Crypt(ic) Creativity

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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!

http://www.kings-chapel.org/history-events.html

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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!

Bronte-Spoiling

BS

SPOILER ALERT: Jane Eyre

When an artist creates a character willing to bite someone to death, that’s not an artist I’d piss off. If I were you. Penguin Classics.

Consider yourself Called Out by a CPT.

It’s not enough the cover of your edition of three Bronte novels features those faces, all rose-blush cheeks and dewy eyes, borrowed from paintings by men. Then on the back flap, you offer a seven-line biography to cover three authors, and it says this:

Charlotte Bronte…wrote some of the most poignant romantic novels in the English language…Anne Bronte…was also a novelist and poet, whose works were chiefly influenced by issues of social injustice.

Charlotte Bronte assaulted, killed, maimed, set multiple fires, and struck things with lightning, just in that one novel. What is wrong with you? If you consider Jane Eyre a romance (no, not a Romance, which is a literary movement: you didn’t capitalize it) and not a book about “issues of social injustice,” then I suggest you switch over to Dick and Jane until you, like a newborn blind kitten, get your eyes open.

What are the CPT goals in posting this topic? Perhaps it is to defend a fellow-artist who also knew life challenges and financial struggle. But for whatever reason, I’m here to defend some honor. Not that there’s anything wrong with romances or genre writing: I’m a big mystery fan myself. It’s just that Jane Eyre isn’t a romance.

That label implies to me that she chose to write love/relationship-centered fiction. What I see is a complex work about human motivations and limitations, centered on the living of a 19th-century female life. That would include marriage (or not), and a strong sense throughout of having your selfhood and your value dictated to you by a society in which you have no voice.

The characters of all genders who represent that society in the novel do not recognize Jane Eyre’s personhood, her autonomy as an individual. If it were just they, it would be a great novel. But some of these characters do see and even love her, and still “epic fail” in this area. That’s what makes it more, makes it a vision of society, and that’s where Penguin lets her down.

Maybe artists can easily empathize with Jane Eyre over those same struggles: for economic stability, for fulfillment, for relationship, for authentic living despite the challenges. Some days I have had enough of being broke, of bad weather, and of annoying people with authority. She’s a sister in Up-against-it-ness, as was her author.

And Charlotte Bronte was as skillful as her sister Anne Bronte in viewing the world clearly from where she had to stand in it. Having limitations does not equal being limited, and they both prove it. They wrote what they saw, and it was unflattering to Power of many kinds. And it was boldly expressive of the female, the disenfranchised, the outsider.

Sure, Jane Eyre has a happy ending, albeit one slightly clouded by amputation and death. She winds up in a place where she can be herself and be in relationship, as much as actually possible. It’s relative, but still a victory. As a CPT, I like the ending: not “It will all work out just great”, but “Keep on. It will all work out reasonably ok, ok enough, considering you live against the current in the society you do.”

So Penguin Classics, you unjustly represented an artist whose representation we need. Shame on you, you know. The Brontes would write books about it.