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 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.”
What is the metric of decision-making in our lives? What bearing do we follow? How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk? Navigating one’s life is tricky business.
Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of ShouldandMust, Find & Follow Your Passion.” I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do. This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)
I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding. It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.
Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades. Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way. I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books. It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.
Check it out!
At the Crossroads
having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should
Three weeks ago I finished a three piece commission that I labored over for over 2 months. They are three 12 X12 acrylic paintings of the two dogs and one cat of my late Father’s wife, my dear “Ma Penny.” I was pleased with them and so was she.
Completion is a good thing. You’ve put in the time and effort and then you find yourself done! After the initial feeling of euphoria and accomplishment, however, there you are. What now? It can all be a bit disorienting. There is a favorite John Lennon saying I have “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” What next? Where was I with my own personal trajectory?
Luckily I’ve been in this spot all too many times before. Here is my recipe when you wind up in a “grey zone.”
Don’t panic. Be still.
Write in your journal
Do some cleaning/tidying in the studio.
Look for inspiration from the work of others. Pinterest is my favorite source of visual inspiration.
Do some warm-up exercises- no expectations. Scribble, splash, write lists of words that fascinate. Dedicate them to the gallery of the recycle bin or the collage box.
Eventually, the creative fairies take the bait. Like seagulls when you throw a piece of food to one, another will come until you have a flock of them around you.
I finally came up with the following work (after cleaning out my paper files & filling up my garbage can full of warm-ups…….)
The studio is cleaned and I am occupying myself with small tasks
that have gone by the wayside in favor of loftier goals. That would include painting my hallway, mending, making greeting cards, and doing a bit of experimentation with using my slab roller (for clay) as a printing press.
Taking stock of my situation, I am in a creative “eddy.” As a kayaker, I find that the sport and rivers offer so many metaphors for life. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, eddy, it is “ a circular movement of water, counter to the main current, causing a small whirlpool”. You find these on the back side of rocks or behind a point that extends out into a river. Sometimes you get sucked into them inadvertently, and other times you purposely “eddy-out” to get out of the flow of the river to rest and regroup Continue reading “Perspective From a Creative Eddy”→