Month’s End

Photo by me, Jamaica Pond, Jamaica Plain, MA

So I’ve tried to do my bit for Poetry Month and Decorating Month. I want to wish everyone a positive May and end the month with a quotation from Rebecca Solnit. This is from Recollections of My Nonexistence, which I recommend to Creative People. She’s writing about books, but I think it applies to all Creativity:

“The sheer pleasure of meeting new voices and ideas and possibilities, having the world become more coherent in some subtle or enormous way, extending of filling in your map of the universe, is not nearly celebrated enough, nor is the beauty of finding pattern and meaning. But these awakenings recur, and every time they do there’s joy.”

Both beautiful and true, I think. Wishing you all some joy. Or, re: my photo, something to be your ground and bedrock, something to be your growth, and something to be your fluid freedom. See in you in May.

And the Space on My Bookshelf Goes To…

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

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:

The New Bohemians (Justina Blakeney is kind of a goddess.)

Flea Market Style (A fun, Creative force, this team. Will make you want to hit that flea and hit it hard, as my friend would say.)

Junk Style (Melanie Molesworth, aside from having an awesome name, is one of my gurus.)

Simple Home: Calm Spaces for Comfortable Living (The Baileys are…simply great.)

Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants (My newest addition. Exuberant, with ideas for the simple space. A girl can dream of having a fig tree.)

The Stylist’s Guide to NYC (Sibella Court, whose other books I have read and hope to obtain, is a magic person.)

If anyone has recommendations, please do comment. Books, designers, stuff, Instagram, whatever.

“The Footprints of a Gigantic Hound”

Happy National Poetry Month and National Decorating Month, two of my favorite forms of creativity.

Enough of that for today: It’s April 3, and on April 3 we say, as my dear friend, whom I met 39 years ago today when I saw him play Sherlock Holmes, said on Facebook, Happy Hound Day!

I was already a ma-ajor Sherlock Holmes fan at 14 when I went to this play, adapted and performed by The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theatre in Newport, RI. Because of that night, I was about to become a ma-ajor theater devotee and hard worker in that, and several other, companies. It was the night I met people who are among my oldest and dearest friends and family, and others came soon after in other productions.

So when I say this particular piece of creativity looms large for me, you get it, right? I’m dedicating my future book to TRIST and a big ol’ puppy.

For now, I would like to honor that book and that play on April 3 by listing the acted versions I have seen. It’s not all there are, or why would I go on?

I will list them by who played Holmes, although it’s always the whole team, including the puppy.

Donald Wight (TRIST actor and friend, will always be my favorite. Not a real puppy in that one, but whatever.)

And now, in no particular order:

Basil Rathbone (Mmmmmm….Watson, the needle…)

Peter Cushing (LOVE me a Hammer Film)

Peter Cooke (and Dudley Moore, yes)

Tom Baker (Dr. Who. Really.)

Ian Richardson (Bless him for every role he ever played)

Jeremy Brett (never to be outdone)

Benedict Cumberbatch (Indeed!)

Richard Roxburgh (odd choice, most obvious suggestion that Watson was “kept”, quite worth seeing)

Matt Frewer (In college we loved Max Headroom, and that’s ALL I’m going to say about this. Except maybe, um, Yikes.)

Do YOU have a favorite version, or a favorite actor who played Sherlock Holmes, whether they did Hound or not? PLEASE DO COMMENT.

The illustration, taken from Wikipedia, is by Sidney Paget. I mentioned him last post: placer of the deerstalker on the head of Holmes. See the flow I’ve got going here? Happy Hound Day.

I Get a Sidekick Out of You

Debate

I’m going to interrupt the Sticks and Stones posts for a friendly debate with writer Olivia Rutigliano, whose ranking of 45 detective sidekicks in CrimeReads has stirred some online response this week. I consider anyone who CAN rank 45 sidekicks to be a spirit- cousin of the highest order. I just want to reply to her, to try to respond Creatively to her Creative look at a lot of other people’s Creativity. Detective stories have been my jam for a long time. Also, I’ve been grading final papers all week in an apartment where I spend 22 hours a day, so here this is.

I agreed with, or was at least charmed by, some of her choices. Some provided recommendations for new characters to explore, so Huzzah. Some I was neutral about, or slightly above neutral: I don’t care about Batman’s Robin that much, but Burt Ward rescues Great Danes, so yeah, on the list is fine. And then some of her choices made me want to lean in and do that gesture Holmes is doing in Sidney Paget’s drawing up there.

So here are major points I feel like making, and it’s MY blog, in no particular order.

Yes, Dr. Watson should be #1. He defined the character of the sidekick. But Poe’s Dupin’s Nameless Narrator, who came first, was the creation of the detective sidekick. The Origin, the Source, the Big Bang. He should be #2. Don’t piss off Poe or Poe people. We have some odd ideas in our heads.

I’ve seen a lot of good-natured backlash over Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin being #31, and rightly so. He is #3, for all time. Not my opinion, a Fact. There is no other narrator, no other voice, no other character but my #1 and #2 who should be above him, and there never will be. Don’t bother to argue because you are wrong.

I love that Dr. David Q. Dawson made her list. For the deprived, he is the sidekick to Basil of Baker Street in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, a film far superior to the exciting-as-a-saltine book it’s based on. One of the best ideas in children’s literature that falls flat the minute the plot begins. But the film is delightful, and Vincent Price plays the villain. O.R.’s words are one of my favorite descriptions of a sidekick ever: “clearly smart…but he mostly stands around scratching his head and looking cuddly.” Perfectly good job description for a human sidekick as well as a mouse in a waistcoat.

If Indiana Jones’s Sullah is on the list, then James West’s Artemus Gordon should be on the list. Their being partners may disqualify Arty as a sidekick, but I don’t care. If Dragnet’s Bill Gannon is on the list, then where is Steve Keller?? I mean,  are you kidding? (That I despise Jack Webb and everything he did has no bearing on this comment. None.) Streets of San Francisco simply wins.

O.R., I agree that DS Hathaway’s hair can leave something to be desired. But you are aware that Laurence Fox comes from an acting dynasty so large and powerful they may have their own country? If you get extradition papers…I’m just saying.

S.S. Van Dine??? How can you be an iconic sidekick when a) you never speak  b) your detective only speaks to you in his apartment c) no other character acknowledges your presence? The greatest non-entity in the genre. If he’s here representing that era and Inspector Queen is not, then there’s a problem. Ellery‘s father took on the role of supportive Watson AND annoyed cop dealing with private detective. He’s double to Van Dine’s zero.

Psst…#45, DS Bacchus, is what she says: immature, sexist, corruptible. But I want to stand up for the writers and actor, because O.R.’s take on him is a little shallow, in an Archie Goodwin at #31 kind of way. Bacchus can read the emotional atmosphere in a room in direct, intuitive ways that George Gently, who is rigidly principled and dogmatically focused, cannot. It makes them complementary, and it will make him a good cop when he grows the hell up. There’s a reason Gently doesn’t think he’s wasting his time. The bloke is often irritating, but I don’t want the Creativity here underrated.

I want, finally, to put in a vote for Margot Lane, the sidekick and romantic partner of The Shadow on the old radio series. She was the only one who knew her fellow Lamont Cranston’s secret identity. Thus Margot had to be the Full-Spectrum Sidekick. If some action needed narrating, she had to freak out in fear and shriek to him about what was happening. (It was radio.) If cops needed fetching, she had to go embarrassingly jelly- kneed at mysterious footsteps overhead and scram. But who got the injured Shadow to the poisoned water tower, driving at NASCAR speeds in the snowy darkness? Margot. And who infiltrated the cannibal cult, pretending to be their evil leader, with only a cloak over her own clothes to disguise her, just because The Shadow needed it done? Yup. Now THAT is a sidekick. You go, Girl.

Thanks for your work, O.R. I’ve really enjoyed reading and writing about the best characters in the Greatest Genre There Is. I welcome more conversation from anyone! And if you want to grade some papers…

 

 

Word Play and Fungus

 

Sometimes, another artist’s work opens up a Creative breathing space in a brimming-over world. Art can be like walking into a wooded place in a city park, or glimpsing the ocean between dunes. I recently read a memoir by poet Maxine Kumin, and one sentence just randomly became that little pool you might come across in a mountain stream, a place to dip your feet and splash. I’m not sure why this sentence, but this sentence about being the mushroom expert at a writers’ retreat:

I know enough to…never pick any mushroom with white gills—the underpart of the cap—for fear of unknowingly gathering the destroying angel…

Her descriptions of fungi and this foraging hike are wonderful, but this sentence woke up great pleasure in ordinary language, and in the complexity of language, as pictures suddenly tumbled around my mind.

Gills. Once I found a plastic bag of fish on the beach. Someone on a boat had let the day’s catch fall into the water and float away. I tore it open to keep the plastic menace away from the gulls and met six pairs of eyes hard as glass and sharp-looking fins. But the gills’ white skin looked vulnerable and helpless in the dry air. That was where death pointed itself out to me, as it did for Kumin, in the gills. Alas. Walk on, though, and let the birds laugh and feast.

Fish have gills, and so do the small fungal shelves and umbrellas on collapsing logs. They appear in the living sea and on decaying parts of the earth, these open fans of gills. It’s only in working through my draft of this post that I remember a poem by Sharon Olds, “The Winter After Your Death.” She uses the image of a closing fan to describe sunset, and a starkly bright fish in a pond to embody many things. I think my own use of “fan” pulled up this poem, the unconscious source of my word choice here. Of course, being obsessed with the 18th century, I’m likely to throw a fan image in wherever possible, so maybe that was it. I don’t know. My feet are just splashing and enjoying the stream.

The word cap turns the mushroom into a little figure wearing one to shade its eyes, and then the circle of gills becomes an old-fashioned neck ruff. It morphs into a bottle of spores with its cap on. How capital! Oh, that satisfying little pop when you decapitate a mushroom by breaking off the stalk. And the aroma of them, cooking in oil on a chilly winter night. Still playing.

If you’ve faithfully watched any British mystery series with a countryside setting, I bet you’ve seen the Murder by Destroying Angel plot. I can remember two without even putting on my thinking…cap. That basket of foraged mushrooms on the table in the inn kitchen that no one thought to guard from interference. Who would notice a couple of extra ones? Sneaky poison that, eh, Inspector?

Despite its being National Literature and Poetry Month (HUZZAH), I won’t even get into Paradise Lost, which is full of angels as violent warriors attacking and defending Heaven. The would-be Destroying Angel is seemingly destroyed, falling and falling. But later, that whole snake and apple thing.

Kumin just used the Words for Things when she had something to say about these simple lives in the woods. She was also writing about a relationship between the body/mind and nature, about Paying Attention in the world, and about harvesting, both as a forager and as an artist. I enjoyed foraging in these words of hers I came upon and hope I used the harvest well.

My copy of Maxine Kumin’s The Pawnbroker’s Daughter was published by Norton in 2015.

Well

Well

Well, here’s a tip from this Creative person: Remember, the weeks in February where one job is going to require a lot of extra hours may not be when 60+ college papers should be due. If you remember, you won’t be exhausted and behind through most of March, and then just exhausted for the rest, and you won’t spend 1.5 months in Lucifer’s Living room.

But if you don’t remember, pat yourself on the head in a soothing manner, and try to go with the flow until you can get to shore. Then say, like any good geek-hero, “I think we all learned something today.”

I learned, as it happens, what drastically needs to change about my life. If you grind your nose against the wall you hit some time back, you learn that it will bleed. If you teach community college 11 months a year, with 60+ students most of the time, and have other jobs, perhaps you can make an educated (ha?) guess what I learned.

I’ve posted before about how various Artists manage(d) their time. And Mason Currey has a second book coming out on the topic. Huzzah! I thought I remembered something in an essay by novelist Jeannette Winterson in her book Art Objects. O, Yup, there it was:

“…the question ‘How shall I live?’ is fierce,” she declares. And the answer in my own head, “Not the way I have been,” is feeling pretty fierce, too, right now. She continues, “If my partner needed to live on the coast for her health’s sake, no-one would be surprised that I should go. Should there be any surprise that I am returning to a quieter existence for the sake of my work?…There are people who tell me that I am cut off but to what are they connected?…I do not write every day, I read every day, think every day, work in the garden every day, and recognize in nature the same slow complicity…A writer lives in a constant state of readiness.”

She also, of course, works hard at what she does, and has a whole flock of gaspingly good novels to show for it. I suspect she spends a lot of most days not worrying much about money, a state she has earned.  Because she once did her share of the job-hopping years. And because great novels.

I  understand she likes the way her life feels, and I don’t. I lack well-being, as well as the fireplace she lights every day, and her solitude, and her money. I’ve always supported Creative People doing the best they can, making  life choices that suit them, or dealing with the ones “thrust upon ‘em”, without apology. I still do, but I’m getting  more interested in how my situation doesn’t work for me. I work…for it. And I’ve done all my work well, with stamina and discipline, since my last long-ago writing, and it’s not tolerable anymore not to be Well.

I’m one week into having made some serious small changes and some steps towards bigger changes. Unfortunate habits of work, living, and mind are being uprooted, although they long looked like the ground I stood on. I’m becoming someone I don’t like in some of my work life, and I may stop doing something I thought I would always do. Giving up things I care about and am good at for things I care about more and may be better at? Actually, scary. But right action.

Luckily I ran into a book by artist, designer, and teacher James Victore called Feck Perfuction. How could you not pick that up? Creative People should read it, especially those of us who need, Really Need, to be lifted up and shaken up. Here’s the page I’m on:

“If you want more in your life, you may have to accept less…Less distraction, less servitude to work, less debt, less greed, and less craving. It means surrendering our attachment.

Your happiness shouldn’t teeter on a bank ledger or come from any source other than acceptance of who you are.

Never settle and never give in but accept less.”

If you don’t find that terrifying, you’re either admirably together Creatively, or more like me and also not reading carefully. The leaves of Victore’s book cover some deep, dark pit traps. There is hidden danger to the status quo in almost every phrase. But after one week of small changes, here I am again. And this time it feels as if Writing When I Can isn’t an option anymore. You may have never been here because you figured it out for yourself way back, or you may be right here, too. There are worse places.

 

 

 

Return of the Blog. Oooooh.

zzzzzz

I haven’t done what I would classify as My Creative Work in more than a month, and as a result, I feel crampled (a word I accidentally made up) by life and also more than ready for change. I have been writing for money, about issues in moving with kids, and about the various Revolutionary Personages of the historic site where I am an educator.

Dilemma: being a CPT whose mind really needs to rest when it can, in the hopes it will stop being either the scattered monkeys or the wild elephant of Buddhist metaphor. The blessing and curse of being deeply engaged in and satisfied by multiple thinking-intense jobs, I find, is loving your work and then adoring empty quiet time. What blog? What poems?

So I’m going to change strategies to get uncrampled (second word I made up). First of all, I still stand for Going with the Flow and not criticizing yourself. You can’t demand the tide be in when the tide is just out right now. Use it as an opportunity to Experience Creativity, not in the way You Decided was right and meaningful, but just as it happens in your day, however it happens. Or doesn’t. No Ego required. Lots to learn and enjoy.

This year I’ve been trying to observe/receive more and think less in my Creative Work. Some of my usual writing is a fallow field. But I’m taking a lot of photos, trying to wait for things to show me themselves, rather than deciding first what it is I see. (For more on this creative process, see The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori and the photos of Minor White.)

I’m going to bring that exploration here, so that the blog can Be when I’m too tired even to think about an intelligent mini-essay or having Something Important to say. When he was interviewed by On Being, Yo-Yo Ma inspired me  with, “It’s not about proving anything. It’s about sharing something.” As an ex-academic, a teacher, and an artist, I deeply appreciate that reminder. That’s the Flow I want to Go with.

Court/Juggler

It’s weeks like the last one that remind me why this blog’s title is one part C and two parts PT. It’s a new thing to juggle Three Jobs: as with real juggling, you get the motion and rhythm going and sustain. And one beanbag eventually makes a sad little splat on the ground. If you’re me. Those papers all graded yet? Splat. Yet I am fortunate, and thankful that I enjoy the three, all of which allow me to exert some C in different ways.

And the week’s intensity gave me extra appreciation for what I’m sharing here, color palette charts from Highly Creative Sibella Court’s book Etcetera Etc: Creating Beautiful Interiors with the Things You Love.  She’s a collector of what she finds, many natural and castoff items that she brings together, which is why she calls herself a Bower bird in another book title. We don’t always have the same tastes in decor, but she’s inspiring and a total trip.

In a week where words literally swarmed in my brain, it soothed me just looking at these pages. Lovely, mouth-filling words in a sensuous font next to favorite shades. Read from top to bottom, or bottom to top if you’re feeling that way, they roll like a revel of a nature poem.  Unconnected words together, they offer sight, sound,  images, and potential connections for later creative work. Like a printed daydream for a CPT!colors 2colors 1

I used these images in a moment of inspiration and admiration, without the permission of Sibella Court or of Murdoch Books in Sydney, Australia. I hope they will forgive it.

Yeah, I was Inspired by a Book Again

Tenant

We’ve had major “stay in with a book” weather in New England, so I just re-read Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  She impresses me more and more and that’s sad, because she only wrote two novels.  Death be not proud, suggested another writer, and I second that.

The post, though, is really about the Preface to the Second Edition. I’d like to quote some of it because I was moved by the way it echoed from the 1840s into today.

…I wished to tell the truth…But as the priceless treasure too frequently hides at the bottom of a well, it needs some courage to dive for it, especially as he that does so will be likely to incur more scorn…for the mud and water in which he has ventured to plunge, than thanks for the jewel he procures; as, in like manner, she who undertakes the cleansing of a careless bachelor’s apartment will be liable to more abuse for the dust she raises, than commendation for the clearance she effects.

“Acton Bell,” Bronte’s pen name, depicted a society of childish adults, bullies without inner resources or self-restraint. Not that you’d need those qualities back then if you were a wealthy landed gent with no natural predators. Or if you were a movie producer, or an ill-coiffed business tycoon with a red cap. Wait. Did I just mix things up? What we were talking about? Oh, a society that produced and valued this sort of thing, that criticized someone more marginalized for speaking up about it.

As the story of ‘Agnes Grey’ was accused of extravagant over-colouring in those very parts that were carefully copied from life… so, in the present work, I find myself censured…O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts—this whispering ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace—there would be less sin and misery…

That last sentence laid me out flat: With the privilege of a white-skinned/cis/nondisabled/hetero/American-born citizen, I often get to whisper “Peace” at will, both in Life and Creatively.

Some accused Bronte of indulging in the “coarse” and “brutal.”  They were probably extra-shocked that the journal of a female character records that coarse brutality. Helen Graham struggles to protect herself from oppression and abuse, but it still becomes her story because she writes it down. In Bronte’s novel, Graham and her journal survive by acting against the conventions of society. Other emptier, seemingly more powerful people disintegrate from the inside out. Creative check-mate. Food for thought.

 

(For Ali Smith and Ijeoma Oluo.)

 

A Weird One

Freaks

 

Sarah Knight’s first two books have in their Creative titles what we kids growing up in Rhode Island used to call “sweeaahs.”  The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck and Get Your Sh*t Together are two reasons I have foreseen a better life, hurt myself laughing, and gracefully (almost) created time to write this post.

Her third is You Do You. It’s about crossing the street when conventional “wisdom” appears, productive ways to break rules, and how to Do Weird with kindness to yourself and others. And knowing that’s all OK. It’s Creative Living for the Unconventional at its finest. And lots of sweeaahs.

She affirms the power of embracing your Weirdness. Weird is Creative as well as empowering, as I’m sure she’d agree. So I began to ponder the Big Three, and here are some things Creative, Weird, and OK with me:

  • That there is a shade of red paint called Baked Beans. That my cousin had her bathroom done in it, and then added a gold-painted tub. Can’t wait to soak.
  • The co-worker whose response to a busking Beatles cover band in a city square was to hold out his arms and skip-spin in a widening circle. I was humbled to think such a person liked me.
  • All that embroidered, powdered, wigged, short-trousered frippery that men wore in the 18th century? I find it…hot. A double C/W/OK for clothes and me!
  • Soy milk, frozen blueberry, peanut butter smoothies. A risk that paid off.
  • Edgar Allan Poe. My man.
  • The 1960s haute couture muumuu. It was a thing. It had Presence.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like I was leaving This out.
  • The Bro Hosts of Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. They wear night-vision glasses in haunted places even though the camera lights are on. They record ghost voices. They are where old B movie style meets yelling “Dude!” at the Dead. Love. Them.
  • Students of mine practicing Thesaurus use describe a hypothetical sky as “amaranthine-azure” and “peach-cerulean.”
  • Queens. Great Britain: Rock ALL the hats, Your Majesty. Drag: Icons of Creative and OK, and Weird if they wanna be. Ellery: Creative. Weird. OK.
  • The word “hoolet,” an archaic name for a baby owl, in a child’s rhyme quoted by author John Hanson Mitchell, who is C and OK, but may not be W. Students rapidly tiring of being addressed as My Hoolets.
  • The old-timey actual advice to “pump…chopped feathers and hot molasses into a worn tire to extend its life.” Described as “Messy in case of a blowout.” I kid you not.
  • Solving crime while never leaving your brownstone where you keep 10,000 orchids, and the whole Great Tradition of Great, Weird Detectives.

Some things that are C and W but most definitely NOT OK with me:

  • Putting pitted black olives on your fingertips.
  • Wax museums.
  • The 18th-century recipe that enthusiastically explains how to cook and serve a chicken…while it’s still alive. The sound effects are apparently to be savored. Oh, my fascinating, gorgeous, disturbingly unrestrained favorite century, I will never, Ever get over reading this.

Please feel free to fly your own freak flag in the comments. Love to know your C/W/OK or Not OK list entries!

And thanks to the staff of Boomerangs (Jamaica Plain location), the thrift store that supports AIDS Action, for letting me photograph their sign.