It’s been almost two weeks since National Poetry Month ended during which I posted quite a bit, but I haven’t posted since. But I have been writing, painting, and crocheting. Pretty soon, I will post photos of my latest painting (finished today, but no good photo yet and it’s still at the studio) and of the blanket I’m almost done crocheting (tonight or tomorrow, I hope). Several writing pieces are also in the works. Some are good; others need work. But I’m keeping at it. I hope you are too!
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.
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.
I am blessed to have friends who share my love of creative endeavors. Today, I would like to celebrate a few of them.
My good friend Alyson and I met many years ago in Cambridge where we each went to study one summer. So, our first shared love is literature (and the cute professor who taught her class 😉 ). Over the years, we found we shared more creative interests, especially regarding fabrics and yarns, until we finally started our Etsy business together. It’s pretty slow going, but we still have fun creating the inventory. Check us out: alycatcreations1.
Another creative friend who deserves some support I met at art school. Actually, she’s my teacher, Julieann. She helps me see, so I can paint. (Let’s give a shout out to the whole Roslyn School of Painting while we’re at it. Charlie and Lydia create a warm environment and open studio so we can learn at our own pace. My friends and classmates-Meera, Kelly, et. al.-are so encouraging too. It’s a wonderful place to paint. Check out their Instagram feed.) Julieann currently has a painting of her adorable Scottie, Violet, entered in a pet portraits contest. Why not check it out and vote for her!
I’d also like to acknowledge some newer, virtual friends. In this blogging universe there are many pretty creative people who nurture and support each other. Connie@BohemianArt is one such new friend who recently nominated me for a Creative Blogger Award. I am honored. Check out her blog where she muses, much like I do, on a variety of creative topics. Sarah Dougherty at Heartstring Eulogies shares poetry worth checking out, full of vivid images which will pluck those heartstrings.
Two more blogs I recommend are by women whom I know in both the virtual world and the real one. Moira Donovan offers us her thoughts on fashion, family, and fun at Nine Cent Girl. And Gerri Woods keeps me laughing with her snarky observations on grammar miscues at Grammarian in the City.
There are many more of you creating out there and sharing your talents and encouragement. Thank you all.
Keep blogging, painting, sewing, knitting, ladies! Keep creating! And most of all, let’s keep supporting one another. Creativity does not occur in a vacuum.
I came across this video today when a friend posted it to Facebook: What Do You Do to Feel More Creative? Take a gander before reading on. It runs for less than three minutes.
I found it very interesting listening to people who make their living on their creative powers discuss what they do to feel more creative. It made me think about my own creative interests, and how nice it would be to make a living out of them (or so I think). What do I do to feel more creative? I think my answer is varied. I agree with most of the individuals interviewed. Sometimes I need to get out–of the house, of my head, of my own way. Other times, I need to see the world from a different vantage point. But the view I agree with the most, and the least, is the need to break routine.
Breaking away from routine can spur creativity, but we also need routine to follow through on the inspiration. Even when I am run down or experiencing a “dry spell,” I find that I still manage to keep painting because I have a class that I go to every week. The routine keeps me going to the studio and putting paint on canvas or charcoal on paper. Sometimes we need to just power through the dry spell; routine helps one do that. I think that is why my writing, my first creative love, has taken a hit recently. My work, which I love, keeps me busy and involves much reading and writing, but that writing is commenting on student papers. When I get home, I am tired, and I don’t have a regular writing time or space. I need a routine to keep my own writing flowing.
And let’s not forget, without routine, there is nothing to break away from!
So, dear readers, what do you do to feel more creative?
This showed up on my Facebook feed today. Katherine Neville is so right, and not just for teen writers. I’ve been derelict in my duties as a blogger lately, I know. I’ve started several posts, but abandoned them before clicking “publish.” If they felt trite, banal to me, then how much more so would they seem to you, my readers. I didn’t want to waste your time. Yet, instead, I fear I did something worse, I neglected you. I’ve kept at my painting and drawing which is always a long term project; crochet, my fall back, easy craft, has been slow going; and my writing has been stop and go.Instead, I’ve feed my brain with light fare-fan fiction, pulp fiction, and blog posts. Let me try to make it up to you.
We all know about the winter blues, and when our mood is affected, so is our creativity. Yet, despite the snow in the air this morning, spring is on its way in. I noted with joy that there was light in the sky both when I left for work this morning and when I came home again this evening. Daylight has been creeping up on us little by little, and today I noticed. Next weekend when Daylight Savings Time rolls around, I may find myself in the dark again on my evening commute, but not for long! I am a teacher, so naturally, summer is my favorite season, but spring also has its advantages, and I am feeling them this year. Even though the temperatures have dropped again, and the winds have been fierce, there is something different about a 30° day in March than in January. Even when March comes in like a lion, we know that soon enough she will lay down with the lambs. That knowledge sustains us till it happens and the bloom is once again on the rose.
What does this meditation on weather have to do with creativity? I believe we all go through seasons in our creative lives as well. Sometimes it seems like the soil is barren; there is nothing growing in our brains, that we have lost our inspiration, yet like the seeds of winter, there is germination quietly happening. So, keep observing; keep jotting down notes; keep starting blog posts. All of a sudden, the light will be there. All of a sudden, the crocuses will be blooming even though you didn’t notice the green shoots poking through the cold ground. Trust in your creative power; it will return to you many fold.
Now I promise to click “publish” this time!
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!
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.
From September through June, my life is ruled by bells and deadlines, classes and clubs, meetings and committees. And there are never enough hours in a day to complete all the prep and grading. But for the past two months, my time has been my own. I’ve finally given up teaching summer school and have been able to devote my summers to writing, painting, crocheting, golfing, visiting friends and family, and, most importantly, recuperating and regrouping from the hectic school year. In the summer, I rarely set an alarm. I might make a mental list of what I hope to get done, but if a better offer comes along, the laundry can wait till tomorrow morning. I don’t have to go out early.
But now, it’s September again. The bells are ringing for me and my gals. There are already stacks of summer reading outlines to look over. My school email inbox is overflowing with student assignments. It takes so little time to lose the carefree days of summer. How quickly one can be snowed under even as the temperature set new record highs for the month. By the time classes end and the last student leaves and the desk is cleared of the day’s detritus, the golf course may still beckon, but the shorter days and my waning energy make an evening nine nothing more than a happy memory of freer days.
Where does this leave my creativity? Quite honestly, sometimes I am just sapped, but I need to remember that switching gears is rejuvenating. I need to schedule my creative time and, this is the hard part, stick to it. Even as the school year rolls on and the paper load becomes unbearable, I need to stick to my guns and keep my “me” time, my time to write, to paint, to create.
What will help this become a reality is to set a schedule that includes my work needs as well as my creative time. Recent calculations indicate that if I were to read and grade one essay from each of my students and spend just eight minutes on each essay, I need 18 hours and 40 minutes. Of course not every essay takes eight minutes; some take much longer. (Here’s another plea to bring back handwriting to the elementary curriculum.) On the other hand, not every homework assignment is an essay. Nonetheless, let’s say I need an average of twenty hours of grading time per week. That’s just under three hours a day if I grade every day of the week, including the weekend. Add in some time every week for planning, and I am beginning to get depressed about my writing time because it is the hardest time for me to keep sacrosanct. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and because so much of teaching load involves correcting others’ writing, sometimes it is hard to switch gears from the editor to the writer. My painting time is scheduled by the class I attend, but it is easy to say, “I need to (insert something else here) now; I’ll get to it later” during the writing time when something else comes up. For me, that something else is usually a set of papers to grade or a student who needs to stay after school to take a make up test, but it could also be a friend who needs an ear, myself who needs a nap, or a second/third freelance job I’ve taken on. I am always impressed by the stories of writers who get up at three or four in the morning regularly to write for a couple of hours before the kids wake up and the daily hustle begins. I don’t know how I would get through the rest of my day if I did that. So for now, I am focusing on a minimum of one afternoon a week that is sacred. No tests, no essays, no naps. It will hopefully not be the only time I write, but it will be a time that I only write.
Now, I’d better see to those essays.
As I was returning home today, I noticed that my flower bed needs weeding. Even though the impatiens are not doing well, I still don’t want them surrounded by weeds. I need to get out there and pull those green shoots and clovers that distract the eye from the flowers.
Coming inside and sitting down at my desk, I began to reread a short story I wrote a few years ago. I had sent it out to a professional editor for an assessment and was a bit disheartened by the response. I really felt he didn’t get it. The commentary focused on a character I considered minor. And, many of the mark ups were stylistic rather than content based. I had not submitted this to the magazine, but rather for a professional commentary. To direct much of the energy of the marginalia to changing the manuscript to that particular journal’s style guide seemed disingenuous to me, fraudulent even. I thought I was paying for a content assessment, not a comma check. My knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss the review altogether. However, after some time has passed and the initial dejection experienced by the editor’s comments has dissipated, I can more objectively look at the advice given. I reread the story, and there is some weeding to be done there as well.
“Kill your darlings.” Every writer has heard this advice, but it is hard isn’t it? Sometimes the perfect sentence just doesn’t add anything to the story. I have read advice of creating a file of the darlings you excise for use in some other story, but I find that just doesn’t work. Once they’re dead, they’re dead.
In other creative endeavors, this advice still rings true. Tonight, I was crocheting a blanket–a pattern of my own making–, and I noticed that after a few rows, it was growing wider. I recounted the stitches, and indeed, I had somehow gone from 56 to 59. I tried first to figure if I could adjust the next few rows down again to a happy medium. There will be an outer edge crocheted on at the end to finish the project which could hide this imperfection. But, no. I thought of my mother-in-law and how proficient and precise she was with her crafting. Her works are truly heirlooms to be treasured not only because they came from her hands but also because they are truly works of art. So, I did what I needed to do and I ripped it out to the point where the mistake happened and started over. I killed my darlings and started over. I weeded out the extra stitches.
Now I am contemplating the same thing with a painting I am working on. The painting, which I blogged about back in March (https://crcreateaday.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/angelic-assistance/), is a copy of the face of Mary during the Annunciation. However, in my version, I think she looks like a character on The Simpsons. Not exactly what I was going for. While I may not exactly “kill this darling,” I think she needs to be put aside for a while until my skills improve. In the meantime, I will sketch and paint other things. My teachers will give me projects and assignments to help me improve. Hopefully, by the time I am ready to go back to Mary, I will be ready to weed out what needs to be gone from the painting in order for Mary to leave The Simpsons and regain her ultimate innocence.
We all need to weed from time to time, in all different areas of our lives. Next week, I will attack the flower beds and then the other creative endeavors. Weeding helps the beautiful flowers grow.