I was actually searching YouTube for something completely different and I stumbled across this Ted talk about artistic flow. It resonated with me, so this is going to be a permanent addition to my Ted Talk collection .
I did a writing exercise this morning. I wrote a list of 10 random nouns and a separate list of 10 random verbs and then gave myself 10 minutes to write 10 sentences using both sets of words. Here are the results:
- A hot cup of coffee teaches me to slow down and savor each moment.
- The child wrote out her name using bits of her alphabet pasta.
- The worn out magnetic strip on her ID card could not be read by the scanner.
- You’ve heard of “pillow talk”? On that cold morning, the couple engaged in a little sweater talk.
- How do we listen to the incessant war drums pounding in our hearts?
- A wrinkled scarf sits on her dresser top where she tossed it the night before.
- Her old-maid reading glasses look up and meet his slick, stylish sun glasses.
- They shuffled the conference room chairs, badgering the too small tables.
- The color of the antheriums run juxtaposed against the dull, peeling wallpaper of the room.
- The vase she set upon the fireplace mantle was like a praise offered up in church.
The sentences are awkward, but the point in writing them is two-fold. First, it helps me to employ nouns and verbs in new and hopefully vivid ways. Second, these sentences can be a jumping off place for other, more solid writing. The sentence can be pared down, re-arranged, flipped over, allowed to run wild and even thrown away altogether after it has served this purpose.
This exercise is adapted from one that is in Writing Down the Bones, page 147 of the pocket edition.
Last night around midnight I tossed and turned, puddling up in my sheets because it is still too wretchedly hot and humid. Finally, I got up and for some odd reason I felt like getting one of my favorite writing books off the shelf, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg. I did not attempt to read it, but I put it aside to pick up and peruse this morning.
In ruffling through its pages this morning, I was inspired to post about the wonders of this little book. Then I faintly recollected maybe having done that already. In searching my archives, I discovered that I had written about this book way back in February of 2013. I was astonished to read what I wrote: how this book was propelling me write in my journal 10 to 20 minutes a day–every day.
I must admit that the discipline of writing so much every day had escaped me years ago. The sad truth is that I am a writer who has not been writing. It is no wonder then that my thoughts and ideas have become a jumble. Writing helps me sort things out — even if none of it ever meets the eyes of any reader.
So, this morning I got out a composition book, my favorite black felt-tipped pen, set the timer on my phone to 5 minutes and answered the basic question “How do I feel today?” My answer is not repeatable on a family-friendly blog. I think that I am not writing because I got a lot of muck backed up inside of me that needs to be cleared away. Journaling clears the sludge like running a rotor through a blocked sewage line.
The point I am trying to make here is this: I wrote today for five whole minutes and a bit of the toxic backwater moved a bit. That’s huge.
If you would like to read the post from 2016, it is here:
My creativity took a detour through the kitchen today. I have been seeing posts and videos all over the Internet for “avocado toast “, so I had to try it out for myself. I had the bread, an avocado, cream cheese, harissa paste, a lime, and Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel seasoning. And there you have it:
My first response regarding solitude and the creative life was to say, “Of course! The creative life absolutely requires solitude.” I absolutely must be left alone when I write or paint. I don’t want others tagging along when I am in “photo-shoot’ mood.
But then I thought about my drumming. I don’t drum when I am by myself. I should. I need to practice, but it seems like I cannot drum unless I am with other drummers or musicians.
Then I thought of those who are involved in quilting bees, crafting circles, or other group art-making projects. The social component seems like a necessity. I know writers who produce their best works at writers’ workshops or weekly writing meetups. These creatives don’t NEED to be together to produce a product– yet it is part of their process to collectively make art or write.
So like many functions of life, the need for solitude in the creative life depends on the person and the art form.
But I will tell you now, if I say “I am spending the day writing,” do-not-bother-me. 🙂
Ljg (c) 2019
Through my school years, I had teachers who corrected papers and graded tests with blue pens, green pens, and, most scarily– red pens. Later on, I worked for various people with specific pen choices: a man who would only write with purple gel pens and a woman who only wrote with Sharpies. I also know people who don’t care what they write with– pen, pencil, iron-gall ink, crayons….
I think writers in particular (though not all) are fussy about their writing implements. Some writers have rituals around their writing practice: place, artifacts in that place, time of day, special music, a special journal, and, of course, PENS. I truly think they believe that the creative process only flows if they use that one specific type of implement.
I would not go that far, but I do admit that I have a pen preference. I don’t believe that the Muse will have a hissy-fit if I don’t use it; my reasons are purely practical.
I use medium felt-tip Papermate Flair pens in black. My reasons are that I can write while in an inclined position which is how I usually hand-write my journaling and they are so economical that I won’t have a melt-down if I lose one of them.
Hehehe, and I bet you were wondering how this post had anything to do with the Ragtag theme of the day?
From where do our ideas for creative endeavors come? I think our inspiration comes from our interaction with the world around us — the natural world and the people in it. From those sources we extract portions, break them up, shuffle them around, ponder and consider, scrap them all and start again– until we come up with some sort of creative prompt and subsequent product.
I know I like to think that any creative idea I have came from some deep well of inspiration within me. Maybe it does, but I also know that this well of inspiration consistently needs to be filled with memories of the experiences I have with the exterior world. There are only two activities from The Artist’s Way that I have found useful. One of them is the “Artist’s Date” (the other is writing every day). I try to go somewhere or engage in some sort of activity either by myself or with other people that will fill that well. Since I spend so much time drumming, cooking, gardening and engaging in reflective self-care activities, my writing and image-making often engage those themes.
Maybe we mere-mortal creatives re-purpose other ideas gathered from our worldly roamings, but what about those individuals whom we credit for inventing lofty ideas and devices that have had profound impacts on the world? Archimedes, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, DaVinci, Shakespeare, Locke, Curie, Tesla, Einstein? Where did those ideas come from? If you look at some of them who we consider “geniuses”, most of them were philosophers and scientists. What do they have in common? I don’t know about all of them, but I know some of them kept notebooks where they worked on their ideas, no doubt drawing from the same sources that you and I do: the external world. In fact, I think Plato is the guy who came up with the notion that there is a place where everything in the world has an Ideal Form, a perfect Idea of it, and anything we create is merely a reflection of those ideals.
I propose that we can be just as inventive as these folks. The key is to take the ideas from the well and work and re-work and experiment and write and consider that work until we re-create something glorious on paper or canvas or film or device. They did. So can we.
I am just writing this off-the-top of my head. I am still working on this notion. I may re-work it again. That’s the point! Keep working until you get it “right” (or at least close to it).
Now get working. 🙂
ljg (c) 2019
I rolled towards the wall and buried my face in a pillow.
I flung the comforter off and sat up in bed.
“What!? Leave me alone!”
I switched on the lamp next to my bed. There was no one in the room. The big blue numbers on my nightstand clock glowed 4:37 am.
I tried to go back to sleep, but after several minutes, I knew it was pointless so I reached for my phone and started thumbing through my social media feeds. I must have dozed off because the next thing I felt was a vibration on my chest and heard the muffled sound of my cell phone’s alarm.
I was certain that I had disabled the alarm before I went to bed last night. My plan had been to sleep in for once on a Saturday morning. I was not surprised though. This could only mean one thing. She was back.
“Stop messing with my electronics!” I muttered. “I hate it when she does that.” I sighed and rolled out of bed. After making a quick pit stop in the bathroom, I stumbled into the kitchen.
She was standing there with her head inside my refrigerator. “Don’t tell me you were planning on having cold pizza for breakfast.”
“Arvilla, what do you want?” And shoved a K cup into the machine and jabbed the button. I could not deal with her without a big cup of Columbia first.
Arvilla shut the refrigerator and plopped down in a chair. “I think you know. “
Her voice made me wince. Most of my creative friends had muses who were lovely ethereal beings who sprinkled inspiration like magic dust— someone like Glinda, the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz. My muse, Arvilla, is a middle-aged brassy redhead with a nasally whine and the personality of the Wicked Witch of the West. She also did double-duty as my inner critic. And: my friends’ muses don’t stalk them.
She read my mind. Literally. “I am not into sprinkling fairy dust and I do not stalk. You have got to do the work,” she pronounced. “You’ve read enough self-help books for creatives so you know what you need to do. “
I reached for a box of organic granola and shook it at her. She shrugged her shoulders. “You need to get out of the house,” she said, “and do some fieldwork. “
I perked up. I thought she was going to nag me to sit down and write.
“I thought you might like that. You, my dear, are a little constipated.” She nodded her head at the box of cereal. “And that isn’t going to help you get unblocked.”
I glanced out the kitchen window at my yard and the two large magnolia trees in it. “I’ve got so many chores to do. I need to rake leaves for one thing. “
“What leaves?” I looked again. There were no leaves under the trees. “And don’t even mention your laundry. You have enough underwear and towels for one more day. Good grief, you sure do know how to procrastinate.“
I opened the refrigerator and pulled out a box of almond milk. As I poured it over my cereal I said, “So what’s the plan? “
“Bring your camera, a notebook and pen, and your inventory list of colored pencils.” I arched an eyebrow at her.
“Trust me. I’ll meet you at Blick’s in at 9. Don’t be late. “
Right on time, I entered the art supply store. I found her on the drawing aisle. I consulted my list and reached for a pencil in the open stock bin. “No, no. You don’t need any more burnt umber or yellow ocher. Ghastly colors. How boring. Get the spring green. Oh, better yet, the lime green. “
“Lime green? When am I ever going to use a lime green pencil?’
“Trust me.” Going shopping with Arvilla is always an interesting experience.
A few minutes later we were in my car. “Home?”
“Not yet. The art store was the appetizer. We still have the main course coming.”
Arvilla directed me and soon we were speeding south on the freeway.
“Get off at the next exit. “ I immediately knew where we were going.
“The botanical gardens?” Arvilla just smiled.
I have always liked the botanical gardens, a place where I could get away and unplugged for a few hours. I have never been there in May, but I knew the colors would be glorious.
The garden did not disappoint me. Every conceivable flower that could grow in this area was in full bloom. The rose garden was particularly vibrant. Trees, leaves and other foliage were thick and lush from all the recent winter rain. They displayed every possible shade of green, including, yes, lime green.
I toured the vegetable patch, the succulents and cacti, the herb garden and the indigenous plant section, enthusiastically snapping pictures and getting a feel for my new camera’s features. I started down a path towards the large pond in the center of the park and the banyan grove.
“No, we’re done. Time to go.” Arvilla was suddenly at my side. I jumped.
“Stop doing that!” I glared at her. “And why are we done? We haven’t been here a full hour.”
“Because I know you. You’ll hike all over this place and snap a few hundred pictures. Then you’ll be too tired when you get home to download your pictures and they’ll just sit on your camera for three months which will make me have to come back and kick you in the butt again.”
She had me pegged.
“Fine.” I started hiking up the hill towards the exit.
“We’re going to stop for a few minutes at the gift shop.”
“Just do it.”
A few minutes later I arrived at the garden’s gift shop. Arvilla was already there, seated on a bench and filing her nails as she waited. I settled down next to her.
Arvilla pointed her nail file towards a rack of succulents on sale. Next to them was terracotta bust that looked just like Arvilla. “I know the sculptor. That one turned out pretty good, if I do say so. She really captured my essence.”
“You know the sculptor?”
“Well, of course. You don’t think you’re my only client, do you?”
“Um, I guess I never really thought about it…. um, well, now what?
Arvilla sighed and put down her file. “Good grief, do I have to do everything? Get out your notebook and start brainstorming.”
“But what? This is why I brought you here– so your pump can get primed.” Arvilla stood up and looked into the distance. “Uh-oh. I gotta go. There’s a poet having a meltdown in the Walmart parking lot. I need to do some consoling. See you later.” Arvilla vanished.
“You never ‘console’ me,” I grumbled as I pulled out my notebook from my backpack.
As my pen started moving through the journal, ideas started pouring faster than I could write them down. I considered the images. I could use many of the photos I shot simply as they were— as photographic compositions. I definitely could use most of them for reference in creating drawings, watercolor paintings, and elements in digital compositions. Then poetic phrases started forming in the back of my mind as well as themes for essays on creativity, spirituality and environmental activism. History, theology, philosophy, and ideas for funny short stories all presented themselves in momentary glimpses across my mind’s eye. I scribbled notes in the book until I finally slowed down and stopped. I felt light and refreshed.
I clicked my pen shut and shoved it and the notebook into my bag.
“Now…” Arvilla’s voice seemed to be coming from the terracotta bust. “…go home, take one of these ideas and create something”. I nodded.
“And if I find you screwing around on the internet, I will knock out your WiFi for a week.”
“You know I hate it when you do that!”
ljg 2019 Today’s Ragtag prompt is “stalk“.
I recently read Keri Smith’s book The Wander Society, another of countless books on how to jump start the creative process. The author promotes the practice of “wandering” through the world, both literally and figuratively, and learning to mindfully observe what is discovered. The book’s description at the Amazon website describes “…the act of wandering, or unplanned exploring, as a way of life.” At Goodreads I gave the book only 3 stars simply because this is not an original notion. That criticism being made, I quickly realized that I have been negligent in this very form of creative self-care.
It has been raining quite regularly for many weeks, but this morning the clouds cleared and the sun broke through. So I grabbed my camera, hopped in my car and began to wander. I ended up being entertained by a pair of white rabbits in a vegetable garden, joining a gathering of members of a bread baking guild as they made pizza in a wood-burning oven, roamed around the outside and inside of an old church, paused for a few minutes in a Zen meditation room, drove through a university, stopped at a library, and came home to a steaming bowl of home-made beef stew.
I visually documented my wandering. Here are a few of my images:
On my morning exploratory walk, I came across this giant mural. Mural painters amaze me. To create such a huge, public display of art takes an immense amount of confidence on the part of the artist. There is no room for fear of mistakes. The entire neighborhood will see that mistake in the process of being made, not to mention the humiliation of correcting it in front of the world. And heaven forbid if the mistake is not corrected and it stays on view for decades until someone mercifully paints over it. Hats off to public artists.
Teddy Roosevelt said this: “Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.”
I dunno, Teddy, I dunno.
I don’t know who painted this; otherwise I would’ve given her/him credit.