Sometimes

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Sometimes being Creative is giving the world your attention for a moment, and maybe letting another artist’s experience speak to you inside your own.

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
Emily Dickinson  [320]

See?

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In certain sunlight, the craggy tops of the Himalayas look as delicate as roses. I enjoyed Matthieu Ricard’s book of photographs, Motionless Journey, taken when he lived there for a year on retreat. (M. Ricard is a Buddhist monk and French translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.) His book records the beauty of many moments in the same place.

It inspired me to look at my own everyday places with the same attentive, present looking. Less dramatic than his, one of mine is the Fens, the elongated, scruffy, lovely park in my neighborhood.

Early in the morning, first light is a rich pink grapefruit color, carried overhead on the bellies of herring gulls while I still walk in twilight. But later in the morning, when the light has found its daytime sharpness, it can catch a flock of pigeons on their pale bellies, and be stark white instead of soft rose, erasing their dark backs from view.  A flock of thin white butterflies appears.

Another day, leaning over the stone bridge, I found the great blue heron on a snaky log just a couple of feet below me. It heard me coming, but I was startled and thrilled to look right into that ringed yellow eye. Then it flew off, a little disdainfully I think, all bent wires and slow grace. Later, on a smaller bridge where I like to pause, I met a male mallard’s dark eye, as it stood by its sleeping mate. We looked. No thought, nothing imagined, no blog in the making. Two Beings. Or one. There was only the looking.

I think of that moment of stillness when I remember standing in that spot to watch two mini-flocks of Canadian geese approach just above me, from opposite directions. Just above me. Opposite directions. I think I panicked before they did, but suddenly the honking started from both sides, Boston morning rush hour in flight. It grew more intense, but neither group veered into another path. I don’t know why. Ever heard the sound of two small-grazing-animal-size birds crashing overhead? Feathers shmeathers. That was muscle colliding in that epic thud. No one was injured, except their dignity. They flew on, leaving a violent, charged memory in one of my most peaceful places.

Even the Muddy River, sinewy as it is, changes. When gulls are the rose fingers of dawn (thank you, Homer), the river is still the night sky. Later on a fall morning, the wind plays rhythm on the surface, spinning the reflection of wood-colored reeds into a windmill. After an autumn rain, the river rushes at its center where the current flows. The brown and beige oak leaves get caught in that flow, creating a second river of leaves. Or Muddy seems to arch a backbone of spiky brown fur.

In winter, on a colder, quieter morning, the windmill site is a frosted window hiding a sleeping house, and the reeds are stuck together and crushed down like a sagging haystack. Nothing moves but my eyes.

Except on the morning of our recent Nor’easter, when the river’s surface spread like crisp sheets of paper scattering in the wind. The ducks looked blown one way by the flapping of the wind gusts and driven another by the choppy water. They and I opened our eyes wide at the world, and they moved on into the silver-gray beauty of the storm. Before I did the same, I held the railing of the bridge and felt it shake and hum. As an ancient wrote:

When I pass over the bridge,

Lo, the water floweth not, but

the bridge doth flow.

Change is the world’s breath. A CPT can go with the flow and experience endless Creativity. I will take the time and attention to look. To resist the dark clamor of our days now. Because of it. It will not control my mind or my spirit. I will walk back toward reality, toward the world, and write down what I see.

Nasty Language

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Last Sunday, about one hundred of us got comfortable on the floor of the Boston Public Library, because they are finally letting us move in and live there. Kidding. We were outside the downstairs lecture hall, already full ten minutes after opening, for the Writers Resist Event. Organized here by PEN New England, a diverse group of writers spoke up and shared Creative Work. We were all there to resist fear, intolerance, indifference to social/environmental justice, and anything else that felt important.

Talk about being creative in a brimming-over world. Young people read poems about other young people, injustice, and hope. Someone read poems by a political prisoner incarcerated for his views. Writers quoted others writers who gave them ground under their feet. One that stuck I will half-quote and half-paraphrase, with apologies to James Baldwin, because I want to share what I remember. He said that to Love means taking off our masks, the ones we don’t feel safe without, the ones we can’t live within. That was Love facing off against fear, no pun intended. Well, I did intend it. You know that.

And the friend I was with did it, there on the floor, in a moment of Creativity. She’s a writer and an environmental activist, and she mused and fused those two things together. We need another language, she suddenly said to me, to talk about what we’re doing. We always use the vocabulary of battle: the fight and struggle for the environment. There was a stillness and a vulnerability in her face as I leaned close to hear her. She said, as if seeing something in the glare of a bare bulb, we need new words. I asked if she meant words like love for the planet and care for one another.  She nodded, but we both think of words pretty easily, and nothing had been answered by that. But she took off her mask and willingly let go of familiar, empowering language, and she looked into that empty space where the work needs to be done. She was willing to unmask and look at it. An act of language and an act of love.

And last week I had a long talk over coffee with another friend, a painter, a person as gentle as grass and as resilient as stone. The whole question of What Do We Do Now came up, and he asked how we escape feeling inadequate in these days. My other friend had just showed me the power of showing her face, of being present. I guess we need to Practice adequacy as people and Artists: do the work in front of us to do. That work is probably going to be dire, difficult, and absolutely essential.

Not knowing What To Do signifies Attention, not inadequacy. As a teacher I love suggests, be steadfast, even when it doesn’t feel adequate. Show your face. Your Creative Work is one of your voices. Tomorrow many of us will be gathering, Marching, and speaking up. We have to Act in numbers, as One. But I find I believe in the small daily stuff a lot right now, whether Creativity or Kindness. We need to find the “languages” that let us, and help others, keep going.

 

Shriek and Spit

Yes, 2017 is here, and like some, I’ve been troubled by what exactly I’m doing with this blog in this world. When I gave you my elevator pitch of “being creative in a brimming-over world,” I had little idea what kind of Brimming Over was brewing. I don’t want to be pithy here, and I’m having trouble finding a new, significant way to say it’s time for Artists to make sure they are present, because every act of love, connection, and clarity counts. But if I can start this blog up again, then I think I Mean it.

As poet Elizabeth Alexander wrote for another Inauguration Day eight years ago:

“In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,/anything can be made, any sentence begun.”

To get started again, I’m going back to some pure, basic lessons in Creativity I learned from the wisest of the wise. I encountered both these Amazing Creatives by accident, at different times, and was fortunate to witness their work. I don’t know their names, but I think they were both two, maybe three, years old. You thought that “Shriek and Spit” title was some sort of metaphor, didn’t you? Nope.

The first Teacher crossed my path in the central atrium of the Boston Public Library. Four stories high, it was once a cavern that matched the rest of the plain, concrete-is-king-era architecture. It was fine. Now that the big Renovation is complete, and the library around it is badass (but cozy) red and purple, the atrium has become a wonder of soaring simplicity. Suddenly I find it irresistible, but unlike my Wise Teacher in the stroller that day, I didn’t know what to do with it. He/she/they did. (Yeah, I don’t even know.) Right in the middle, and the kid waited for it like the master he/she/they was, out came, through a wide smile, one perfect, Loud, high-pitched, single note of air-slicing shriek. And it flew upward and echoed like the work of art it was. The kid knew it would, and the little face glowed with pure joy and smug triumph. Like any artist. Then the stroller-pushing adult said, “Ssshhhhh!” Really.

The second Teacher I met in hot sunshine, while meditating in the middle of Boston with Thich Nhat Hanh (yes, I DID) and several hundred other cross-legged people. A couple in front of me had a wee girl, standing behind them and doing Her Own Thing, oblivious to the mob of silent adults around her. She had realized that if you gather enough saliva, lean over a little, and go carefully, you can release a long, long string of spit that reaches the ground, if you are rather small and a total Master of your Art. I was fascinated. I couldn’t help it. It was great. And I couldn’t help noticing her steady, perfect concentration as she just did the thing she was doing, present to her moment, creating her gleaming thread. Simply enjoying herself, she had gone, naturally and completely, somewhere every adult there was practicing to reach.

It’s important for CPTs to remember that Creativity can burst or flow out of simple moments of openness and attention, and right now, every moment like that counts. So whether it’s mouths, hands, or whole bodies, keyboards, canvasses, cameras, kitchens, kilns, stages or streets…shriek, spit, and speak!

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Safety in Numbers

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I will be writing posts again very soon, but for now, I will borrow words from the mighty Toni Morrison:

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair…no need for silence…We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Here’s to creative ways to stand up, resist, express, support, interrogate ourselves, grow, and love.

Stay strong and together, CPT and CFT cousins everywhere. Peace.

That’s it, You’re Grounded

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As my Kind Readers know, my good CPT habits have been challenged lately. I’ve been roughing it in Rough Draft Country, where the white noise in my head has been falling steadily into waist-deep snow between me and any finished piece of writing. That’s something stress does, because I’m one of those people who mentally chews on it, which leaves me wearily stranded far away from my better habits. But sometimes our own Deeper Currents float us back towards our Creative Selves, and I recently bumped into a shore.

I had some time to spend between a meeting and teaching, so I went to a downtown coffeehouse I hadn’t visited in a while. Finding an armchair free, I took out a lined pad I hadn’t used all summer to do some class prep, and a couple of folded sheets slipped out. One contained some writing done in the spring, months before, the last time I sat in that particular coffee place, tucked away and forgotten. Yeah, I know, but it did happen. I had noted The Cure song playing that day, taking me back to college-adjacent years:

However far away
I will always love you
However long I stay
I will always love you
Whatever words I say
I will always love you

I wrote that his sweetish, melancholy rasp blended perfectly with gray steel, warm smells, and the wide plate-glass view of Boston rain falling on a worn side street.

I read it with strange pleasure those months later, on another rainy day, looking at the same view. Bruce was inviting me to The Rising in the background, and that indeed fit the moment. Yeah, I know. An almost uncomfortable feeling of comfort settled on me, and I felt grounded, with a foothold again in my Working CPT self, swept by rain and habit into this déjà vu. You have whatever sparks you, and for me, an unexpected connection works like champagne bubbles up the nose: sudden, itchy, delightful. A forgotten creative day suddenly falls into another and lands on the same floor. I get a flash of Why it would be Awesome to teach Jane Eyre, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Haunting of Hill House in the same course: whoa! I meet a  gentle, aura-exuding organist at the church where I work, and suddenly there’s Sherlock Holmes explaining that his new client is NOT a typist as he first thought because of the shape of her fingers; she has an ethereal look, so she must be a musician. And I just met the lady. I realize I can blog about my morning walks framed by a French Buddhist monk’s photography in Asia.

When these connections hit me, I feel obliged to and pressured by my own working mind, but that one in the coffeehouse was soothing and asked nothing back. The CPT Me felt fairly present, as it slipped out of hiding in an embarrassingly clichéd way. But there it is. Yeah, I know, but a CPT can sometimes use a Little Pat on the back from herself, a little reassurance in a brimming-over world.

First Love

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I clearly remember my First Time, and it was with someone very special. I always have and always will love him. It was a stormy summer night, outdoors in a park, and we got rained out halfway through.

I’m talking about Theater, Darlings. My first real Major Playwright relationship was with Edward Albee, and we’ve been at it since 1982. And when I say “at it,” I mean he was writing, being a Towering Pillar, winning Tony and Pulitzer awards. And I was adoring him, reading him, watching him, among others, working backstage (creatively) part time, and coming to love his and all related art forms.

The thing I can tell you that all the recent articles and obituaries could not is how lucky I am to have someone like this writer come early into my creative (part-time) life. That play in the rainy park, and I did get to see it whole and dry on another night, was my first experience with live, non-musical American Drama. It was The Ballad of the Sad Café, based on the short story by Carson McCullers. I was fifteen, a novice without context and with a blown mind. I learned from him that the Uncanny is where Humanity is, not just with Victorian people on darkened moors. He taught me the huge, truthful power of the utter Absurdity of Us, and the possibilities of a wide-open imagination. He still reminds me that language is a precision tool, an echo chamber, and an animal howl, All at the same time. I met Beckett, Brecht, Sartre, Marina Carr, August Wilson, and probably even Salvador Dali, holding his hand. He touches my shoulder with a finger when I write, gently directing me away from what I think other people will understand and accept easily. His first lesson, that writing for the theater is writing for the THEATER, not WRITING for the theater…well, I seem to have annoyed a lot of people in academia with that one, but I hold up my little banner and always will.

Rest in peace, Edward, and thank you.  I’m glad you’re the one I met at the door because it made me want to stay, and it’s a fabulous party.

(BTW, my First Love that I actually knew personally is in the picture. Theater’s so great.)