Blogging for a Fuller Life

“Generally speaking, writing doesn’t improve from writers’ indefinitely putting off the moment when they set words to paper. On the contrary, it depends on writers’ being venturesome– like the vast plant and animal world, with its myriad false starts.”

“In my view, no one still up to the task of uttering a brand-new sentence is not also capable of growing more whole daily. May that livening experience– and true gladness for the chance of it, as well– be my reader’s fate.”

My brand-new sentences:

Here I have quoted Lawrence Weinstein from Grammar for a Full Life: How the Ways We Shape a Sentence Can Limit or Enlarge Us, and I will try to let it inspire me daily. Sitting down and doing the work is up to me, but not to the overloaded, stamina-wielding me. Rather, it’s up to a more spacious me who is learning to say No to overload without fruit or meaning.

Month’s End

Photo by me, Jamaica Pond, Jamaica Plain, MA

So I’ve tried to do my bit for Poetry Month and Decorating Month. I want to wish everyone a positive May and end the month with a quotation from Rebecca Solnit. This is from Recollections of My Nonexistence, which I recommend to Creative People. She’s writing about books, but I think it applies to all Creativity:

“The sheer pleasure of meeting new voices and ideas and possibilities, having the world become more coherent in some subtle or enormous way, extending of filling in your map of the universe, is not nearly celebrated enough, nor is the beauty of finding pattern and meaning. But these awakenings recur, and every time they do there’s joy.”

Both beautiful and true, I think. Wishing you all some joy. Or, re: my photo, something to be your ground and bedrock, something to be your growth, and something to be your fluid freedom. See in you in May.

Tip of the Hat

You know, one of the names in my family is Schwimmer. I’m pretty close to being one. So there is no hesitation about the following statement:

I. WAS ON.  A BREAK!

(I’d say ask someone who watched TV in the 90s, but I understand it has come roaring back among the young people.)

I’m not sure why I was on a break, and more to the point, I’m not sure why I’m blogging again. I refer you and myself to the framed cartoon by James Thurber on my bookshelf: a woman is speaking to two other people about a fourth person on her knees tending flowers. The first woman explains: “She has the true Emily Dickinson spirit, except that she gets fed up occasionally.”

So there that is.

I will not bore you with that with which I was fed up. Yeah, snappy syntax was not one of those things.

I’ve found myself again jotting down unrelated trains of thought on creativity and liking how unrelated they are. Maybe I was fed up with a sense of set destination for the blog.

So here’s April: National Poetry Month and National Decorating Month, starting with a day for fools, with Shakespeare’s birthday on the way. Perfect time to begin blogging again, I guess. I think I plan to drop Creativity on you from lots of angles, including all those above, and even ideas and bits for a book I’m dreaming up.

NO, the blog’s re-birth is not to tugboat the book along. Shhh.

So, April 1. Let’s talk hats. Specifically, let’s talk about the jester’s hat, aka the fool’s hat or the “cap and bells”.  Perfect, right? I always thought this headgear with the two or three jingling tentacles was an act of creativity, Someone’s image of court jesters of olden times that somehow stuck.

After all, it was illustrator Sidney Paget who put the never-mentioned deerstalker on Sherlock Holmes’s head. Talk about some serious branding and an immortal hat!

Several years ago, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA had a wonderful exhibit on hats, both as fashion history and artistic creation. And, Lo, there was jester’s hat from days of yore. I was so surprised the icon was for real, and I blame Paget.

The “hat” in today’s visual is a miniature of the ship Belle Poule, an 18th-century frigate that did France proud in battle. Adorning already highly dressed hair with a ship as a chapeau became most fashionable. Yes, my book involves historic objects, why do you ask?

Source: Wikipedia

Mixed Messages

The haloed little figure on one shoulder and the little horned figure on the other shoulder, each whispering, is an old trope. Today I feel as if I have various small voice boxes all over me, with all sorts of things to say. Some have birds’ wings, some breathe cigarette smoke, and some are stone. Mixed messages.

How can any decent person think about a blog today, this week, as if it’s important. Creativity, seriously?/How can any decent person not stand up to every type of violence, the empty noise, the knowledge their attention is a product for sale? THIS week, how can anyone not do some human, Creative thing in the face of all this scratching at our skin?

I should have rolled out, not just been awake, before dawn, and taken a walk before I got to my writing. I should heed my priorities because no one else will./I should be gentle and patient with this person who had chaotic, rough dreams and bad sleep, enjoy the quiet time, and not treat my “schedule” like the chariot that needs to pull the sun./I shouldn’t use the word “should” on myself at all, especially when it pushes “need to” out of the way. Why are the “shoulds” so much easier to articulate than the “need tos”? See above: violence, noise, attention as product.

I want to blog./I want to read./I want to look at the yellow leaves out the window sifting the sun, and I want to do all of them all day.

I want to understand the difference between a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility./There’s no difference./There’s EVERY difference./Isn’t there?

Every poem can be analyzed, played with, followed forever. It’s never done: there will be no sign./Put your poem on your blog and get some more coffee and do the laundry.

 Dreams
  
 Another dream: late to teach, 
 streets stretch, destination
 retreating. My half-run feeds on
 panic never questioned.
 Spaghetti-like stations,
 unfair, shape-shifting
 routes of trains,
 unchallenged because
 the stamina demanded
 I deliver without
 a thought. Finally the door,
 students hanging around
 like a shop full of clocks,
 space used up in clatter,
 time disassembled.
 In some versions, also
 farm animals. Or snow. 
  
 Downstream of chaos, waking
 cramped. Some books rest near
 the weary lamp. Somewhere I read
 that eras ago, the unexhausted
 slept night’s first hours,
 then rose a little while, 
 to rustle embers, sit,
 turn pages, listen to
 the hidden river of the trees.
 Or to love, bodies safe
 from daylight’s flying shards,
 grind-spin of metal on stone.
 Or just to look at whatever
 indoor shapes cast shadows. 
  
 Who first found out that even sleep
 needs pausing, found out it would
 submit? Is there a foxed treatise,
 spell of the old words
 however desired? Or did they
 simply pull chairs closer around
 a remark at table on the moon
 that eased clearly through oak leaves,
 like a shell flown by tides, after
 invisible rain? Didn’t they
 discover what each had
 witnessed alone? Didn’t they
 nod and smile over the hill of rinds,
 the crags of bread, the sea of salty meat?
 Didn’t that moment of empty
 mouths, that pause, become so quiet that,
 before another wave of conversation,
 the candles stood amazed
 to burn that true air, that silence? 


The photo, by me, is of two pieces in the Kindness Rocks Project, seen on The Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, on Easter weekend, 2020.

So, enough about you…

Big D

I take pleasure in sharing Creativity  I encounter. in our brimming-over world. A couple of things about doing so occurred to me recently. One, I have some lovely photos of local gardens I am just too lazy to sort out of my phone albums. Two, Everyone and their neighbor’s second cousin is putting  Creative Work online because we have to, and although the reasons are awful, the results are often wonderful. And three, I’ve never really put my own Creative Work on my own damn blog. Maybe 2020 is the year to let that hesitance fade into the past with a lot of my former way of living.

Actually, I’ve been writing as steady practice, and I’ve been growing. In earlier heydays of my poetry, there was an intellectual quality to the way I handled language and ideas. Buddhist practice has made me want to let go of that type of hard work, to see what happens when I am more embodied and present in the moment as a writer. Yeah, and vulnerable and open, and all that stuff…

The thing is, it’s working, and I like it. I still falter, as I did with a recent poem that originally had a fixed end point and a prettily written lecture to get it there. Turns out it really is a woefully and wildly personal poem , and I’m letting that happen now in the revision, and it’s like riding surf without a boogie board.

So I will share some of my recent work here. Although I have been published in both journals and anthologies, it’s a somewhat big step to put this here without the ringing approval of a poetry editor’s acceptance.

This is a poem I wrote for an artist friend when she shared on social media that her tough feelings about our times were hampering her Creative energy. I hope it brings some uplift. And yeah, I’m going to link you to her work, of course. It is her poem, after all.

 

Bears in Bad Times

for JPH

 

Antique brown bear observes bad times from a shelf,

ears wide, silent, but flourishing its bronze ribbon,

a bohemian tie. Imagine evening, a half-dressed

painter, youthful and intent, the room’s view

a damp canvas, the sky’s blue hour rising.

 

Another artist, red and green in woods

elsewhere, is photographing bears. Her

bird feeders strain and sink beneath mounds

of starved gravity with long tongues

intruding. Every type of refuge now

seems hollow of all but emptiness. Yet

companions appear, right over there—

the bearings we have lost, the kind bearing

of chaos and grief, and creatures,

too, who are constellations.

 

 

Thank you for the inspiration and for your beautiful jewelry, Jen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sticks and Stones: Metal is Stone-Adjacent

Migration

One of the few words I ban in my students’ writing is “amazing” because we often use it vaguely, to say not a lot. Unless, I tell them, you look it up and have been literally amazed, don’t go near it.

The online dictionary says it means “causing…wonder; astonishing”. It isn’t how they feel about most of the stuff I assign them to read, I promise you. But it IS how I feel about this video on the amazing creation of this mask by my friend kest schwartzman.

Sure, I want to promote artists in these precarious times. But I was riveted watching kest work. And not smash their fingers. And work some more. The beauty and Creative drama will carry you happily through, so please enjoy “Forged Copper Mask”.
Seriously, watch the video. So groovy.

Artist kest schwartzman is here!

Sticks and Stones, Part I: Sticks

Sticks 1For many years I thought I enjoyed and was thankful for Boston’s chain of green spaces, called the Emerald Necklace. I had no real idea what those emotions were. Now those spaces are where I spend the two hours out of 24 that I’m not in my studio apartment. And they have water and woods and birds and turtles and flowers and sky. Yeah.

The parks are Creative acts themselves, mostly by Frederick Law Olmsted, my personal superhero these days. They also contain other people’s Creativity. The Fens, for example, where I took these photos, have small stone buildings by the architect H.H. Richardson, a formal rose garden, a 17th-century Japanese temple bell found by WWII soldiers in a dump and later gifted by Japan to Boston, and the huge community gardens full of veggies, gnomes, goldfish, flowers, trees, pinwheels, etc.

Even in the awfulness of now, the parks folks are clearing brush and keeping things together, as they always do. The Fens has a comfortable, shabby quality: if it were an old stuffed animal, you would call it “well-loved”. It is that, and it is beautiful just as it is, and more so since some recent landscape renovations. It is also carefully tended and refreshed by people whose work I appreciate even more right now. Piles of sticks and branches, especially after storms, bear witness to their work.

Some visitors, and I’ve said Hello to a couple of them at work along the way, are using those piles for this Creativity, a growing structure under one of Olmsted’s great trees. It began as a much smaller hut and has stretched since, with more doorways, longer halls, and extra skylights. I mean, obviously, a lot of skylights! It’s to smile at, crawl into, add to, play with. And the tree that shelters it will soon have its leaves, and those leaves will catch the pinks and yellows of the sunrise, as I feel sure Olmsted knew they eventually would. And we walk on.

Be safe and well. Be kind.

 

Sticks 2

It All Adds Up

Pot

 

Sunday Stay-at-Home mood + not liking basic orange-y plant pots so much + kind of done with that nail polish color + wishing I had a cat right now +  I could be grading paper instead =  Creativity!

Of a sort. Hang in there, be kind, be well!

 

Uplift of the Week II

BEK 1BEK 2

“From one extreme to another” defines my 2020 so far. As do the initials of my friend Wilhelmina Twinkletoes Forestbather.  (We’re at home all these hours, and we’re allowed to make people up. FYI.)

From early January to early March, all I did was…keep going. An elder relative’s long hospitalization in the state next door had me juggling two jobs, two households, and that crisis. Let’s just say time was spent on trains back and forth. That’s fortunately past, and in the current wider chaos, I can’t even cross the state line and come back. Understood.

That’s the background to this Uplift, an artist who added a lot of fun and eye-pleasure to many hours on many trains, BEK. Or BEK 86. I’ve tried to look up the right way to introduce BEK, and I’m going to go with Graffiti Letter Artist. No idea who BEK is, but their work on buildings, track walls, and freight train cars became the best part of many stressed, tired commutes. Looking for a new BEK. Spotting a new BEK!   BEK fan!!

BEK’s letters sometimes angle sharply, sometimes bubble. They always seem cheerful and eager to connect with eyes. I like the letters’ strong “feet” and the way they take up their space. And I love BEK’s colors. They get attention from BEK and deserve attention. Melon orange darkening upward to rich red. Lavender and purple.  A stunning sort of pearly blue-white.  Simple black and white with turquoise, but also some complex combos.

I took these two and other photos through the dirty windows of a moving MBTA commuter rail train and am irrationally proud of them. BEK’s Instagram gallery was clearly NOT taken through dirt while in motion and displays the real Beauty.

Like body art, graffiti art has a past and a mixed reputation. To some, it’s putting images where no images should be. I’m not a property owner, so I can’t comment on that. In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about graffiti and street art from student papers.

(The college where I teach dates from the era that loved concrete, and, apparently, felt  windowless, cinder-block classrooms in shades of white with fluorescent lights were a great idea for humans. I’ve always felt the best thing would be to give these artists one wall in every room, and then just walk away and leave them to it. I write about real estate, and I can tell you, accent walls are Out for 2020, but this is an emergency.)

I find Creativity in places not intended for it fascinating. I like these artists’ engagement with spaces and surfaces not really made to be looked at or enjoyed. This art stands up to weather, and even to rules, and I like that, too. My BEK search has made me see the talent, effort,  humor, and Creativity they’ve got going on.

The hope of getting back to seeing BEK out there uplifts me now as much as seeing BEK did then.

 

 

A Little Bliss

bliss

I had some old notes for this piece but hesitated to write it now.  Joseph Campbell, quoted in Austin Kleon‘s book (I think it was Keep Going), advises us about moving away from the everyday into a space and/or time to open and create. Campbell wrote:

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day…a place where you can simply experience and bring forth…the place of creative incubation…if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Well, there’s no more “everyday” now, and who knows what that will look like later, what each of us will in future label “everyday”. When people have been universally forced into “other” time and space, can I still write about its value? I can try.

Campbell called the place he described above one’s “bliss station”. I have one. There it is, one end of a futon couch, next to some shelves, where I keep writing materials, meditation objects, and about 1/3 of my plants. And may I introduce Claude, the little blue fellow on the upper shelf, a rounded fellow with a ball nose and a beret, whom I made in a school crafts class when I was about 7? He’s sort of my Buddha. We’ve always been tight.

My bliss station is also early, before coffee is finished for the morning and work begins for the day. If I’ve got myself together, it’s sometimes before sunrise.  Not always.

I hadn’t been there for a while, as this current wave of awfulness started to break. I was sick (not with That) and scattered from suddenly having three jobs to do online, the entire gig economy on my lap. The news. Nerves. I don’t have to tell you. But then I went back to the bliss station and drafted this and started showing up again.

I will say four things are true about my Bliss Station. It was right there when I looked for it. It changes absolutely nothing about the current situation, except that I’m doing what I can to make the most Positive possible. Since I live in an attractive but very small apartment, it has helped these weeks to have designated spaces of all kinds: a work area, a reading corner, the bliss station, and random places to stand to listen to the news or think. That’s 3. The 4th one is that going to back to regular time in the bliss station has felt like Something. There’s things you can do if you put whatever is your own Ground under your own feet.

Against the enormity of what is happening, what are a few words here wishing you some Ground, Something to Lean On, a little Bliss? They are some words I wrote in my Creative Space, wishing you these things. Be well.