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.
The haloed little figure on one shoulder and the little horned figure on the other shoulder, each whispering, is an old trope. Today I feel as if I have various small voice boxes all over me, with all sorts of things to say. Some have birds’ wings, some breathe cigarette smoke, and some are stone. Mixed messages.
How can any decent person think about a blog today, this week, as if it’s important. Creativity, seriously?/How can any decent person not stand up to every type of violence, the empty noise, the knowledge their attention is a product for sale? THIS week, how can anyone not do some human, Creative thing in the face of all this scratching at our skin?
I should have rolled out, not just been awake, before dawn, and taken a walk before I got to my writing. I should heed my priorities because no one else will./I should be gentle and patient with this person who had chaotic, rough dreams and bad sleep, enjoy the quiet time, and not treat my “schedule” like the chariot that needs to pull the sun./I shouldn’t use the word “should” on myself at all, especially when it pushes “need to” out of the way. Why are the “shoulds” so much easier to articulate than the “need tos”? See above: violence, noise, attention as product.
I want to blog./I want to read./I want to look at the yellow leaves out the window sifting the sun, and I want to do all of them all day.
I want to understand the difference between a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility./There’s no difference./There’s EVERY difference./Isn’t there?
Every poem can be analyzed, played with, followed forever. It’s never done: there will be no sign./Put your poem on your blog and get some more coffee and do the laundry.
Another dream: late to teach,
streets stretch, destination
retreating. My half-run feeds on
panic never questioned.
routes of trains,
the stamina demanded
I deliver without
a thought. Finally the door,
students hanging around
like a shop full of clocks,
space used up in clatter,
In some versions, also
farm animals. Or snow.
Downstream of chaos, waking
cramped. Some books rest near
the weary lamp. Somewhere I read
that eras ago, the unexhausted
slept night’s first hours,
then rose a little while,
to rustle embers, sit,
turn pages, listen to
the hidden river of the trees.
Or to love, bodies safe
from daylight’s flying shards,
grind-spin of metal on stone.
Or just to look at whatever
indoor shapes cast shadows.
Who first found out that even sleep
needs pausing, found out it would
submit? Is there a foxed treatise,
spell of the old words
however desired? Or did they
simply pull chairs closer around
a remark at table on the moon
that eased clearly through oak leaves,
like a shell flown by tides, after
invisible rain? Didn’t they
discover what each had
witnessed alone? Didn’t they
nod and smile over the hill of rinds,
the crags of bread, the sea of salty meat?
Didn’t that moment of empty
mouths, that pause, become so quiet that,
before another wave of conversation,
the candles stood amazed
to burn that true air, that silence?
The photo, by me, is of two pieces in the Kindness Rocks Project, seen on The Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, on Easter weekend, 2020.
At a New Year’s Eve get-together, some creative friends were enjoying the early evening hanging-around-the-kitchen-with-wine hour. Our host shared some stories about her and my former workplace, and before you click away, let me assure you it was creative gossip about two famous, influential writers. They had both revealed to my friend something about how their creative minds worked in the daily world, and since I’m pondering that, no identities. But go ahead and guess, O fiction fans.
The organization we worked for provided short courses for adults in everything from languages to cooking to rollerblading, and it also hosted writers for appearances and workshop weekends. My friend’s job description put much of the logistics of these events on her shoulders. Let’s call the two visiting artists Creative Mind 1 and Creative Mind 2.
Full disclosure for blog justice: CM1 broke their contract without warning halfway through the weekend, and I am aware of later events in our fair city where CM1 made large, gratuitous difficulties for those who invited them. CM1 seems to have been nestled into a rarefied life by academia, where they operate undisturbed on strict routines that others of us might find monastic or stifling. The daily life seems designed to serve the Art. As the saying goes, you do you; I’m sure many artists work this way for successful results, and CM1 sure has those. (I only judge CM1 for how miserable they made my friend that weekend, as if their needs were the only ones of value. I settle for using the silly nickname we have called CM1 since then.)
CM1 told my friend that, flight delayed, they stood a long time in a long airport line. So they pulled out writing supplies and began notes for a new work. In the full experience of CM1 that weekend, my friend found this choice insular, as if they wrapped a layer of writing around themselves like plastic wrap in that unfortunate situation. That limbo moment was a chance to disengage from the world. That is how some artists get it done.
Again, disclosure: CM2 was friendly and obliging, and that counts for a lot when you’re coordinating a big event and are surrounded by responsibilities and drooling groupies.
CM2 was waiting to speak to an audience where our organization was then housed, a Gilded Age mansion in Boston, donated in the early 20th for that purpose. (I mean, it had a ballroom.) CM2 was waiting in a small, beautifully paneled room that had been the Gentleman’s study. They looked around and eagerly called my friend’s attention to the old wires bordering the glass inside the window frames. Recognizing it as a Gilded Age burglar alarm, CM2 was excited and exclaimed that it must be one of the earliest alarm systems, and how utterly cool. They were fascinated, and in this limbo moment, wholly engaged with a new thing to offer their attention. That’s how some artists get it done.
I would prefer a creative mind like CM2’s. I can be easily, even too, curious in any given moment and easily, even too, enthusiastic about new things to explore. I like CM2’s relationship with the world, although it can present challenges. Overload and scattering of attention does not always serve the work you want to do.
I’m also aware that I was doing exactly what CM1 did at the airport when I was drafting this piece, in the middle of an unpleasant, stressful period of waiting limbo of my own. Was I upholding my practice or retreating into it? When is being driven either inward or outward healthy and when not? What is the balance? How does objective success in one’s art, and one’s behavior to others, affect how we judge creative habits and what it means to have a Creative Mind?
There’s no conclusion here. I still find CM2’s mode richer, more appealing, and more natural to me. But I’m asking myself many questions about different forms of discipline, practice, routine, openness to the world as it comes, balance, and how best to support my well-being and creativity. Conversation welcome!