It takes “cherry pickers” going up and down and a lot of hours. They do a beautiful job for the winter season. During sunset, it’s otherworldy. In the evening twilight and the blue hour, all glow. In the darkness, pretty fierce. Blocks of creativity.
Recently, I was by the window reading, and crying over, and loving, a short story by Elizabeth Graver called “The Mourning Door.” In past times, wealthier folks, who waked the dead at home, would have such a door in the hall or parlor for the coffin to exit. It was used only for that purpose, so the living and dead didn’t share doors. In Graver’s beautiful story, the mourning door is up high on the wall of the narrator’s new old house, so that the coffin could go right down into a waiting cart.
I was reading with coffee, just before dawn, as I like to do. I looked up eventually to see what sunrise was like that day, and saw a bird near my window, sound asleep on a long branch of the maple. You know already, yes? Yes. Mourning Dove. It was rounded down and completely still, just a couple of feathers ruffling in the light wind every little while, against a sort of pale, melony sky.
A story I happened to be reading. A bird common to my neighborhood. That’s all. Except there I was, saying “mourning door, mourning dove.” The Universe is all One, and funny little random things happen all the time. In an important sense, nothing happened. But I loved that the word echoed, and I put the experience in my mental pocket. Beautiful.
Also a little creepy. If I were a character in certain old novels, this would be darkly typical. All you English majors know the tree Rochester proposed to Jane Eyre under was struck by lightning that very night. Inner stuff manifesting in the outer world was a given, back in the Romantic period. And a college professor once called me a “pre-post-Romantic” for a reason.
Buddhist teachers have explained that when we look at a tree, most of us don’t see the tree. We see ourselves looking at the tree. It’s one of those things that, once you experience yourself doing it, you get it. I had refused to accept it before that, cradling wounded pride in my Nature Appreciation. Now I not only know it’s true, I’m not ashamed of it. It’s human, and no one is trying to shame anyone, just trying to open our sense of what is what.
Read up on Buddhist philosophy if you’re curious, but my point here is that the story and the bird exist without me, unconnected by my experience at that particular time, not in reality connected by that word. Obviously. Indeed the bird cares not what our language paints upon it, as one of those old Romantics might have declared, as some buff-colored dove warbled by. And yet. It’s also a fact that two things with “Mourning” in their names showed up exactly together, against a lot of odds.
A tree that falls in the forest when there’s no one to hear it does not actually make a sound, because sound exists inside ears. I was here to see these two things, so…what? And: I was here to see these two things. So what?
As the young Danish man, who may or may not have known his own mind, said, “That is the question.”
trying to see
Surrounded by trees, Jamaica Pond in Boston offers a lot of driftwood and branches for the creative builder. Strucrtures like this one have been popping up in area parks pretty regularly since the start of the lockdown in 2020, but this is the first one I've seen in the water. Scale is tough in this shot, but I could just about stand up straight in it were I inclined to wade in January, and I'm about 5'4".
I don't know the creators, but if anyone does, please comment!
Adding my own favorite of the photos that I took today, winterberry at the pond.
Happy New Year!
A YouTuber I like deals with style, lifestyle, and healthy, flexible minimalism. She also uses footage of coastal Australia in beautiful ways.
Her content comes from her creativity and knowledge as a former art teacher, and from her willingness to grow in front of her audience. Something she talked about has been haunting me in a positive way for a couple of weeks.
A viewer asked if she regretted not teaching anymore. Her answer was a clear No, and her explanation offered me a new idea I’m still pondering.
She said teaching required her to “disassemble” her creativity. To teach others how to do art, she had to show them how the parts and pieces work . Teaching the basics of something to beginners can be worthy, important work. My hat remains off to those who do it well, including myself. Many do it in challenging, exhausting, and/or underpaid situations where they are neither respected nor valued.
But I had never heard someone describe teaching quite that way. Explaining to first-year college students how to write a sensible paragraph, or how to avoid stringing five full sentences together with commas, was a disassembly of my own writing?? Maybe.
Obviously, if you’re showing student mechanics a car in parts spread on the ground, you’re not driving that particular car. I’ve been teaching college ten months a year for a decade, plus for years before that, and I don’t clearly remember writing without teaching writing. This is the first summer and fall I’m not teaching. Already I’m sticking to my writing practice better despite the challenges of my other work.
Here in Boston, we have a T (subway) station called Assembly. One day I saw a T map where some witty wag had written “Required” after Assembly, imitating the font pretty well with a marker. Maybe they were trying to tell me something? I know the YouTuber’s Creativity expands and flowers all the time.
I don’t know what any upcoming “reassembly” of my Creativity will look like. I’m just curious to see things this way and see what happens.
I’ve been drafting ideas through the spring to write about, but did not ask my mind to do more than it could do in a healthy way. Without a Director or a full staff at my job, the extra thinking and work required to keep rolling took up some creative mind space.
That’s how it works, isn’t it? Some people put militant boundaries around their creative time and space, and some of us compromise it, trying to go with the ebb and flow of our lives. I guess some of us switch between these strategies. Because my schedule changes weekly, monthly, and by semesters, I’ve been going with the ebb and flow. And finding how easy it is to ebb and how hard to flow. Yup, same story, different day. I know.
There’s endless advice out there about handling a creative life, some of it excellent. A lot boils down to actually practicing whatever commitment is right for you.
Even when I’m not actively engaged in my creative routine, my consciousness seems to circle around the space where it could be. The type of paid work I do, and the difficulties that come with it, are what I have chosen and love. I choose not to have and not to do any number of things other people might really need. I don’t need them as much as I need that circled space, full or empty. I have let go of what I can do without in order to have what I need, and that’s not always a comfortable statement. And I often fail to take advantage of the space I’ve made.
As the late Andre Dubus (not Andre Dubus III) once wrote in his fiction, “It was not as simple as money…it was as complex as the soul. But so often the body ruled,…and when it was overwhelmed, venom could spread through the soul…with money, one could soothe the body, give it rest.” When we have what we do need, and that includes financial stability,, it’s true the soul, body and creative life can be healthier, more whole. What price do we pay to have that? Some of us give up ideal creative space/time for the “good enough” space/time that we can afford to sustain.
That requires choice, what life will consist of and what it will not, what is positive and not, what is bearable and not. No one has full choice; Life doesn’t work that way. So Choice about our own lives is precious, as daily life is precious in the knowledge of its ultimate ending. I believe in karma, the consequences of choices. We are all playing a role in the Fabric that binds us together. To take away Choice is to take away that ultimate right, that of fulfilling what we are as pieces of the Universe.
What I create or don’t is my business and my responsibility. So much that happens in life cannot be and won’t be our Choice. To take away any of what is our Choice, is unconscionable.
Because when there is a blizzard and you have to style your plants, there is a blizzard and you have to style your plants.
Because when a Buddha postcard, books, and an old panda are creatively involved, they are creatively involved.
The two tomatoes grew from market produce. The snake plant was adopted from family. The palm was left in the building basement. All other plants are the children of two cuttings I happened to get from a volunteer gig in the early 90s. Shells from Peabody’s Beach, Middletown, RI. The goldfish is a wind-up toy.
Since a number of Creative people spent Sunday night thanking other Creative people for their contribution to whatever the first Creative people accomplished, I’d like to do the same.
Since I mentioned the many designers and foragers whose books inspire me, I thought to list them here. It’s by no means all of them: Turns out the Boston Public Library doesn’t like it much when you take down a whole shelf of books and park on the carpet right there. The ones I own, and some of the ones I love, are:
You know, I literally have five more days of Poetry and Decorating Month, so don’t rush me.
I have seen segments of the British Antiques Roadshow with a host, three similar objects, and an expert in those particular objects. The host and surrounding onlookers try to figure out which object has the highest monetary value. All the objects are aesthetic delights.
I told my friend Sandy (link to her blog post about my blog) that I would post during Decorating Month about the bone we pick with the Boston Globe Sunday magazine “home” features. The theme of our rants is simple: How to Decorate Big Space with Big Money is of little use to a lot of us.
Frankly, I love looking at “real estate porn”, and most simple/edgy/boho/unusual home design fascinates me. I am also a fan of Marni Elyse Katz, who writes these features now. She’s good!
My own object/decor jam is more thrift, gift, and foraging. People write about that, too. I have six books on the topic and counting, and they’re mostly second-hand. And I practice. My glass square that came from an old job when they closed contains a highly curated collection of park tree branches, pond driftwood, and a stick I grabbed out of a community garden compost area. I mean, this thing is curated. It’s an arrrrrrangement.
I have framed book covers, book pages, and postcards on the wall. The pleasing display above my desk contains a thrift-store glass cylinder of stones and shells in colorful layers, a birch log, two ocean stones, a framed collage I made from a beat-up book, and the fired clay figure I made in Sunday School crafts class, who vaguely resembles Buddha in a beret. This is how I roll, and a lot of interesting authors have encouraged my roll.
So let’s play the Roadshow game and decide what is my most valuable work of art in the photo. If the Ansel Adams were the real deal, then yeah. But it’s posterboard in a frame, and someone left it in the building when they moved out. So it cost me nothing, but it is full of value. First thing I hung in this apartment, it connects me to the tree outside, and my gaze often wanders into its deepness when my gaze needs to wander.
The one on the right is a print of King’s Chapel, the wonderful 18th-century historic site where I used to work and hope to work again. It’s likely from a re-issue the artist’s son did in the 1970s. I know this because artist Jas Murray did a lot of local scenes and still seems to be very popular. I found it in a charity shop, hanging there waiting for me, which I’m sure is what it was doing. It fills my heart up every day, like a lover’s portrait.
The piece on the left is by artist and parfumier John Biebel. The pensive woman carries a long-stemmed flower and has a lovely old home growing out of her head. It was gift to me from my friend John. I find it exquisite and inspiring, and it represents the generous kindness of a friend I love.
Cost winner? King’s Chapel at $6. Value winner? Nope. Each one is beautiful to me, makes me happy when I look at it, surrounds me with Creativity. The Creative finding of Creative things is decor my way.
What could I love more, or want more to blog about, than a thoughtful, informed, ecstatic appreciation of Creativity, that is itself a gorgeous piece of Creativity?
Past readers will know that I have blogged in response to Olivia Rutigliano, who had ranked 45 detective sidekicks. I blogged because I heartily agreed and disagreed with OR. Now she has created a ranking of 100 Sherlock Holmes portrayals on screen, and I would buy this woman a fancy coffee every day for the rest of our lives.
Now click on this!
Her criteria, her observations, her enthusiasm, and her voice make this about as much fun as a Sherlock Holmes fan can possibly have. (Except me. I got to make out with him.)
I thank her, among other things:
for offering me new films, shows, and sketches to watch
for her continued and correct admiration for The Great Mouse Detective and for mentioning Vincent Price
for going into the past, going international, and going multi-species (Yay, Wishbone!)
for liking Murder by Decree, for loving Christopher Lee, and for knowing Ian Richardson also played Dr. Bell
for FINALLY helping me understand my long-standing visceral problem with the lovely and talented actor James D’Arcy. It is NOT his fault, but yeah, he WAS totally the guy I was trapped in literary theory seminars with. There it is. Not his fault, not my fault: Academia’s fault. As it usually winds up being.
Anyway, the only thing I can offer her in return for this Gigantic List are two tips: OR, if you haven’t, as your review suggests, actually watched the Matt Frewer Hound, you might just want… tonotwatchit. Also, if you enjoyed Richardson as Bell, have you seen Arthur and George, I believe also on Masterpiece? Conan Doyle’s (Martin Clunes) secretary Woodie is played by Charles Edwards, who played Doyle to Richardson’s Bell.
Jack-o-lanterns and, um, dismemberment. Winged skulls on gravestones and scones on strings. My October Creativity has been much focused on writing spooky history fun facts and trivia questions for this virtual event.
As sorry as I am that the historic site’s candlelit crypt tours could not happen this year, the first trivia night was a real hoot. Hoot…owl…Halloween…RIGHT? It was so good, I was sorry you all missed it.
The second and final event is tonight. If you’re looking for a new Halloween activity please join us. Play to win, or just enjoy the fun facts and scary stuff in good company. You will be supporting one of the many non-profit cultural institutions knocked hard by this murder hornet of a year. And it’s a piece of Creativity I’m proud of!