Saturday, October 3, 2015

On the rule of one

I've hit a wall in my creative undertakings--do I return to the writing I started in the summer, the work that filled my lazy days, pre-fall semester frenzy? Or do I continue to play with my luscious ideas for my fundraiser, which can eat up quite a bit of time?

It seems I've come full circle. Just before I picked up my pen and became a full-fledged writer, I was a knitter and accessories maker. I loved working with color and fabric, feathers and rhinestones. Then one day a need to write overtook me. With each word, I knew I had hit my creative blood and bone. I had come to the proverbial fork in the road. I asked myself, which path do I want to walk successfully? I couldn't have both, not full-throttle. I chose writing. I called it the Rule of One.I never looked back.

This morning I awoke thinking of yarn companies to contact for possible donations. I pictured myself at the yarn store I'll go to later, rummaging through bins, seeking a bulky yarn, something with pop. I need to get busy on my own contribution to my made-by-hand project. I'm into it! And too, in the not-too-back of my mind, a voice calls--get back to your writing.

I'm living in a luxury of choice. I know how fortunate I am to hold gifts in my fingers that make my world come alive. I wouldn't have known of them if I hadn't first tried. Picked up needles and made a terrible first sweater, written a few essays that were mercilessly rejected, and then the one that made it--after at least ten revisions. So, too, with the sweater--ripped out, started over.

Right here, right now, I give myself a goal: just write 300 words There's a scene I'm kicking against that I haven't been able to get a clear picture of. It's so easy to digress, divert, dive into the fluffy yarns.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On beginning

i-confess. I have not been present (see post below).I have the tools and know-how with which to settle down, stay centered. Follow my breath. Paint and pay attention. Write and pay attention. Walk...and you guessed it...notice what is outside, not the internal chatter.  And yet, my mind whirrs, buzzes, kicks up Trouble (cap T).

The migrant/refugee situation in Europe is very sad; it is all I read about in the newspapers. The thought of people without a home, food, a shred of personal property, breaks me. It leads me to stories my mother told me, her early days in America. On the day she gave birth to my brother in a Brooklyn hospital, one month after her arrival, she wore a red bow in her hair, placed there by a nurse. That story became legend, along with many other acts of kindness. (Above left: bows I made.)

And so I've dug out my knitting needles and crochet hooks. My yarn stash needs replenishing. I've started THE MADE-BY-HAND PROJECT. Creative types get busy on making things to be sold at a fundraiser (specifics to come). Or, at least, Dear Self, focus and knit a sweater or three. Dear Self, stop worrying if others will join in, if there will be enough contributions, if buyers will shows up, etc etc Etc.

Dear Self, Slow down. Go the yarn store. But a few skeins. Pick up a needle. Begin.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On being present

My teaching life is in full bloom. I'm teaching four English classes divided among three schools. While it might sound daunting, thus far, my work life is a pleasure. I added a new school this semester to my agenda, and it's the refresher I needed. It's shone a light on all my classes; I realize it was me (I?) who needed to renew, not my students. (photo at right: school books fit into life.)

And so, creativity abounds in my day-to-day of planning and showing up. I've made fewer trips to my favorite cafe for writing, fewer dabs in the painting well; I haven't closed down said activities, just moved them slightly aside. I'd like to do it all at once. But I remind myself, bliss exists in the moments of concentration and focus.

I'm older (a recent birthday has made this obvious fact a revelation). My inner world has made a radical shift. Everything is shinier, more delicious. The garbage trucks outside my window, with their horns and heaves and screeches are keys on a piano. Life in motion. A day beginning. What joys will it hold? And a little voice inside responds, all the ones I notice.

The world is in chaos--the outer world that is. I hold this within my landscape, too. I wonder how I can make things better. I send Letters to the Editor that don't get printed. Insignificant detail. I can't get bogged down in results.

I tell my students, be here. Make these seventy-five minutes count. My students are young. They don't yet know what I didn't know at eighteen or twenty. When I listen close, garbage trucks sing. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

On going back to work

On Thursday, my lazy days of summer will come to an end. Note the packed-up and much-too-neat space at right.

My teacher self will return: a.m. meeting on the East side, then across town for two classes. Afterward, prep for Sunday class at a third school, and Monday a.m. back on the East side. Alas, the dizzying work life of an adjunct begins. As summer ends I muse on the fact that as much as I complain (off the I-grid), I didn't look for another line of work. Alas #2, my watercolors, my laptop, will I have time for them?  

This is a luxury worry. To live a life that is aligned with creative arts is my dream come true. I treasure my painting tools in the way my mother swooned over the contents of her pantry. Each shelf filled with unbelievable goodies--jams, honey, dozens of cans of tuna, 7-up, nuts, and the list went on. An impoverished childhood and a war set my mother up to appreciate every morsel of food, till the end of her life.

My childhood wasn't a mirror of my mother's life. I had stuff: crayons and coloring books and sheets of oak tag which I loved turning into posters. Somewhere along the way though I stopped all those wonderful tactile activities. High school, adulthood, and many years of uncertainty of the kind of work that would fulfill me.

Today, my disparate selves are connected and alive. I place a plastic cloth over my supplies, but won't put them away. On the left, flowers I prepped earlier with masking, and right, my fifth miserable try at an impressionistic technique.

Epilogue: I awoke with an epiphany. Keep a sheet of clean paper taped and in the center of my table, water cups filled, brushes and paints nearby.  This is similar to writing advice: write the first sentence of the new chapter before shutting down for the day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

On returning to the page

I'm sitting at a cafe in Chelsea, looking out upon Gristedes, McDonalds, Duane Reade. Nothing cute and summery here--no Cape Cod or Tanglewood or similarly lovely August place. And yet, I don't long to be anywhere else. That could be because I'm in serious writing mode. The only place that counts is where I set my story, the one that is developing out of a remark by a friend; she mentioned a rundown restaurant in the Catskills. I needed to know more about it. I made something up and emailed it to her. She wrote back: tell me more! And, so here I am, finding out more the only way I know--by getting writing.

This has been my MO every morning this week, and it strikes me as oddly natural and somewhat significant. Oddly and significant because I haven't done much creative writing for the past year and a half, in fact, have not called myself a writer when people ask what I do. I believed my writing days had ended. I didn't feel upset about it, for I'd had a fantastically rich 20-year writing life. But I was very surprised. I mean, why end a fantastically rich thing?

Monday a.m. began with a Letter to the Editor of the NYTimes--a form of writing I love--and I almost missed an aerobics class that I also love. I was impassioned, fired up, so grateful for the ability to shoot off a coherent letter. Then I returned to the rundown restaurant and it's owner, a man whose family (it turned out!) hailed from the Tuscany countryside. I won't put a jinx on myself by revealing more. We'll see how it goes.

And so I fret that for this post there is no colorful artwork, no sharing about my joy in sticking with an art form that I am very bad at. But what I do share is understanding that time out from something I did all the time, while not taken purposefully, was good. I lolled about in another creative form; I opened up my doors and windows, off the page. I return a writer and a student of painting. I wait to see if the two will inform one another.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On learning

I spent last week at my first painting retreat. I came home from Omega inspired and filled to capacity with new techniques in Chinese and American watercolor ("East Meets West" with Lian Zhen). My mantra all week: just remember three new things.

First, for the usual news: I haven't broken my record of being the slowest to learn. In a class of seventeen, three (including me) were novices. The two others blossomed (literally in spectacular flowers, fish, frogs, underwater fauna, lily pads, so much more). I was awed. Instead of wasting time in the land of compare and despair, I took photos of everyone's work for creative inspiration. To the right: flower paintings out to dry, before next step of filling in details.

Day one began with learning to paint with Chinese ink and colors. Below are my fish in progress: 

During this process I felt clumsy, over my head, and certain this class wasn't meant for beginners. Each day proceeded the same. (My inner voice--not for beginners. But alas, I carried on.) Fish swimming in a sea of coral (not my fish...but 16 others), frogs on a landscape of lily pads (photo to come), and flowers, where I did my best (photo, upper right). We blew on paint, dropped paint, poured paint, finger painted, and, for the hell of it, used brushes.

The thing about Omega is that there is so much there to feast upon. Lush vistas, a cute cafe (with wifi!), dance, plain old relaxation). At times, it was hard to sit in a class for six (!!) hours. Tiring, overstimulating, and yet, when I came home I felt that I want to take this course again. I felt on my way to discovering if talent can be acquired.

This week, one result of class, I'm putting myself on a color diet. I'm going to use only blue, red and yellow to create everything else.   

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On process (again)

I continue to tell people, I have no painting talent. They think I'm being modest or putting myself down. But it's neither. When I say I've taken up watercolors, I want it known it simply feels good to be immersed in process--for fun, for therapy, for mindless mindfulness.

This morning I played with YUPO paper, the slippery texture that my art peers say, does the work on its own. Not true. While copying a friend's painting (Jane Atlas on top), mine flat-out refused to do it itself. But what it did do wasn't bad. I then tried to copy mine on Arches paper. I was so discouraged with the results, I rubbed them out: Note blurs.

In a few days, summer school ends. The mixed blessing of endless time stretches before me. It's so easy to give in to laziness, especially when nothing is expected of me in this painting world. When I return to class on Thursday, after a five-week break, no one will check to see if I've improved. I'll set up my easel, palette and do something.

Now, I'm torn between wanting to begin a story (yes, writing a bit again), four more student papers to grade, and fixing the painting. A Lifetime movie tempts me with a story of twins separated at birth. It's so easy and pleasurable to take a TV timeout. Sometimes I wonder how I get anything done.