Remember how I said I can’t stand formats? This was a fun one that allowed me to create beyond my technical expertise.
Minnesota Originals generally is a great show, but I really enjoyed this segment about Dan Wilson and his songwriting modus operandi. Non-Minnesotans might remember him as the lead in the band Semisonic. He now also works as a songwriter for other artists, but he also is releasing a new album of his own.
As a journalist, I think of the writing process as fairly linear. I get my information, I crunch it in my head, I make an outline, I write it down. Not so for Wilson. He comes up with a riff, adds a few lines of lyrics and then delves into his notebooks for themes and lines that go with it, all the while imagining the music that will make it powerful and beautiful. It’s a fascinating, organic process that I’m sure I can learn from. Check it out.
You know how it is when you lose touch with a friend? You forget to call back, you think about them at all inopportune times, you think, oh, I’ve GOT to call. You call yourself a baaaad friend, because you are.
So, right now, that’s how I feel about my blog. I’ve had so many good ideas and have learned so much about creativity since the last time I published something, but I don’t know where to start!
So, for this first step, I’m just calling. Hello? How are you. I’ve been godawful busy. So sorry. Let’s talk soon.
One evening last week, my husband had to drop our youngest son at my office to spend the last hour of my day with me there. Of course, I still had work to complete, so I took Isaac and my laptop off to a secluded corner of the newsroom. I had books and paper for him to play with, and he was happily engaged for several minutes as I worked.
Then, “Where’s the fountain, Mom? I’m thirsty.” There was no fountain nearby.
“Can you wait?” I asked.
His face lit up.
Sure enough, he used an origami fold to fashion a piece of newspaper into a cup, and filled it at the sink. He slaked his thirst, but noticed that his cup didn’t stand up to the water. Over the next 30 minutes, he experimented with newsprint, glossy ads, office paper, double attached layers, double detatched layers, to find the best solution.
I loved watching his brain work. Not only was he creating the better water cup, he was happily killing time other kids might have spent whining. What a great, creative kid!
It’s my favorite part of the gardening season, the creative time, when the soil is laid bare, waiting to be made beautiful. No weeding. Somewhere, about 13 miles southeast of here, our hostas and ferns are unfurling, the urn on the front steps is awaiting pansies or impatiens, the rosebush is just beginning to bud. The columbine buds are beginning to bloom. The new owners aren’t gardeners, although they said they’d like to be. Three dogs. We’d better just let it go.
But this is a new house for my folks, and the previous owner’s idea of landscaping had mostly to do with concrete and landscaping rock. Jeff and my dad have spent two weekends pulling out rock and amending the soil. Yes, the hard work.
Yesterday, Mom and I went to Lowe’s, just to look. The next thing, there were three hibiscus trees in my cart. Oh, where did the cart come from? Then some thyme, some dusty miller … you get the idea. Dad likes to have some say, too, and we did fret (a little) about his reaction when we came home with a car full of bedding plants. Still, we kept finding more, some ornamental grasses, lambs’ ears, daylilies. Mom and I have joked in the past that we are like kerosene for each others’ crazy ideas, and this time, it was my turn. We laughed at our own jokes, and found our own rationalizations. Yes, Dad loves dianthus, you know. Foosh. Yes, those pincushion flowers are lovely, too. Foosh. Yes, those purple coral bells will be so pretty against the yellow of the house. Foosh.
It was like Christmas. We came home and laid out the plants in the freshly turned and amended soil. Dad wasn’t annoyed, after all. And today, when I came home from work, they were planted and watered. It’s not my garden, but it’s going to be beautiful.
I had forgotten about this one attempt at creativity in chaos.
Haiku for moving
Rooms cleared, cleaned, painted.
Projects done. House beautiful.
In time to let go.
As much as I truly believe that menial tasks like vacuuming and washing dishes do sap my creative juju, there’s been something incredibly rewarding in bringing this old house to its apex. When we moved in, the place was a mess. It had been unloved for so many years, and we came in and devoted blood, sweat and tears. All three, literally. We’ve imagined it together, worked together on much of it, though Jeff has done so much of the hard, skilled work on his own.
Still, it took stripping out the junk, simplifying our daily lives to make the place look and feel really incredible. Jeff finished off projects that have been in process for years. We painted (even the boys’ muraled bedrooms), polished, cleaned and cleared out. And the result is a clearer vision of the good work we’ve done over the years. There’s not a surface in this house we haven’t changed, usually back to its turn-of-the-century origins. And it does feel like a creative process, in the end. It’s been wonderful to hear the kind things people have said, and even better that it sold quickly to a young couple who appreciate this place as much as we do.
And finally, I’ve done something Jeff has been encouraging me to do for years. Nine of my best photographs now are hanging, on display in our home. I love it.
It has been wonderful, living in in a clean, pretty house the past few weeks. There’s a lesson there, about simplifying, I’m sure.
I’ve discovered so much of myself in this house. I’ve found time and space for creativity and exploration. I hope the same for its new owners.
I climbed a mountain
to look at a lake
that was clothed in fog.
But I saw the forest
and the trees:
Bare branches crystallized
in frozen mist;
Winterberry trees dressed
for a cocktail party;
Dead trunks polka-dotted
with green splotches of moss;
A snowy trail, a shadow
wending between birches
and pine and stone;
by hungry woodpeckers.
Snow crunched under
I shed hat and gloves;
my scarf became a
scarlet voyageur’s sash.
Near the summit I beheld
the glint of sky on water
I ran to the summit
as the sky opened up to show
A lake running into heavens
amid islands of stone and cloud.
came out to watch
as the lake disrobed.
You know, before I size my hand-made britches too large, I think it’s important to divulge that a creative life isn’t all about completed to-do lists and perfectly executed works of practical art. I wonder who else has baskets of half-finished projects that get put away long before the tree hits the curb.
I love Martha Stewart and all the creative gurus like her. But I wish they’d show more behind the scenes, about the projects that go terribly wrong, or that ended up to be totally not worth the trouble.
Christmastime is the best of times and the worst of times when it comes to creativity. There are so many opportunities to think about beautiful, personalized, hand-made gifts, greetings, decorations and treats. Never does the world glitter with possibility as it does in the last dark month of the year. But we’re running like crazy people, trying to fit in shopping, cooking, cherished time with friends and family.
This year, as always, I had grand plans: Hand-made cards. Personalized gifts for my brother and his family. Cookies. A home sparkling with greens, lights and colors. Well, some of those goals came to pass. Others didn’t.
The card template didn’t work on my printer. I bought the wrong pattern for my brother’s family’s gifts. I burned half my cookies trying to do laundry and bake simultaneously. The house barely was cleaned, much less decorated.
But I ordered copies of my best photograph as a greeting card, and made the rest into an online slideshow.
I took an evening to slow down and make cookies again; this time, Isaac helped with mixing and cutting. My brother’s family’s gifts still are a pile of uncut fabric and tissue paper, but they’ve been understanding. (Thanks, guys.)
Sometimes it’s been an exercise in frustration. But I think there’s a lesson there, if I can learn it, to slow down, simplify, celebrate success, play together and ask for understanding when things don’t go the way you’d planned. And the understanding needs to come from within, as well.
For the new year, I think I need to look at creativity the same way people ask us to look at charity. It should be all year round, not concentrated in the glitter of the holidays. And in order to be successful, I need to ask less of myself and cherish more appreciation for not just the completed projects but the process, too.
No. 1 on my list for 2010: My brother’s Christmas gift for 2009.
It’s coming, before Valentine’s Day!
Mess. That’s the biggest barrier to creativity.
Today I had several “free” hours, thanks to a late meeting. My midnight musings about my use of the precious time at home were interrupted several times by visions of piled laundry, of dusty carpets, sticky floors and cluttered countertops. And I can flip the problem and note that my creative time often is cut short by the need to stop early and clean up my own fabric, paper and yarn scraps from shared family space, like the dining room table.
This isn’t an unusual conundrum, I know. Creative people aren’t exactly known for their attention to housekeeping details.
But although my heart was in my Christmas cards and my holiday sewing projects, I felt blessed with that the time in an empty house. Even thought I wasn’t focused on the projects I wanted to tackle, I was focused on important jobs. Mopping the kitchen floor was neither fun nor fulfilling, but I knew it was important. I wondered if I could make it more creative through some combination of music and meditation, but I was not able to find an answer … yet.
I never did get to my creative projects today. But my family arrived home to a nicer, better-organized house. Is that enough? No. But it’s not bad, for today.
In the meantime, I want to think hard about ways to make my priorities more creative, and make creativity a priority.