The Virginia State Literacy Association Conference 2021, “Illuminating the Path to Literacy.” I found the Zoom link. Click. Author-Illustrator Jarrett Lerner was on the screen. He had a baseball cap on his head backwards. He asked, “Please type ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in the Chat if you feel you are creative.
Yes! No! Sometimes! Yes, in certain situations, but I cannot draw at all.
Jarrett said it was his goal for all of us to come away with a greater understanding of the creative process and a stronger belief that all human beings have an innate creative energy. He said that our culture has bought into a false notion that drawing is a “You can.” or “You can’t.” ability. When and where did we come to believe that? I remember my first doubt about my drawing happened in 2nd Grade. By 8th Grade, the belief “I can’t draw” was entrenched.
Today, Jarrett Lerner taught me that drawing is an act of seeing and doing. He said that what artists and illustrators do is try to simplify and deconstruct the thing they are trying to draw. They look at what is easiest, what shapes, lines, letter formations could represent the object. All attempts are kept. Then the artist takes a look. What needs changing? What could be added? This is revision and every mistake is an opportunity to learn. We can grow our visual vocabulary and try a variety of tools.
He was right. When we use even a little of our creative energy, we are happier. I’m grateful for the moments of happiness learning with Jarrett Lerner today.
Recently, I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which contains thoughts about the creative process, writers, writing, and challenges to the creative life. I never finished Eat, Pray, Love, but I really liked Big Magic.
She wrote about the importance of finding our own voices and expressing ourselves. The term “creative outlet” was used often. I got to thinking about creative outlets in my life such as playing the piano, writing, and dabbling I’ve done with painting and other arts over the years. These experiences help me in the moment to feel present and even happy. They do give me an opportunity to share something of myself.
As I thought, I decided that “creative inlets” are just as important to me. Just as inlets of water provide the right set of conditions for certain ecosystems, creative inlets provide the right set of conditions for ideas to grow, for healing to happen, and for beauty to refresh the soul.
I realized that I need to pay more attention to inlets. What am I inviting and allowing to flow inward to nourish my creative ecosystem? The world is sometimes harsh and the news brutal, but nature teaches us about seasons, ebbs and flows, and surprises us over and over with beauty. I think I need more time outside.
I’m taking a short course with Georgia Heard on poetic forms. Last night we talked about forms of poetry that are created by borrowing words from other writers. Some in the class said they felt like they were cheating by borrowing, but I found it really fun and stimulating. T.S. Eliot said, “Good writers borrow; great writers steal.” I didn’t know that he borrowed heavily from other writers when he wrote “The Wasteland.”
For my practice, I turned to one of my new favorite books, WORLD OF WONDERS, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Her writing about natural phenomena is gorgeous. I was sure I would find words to borrow there.
Here is my FOUND POEM after “Firefly” in WORLD OF WONDERS:
The first glimmer-pop of firefly light, electric dress, a small flame sputtering erratic flashes of light through the navy blue pause just moments after twilight.
Such a degree of tenderness the quiet reassurance their light rhythm recalibrates sending out their love-light signals a lime glow to the summer night air.
Tonight, I am tired. My children are all grown with children of their own, yet my mothering is not yet finished. I don’t want it to ever be finished. In the last 24 hours, I have had conversations with each of my children and my husband. I am no expert on any of the topics below, but I found it interesting when I stopped to consider the content of our conversations. It’s no wonder I’m tired.
Topics discussed in no particular order:
Zillow listings for purchase of a house. Zestimates. Is it a bad idea to finance a down payment? The Landlord called. Rent increase because of 13% HOA increase. A baby’s projectile vomiting. Kindergarten interview for admission to a private school. Summer jobs for teens. Receiving tenure as a professor. Gallbladder attack and acute cholecystitis. Recommendation of a surgeon. Pandemic weariness. Misinformation and mask controversies. Spring break with stepchildren. What’s for dinner? Medical records for taxes. A1C numbers. Anti-inflammatory diets. Gauge swatches for knitting. What’s for dinner? Again.
Today was the day to resume regular routines after my trip to visit my daughter and grandchildren. Before I retired, I often stayed up too late on Sunday evening getting my ducks in a row for Monday morning. Last night, I found myself doing the same thing. It was well after midnight before I slept. Did I really need to do that much preparation? Why do Mondays still feel like first days after so many years? I’ll figure that out another day.
Alice signed on to Zoom and we picked up where we left off. She had been struggling with rhyming, but today, she nailed it. Yes! We moved on to the other parts of the lesson. Again, she was strong! Yahooo! Then we re-read a book from 10 days ago. She read beautifully with expression.
“Alice, did you practice this book while I was gone?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t really read much. Sorry, Grandma!”
“Well, you are doing great today! Let’s pick another book!”
She beamed. We picked another, because there are always more books.
In Jon Acuff’s book FINISH: GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFT OF DONE, he addresses the many ways perfectionism and its accompanying reflection, procrastination, can influence our productivity and sense of well-being. He says that the most important day is the day after you have messed up or broken a streak in a habit you want to create.
The habit I’m working to improve is daily writing. For the last seven years, I have had 100% days of writing and posting a slice of life during the month of March. This is the first year in my eight years of the March SOLSC that I have neglected to write on a day in March. This year, I have already not written three times. I have to pause and ask, “Why did I let that day go by without writing?” Being away from home, playing with grandchildren, and evening fatigue all contributed to my not writing. But I think there was more.
Maybe I didn’t write because I let myself believe I didn’t have anything to say. Maybe I didn’t write because writing can bring up feelings that I’m too afraid to put in print. Maybe I didn’t write because I couldn’t be as clever, as interesting, or as spot on as my fellow slicers.
I used to think that I was the only one who ever felt this way. Now I know that all writers face these questions and challenges at some point in their writing process. What matters is how we respond.
I’m getting back up on the horse today. I’m giving myself the gift of Done and recognizing that no one is asking that I be perfect. No one is requiring that I write like Wallace Stegner or Robert Frost. It’s okay to put words on the page each day, even if they are not amazing words, because someone, somewhere may be needing my words today. Even if it’s only me that needs to write and read them.
Visiting Texas, I’m very aware of the difference in land and plants from my home in Virginia. We hiked today through Mother Neff State Park. I wondered who Mother Neff was and how the park got its name. Perhaps I’ll research that another time. However, since it is late, here is a six-word-memoir for today.
Maggie loves to draw, paint, and color just like many Kindergarteners do. I wanted to encourage her so I brought her a sketchbook when I came to visit. This morning, she had her sketchbook and pencil all ready for our outing to the zoo. This was totally her decision. I thought, “I wonder if she will really use it today.”
I was delighted when she stopped to draw the cougar, the monkey with the baby on its back, and the turtle swimming in the aquarium. She was serious and working hard to draw what she saw. I hope that she will not lose confidence in her drawing and will continue to work at observing and noticing.
Tonight I told her about my friend who started keeping notebooks at a young age and now has 89 notebooks. Maggie’s eyes got big. Perhaps she’s starting to identify with being someone who writes and draws in a notebook. I couldn’t be more pleased.