We have three cats and a corresponding number of litter boxes. We do our best to keep our cats indoors, for the usual range of reasons (wildlife, poop in neighbors’ garden beds, cat safety, plus there is nothing ickier than ticks), and hence we (mostly me) scoop the litter boxes twice a day. Yuck, I know.
But years of experience with the reality of the job’s daily tedium have honed my a appreciation for a well-designed litter box, litter that truly “clumps” and control odor, and a scooper that holds up to the very real physical stress of frequent use.
LOTS of litter, litter boxes, and scoopers are shoddily made crap* that breaks and must be unceremoniously deposited in the trash can in shockingly short order. No wonder parts of the ocean are full of tiny bits of plastic. I recently found a metal scoop with a comfortable handle and a large “sifting” basket and it is a JOY to use. Seriously, a joy. And yes, this all connects to creative practice.
Creative practice, for me, requires a regular scooping of the poop in my mind: the debris that’s built up due to the grocery list, kid-related problem/injury/emotional drama, or latest political scandal (no one in my family may utter the name of a certain politician because it throws me off my game for half a day, easy). I do this through Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” – though I wind up writing these pages sometimes in the afternoon, or sometimes not writing them at all but muttering them while walking the dog. Walking the dog even without a muttered litany often serves as my poop-scoop.
But before the morning pages I floundered. On those days that I rated as “good writing days” I wasn’t sure what was different from the “wretched writing days.” I didn’t know why I couldn’t write on the wretched days, I just … couldn’t. Didn’t wanna. Wasn’t in the mood. Didn’t think I had anything to say. Felt snarled up in an angsty ball of twine. Everything I wrote seemed autobiographical claptrap.
Part of figuring out how to scoop-my-poop was, of course!, the Artist’s Way. But the other big part of it was finding the right paper, the right pen, the right place: my muse is shy and demands certain elements be in place before she starts singing audibly. [Interesting side note: an interviewer asked whether it was true that when van Halen toured their contract had a “rider” stipulating they be provided a bowl of M&Ms withOUT any brown ones. Short answer, yes. Long answer: if the coordinators in charge of the venue didn’t read the contract requirements in detail –the details were extensive, expensive and important, safety-wise – they also wouldn’t come across this apparently whimsical request. So if the band arrived in the dressing room and there weren’t any M&Ms at all, or a bowl that had brown ones, it served as a heads-up that there would likely be other issues with the venue. My muse doesn’t require ANYone to remove ANY chocolate at ANY time from ANY location, but the point is: pay attention to your requirements. Heeding the little needs is part of practicing attention to the big things. Like the muse’s happiness.]
And. But. George Clark tells me one of his songwriting instructors writes in cheapie notebooks because the nice ones freeze her up. While I don’t disagree that any sort of paper suffices for capturing ideas, I unashamedly ADORE the fancy-pants paper and it makes me feel special every time I use it. There’s summat to be said for things that are comfortable and functional and lovely and dare I say it, make one feel “pretty” – whatever pretty looks like for you.
Don’t shortchange the physical aspect of your writing/creative practice. However you undertake to work – via pencil, pen, and paper, oil paints, yarn, recycled newspaper, pebbles, laptop, or audio recorder – do it in the way that feels funnest, loveliest, prettiest and most productive for you. If the nice paper freezes your creative soul, get rid of it! It’s simultaneously irrelevant and foundationally important.
It took me a while to feel like I “deserved” to write my morning pages in a notebook that cost more than two bucks. But I’m at a point in my life where I can afford the $2.01 notebook, and frankly, the quality of the paper vis-a-vis how quickly I can “scoop my poop” in my longhand scrawl is important to my productivity. Plus I love things that are pretty. [A fact the Engineer Husband was unaware of when he married me. It’s evened out, as his sports-fanaticism also hid out until we’d tied the knot. I spend money on original oil paintings; he shells out the big bucks for season football tickets.]
I encourage you to indulge in that pretty something that’s called to you more than once. Play with what works for you. Play a few times, with different things. You may have to admit the yellow notebook lined in silky threads was a mistake, but if you poke around patiently and with an open mind, you will eventually find a tool that makes your heart sing. You can share what didn’t work for you at a creative-stuff-that-didn’t-work-for-me swap party.
And if the pretty stuff you find is useful for the daily poop scoop, all the better. It’s a crappy job*, cleaning up sh*t. You might as well make it as pleasurable as possible.
* All puns and scatological references are intentional.