To Be Present

As I was walking across 33rd Street the other evening, I was struck once again by the number of people texting while walking. The sidewalks of Manhattan are crowded enough with tourists, window shoppers, marathon walkers, moving business meetings, late commuters, and the like; we certainly do not need to add in the oblivious.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of technology. There are devices and apps to make our lives easier, and usually, they do. My students submit their papers via email, and I grade them online. I can search for new crochet patterns online and order my yarn without leaving the house. I certainly “type” my stories and poems, and most are submitted via submittable these days. Even my oil painting is affected. The last few works have been based on photos that I viewed on my Kindle as I worked in the studio. And of course, there’s this blog. But there comes a point when we need to put the devices away and be present. Artists of all media have long been the conscience of society. They see world either more clearly or from a different perspective than those around them. They have a reputation for pointing out the ills of society or for imagining  a new society free from those ills. We cannot continue that tradition if our eyes are forever cast downward towards our phones and tablets. Yes, we can read the news on our devices and stay informed, but sometimes we need to lift our eyes and see the world without the intervention of a screen.

We need to be present in our own lives. This is not a new call either. There are columns and posts galore about putting down the phone and being attentive to the people around us, about banning the phone from the dinner table. We’ve all heard stories of seeing people out on dates or in group activities who interact with their devices rather than with each other. But I challenge you to go one step further. Put the phone away when you are by yourself too. Be present for yourself. I rarely look at my phone while walking (I’m just not that coordinated–in fact, no one really is), but that day on 33rd Street, I made it a point to really look and notice the world around me. Now, 33rd Street is by no means the most gorgeous street or the most interesting. It is a city street very busy with much construction and many people; the many bars along the street spill smokers into the flow of traffic trying to get to the train; one store regularly has promotions which leads to people camping out on the sidewalk outside; there is a food cart on the sidewalk too and sign holders hawking a local eatery, and of course, there’s the Empire State Building; yet, taking the time to just be present to my own surroundings centered me. After a full day of work and a rush for the train to head home, I still felt calm as I sat on the train and began the work on this blog.

Be present to yourself in 2016; feed your soul and your creativity. Then share it with the rest of us. Happy New Year!

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Multifaceted Creativity

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I was in the middle of writing a different post when I went to the Museum of Modern Art yesterday to see the Picasso Sculpture exhibit. It’s effect on me has led me to change direction and muse instead on the idea of being creative in multiple genres.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I write in various genres: non-fiction (obviously), poetry, and fiction. You also know I crochet, sew, draw, and paint. I love to bake. I used to sing and play both piano and flute, and wish I had time to pick them up again. (Someday!) I often feel pulled in many directions and never feel I have enough time. After asserting in my last post that what it takes to be a writer is to write, I’ve written very little; yet, I have completed one fun crochet project, finished half of another, finished a drawing, and started a painting. So, I have been creative. Sometimes I wonder if I could be more productive if I pared my pastimes down to a select few. But, what would I cut? I cannot give up my writing, nor can painting go. It would be silly to cut crochet as I can do that when watching TV or chatting with friends. Granted, I don’t bake as much as I used to, but that’s probably better for our waistlines, but as Christmas is around the corner, I wouldn’t dream of not baking Christmas cookies no matter how busy I am! I don’t sew as much as I would like, but I am not about to give up my fabric stash. I have a couple of projects in mind that will get going in 2016.

What does this have to do with going to MOMA and Picasso, you may ask? I think most of us think of Picasso as a painter, the father of Cubism. Perhaps, his “Blue Period” comes to mind or his Cubist portraits. However, there is another side to his creativity, and like his painting, it it’s multifaceted. That is his sculpture. He was prolific throughout his life in his sculpture, yet be was never formally trained in it. He began with cardboard and wood but when he decided to make a sculpture of a guitar out of metal and didn’t know how to weld, he sewed the pieces together. Some years later, he decided to work with a welder and learn that craft. He cast in bronze; he carved wood; he assembled pieces out of found objects. Every few years, he changed his sub-genre. And he never stopped painting. He did not abandon one pursuit in following another. He let creativity guide him to new materials, new techniques, new expressions.

I am no Picasso, and I must continue to hold down a job. Granted I love teaching, but it does take more time than those not in education would imagine. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of validation after viewing the exhibit. He continued to expand and try different genres, different materials. Like Picasso, I will not let genre hold me back. The varied creative outlets will not bring me the fame or fortune Picasso enjoyed, but they will do something much more important. These pursuits all feed my soul, and they feed each other and lead to a life well-lived.