Saturday, May 1, 2010

Creativity as inner work

I've been taking two online classes, one on creativity coaching and one on existential cognitive behavioral self-therapy. They've dovetailed nicely and gotten me thinking about creativity as inner work. Who do we paint for? write for? create for? Who do native peoples dance and drum for? Each other, of course, but is there also something deeper, something other, something greater that we do this work for.

In our culture, creative endeavors are typically seen as a way to make money or get famous or both. In fact, in many parts of our culture, if you can't make money from doing your creative work, people don't understand why you would do it, or what purpose it might serve. But if we see it as inner work, as something that feeds our soul, then a whole other element opens up.

I've been listening this afternoon to the amazing cello art of Jami Sieber, whom I saw in concert with the Aurora Chorus last winter. Some part of me is touched by this music and by much of the classical and New Age music I listen to that is different from the part of me touched by rock and roll or pop music. In some ways, music is music, notes and silences and beats, but in other ways, it has amazing effects on us that I don't really understand.

Listening to Jami play today gave me some different places to take several of the characters from the novel I'm writing and I don't know why, except that it encouraged me to see the writing as inner work. Inspiration. The muse. All good things.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Poem I wrote in class Wed night

Ode to Spam

A pâté of misbegotten messages, fake in their meatiness, though meatiness is often the subject. Sandwiched between those messages, I yearn for a bite of something less concocted, something more nutritious—an interesting, lucrative editing main course, say, or a delicious tidbit of news from a long-lost friend.

Pressed from the bits and pieces of life that some of us don’t want and some of us don’t want to want, spam clogs my filters with its promise of cheap pain relief and sweaty bedroom fun. It is always easiest to toss the unopened offerings away, quarantine the offal, as it were, but just occasionally a new client or inquiring artist has wandered onto the conveyor belt of chatter, hard-pressed to get out. And so with a stab of the electronic fork, I rescue the dissertation or the request for a coaching session.

You can filter out an address but you cannot filter out a word or a phrase, even ones as unmistakable as penis, Viagra, or my beloved in Christ.

Be a general in your pants! You’ve won! Activate your ardor hoister! Free shipping! Cheapest anywhere!

C-rations of the 21st-century Internet soldier

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Poem in your pocket day

Today is national poem in your pocket day as National Poetry Month winds down. I was at a poetry class last night, mostly being attended by public school teachers. One of the women who teaches fifth grade announced the poem-in-your-pocket idea and said one of her shyest students had approached the scariest custodian with her poem and read it to him. Several hours later, he approached the little girl and read her one too. I love that story. I love the idea of two poems connecting two people who typically wouldn't have reached out to each other.

A friend of mine, Dale, spends time each week memorizing a poem and then recites it to his mother, who's in her mid-90s, when he talks to her on the phone. She was an English teacher in her middle years and poetry is a deep bond between them.

I signed up for the poetry class (five 3-hour sessions) because I'd thoroughly enjoyed the teacher, Kim Stafford, during a workshop in January. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, I could hear that most people were taking the class for credit and looking for ways to enliven their classrooms. When it came my turn to talk, I just said I was there for the fun of it. I wrote three poems last night and it was wonderful.

Here's the poem I put in my pocket today. I first knew it as lyrics to a Judy Collins Song in the early 70s.

William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939
I will arise and go now
And go to Innisfree
And a small cabin build there
Of clay and wattles made
Nine bean rows will I have there
A hive for the honey bee
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there
For peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning
To where the cricket sings
There midnight's all a glimmer
And noon a purple glow
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now
For always night and day
I hear lake water lapping
With low sounds by the shore
While I stand on the roadway
Or on the pavements gray
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A poem from today's class with Kim Stafford

Berkeley Springs in the Winter

No map, no trail
The cold seeps into us but we go on, the talk too precious to lose, like your breast.

It takes a while to find the park in this state park, the groomed lawn around the inn belongs to a golf course, not the West Virginia wilds.

Cross-legged and leaning against the headboard
Reading from the Tibetan Book of the Dead
You tell me to hold death lightly.

Seventeen years gone by, I on my coast, you on yours.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A piece of paper

A piece of paper fell out of the book as she pulled it from the shelf. She placed the book in the paper sack she was filling at a furious pace, part of a sort-and-purge mood she was in. The grocery bag was nearly full of books to sell at Powell’s.

With a sigh, she bent down and picked up the paper, fancy cream-colored stock she recognized instantly; she knew whose handwriting would be folded inside. She paused a long moment, calling up a once familiar face: thin lips, dun-colored mustache, a small but strong chin, eyes that she’d come to know were weak. Even easier came the memories of anger, jealousy, heartsickness.

Slowly she unfolded the piece of paper and read the three lines of vaguely erotic poetry he had conjured up for her and placed beside one of the extravagant dahlia blooms from the garden his soon-to-be ex-wife had planted in the backyard of their little rental house. A house she had come to night after night that first warm summer, sleeping alone until 5 am when he would come in smelling of machine oil and sawdust, his kisses ardent, overcoming her sleepiness with his need to connect.

They never talked in the middle of the night, none of the intellectual banter that had attracted them to each other. Instead, they made love briefly or at length, depending on his level of fatigue: how many log decks he had crawled under, how much equipment he had polished. She then lay awake listening to him sleep as his night began and hers ended.

All that in a folded piece of paper.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More on bad writing

Yesterday, I finished a tedious editing project, a Master's portfolio (a series of responses to questions) on vocational counseling. That might sound dull but I've read four others from this program and some of the writing was both superb and fascinating. Not this time.

First, the writer had clearly spent little time writing it (even though it was 80 pages) and almost no time on it after throwing together a draft. Not only had the writer not edited or even proofread, but I suspect the writer hadn't even reread it. There were sentences and whole paragraphs that appeared verbatim in several locations, one of the hazards of the cut-and-paste feature of computer writing. That it can happen once is an oversight, that it happens a bunch is sloppy work.

Second, many of the sentences were not grammatical. They had the kind of run-on nature of conversation. And while that can work in speaking, it doesn't work in writing. You need a subject for every verb and a verb for every subject.

Third, many of the sentences were long and convoluted. This isn't so much a writing error as a thinking error. I got the feeling that the writer, and I use the term loosely, was just gluing together random phrases that the writer had picked up from reading and the lectures attended.

Fourth, it was superficial. Little thought had been given to the questions the writer was required to answer. There was little of the self, no reflections, and little experience in the thinking, clearly the whole point of the portfolio.

Writing is hard work. It takes more than literacy to be a writer and it takes more than education to be a writer. This client told me in the initial email that what was wanted was an exemplary portfolio and it certainly is but not the way I think the writer wanted.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book signing high

Yesterday, I did my presentation at the Hazelden Treatment Centers' Women Healing conference in Minneapolis. I was nervous. Although I read a few academic papers at university conferences years ago, there was always a small turnout (less than 30) and mostly friends and acquaintances of the four or five people on the panel. I'd been nervous then too, as the readings were competitive and academics can be terrible snobs.

This was a different kind of conference. Hazelden puts on 4 a year in different cities. The first day is for professionals who work in the recovery field and the second day is for women in recovery. There were 5 speakers yesterday, several of them very famous in the field. I was third in the line-up right after lunch.

Three hundred women. Two hundred and ninety-five strangers (I'd met 5 of them the night before). And somehow it all went off like magic. I was funny, I was inspirational. Whatever I said, and I don't emember much of it except that I think I got through all my notes, was meaningful to them.

Afterwards there was 15-minute break and I signed 50 books, all they'd purchased. It was so thrilling to be the author signing the books. I've had a few small signings before, including one at my home when my book first came out, but this seemed like the professional deal. I was quite high all the rest of the afternoon.