivity, and “noise” of all kinds). How about you?


Fun

January 12, 2008

You see, I don’t believe that libraries should be drab places where people sit in silence, and that’s been the main reason for our policy of employing wild animals as librarians.  ~Monty Python 

Having just visited the delightful BookLust site, I am inspired and resolved to have more fun in my blog. Yes, I might actually give you (and myself) a break from my serious pondering, my search for enlightenment, and my “always do right” attitude! Won’t that be refreshing?

So here goes:
There once was a blogger who laughed,
(when she found a new blog that was daft)
“I can make this fun
and I will,” whereupon,
she created a whimsical draft.

Let’s get cracking!  What’s your favorite joke/riddle/pun/funny quotation/silly poem? I mentioned Cautionary Verses in an earlier post. While we’re on the subject of books, here’s a link to Sarah Byng, who could not read and was tossed into a thorny hedge by a bull. Enjoy!

P.S. You can see I just learned to embed links, so of course I had to show off and use 3 of them!  Isn’t learning fun, fun, fun?


Stories

January 11, 2008

It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.  ~Doris Lessing

Yesterday I read Doris Lessing’s acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize for Literature, from which this quote is excerpted. Children in Zimbabwe crave books and stories, while we take them for granted at best, and pass them over for the more immediately-stimulating, instantly-gratifying Internet. Lessing tells such a compelling story. You can read it here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,331488257-110738,00.html.

Books are companions to the lonely, nourishment for the mind, engaging and satisfying, recreational and life-changing. Charles W. Eliot said, ” Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

What are the books that have been transformative in your life?


Love

January 7, 2008

In love, we disappear. We stop the world, we stop being two selves, and become an activity, an open field of sensitivity…The experience of love is as close as most of us get, after childhood’s end, to feeling that we are not bound by our skin, that the circumference of self can be moved or penetrated or dissolved in union with another…The word “desire” comes from de-sidere, “away from your star.” It means elongation from the source and the concomitant, powerful magnetic pull to get back to the source.  ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play (pp. 168, 167, 165)

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; while loving someone deeply gives you courage.  ~Lao Tzu

What an interesting Lao Tzu quote! I think of courage as coming before (being required for) loving, though I don’t doubt that loving strengthens our courage muscles. Those of us who know what it means to be deeply loved are (I believe) immensely fortunate and stronger from it.

What grace love is. It’s not about you, or me, or even us, but about something beyond, what Nachmanovitch calls an activity, what some call creativity or encounter.

I like the image of the magnetic pull to return to one’s star, but I suppose the Buddhists would say we have never been separate from it, that we have only thought ourselves separate.

What is love to you?


The Ineffable Creative Process

January 6, 2008

An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.  ~Jean Cocteau

Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.  ~Frank Zappa

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. ~Martin Mull

Since that leaves nothing to say about the creative process, here’s an example of its product: a country love song I wrote a while back.  Who out there can put the right music to it so we can publish it??

Slow Smile

Born and raised Appalachian
Pickin’ banjo and guitar
Playin’ with the band at night
Now they say you’re a local star
How many years you been at this?
Well it looks like twenty or more
Doin’ what you love but still
Wonderin’ what you’re put here for

(Chorus)
You’re here to gimme that slow smile
And look into my eyes
Gotta have your slow smile
The one that took me by surprise

You know I didn’t come here
Lookin’ for a man to turn my head
So why do I think of you at night
When I’m tossin’ in my bed?
Well I can’t say for certain
But I think I’m in trouble again
My mind’s confused and distracted
And I’m doin’ things I don’t understand

C’mon and gimme that slow smile
Make me feel a fast heartbeat
Yeah baby got a slow smile
And it’s turnin’ up the heat

They say that mountains can’t be moved
But I don’t believe it’s true
‘Cause I was sure my heart was rock
And it’s meltin’ now for you
Maybe I’ll have to stay now
I never counted on your charms
I know I can’t go away now
When you hold me in your arms

I fell hard for your slow smile
That look that was in your eyes
C’mon and gimme your slow smile
The one that took me by surprise

1998, Lyn Hopper


Writers on Writing

January 2, 2008

Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?  ~Brenda Ueland

Intention endangers creation. ~William Stafford

To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.  ~Ray Bradbury

In no particular order, here are my favorite books on writing:

*Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
*Writing the Australian Crawl and You Must Revise Your Life, by William Stafford
*Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
*Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg
*On Writing, by Stephen King
*Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
*If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland

…and a couple of titles on the creative process: 

*Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, by Stephen Nachmanovitch
*Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland

And when we start taking ourselves too seriously, there’s always Steven Wright: “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” (See Wright on Writing.)


Being a Beginner

December 15, 2007

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.  ~Shunryu Suzuki

I’m convinced that the most direct path to our creativity starts from a place of unknowing. Or perhaps the creativity is the path. Young children know how to play their way into understanding, making mistakes, falling down, trying new approaches. But as we grow, those creative impulses are trained out of us. We become afraid of looking foolish, of not knowing, and we cling to certain answers, indisputable facts, narrow views. I want to recover the ability to see as a beginner, and I want to practice being a beginner over and over again, so that nothing becomes fixed and without possibilities.


Creativity and Will

November 11, 2007

Refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.  ~Julia Cameron

Wow. Refusal to be creative. An act of self-will. Is this different from Nachmanovitch’s take that our task is to unblock the obstacles to creativity’s natural flow? I suppose self-will is one of those obstacles. It is empowering, though, to see it as an act of self-will and not unseen forces acting on us. And how does that fit with the egolessness of Buddhism? If I can truly accept the dissolution of the self, will creativity resume its natural flow? I think so.

What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor? “Make me one with everything.” 🙂


Creation

October 29, 2007

Spontaneous creation comes from our deepest being and is immaculately and originally ourselves. What we have to express is already with us, is us, so the work of creativity is not a matter of making the material come, but of unblocking the obstacles to its natural flow.  ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, from Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts (p. 10)

I adore this book, maybe because I need it so much. If you are fascinated by the creative process, as I am, don’t miss the elegant prose of Nachmanovitch. Unblocking the obstacles to natural flow has certainly been the work of my life so far, and I don’t feel as though I’ve made much progress. The moments when I do feel the flow are the moments I am truly alive. And those moments sometimes appear in the unlikeliest times and places. How do you play? How do you unblock the obstacles to your creativity?


All Is Now

September 12, 2007

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
~Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

No beginning, no end…the circle of life. All time exists now. We Westerners have a hard time giving up our linear thought, our linear sense of time.  I think I love poetry in large part because it can cut through habits of thought.  Good poetry surprises us, makes us see new relationships, gives us a glimpse of the poet’s creative joy.  How does linear thought, a linear sense of beginnings and endings, limit us?  What might be possible by suspending it?


Authenticity

August 16, 2007

Music is your own experience, your thoughts and wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. ~Charlie Parker

I love this quote. And I don’t think it’s just about music. Any creative act (and everyone performs them) is only as good as the naturalness, the inevitability, of its expression. The next line in a poem MUST be a particular line in light of what the poet has lived, and tuning in to find out what that next line will be is the trick!


On the Creative Process

August 13, 2007

Spontaneous creation comes from our deepest being and is immaculately and originally ourselves. What we have to express is already with us, is us, so the work of creativity is not a matter of making the material come, but of unblocking the obstacles to its natural flow. ~From a marvelous book by Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts (p. 10)

I find that the moments in which I am most absorbed (when I “lose myself” in whatever I am doing and lose track of time altogether) are the best clues to what I should be doing. Nachmanovitch also says, “The workmanlike attitude is inherently nondualistic–we are one with our work. If I act out of a separation of subject and object–I, the subject, working on it, the object–then my work is something other than myself; I will want to finish it quickly and get on with my life…But if art and life are one, we feel free to work through each sentence, each note, each color, as though we had infinite amounts of time and energy.”