Monday, October 17, 2011

Bye-Bye, Birdman

From the Mother's Day card Charlie made me this year.

Late last night I was drawing... just, you know, skating pencil across paper, seeing what would appear. Having a lovely time, I was, especially when I saw what shapes were emerging. I laughed. I really liked my drawing. It was funny and had a bird dude and it was different to anything I’d ever done.

“Eureka!” I said aloud. And right then I thought of my friend Charlie and knew he’d get a huge kick out of it. I would have to send him a copy when it was done.

Like me, Charlie loves birds and he draws them all the time, quirky birds with personality. For a few years I happily drove a car covered in his bird images: birds skating, birds dancing, birds snoozing, birds falling in love. 

We both really like art. Charlie is a pioneer in the art world. We hit it off the first time we met, and have walked and talked creativity ever since. We’ll take drives out into the countryside and stop by the road to draw something random that takes our fancy. He finds his own perspective, and doesn’t crowd me as I work. He gets that I don’t like someone looking over my shoulder. He understands all about being encouraging but non-effusive. He chuckles a lot. I make him chuckle. We draw together well. 

When, as a widower, he married his wonderful Ginny, he reaffirmed to me that real love and happiness can come at any age. They defined the power of long, true friendship and hope. They are a life-affirming, do-it-all couple who make you want to do it all, too.  

So Charlie and I have gone to various galleries, sharing awe and ideas and the occasional snide comment.Once he took me to the canvas-cluttered Providence studio of his landscape artist friend whose macular degeneration had made him legally blind. This man had to stand nose to vast canvas in order to see light and shade, and yet his landscapes were powerful, rich with subtle shifts in color and light. I saw there are no limits, if you have the will. 

Until Charlie first took me there, I had only vaguely heard of RISD. In his usual, slow, subtle way Charlie suggested it might be a place for me. He kept reminding me and taking me round there until I finally heard him. Over the years he's seen me become a student there and soon after, Continuing Education Faculty. He just smiled and made some wry observation as usual. I grinned. He chuckled. I knew he was proud of me. He knew he’d shown me a whole new world of possibility. Charlie knows how to handle me. I know how to jolly him round a bit. We're buddies that "get" each other.  

Unbeknownst to me, Charlie began a journey yesterday. And early this morning, right about the time I woke, my dear mentor and birdman buddy took flight. But it’s startlingly easy to believe he hovered nearby last night as I drew my quirky bird dude, making slow, subtle suggestions until I heard him, and bursting into belly laughter as I had my Eureka moment. Just as he always does. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Post in Which You Meet My Handsome Cello.

This is my cello. See how he sits there against my studio wall, surrounded by More Important Things? Watch how he admonishes me silently from his stand. Look closely, maybe you can see the dust there on his shoulders, the reproach in that lovely costume eye-patch he’s sporting. Yet each time I pass him or glance his way, a small feisty part of me is quite convinced that if I picked him up and played him, something exquisite would pour through me along the bow, into the strings and body, and spill forth singing and sonorous, resonant and ethereal. It will just spring from us almost unbidden, effortlessly, with great passion. The experience will feel transcendent.  

But it’s a complex act, playing a cello, and my playing, when I got round to it today, did not sound good.

There are many technical complexities in cello playing, and that’s before you even think about the artistry or the soul of the piece of music. I do know just how tight my bow should be, and I can tune my instrument perfectly. I can pick out an interesting melody and sometimes even hit the right note. I sound almost terrific when I am wearing big headphones and playing along to some *loud* cello music. But my small knowledge is far from enough. 

Playing the cello is something I’d really like to do well, but it’s not on my urgent list. I do feel more strongly about it than learning to blow glass or use a pottery wheel or surf and other things I’d quite like to do but could never hope to teach myself. I probably should take some cello lessons and practice every day, and I will when I have the time, money, and desire. 

In the meantime playing the cello is really hard and not always fun, in fact. Actually, it’s a lot like writing (c’mon, you knew where I was going with this). However, I can readily laugh off how bad I sound as I drag bow across strings and still happily fantasize about one day being listenable. I know I’m not my screechy cello playing, anymore than I am my excellent scone baking skills or my tragic inability to sew. But that’s hard to do with your writing, isn’t it? If our writing isn’t good, we feel it in our core as some terrible damning exposition of what’s deepest and most wonderful (or wrong) within us. Indeed,if I aspired to be the next Yo Yo Ma, I imagine the way I play the cello would be upsetting.

The thing is, we all understand it takes many lessons, a full understanding of tools, and many years of dedicated daily practice and fine tuning of artistry to become a concert musician—and yet we think we should be accomplished writers the moment we sit down to write, and then again each time we write. And when we fear that’s not happening, we quake at the thought of critiques. We shiver at the thought of sharing, of exposing our work and ourselves. We get really bloody frustrated. We let our writing and passion catch dust.

Does that make any sense at all?

All published writers have a long learning curve before they actually "make it." Everyone’s first attempts and early drafts sound like caterwauling cellos. So practice and play, be happy you’re on your way. One day, you will be a maestro. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Strange Energy

It’s an acutely uncomfortable feeling sometimes, the need to write or create. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, niggling as a vague unease, a creeping inability to sit still or focus, a repeated pragmatic thought that it ‘must be the weather.’ Sometimes it’s disguised as an escalating resentment toward a waiting pile of bills, thoughts of negative energy between you and someone you care about, or the memory of some past hurt—and other times it just carries some essence of those things.

At such times you may resort to doing the dishes, at least, since you can’t settle on anything else on your to-do list. But even though you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen counters and scrub the floor on your hands and knees till it gleams, they’re still there. Words eager to be written.

That energy has to express itself somehow. Carry a notebook, use it, and call it 'Sweet Relief.' Or blog. Then chuckle. Then get back to your WIP. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I haven’t been here for a bit. When I started this blog, it was to try and cure a case of writer’s block, and I’ve used it for that many times. But I promised myself when I began it that blogging would be something I did with pleasure and joy. If that meant blogging, I would, and if it meant not blogging, then I would not. I have been true to that, which makes me happy. My not being here now, I think, really shows how thoroughly invested in and engaged by my current creative process I am, and that too makes me very happy.

But I went to a funeral today, and it’s compelled me to share what’s on my mind. My whole week thus far has been one vivid, powerful reminder that life is short, and that it should be joyful—or at least that a life lived in joy with people that fill you up is the best kind of life to live, the only kind of life that really makes much sense.

In the wee small dark rainy hours of Saturday morning I was woken by a bang that shook the house. Two young girls, college students who’d had too much to drink—just kids—had crashed outside. It wasn’t at all good for the passenger, but she was conscious and I held her and spoke to her while we waited for help to arrive. Some few shocked, sickening, sleepless hours later, I had a joy-filled day with friends, one of the most special and fun in a very long time. The contrast was stark.

Then Monday, I learned of the death the night before of a family friend, Mark Jarvis, whom I’m so pleased to have known and shared a little time with. After some years battling cancer, which he tackled with a loud and enormous guffawing sense of humor and joyful spirit, he passed away quite unexpectedly after knee construction surgery. The very next day I heard about the passing of Bean Bowers, one of my NOLS instructors some years ago, and you can get a sense of the kind of guy he was here. Then today, as I got ready for Mark’s funeral, I saw the news about Steve Jobs, which seems to have infected the Interwebs with a profound sense of joy and live-life-loudly and go-for-it-no-matter-what attitude. This is just how I think of Mark Jarvis and Bean Bowers. They were just those kind of people, too.

It’s all such a good reminder. You’re a long time dead. And life is AMAZING. It can be whatever you want it to be. It is whatever you think it is, and so are you. Fill it with those who help you soar. Choose what brings you joy. Write, if that’s what you want to do. Why the hell not?

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." —Steve Jobs