Tag Archives: Creativity

THE SOUND OF STONE

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The man stands pondering
His next move

Turning the dull clunker
Over and over in his hands

Feeling for the bone of it
The marrow at its core

Over and over in his hands
He turns the stone

Listening for the dry chalky sound
Of rough against rough

He holds an eon of coiled energy
Latent In his hands, over and over

His feet draw up
The potent heat of the day from the rocks

Words form in his mouth—
Manipulation, transformation, reverence

Small pebbles of evidence
Are sculpted by his hands, over and over.
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Recently I had the privilege of watching Scott Woolsey, an artist who lives in New York’s Catskill region,  build a stone cairn on the banks of the Neversink River.

BIRTH OF A POET

IMG_0032It struck like a Nor’easter
Barreling up the Atlantic coast,
Thriving on converging air masses.
And I was sucked in,
Bowled over by a freak wave,
Spitting mouthfuls of salty words,
Birthed out of me
As though a pair of rope-worn hands
Shoved them onto the page.

This virgin birth
Left me laughing with astonishment.
But on reflection
The seeds were buried deep and dormant,
The labor pangs, years in the having.
It was time
For those ripe, slippery phrases
To gush out of me.

Now I gaze at that mewling creature
Let loose on the world,
Cradle it to my chest,
Relish its earthy scent,
Scared of its vulnerability,
And take ownership:
The proud mother.

GREETING THE SUN

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The first kiss of warmth on my face
Like a returning lover,
Sends a glow deep into my core
Grounding me.
I stand, eyes closed,
Paying homage,
Participating
In the oldest human ritual:
Greeting the sun.
Her ultraviolet energy
Travels through space
Seeps into my skin, my blood
My liver, my kidneys
My bones.
Sparking the parts of my brain
That hold primordial messages—
Wake up!
Seek food, share, mate,
Laugh, take joy, create.

No wonder I bask in her glory
She balances my world,
Propels me forward
To greet the day.

THE ROLE OF MEMORY IN STORYTELLING

melissa with poppy - Version 2My youngest son just turned seven. Watching him play with his birthday Lego, it dawned on me that he has reached my memory lifetime, that is, the age from which I have distinct memories. It was also the age I vividly remember writing my first story.

It was about a little girl who wished for a pair of red shoes. She pestered her mother until her wish came true. Against all her mother’s warnings, she wore the red shoes to go exploring. One shoe got stuck in a muddy puddle and was lost. Slowly, the shoe disintegrated, becoming part of the soil, where it nurtured a lush patch of grass . Along came a cow that ate the grass, and was subsequently killed and her hide turned into a pair of red leather shoes. Strange story for a seven-year-old, but with a satisfyingly circular pattern, and, most importantly, based in fact. Yes, I was the naughty child who’d lost her red shoe.

A baby learns that if you smile at your parent just so, you elicit an instant response, or if you pull the cat’s whiskers, chance are you’ll get scratched. From birth, we build a narrative to make sense of the world around us, based on our interpretation of previous experience.

For a writer, consciously tapping into this memory bank is essential. Storytelling, at its heart, is a thing of memory. When I create a story, I delve into a scrap bag and pull out fragments of places I’ve been, weather I’ve experienced, and characters I’ve met. I stitch together a plot and blend it with sense memories to make it come alive—perhaps the salt and dead fish-laced air of a harbor, the heat shimmering off a city sidewalk, ripe with the scents of hotdogs and car fumes and drains, or the solo chorus of a lark rising high above a peat bog.

When my first grade son writes a story his default mode is a graphic novel: elaborately drawn settings and multiple characters with cryptic little speech bubbles. When prodded he will tell me the complicated and action packed plot. These stories are nothing like the ones I wrote at his age, mostly involving princesses and furry animals, but firmly based in recalled events.Milo Pic 1

I know that all children, given the right encouragement, will express themselves through art. As soon as my older children could hold a crayon, they spent many hours drawing—dragons, knights, princesses, superheroes. As a toddler, my seven-year-old who is more than a decade younger than his brother and sister, seemed reluctant to pick up art supplies. I didn’t push him. Then, at the age of four, the drawings started to trickle in from preschool—small, lavishly detailed scenes that required much explanation from him before I could grasp what they were about.

Observing him draw at home, I noticed an interesting thing. His drawings were “live action.” He was animating his fantasy world on the page. No wonder it had taken him a while to conceptualize how to do this. He is a 21st century storyteller.Milo Pic speak 1

Today, in our screen-centric era, kids move easily between the real world and game worlds, often, at least partially of their own making. These worlds can be so enticing that kids (and adults) feel as though you are present in that fantasy world.

I can’t help wondering what kind of storytellers this makes them? Many of their “memories” are constructed from these fantasy experiences, blended with reality. No doubt the next generation will write extraordinary works of fiction. They will create worlds that we would be hard pushed to conceive of. Storytellers of the mid 21st century will break old molds.

And yet, I believe that nothing can replace the scent of wood smoke on the air that instantly transports me to the moment of arrival at my grandmother’s house. Or the feel of slick pebbles underfoot and ice-cold water stinging my knees as I wade into a lake. Or the shame of facing my mother wearing one red shoe, and one muddy sock.muddy red shoe

Be More Zen

Photo by Wendy Idele, '93

Photo by Wendy Idele, ’93

If there’s a surface in my house
That doesn’t have a heap of things piled on it
I can’t find it.
Most of the time I can turn a blind eye—
90% of the time, I don’t give a crap.
But that other 10% is a doozy.
Suddenly all my lack of caring
Is condensed into one hard hairball of bothering.
I’m so bothered, in fact, by the chaos
That I dig out clippings from the local classifieds
Of people eager to dispatch my mess.
I’m on the verge of picking up the phone
When something stops me.
I read somewhere that creative types
Need chaos to thrive.
Well that’s my excuse.
My other argument goes something like this:
When I let go of my perception of chaos
I’m being very Zen,
And let’s face it, we all need to be more Zen.

WHAT KNITTING CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT STORYTELLING

IMG_0323You’re a write eejit when you can’t control your knitting habits.

It hit me the other day like a blast from a water cannon that I’d become one of those crazy-aunt knitters. I knit things for people, unasked. I decide what they want—shape, color, pattern—and gift it to them so they feel obliged to wear it occasionally, and are terrified of tossing it in the bag for The Good Will.

“Socks, here ya go!” “Hats, I got that.” “Legwarmers—I thought of you!”

Yes, I know it became very trendy to knit a few years back, but honestly, I wasn’t riding that wave. I’d done it in a halfhearted, multiple unfinished projects at the back of the cupboard, way since I was a kid. I blame television, or rather, bad television. You need a distraction on hand—hence the knitting.

The success of my knitting hinges largely on how good what I’m watching is. I can rate a show, by how many rows I rip out the next day: the better the show, the more mistakes I make.

Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, all six-month sweater projects, for sure.

What do these programs have in common? Great storytelling, gripping scenes, emotional involvement. They suck you in. And sigh, yes, the writers of these shows are such experts in their craft that before you know it, you’ve knitted three armholes, or two left sides. I can always tell how good a season of Game of Thrones is if I’m still knitting a winter sweater in May.

Instead of torturing nearest and dearest with my knitted offerings, I should be sitting on the couch with a pen and paper, taking copious notes on story arc, character development, tension building. And I swear I will, just as soon as I’ve finished this tea cozy hat.

Mud Season

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You’re a write eejit when you love to play in the mud.

It’s that time of year where I live. A few days of rain and sleet have melted the foot or so of hardened snow and ice and turned the top layer into a gelatinous, brown mess. I didn’t get out early enough for my run through the woods and the icy ridges that I can usually balance on had turned into a mushy quagmire. I came home up to my uxters in mud.

There’s always a stage in a project where it turns to mud. Each direction you look you’re wallowing in muck. How did you get here, and more to the point, how are you going to get out?

It’s all a matter of perspective, folks. Once upon a wet, misty day in Ireland—yes, that could be any day, but this one was particularly memorable—I was six and my eldest sister, eight, and our parents took us for a hike up a mountain in Connemara. (In Ireland you don’t sit around waiting for the rain to stop, otherwise you’d never go anywhere or do anything.) So there we were, the four of us, being pummeled by gale force winds on the top of a craggy peak, the car was a tiny speck far below us with acres of steep, godforsaken bog and sheep tracks between us and the chocolate bar I’d left stashed under my seat. My short legs were already aching, and my Welly boots full of sludge from falling in one too many bog holes. What’s a girl to do? As we slipped and slid our way back down the mountain, rapidly becoming more and more covered in mud and soaked to the skin, my mother gave up trying to keep us upright. “All right, girls, go for it!” That was all the encouragement we needed. My sister and I rolled down the rest of that mountain, bumping through tussocks of bog cotton and cushiony pillows of heather. By the time we reached the car we were beyond saturation point. My mother stripped us off and wrapped us in scratchy wool blankets, and we sat grinning all the way home, munching chocolate.

You see, sometimes you just have to embrace the chaos, not wallow in it. As the gardener and the potter and the writer knows, if you’ve got mud, you’ve got substance. It’s ripe for growing. But first you’ve got to play a little. Revel in the chaos, and then slowly, slowly, let it take shape.

The Ramblings of a Write Eejit

I’m a write eejit . . . if I think I stand a chance of competing with all the brilliant people out there blogging about how bloody brilliant they are.

So, here’s what I’m proposing: I sneak in the back way. Instead of wit, Pulitzer prize-winning writing skills, and amazing connections in the blogosphere, I’ll use good old self-deprecating humor. The Irish are brilliant at poking fun at themselves; they raise it to a fine art, think of Samuel Beckett or Graham Norton.

By definition, self-deprecating means I’m going to have to talk about myself—a lot! Who else’s head can I crawl inside and poke around in, lifting flaps of skin here, squinting down bundles of neurons there, looking for a snugget (even smaller than a nugget) of enlightenment?

And on the subject of enlightenment—be honest, folks, who isn’t looking for the answer to that Big Question, Why Are We Here? I mean there’s got to be a reason that gobs of oxygen and hydrogen and nitrogen and (okay, I didn’t get chemistry, but I was very good at biology) all came together in such perfect harmony (think Coca-Cola Christmas ad) and allowed us mortals to flower into existence. Or why a particular batch of DNA soup produced me. So, I hear you ask, what is that reason?

To think our way out of the box, of course. If you don’t know that yer a right eejit.

Let’s face it, thinking outside the box is the only way forward. Early man could have made a mental note to avoid that stretch of river bank where the ooze sucked you in up to your knees, but instead he scooped up a handful and squeezed it between his fingers, feeling its smooth elasticity and bingo, he got a crazy idea . . . he could shape this goopy stuff into a pair of cupped hands and the dense clay would hold things, like water, grain, and berries. Actually, truth be told, it was far more likely early woman was sitting on the river bank trying to snag a few minutes peace and quiet while the kids were happily making mud pies when she had her eureka moment.

Either way, it—creativity—happened, and civilization took a step forward.

I firmly believe we all have that deep-rooted creativity in our genes. Of course it manifests itself in myriad ways in say, the tech world, the business world, or art world. But it’s the driving force behind progress. The reason we’re here is to get creative. What are you waiting for . . . off you go now and get busy with the glue gun, or the pen, or the spade, or the drum machine.

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