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Body as a poem.

Body as a Poem.

“The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its colour and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of non-conviction. It speaks through its constant tiny dance, sometimes swaying, sometimes a-jitter, sometimes trembling. It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirit, the pit at the centre, and rising hope. The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream.”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

In my 20s, my body was life-giving – literally. For most of that decade, and into my early 30s, another body depended on my body for survival. My body was the very definition of creativity and sustenance in such a way that in the decade that followed, it felt like a stranger, like returning to an empty nest. For so long, it had spoken to me in the language of housing, of nourishment, of comfort for my children.

When I turned 40 last July, I looked at every inch of my body and stopped long enough to listen. I discovered that my body had anthology of poetry waiting for me.

The body is a poem. It searches for meaning beyond the senses. It organizes itself according to emotion of the insides. It beholds the mundane as miraculous – the beating of the heart, the rhythmic breath, the birth and death of every cell.

If the body is a poem, then I am guilty of misreading it. I am guilty of assuming it was speaking a language I would never translate into understanding. Alienated at times, I did not pay attention to its regular cadence and comforting verse. I only heard fragments of a once familiar vocabulary. My conflict with it echoes that of James Baldwin’s with the English language, and in particular, his initial annoyance with Shakespeare which he describes in his book The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings:

My quarrel with the English language has been that the language reflected none of my experience. But now I began to see the matter in quite another way. If the language was not my own, it might be the fault of the language; but it might also be my fault. Perhaps the language was not my own because I had never attempted to use it, had only learned to imitate it. If this were so, then it might be made to bear the burden of my experience if I could find the stamina to challenge it, and me, to such a test.

What I began to see — especially since, as I say, I was living and speaking in French — is that it is experience which shapes a language; and it is language which controls an experience.

My experience of my body can only shape the language it speaks. If I experience it as wounded and sick, then this is the only language that I understand. If I interpret the skin as supple instead of flabby , or my breasts as resilient instead of sagging, or my graying hair as catching the light of the moon, my experience of my body changes.

If my body is a poem, it bears my signature. There is no separation between the poet and poem. The only separation comes when I begin to forget.

This reminds me also of how body and poetry both intersect with politics and science. The politics of power and sovereignty and the reductionist and mechanistic theories of science. But the body is as personal and intimate as one can get. Whether we like it or not, we are a species of language. And the primary and most primitive dialect is that of the body. If we choose to see the body as something to be owned or controlled or manipulated, through censorship and reckless disregard for its poetic capacity, seen solely as a machine, we lose sight of what it means to be human.

Today’s PROMPT:

  • In what language does your body speak? Dramatic prose? Tragic soliloquy? Poetry?
  • How would seeing your body as a poem affect your experience of it? What string of words would your body write?
  • Choose a poem that your body resonates with. The two below are two of the ones I have chosen for myself.

won’t you celebrate with me

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

  • Lucille Clifton

ARS POETICA #100: I BELIEVE

Poetry, I tell my students,

is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves

(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I'”),

digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,

emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find

in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God

in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.

Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,

and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)

is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

  • Elizabeth Alexander
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MayBE: an ending and a beginning.

The Journey

It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction once one is settled. It is a gamble as all creative projects must be, for the new direction may not turn out to be productive at all. ― Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness

Although it would be nice to settle and enjoy the fruits of my creative labours in May, including establishing a daily writing practice that I have continued, I feel compelled again to “strike out in a new direction” as Oliver Sacks writes. Like my daughter in the above pic at a recent river excursion, it’s time to take another leap.

I love the word audacity. The Latin root is audacisboldness.

Bold, daring, and courageous are the words used to describe the root word.

The words “foolhardy” and “rash” come later in the etymology. I wonder who has drawn that line when being bold, daring, and courageous become a fool’s effort?

A week ago, when the month of May came to a close, my mayBE project ended.

For every journey, we often begin with a destination in mind and a map of how to get there. On the more rare occasions, we just get up and go with a rough outline of the direction where we want to head with a small backpack.

MayBE was an audacious journey there was no destination or map. All I knew is that I wanted to pay closer attention and in doing so, follow any creative impulse.

I loved using the word MayBE.

It became a mantra in our house which annoyed some members of the family.

But the best part of it all for me was the commitment I made to myself. My commitment to create every day. I was less harsh on myself this time around when I couldn’t both paint and write. I committed to the writing and was able to write every damn day which was huge for me. I loved documenting what I was doing and reflecting on how this opened up doors of possibility.

I am a lover of the unanswered and open-ended question. The dot-dot-dot…

(Even though that is a huge writing pet peeve for some.) With the biggest of bear hugs, I embraced the fantastical whims of my imagination – something that I had been chastised for in my childhood. (I made up a lot of stories.) I dove into the unknown and was content with the unsolvable mystery.

I left myself open to inspiration daily: every conversation, every unidentifiable and familiar sound from nature and from my neighbourhood; every discernible colour of the sky and sea; every snapshot of the mundane; and every snippet of everything I could read. All of these were both seeds and compost and fertilizer. Everything was a jumping off point, a start of a thought, a spark that set my wonder ablaze.

The best side effect of this project that I did to nourish my creative life was that my children bore witness and it was fodder for their own creations. I wondered out loud a lot while sitting and writing. I had many books on my table from different disciplines – poetry, botany, art, neuroscience, physics, plotless fiction, reference, picture books, nature writing.

My intention for mayBE was to start and see where it would lead, to embody the spirit of “maybe.” Where would another month of mayBE and intentional creation lead? I didn’t know. My parameters were simple yet open: a daily commitment of a single creative habit. My writing evolved through the month and so did my paintings. I started to live the questions each day which would lead to inspiration for the following day.

At the very least, my gaze was filtered through the lenses of appreciation and curiosity – often alternating throughout the day. Choosing to lean into beauty and/or optimism over and over again was uncomfortable in the beginning but over the course of the month, it became my default – How could I not see the beauty?There is beauty even in conflict and hurt and disagreeable situations. It is an opportunity to take responsibility, to reflect, and to re-evaluate our own assumptions. It is an opportunity to mend and do better.

I talked about the theme of “Balance” in one of my mayBE prompts. I talked about homeostasis. As soon as I finished May, my body screamed, “Hello! Remember me!?!” And so did the beach and the rivers. And community projects. And the kids. As if on cue, the kids initiated new projects which inspired me to write some interesting lesson blocks to support their hunger for new stories.

We spent a lot of time by the river and at the beach. (Exhale.)

Instead of writing this closing post to publish on June 1, I promptly started a new training program, worked on our #notmyplastic community project, planned a beautiful rite of passage ceremony for my daughter who turned fourteen this past week, and started a book club for two with my twenty-one year old.

The book club topic that came up last week was BODY.

(Notice my audacious caps and bold letters.)

We had one of the most honest conversations I have ever had about body image, body love/hate, body inheritance, body colour and form, and body aging. It inspired other conversations with other women that prompted a further examination into how we all see each other and how vulnerable we become when we talk about our bodies.

Over the course of the month, I will share my thoughts on the body and how we discuss this with our daughters and our son and share my own efforts to stay active and how it has changed through the years. More journal prompts, more drawings (when necessary), more unfiltered photos, and fun activity prompts to move more.

How do we see and feel our body? Can we reduce it to a machine or a vehicle carrying the true essence of ourselves? Where does it hurt? How does it hurt? Where are the visible and invisible wounds? How do we heal?

The first prompt starts tomorrow – Body as a Poem.”

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MayBE 2019: Day Thirty-One

mayBE 2019: day 31

THE MORE LOVING ONE

by W.H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

I was talking to a young person yesterday. She asked me “Why bother?

This question came on the heels of starting an astronomy block. Before I could jump into astronomy, she asked me where we get most of our oxygen from. I told her about the tiny ocean plants called phytoplankton filling our oceans. She asked if people know this. I said that maybe not everyone knows about the phytoplankton but everyone knows that plants give us oxygen. Then she asked, “So how can we still cut down our forests and pollute our ocean?”

I couldn’t give her an answer.

I could have said money, miseducation, apathy, politics. But I just shrugged because I too couldn’t understand it.

She asked me, “Why bother?” This is a dangerous question. But here I am anyway introducing astronomy. I am asking her to copy a Vincent Van Gogh quote about the stars while she is coming to terms with the fact that we are consciously killing our air supply.

She wanted to know all about the planets and now she wants to know why no one understands our interconnection with plants, the ocean, and the earth.

I tell her to copy the quote. We look at pictures of the life cycles of stars. I tell her that our world and life itself wouldn’t exist without the death of stars. She looks at me and says, “Why?” I tell her that when a star dies, all of the elements are born – including carbon, the building block of life. She sketches a supernova with pastel and asks more questions.

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Earlier today, some of my kids and I went to a magical river spot with friends. The only way to get there is swimming up the river. The kids swung from jungle vines into the river. There was a huge tree that stood on the banks, its roots hugging the sides, holding the land almost with a tender affection. They swim and explore and as the sun starts to get lower, we make our way up the river to go home. No one wants to leave and we are already planning a return visit.

And this is why we bother. This nature connection starts with a love of a best friend, a recognition of self within the surrounding land, waters, and living things. And then we share the wonder of our universe and our perfect place in it all – not too hot, not too cold, not too far, not too close, not too big, not too small.

We not only have the privilege but the responsibility to stand in amazement of existence. When we fill our space with this feeling intentionally and pass it on, we have no room for despair. We only have room to love it all with wonder and gratitude.

And after thirty-one days of maybe’s, of possibilities, of what-if’s, I have more questions and even less answers. I am inspired by the thought that my life is both the blank page and the poem. This month I have learned in embracing both the spaciousness of being and the densest singularity of potentiality – where things begin and end again and again.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • What inspired you this month?
    • Copy the poem above.
    • What did you create or imagine?
    • Make a list of possibility. (Have you imagined six things before breakfast?)
    • Draw or paint.

Creative Autobiography below.

Your Creative Autobiography 1. What is the first creative moment you remember? 2. Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it? 3. What is the best idea you’ve ever had? 4. What made it great in your mind? 5. What is the dumbest idea? 6. What made it stupid? 7. Can you connect the dots that led you to this idea? 8. What is your creative ambition? 9. What are the obstacles to this ambition? 10. What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition? 11. How do you begin your day? 12. What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat? 13. Describe your first successful creative act. 14. Describe your second successful creative act. 15. Compare them. 16. What are your attitudes toward: money, power, praise, rivals, work, play? 17. Which artists do you admire most? 18. Why are they your role models? 19. What do you and your role models have in common? 20. Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you? 21. Who is your muse? 22. Define muse. 23. When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond? 24. When faced with stupidity, hostility, intransigence, laziness, or indifference in others, how do you respond? 25. When faced with impending success or the threat of failure, how do you respond? 26. When you work, do you love the process or the result? 27. At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp? 28. What is your ideal creative activity? 29. What is your greatest fear? 30. What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous two questions happening? 31. Which of your answers would you most like to change? 32. What is your idea of mastery? 33. What is your greatest dream?

― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

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MayBE 2019: Day Thirty

MayBE 2019: May 30

We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or ‘human flourishing’.”

― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Age of Exploration.

What is the difference between an explorer and a colonizer?

This is what we look at in our class when we discuss this “Age of Exploration” that connected world zones that previously were isolated from each other.

Was there a difference between how Marco Polo and how Christopher Columbus saw the world?

We talk about this because our teens are ready to explore the world. In fact, a few in my class are getting ready for travel across the Atlantic very shortly. I teach about travel adventure historically so they can prepare themselves for their own explorations.

What does it mean to see the world, different cultures, different peoples through the lens of an explorer versus an exploiter?

What does the word “explore” mean? What attitudes and characteristics do you embody when you are an explorer?

Curiosity and learning.

Giving and sharing the experience. Not taking and controlling the experience.

We love to celebrate our differences but what about celebrating our similarities? Being human together.

Let’s talk about the colonization and be aware of its modern manifestations so that we can explore the world more responsibly. We talked about how one of the seven pillars of colonization is the “killing of a culture.” What is culture? Why is it necessary to kill it to colonize?

Culture is tied to the land, the language, and the beliefs of a community. We brainstorm to answer this question of culture and how it relates to traditions and to existing beliefs. We ask if it based on “artificial instincts” as culture is defined in one of the books we reference for our class, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

We have two guests in class who had to the discussion – Christiano, who always manages to inspire more questions, and Gloriana, one of the moms of the teens who offers insights from her own travels and observations of the world. They aren’t quick to answer but push the questions so that we all examine our existing beliefs.

For example, Christiano suggests a different perspective. Is there are mix of the explorer and colonizer? Does a colonizer have to be an explorer? What about the “backpacker”?

We didn’t come up with definitive answers but we knew that the attitude of the explorer – freedom, curiosity, quest for knowledge, learning for the sake of learning – was very different than that of the colonizer although it can easily lead to a colonizing of attitude which is motivated by greed and personal gain.

When we began homeschooling the kids ten years ago, I bought a book called the How To Be An Explorer of the World: A Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith.

Here is an excerpt:

How To Be An Explorer Of The World

  1. Always Be LOOKING (notice the ground beneath your feet.)
  2. Consider Everything Alive & Animate
  3. EVERYTHING Is Interesting. Look Closer.
  4. Alter Your Course Often.
  5. Observe For Long Durations (and short ones).
  6. Notice The Stories Going On Around You.
  7. Notice PATTERNS. Make CONNECTIONS.
  8. DOCUMENT Your Findings (field notes) In A VAriety Of Ways.
  9. Incorporate Indeterminacy.
  10. Observe Movement.
  11. Create a Personal DIALOGUE With Your Environment. Talk to it.
  12. Trace Things Back to Their ORIGINS.
  13. Use ALL of the Senses In Your Investigations.

― Keri Smith, How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum

Perhaps this is what we can do in the beginning. To have the eyes of an explorer for the places closest to us. To see the details of the familiar like cultural artifacts as if we were in a museum or an art gallery. To observe and to appreciate the life we curate; born to explore the world around us. This is the advice I give to the explorers in front of me, some who have already left home to explore and to those who are on the cusp, from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets (see below for a bigger excerpt):

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy poem below (or any portion).
    • Copy any of Keri Smith’s advice to explorers. (My daughter’s fave is #3.)
    • Draw a map of places in your home, your neighbourhood, your country, or the world, or the known universe that one day you would like to explore closer.

From Little Gidding (No. 4 of the Four Quartets) by T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always—

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Nine

MayBE 2019: Day 29

Light and Heat.

At dawn, the world rises out of darkness, slowly sense-grain by grain, as if from sleep. Life becomes visible once again. ‘When it is dark, it seems to me as if I were dying and I can’t think anymore,” Claude Monet once lamented.”More light!” Goethe begged from his deathbed. Dawn is the wellspring of more light, the origin of our first to last days as we roll in space, over 6.684 billion of us in one global petri dish, shot through with sunlight, in our cells, in our minds, in myriad of metaphors for rebirth, in all the extensions to our senses that we create to enlighten our days and navigate our nights. – Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day

Every day I sit with my coffee on my deck with my husband and my dogs.

Before I hit the ground writing, I sit and watch the light change. Most days there are sun but I also appreciate the gray. I could do this every day for the rest of my life. This ritual of light observing.

In the evening, we light candles. The last light I see is the flickering flame of our bedroom candle. I end my night with the same ritual – light observing.

Recently, I did a short chemistry block with one of my students. I begin any exploration into chemistry with fire. Why start with fire? Because it is the most active force that produces a chemical change. It has played a huge role in the history of chemistry.

For the first few lessons, we literally play with fire. We make fire, we burn things, and we also put fires out. And then we simply observe. We watch the slow burning stick and the fast burning roots of a plant. We are curious to see what happens to different types of minerals. We begin with questions: What are the elements of fire? For fire, we need a spark, material to burn, and oxygen.

Fire has two phenomena – heat and light. As Richard Feynman’s brilliant talk on fire explains: when we burn a piece of wood, we release the sun’s energy back. The light and heat of the fire originated in the sun. They return to their original states—to their beginnings – carbon dioxide and move upwards. The ash is a dead mineral that falls to the ground. We begin to make this connection between the heavens and the earth, the polarity of upward and downward.

(In later years, we look at fire more with the lens of the scientific – chemical changes expressed in the language of symbols, balancing equations because in a chemical transformation, no energy is gained or lost, simply transferred into another form. But for the early years of adolescence, we focus on the phenomena, and the intuitive and observable qualities of fire.)

We also talk about warmth. A candle has light but not much heat. The sun gives us both light and heat.. There are substances that are mineral-based that are combustible that give us a great flash of light with no heat (phosphorous which means “light-bearer”) or originate from the depths of the earth that give off heat without a bright light (sulphur which means “sun-bearer.”). What gives us warmth? Can we love the light without its warmth?

We talk and paint and sit with the questions that arise after just like the lingering smoke after a candle is extinguished.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy a quote or poem on light or heat (see below or above)
  • Draw/paint fire or light
  • When have you felt the transformative power of fire? When has it been out of control?

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God

Or many gods.

I want to know if you belong — or feel abandoned;

If you know despair

Or can see it in others.

I want to know

If you are prepared to live in the world

With its harsh need to change you;

If you can look back with firm eyes

Saying “this is where I stand.”

I want to know if you know how to melt

Into that fierce heat of living

Falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing

To live day by day

With the consequence of love

And the bitter unwanted passion

Of your sure defeat.

I have been told

In that fierce embrace

Even the gods

Speak of God.

  • David Whyte, Fire in the Earth
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Eight

MayBE 2019: Day 28

I had an inheritance from my father,

It was the moon and the sun.

And though I roam all over the world,

The spending of it’s never done.”

― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sometimes I bribe my kids in an unusual and on closer thought, maybe even in a slightly disturbing way.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

In our house, everyone washes their own dishes and all the kids take turns washing up the pots and pans.

When my dinner plate needs to be washed, I whisper to the closest kid, “Can you wash my plate? I will move you up on the Will.”

They roll their eyes, take my plate, and say, “Mom, you alwayssay that…but can you put me down for the Christmas quilt you made? My siblings would definitely fight over that.”

What will I leave behind? What will I pass down?

Sometimes it feels very tangible. I look at one daughter with curly hair and who, with back turned, looks exactly like me and who loves words like I do. Sometimes it is less tangible. Will they inherit my optimism and my sense of humour or my less favourable aspects of petulance and impatience?

Or is this a product of nurture and they are not prisoners to an inheritance they can’t refuse?

Evolution is an interesting topic in our house and in the class I teach. We talk about genetic traits that are inherited. You know, those fun physical ones like tongue rolling, a widow’s peak, and attached ear lobes.

We also talk about genetic expression in the new field of epigenetics. Can we use our thoughts and beliefs and actions to up-regulate or down-regulate certain genes? More specifically, can the lifestyle we choose completely change the biology of our body and therefore, what we pass down to our children?

Where does the power of culture come into play in adjusting our biology? We are re-adjusting the ways in which we live and interact with the earth after 10000 years of agrarian civilization. The impact on relationships, community, food choices, and resource dependence can’t be ignored. Limitations are dissolving and new and urgent questions emerge on what legacy will we currently leave for the next 100 years.

We have to begin understanding what matters to us and where we need to redefine and possibly confront long-standing concepts and structures that are perhaps obsolete and no longer serve us.

Part of my own evolution and changing beliefs are centered around success and its definition. Growing up as a child of immigrants, excellent performance in school, attending university, and getting a high-paying job were ingredients for a successful life. When I worked hard to accomplish all that, with a child in tow, and after almost losing or destroying every relationship in my life, I was at my most unhappiest.

I listened to a poignant On Being podcast Abraham Verghese and Denise Pope — How Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? In this podcast, they challenge the pervasive cultural view of success that is tied to external rewards: money, power, celebrity. They highlight a broken education system that continues to promote this lie that achieving these external rewards will make you happy and that there is one path to get there. The research is clear. For many, the focus and pressure to get the grades to get into university do not lead to a lifetime love of learning or long-term happiness.

I want my children to inherit a feeling of success that only failure can give and only through a resilience of getting back up. To be already successful having the willingness to learn and to give and to connect. I want them to inherit a love for the world and a longing, as Mary Oliver says, to live this one wild and precious life.

TODAY’S PROMPT

  • What do we want our children to inherit?
  • What do you want to leave behind? Your legacy?
  • How shall future generations inherit the earth?
  • Draw something that you inherited or hope to.
  • Copy poem below.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Seven

mayBE 2019: Day 27

Steal Like An Artist.

(I stole that from Austin Kleon.)

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”

– Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Copying. I touched on it yesterday at the end of post. This has been the one thing that my kids do everyday. They copy poetry, quotes, artwork, passages, songs, and anything else that inspires them.

Right now, my 16 year old is exploring the theme of cities based on the prompt I created on Day 14. She loves the book by Italo Calvino and has been searching for quotes and passages on cities and copying them. Her favourites are from Jane Jacobs and from Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

My son is always copying superheroes and anime faces. My daughter copies patterns to sew. My other daughter is currently copying quotes from Emerson and her latest book Well-Read Black Girl.

“You start when you’re young and you copy. You straight up copy.”

  • Shel Silverstein

I am constantly copying quotes and artwork in my daily practice. What we have found is that we start to infuse our own experience and interpretation. We start to make off-shoots which lead to original projects.

My paining for mayBE Day 23: Gifts.

This creation was inspired by this illustration by Brothers Hilts in the book Velocity of Being:

It’s like we collaborate with our mentors to create our art, our writing, our ideas. We pay homage and ALWAYS give credit that inspire us to connect dots in other ways.

Steal, copy, imitate. REPEAT.

”Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

  • Salvador Dali

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy the above quote.
  • Copy a passage from a book that makes your heart sing.
  • Copy a piece of art.

    -Copy any of my art on the blog.

(But always give credit.)

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Six

MayBE 2019: Day 26

To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying.

It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys.

Some people find this moment — the moment before creativity begins — so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.

The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.”

  • Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
My daily blank writing space.

Every day I write for at least one hour on my iPad using the Ulysses app. Lately, this is all I need to show up for myself for my mayBE project.

I have shown up here for 26 days straight but the last few days, I have only been able to show up to write and haven’t been able to do my art. In previous years, I would have been harsh with myself. I am a little kinder today. I have a clearer view and a better habit of stepping back to look at the big picture. While art has taken a back seat, other blank pages needed to be filled.

My blank pages change depending on what is in front of me. Some blank spaces are easier for me to fill than others.

I am better at facing an empty page on the computer screen to write than an empty house that I need to decorate.

My blank canvas to paint was easier to face than a blank canvas of starting over in a marriage.

Blank lesson plans are easier to fill when my children write the first sentence.

It’s not as easy to see my body as a blank space with which to re-mold and sculpt as I age.

I have had many blank slates in my life: choosing a new place, a new community, and a new country to call home. And at other times, the blank slate was invisible to everyone outside of me. It only came from aggressively stripping away old beliefs, impatient with the old coat of bull shit chipping slowly.

But no matter what the blank page looks like, I show up for it.

”A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

If I waited for my kids to grow up, to have a room of my own, to have the perfect routine, to have the art supplies all set up and organized, to be completely rested, to be happy and know what I wanted to create, I never would have fulfilled my creative callings.

I remember teaching 6-10 workshops per month and at one point, half of them were original classes that I had to create with 1-2 weeks notice. I worked with the art of story and paper at the time. I had four kids with one of them as a new baby. After the kids would go to bed, I would put the baby to sleep on the couch in the basement and spread out all of my art supplies on the floor and work until the baby woke up for the next feed.

I remember writing on this blog in the wee hours of the morning and in the middle of the night because I had to write something down.

I remember waking up at 4:30am to draw on the chalkboard hoping the kids wouldn’t wake up or I would do my Book of Hours in the car if the kids fell asleep on the way home.

But wait, you say. What about those Goldilocks Conditions that we mayBE’d about on Day Four? Yes but you have to find the balance, like the old serenity prayer, accept the things you cannot change while changing the things you can. If you have been following along for the month, what conditions absolutely need to be met and what conditions actually aren’t that necessary?

Maybe through this journey, you were able to prioritize and create conditions. But maybe not. Maybe it’s been a futile and frustrating effort. Maybe you have to lower your standard. Maybe your ideal conditions can’t happen for a few years because your kids are too young or you have to focus on one thing at a time like getting more sleep or helping your kids adjust to an emotional transition.

For me, I need my iPad and 1 hour because my creative juices have been building for 26 days. When I started the month, there were more conditions that needed to be met so I could get over the inertia.

Sometimes we need to face the blank page even if we are missing those conditions. Sometimes our sanity depends on it. Sometimes we are called to even if the rest of our life is falling apart because maybe it will be the only thing that will give us the energy to put it back together.

And if you missed some days, that’s cool because at least you show up.

Because as Picasso said,

“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Fill a blank page with words or images.

OR…

Whenever I face a particular blank space without inspiration, I copy. I copy a poem. I copy a drawing. I copy house decor. I copy a person who inspires me. It takes the pressure off and is the perfect way to begin without so much responsibility.

  • Copy one thing onto a blank page.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Five

Questions, Dinner Parties, and Conversation (again).

Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart. Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

  • Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Certain milestones creep up on me. One day I notice a child can tie their own shoes or one is ready for a job or to stay home alone.

Then we are invited to a dinner party.

I asked Chris, “The kids too?”

He nodded and shrugged. “What do you think?”

I paused for a moment because I tried to remember the last time I went to a dinner party. I had flashes of meeting new people and having interesting conversations. But I didn’t remember children at these dinner parties.

We accepted the invitation and we told the kids that we were going to a dinner party. They were a little confused.

“Mama, what’s a dinner party? I mean, we go to dinner at people’s houses sometimes but you keep saying that this is a dinner party. Why is that different? And who is going to be there?”

I said, “I don’t know. Dinner parties are normally made up of many different people. Some people you’ve never met before. This is also a Shabbat dinner.”

We explained the religious and cultural tradition and they were intrigued. They wondered if they have to dress up and if they would know which fork to use.

I laughed.

“I don’t think it’s a formal dinner party.”

They looked at me with eyes wide open.

“Wait a minute. There are different types of dinner parties? Whoa.”

Fast forward a few days.

At the dinner party, I was amazed to hear my children engage with the rest of the attendees. They speak clearly and smile and are courteous. They listened closely to our hosts explaining Shabbat. They listened to stories and different perspectives. And at the end of the meal, they took turns with other adults helping wash the dishes.

Most of all, I am grateful for the gracious and kind adults that asked my children questions and were interested in what they had to say. I am grateful for the adults who don’t mind my kids listening to our conversations and feeling also ok to speak in private if necessary also teaching my kids how to set boundaries with grace.

Sometimes I am asked how hard it is to homeschool my kids, to be with them all day. It’s a popular myth. Part of “homeschooling” is actually the opportunity to include the community in their lessons like accepting an invitation to a dinner party.

The art of conversation, in-person conversation, is the lesson at dinner parties. I don’t think people are born as natural conversationalists. I think it’s a skill that anyone can learn through practice and through watching people that are good at it. My kids love hearing real stories told by real people.

Beautiful stories of people from different backgrounds and different beliefs and different walks of life are excavated after a few minutes in a dinner party. We see each other when we listen to each other.

When we purposefully put ourselves in the place of not knowing another person and artfully getting to know them through conversation, we participate in the most basic aspect of humanity – connection.

This is what my children learn through conversation. I asked them what they learned at the dinner party. One child spent the time translating between a Spanish speaker and non-Spanish speakers and she loved it because she could fully be involved in the conversation without having to be in the conversation because it was another way to observe interactions. One child simply loved being asked an interesting question.

They are eager to learn because they have questions themselves. Questions that they have asked me at our own dinner parties at home. The dinners where the seven of us shared everything. We shared our meals, our fears, our exciting news (“We’re having another baby!”). The place where feelings were aired out and confessions heard. The table where my children learned what tension and forgiveness taste like. The conversations that always started with a question.

In this world, we are having a tougher time having conversation. We are losing the ability to listen with curiosity instead of turning away because it’s uncomfortable to be in disagreement. We are also losing the ability to speak with compassion and a lightness of being in the face of dividing issues.

So let’s start with the timeless dinner party. The first step in getting to know our neighbours. Our community. If you listen closely, you will notice we are all the same – as one of my daughters observe with small talk: “Everyone has their defaults, their safe spaces of conversation but then when someone asks an interesting question, it gets good.”

It’s how we love the question that leads us to live it.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Choose one or more…
  • Copy the Rilke quote above.
    • Draw a question.
      • Write questions that you are living with that may never be answered.
      • Have or go to a dinner party.
      • Have an interesting conversation with a child.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Four.

MayBE 2019: Day 24

On Woman.

There is no good answer to how to be a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

I was on the phone with my eldest yesterday and I had to hold back the tears. We had the most honest conversation about naming ourselves and more specifically, naming our dual natures, and all the ways the outside world and other people distract us from this work of seeing ourselves.

But how can I want my independence and feel taken care of? How can I want to stay small and safe while yearning to be big and courageous? How can I be vulnerable but never want to be hurt? How did I want this yesterday and not want this today?

I nod because I still ask these questions today.

Before self-love, before acceptance, we have to name.

I am a 40 year old woman with four daughters. I looked in the mirror in my twenties and thirties and thought, “Good God, I barely know how to be a woman myself, how am I going to prepare them for this?”

I did a lesson block on “Power” with one of my daughters when she was fifteen. We read Mary Beard’s book, Women and Power and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, The Mother of All Questions.

I also bought these books for my eldest to read when she turned nineteen.

We started the block with a lesson in anatomy on the spine and how we stand. Are our feet completely on the floor? Can we feel the ground giving us energy to stand upright? How do we carry ourselves? We looked at the angle of our hips to our knees, and due to the wider hips, I told her how we have to have a wider stance to feel more stable than men.

We talked about our voice. The subtle ways we are silenced.

There are different standards that have been established by a system that had nothing to do with what we really wanted: what a woman should look like, how she should dress, “the message” she is sending, what is appropriate behavior, how to walk in the world and when and where we can walk without “getting ourselves” into trouble.

We are all given that “extra” advice from this system that has even turned our own against us so that it also comes from our own grandmothers, mothers, and aunts. Don’t scream, don’t fight, don’t make eye contact, dress appropriately, don’t make a fuss, don’t disagree, don’t speak up.

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

Silence is a language that has been imposed upon us whether we are conscious of it or not.

Needless to say, I messed up a lot trying to project my own shame and insecurity onto my own daughters.

I will never forget the day my eldest called me out on my bull shit and told me that I had made her feel ashamed about her body for the first time in her life when I made a comment about her clothing choices. I said I was concerned for her safety (which was a lie). And she saw right through it and named the thing that I was ashamed of – that I cared what people thought of me as a mother, that her choices reflected my abilities as a mother. What if people knew I really didn’t have control? What if they all figured out that I wasn’t the woman everyone thought I was – this peaceful mama who packed perfect lunches? What if they knew I was a raging banshee half the time because I was just so tired of this bull shit to be everything to everyone? What if everyone knew we had problems and issues and tears and late-night conversations where I cursed and fucked up over and over again?

That was a huge fail for me because I knew it had nothing to do with her but my own confusion about what it means to be a woman and a sovereign woman at that.

I am not perfect. I am a hypocrite. We all are. We all have had moments when we have had to choose to speak or to stay silent and weigh the costs involved. That is the nature of being a woman today. I am not proud of the times I have chosen stability over speaking out. I am not proud of the times when I have shamed my daughters. I am not proud of the moments I rolled my eyes at other women’s struggles or belittled their progress because they weren’t moving at the patriarchal pace expected of us. I am not proud of the way I have judged other women and their choices. I am not proud of competing with and betraying women instead of collaborating and celebrating with women.

But to say that I haven’t done any of those things would mean that I can’t name myself – my whole and the pieces of it – so that I can love all of it and give permission for my own daughters to give a name to these things that we remain silent on. This is what’s going to change the course for all of us and our commitment to each other.

In Toronto and here in my little community of Costa Rica, I have been able to sit and do this work alongside some of the most courageous women who tell the truth daily. My daughters and son witness the way we communicate, the way we support each other, the way we are vulnerable enough to be honest when we disagree and still show up for one another.

Yesterday I had the most honest and amazing conversation with a group of women at our community space about something I disagreed with and they met me with compassion and held that space to listen to my concerns. Later in the afternoon, I was at the beach with another group of women because all of our kids were playing together. These are the women who I have depended on and needed and who never once hesitated to support me when I made the call.

We totally fuck up with each other too but talk it out and ask how we can do better again the next day. We are women who are also mothers telling the truth about our lives and our frailties and our missteps and all the ways we feel we come up short because we are still measuring ourselves again a standard we never created in a structure, as Mary Beard says, that is “already coded as male.”

I agree with Solnit. There really isn’t a good answer to how to be a woman. The question itself is the problem. Maybe all there that has to be done is to reclaim the name for ourselves to help our daughters do the same.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • What does it mean to be powerful? In what ways have you been silenced?
    • Draw/paint your name.
      • Copy any quote above.
      • List all the aspects of your dual nature.
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