All too often, I wish for things that are easily within my reach. Things that could fall into my arms without effort or things that I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I never achieved them. My wish list is just too wimpy. This year, I’m going to add things that will seem like miracles if they happen, things that will knock me off my feet with joy, things that I dream about instead of doing. What’s on your list for 2015?
Archive for ‘Creative Process’
When I stopped working full-time, I decided I’d start the day by reading something that inspired me, interested me or taught me something new. I designated the oversized blue chair in my home office as the spot where I’d drink a cup of coffee and do some writing and reading every morning. The broad, capacious chair was originally purchased at a yard sale by a friend and passed on to me. It was upholstered in a nondescript old-fashioned print, and I had it recovered in a beautiful pale turquoise fabric with white flowers from Maine Cottage. With wide embracing arms, it looks like a chair made to dream in. I made it a digital-free zone and spent my mornings with a books, a pot of pens and a notebook. I underlined sentences and wrote in margins and marked favorite passages with sticky notes. I got lost in poems and the past, read natural history and studied spirituality. I began to rediscover slow time. But gradually I started to take on freelance assignments with deadlines, scheduled iCal meetings and coffee with friends and stopped visiting the blue chair. The “real world” called. The world where it’s important to have a job description, a business card, a purpose. Where it’s necessary to be busy, be visible, be a striver, a doer, a maker. This week I noticed that the stack of books on the arm of the chair hasn’t been whittled away or added to for months. An orange zafu meditation cushion I never use is sitting where I used to, and the rest of the chair has become a temporary way station for a revolving collection of jackets, purses and shopping bags. It’s time to clear out the mundane, make room for the magic and keep an overdue date with the blue chair.
I have a few durable heroes and role models in my life, and Joan Didion has never moved off the list. I’ve had numerous copies of her book of essays, SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM, all of which I’ve lost through the years. After reading this article in Huffington Post, I forwarded it to my goddaughter who’s an aspiring writer and then ordered yet another copy of the book for myself. I’ll start the year out by re-reading the essay ON KEEPING A NOTEBOOK and hope it inspires me to make a fresh start with my writing. What will you do to make a fresh start in the coming year?
September marks the first time in 20 years that I haven’t written the cover copy for the magazine I started in 1994. Although I left the publication at the end of 2013, I continued to write the covers. I’d felt for a long time, though, that it was becoming more difficult to gear up for that deadline every month. At first I thought I was just burned out and needed a pause, but I started to realize that it was also because I’d lost the voice of that magazine that once was second nature to me. Second nature because I developed it and it was in some ways an alter ego for me. But I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. Somewhere along the way, I started changing, but the only inkling I had for a long time was a nagging discomfort, like wearing a pair of shoes that are too small but so beautiful you can’t bear to give them up. For a non-adventurer like me, a rut is more comfortable than a disruption, but some messages become too insistent to ignore. One day, I just literally ran out of words. Once that happened, I couldn’t stand the thought of writing something false, something that didn’t ring true to me no matter how it might read to others. When that happened, it wasn’t difficult to give up writing for Skirt. The hardest thing is to wait and hope that I’ll find a new authentic voice, one that fits who I am today. In the meantime, it’s a relief to take off those beautiful shoes and go barefoot for awhile.
I just read an article on the National Wildlife Federation website says that kids now spend an average of only 30 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play and up to 7 hours in front of an electronic screen of some sort. It was a shocking statistic that I immediately realized applied to me as well. If I go outdoors, it’s to power walk, not to stroll or wander, and most of my day is spent in front of a computer or behind a Kindle. When I was a kid, especially before I became an obsessive voracious reader, I spent most of the summer outside playing or just hanging around. Adults really did not want us underfoot any more than we wanted to be there. On my grandparents’ farm, there was always something to do outside. I spent hours sitting on the fence with a stick and twine pretending I was fishing or watching the occasional car go by and never being bored. Now my mind is habituated to the constant stimulation of the internet, and the prospect of just sitting on the front steps or taking a stroll through my neighborhood makes me itch with impatience. Last weekend, I went for a beach walk with a friend on the island that’s just minutes over a bridge from my house. So easy to access and yet I rarely do. So beautiful once I’m there, and yet I’m always “too busy.” Having the ocean and sky fill up my eyes was like a massage for my soul, a Sunday sermon for my senses. When I first moved to SC and lived on that island, my daughter and I shared a house with a friend and her son. As an introvert, it was hard for me to settle into being around so many people who were always there plus drop-in visitors, but looking back I remember lots of late afternoons on the screened-in porch drinking wine and eating cheese and crackers and just talking, not doing. Or weekends on the beach soaking up the now-forbidden sun. As crazy as it seems to me now, I didn’t have email to check obsessively or phone games to play or urgent text messages to send. There was a lot of time to simply waste, or to waste in a simple way. I’m a victim of the thinking that we must always be accomplishing something, justifying our existence, not letting a minute of our precious time on earth go by without making it memorable or making a mark. As if our resumes must be constantly updated and bucket lists notated in order to reassure us that we matter. I hope I will always want to create or make something or leave room for a passion to be explored, but I hope I can also remember that instead of my constant to-doing I need to take time just to rest in the arms of the world.
My 9-year-old granddaughter is having a battle of wills with her teacher. Lark likes to write long stories that take her characters into extended adventures; her teacher wants her to be concise and turn in shorter pieces. I’m biased, of course — how could someone want to cut a story that begins with, “An open-hearted wolf came to town”?! Nevertheless, it made me think about the difference between censoring and editing my own writing. My struggle is writing from the heart with no filters. I might not publish the results, but the raw material I would start with would have the energy of truth. Usually, though, when I want to deal with a topic that has left a bruise on my life, I start to rearrange it in my mind before I put a word down. It’s as if I’m jumping ahead to how readers will react, or I hate how it will make me look. So either I drop the idea altogether or the writing becomes lifeless, inert. I want to be an open-hearted wolf in my writing — fearless and wild but tender and real. I want to be an open-hearted wolf in my life — leading the life I want even if, especially if, it’s not Facebook friendly, daring to go into town with my heart on my sleeve, following the scent of a here-be-dragons soul map. I hope it’s never too late to let my wolf out.
Sometimes things you drag your feet on turn out to be heaven-sent. I was excited to sign up for a day-long iPhonography workshop a few weeks ago, but when I woke up this morning, I had a sinus headache and an insomnia hangover. I wanted to roll over and put a pillow over my head, but I got myself together and showed up, and it was a brain-dazzling day. The visiting teacher was amazing and inspiring, and I learned so much that I felt like it would all pour out if I tipped my head slightly. As I get older, it’s a challenge to keep challenging myself, especially since I get bored easily and tend to give up on something if I don’t master it quickly. I may never master taking photos with my iPhone and that excites me instead of defeating me. Even though my primary skill is writing, I love switching gears and focusing on the visual arts. Gouache, oil painting, linoleum block prints and photography (even creating simple little posters like the one above) all bypass my brain and make a beeline for my senses. It’s easier for me to get into a flow zone when I’m doing something with my hands and eyes than it is when I’m writing because for me, writing is struggle and pain and constant self-doubt. I can’t not do it, but I rarely can forget my Self long enough to take joy in it. My identity is all tied up with writing, but that’s not the case with art. Vanity doesn’t come into play and curiosity is free to come out and play. It didn’t matter if my photos were not as good as the others in the class because I was so absorbed in doing and making. As I drove home, I got stuck in beach traffic and glanced up to see a colorful but simple kite flying against the intense blue sky. I took a photo in my mind and thought, “This is heaven.”
Walking past Washington Square in New York on a Sunday afternoon, I heard beautiful, haunting music and discovered this man sitting at a piano outdoors playing for money. Further in, there was a guy making an elaborate chalk drawing and another one helping kids blow enormous soap bubbles with just two sticks and some string. It was magical to stumble across this after a spur-of-the-moment weekend that included falling and hitting my head hard on a plate glass door, having a subway turnstile boomerang into my thigh so hard it brought tears and bruises to the surface and getting my flight home cancelled. Add to that the knife-edge cold which my blood is not used to, and I was feeling worn down and done in by the city. And starting to really hate everything about it and wishing I’d stayed home. I didn’t even want to leave the apartment but finally dragged on clothes and dragged myself out. As I watched this art being made, I started thinking about how we are here for a fleeting moment like the iridescent soap bubbles, or the notes of music that disappear as soon as they’re struck, or the chalk that’s washed away by rain. Instead of worrying about whether I have a concussion or complaining about the bruises all over my body or the inconvenience of traveling, I want my life to be like a work of art that is intensely there for the moment it exists and possibly leaves a vibration in the air after it’s gone. I know for a fact that I will forget this tiny transcendence and fall back into despair or irritation or ordinary kvetching because that’s just being human. But I hope the surreal image of a man and a piano out of everyday context will return to me at odd moments and lift me up in the same way it did on a Sunday in the park.
I made these quick little sketches with my new app Paper by FiftyThree on my iPad. I’ll never give up old-school paper sketchbooks and pens, but there is something addictive in seeing how far I can stretch the limits of this digital mode, just drawing with my finger on the pad screen. They are two very different experiences, but I’m loving them both. Maybe the ability to instantly erase and start over is less intimidating for a non-artist like me.
Oh I’m such a spoiled bitch! I’ve been doing Skirt! Magazine for 18 years and lately I’ve whined about how burned out I am until my friends are ready to duct tape my mouth shut. And why shouldn’t they? Take a look at this TINY bit of the wall in our art director’s office. It’s overwhelmingly luscious eye candy. I face this wall every day, and I completely take it for granted. But what if instead I worked in an insurance company or a garage or a beige on beige office space? How freaking lucky am I to be surrounded by this amazing visual stimulation from nine to five? To be able to brainstorm new pages and bring them into being? To have the opportunity to be creative every day ? I’m exceptionally fortunate to work in such an imagination-friendly environment, but aside from that, I know there are other opportunities in my life to pursue a muse, to make room for art, to stretch my wings — opportunities that I don’t take out of laziness or fear or a closed mind. Today I went to work with an idea for a new feature, discussed with our art director and within five minutes we decided to do it. Today I am so grateful for the gift of inspiration. Today, I promise myself to take more photos, to read a poem, to draw one thing every day, to update my idea book, to color the beige parts of my life.