The Shadow Knows

Sh1

I look at shadows. Long ones, sharply vivid ones, shadows of ordinary things and unusual things, shadows I never saw before because I’ve never been to that location in that light. From shadows I get the same small charge of pleasure that I get from fireworks:  I look expecting to see them, but still, how wonderful to see what is both real yet only made of light and eyes.

No idea why this is, that I have a passion for shadows. Some friends might suggest it’s because I used to love working backstage at the theater, and I’m just drawn to my natural habitat. Is it a chance to pay attention to the intriguing Buddhist ambiguity of the (non)self? I do love modernist photography, that’s for sure, and those Artists were gods of form and contrast.

Sh2As a poet and reader, I love me a liquid, sparkling, misty, on-fire metaphor. A shadow is a metaphor, equivalent to a Thing but made of something else. Paradoxically, that something else reveals more of the first Thing to us.

My favorite metaphor right now is Jane Hirshfield’s opening heart as boiling artichoke in the poem “My Species”.  An “opening” heart is a metaphor itself, commonplace but fine.

I’ve been looking at a book by Teju Cole, Blind Spot, where he pairs photos with short prose pieces. A striking one (much of the Foreword also dwells beautifully on it) shows a white house behind a tall line of just-greening shrubs, and the sharp, spreading shadow of a still-bare tree that itself does not appear.

Sh4

Cole writes, “Spring…it is not only the leaves that grow. Shadows grow also. Everything grows, both what receives the light, and what is cast by it.”

Some type of image reaching out from its place of origin, existing beyond the edges of its source, visible when its creator is not. Is that a metaphor for Creativity?? I hope so! I hope It and I will grow this spring. I love shadows.

Sh3

Blind Spot by Teju Cole was published by Random House. The photos are by the blogger.

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Word Play and Fungus

 

Sometimes, another artist’s work opens up a Creative breathing space in a brimming-over world. Art can be like walking into a wooded place in a city park, or glimpsing the ocean between dunes. I recently read a memoir by poet Maxine Kumin, and one sentence just randomly became that little pool you might come across in a mountain stream, a place to dip your feet and splash. I’m not sure why this sentence, but this sentence about being the mushroom expert at a writers’ retreat:

I know enough to…never pick any mushroom with white gills—the underpart of the cap—for fear of unknowingly gathering the destroying angel…

Her descriptions of fungi and this foraging hike are wonderful, but this sentence woke up great pleasure in ordinary language, and in the complexity of language, as pictures suddenly tumbled around my mind.

Gills. Once I found a plastic bag of fish on the beach. Someone on a boat had let the day’s catch fall into the water and float away. I tore it open to keep the plastic menace away from the gulls and met six pairs of eyes hard as glass and sharp-looking fins. But the gills’ white skin looked vulnerable and helpless in the dry air. That was where death pointed itself out to me, as it did for Kumin, in the gills. Alas. Walk on, though, and let the birds laugh and feast.

Fish have gills, and so do the small fungal shelves and umbrellas on collapsing logs. They appear in the living sea and on decaying parts of the earth, these open fans of gills. It’s only in working through my draft of this post that I remember a poem by Sharon Olds, “The Winter After Your Death.” She uses the image of a closing fan to describe sunset, and a starkly bright fish in a pond to embody many things. I think my own use of “fan” pulled up this poem, the unconscious source of my word choice here. Of course, being obsessed with the 18th century, I’m likely to throw a fan image in wherever possible, so maybe that was it. I don’t know. My feet are just splashing and enjoying the stream.

The word cap turns the mushroom into a little figure wearing one to shade its eyes, and then the circle of gills becomes an old-fashioned neck ruff. It morphs into a bottle of spores with its cap on. How capital! Oh, that satisfying little pop when you decapitate a mushroom by breaking off the stalk. And the aroma of them, cooking in oil on a chilly winter night. Still playing.

If you’ve faithfully watched any British mystery series with a countryside setting, I bet you’ve seen the Murder by Destroying Angel plot. I can remember two without even putting on my thinking…cap. That basket of foraged mushrooms on the table in the inn kitchen that no one thought to guard from interference. Who would notice a couple of extra ones? Sneaky poison that, eh, Inspector?

Despite its being National Literature and Poetry Month (HUZZAH), I won’t even get into Paradise Lost, which is full of angels as violent warriors attacking and defending Heaven. The would-be Destroying Angel is seemingly destroyed, falling and falling. But later, that whole snake and apple thing.

Kumin just used the Words for Things when she had something to say about these simple lives in the woods. She was also writing about a relationship between the body/mind and nature, about Paying Attention in the world, and about harvesting, both as a forager and as an artist. I enjoyed foraging in these words of hers I came upon and hope I used the harvest well.

My copy of Maxine Kumin’s The Pawnbroker’s Daughter was published by Norton in 2015.

Well

Well

Well, here’s a tip from this Creative person: Remember, the weeks in February where one job is going to require a lot of extra hours may not be when 60+ college papers should be due. If you remember, you won’t be exhausted and behind through most of March, and then just exhausted for the rest, and you won’t spend 1.5 months in Lucifer’s Living room.

But if you don’t remember, pat yourself on the head in a soothing manner, and try to go with the flow until you can get to shore. Then say, like any good geek-hero, “I think we all learned something today.”

I learned, as it happens, what drastically needs to change about my life. If you grind your nose against the wall you hit some time back, you learn that it will bleed. If you teach community college 11 months a year, with 60+ students most of the time, and have other jobs, perhaps you can make an educated (ha?) guess what I learned.

I’ve posted before about how various Artists manage(d) their time. And Mason Currey has a second book coming out on the topic. Huzzah! I thought I remembered something in an essay by novelist Jeannette Winterson in her book Art Objects. O, Yup, there it was:

“…the question ‘How shall I live?’ is fierce,” she declares. And the answer in my own head, “Not the way I have been,” is feeling pretty fierce, too, right now. She continues, “If my partner needed to live on the coast for her health’s sake, no-one would be surprised that I should go. Should there be any surprise that I am returning to a quieter existence for the sake of my work?…There are people who tell me that I am cut off but to what are they connected?…I do not write every day, I read every day, think every day, work in the garden every day, and recognize in nature the same slow complicity…A writer lives in a constant state of readiness.”

She also, of course, works hard at what she does, and has a whole flock of gaspingly good novels to show for it. I suspect she spends a lot of most days not worrying much about money, a state she has earned.  Because she once did her share of the job-hopping years. And because great novels.

I  understand she likes the way her life feels, and I don’t. I lack well-being, as well as the fireplace she lights every day, and her solitude, and her money. I’ve always supported Creative People doing the best they can, making  life choices that suit them, or dealing with the ones “thrust upon ‘em”, without apology. I still do, but I’m getting  more interested in how my situation doesn’t work for me. I work…for it. And I’ve done all my work well, with stamina and discipline, since my last long-ago writing, and it’s not tolerable anymore not to be Well.

I’m one week into having made some serious small changes and some steps towards bigger changes. Unfortunate habits of work, living, and mind are being uprooted, although they long looked like the ground I stood on. I’m becoming someone I don’t like in some of my work life, and I may stop doing something I thought I would always do. Giving up things I care about and am good at for things I care about more and may be better at? Actually, scary. But right action.

Luckily I ran into a book by artist, designer, and teacher James Victore called Feck Perfuction. How could you not pick that up? Creative People should read it, especially those of us who need, Really Need, to be lifted up and shaken up. Here’s the page I’m on:

“If you want more in your life, you may have to accept less…Less distraction, less servitude to work, less debt, less greed, and less craving. It means surrendering our attachment.

Your happiness shouldn’t teeter on a bank ledger or come from any source other than acceptance of who you are.

Never settle and never give in but accept less.”

If you don’t find that terrifying, you’re either admirably together Creatively, or more like me and also not reading carefully. The leaves of Victore’s book cover some deep, dark pit traps. There is hidden danger to the status quo in almost every phrase. But after one week of small changes, here I am again. And this time it feels as if Writing When I Can isn’t an option anymore. You may have never been here because you figured it out for yourself way back, or you may be right here, too. There are worse places.

 

 

 

Hark! An Artist. Or, Winging It Some More

badass kate

So, Untold Numbers of you long ago discovered the fabulous Kate Beaton, whose art this is. It’s from her book Hark! A Vagrant, which was “on my list” forever and which I finally read in one sitting because she is fantastic. Her Mystery Solving Teens clearly know what is What when it comes to gravestone Art, and when I saw this, I grinned like a…well, you know.

Here’s the most badass Winged skull in my personal photo collection from King’s Chapel Burial Ground in Boston. At least It thinks it is.

badass wingy

Kate Beaton’s art was used without a glimmer of permission, and I hope she won’t mind.

Tree Pose

bc trees

I’ve mentioned my grandmother before. She was an  outdoorsy young person, even though she grew up poor on the Lower East Side. Dealing with life, I think she found her comfort in Nature.  In the pictures I have of her as a young woman, she’s wearing a bathing suit with stockings, or hiking shorts and hat atop a mountain.

A story I consider central to my life is the one she often told of the friend who said to her dismissively, “You see one tree, you’ve seen them all.” And that, Gram would always finish, was the Saddest Thing she had ever heard anybody say. I have a passion  the sight of trees, in all seasons. Because I’ve just never known otherwise; I’m fortunate in that way.

So this week I was listening to the On Being interview with artist Maira Kalman. She and host Krista Tippett had this exchange:

Ms. Tippett: Here’s another line of yours I love: “We see trees. What more do we need?”

Ms. Kalman: That’s really true….And so walking and looking at trees really is one of the glories of the world, and we say, “Rejoice,” when we see these things.

Well, yeah.

But a Buddhist teacher I once read explained that we don’t actually look at a tree. We look at ourselves looking at a tree. I bristled at that statement because, hell, I knew how to Look at Trees. But when I really got that he was right, experienced that as true, and my ego died one more death, I learned a lot.

I take many pictures of trees, even though they are surely still pictures of my own Looking: my sense of, and Need for, the world’s Creativity. That is OK. Trees are patient, and waiting, and I’m taking one human step at a time with the intention to see them.

My image is from Dec 24, 2018, on Boston Common.

“Hope is the thing with feathers”

birds

The Cambridge English Dictionary online defines a metaphor as “an expression that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to possess similar characteristics.”

A metaphor points at a connection perceived, one that, for someone, suddenly arose from the interconnectedness of Everything. The path of one raindrop down a pane of glass deserves noticing; there’s a limitless number out there, but this one is right here and now.

I read a metaphor I’d like to share here at the end of 2018. It’s by Buddhist teacher and leader Pema Chodron, from the book Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, compiled and edited by Emily Hilburn Sell, published in 2003 by Shambhala.

Another image for maitri [loving-kindness] is that of a mother bird who protects and cares for her young… People sometimes ask, “Who am I in this image—the mother or the chick?” The answer is we’re both: both the loving mother and those ugly little chicks. It’s easy to identify with the babies—blind, raw, and desperate for attention. We are a poignant mixture of something that isn’t all that beautiful and yet is dearly loved. Whether this is our attitude toward ourselves or toward others, it is the key to learning how to love. We stay with ourselves and others when we’re screaming for food and have no feathers and also when we are more grown up and appealing by worldly standards.

Wishing Us Loving-kindness and Steadfastness, to and from each other. Wishing Us Well-Being, Freedom, Peace, and Creativity in 2019. Thank you.

 

 

 

Start to Finish

misers

I’d like to post today about two things that happen this time of year. One is what I will call The Rankin Bass Conversations, or People on social media and elsewhere enthusiastically discussing mutant reindeer, earnest v. snotty elves, and Gigantic yo-yos and such. (For the Record: Abominable Snowman, thumbs down. Winter Warlock, thumbs up. Winter is The Man.)

The holiday season abounds with Creativity. Herbie’s cosmetic dentistry, Schroeder rocking the house via Vince Guaraldi, a corncob pipe and a button nose. Boston looks beautiful, and did you know every snowflake is unique. Especially Me. And the weather, remember, is Created by the two bitchy sons of Mother Nature, Cold Miser and Heat Miser, who resemble a blue 1960s TV actor and an orange troll doll. But those songs do Rule. You know they do.

The second thing that happens is the end of another semester barreling down on students and professors, itself like a force of nature. And this situation sometimes requires using Creativity to be silly and have some fun, as you float somewhere between This Pile of Papers and That Pile of Papers. And the Island of Misfit Papers…no, ok, sorry.

So I’m borrowing the bratty brothers to create two more opposite, difficult Siblings, called Beginning of Semester and End of Semester, or BEG and END for short. Imagine something jazzy playing.

BEG: Should I accessorize my Look for class today with layered necklaces or a scarf?

END: Clean is the New Black. (Thanks, Leah W of UNH, for this.)

 

BEG: Now that I’ve Prepped for class tomorrow, let me just get the dishes done and everything tidied up.

END: There’s one mug left for Coffee in the morning. OK, yay.

 

BEG: Done grading for the day? Prop up the pillows and read!

END: Done grading for the day? Punch down the pillows and drool.

 

BEG: Student approaches desk. Put on the expression of a goodhearted professor character who will brilliantly help the Oxford police pair solve a complex mystery on the British detective show.

END: Student approaches desk. Put on the expression of any character trying to survive in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

BEG: Well, good morning! How nice to see you again by the staff lounge coffee urns! How are you? Yes! I know! You also have a great day!

END: You’re blocking the spigot. Move aside. Move. Aside.

 

BEG: A free weekend day with no grading? Make plans. Take a nice little walk. Read a new book.

END: Sudden shocking abundance of free time after submitting course grades? Curl up to read YA fiction you have long since memorized. Decide Harriet the Spy should be APPRECIATED as a Writer rather than MISUNDERSTOOD by a thick-headed world. Sniffle a little. Take multiple obsessive walks. Buy used books you’re too weary to read. Have anxiety. Sniffle a little more. Consume only popcorn and white wine. Stare at things.

 

I BEG your pardon for this. The END.