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: Stones

KC stone 1KC stone 2

When I took these photos, I was doing an exercise in Looking at the familiar objects in the historic site where I work. There was a quiet 30 minutes one day last winter, and I decided to pay closer attention to the sculptures and memorials on the walls. Not to the people they remembered, but to perfect stone ivy leaves or rich abstract designs. Each pointing to someone’s artistry, time, and focus.

That experience is a cliché you could read in a thousand blogs, right? So I’m not going to write about slowing down, being mindful, observing the present world, feeling appreciation, or any of that.

I’m also not going to offer this stone only as rarefied beauty in an historic church. I do find this work beautiful, and I miss being near it this spring.  My heart does find Creativity sacred.  But like much art, this art exists because of past financial privilege and white privilege, and sometimes that privilege existed because of the organized kidnapping and labor of enslaved people. It’s information the site shares with visitors as part of its History Program.

This is one of the longest periods the building has remained empty since 1754, and right now it might seem to have its own closed-off existence. But it doesn’t exist outside the world, and it holds a lot to Look At. Beautiful and otherwise, sometimes at the same time.

 

By the way, please visit King’s Chapel in Boston, with its fascinating, difficult history and remarkable building, at the History Program’s pandemic-expanded web site.  We’ve worked hard on it and hope you will explore. When the building is open again, please visit in person. We have a lot to share.

 

Sticks and Stones: Sticks, Part II

more sticks

Finished semester grading blahblahblah had about a week to get read for first fully remote class blahblahblah gig economy juggling blahblahblah

Hello. As much as I have things to say about Stones that have been wanting to burst out of me for weeks, I want to revisit Sticks. The stick building in the park, featured in the first part of Sticks and Stones, continues to grow longer and more complex. It has many more doors and skylights now. Of course, it, um, always had skylights, obviously, but these seem to be intentional. There are wonderful patterns and clever weaving from end to end. I’ve been in it, and it’s fun. Creative fun!

 

Stick it

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.

 

 

Oh My Days!

King F

Oh, the Creative things I’m going to get to during this weird spring break once I take a nap. And process the global pandemic. And learn that I still exist even without a work schedule in the foreseeable future. And nap. I refuse, however, to time excerpts of things for use in hand washing. The Jeopardy Think Music will do for me.

As things grow stranger and more distressing, I’d like to give the last few days their Creative Context.

Friday the 13th is forever tied to a series of films. I’m not a suspense and gore person, but I appreciate the art of scaring people with things they actually know are aren’t real. Let’s also remember that it’s the hallowed moniker of the monarch of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, King Friday XIII. The man rules one of the creative capitals of my childhood, a place named, by the hallowed Mr. Rogers, for the imaginative impulse.

Saturday, 3/14, was PI day. Shout out to Archimedes of Syracuse. Wicked awesome thing to figure out, my friend. Math is an elegant creativity with deep tap roots into the universe, although that does not mean I have to enjoy trig. The discovery of mathematical and number-related stuff has inspired some fine plays, including Breaking the Code, Arcadia, and The Women Who Mapped the Stars.

I once asked my friend the Math Professor how his department celebrates. We all have a slice of pie, he told me. Here’s to the dough-crimpers and everyone who makes creative crusts and fascinating fillings. Here’s to our own Omni Parker House Hotel, birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie, which isn’t really a pie, but which is very good. And to all the comedy creatives who knew what else a pie could do, and took one in the face to make us laugh.

Back to plays. Sunday was the Ides of March, about which Shakespeare had some words to say through the mouths of emperors and conspirators. The “line” on social media for 2020 is that if your whole group stabs Julius Caesar together, you’re not social distancing.

If your only experience of this play is reading it in high school and having to “translate” it into “our English”, then I’m just bloody sorry for you. You should see it set in a dystopian shadow-city in mob costumes or something. Speaking of bloody, I worked as crew once on a production of this play that included most of the cast dipping their hands into Caesar’s blood and then dashing about. So here’s the creative secret to removing dried, syrupy fake blood spatter off an entire multi-level stage while setting up for the next act. Puddles. Squeeze some water onto those red puppies and walk away. By the time you get back, they’ll have dissolved, and you can wipe up easily.

Everyone be well. There are lots of creative folks, whether they make stage entrances, make music, or mix your cocktails, who are exiled from their work and incomes right now. Let’s all do our best to care for and support one another.