Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Minding My Muse 10: When Is It Done & How Do You Know?

Do you keep a journal? Do you go back and read prior entries? I'm finding this visit with past journal responses to Priscilla Long's writing prompts in Minding the Muse insightful. I've found my way back to writing over the past year, but writing in a slower, more deliberate manner. 

Journal Entry: September 19, 2016
“Are you good at bringing works to completion? Might this area of your art practice be improved?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 67)

I am all about the finished project – excessively. I need to slow down and focus on the process, learn to play with creativity, dibble-dabble as Priscilla calls it. At the same time I need to work daily (on a project). These morning pages are good, but I am not working on anything. Not a novel. Not a blog piece. I’m dibble-dabbling with my thoughts alone.

For the next little while, once I get my computer back, I’ll do morning pages and edit/read Moving Mom. Once finished, I will re-enter the Mexico years and see where they take me.

Do you rely on others to inform you as to whether or not a work is finished? Are there ways you could become more self-reliant in this matter even as you also consider feedback?(Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 67)

Do I rely on others too much to inform me a work is finished? I certainly was. Maybe not so much for the books, but certainly for the blog posts. I showed a friend everything before posting there for a while. I don’t do that now. I’m also not doing weekly posts. I should try to do that again. What’s stopping me?

“Do you have an adequate arts community, whether it consists of one or two buddies or more? Are your art buddies, comrades, or critique group members erudite enough to stimulate your own creative growth?  Do you make yourself a valuable member of this community? Do you pay attention to the work of others and from time to time make yourself useful to their creative process? (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 75)

An adequate arts community? I suppose I’ve turned my back on it lately. I take more than I give. Louisa’s I attend rarely. The Uptown means more to me and I need to return and be active and supportive. We are not all on the same page, so to speak, but they are all solid writers and good people. Maybe in part I feel intimidated. They are good writers. I have my insecurities, but I will return to the table this weekend and dedicate myself anew both to my writing and to my community. Of course, the biggest thing is that I need to be writing – on projects – on a daily basis and therefore be prepared for timed writing practices.

Do you attend readings and openings? Do you write an occasional note of appreciation to an artist whose work is meaningful to you? Consider doing so.(Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 75)

Not nearly enough or as much as I’d like. I will attend C&P monthly as well as B&N West Seattle, starting October. They’re local and I should be able to make that much of a commitment. I also want to go to Elliott Bay on a regular basis – maybe Friday nights – or U Bookstore. But getting to know both better would be good. 

Prior posts in this series:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Minding My Muse 09: Space & Time

How do you use your space and time to nurture your creativity? Here I share my notebook scribbles on that topic from eight months ago. How would you respond to Priscilla Long's prompts?

Monday September 19, 2016
Last night I finished Priscilla Long’s Minding the Muse. Though I have not yet completed my own musings on her “Questions to Contemplate as You Continue Your Practice,” I am certain to do so. It’s a book that reminds me I am a writer despite my distance from new work, a book full of reminders and suggestions to new and experienced writers and other artists whose practice has, for one reason or another, gone sideways. Long encourages readers to think and write deeply about their practice and ways to improve it.

“How well does your workspace serve the creative work that you do?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)
I could not function at this desk. Could you?
I love to write, type, read, edit at our large dining room table, at times alone, other times with my writing partner at my side. I love the openness of the space, the living room to the right, windows to left, front, right. I love the wide view of front yard before me, leafy green trees, red table umbrella, jasmine-laden picket fence, street and neighboring houses almost hidden behind our green curtain. Even in gray rain, even in leafless winter, still I love to work at this table.
But is this my “workspace”? If asked, I’d identify the small office at the back of the house as my workspace, the room that holds my desk and files, my laptop, notebooks, notes, pencils, pens, tape dispenser, stapler. My drawing pad, still unused, and watercolor pencils, the box still wrapped in cellophane, taunting me, challenging me, to try, just try to draw what I see from this dining room table – trunks and canopies, umbrella and table, fence and jasmine, lights strung overhead.

Still, on workdays, on what should, could be every day, my desk in my office serves me well to drink my coffee and scribble my morning pages and wake to each new day in private, no interruption, door closed, if necessary.

So I have two workspaces in this small house, and I have Louisa’s and the Uptown and Pam’s house, and C&P Coffee Company, and West Seattle Uptown, and the Italian deli/restaurant. So many places to plant myself with pad and pen.

“How do you sequester time to do your own work, particularly during the busiest times when other demands impinge?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)

This is my greatest challenge. Is it lack of dedication? When I am teaching I claim to have insufficient time and struggle to force myself out of bed thirty minutes earlier for morning pages or a timed write. But then the three-day weekend rolls around (no Friday classes) and I do not stick to the routine. I sleep in, I dawdle, do chores, look at email, FB, before morning pages. And so it goes all summer long. Without the imposed structure of a teaching schedule, I seem to lose all routine.

I suppose I can see and address this in various ways. I can force myself to adhere to a strict work schedule whether working or not. Or, I could create and adhere to a list of daily must-dos and not worry about when or how they are accomplished, as long as they are indeed done before I go to bed. The problem, as I have seen it, is that they do not always get done, and yet I still go to bed each night.

So much to consider as I prepare to return to work next week. I don’t want to return, don’t want to lose this freedom of summer, of time to use as I please. Yet I have no choice. Fall quarter begins, my 30th fall quarter, and a salary must be earned. And honestly, it isn’t so bad, not once I’m there, settled into the routine once again.

“If you teach, how can you better shape your teaching so it serves your own creative work as well as that of your students?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)

I return to the classroom a week from tomorrow, to the campus the day after tomorrow. I do not teach students with language skills advanced enough to do much writing at all, but I do require in-class journaling. I could, should provide a topic or an optional topic when we write in class, and I must write and share as well. I should not use this time for attendance, grading or anything else.

“Consider the painter Joan MirĂ³’s phrase ‘vocabulary of forms.’ A vocabulary consists of separate elements that can be put together in various ways to make a whole …  How could the idea of a ‘vocabulary of forms’ be useful to you as you go forward?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)

Separate elements: journal, entries, letters, photographs, music, memories. These elements are the vocabulary of forms I can use, will use, to create The Ex-Mexican Wives Club. I will stop worrying about what I do and don’t remember and instead write from these forms or elements to piece together a story.

Prior posts in this series:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Guest Post: Sheri Nugent

At the close of my most recent post in the Minding My Muse series, a reader named Sheri Nugent posted a lovely comment, including a wonderful book recommendation: Drawing on the Artist Within by Betty Edwards. I bought the book and invited Sheri to write a guest blog post. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading the story of her creative journey and taking a peek into her artist's notebook as much as I have.

 Finding My Inner Artist 
by Sheri Nugent

At age 62, I am finally becoming the artist I have tried to be for most of my life. Over the years I have experimented with many types of art – painting, drawing, pastels, pencil, pen and ink. An  endless exploration of art supply stores. Nothing ever satisfied. I felt that I had two problems: no talent and nothing interesting to say. So I gave up.

And then, four months ago, I discovered that those weren’t my problems after all. A friend wrote about drawing mandalas as a form of meditation on her blog. I took the online class that she referred to for no other purpose than to relax. It was Inauguration Day and I needed something to do with my hands while obsessively watching cable news. I learned that drawing mandalas has been a meditative practice in many cultures over thousands of years. It does not require any particular talent for drawing. The technique is formulaic – and once you learn the basics, you simply start in the center and make it up as you go. A more disciplined form of doodling, really. 

I found it to be astonishingly calming. My first mandala took me about four hours to finish. During those four hours I felt like I was in a cozy, creative bubble where time and external noises just stopped. I posted Mandala #1 on Facebook with a brief story – an encouragement to my friends to try it as a means of relaxing.
(Mandala #1) In order to calm myself as I watch and listen to the escalating madness we are experiencing, I am trying something new rather than shredding my cuticles. I made this tonight. It's a mandala, and it's meant to be soothing and meditative. It was a lovely 3 hours with MSNBC in the background. I feel significantly better, calmer. This works for me.
The reason this technique worked for me was that it demanded that my inner critic just shut up for once. The point of drawing the mandala was not the product – it was the process. It didn’t matter if it was good or not. The only reason to do it was the process of creating and relaxing in the moment without fixating about the outcome. And to prove that to myself, to reinforce that intention, I posted the mandalas on Facebook. 

By the time I finished Mandala #8, I began to notice that I usually liked the finished product. With practice, I was improving. And that was encouraging. The process of doing each mandala opened up my creative eye more and more. Because I took judgment out of the equation, I learned how to work around “mistakes” and transform them into “design opportunities.” The more I didn’t allow the critic to stop me from finishing a piece, the braver I got to try new things. If the outcome doesn’t matter, why not keep going?
(Mandala #8)  Snow Day in Seattle
On my tenth mandala, I had a new idea. I added a drawing of a tree inside the structure of the mandala circle. It took much longer to draw but I just followed the idea to wherever it took me. It’s not a perfectly drawn tree. Before this experiment in mandalas, if I would have set out to draw a tree, I would’ve decided long before it was finished that it was not good, thrown it out, and quit drawing.
(Mandala #10)  I had an idea - what if the knot in a tree was the center circle in a mandala? That idea grew into this. Mandalas literally do grow. Starting in the center and growing into whatever it decides to be. Every time - and especially true on this one - from about 20% in the process through maybe 60%, I am quite certain that I've ruined it. Nevertheless, I persist, and the end result is always indeed worth finishing. Not ruined after all. This is such a rewarding art form. And a great life practice of not giving up. I encourage everyone to give it a try.
By Mandala #18, I was fully committed to incorporating drawn objects in the mandalas. The early pattern mandalas were great for starting out. I needed structure and techniques to guide me. But as I followed the muse, mandala after mandala, I felt like I was creating something new. They were much more personal pieces – pictures and stories that meant something to me. This was no longer a traditional mandala. Maybe it’s not even a mandala anymore. It doesn’t matter. My art. My rules.
(Mandala #18)  Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
I continued to share them on Facebook because my friends were so generous with their comments and the pieces seemed to be enjoyed. In my mind, in the face of so much tension in the world, I was putting something positive out there. Good or bad – it’s my creative expression of positivity and that’s all that mattered.

Along the way, I learned a lot about which tools I’m most comfortable with. I’ve experimented with types of paper, markers, pens – learning what works and what doesn’t give me the look I am going for. Nothing wasted, nothing ruined. All part of the learning process. I also learned that the circle structure is the foundation for me. I’ve noticed that I naturally gravitate toward circles so it makes sense that I was drawn to this art form. It now takes me about 16 hours to finish a piece – which is nice. I’m learning patience and attention to detail.

Four months later, I am working on Mandala #45. Now, I have settled on a structure that works for me – I draw my personal pictures in the form of a mandala and write a paragraph or two to accompany it as a complete piece.

Sometimes I draw a story – an idea that I’ve seen and want to interpret. Sometimes I draw a memory. I get ideas from friends, from something I’ve read, or something I’ve seen on a walk.
The transformation I’ve experienced personally is far beyond learning to “draw better.” By unlocking that creativity that I think is inside all of us, I notice my surroundings more. I’m more observant, more present (as opposed to lost in my own head), more confident, more willing to risk failing and try anyway – and, yes – much more relaxed. I am excited to see where I’ll be after the 10,000 hours of practice it takes to achieve so-called mastery. I’ve done the math – it will take me 6.86 years.
(Mandala #43)  A couple of times per year I get very lucky. A swarm of bees move onto one of my trees. It happens incredibly fast - nothing happening at all and then like a flash - a huge swarm of bees about the size of a basketball in my tree. I was terrified the first time it happened, but I've learned to appreciate them, to love them. They are completely harmless and are just passing through for a couple of days while the scouts search for their next home. I watch them closely. I'm fascinated by them. Then they are gone. Every year I watch carefully so I can see how they depart. I miss it every time. For some reason, bees make me feel hopeful. Nature doing its job. What is more beautiful than that?

I’ve learned that self-imposed barriers – like believing I have no talent and nothing interesting to say – are just nonsense. We all have talent and we all have something interesting to say. I wish all of my friends and loved ones would share whatever their creativity is with me. I certainly love sharing mine with them. We are all artists, aren’t we?