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.

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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.

 

 

Why Not?

Sissinghurst

In one of her books, Natalie Goldberg says a writer writes no matter What, no matter Where. Such as waiting while someone you love is in the ER. Why not write? No surprise if her example inspired…a varied response. Her point, though, is not to put Art ahead of all else, although some artists succeed doing just that. She is trying to describe writing as a practice, like her Zen practice, something one just does every day. I understood that, yet still did not…concede easily. I don’t know if I do now. I do know I’m not wherever she is.

This summer I spent many hours, over several weeks, not writing in a series of uncomfortable chairs in the ER, various hospital rooms, and a rehab facility. And frankly, if I did manage a few words in the cafeteria, I was not caring about this blog. And I do care about this blog. So I’m trying to be compassionately interested in the Not Writing and in the question of Why Not? Only answer so far: after I thought about juggling two jobs, meeting my deadlines, maintaining two households, and which direction I was going on the train between states at that moment, I didn’t want to think anymore. If you want to shout that Creativity doesn’t require Thinking all the time, yeah, I know, I’m working on that. My instinct this time was to power down and preserve any reserves I had left.

Poor instinct. Because, as many people surely do in a crisis, I let go of what most sustains me to do what I had to do. That’s what I did. That’s what happened. I neither offer myself excuses nor ask myself for an apology. Both are useless. What is useful, and skillful, is to learn things from this summer about what I Need and how to Live. And practice.

An image just popped into my head from early 1970s Sesame Street, so if you’re young, Bear With. In his roving reporter role, Kermit The Frog would go interview Don Music as he was composing his latest song. Don was a wild-haired version of the Guy Smiley model. (Oh, look him UP, babies.) High-strung and forever stuck on a rhyme, Don would play notes and taste words thoughtfully before suddenly slamming his head on the keys, with a full neck-swing wind-up, shouting, “I’ll NEVER get it! NEVER!” And we Wee Ones would laugh every time. So I guess I can laugh at myself, too.

Keep playing, practicing, going. Just go. And quote slightly obscure literature to the people! The novelist Vita Sackville-West also wrote a newspaper garden column. She gardened at her home, Sissinghurst bloody Castle, thank you very much. In one column, she wrote, “…I get letters from owners of very small gardens, asking what to do about them… ‘Our plot is the usual commonplace rectangle…but I am resolved not to have a commonplace garden.’…They are restricted as to space, but not restricted in their imaginative ideas. Why, indeed, should anyone have a commonplace garden…Endless variations are possible…Naturally, every garden must be a law unto itself.”

Very Small. Resolved. Not restricted. Not. Restricted. Endless. Possible.

A law unto itself: that last bit is somehow great comfort and a real statement of challenge to our Creativity. Step up, Artists, I want to shout.

Learning from This. And hey, I gave you Muppets and an early 20th-century novelist’s garden writing, right? Not commonplace at all.

*The photo is of Sissinghurst Castle garden in Kent, England.

Mastering It

 

 

 

how to live

Around here we claim two Masters of The Purposeful Life Through Unusual Living. Once a year I read The Outermost House, Henry Beston’s record of his time in a cabin on Cape Cod’s outer beach, one of the most beautiful books ever written about the experience of place and nature. And then there’s that guy from Walden Pond. He cried out, “Simplify!” and lived the word. And also got some stuff written.

Their Creativity had to be made by a letting-go of other Life options. They followed the pull of one tugging string into these spaces. Or, as those with metaphysical joy remind us, the space is already there waiting for us and doesn’t need to be made. Then it needs to be excavated.

We learn change is inevitable when it’s forced on us, but sometimes we move along in an illusion of stability that seems necessary. As deeply as I could covet a year in the outermost house, I’m not prepared at this moment to give up Everything and make a break for it.

In a book on the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi, Robyn Griggs Lawrence describes an exchange between Gandhi and Richard Gregg, recorded in the latter’s “The Value of Voluntary Simplicity.” Gregg expressed his guilt at not being able to renounce his books, and the wise man told him that too-intense sacrifice is actually an obstacle to simplicity. Gandhi told him, “Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.”

Do you ever get a little frustrated when the Great Answer is just so damn reasonable? When you’re trying to rev yourself up to strive, only to be reminded that moderation is the path? Yeah, me, too.

How do you sustain whatever Simplicity makes time and space to be a CPT, in this un-simple society? You’re not alone in a cabin, and every message that comes at you from any source is basically saying, “Say Yes to this! a) You have to. b) You want to.”

So far for me, Gandhi is right. A lot of familiar patterns seem just to be changing, more organically than I thought possible. And that is, in fact, scarier and more complex than having to struggle to change. It’s possibly due to my writing for a paycheck, when new patterns have to take over, but part of it is still this new indifference to many familiar, taken-for-granted-as-just-reality things.

Indifference working its way toward positive Difference. The sneaking suspicion that a CPT life might not be about struggle, but about the ease of a Right Life being lived. That’s different, and positively startling.

Thanks to the fabulous Brian Andreas for his wonderful art that I shamelessly borrowed.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Boats

boats

One of my favorite poems from childhood is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Where Go the Boats?” from A Child’s Garden of Verses, that bouquet of scenes from an innocent (privileged), tree-shaded England. Here it is:

Dark brown is the river,
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.

Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating –
Where will all come home?

On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.

Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.

Granted, the nursery rhyme world of mean spiders, bleeding mice and sticking your thumb in your food had its place in my life. But I always loved this poem my grandmother taught me because we shared a love of the water, and because, thanks to my grandfather, I am a Master paper boat builder.

As a Creative adult, I still love the poem: isn’t it a beautiful statement of an artist’s faith? I think so. As an undergrad, reading Shelley and Keats’s windswept vistas of eternity, I thought Stevenson stated faith in the Immortality of Art, carrying Our Names down the river of time. Well, he pulled it off. But Artistic Immortality is a yacht with a small guest list and a political agenda. I know now the poem is really an artist’s statement of faith in simple Connection, with another person or the world, through Creativity. The only thing the poem promises, and what it celebrates, is two sets of  hands playing with the boats, and the current between them.

Connection, when it happens, can often surprise you, like walking through unexpected lilac scent across a sidewalk. It surprised me this spring, when one of my classes was doing group work. In a moment of whimsy, I made a paper boat from a spare sheet on the desk, and set it among my notes. My student Ha, with the fabulous river of blue hair, came up to ask me a question and noticed it. Laughing, I told her about my grandfather’s lessons. She suddenly began to tell me how, when she was a little girl in Vietnam, they lived on a narrow street that was deep like a gully. It would flood easily in heavy rain, and she and her brother would sit in the doorway of their house, launching paper boats. The water would recede quickly, stranding their fleet, which settled into soggy, colorful masses of accidental sculpture, and, as Ha put it, “We papier-mached the street!”

This amazing image knocks my socks off. Connection over shared Creativity ensues, both a little breath-taking and wholly ordinary.

The humble request to use her story to write this piece is honored with the response, “I would be honored.” I hope this post will live up to the vivid, lovely story shared with me when another child saw my paper boat and brought it ashore.

For Ha Dang and Ida Schwimmer, and for Aaron Schwimmer, who sailed away June 8, 1985. I’m still making boats, Papa. I still know the poem, Gram.