Just before he rose, before his bright eyes opened, I sat on the floor beside his crib, watched him sleep, dream in dull daylight and cool draft along the bare floorboards. I thought about motherhood about how time is a fine grain, like loose sand sliding through fingertips. His fingers still plump, soft skin wrapped around the vertical white slats. His sleepy reach just beyond his animal print sheets, balled up in nap, dreaming of lovely nonsense.
I recently saw a friend of mine in the coffee shop and after catching up on life, he mentioned he was headed to Kenya to write this summer. He is working on a book and put himself on a carefully timed writing schedule. And while he admits that this schedule is ambitious and that interesting distractions by such things as the internet is everywhere, flying off to another part of the world will allow him to leave some things behind (his family will be in another part of Africa for summer) for several intense weeks of writing. Some of us can not do such a thing, but I thought it was interesting to think about how a change of scenery might be useful when completing a project, a deadline, or just carving out time to write. Taking ourselves out of our familiar, sometimes emotionally or physically cluttered environments offers a writer refuge, and physical and psychological space.
We often hear that consistency in a writing schedule will help a writer stay on track for a project or deadline, but I find it interesting that a change of pace or place allows a writer a window of opportunity. I’ve always done well when I go off to a writing retreat to focus and work on craft. There is something about less disruption physically and mentally. However, I suppose that can backfire if while away you’re worried about things (family, work projects, schedule) back at home.
Some of us won’t be in Kenya this summer writing but I wonder, where will you be? Will you have a chance to get away (and I mean that with all the flexibility that implies) this summer to write? Where do you plan to write this summer?
Yellow or citron? Red or chili? Pale blue or sea spray? Inspired by this found palette creatively naming colors.
After the Oklahoma tornado, I watched, read, listened, as the story was still brewing. The cameras panned moments just after winds slowed, to capture the spread of people’s lives scattered for yards, the voices of reporters, victims in disbelief as they stumbled over words. I sat and listened carefully, thoughtfully. I called my mother, talked with my husband, watched my children as they slept last night.
I reflected on how the earth knows no bounds, how the wind can drape a wall of dark and debris, drop its spinning breath among the soil and structure, and how as humans we are present in that narrative. We live among weather, among flood, fire, hurricane, blizzard, tsunami, drought, heavy rain, tornado. In extreme weather conditions, we are often reminded how vulnerable we are as humans on this earth.
My family was reminded of that recently when last year after a series of severe storms and wind, the tree in our front yard fell on our roof. I was home alone and as water poured into the house, I ran to seek safety holding my then newborn baby of two weeks in my arms. It was like nothing I had ever experienced, it all happened so fast. We were somewhat helpless as the winds were still violently stirring outside, but I worried that tree would collapse on us inside. We had nowhere to go. We were lucky, blessed, our house tattered but not broken, our bodies safe and intact. I am thinking about those today who are not.
Last night I needed to process this most recent tragedy before speaking, before acting. And like with many of the world’s weather tragedies, I wanted to do my part to engage with efforts to support those in need. As I watched the images, read and listened to the stories, I did an exercise of collecting words to try to digest the news as it unfolded.
Writing always seems to help me think, slow down, reflect.
Words and Deeds
In these upending, vulnerable moments, many of us wonder about, pray for those affected. And like with any of our other recent weather related tragedies, many of us will contact a charity we trust working in the area that we can support. Do your research, all charities are not the same. And while I do not endorse any one charity, here are a few organizations to consider:
On the way to work I stepped into a few lines of curling lilac pressed into the damp concrete. I was inspired by those unexpected lines, both dark and hopeful, running along the soiled cracks, where someone fell to their knees and gifted a few silent images for anyone willing to stop and listen. This morning as rain gently darkened, smudged that concrete poetry, I paused to reflect, stood beside those words before they washed away.
Lipstick on a glass could be a bad cliché dropped off on the corner between romance novel and love poem. But that cliché doesn’t have to intrude on “date night” or any other night for that matter because that image has options. And while it’s tempting to settle in on the first descriptive phrasing that comes to mind, it’s much more creative (and rewarding) to slow down to think and wonder, transform what could easily be a cliché into interesting or insightful imagery. Other than rub your thumb against the rim of the glass, what else is possible with that image?
In rusted haze and clouded light,
gold petals spray the glass
pasted like fingerprints,
bits of blur and sip.
Fifteen years ago art met education in my mind, my work, my furiously swirling pen. I could no longer facilitate, walk into, away from workshops after school, in school and not wonder what happened after we stopped writing, talking, thinking creatively, critically, honestly, imaginatively. I was curious about the students I worked with, curious about their writing, about the teachers, about whether artists can make a difference in “Education”, creatively creep through the high pressured policy crevices, and work on the in between narratives bubbling inside of classrooms? I wondered as an artist, if I could be a part of the change, the shift, the sway of learning, in spaces that are filled with young minds.
I don’t consider myself a “teacher”, but rather an artist teaching. Do you know any teachers? I often watch educators in their classrooms and marvel at their command of myriad knowledge and their beautiful dance with the material. I often work closely with teachers, who are talented, highly capable and absolutely thorough in the craft of engaging learning in the classroom. I suppose as an artist teaching, working with those teachers, sometimes I feel my role is to ask what else or to take creative risks classroom teachers can not always take (in plain sight). Let’s forget about the test for the moment. What are we now going to do with what students just learned? How can we take what we learned and do something interesting with it? How are we going to make it stick, apply it somewhere else, relate it to real life?
I watch young people think and pretend not to listen. But after years of teaching, I know better. Students are listening, waiting for the moment to shine brightly. However, their opportunities for that moment seem to dim with each year in school. How is that possible? We all have our theories. And of course education policy keeps changing in response to those theories. As an artist working in and out of classrooms, I see that glimmer in the faces of students, teachers, and I’m fascinated by it. However, I am practical and understand that I’m not in that classroom every day.
There is so much more to the story, and I am curious; interested in teaching and learning, interested specifically in writing in the classroom and beyond the classroom. I am interested in shifting learning spaces, creative practice and honoring the creative space in learning, from critical to creative, practical to imaginative. I am interested in teachers, students, artists, and what we all can do together.
There are some days when love shows up at your front door with open arms.There are days where conversations have less miles between each word. My husband and I, like children, soaked up love sitting across the table from my parents, our parents. Our three boys were swirls of joy, in and out of arms and smiles. Time passed as early morning spilled into dusk, the darkening skies wrapped with a few tears and goodbyes.
There is no blueprint,
just love and geometry,
as we build, engineer,
wonder solve, spread all over
the furniture, the living room.
There is love and silence clicked
and cluttered in those colored
plastic blocks, those endless
renditions, that time well spent.
“The important feature that design brings is this bridge between the science and the arts. And I don’t think many people understand the power of design to put these two things together.”—Bill Moggridge
These sore fingertips sting, typing text on touchscreen, keyboard, strands of words, pushing a lit imprint in tap and thump, in round and square, in black glowing space. Everyday those fingertips type—on laptop, on smart phone, on desktop, against the backs of my sons in hello and goodbye, against the full of my upper lip, against creative beginnings and failings, starts and stops, sentences. I tap thumb against index finger while listening to swinging cymbal, thinking, thinking about my next line.
Words do not simply lie themselves crooked or straight, curved and crossed on a blank page. A writer crafts each word intentional, as if dressing in front of that page, like a figure in a mirror, pulling at stitch, turning lines, and layering images, sound, and rhythm.
When you are away, we do not sit in your seat at the table. It is yours, and we honor it. Leave it as you left it pushed in or out, a piece of your clothing draped across the back of the chair, a dusting of crumbs near the cold center groove where you last sat and ate warm penne, garlic bread, a salad. In that chair, your thin legs dangling, you are somewhere between cherry and blonde wood, between disparate emotional spaces, between places you call home.
Underneath golden streams and inside cool breeze, weekends were made for finding shadows and standing still.
In a recent discussion with a group of other writers, we talked about “finding the choir”, those who are like-minded in wanting to write and celebrate creative process, reading, and writing. Anne Rice said, “There may be writing groups where people meet but it’s occasional. You really do it all at your own computer or your own typewriter by yourself.” And while that quote rings true in the discipline of writing and necessity to create that somewhat solitary space for getting those words on the page, writing also seems very much a public or social act in that before the writing happens or after the writing has happened, there is reading, observation, experience, and even a joining of those practices, crafting with others who are also writing. There is that persistent image of the lone writer at the tabletop or desk, under a glowing light beaming against the wall. That image is a familiar one, and is sketched across myriad walls as the shadows of writers doing all types of writing, everywhere.
With wisdom and a poignant tongue, Zadie Smith, spoke truth when she said, “All that matters is what you leave on the page.” And that a writer should, “Protect the time and space in which you write.” This is what many “writers” know is true. However, there are wide curious creative spaces between the actual act of writing, pen to page, fingertip to screen or key, and the inspiration, motivation, or sheer will to write. Inspiration and motivation will not get words on the page, but it is a part of the process. And just as much as writing is a process to be cured, it also seems a process to shared. That resolve a writer has when they are lone at their workspace facing their ideas, hopes, fears, or deadlines can be strengthened by the echoed harmonies of other such writers finding their way with their own words in their own respective critical and creative spaces. There is value in connecting with other writers.
Important is having a “choir”, a network of other writers in which to learn, be inspired, challenged, and supported. Writing is a lone matter, but a writer need not stand alone. We live in a time where building a creative network is within reach via social media, our communities, and in our professional realms. That network or “choir” is the system a writer can call on, participate in when the writing is happening and even when at times it is not. A writer finding their way to their words is a process. And during that process, it is completely normal to feel unsure, less sturdy, exhausted, and lonely. But in this modern time when those who are writing or have to write, are within virtual reach we can literally and figuratively reach out (during our own respective process) for a bit of creative communion.
Where do you find creative communion? Where do you find your choir?
The petals wind stitched,
gather as clouds, splitting
the blades of grass, slivers
of paper, frayed ribbon
among branch and bloom
As the blooms shift and the petals begin to fall, weather permitting, take a walk through your neighborhood, near where you work, at the park, or anywhere else in full bloom and take it all in: the colors, the smells, the breeze, the soft flesh of petals, trees, branches, the cracked and jagged bark. Be sure to take your camera, your journal, your sketchbook, your wonder. Enjoy the day.
Who will match these reds and blues, fold over
ribbed pairings, and cotton blends? My hands, curled
fingers, tired, resist wading through that box
of socks. Each week the laundry leaves one, two,
ten single socks soft and limp, sputtering
loose stitch, worn toes and heel, tales of woodchips
and sandbox, puddles and play. In that box,
piled together, turning over each other,
the boys, their bare feet stencils in thick white,
pilled and tinged a slight gray, striped and stained, soaked
in lavender, lie mismatched in disheveled rainbow.
…I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.
-from Ode to My Socks, Pablo Neruda
There might be magic in children’s books as they have a way to settle down wiggly awkward boy bodies, commanding stares and stillness. Even the busiest little people find time to take in words, images, and meaning. I love how without prompting my eight year old will read to his three year old brother. There is literacy between them, huddled on the bed together, leaning over a book, my eight year old acting out the character voices with such fervor. For a few minutes there are no arguments, no rolling around on the floor, no jumping on the bed. There is only two brothers, finding their way word by word, sentence by sentence, together.
This found poem is from the colorful spines on the bookshelf in my sons’ room. Children’s books are a wonder, and covered and filled with poetry.