Damn! I’ve Gotta Rip It!

According to my husband, my mother-in-law used to say, “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it” when she made a mistake in her crocheting or knitting. First of all, let me say that she was such a good crafter that I can hardly imagine her making a mistake. On the other hand, I know how easy it is to drop a stitch. And it is frustrating. How frustrating depends on how quickly you realize it. Tonight, for example, I realized I had dropped a stitch in a very easy pattern about 12 rows back. Boy was I annoyed! “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it!”

20170715_232938Just as I thought I was making headway and  nearing last third of the project, I sent myself back to less than halfway. (The picture was taken after I had already rewound much of the yarn.) I am frustrated now. Yet, also strangely inspired. (Hence this late night blog)

Creativity does that to us doesn’t it? We are inspired by something and we forge ahead trying to get what is in our heads out in whatever form we are working in at the moment. We struggle with the words on the screen (or paper) or with drawing that picture that is so clear in the mind’s eye or in crocheting a perfect blanket. What is in our heads is so beautiful, so inspiring, so communicative. But what comes out at the end of the pencil, the brush, the hook, the needle, is often so knotted and gnarled that we go back again and again to smooth it out, leaving instead a muddied, crinkly wake in our trail.

But it does smooth out. The tough part is believing in the process again and again. Not letting the defeat of ripping out a dozen rows of a blanket get in the way of completing it nonetheless. Not letting the umpteenth rejection letter stop you from writing or submitting. Not letting the misshapened hand or disporportionate body lead you to putting down the charcoal or the brush. The mistakes we make show us what not to do in the future. They lead us to the another path and another perception. And sometimes, they lead us to an altogether new inspiration that we had missed in our single-minded pursuit of the original vision.

Dear Parents

My friend Moira expresses here so well the need to infuse our children with art and culture. Take our kids away from the screen and into the world of creativity!

Nine Cent Girl

Dear Parents,

First of all, a big thank you to all of you who hang in there. Who continue to show up for those noisy crazy little beings. Perhaps a special shout out for those of you who learn to grow along side them too. (In this area I was fortunate, in that just about every roundabout loony or otherwise twist and turn my siblings and I took, at least one of our parents understood, or learned to).

But what I really want to suggest today, is to be adventuresome with your kids. I know you’re tired. I know too many of you are between jobs or down on your luck, and working with all your inner resolve just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Regardless, those little ones need to see the shiny side of life. They need movement to exert themselves and they need…

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A Rose Refurbished 

A couple of Fridays ago, I had some time on my hands,  so I went to the newly refurbished Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library. Always a beautiful space, it is now brighter and cleaner as well. It is certainly conducive to creativity and work.  And let’s admit it,  the two go hand in hand.  But surrounded by beauty and knowledge,  it is easier to engage in the search for truth.  (Support your local libraries, museums, and cultural institutions, my friends.  Tell your Congressmen to support the arts,  the NEH and the NEA.)

As I looked around the majestic room, I saw people from all walks of life immersed in all sorts of reading/writing activities: in print, online, by hand, by machine, researching,  creating, in English,  in Chinese, Spanish, French, etc. And others came in to appreciate the art and architecture, and others just to sit for a minute. It is a beautiful space that offers so much to so many.  I feel lucky to have experienced it today. And in a true New York moment,  I ran into people I know who had just stopped in to see the room!

One of the things I love about libraries is the access to the creativity of generations. Thousands, millions really, have left a little part of themselves for us to read and know. They inform, challenge, and inspire. But the Rose Reading Room of the NYPL does even more–through the beautiful architecture of the building, the space itself inspires. It is a place I love, yet definitely do not get to enough.

Musing on a topic? Stuck on a scene? Look up to the newly renovated ceiling and drift among the clouds or trace with your eyes the ornate designs. Soon, new ideas and connections will spring to mind, and your creativity will flow freely. Grab a seat and begin. I’ll see you there!

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A Call To Action Against Bullying

I recently participated in a call to action against bullying. ZNO Street published the imaged below and asked writers and rappers to respond. Here’s the image and my response. If you want to get involved, click on their name above to go to the response page.

Cowering in the shadows
Red like wine
Red like blood
Thrown
Spilled
Wasted

Green envy covers the walls
Theirs
Yours
Mine
All wanting
Willing to Destroy
The Other
To get it

Cornered
Back to the wall
Cracks in the wall
Like the sticks
They swing
You crouch
Life chips away.

 

Crochet and Mishaps 2

Last week I started a post about my crocheting mishap and published it accidentally, which is really apropos actually. If you read my last post, you know that I made some big mistakes in crocheting a baby blanket. And, I posted about it on the Instagram (and Facebook) page for our Etsy store (AlyCatCreations1) too. Here’s the thing: This series of posts garnered 90% more likes than our other posts.

Now, I am not one to quibble about likes. I’m happy to have traffic to our site. Please, come browse. Like it. Buy something! We’d love to have you. The thing that struck me though, is that while we do get likes and comments about our finished products, the posts that garnered the most attention were the ones about my mistakes. I began to wonder about that. There are so many “feel good” memes and the like on Facebook and Instagram about building each other up and saying nice things. Which are great. Which are the right sentiment. Which we should do. But then, the likes poor in when I fail.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that at first. Well, actually I guess I should say that I was feeling many emotions at once. I did laugh. It struck me as funny that posting about a product that would never be on our site brought more traffic to the site than the pieces available for purchase. I was happy the posts were getting likes. I also found it funny that Facebook kept wanting me to boost the post. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t also a twinge of something else-some hurt or embarrassment.

This led to some pondering of the phenomenon of social media. We post all these lovely catch phrases about being good to others, you never know what they are going through. feel-good-meme

And we should. We should think of other people’s feelings. That has been lost on social media. Too frequently, perhaps in an effort to be brief (140 characters only please) or because we’re posting on the go from our phones and not really crafting prose, posts can be too blunt or even hurtful, so we do need to be attentive to tone and diction, now more than ever. But then, when I admitted I failed at a crochet project, the abundance of likes seemed out of proportion to the post. This is where things get a bit tricky. I posted the photos and the story, so I wanted it out there. I wanted to draw traffic to our site, which it did. I feel good about all of this. I am not really hurt or embarrassed. There was just a twinge, no real regret. My main reaction to the failure of the project is frustration. I did begin to wonder, however, what this says about people in general. Do we really like to see others fail?

What I’ve come up with is yes and no. On the one hand, some like to see others fail because it makes them feel better about themselves, but I think that is the minority, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, that is not what was going on with my crooked blanket posts. I think, rather, that the likes on the failure posts were commiseration. Too often we try to make our lives seem perfect on social media. I’m sure you have all seen the memes and videos of Facebook versus real life. (This one is pretty powerful about how destructive this fake life can be.) Perhaps when a post comes up in which someone admits to making a mistake, and does so without whining, we empathize. “Oh I hate when that happens.” “I understand the frustration.” There is no emoticon for that, so we “like.”

So, let’s continue to like each other’s posts, and let’s comment too. I have to admit that I did receive some encouraging and empathetic comments on the blanket debacle posts. I really liked those; they let me know that others understood my frustration. Sometimes that understanding is what we need most to pick hooks up and begin to stitch life back together. So, let’s like; let’s continue to build each other up and support each other when we were down.

As for that blanket, I rewound all the yarn.

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And I’ve started again. This time, I’m crocheting my tried and true pattern and so far, it’s lovely. I’ll let you know when it’s done. Wish me luck!

Brainstorming

If time is a human construct,
Why haven’t we learned how to make it
Slow down.

A propos to the above,  I started this post a few weeks ago,  and then time got away from me. Those of us with creative minds often find find those minds teeming with ideas. A writer may overhear a snippet of a conversation from which she extrapolates and creates a whole new world,  if she can get pen to paper in time before the words and the world vanish in a fog of mundanity.  Or, she may be creating that world when a picture or a view,  a “Certain Slant of Light,” steals her attention and imagination.  Writers have long carried notebooks to record these flashes of intuition, though today they may be phones or tablets. She can preserve the moment,  return to the world she was creating before this second one came vying for her attention,  and revisit it later.  A beautiful idea,  that I know many,  if not most,  of us employ.  Yet,  when those notebooks fill up, how do you choose which visit from the Muse best deserves your time?

For those of us with multifaceted creativity,  the problem increases exponentially.  Do I devote my time to that drawing/painting that calls to me?  Or do I develop that story that keeps rattling around my brain?  Perhaps instead I will crochet with that luscious yarn I could not help buying.  And then there’s that fabric yearning to be made into. ..something.

The world lately is all about multitasking, yet study after study proves it to be ineffective. We are not hard wired to try to do too many things at once; one at a time is much more effective. I know this is true from my own work and play. When I focus on one task, it is completed well and I feel a sense of accomplishment, but when I jump from task to task, I feel scattered and my tasks are either half done or not done as well as they could be . So why do we still jump from task to task? Perhaps it is this computer age we live in. With so many tabs open in our browsers, our eyes are tantalized by the other places we could go, the other things we could be doing. And let’s face it, even with our chosen work or hobby, there are onerous bits that we would rather not do. At other times, our creativity just bubbles over, seemingly uncontainable, each new idea brighter than the last. And this is good. In fact, children are taught from a young age to brainstorm, to get the most out of their creativity. Brainstorming is a good idea. Those ideas that lie beneath the surface, beyond the obvious are what lead to genius.

Eventually, though, we need to stop brainstorming and start writing (or painting, crocheting, sewing…). Perhaps this is when play begins to feel too much like work, so we jump to the next big idea without having hashed out the details of this one yet. And time seems to fly before anything is finished.

That work though, those details, they lead to the fulfillment of the promises of our creativity and to the greatest sense of achievement and accomplishment. The idea of a poem is at first exciting, but the actual poem is delicious and exhilarating –a tangible thing we can call our own.

And how do we decide which path to follow first? We dive in. We read through our notes, choose what is speaking to us now and go. Perhaps another will pan out another day. Perhaps not, but if we spend too much time trying to decide where to start, we will never begin. So shut down those other tabs, give yourself time and space, and focus. It takes practice, but the results are worth it.

We just need to remember that we cannot live in the storm. We ride it out, clean up the debris, and rebuild a better world.

 

In Memoriam

1-Paintings

These are some of my paintings and drawings, none of which would have been possible without two men: my father and my art teacher, Charlie. Seven years ago this November, the heavens were made richer by the passing of my father; less than two weeks ago, Charlie joined the heavenly studio and enriched them yet again.

Back in 2007, my father asked me to join him at art class over the summer. I said yes, not because I had any particular artistic leaning or thought I had any talent but because I wanted to spend time with him in a pursuit he loved. Even if I was simply driving him and schlepping the materials, I was happy to be there, but that wasn’t good enough for Charlie. As long as I was at the studio, I would draw; I would paint. He would teach me.

Charlie did so much more than teach me how to draw. First, he taught me how to see, how to look at a picture or a still life and see a shape rather than an object. “How big is it? Where is it?” These are the questions he would ask whenever we started a drawing. They are the questions I ask myself now still. Once the preliminary shapes are in, Charlie’s chorus of “lights and darks” sounds in my mind, and his lesson on perspective with the disappearing railroad tracks lined with trees is vividly with me as well as the circles of shading from dark to light that decorate every beginning student’s sketch pad. “If we put that head in a closet and turned off all the lights, it would look black,” he would say of the bust we were drawing. His lessons remind me that how we see something depends on where we stand and how much light is shining on the subject.

But some things were not relative to Charlie, and these are the more important lessons I learned from him. His strong faith guided him. He not only knew his Bible and the lives of the saints, but also developed life long relationships with priests and sisters who are doing good work in the world today. His faith was a living faith, and one of the ways he lived it was in building a community.

Popular culture has built a reputation for artists as cut-throat opportunists vying for  the best showing, but that is not what one finds at Charlie’s studio. There is a warmth there and encouragement, from Charlie for sure, but from the other artists as well because he created an atmosphere of celebrating art, our own and each others. We look for the good and highlight it.

Now, Charlie has died, and part of me relived my father’s passing when that happened because Charlie knew and loved my dad. But, just as I know that my father lives on in me, Charlie is not gone either. His beautiful art is still here; his wonderful, caring family is still here, and his studio, the supportive community he built, is still here. He often said, “Remember, the real reason for painting is to leave our mark—to celebrate our existence.” Charlie, you left your mark on me and so many others through your painting and your life. For that, I thank you. Requiscat in pace.

Does Creativity Matter?

This week it’s been on my mind to write about prose poetry, yet the truck attack in Nice, France and the attempted (?) millitary coup in Turkey have distracted my attention and wavered my resolve to keep writing about creativity and my perhaps banal thoughts thereof. I was struck with a moment of “what does it matter?” But creativity does matter.

I live in America which, for now at least, is still the home of the free and the brave. And our creative voices must be heard. Yes, there are the political voices heard loud and furious around the nation, but the creative writers–fiction, poetry, even creative non-fiction–must also contribute. Sometimes, often times, many of us, myself included, are put off by the strident, demogogic speeches or writing of those with biased agendas. While creative writings may be no less partisan, the delivery may be less harsh, therefore opening some to different view of the situation.

I’ll admit that sometimes I do not want to hear speeches by either candidate for President, nor read the the media’s take on them. Yes, I know I need to keep myself informed, but at the same time, the speeches are so hyperbolic and the media’s coverage so skewed (which way depends upon which station one watches) that they are often hard to stomach. I find myself riled by both sides–more so than ever before. What can we do?

For one, I find I prefer to read than to hear the news. Yes, the print media can still be biased, but it is easier, for me at least, to tone down the rhetoric and compare and contrast among different outlets. And then, I respond–not usually with this blog, but with my own journals, my poetry. I work out first what I think using my creative juices before I commit to a viewpoint fed to me by the mainstream media.

So creativity does matter. Yes, yes it does. Ask Nabokov or Voltaire or Allende or Paz or Fuentes. They risked their lives, their homelands, their way of living because they could not contain their voices. Nor should they. Nor should we. Our creativity is what makes us human. I have said as much in previous posts. Luckily America is not yet a land which imprisons the voices of its conscience or causes them to flee; therefore, we must all take on this responsibility, which is God given, to stand up for the rights of all. Create works that matter. Create works that last. Remember the only villians are the ones who wish to stifle your voices or to marginalize a group of people, and  remember even if that group is not your own, you should still care about them because we are all one, we are all human.

Keep writing, friends. Keep painting. Keep taking photos. Keep singing. Keep crocheting. Keep sculpting. Keep creating. The world needs you more now than ever.