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.

 

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.

The Boats

boats

One of my favorite poems from childhood is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Where Go the Boats?” from A Child’s Garden of Verses, that bouquet of scenes from an innocent (privileged), tree-shaded England. Here it is:

Dark brown is the river,
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.

Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating –
Where will all come home?

On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.

Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.

Granted, the nursery rhyme world of mean spiders, bleeding mice and sticking your thumb in your food had its place in my life. But I always loved this poem my grandmother taught me because we shared a love of the water, and because, thanks to my grandfather, I am a Master paper boat builder.

As a Creative adult, I still love the poem: isn’t it a beautiful statement of an artist’s faith? I think so. As an undergrad, reading Shelley and Keats’s windswept vistas of eternity, I thought Stevenson stated faith in the Immortality of Art, carrying Our Names down the river of time. Well, he pulled it off. But Artistic Immortality is a yacht with a small guest list and a political agenda. I know now the poem is really an artist’s statement of faith in simple Connection, with another person or the world, through Creativity. The only thing the poem promises, and what it celebrates, is two sets of  hands playing with the boats, and the current between them.

Connection, when it happens, can often surprise you, like walking through unexpected lilac scent across a sidewalk. It surprised me this spring, when one of my classes was doing group work. In a moment of whimsy, I made a paper boat from a spare sheet on the desk, and set it among my notes. My student Ha, with the fabulous river of blue hair, came up to ask me a question and noticed it. Laughing, I told her about my grandfather’s lessons. She suddenly began to tell me how, when she was a little girl in Vietnam, they lived on a narrow street that was deep like a gully. It would flood easily in heavy rain, and she and her brother would sit in the doorway of their house, launching paper boats. The water would recede quickly, stranding their fleet, which settled into soggy, colorful masses of accidental sculpture, and, as Ha put it, “We papier-mached the street!”

This amazing image knocks my socks off. Connection over shared Creativity ensues, both a little breath-taking and wholly ordinary.

The humble request to use her story to write this piece is honored with the response, “I would be honored.” I hope this post will live up to the vivid, lovely story shared with me when another child saw my paper boat and brought it ashore.

For Ha Dang and Ida Schwimmer, and for Aaron Schwimmer, who sailed away June 8, 1985. I’m still making boats, Papa. I still know the poem, Gram.

Bohemian, Inside and Out

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This piece originally appeared as a Guest Post at Cynthia Staples’s inspiring Words & Images Blog. Check it out at wordsandimagesbycynthia.com!

 

“Oh, you see one tree, you’ve seen them all,” a woman once said to my grandmother, who had just remarked on a tree she found beautiful. Gram repeated the comment throughout my childhood as “the saddest thing I ever heard anyone say.” I think so, too, and I’m thankful for the gift of knowing why.

We took walks when I was a little girl, and even not so little, in our neighborhoods and on the beach. Often Gram would stop to look at something commonplace, such as weeds in a patch by the side of the road. Isn’t it amazing, she would say, how Nature creates so many shapes of leaves in just this one place? Eventually I reached the age of impatience with what grown-ups noticed that wasn’t rare blue beach glass or a good climbing tree. But even when I felt impatient, I knew I could see what she was talking about. I don’t know if Gram believed in God, certainly not in a kindly God, but she did deeply believe in Nature, wonderful and endlessly giving. If you looked at it that way. And I do, and I have to, despite all the other ways my eyes still need to open. Her view was one of my starting places, creatively and spiritually.

Recently a latent love for bohemian style has sprouted in me, thanks in part to author and blogger Justina Blakeney. I stay up too late turning pages of her new book and feeling out of breath. Justina defines bohemian style as the product of “a creative life and an active engagement in the search for alternative ideals of beauty…Our worldly collections are as eclectic as we are…Decorating is about feeling free, having fun, rejecting traditional notions about what goes with what…and getting a little bit wild.” [I’m quoting from her introduction to The New Bohemians: Cool & Collected Homes. UNputdownable.] Even my 1906 copy of Putnam’s Handbook of Etiquette warns New York High Society about the habits of “Bohemia”, over there in Greenwich Village, beyond “the borders of wise convention”, definitely over the edge and unacceptably wild.

Her book was in my mind recently on a walk through the Fens, one jewel in the Emerald Necklace of green spaces that loops through Boston. It has a wide area of community gardens, where dozens of people fulfill their own visions with flowers, trees, bushes, berries, vegetables, bamboo, grasses, and leafy plants. It is a wonderful place to open my grandmother’s eyes, to see the shades and shapes Nature creates in just one corner of a park, sometimes helped along by a little human artistry: a painted gate, a statue, a purple disco ball. On this walk, my looking as I was taught to look revealed Nature, to my joy, as The First and Ultimate Bohemian. Everything goes with everything, so feel free and always be a little bit wild.

I challenged myself to photograph the gardens in December, without most of the flowers to help, and still found colors and forms running madly, beautifully together, eye-catching contrasts of silhouette, especially as I lost the light, and small places full of texture and depth. Thanks, Gram.

And thanks, Cynthia!