Up, with Creativity


The cliché goes that on her first Christmas, the baby ignores the wonderful toy because she’s busy playing with the box it came in. Some of us did the same thing on Facebook to our friend Jen, who is a jewelry artist and Creative Full-Timer. Recently her passion for period detail flowed beyond her Work-Art, as she’s been decorating the woodsy place she and her husband bought. And Jen can work a period look better than anyone since William Morris. Posting an album of photos one day, she explained that she had wanted to “Tudor up” her favorite reading nook. It was the first successful use of “Tudor” as a verb that I know. (People who spell “tutor” that way, please, as the priest in Moonstruck begs Cher, “reflect on your life.”) We admired her Wolf-y Hall-y efforts, but we seemed more excited about her phrase. Tudor up! We loved it. We posted about it. And Jen, having offered us the wonderful gift of her decorating, had to watch us play with the language box it came in.

Part of my own Creative output lately has been my space, especially now that it serves as a Tiny Artists’ Colony. I’ve been experimenting with bohemian and junk styles, more color, a little vintage flavor, and some nature. Objects carry other times, places, bodies, and stories into your Environment, letting you form a Creative Habitat. But Jen’s phrase is not mine, dear ones, because I am an 18th-Century Dame all the way. If I “up,” I [John Singleton] “Copley up.” He painted the American 18th, at least the empowered, powdered, privileged part of it. (Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen the “scary shark bites the nude guy” painting many times, too). I wander in my mind, fanning myself intriguingly, through the rooms of Otis House, the 1797 Bullfinch building where I used to docent, looking for inspiration. To properly “Copley up,” I will need some Wedgewood blue walls with white trim, a color scheme of oranges and golds inspired by Pompeii, lots of silk, a Serious tea service, paintings of idyllic ruins, and purposeless pairs of small urns. They’re probably not going to lend me any of the Otis furnishings.

So instead I Boho up and Vintage up and Beach up and Boston Public Library up, and try to remember to do a yoga mat roll up so I don’t trip up and send dust up. And for now I Copley up with the images on book covers, postcards of paintings, and music. I hope the well-dressed period folks on my walls and shelves will excuse the dust.

See Jen’s gorgeous decor above.

See Jen’s gorgeous jewelry at http://www.parrishrelics.com!


Narthex thoughts: the CPT @ work

Narthex comes from the Greek word for fennel because of, as my old Webster’s says, “a fancied resemblance of the [church] porch to the hollow stem.” The narthex of Trinity Church in Boston runs the full width of the much larger sanctuary beyond. It features stained glass, a colorfully tiled floor, and staff who greet tourists and visitors, explain policies, and answer questions. Which is to say, we repeat ourselves A Lot, often non-stop, hour after hour and day after day. But I get to share this role with an amazing group of other Creative Part-Timers!

Is there a word for writing in or about the same place so often you want to scream? There should be. Sameoldsameoldgraphaphobia? In quiet moments between visitors, I have written a small volume of haiku about the narthex in all seasons, but mostly late fall, winter, and early spring, when tourists are fewer. Same walls, furnishings, and changes in the light: as lovely as the room is, as much as it beats a beige cubicle, its sameness is still sameness. Haiku hamster wheel. But sameness can also be a challenge that energizes creativity. What haven’t I written about? (Well, I have not written about being sworn at or about both toddlers and adults taking their clothes off, but let’s draw a curtain there.)

So what is the antidote for [insert unknown word for wanting to scream]? For me it’s two other words, presence and practice. In his wonderful book Seeds from a Birch Tree, Clark Strand writes that the ancient Japanese, seventeen-syllable haiku “demands a fresh creative response to each new situation…arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, and balanced on a pause…it is difficult to go beyond these three simple rules: form, season, and present mind.” He also says that writing haiku “is to say that we go to a particular place and write the poetry of that place…what we have seen—what struck us or moved our hearts.” Haiku can be a meeting point for artistic and spiritual practice. Offering presence, openness, and a pen to the everyday acknowledges it as new, and new, and new, even when it looks like the same old narthex.

The mind can begin to see again any time. That’s a central part of my spiritual practice, but, boots on the ground, it helps as a CPT to appreciate Being Creative wherever and whenever it can happen. Even the old church, with tradition and preservation at its heart, never stops changing or revealing itself anew to a Beginner’s Mind and/or to a determined Creative Part-Timer.

Haiku from One Corner of the Narthex


Soon woodwork will grow

cold to the touch and dark in

the fall afternoons.


Organ notes, like a

wolf running on fallen leaves,

fill the room’s shadows.


Fingerprints of light

appear on the carved flowers

of an old table.


Three days past the snow.

Salt flecks red and blue floor tiles

in vague shapes of feet.


Looking for white on

a snowless Christmas Eve: white

papers, flowers, light.



“a Plan of it is laid”

People who live wholly by and for their Art fascinate Many of Us. Artists whose work sustains their internal and external lives sometimes seem to have learned A Great Secret or pulled the sword from the stone, a sword Many of Us slip sideways onto the ground trying to budge an inch. People write about them.

I’m going to blog for and about the Many of Us, the Creative Part-Timers.

Have you ever seen how eighteenth-century writers capitalize unexpected Words? It’s great Fun, I tell you.

Just in my own circle in Boston, admittedly the Hub of the Universe, the Many write fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, blogs, children’s books, plays, and art criticism. They are painters, potters, metal artists, jewelry artists, photographers, actors, directors, stage managers, paper artists, musicians, collage artists, glass artists, print-makers, knitters, bakers, curators, teachers, art lovers, and audience members. Yes, I am Blessed. Thank you for noticing.

Why are Many of Us the CPTs? Luck, an answer that cuts both ways, and Life, dear ones. It’s because we have jobs we need and/or love and/or hate, children, partners, elder parents, health issues, and even other passions that need our time. (Did I write much when I had a full-time job and Worked Backstage most nights of the week? No.) This blog is about Being Creative Anyway, managing to do it, managing not to do it, days that feel great, and days that feel futile. It’s also about ways to be Creative part-time, including the everyday thoughts and actions I’m learning to think of as feeding my creative Life. Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.” For Part-Timers, any Creativity sometimes feels like what we got away with, as we slipped into one of life’s hidden corners, like the triangle of space behind the red velvety armchair in my grandparents’ front room when I was a child, up against the long drapes: a cave, a secret fort, a dream space, a play space, a space defined by imagination. How do we find those spaces easily enough to make our art our Practice?

And what is Creative? Well, it is that Which Happens when you DO sit your ass down and work at your thing. And it’s editing your long Books For Later list at the Boston Public Library or posting on Facebook (those things Which Happen when you sit your ass down and don’t work). A haiku at the bus stop. Arranging your books, your rocks, your walls. Reading. Dreaming. Watching birds. Your spiritual path and its rituals. Walks. Engaging with other people’s art. Did I mention sitting your ass down, telling everything else to wait, and Getting To what it is you Do?

I hope to fill this blog with observations, lucubrations, frustrations, celebrations and many voices, and with any and all aspects of being a Creative Part-Timer.

To put my personal space where my blog is, I have taken inspiration from the Tiny House movement and founded a Tiny Artists’ Colony in my apartment, offering the folks I mentioned above a place to come work in peace for a few hours. I crack the whip or make the tea, whatever will help. Welcome, and thank you for reading.