Much of my time is spent with facinations that perhaps lead to nowhere. I doodle. I make art most of which is unshown and not for sale. I play music with no performing or recording aspirations, write and don’t submit the vast majority of my pieces for publication. My blog is not monetized. This is so counter to our culture’s obsession with productivity and success- but they all make me happy.
Today I read a post by Austin Kleon riding 5 miles to mail some letters rather than mail them from home because it “was something to do.” On a link embedded in this post was another post titled the same, “Something to Do.” I found this post so profound. It put into words what I have been unable to to do trying to justify my gratutious pastimes. In short, they keep me alive. To me that’s the ultimate payoff.
Last week I had the honor of reading my prose piece, “TheOrchard by My House is Gone” at the book release celebration of Paper Gardens the annual literary journal of Yamhill County, Oregon. I was joined by other local authors that had their work published along with family members and members of the community. The most memorable part of the evening was when adults shared the stage with writers of all ages including those as young as second grade. We were all writers in different stages of our journeys who took the risk to submit our work to be judged and perhaps rejected.
A close friend asked to see my entry and I emailed it to her. She read it and then responded that how much she appreciated me sharing my work with her. Doing so gave her a window into my life and how I view the world. She remarked in her email that a long-ago friend was a painter but would not allow anyone else to view her work and that “would potentially impact the way she felt about her art.” I also have an acquaintance that ceased painting her stunning watercolors as she never sold them at the one event where she exhibited. Paintings are especially challenging to sell as it’s not only if a person likes the piece, it has to fit and match one’s décor.
I find both these situations very sad. We are always under the scrutiny of others- the way we think, dress, or otherwise live our lives. I don’t make art for economic gain anymore. What is imperative is that my creativity provides a spark to my life, joy in the process of its creation, and serves as an avenue for self-expression. There lies the attitude of non-attachment. There will be some that don’t care for what I write or create, yet there will be others who resonate with it. It’s not a deal-breaker as I am out to please myself. It is the nature of bringing creation to the world to see. If I am pleased with my work and it is well-executed, that is enough. It’s like hiking. I go out and have a beautiful day among nature and if I see wildlife, so much the better.
I recently divorced Instagram. This last year or so was the big social media Instagram experiment. Almost everyday I posted the off-the-cuff doodles I draw on the right side of my day planner under my tag @almostdailydoodle (still there!) The upside is that it makes a tidy little record of my innocuous art online. The downside is how much time Instagram was sucking from my life with all the posting, checking, liking. I thought I was above all that- I guess not.
Doodling is my morning creativity workout. It has become my main art form as of late, downshifting from ceramics and printmaking. It is fun to show my art now and again so I thought I would post them here occaisionally and see how it goes in a blog format.
The title of this post is the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese.”
The poem continues:
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves……
I came upon this poem years ago. It was the first poem that I loved, that I could pull around me like a homemade quilt. It became my anthem of sorts.
Now the interesting thing is Oliver did not set out to write a greatest hit, nor any work of great meaning. According to an interview with OnBeing, she created this poem quite informally to illustrate the difference between end-stopped lines and enjambment to another poet. But words are powerful and when she released this poem to the world it spoke deeply to many people. It’s become one of her most loved poems.
For me, it permitted me to do the work I needed to do regardless that I sucked. Do it anyway. Over the years I’ve agonized over my work like every other creative, but her poem on my wall makes me understand that it’s not the likes, the money, or the accolades. I do not have to suffer for my art. Ultimately, it’s the daily practice of doing and honing my craft. It’s what my soul calls to me to do (which did not include quitting my day job).
Time is no excuse. Write the poems in grocery lines, at stoplights (using voice memo), doodle designs in boring meetings. The dream won’t happen unless you do it- unless you listen to the voice of the wild geese within.
I never was interested in poetry until I read “Wild Geese” until I read Mary Oliver and discovered more poetry. Now I write it. Here is the poem in its entirety…
I have had this unfolding conclusion that I do not have to accept my own mythology, my notions of limitations and inabilities, as written by others or by myself.
My first inkling of this concept was in my junior year of college. One of the most popular electives on campus was “ballroom dancing”. As a child, I was told indirectly that I was clumsy and uncoordinated by family nicknames that were not so endearing. I bought into it telling myself I could not do a cartwheel or any of the other physical badges of honor that young girls collect. Still, I needed an elective and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Lo and behold I proved myself wrong. I was doing the jitterbug, swing, rumba, waltz, and the like. Not only was I good, but I also loved it!
A more difficult life script to rewrite was the notion of “I’m not good enough” which I dragged around since childhood like a large overstuffed suitcase (without wheels). This one is rather toxic for the soul, especially if one is an artist or writer, like me. It’s the one that tells me “I can’t, I’m too old, I’m too flawed, I don’t have the right training, I’m too this, too that.”
Three years ago at age 63, I decided that, no, I wasn’t too old to pick up the guitar again, traded in my old one for a lovely tenor guitar I love, and started to take lessons. I don’t learn as quickly as in my younger years but I am so grateful I got over myself and started again. What a joy music brings! A year before that I started to write even though, no, I was not an English major- but so what. I’ve gotten better. I have two blogs, I’ve gotten published but beyond all that I love the process. All from recrafting my story.
I found that I can rewrite that, ?YES, I am good enough and I will commit to honing my craft no matter where I am at be it as a visual artist, writer, musician or ____________.
An advantage of meditation is being able to recognize that old script playing in my head. I can disagree with that voice in my head, “Sorry, you are so WRONG!”, show that voice the door and change the station with a positive script that reads…
“The Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a single step”- Lao Tsu
This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s been a mantra for my life. I would add to that “keep going.”
Sitting down to a blank canvas or piece of paper can be daunting. Procrastination takes over. but it’s action that inspires creative energy not necessarily the other way around. Risk is inherent for a full life and with that risk comes failure. Any type of artist will tell you that you have to be willing to fail to learn. Just check out their recycle bins. Only their best work goes on display.
I just finished planting my native plant garden. It looks very sparse right now as the plants are still sleeping awaiting the arrival of spring. I’ve been rather awed by how this project manifested in relatively a short amount of time considering my lack of knowledge. Like the rest of my pursuits, it started with an idea followed by one action after another. I’m sure I have made some mistakes. So be it. Completion is my preference over perfection.
Commitment is a powerful force. The hardest part is starting and getting past the fear. I wrote this poem about it.
My only big regret in life is that I didn’t take the time to document my experiences more. I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was 16, which is admiral, but I wish I had expanded my entries to snippets of sensory experience and fascinations other than just emotional spew. But, in my defense, I was a teenager and I avoided language arts classes finding them tedious.
Looking back even recording one thing that made my day would have been such a precious collection to look back on. No one told me then that those little vignettes from my life in Alaska, raising my son, and those hilarious “kids say the darndest things” moments teaching 6th-grade science would be so longed for. Of course, I have hundreds of photos but without some words as accompaniment, they are incomplete memories. I was always too busy, thinking I would remember everything. Then “poof” those clear memories vanish like steam. The same goes with some solution to a nagging problem or those creative inspirations I get as I drift off to sleep.
I enjoy working with clay bodies other than white (see my post The Color of Clay). In my work, mostly sculptural, glaze functions as an embellishment rather than the main attraction. This comes from my aesthetic and my dislike of the glazing process! I find the contrast between the glazed and the unglazed piece quite interesting, especially with a toasty or reddish clay. Two years ago I started working with this black (actually a deep chocolate brown toned) clay body.
Clay gets its color from certain minerals and pigments. Iron oxide is what makes terra cotta clay red. In the case of black clay, the color is from burnt umber. It is a pigment in short supply these days so a bag of clay will cost you a few dollars more. Any highly-pigmented clay is messy to work with and this is like working with black mud. Wearing a good apron is key. Regardless, the end result of this clay is worth it.
Two years ago I started a daily doodle practice after challenging myself to do something artful every day. I’ve written about this before on this blog but I thought it worthy to bring around again being the New Year .
I decided about the only thing I could successfully commit to doodle in the 2” square of my day planner since it wasn’t being utilized for anything else. The ground rules I made- use pen, no erasing, no self-criticism, go back over it later and add to it if you want. Be spontaneous and just see what comes up. Often I only see the merits of an entry until I let it sit for a day or weeks later. Sometimes I take the previous day’s idea and make a different version of it.
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”