Tag Archives: creativity

How do you sort?

Here’s a fundamental question that goes to one’s basic nature, preferences, and tempos: do you sort by sameness or difference?*

If you sort by sameness you like constancy, routines, familiarity. Change is hard for you. A preservationist at heart, you might crystallize around things, in fact, to avoid change. If you sort by difference, on the other hand, you like change and variety, quicker tempos. You move readily from topic to topic in conversation, work on a dozen pieces at once if you’re an artist. Flexibility is your hallmark. Your need for movement can make you impulsive and careless with things and people. Lots of projects left unfinished.

Understanding that this sorting difference is both critical and immutable can be a life-saver in a marriage.

My husband sorts by sameness, I by difference. We could not be more different about matters like how  often to re-arrange the furniture, how long to study maps on the ski slope, whether to chuck or save objects. And that’s the minor stuff. Viewing these differences as failures to accommodate one another or as character flaws guarantees struggle.

To blame someone for sorting differently from yourself is like getting mad at them for being tall or Chinese.

This week, prompted by (finally!) spending some time with Jude’s Feel Free class recordings (I generally read the posts, but the audios languish), I want to think about how sorting by change impacts my work and also to consciously practice her idea of treating ideas as questions rather than ways to solve a problem.

*Question posed in a lecture by Bill Harris, founder of Holosync

Rabbit holes and other distractions

Can dropping down a rabbit hole be a necessary pursuit? Or does it always imply time-wasting?

Whatever the case, two deep rabbit holes yawn constantly at the writer’s feet. They are: research and editing.

My story begins in 1738. I had no idea how little I knew until I stumbled along, inserting obvious anachronisms like electric ceiling fans and ice cubes. Yes! But even once you get a certain fluency for your period, quick dips into research are needed — often to remind me of things I learned and then forgot.

How many rebels died the morning after the Stono Rebellion? How many were executed the following week? And the number rumored to have evaded capture, again – remind me?

How is Beaufort rice bread prepared?

What were the prevailing views on homosexuality in the low country in the 18th century? Surely not the same as in the Puritan northeast?

Editing is also necessary and can go on and on and then on some more. Few and far between are those golden passages that come out intact. Most require a lot of work — in fact, an astonishing amount of work — things like making a flashback stand on its own in real time, fixing inconsistent tenses, eliminating peripheral characters, and always — paring away words that clutter the page.

There’s always the danger that editing will keep the writer from the business of original writing. They use such different parts of the brain and one is so much easier to access than the other!

Editing also poses the danger of wiping out distinctive cadences and phrasing. That’s part of why when I back up my manuscript, I don’t write over the previous version (not that I go back and read them, but — I could).

Useful distractions include working in other media (and reading. Always reading!) Most creatives will tell you that switching media feeds the work.

This morning, I played with magazine scraps brought from home. Whether it was a useful distraction or not, I’m not in a position to judge. Here are the results.

The first one speaks directly to a storm scene I’m editing in which the slaveholder loses both an entire crop of rice and a key slave in a boat accident. The scene exposes dissonant responses to the loss (white vs. black). The white response wonders which is the greater loss — the twenty barrels of rice or the valuable slave? — highlighting in a sharp way the slaves’ status as property.

(In the era my novel describes, the enslaved wore ragged tunics and head rags. The portrayal of the two African Americans above, therefore, is to my mind, romanticized).

Today is Good Friday. The Christ figure removed from his cross last night will be processed from the top of the hill down to the Basilica of St Francis. People mobbed the statue last evening once it was in repose in order to touch it.

This morning when I attended Mass at San Rufino at the crack of dawn, the 500 year old wooden body was adorned with flowers.

My digs are a little cold, so midmorning I found a patch of sun near St Clare’s Cathedral and stitched for a while.

The beauty of this place fills me up!

PS. That moon picture was taken out of my window between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.

We rearrange

It’s a mistake to think people are creative. They don’t create anything. What they do is rearrange things.

Novelist Mark Helprin interviewed 10-5-17 on the podcast, “The Avid Reader“.

Prior to that, he said, “You have to have models [to write about]. We have only what we are given in creation. We don’t create anything. All we can do is interpret it.

He’s one of those superb writers who’s had an incredibly interesting life, like Louise Erdrich (with her 1/2 German, 1/4 Native, 1/4 French ancestry (talk about a cast of characters!)). Turns out that as a boy, Helprin lived in a Parisian house that had safeguarded a Jewish family in its attic for years. Imagine what those walls had to tell a young child!

It’s important to remind a person like myself that every life is interesting in some measure. And besides, my life, to use his logic, is what I was given.

He also talked about how often writers’ first novels are autobiographical. He didn’t think so at the time but now sees it to be true.

His new novel is the first he’s ever set in contemporary time. I can’t wait to read it.

Meanwhile, my antique-dealing neighbor who sold his house put even more treasures on the curb today. I snagged a triptych — with hinges that work in both directions! I’ve wanted one for years. I mean, years. Our family room has a large opening to the cellar stairs which acts as a conduit for cold air. The temperature issue’s been partly resolved by hanging one fluffy blanket over the cellar door and another over the dog gate. But still, I’m thrilled.

I’m going to make some collage packs for Newton Open Studios and include some of this gorgeous Chinese-scribed paper. If you, dear reader, would like to receive a collage pack, leave a comment below saying so and I’ll draw a name next week.

Time and telling

 I once announced, “I’m a writer but not really a storyteller,” to which a friend replied, “You are a storyteller. You just don’t think you are.”

The grist for our tales can come from anywhere from any old day of the week: how sorting threads suddenly feels like a mission; the dog finding raw whole sweet potatoes in the woods and gobbling them down despite all your commands to the contrary; why waiting in yesterday’s grocery line was particularly tedious. 

Finn bit my neighbor last night. Here. Trying to watch “Brooklyn”. No blood or even teeth marks. But real aggression. 

“The Bite” could be a long story — one involving control, temptation, distraction, fear, and disappointment.

Or how about going to a friend’s husband’s house that is far away and not her house and watching the Patriots lose to Denver while eating chili made meaty and delicious with shiitake mushrooms. Texting my son in Boulder. Noticing how warm the winter sun looked on the football field. Wondering why relationships fail. 

I haven’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book but I heard her say in an interview something interesting (but not original) about collective ideas and creativity. She asserted that our work is “out there” and maybe it doesn’t matter if the stories pick us or we pick them, but it does matter that we sustain our allegiance to them. If we don’t, someone else just might take ’em and run. 

And speaking of Jung, to close let me share a relevant moment of synchronicity. 

Remember two posts ago when I quoted Henry Louis Gates, Jr. saying that if critics didn’t like Styron’s version of Nat Turner, they could “write their own novel”? Well last night I learned that someone has. Nate Parker wrote, directed and starred in a new movie telling that very story.  It just premiered at Sundance.  

 

 

Containment

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Rebellion Farm, 2014 – South Carolina

I’ve shied away from picking annual WORDs because I usually poop out on them long before the year is through. Nevertheless, this year requires one and it is: CONTAINMENT.

An iron pot symbolizes CONTAINMENT, and for 2016, both the inside and the outside of the vessel matter.

The inside of the cauldron stands for a well-tended creative process. In the coming months, I want to stoke the fires of intention/desire/discipline and see some results. I will set deadlines. I will be accountable. I will lean into offered help.

The outside of the pot stands for well-defined personal boundaries, necessary to the process of excluding that which is toxic and debilitating. Some things cannot be excluded. But lots in my life can be.
IMG_2557And yes, now we are talking about my very difficult sister. I am the only person who relates to her on a nearly daily basis and it is one of the most taxing, draining, annoying, infuriating, challenging, and unwelcome responsibilities that I have ever shouldered. It has made me curse my dead parents and God. It has made me hate myself frequently. It has made me hate her frequently. The lessons are there, oh yes they are there, but I’m unwilling to keep paying the price that I’ve been paying to learn them (prime among the lessons: humility and compassion; the big price tags: my health and peace of mind).

For better boundaries, I seem unable to simply ‘create distance’ or ‘compartmentalize’.  So I’ve come up with: BRACKETING, DISTRACTION, BREATHING, and MEDICATION.

Maybe these are just ‘creating distance’ and ‘compartmentalizing’ by other names, but they feel different.

BRACKETING: the process of deliberately indulging in simple, pleasurable routines before and after contact, especially visits and the outrageously awful phone calls.  This can be self-care at its most basic, but no less potent for its simplicity — planning a hot bath with eucalyptus salts, having a homemade soup at the ready, asking K. to build a fire.  It’s not complicated and some of it I do already, but it needs to be more conscious. Some of the rewards could be bigger.  DISTRACTION: I can’t really cook while talking to my sister on the phone, or even run water. It offends her. But with a teeny bit of preparation, I could flip through picture books, hem a long hem, or knit. My repeated attempts to craft a mutually agreed upon, respectful way to terminate calls when they get loud and ugly has failed abominably. But the truth is, even some of the less-screechy calls tax my patience — the weird theories, the paranoia and conflict with neighbors, the objection to this celebrity’s forehead or that celebrity’s nostrils, her infatuation with Chuck Norris or Hop Along Cassidy, the hip pain, knee pain, insomnia, gastric upset….

BREATHING: for when we she is pushing my buttons (OFTEN) and I need (URGENTLY NEED) to remain silent. I am going to count to ten. Original, huh? One visit I gave myself ‘a time out’ and did the crossword puzzle for awhile. This seemed acceptable to her and it worked for me.

MEDICATION: hers and mine. Attend to timing. Lastly, I need to be careful about what I ask for. Because I am in this ’til death and because I wouldn’t feel good praying for my sister to drop dead, several times in the last few months I looked heavenward and begged, “Please God, take ONE of us!”

Then I had to have a biopsy.  After two unnerving weeks reading about Graves disease (which I have) and radioactive iodine treatment (which I’ve had) and learning of my increased odds for thyroid cancer, I decided to never again utter that plea. (The biopsy was clear).  This is an unusually personal post and quite at odds with the notion of CONTAINMENT. This kind of disclosure will never be the mainstay of this blog (although I’m not sure why). But I’ve found from reading other peoples’ blogs that occasional personal revelations draw me in and make the more craft-focused posts more meaningful. I hope this does the same.

It’s also my way of saying, fuck it. It’s a new year. I’m gonna take a few risks.

So, on that note: Happy New Year!!

Waiting to become

IMG_9898This morning, I revisited the little gem of a book, “Steal Like An Artist,” by Austin Kleon because it’s good and worth revisiting and because, well, seeing my blue indigo woven square on Instagram turned my stomach, just a little, because of how much it said, “Jude” to me. Not arrogance here. Rather:  dissatisfaction. The thing is far from done and woven strips are kinda woven strips, but still, I thought I’d share some of the excellent things Kleon has to say about this, “this” being developing a style or a voice, even though the “Hearts for Charleston” quilt is not about this. At all. (and, as you take a breath, can you tell I’m reading Faulkner again this summer?!)
indigo-woven-deemallon“A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve. So: Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify… ”

And: “Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”
IMG_9854Also this: “… you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them.”

[Who are all of them?!! The blog roll on the right is a starting place. This morning, Robert Rauschenberg, John Singer Sargent, the Gee’s Bend quilters, Susan Carlson, and Ruth McDonald all come to mind. Jude Hill (obviously). Maybe I don’t think about this enough].

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”

“We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism…. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.”

This is not hand-wringing, per se. Just follow-up to a little turn of the stomach. It’s important to follow up on little turns of the stomach. That might be a piece of advice I’d give an artist. Or just plain a person. It’s a little like Julia Cameron suggesting that we use a list of people we are jealous of as a laundry list of things we need. It works. Try it.

Meanwhile, I am in love with some new double exposures. I wish I could figure out what to DO with them!
IMG_9884These feel wholly mine. And yet? Thumb tapping? Digital code? What ARE they?!
And, not free of influence, obviously.
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continuing, growing, editing, waiting and one finished thing

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gluing

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hanging, waiting

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one finished thing, using clay beads I made in high school in my mother’s art room

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considering – hat, hair okay, but new body needed

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resurrecting and basting BEECHES phototransfer, printed years ago

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dangling, blooming

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offering green, green, and more green

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resembling a monster

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neatening, editing

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getting slippers dirty

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gazing up at dead branch overhead

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smiling, waiting for prompts

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texting, waiting for prompts

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surviving unseasonably cold temps

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organizing