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…
“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.
Every now again, one of my doodles becomes the star of a greeting card- or even a zine. I’ve been making my own cards for years now and have found an amazing amount of material by mining my sketchbooks or my doodle journal. Animals, especially cats, are prime subjects but then I’ve also focused on teapots and Isosceles triangles. Anything can be copy in the right context.
Lately, a series of valentines morphed from my sketchbook. I decided to sell them to help fund the native plant garden that I just started in my yard. I took a design from my sketchbook, copied, cleaned it up, photographed it, put it into my graphics program, and then printed them four per sheet of paper. From there I cut them out and glued them onto good quality kraft paper card stock.
See them or even buy them on my Etsy site. You might be too late for next year (even though I can put a note from you inside and send them on) or be uber prepared for next year!
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.
Start with a shape, a circle perhaps? Or maybe begin with a line, straight, zigzag, or a series of turns, twists and loop de loops? Add onto what you started with maybe a pattern…Circle, line, circle, line, dots. Punctuate with a triangle- just for fun. Take those lines for a walk and see where they take you, putting off any specific destination in mind. Work with in a small area like 2”x 2.”A calendar block, the back of a business card, or a post-it note is perfect. A small space provides comfort lest you prefer journeying in a vast wilderness of white space.
Work in pen so you won’t be tempted to erase. Fill in some shapes if desired. Put letters, numbers, keyboard symbols, and words in your tool box. Keep working until you feel an end point. Then leave it. Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes. Often you will be charmed by a doodle that you didn’t like initially.
The rules are simple- no erasing, no judgment, no starting over. Let your hand go where it wants to go. This is merely a creative exploration to see what comes up. As you progress with this practice, maybe add recognizable objects. I seem to be fond of birds, teapots and tea cups. Sometime my random shapes become objects without intention. Odd cars and animals have been known to appear and I delight in building on to them.
If you are a writer you can doodle with words and letters. Start with one word and through a stream of consciousness; add more words that might relate. Feel free to put them upside down, sideways, smaller, bigger, thick or thinner than the original word.
This exercise functions in some ways like Julie Cameron’s morning pages. Allow your pen to express what it needs to express. Doodling has freed me to examine myself, my fears and my willingness to explore. It allows me to have a little fun without worrying about outcome.
I started this practice because I no longer had time to do my visual art daily due to all my writing and home improvement projects I had undertaken. Inspired by the book, If You can Doodle, You Can Paint, by Diane Culhane; I knew I had the time to do at least a daily doodle! My day planner had an unused square. First thing in the morning after I planned my day, I started doodling in that square before I got out of bed.
After several months of this, I have fallen in love with these quirky expressions to the point doodling has become a favorite art form. As with any practice it has evolved. I have developed more of a style with reoccurring themes. Some of these have wound up as part of larger art pieces, and some I am going to expand into pieces in their own right. Some have inspired stories, but the vast majority remains “creation meditations.” This detachment from outcome can lead me to places I never would have gone. As a result, I am less inhibited in my creative process. My doodles have gone wild inhabiting my journal, notes, or wherever there is a fallow piece of white space.
I doodled all through high school and university courses to help keep me focused. Remembering this, when I taught a middle school, I allowed students my doodle during lectures when they did not have to take notes. For many people like me, lines provide an anchor. Now much later in life, I have again allowed myself the pleasure.
Try it! Buy yourself some special pens. I am especially fond of the fine line pens from Jet Pens if you don’t have a local art supply store you can visit.
PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.
I don’t have anything to write about today but say, you should really see the Hawthorne tree in the driveway bursting forth into a blaze of magenta blooms and how about those pie pan size exploding pink peonies on the kitchen table that Mary brought over as a May Day treat from her garden, eye-catching saffron-colored bundles of stamens and pistils in their midst.
I don’t have anything to write about today but the blaze in the woodstove on this chilly May morning cheers me, as well as the news that Raymond saw a pair of scarlet tanagers in the trees by the west fence line! I haven’t seen tanagers in years around this place- so exciting to know they are still around. They must be migrating through. I wonder where they go? And darn, wouldn’t you know that we have a pair of ground squirrels that moved in and are making a fine Swiss cheese mess of the yard along with the huge party of voles living below ground.
I don’t have anything to write about today but wow- all of a sudden the lettuce is big enough to pick in the garden along with some kale and chard and even a few snow peas to throw in the evening’s salad and I’m so excited about the flower seeds I started that are almost ready to plant. The vegetable garden will be so colorful this summer!
Back to birds, the black-headed grosbeaks returned to the feeder and will probably stay to nest in the yard. Oops, the hummingbird feeder is empty.
Also blogging about living sustainably and making nature your friend at One Sweet Earth
It’s the growing season and my garden is being planted in stages. I marvel at the magic of seeds- how something so small can germinate to become a huge sunflower or a plant that offers juicy red tomatoes.
With the exceptions of weeds, seeds cannot manage successfully on their own in a garden. The soil must be tilled and enriched. Then once the seeds have been planted they must be nurtured with proper watering and attention lest they be eaten by some pest or choked by weeds. It’s work to bring seeds to their full potential of flower or food.
Ideas are so much like seeds. The soil of the mind must be fallow and fertile. To have a fallow mind, one must be open and ready to receive the seeds of ideas. Fertile means paying attention and being open. Ideas often come when the mind is relaxed like when you’re taking a shower, on a walk or doing something innocuous like washing the dishes. Having a head full of earbuds and social media is not conducive to collecting seeds the muse has to offer.
When they come, catch them by writing or sketching them in a notebook less they blow away into someone else’s “garden”. Then give them the attention they need to germinate.
Like seeds, not all ideas will manifest. Some are not viable. Then others are past their shelf life. Don’t be afraid to throw them out and get new ones.
I’ve had ideas like these artichoke plants that surprised me and grew into something much more than I expected. I started these plants last year from tiny seeds and now they are 6-foot record-setting monsters!
You don’t have to plant a garden. Just get a pot with healthy soil, some seeds, water them, and enjoy the magic of germination.
How we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives – Annie Dillard
Unfortunately, when we were born we did not come with an instructional manual on how to live our lives. We are all individuals with unique traits and circumstances. As we go through our days there can be a lot of trial and error. There are some principles though, that will serve all of us, especially in this crazy digital age.
As a creative type, I keep an arsenal of motivational reading nearby. The creative practice not often respected by our culture so I need all the cheerleading I can get. Thus said I was more than excited when Austin Kleon released his third book Keep Going about 10 days ago. I even preordered a copy, unusual for me. The tag line of the book is “10 ways to stay Creative in God Times and Bad.” If you’re sighing right now and saying “Too bad I’m not creative,” think again. We are all creative beings. With few exceptions, we all have opposable thumbs. That means we can make, cook, write, etc. If you have kids – that’s the ultimate creation. If the word ART trips you up, just insert the word LIFE or HUMAN.
Like Austin’s other books, Steal Like an Artist (on unlocking your creativity), and Show Your Work (on how to become known), this is a small affordable manual ($9 on Amazon). It’s an easy, read full of his entertaining graphics, photographs, and words of wisdom as well as some of his kids’ artwork. It’s divided into 10 chapters, shown below.
I have come to some of the same realizations as Kleon himself but it is so validating to see them in print. If you are in need of a reference in how to live and stay creative, or know someone that does, this is a good one. Worth a read, worth a place on your shelf!