Out of This

I could not love, or look up to, a sister more than I do my cousin Amy. Aside from her intelligence, her immense sense of kindness and sense of the ridiculous, her love of books, cats, and baseball, she knows how to rappel down a cliff. A cliff. That she has climbed. With her fingers and toes. Her idea of fun is wilderness hiking and camping, even in the snow, even in Death Valley. Bugs, bears, trail mix, more bugs, being totally cool with pooping in the woods, all that. If there’s a guy where she lives in Berkeley, CA who hosts strangers for nude hot-tubbing in his backyard, she will have the key code. Yes, she took me.

Amy is also a Creative. Ballet/violin youth, art history at Stanford, house full of bohemian beauty, window boxes, art books and color. She is an amazing nature photographer.

But this description is the saddest thing in my life. For over a decade, Amy has been one of the Millions Missing, a person with ME/CFIDS. Most of that first paragraph isn’t true anymore: she can’t do those things. Or travel. Or see friends. Or leave the house a lot of days. Or be upright sometimes.

Here is how the #ME Action web site describes this illness that steals lives:

“Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a systemic neuroimmune condition characterized by post-exertional malaise (a severe worsening of symptoms after even minimal exertion). It causes dysregulation of both the immune system and the nervous system. The effects of ME are devastating enough to leave 25% of patients housebound or bedbound. For moderate to severe patients, living with ME is like living with late-stage cancer, advanced stage AIDS, or congestive heart failure for decades.

In many parts of the world, it is commonly called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

There is no unified definition or diagnostic criteria for ME. Common symptoms include significant physical or mental fatigue, post-exertional malaise (a perverse response to normal exertion), debilitating pain, sleep dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, neurological impairment, sensory sensitivity and severe immune dysfunction. The majority of ME patients also have…tachycardia.”

There is also no treatment, no cure, and almost no research. Now you know. Here is Amy’s picture in words of people with ME, posted for World Awareness Day, May 25:

Maybe you know, or used to know, someone with ME. We are the former coworkers who pushed ourselves to work for months or years, taking shorter and shorter days until one day we just disappeared from work and from your lives. We’re the friends you used to see several times a year whom you now haven’t seen in three or four years. We’re the people you always saw around the places you hang out, doing the activities you do, and now occasionally think, “Hmm, I wonder what happened to them.” Maybe we’re someone you see from time-to-time who looks and acts as you’d expect us to and you assume our appearance and behavior is what we’re like every day. What’s hard to imagine is that for most of us, if we’re even able, going out is a rare event or something we’re forced to do for an important errand or appointment. Then we go home, lie down and do little else during our waking hours for days or weeks except maybe stare at a screen, go online, read if we’re lucky, and do a bit of necessary housework. Most of that time we feel like we’ve run a marathon for which we haven’t trained, while suffering from mono, motion sickness, altitude sickness and a hangover. And nothing makes that sick feeling go away. Here I am in the place I spend 18-20 hours a day, not well enough to attend the SF protest.

Creating and curating a beautiful habitat, and taking pictures when she can, is Survival for her, not just Art. She is home almost all day, almost every day. To have beautiful colors, flowers, cards, objects, and prints to look at is how Amy keeps some pleasure and meaning in the space and time that used to be her life. Some of us are Creative Part-Timers because chronic conditions dictate our truth. But she is a True Artist, making some beauty out of this.

Here is my poem based on the signs she posted on Facebook for World Awareness Day:


I’m missing

my friends, family, work.

Community. Movement

and sweat, sunny days,

and feeling “good tired.”

I’m missing

my cognitive abilities, good memory,

sleep cycle, vocabulary, and focus. Parks,

beaches, classrooms, museums, stores, restaurants, theaters, theatres, walking, and hiking trails.

My normal breath

and heartrate.

I’m missing.


I, too, wanted to try to make beauty out of this. With all my heart I want her Out of This.








Saying Neigh


When I was little, I liked Bobbie Had a Nickel by Frieda Friedman, a picture book that follows Bobbie’s thoughts on what to buy with his five cents. A toy? A bubble pipe? In the end, he chooses a carousel ride rather than a thing. Thus the naturalization of the positive capitalist construct expressed by the assumed empowerment paradigm inherent in material possession is challenged, and, indeed, somewhat overturned. Blimey. The academic’s gotten out. I have asked everyone please to keep that gate closed. Wait a minute…c’mere. C’mere…okay, safely back inside. Anyway. Many artists know all about deciding what to do with the one actual nickel in their pockets, and for the CPT, there is also deciding about the small coin of time you have to spend on your Creativity. I don’t always have/find/make the time I need to unroll the whole red carpet for an idea, or to let what’s sitting in my bowl rise slowly while I wait to roll it out at the exact right moment. (Two metaphors, both using “roll”. Woo.)

I feel the same five-cents-only pinch when I try to make time to experience other people’s Art. Part of me pants to explore new things as I come across them. Another Part of me, the wiser bit, smiles like the Buddha, knowing that it’s necessary to say No. There is nothing wrong, is there, with pursuing a couple of passions in depth while leaving other worthy things alone. Except for how that can feel, of course. But there it really always is: all the Books not read, all the Art not experienced, swarming around us like bees with sharp backsides. We have to limit ourselves. But these limits—call them renunciations when they sting enough— help us honor what choreographer Twyla Tharp calls our “Creative DNA,” that which we truly Are and Need to be Doing in the time we have. Knowing that doesn’t make it easy. Readers and art lovers have FOMO all their own, and it can be raw.

Riding a carousel was meaningful back then. My parents took me to Roger Williams Park in Rhode Island many Sunday afternoons, where I loved to pick my colorful horse and happily go around. OK, sometimes more than one horse…they were all pretty, you know.  Naturally I was a Bobbie fan. As I am now a fan of the 18th century, literature, and theater. And poetry, Modernist art, Bohemian style. And good nature writing about the shore and good spiritual writing. And I literally have no time for it all, never mind the rest of the fascinating world. More or less. Sometimes I worry that’s close-minded, my Ego demanding to see itself reflected in the art I engage with. There’s enough truth in that worry to make sure I stretch mindfully and take a spin outside the comfort zone. But at the same time, doesn’t any Creative, especially a CPT, need to acknowledge the bright horse in the mad swirl she recognizes as her own, and, as the song says, ride that painted pony?

I admire people whose passionate pursuits aren’t peppered underfoot with gravelly bits of the roads not taken. I suspect they understand that the Rest of the Art is for someone else to connect with. We love the world together; it only works as a group effort. That’s not a bad thing to realize in trying to spend your nickel well on your own art and other people’s.




The notebook in which I drafted this post has two items several pages back, on each side of a sheet. One is the full quotation from Bernard Malamud that I excerpted in my previous post on Routines. It’s worth sharing, with thanks again to author Mason Currey, for this last post in the trilogy on this topic:

There’s no one way—there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are…You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce…Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.

On the back of that sheet is a single, spontaneous observation that pleases me weeks later: “When, exactly, did I do all this writing?” Despite being mindful about positive habits, I’m as perplexed as when I wrote it.

Do you agree there’s discipline and there’s discipline? I refuse to bow my head in shame next week when I have 60 research papers to grade. Some people Must work the same way at their Art every day, and many people do, but some CPT lives require lots of negotiation. I refuse to use the label “undisciplined” instead of “human.” Maybe some days next week I will edit two lines, or write one sentence, or Contemplate my Art. The right thing for me is to be as steadfast as it is actually possible to be, and that takes enough honesty and discipline right there. If I write two words one day and hundreds the same day a week later, I’m both Writing and accepting a Universe I don’t control.

I’m focused on the distinction Malamud notes between making time and stealing it. CPTs don’t steal time from other things to Do Art? I do. Rather, I thought I did until I realized, for real, that priorities can be shifted. By me. The stamp that says “Important” fits my hand, and no one else will pick it up if I don’t. Do we Treat our art as if it’s as Important as we say it is? Everyone breathe. I don’t always, although that importance is as clear as the sky to me. But it’s fairly illegible to a lot of the culture that assigns value in the world out there. It can be hard to take action, every day or ever. There are patterns in life that steer us, people and things needing us, there are temptations, and there is fatigue. And even joy.

We can read about Good Habits for business, happiness, art, yoga, relationships. But no amount of advice reduces the sharpness of Malamud’s word “crack.” Crack. Sustained effort on a walnut? The sudden violence of thunder or a dropped mug of coffee? We have to figure that verb out. And then…be responsible for what happens. Yeah. Whether that’s a smooth wheel or a daily grind for a CPT, crack=change. Cracks open and reshape. Of course I won’t leave out Leonard Cohen! What do you take me for?

Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

Perhaps the crack is already there, and we just have to let go and acknowledge we already know How. And just…

I’ve always had a relationship with my Art, but I’ll be more honest than I’m comfortable being; this is the first time in my life that I’ve Had to Write. Trying to do it every day as a practice has made me need to do it every day, even when I don’t do it. I know: Duh. In some ways, I feel I’ve lost my time management skills because everything on my schedule has to fit differently now. It often feels a little strange and vaguely bad when I write, as if I shoplifted. It was only a small item, but I stole something. Make time, make time, make time…How? Renounce. Admit what is less important. Admit it has to be. Struggle with that. Struggle with your familiar, kindly, awful habits. Get the right job that supports you and your Art. Or not. Make peace with all that while you make time. Then make brilliant Art. So easy, isn’t it?

If you’re also trying to figure out a changing CPT life, here’s the best advice a lot of different folks have given me:

Commit, really, but in the real world. The first time you don’t “do art for one hour every single day” in your full CPT life, you will have failed. Who needs that? Let yourself, they told me, learn what is possible, and then Show the hell Up for That. The habit will take over, for better or worse, sooner than you think. You’ll want to. You’ll need to. Cracks can be beautiful, but they are not pretty.

Don’t always do it alone. Whether you need accountability, feedback, support, or spirit food, get some from other people. Move into a café table with a friend. Take a class. Share a ritual. Hold hands by the edge: cracks can be deep.

And now…back to Twyla Tharp. Last time! For now. Tharp gets up early every day for a long work-out; she’s a dancer, and that’s part of her Work and her Art. But it’s not her Ritual. Here is where she woke me up. Her Ritual is to rise, put on work-out clothes, go to the street, and get a taxi to the gym. Just that. As she writes, “…the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual.” So I listened to her, and I no longer walk for an hour many mornings. I just get up at 5:15, drink water, drink coffee, listen to NPR, and put on my walking gear and shoes. Then it is already happening, and the walk takes no effort at all. To my surprise. If I don’t do these things, it’s not happening. Okay. I no longer try to meditate; I just sit in my space on my cushion, set a timer, and ring a bell. And I don’t write. I just go to my chair in the morning and open a notebook and pick up a pen. That’s all I make myself do. But apparently, that’s exactly when I did all that writing.

What is true for You?


A Routine Post

to do

My previous post discussed Twyla Tharp’s practice of “scratching” for creative material and how it supports the Process. But a part of her philosophy I can’t follow is her advice to “Maintain the White Hot Pitch.” For Tharp, “Scratching is not about control or repose. It’s about unleashing furious…energy and watching it bounce off everything.” Of course she is a legendary Creative Full-Timer, and her work is her whole day, her whole self. My life as a CPT, not to mention my nervous system, doesn’t work that way. I need “control and repose” to have a healthy and creative life. My nature is not full-time fierce, I’m afraid, and I also like to watch several detective series. Oh, and I have two jobs. After reading her book, I pondered this contrast.

I wanted to explore more artists’ habits and found Mason Currey’s 2013 book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, an enjoyable, all-you-can-eat buffet that includes many types of creatives across centuries. His spirited introduction states “my focus…was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought…But one’s daily routine is also…a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources…” Ah, Gentle Cuz. He also quotes the writer V. S. Pritchett on how “great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.” Can I rest my head in VSP’s lap and hold Currey’s hand?

But as it turns out, there are the strugglers, the time-wasters, and the differently-calibrated out there: William James, Franz Kafka, Samuel Johnson, and Gertrude Stein, who gave creatives the Best Quotation Ever, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Hey, these people still produced, right? Currey offers plenty of evidence that there’s “infinite variation” in how to make Art happen. Of course, there is always that difference between Those who Actually Do Not Do Anything but their Art, and Those who Have To Do Things other than Art. Era, material resources, gender, choice, and other human things do factor into routine and ritual possibilities.

Some of that infinite variation follows in a breathless jumble:

Poet W.H. Auden lived adamantly by the clock, his daily routine down to the minute. All day, every day. But he took amphetamines every day, too, to maintain it, and stood behind that choice.

Anthony Trollope, whose novels are long, hit the desk at 5:30 every morning and would “allow myself no mercy,” writing for three hours, two hundred fifty words every fifteen minutes. And then stopped work. For the day. He had his mother to inspire him: in his youth she cared for an ill husband and six kids, had to write for money, and hit the desk at 4:00am every day. (And there’s Ginger, as they say, doing everything Fred does, backwards, in heels.)

Author Thomas Mann closed himself in his study at 9:00am, at which point the door did not open and the whole family fell silent until noon. Joan Miro’s day included five morning hours of painting, rigorous exercise, lunch, exactly three cigarettes and a five-minute nap, before he began painting again at 3:00. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, walked, drank coffee, and wrote. He had more than fifty different cups and saucers.

Gertrude Stein wrote about half an hour a day, sometimes outdoors, and firmly believed that thirty minutes of real work every day adds up. (Are we listening, CPTs?) Novelist Francine Prose once said the world “will pay me to do anything BUT write.” The price of fame. She secludes herself in the country when she can, where she finds she is either working productively or “standing in front of the refrigerator.”

TS Eliot had a job at a bank and later at a publisher. Although poet Ezra Pound set up a scheme to crowd source his comrade in the 1920s, Eliot kept the day job. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. Wallace Stevens worked in insurance. Lucille Clifton wrote poems at the kitchen table in a house full of children. WB Yeats made sure he wrote his poetry two hours a day, and read, and engaged in outdoor leisure, but he claimed never to have “done more than five or six good lines in a day.” Of the articles he wrote for money, he said, “One has to give something of one’s self to the devil that one may live.”  Brrrrrr.

Maya Angelou favored writing in a hotel room during the work day, 7:00-2:00, with “a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry.” Whee. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote mornings and sometimes afternoons, unless he wanted to watch a sunbeam move across the floor for the second half of the day. Whee again: see Stein quotation above about doing nothing. Hawthorne also held his share of day jobs, so give him a break. Georgia O’Keeffe had painting days and “other things one imagines one has to do” days for everyday and social stuff, all rushed through to “get at the painting again.” Nature writer Edward Abbey had a quiet shack for bouts of work and then long, gloomy vacations between books. He hated to write under pressure, but it was the only thing that made him write.

Novelist Bernard Malamud thought there was “too much drivel” about rituals. “You write by sitting down and writing…you suit…your nature,” he said, concluding, “The real mystery to crack is you.” So I’m working on the mystery of Me, and working on a post about that work. And feeling empathy for Franz Kafka, who wrote “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through…” What are YOUR rituals/routines/wriggles in your CPT Life? What makes them work, or not? Inquiring blogger wants to know!




An Itch to Scratch


Does the same person ever “wow” and also frustrate your Creative Self? When I want to chew on the sore tooth of How Creative I Have Not Been, I think of 18th-century novelist Samuel Richardson. I love him: he’s one of the first novelists in the English language, and he’s epic and awkward, complex and beautiful, and tender and humorless, and he wrote, among other things, three versions of the 1500-page Clarissa. Now, SR had a day job as a printer and a large family and household. 1500 pages. Three versions. Without. A. Keyboard. I can just hear the dip-and-scratch-and-dip-and-scratch of…what, a sharpened feather?! And what have we accomplished this week, O CPTs?

Recently I found another Inspiration who is a little overwhelming, the genius dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, who wrote The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Fascinating woman. Fabulous book. She is a CFT enough for three lives; it is her whole life. I can’t copy her all-consuming habits of art, and I’ll write about that in another post, but I’d like to quote her on the Creative Process:

Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my internal world. Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity…I have a habitual routine to keep me going. I call it scratching. You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing…digging through everything to find something…Scratching takes many shapes. A fashion designer is scratching when he visits vintage clothing stores…An architect is scratching when he walks through an art quarry…You can scratch through books…It’s primal, and very private. It’s a way of saying to the gods, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways…” and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.

She starts with some basic useful statements, ends up talking to the gods, and showers sparks of creative Possibility on busy CPTs, reminding us the everyday, ordinary world is flammable, so set it on fire like the sacred gift it is. So far, I have blog-scratched the Community Gardens in my local park, Facebook, and my home, scratched all over the Boston Public Library, and scratched my friends. I just scratched my friend’s cat. I’m scratching Samuel Beckett, children’s books, a former professor, a hamster, and much of the eighteenth century. In my poetry, I see I have scratched everything from tree bark, to a documentary on Roman catacombs, to film noir, to a parking lot, to Lizzie Borden. And then I “wow” myself a little, and my world “wows” me, no matter how frustratingly Uncreative they can both seem some days. I make these silly lists, my attempt to express how dazzling and interconnected I find the world, but the truth is, the blog-scratching is helping the poetry. Being aware that I’m always scratching for the blog is lifting my writing up in all kinds of ways. A layer of rust and doubt crusted the poems lately, but I find it can be scratched off. So the blog scratches the poetry’s back, and the poetry, I’m sure, will scratch the blog’s in ways I don’t know yet. Who could ask for more as a CPT than to have one Creative Path support another? Thanks, Twyla.


“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.