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?
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.
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.
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
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.
Sunday rose burns, blurs my vision, these thorns
crooked in my eye. The baby’s eyes wet
with rapid blinks and bruised petals along
his cheeks. Salt pastes the narrow groove beside
his eye, like mine, they sting, tighten, dry. We
are the same with our swollen nodes and sore
throats, our slippery symptoms and clean hands.
Blood vessels, like swollen roads in the white
of our eyes, the pulse, the tightening, tears.
At home we are contagious together,
waiting for the time to pass. Tomorrow,
when we are apart, we will wish for time
without fevers, without stinging pink eyes.
Contagion is a human spell very few of us can avoid altogether. At some point we all are vulnerable to falling ill. In this poem I was curious about a mother and child, a passing of illness, of love, of time. I thought about how I’ve been sick with my own children, cuddled in bed, both of us warm inside of each others’ fever and grasp. I love writing about those vulnerable moments, portraying life even when it’s messy.
Though this poem is not about a “lovely” subject, my sense is that poetry isn’t only about what is lovely. Our lives are complicated with emotion and events so why should those truths not exist in our poems? I appreciate how poetry seems to have an ability to carve beauty in the ordinary, even the awful. It seems more about capturing a snapshot, finding, noticing acute bright notes and darkened wounds, writing those experiences in candid verse with vivid detail and rhythm. This poem, an attempt at blank verse, aimed to capture this moment between parent and child, the time between illness and health, between pallid and pink.
How do you creatively write about the ordinary?
Thanks for stopping by lifeandwrite.com this weekend. If you missed a few of the posts from this week or want a quick re-read, I’ve got you covered with a mixed bag of writing, quotes, and creative inspiration for your Sunday reading. Click on the title to read the post. Hope you enjoy.
What else are you reading this weekend—something delicious, creative, inspirational, funny? In the comments, please leave me a link to something you’re reading this Sunday so I can check it out. Thanks!
First thing this morning I yawned, drew in his burly snore, wiped the remnants of dreams from my brow and wrote everything down.
What will you write this morning?
My three year old on the muddy orange sunset, “That’s a lava sky.”
Robert Frost once speculated on the relationship between poetry and thought, conjecturing that all thinking was grounded in metaphor. Many people never took him seriously. Now, thanks to the work of many theorists in a number of diverse fields, from linguistics to philosophy to cognitive science, we can say with some certainty that he was right. Sentences build themselves around analogies; thought creates visual pictures in our brains; metaphors shape our ways of seeing the world. All of this appears to be done mostly unconsciously, as we filter messages, both verbal and visual, from our environment and shape those signs and clues into world-responses. -Terry Hermsen, writer, educator, author of Poetry of Place: Helping Students Write Their Worlds
image via morguefile
Rays from the sunrise drew forth the buds and stretched them into long stalks, lifted up sap in noiseless streams, opened petals, and sucked out scents in invisible jets and breathings.—Thomas Hardy