So Creative, It’s Scary

elvis skellylicious

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s exhibit of Richard Avedon’s photography focused on his fashion work, with evolving style and glamor over the decades it covered. He used the camera over the years to say many things about humanity, and even these images had his Creative Muscle in them.

We’d just seen the last gallery and were thumbing through the coffee table books on the benches by the exit. The long wall near us contained an unusual photo shoot, with the models posed in an urban, post-apocalyptic world that I remember as windy-looking and trash-strewn. But artfully. The couture, of course, was flawless as they posed together, one model a lovely young woman and the other a skeleton in male attire. She seemed not to notice.

I liked them because they worked well as, and also laughed at, fashion photography. But if I’d been a little kid, I would have run. Petrified of skeletons back then, I would have felt the earth shake beneath as the nice museum betrayed me with this unexpected Terror. The photos brought back that old fear of coming upon skeletons in museums and historic sites. I could laugh in the gallery, but once upon a time, it wasn’t funny.

There was a little girl, about five, in the gallery with us, looking with her adults. She was wearing a pretty little dress, the sort of outfit that makes girls look all sugar and spice. After viewing these images, she walked back to where they started, gathered herself, and began an assertive stomp-march along the wall. Marching with as much attitude as any runway requires, she pointed up dramatically at each photo and declared, “Scary! Scary! Scary! Scary! Scary!” Her tone was 10% outraged complaint and 90% putting these pictures in their damn place. And then her work there was done.

Wasn’t I vindicated. Maybe an Art Critic was born. But also an artist: this was performance, with space, action, and dialogue carefully planned and executed. It was splendid.

I have no conclusion or message to add here. Two expressive people impressed me with their Creativity, one in answer to the other. I think I’m writing about it just to join a Creative conga line I admired. I guess sometimes Inspiration can be the feeling of “I want in on this!” The only thing better than going to spend time with a Creative you know is suddenly meeting a new one while you’re at it.

The image is of Production Design by my Creative Cuz Elvis Strange, of Designing with Strange, Inc. Skellylicious, and used with his permission!

Mastering It

 

 

 

how to live

Around here we claim two Masters of The Purposeful Life Through Unusual Living. Once a year I read The Outermost House, Henry Beston’s record of his time in a cabin on Cape Cod’s outer beach, one of the most beautiful books ever written about the experience of place and nature. And then there’s that guy from Walden Pond. He cried out, “Simplify!” and lived the word. And also got some stuff written.

Their Creativity had to be made by a letting-go of other Life options. They followed the pull of one tugging string into these spaces. Or, as those with metaphysical joy remind us, the space is already there waiting for us and doesn’t need to be made. Then it needs to be excavated.

We learn change is inevitable when it’s forced on us, but sometimes we move along in an illusion of stability that seems necessary. As deeply as I could covet a year in the outermost house, I’m not prepared at this moment to give up Everything and make a break for it.

In a book on the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi, Robyn Griggs Lawrence describes an exchange between Gandhi and Richard Gregg, recorded in the latter’s “The Value of Voluntary Simplicity.” Gregg expressed his guilt at not being able to renounce his books, and the wise man told him that too-intense sacrifice is actually an obstacle to simplicity. Gandhi told him, “Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.”

Do you ever get a little frustrated when the Great Answer is just so damn reasonable? When you’re trying to rev yourself up to strive, only to be reminded that moderation is the path? Yeah, me, too.

How do you sustain whatever Simplicity makes time and space to be a CPT, in this un-simple society? You’re not alone in a cabin, and every message that comes at you from any source is basically saying, “Say Yes to this! a) You have to. b) You want to.”

So far for me, Gandhi is right. A lot of familiar patterns seem just to be changing, more organically than I thought possible. And that is, in fact, scarier and more complex than having to struggle to change. It’s possibly due to my writing for a paycheck, when new patterns have to take over, but part of it is still this new indifference to many familiar, taken-for-granted-as-just-reality things.

Indifference working its way toward positive Difference. The sneaking suspicion that a CPT life might not be about struggle, but about the ease of a Right Life being lived. That’s different, and positively startling.

Thanks to the fabulous Brian Andreas for his wonderful art that I shamelessly borrowed.

 

 

 

HI-iiiiiii!

gloves

Hello again. That was quite a break on my part. To be exact, it was a few breaks, all in the bones of my left wrist, the one I need for Writing and for half the keyboard. Since mid-March, I have been able to hold a pen enough to take skittish notes, and I learned to type with one hand. Frankly, getting the paid work done took all I had.

There has been many an excuse for not writing in my life, but it’s never been that I literally could not write. Watching the Bronte sisters dipping and scratching out lines on the recent Masterpiece program, I caught myself envying their speed. Yikes.

Last week I was able to write a draft of this post, and I’m currently typing it normally, albeit with pauses for “shaking it out.” So here’s what I’ve Got:

My city, and my walks through it, include several community gardens, some only a building lot in size. I love them. Our string of formal green spaces here is called the Emerald Necklace, and I like to think of the community gardens as a string of colorful, hand-made beads. I passed by a favorite small one not long ago, a week before it opened for the season. It was one of my first long walks since I healed and the ice melted, but I still found myself in a sooty haze of vulnerability, hand sweaty under the Velcro splint I wear outside.

The Garden, like me, was not then productive. Lopsided cubes and cones of protective wire mesh filled the plots, and old stalks lay bent or smooshed on the cold soil. The ice and snow did a job on them, too. All that mesh must have been neatly unrolled last fall, but winter tipped it into the shape of drunk tornadoes or the weird shape of houses in children’s drawings. Everywhere was a sense of inactivity, a sense of work not visited. Just like me. And here’s more: it was beautiful, sculptural, creative in its own way, full of potential. Yeah, I know. But be nice to me about it: I’ve been Injured.

My next visit was after opening day, and change had bloomed, if not much else. The wire had all vanished, along with the patterns of leaf litter. The plots were clean, newly opened spaces. The birdbath and the trellises had been leaned upright, and garden gloves waved from the posts where they were drying, hands suddenly present and ready to be used. A clump of daffodils spun yellow to match the bright metal bench across the way. A violet was growing rogue in the border area, and here and there other spots of deeper purple poked up, including in a pinwheel.

It’s too trite to say unto everything there is a season, and we just bloody have to Live With That. But I felt okay in the garden because my own creative tool was making its comeback. A CPT Life can have dull seasons brought on by so many things. It was surreal for me not to be able to write, but I could feel at home in the brown garden knocked over by snow and ice. And then again in the one full of new things growing and garden gloves doing jazz hands.

I didn’t want to make a clichéd Metaphor here, although I think it’s too late. Let’s call this a more literal bonding of a place I like and me, a snapshot of various creative tools forced into disuse, now back on the Creative Track. So there.

 

Safety in Numbers

safety-pins

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

rain

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.

Morris Dancing

m dance

 

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Nineteenth-century artist and designer William Morris summed up a lot of his Life’s Work with this excellent piece of advice that has been steering me forward. The part of my brain that stores and puts together words has seemed  interested lately in trying out the No-Time Creative life.  My writing went the route of the Massachusetts drought, so I’ve been obsessively exploring anything creative that makes me feel woken up. (I know, I know. Write. Anyway. I’ve been stressed. I’m human.) I denuded the Boston Public Library of their style books on the funky blogger/found objects/simple living end of the spectrum. They taught me about color, scale, scaling back, and about my own style, which seems to involve boho peaks that flow easily into Zen-simple troughs and back again.

By the way, there are wonderful books and blogs out there! It delighted me to spot the same room in two books, once in a chapter on spare, clean-lined bohemian style and once in a book that describes the room as “maxed out.” Isn’t that great? Dear homeowners Emily and Adam: your driftwood lighting fixture rocks my soul. Can I hang out with you?

The thing is, I live in a Fairly Tiny apartment. Not the tiniest, but small enough to make the Tiny House lifestyle a good way to go. So, in trying to be at least creative with my hands, and hoping for a new atmosphere that would coax my Word Brain out of hiding, I took on Mr. Morris and his advice. Was everything around me where I live and mostly write useful and/or beautiful? Yeah, stop laughing. The question invited me to look at things I don’t even usually see anymore, and that felt Creative, especially exploring What I Find Beautiful.

It became clear that I possess much that has neither of those qualities.  And a lot of the non-beautiful is stuff of which I DO have beautiful examples. Too many coffee mugs, Dear Ones. Too many stones, shells, odd bits of furniture, plates, old clothes…the list goes on. I enjoy thrifting and beach-combing, but it’s good to practice Morris dancing, too. At the risk of this post becoming How I Edited My Mug Collection to Avoid Writing, I want to share how surprised I was by the clutter I just let become part of my habitat. It was enjoyable to pack mugs away for the charity shop. It was an aesthetic experience to dump a bowl of shells onto a towel and look at each of them, understanding what I find really beautiful, and putting only those back. The bowl is now something I see again. In the dull, stressed, humid world of this August, that’s something I appreciate.

I’ve been looking at many photos of tiny houses, small spaces, funky decor, and Zen as Habitat Principle, seeking the levels that make me feel at ease. What is the balance of simplicity/spaciousness and bohemian verve that welcomes a quiet spirit trying to have a productive CPT Life, but also welcomes a blue and purple, open-mouthed fish sculpture? The style authors and bloggers who say that one’s environment is a Work in Progress, thus setting it firmly into the Realm of Practice, make me smile. It’s been a creative, useful experience, and I recommend it for new perspectives and new inspiration. And anyone who can give me a lift to the thrift store with all this stuff, lunch is on me.

 

Hey-la-di-la, my blog is back.

wave

Hello. I’m back. I haven’t posted in recent weeks, and I also haven’t

  • gone on vacation, pilgrimage, or silent retreat.
  • faked a plunge down a waterfall with my archenemy in my grasp, and then traveled in disguise while my dear Watson thought I was, um, done for.
  • entered a peaceful writers’ colony somewhere mountainous or ocean-adjacent.

What I have done is Live Out a particular aspect of being a Creative Part-Timer, and now I’m going to blog about it, which is awfully convenient for me.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out in picturesque Waltham, MA, where I visited the wonderful More Than Words Bookstore and Cafe, where they do good community work with young people, and where I bought a used copy of Take Ten: New 10-Minute Plays, edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold. Short plays have long interested me as an art form, partly because I’ve been lucky enough to see so many good ones, and partly because, unlike full-length plays, they don’t Terrify me as a writer. My contributions to theater have been mostly backstage, but several years ago I drafted some plays under the influence of that delicious drama-feast of Shorties that is the annual Boston Theater Marathon. Then I heard me just spinning my wheels, didn’t like the sound, and drifted away. I do that.

I read my new book straight through, play after play, with no performances to take my attention from Exactly What the writers were Doing. Turns out it was an excellent way to absorb the pure craft. Mind you, reading plays can give you the how-to’s, but that’s not the whole enchilada . You truly know plays by watching them, just as you know people by being with them, not just by looking through their clothes closet. Sure, you get an impression of who they could be, but you’ve never actually met them. The craft I cracked while reading these experienced people was how to write a play For Performance, not for Good Writing. That’s a shift I had to make, and it helped mightily that I am a seasoned, loving theater audience. Just saying.

I took out my drafts from years ago and got excited because they aren’t bad at all. I need to chill out as the wright and ask them to do a lot less. And I need to make my characters stop talking like me when I teach, saying everything 1 ½ times to make sure it gets across. Actors’ job, getting things across.  So I made marks and notes. I revised and wrote new bits. And I forgot all about you, Kindly Readers of the blog. That’s the CPT experience, emphasis on Part-Time, that I’m back to comment on.

As usual, I had only so much time to write, and I used it on those plays, which left me focused and full of joy. “Honey, love the one you’re with” is a credible working philosophy. Yet I didn’t write other things that sat patiently waiting, including the blog and my “Daily Grind” work. That bothered me, but I quickly acclimated to feeling bad about them. I do that.  I did not sacrifice pleasure-reading, Jeopardy, or wasting time to create more time to Be Creative. And there it is, the best of CPT and the worst of CPT: everything I accomplished tumbling into the abyss of what I did not write, and all the unwritten blog posts spilling out in a few play characters suddenly alive and speaking. Now that I have the blog, a binder full of poem drafts, notes for two big projects, AND four plays in progress, what choices am I going to make about what gets how much time? Same or different? What will I learn about being a CPT and an artist from those choices?