Tag Archives: creativity

Time: is it a sandwich?

My 13 y.o. waxed somewhat rhapsodic on our ride home from his cello lesson last week. What if time didn’t matter, he said. What if everything is happening all at once, and time doesn’t move forward like we think it does but instead is a big thick layer (a Dagwood sandwich sprang to my mind) and time travel wouldn’t take us forward or backward but just to the other layers that we’re in.

I’m not sure where he gets these ideas, tho’ it’s a good bet that his leave-no-crumbs wolf-down consumption of nonfiction helps. And Engineer Hubby hooks up podcasts about science on road trips and that helps, too. But I never, and I mean NEVER, thought about what time might be like when I was a child. I never think about it now. Except when he’s talking and then my little mind gets blown.

I think about people and why they do what they do and what would happen if they did something else and how could someone get away with shoplifting or embezzling or murder and how hard it would be to go into hiding from the mafia, and alternative outcomes for country song story lines. Usually all of these jumble together in my brain while I shower.

There are plenty of theories and studies about creativity; environment certainly has a lot to do with it, and being supported by someone who cares about you is also important (I have an informal theory that every artist has had at least one teacher who said YES! to whatever they tried) but ultimately: we are unique collections of molecules. And the organization of those molecules into the human form, the human brain, follows a regular DNA pattern book, a pattern book with a lot of variations but not an infinite number of combinations. Why do some of our pattern books lead us to think about time instead of about people? Or is the we-are-molecules-and-an-electrical-system concept too limiting, failing as it does to account for the soul, or spirit?

It has taken me most of my adult life to glom onto the fact that others are Different From Me. Profoundly, completely different. That not everyone cleans their dishes before going to bed. Or washes their sheets once a week. These dish-in-sink, clean-sheet-slackers appear to be happy, healthy, content.

Photo by Mickey Destro

Photo by Mickey Destro

These days, as I do said dishes and load aforementioned sheets into the washer, I find myself thinking: Andrea Barrett doesn’t do this. Lionel Shriver doesn’t spend this much time on domestic duties. Writers must write which means dust bunnies will be free to frolic and breed. Maybe, just maybe, if I imagine hard enough and write long enough, I’ll be able to release my inner dirty-dish-lover, and she in turn will surprise me by creating that which I cannot yet imagine: a sandwich of words, comprised of pastrami particles and swiss cheese holes and mustardy molecules, the crumbs left for the ants.

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.

Do you hear what I hear?

Our two dogs are of varying intelligence and thus responsiveness to our commands. One “off” moves the smart gal from my lap, while the oh-so-lovable-but-slow canine continues to warm my thighs until dumped to the ground.

Their barking has become annoying:  yapYAPyapYAP until the source of  inspiration either disappears from view (other dogs out for a walk, meandering cat, saucy squirrel) or has been thoroughly sniffed (friends who come to the door). Our lovely neighbors, cyclists who pedal up and down the Virginia mountains for dozens of miles, suggested using their “dazzer” to control the barking.

The Dazzer emits an unpleasant sound, audible only in the doggie range. One zap and the smart dog understood and now ceases barking promptly when told, “no bark.” The other dog continues to bark despite the command — and will do so until the Dazzer is used. Which of course is unfair to the dog that was already quiet.

And, as it turns out, also a bit unfair to my younger son, whose youthful ears register the Dazzer. “Don’t you hear that little squeak when you press the button, mom?”

No, I do not. I barely hear Engineer Hubby when he asks me to pass the cream for the coffee. I know I’m not hearing the whining about soup and sandwiches for dinner again, right?

imagesSo yet again I discover the very real limits of my (aging) human senses, and, all kidding aside, am momentarily quieted. I wasn’t in awe of the 13 y.o.’s hearing, but it was in the neighborhood (see I know nothing for a dog-taught lesson in humility). I was awe-struck last Sunday when, twenty yards into the woods, both dogs sniffed snuffled snorted snurkled the leaves — speckled with bird poop, huh, look at that, my dull human brain noted — and then both mutts looked straight up and above us turkey vultures were circling, settling on branches, all with their wide, whispery wings. I know they’re carrion feeders and their heads are weirdly bald-looking but still: they are awe-some.

Then I read about the the concept of rewilding — as articulated by George Monbiot in this interview in the fine magazine Orion. He notes that humans are perhaps the most domesticated of all animals, living out our days in relative comfort despite having been designed to survive in a world bloody in fang and claw. We do not often experience the heart-stopping awe that is ours when we wade into the world sans civilized expectations and protections.

I don’t disagree, and/but I when I pause to look at my now-almost-six-foot son, who started as a mere eight pounds; when I see my Grandfather’s wild hair atop my younger son’s head; when I notice EH’s eyes look like his father’s, then I am momentarily awed.

These small details are invisible in the scope of things (the new Cosmos illustrated this for me: I had no idea we (think) we know as much as we do about the universe. The Local Group?) We are, relatively speaking, so very very very tiny. Eensy-weensy. How awe-some is that?

As I near fifty years old* (fifty years! A microscopic pinhead of days in the universe!), I find it easier to remind myself to switch from the daily-annoyances-perspective to the holy-cow-isn’t-this-amazing-perspective, especially when the dogs are pointing out the limits of my nervous system or the scientists my lack of knowledge. (Full disclosure: my family will disagree that I *ever* switch out of annoyed mode, as I nag them nigh unto death about putting away dishes, clothes, shoes, homework, etcetera.)

NASA photo

NASA photo

But what a wonder! What a happenstance to be alive in this time (whenever it may be), in this place (wherever it may be), with this consciousness (however it may be limited by no-dog-nose capacities).

All I can do is write it down. Badly, baldly, awe-struck-ed-ly, make-up-words-ily. What a ride. Buckle up and look to the heavens and tell us what you see.

* This post dovetails nicely with WordPress’s weekly writing challenge, about “The Golden Years” at their site, The Daily Post

Murmuring into my distraction

When I finish my self-assigned writing for the day and reward myself with a game of mah jong, I win the game. Not always the first time, but by the second or third time. As opposed to the hundredth time if I play mahjong before I write.

Mah jong has been a serious problem for me in the past; it’s eaten hours of my life. It’s just dumb luck I’ve not become addicted to anything more lethal to my system. And it’s eaten hours because when I think “just one more game. Just ’til I win.” Let’s be real: that’s not an actual thought in my head. It’s some neurotransmitter doing its thing.

But sinking into deep writing alters my sense of time, and apparently also expands my intuition. I seem to see the board better, and I’m pretty sure I’m not consciously thinking about the game, I just do the game … and when I win so quickly, I don’t want to hit the “play again button.” I want to return to my writing.

It’s like the track coach who my mommy friend with a runner-daughter gushed about: “He’s amazing. He’s convinced the kids that when they do well, the reward is to work harder.”

I’ve no doubt that her daughter’s coach is amazing. And I also don’t doubt that those kids are experiencing the deeply satisfying flow and shift in consciousness that comes from immersion in an activity that takes us out of ourselves.

Another manifestion of getting out of ourselves: Check out this link, which I found at the Good Men Project. It shows “murmuration” aka, free-scale correlation, and it is a pretty good representation of what it feels like when I’m flowing with my writing. Complete with the stunned giggle at the end. [First few seconds are still frames — also like writing at the start: stop-n-go-ish.]

Show up, allow yourself to be in the moment with your writing. The reward may be more work, but what satisfying, laughter-inducing work it is. Ah.

I know nothing

This past Tuesday morning unfolded much as my Tuesday mornings have this fall: Engineer Hubby rises first, climbs into the  shower. I sit on the edge of the bed and do my ankle exercises (I managed an avulsion fracture on my left ankle, fairly impressive for a fall that involved zero alcohol, clutter or high heels), then put my tootsies into slippers and galumph my way through my morning wash-up and limp-trot downstairs in time to walk the dogs before driving carpool. All well-known activities; I could do them in my sleep. Except for the carpool part.

IMG_0782

Rosie the little brown dog did her business, then we moseyed over to a patch of grass that seemed particularly green and lovely and she paused and sniffed. Sniff sniff sniff. Slight adjustment in her hindquarters, increased energy into the sniffing. Head cocked, ears pricked POUNCE with great vigor and immediately subsequent, panicked squeaking — from the small brown mouse Rosie had neatly secured in her suddenly-massive-seeming jaws.

This, a mouse plucked from the grass, was my clue that I know nothing. In fact, I am unaware of perhaps Most of Life. My State of Wonderment is dulled. How many other dozens or perhaps hundreds of heartbeats and nervous systems and eyeballs and twitching whiskers live in the field behind my house? In the woods? Probably in my slippers every morning? OK, scratch the wonderment about the slippers lest I remain in bed all day.

Re-working a short story this week after having let it marinate for the better part of a month, I discovered a water theme running through it; not only was there a literal lake, my verbs included buoy and sail and float and drown; my protagonist struggles in the “wake” of lovemaking; her mother “sets off from the shore of agreeable topics” — none of which I deliberately chose, but all of which smacked me in my editorial face when I entered the revision stage. 

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Julia Cameron speaks eloquently about this in The Right to Write, noting that while we blunder along capturing whatever we can, a gem is slowly forming within those bits and pieces.

I certainly didn’t set about creating this theme in the way that Rosie set about catching her wee mouse (which, dear reader, I forced her to drop). But it is only through patient listening-writing, with my not-so-great human ears, that I stumble upon the interesting stories, the living stories — the stories that will squeak or scream or holler or whimper.

This requires daily walks of my writerly self. And this week, when the page has loomed too large, too bare, too white, I have cocked my head and pricked my ears and written anyway and put the pages away and trusted that although I do not know what is in there, if I don’t set something down, I will never glimpse its whiskery face.

“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.

I’m jumping …

DSC03677

… into a new part of the writing ocean: I’m offering a workshop with my writerly friend and colleague, Jenny Zia of the Center for Creative Change. We’re focusing on process, sustaining a writing practice, and getting to know one’s writing self. I’m tickled about facilitating the program in the community meeting space in the Lyric Theater’s Community Arts Information Office — we’ll go to local cafes and stores for some of our writing exercises.

Contact us at joyofwriting04@gmail.com for more info; some details below.

Writing for the joy of it

Have you always wanted to write but don’t know how to start or sustain your practice?

This workshop provides a series of structured exercises that honor the writing process, support discovery of your writer’s voice, and exploration and development of your stories.

Instructors Jenny Zia and Lesley Howard ground their facilitation in their own combined six-plus decades of daily writing practice, inspired by the philosophies of Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Priscilla Long, among others.

Jenny Zia, MA, MSW, has shared writing prompts and journal practices with a variety of individuals and groups. Lesley Howard is a local freelance writer, blogger, and one of the founding members of the New River Valley Voices juried reading program. Both are members of a long-standing writing group.

When and Where?

Jump Start: Saturday, Sept. 7, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Momentum-Sustaining Sessions: Tuesdays, Sept. 17, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15, 6:30 – 8 :30 PM

The End is the Beginning Closing Session: Saturday, Oct. 26, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM

$100 for all sessions; includes muse-nourishing snacks and beverages.

All sessions will be held at the Community Arts Information Office in downtown Blacksburg, VA; we will take field trips to local cafes for some of our exercises.

Contact us at joyofwriting04@gmail.com if you need additional information or to register.