Tag Archives: Arts

That pile in the basement …

Longed-for warmer temperatures have graced us this past week, eliciting the usual assortment of cliched remarks about the flora and fauna (crocus, daffodil, spring beauty, snowdrops, forsythia, redbud, chipmunks, baby rabbits, robins, wrens).

I undertake my version of spring cleaning: open the windows and let the breeze amass the swirling dog fur and dust bunnies into one massive fluff ball in a corner; hook up vacuum and suck up mass. I tidy and I rearrange; I sort my books and I file my papers. I stop and drink coffee and browse thru’ the Sunday paper.

In the March 20th New York Times “Museums” section, I stumbled upon Golden Age of Discovery … Down in the Basements by David Wallis. Who knew?, but some of our capital-C, Capital-I Cultural Institutions share my lowercase-d, lowercase-g domestic goddesses struggle of staying on top of STUFF.

Of course, what they discover when they go to their basement archives includes Picasso sculptures, rare war helmets of indigenous peoples, and notes from Famous People of History. I find adolescent journals, my grandmother’s account books and timesheets tracking my hours on a federally-funded redevelopment project.

ledger enlargedI’ve tossed the timesheets, but my Grandmother’s account books, with their tidy columns and itemized rows of expenses: they tell me a lot more than she ever chose to share, or I ever know to ask, about her daily life. She, too, struggled with the tension inherent in running a household and creative work. There are entries for groceries, laundry, coal, magazines, stamps. Charmingly, under “miscellaneous” there is, twice-monthly, 35 cents for roses; every three weeks or so is one dollar for “H’s candy” — her husband must have harbored a sweet tooth. There are no entries for weaving supplies though the outstanding feature of her house, when I was a child, was two huge looms. She traveled with a smaller table-top loom. She wove placemats, table runners, samplers, towels, decorative coasters, scrabble tile bags, chair coverings, bookmarks, napkins. You name it, she wove it.

I still use, daily, one of her woven bookmarks. I have always enjoyed it, and find it elegant. No polyester junk, but for-real, finely-patterened silk and linen threads. Having seen her careful accounting for the very real expenses of her daily life on this spring day, and the lack of any such entry for her artistic life, the bookmark becomes dearer.

Some of Gram's weaving

Some of Gram’s weaving

The work we do for love, the work we are privileged to do above and beyond the grunt work of daily necessity: that beauty lasts, to be held and felt and loved. On a breezy spring day, in a basement crowded with life’s leavings.

Let’s look for the treasures in our archives basements. Find whatever we’ve forgotten, whatever scraps of paper and memory may unexpectedly reconnect us, remind us, restore us, return us: to ourselves.

“I am betting on Art.”

English: Bars in Sanok

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I drank down all of Kate Atkinson‘s Life After Life Monday night, so absorbed I didn’t notice the clock had ticked well past my day’s usual closing time. I paid the next day with a condition Engineer Hubby has dubbed “book hangover.” An achy, tetchy state of being that’s unpleasant for innocent bystanders but that provides the sufferer with an itch for some hair of the dog, as it were — a reminder of the joyful abandon I experience when I sit for an entire evening at a novel’s long, elegant bar, sipping whiskey tumblers full of fine prose and excellent plotting.

I treated my hangover with shorter essay-reading, and refer you here to what cured my headache (or, at least, helped me forget about it): Paige Williams’ article in the August 12 & 19 (2013) issue of The New Yorker, about Bill Arnett, a “seventy-four year old white man” who’s a curator-collector of “the world’s most comprehensive collection of art made by untrained black Southerners.” It costs $ to read the whole thing from the New Yorker website, here, but it’s worth perusing if you have the interest and some $ to spare.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arnett is a controversial figure and like many controversial figures, he’s writing a memoir. The last lines of the article cite his words:

It is my nervous and trembling, but history-based and always optimistic, prediction that great culture will outlast corrupt bureaucrats and their heavy-handed abuses of power, and the greed-driven, callous and destructive tactics of bloodless profiteers. So, metaphorically speaking, I am betting on Art.

Coincidence that all my (grasping?) analogies have to do with drinking and gambling? I don’t think so: you have to be slightly inebriated with a love of the world to try to sit down and share that passion with others via words. The whole undertaking is a crapshoot.

Rapid Riffle Shuffle in a Poker Game

(Photo credit: Todd Klassy)

Down your tequila, draw your cards, go all in: set your butt down at the bar, write like it’s five minutes ’til closing time and you hold all the aces.

The New Year is ten days old …

… and I remember ten days being a milestone of sorts after giving birth. Double-digits a Big Deal for my westernized mindset; tenth birthdays received Special Treatment for both the boys as well, though whether that was due to my influence or the inherent tidiness of the number ten I can’t say.


Abandoned bits Photo credit: the|G|™

This year, ending with what some consider to be the unlucky thirteen, has begun its inevitable forward march, and I have found myself trailing behind the column of daily soldiers, picking up the lost boot with the broken laces, the reading glasses with the crushed lens, the muddied confetti and the shiny, neglected pennies. I’ve dawdled behind with my bag of assorted broken treasures, unsure of what to hope for, daunted by my mounting rejections, turned upside down in others’ emotional furor.

And then one of my oldest friends, from way back before I was a mother, sent me the link to this article about Jeffrey Eugenides by Todd Hasak-Lowy, ostensibly about how to write, but also wrestling with the inherent tension of writing as “art” and writing as “product.” It provided me with the energy I needed to sort through my broken-treasure collection and cull out the fix-able paragraphs, the still-inspires-me story ideas, and the hopeful jottings. May it prove equally inspiring for you.

Val’s Strategies vis-a-vis Social Media

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...

English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I haven’t posted *all summer* — and it didn’t occur to me until I read this great post by my writer colleague Val Brooks that I realized I should have given y’all a heads-up: “I’m taking a time out to frolic offline in the summer’s sunshine, and then a derecho will leave me without power for the better part of a week and then I’ll be traveling and traveling more and paying bills late and unable to put fingers to keyboard.”

I’ll return to more regular posting within a couple of weeks, but her suggestions are too good to delay passing them on. I particularly like Part III, where she gets down to tangible suggestions, but Parts I & II set the stage.

This writer contemplates social activism on her to-do list

The executive summary of this post’s first draft: whine whine whine. My day didn’t go as planned and I didn’t dive deeply into my creative work.

US Navy 060118-N-8298P-024 Gunner^rsquo,s Mate...

Creative work aka deep sea diving. Image via Wikipedia

Parenting duties (sick kid, orthodonture appointment for healthy kid) tsunami-ed my time and left me too tired to don the metaphorical wet suit (aka more than thirty uninterrupted minutes) I need for said creative work. Instead, I drafted a post. Which isn’t to say these posts are unedited blurts! But writing and editing them is qualitatively different than “creative” writing. These are a walk on the beach watching shy crabs skuttle to their homes rather than a deep sea dive.

But even the thirty minutes spent on that whiny draft was enough. Because in those thirty minutes of writing practice, I added a disclaimer of “I realize this is privileged but … “ approximately a million times.

Engineer Hubby points out that the privileges we enjoy because of our income pale beside the income-based privileges of the super rich. I note that compared to 95% of the world’s population, we are living at the absolute peak of human experience and existence. It’s not really an argument, per se. We’re both right.

So why was I complaining about no writing time? I found myself bored by this so-called problem, a first world problem of the first degree.

I don’t mean its impact isn’t real. I am frustrated by the events that stymie my planned writing time. Those extended, regular hours are the only way, in my experience, to get something DONE – but looking at the world around me, I think, meh. My troubles are nothing.

English: Minecraft screenshot

My boys are obsessed with this game. Image via Wikipedia

Yet I use those troubles to excuse my lack of self-discipline vis-à-vis my writing even as Engineer Hubby and I wrestle with how to raise children with the self-discipline to manifest their own aspirations. Beyond making Minecraft videos.

H’mm.  To what end this busy-ness that washes away my self-discipline and often my parenting energy? To what purpose? Better grades so my kids gain entrance to a more prestigious college and continue to live a top-of-the-heap existence? I don’t really believe our heap-top existence is sustainable.

Besides, even on the top of the heap we struggle with issues of basic respect: I feel compelled to challenge my kids regularly on their middle-school prejudice regarding the “rednecks” and the “popular kids.” When I am tightly wound on the topic I mutter in a righteous tone about how, should The End Times arrive, the “rednecks” are gonna catch, skin and cook real rabbits for a real meal, while my kids will starve. They won’t be able to distract themselves from their hunger pangs with an online game where they …  kill a cyber cow with a mouse click.

Part of my aspiration is being able to talk to anyone, so-called rednecks included which, as my marvelous Humanities professor Barb Caruso noted, is a hallmark of sufficient education. We all bleed red when we’re cut, and until we know that in our bones, and then, IMO, work on behalf of our shared humanity in whatever way we can (from poetry to physics to just sittin’ with someone who needs the company), we’re not trying hard enough. We’re not aspiring.

And it does not escape me, as I mutter righteously and drive my kids hither and yon to various good-for-them-activities, that I am not living out my own aspirations. I am, uncomfortably, a hypocrite.

English: Gaelic Poet

Would that we could all manifest our aspirations! Image via Wikipedia

Other parts of what I aspire to some might label a hippie commune. A world with affordable basic health care, everyone gets enough to eat, public education is darned good, writers write, and physicists wrangle with subatomic particles. Etcetera. But between the solitude necessary for my writing and nagging about cellosoccerdramalessonsdoyourhomeworksoyourgradesaregood I’ve not been doing a piddly diddly bit for the Greater Good I want.

My writing practice (the Baggett & Asher & Bode website has this succinct post re: writing daily) has landed me a bountiful net. Looking at those flopping, shimmering fish of possible stories while also noticing their oil-slicked gills has forced my self-examination. One, I need to write and writing requires solitude, a fairly big chunk of it … and two, what I want and need to do when I’m not-solituding is parent and participate in social action. Is it possible to decrease the number of hours I spend ferrying my kids and nagging them about practicehomeworkyaddayaddayadda so I can engage in some social action, be it ever so modest? The low-level of panic I feel when contemplating this tells me that yes, I have evolved into one of those over-involved, hovering parents who has ceded her Self to her offspring in an unhelpful, unsustainable manner. Squirm.

English: occupy wall street

Occupy Wall Street Image via Wikipedia

For years, I’ve thought it doesn’t matter what I do, anyway, not in the Big Picture. Well. Call it the mid-life mortality blues, or Occupy Wall Street, or the Arab Spring, but I’m ‘bout ready to be done with “it doesn’t really matter anyway.”

I’m not sure what form that will take. I love making up stories; they may never be published but creating them brings me great peace. Without inner peace I’m pretty sure I won’t be useful in my non-solitude activities … but I am feeling, increasingly, that these are desperate times, and story writing alone is no longer sufficient to serve what I believe to be our higher selves, selves that are accessible only when we engage with each other.

I’ve been swept in and out to sea on the constant, sometimes-battering waves of motherhood for almost fifteen years, but now I’m floating. It is, truly a first world problem, this “how will I manifest my aspirations while not utterly abandoning the parenting ship?” dilemma, and I am grateful for it.

The shoreline of Ketchikan

Shoreline ... Image via Wikipedia

My story pages about this privileged dilemma are blank. I’m not sure whether to write in pencil or ink … or just take notes for a while … or doodle … but the changing shoreline is visible from the corner of my eye and soon I’ll turn to swim.

Two local tidbits …

Patricia Bevan, who’s  facilitating the nonviolent communication group I refer to here has a website specific to NVC work: http://compassionate-connections.org/

what are word for?

Share your words! Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

New River Valley writers are invited to submit their writing for consideration in a juried reading, “Valley Voices” to be held February 26, 2012, from 3-4:30 PM at the Blacksburg Public Library.  Submit poetry, fiction, and/or creative nonfiction in a Word document, of a length that’ll be ~ 10 minutes read aloud (this is ~2000 words of prose). Include a cover sheet with the title of your piece, its genre, word count, your name & contact info; the submission itself should NOT include your name. Deadline Jan. 26 2012. Only email submissions accepted; send to lesleyfayhoward@gmail.com.


Stephen Elliott, author of the Adderall Diaries, among other publications, has a great email list you can sign up for here (upper right hand corner of the page at the time of this posting). He gave me permission to share the … Continue reading