Category Archives: writing as connection

The Energy Scale of Creativity

There’s a pain scale image (The Wong-Baker Pain Scale) which I’m sure most of you have either seen or been asked to point to in the midst of your own pain. Invented for children, it’s become ubiquitous for adults as well, despite it’s reductive simplicity.

When it comes to assessing my own pain and/or energy levels, especially when I’m trying to write, or to create in any way, I prefer this one:

(edited: original image by @patricesmith9196 on Instagram)

It’s absurd, and yet relatable. It helps alleviate some of the frustration and unhappiness I feel when I want to write and yet there is a great void between my intention and the energy I need to actually make something. When I was younger I thought writer’s block was a lack of will, a kind of cowardice even, certainly my fault in some character-defect kind of way. Now, after long years of learning not to judge myself so hard, I experience writer’s block as something else- the body, mind and spirit telling me there is not enough, right now, to give. Just that. No judgement, no blame, just self-compassion, although there is still plenty of sorrow at times, and a kind of existential loneliness.

There’s another kind of writer’s block though: adversary-silencing.  This has its own pain scale, ranging from Enthusiasm to Despair. Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring to silence the voices of compassion and kindness; the voices of vision and hope, of calls for reparation and change.  It’s shaming and discouraging and the most toxic of all, it can contribute to our own internal silencing. On days when I’m ok physically, I can still stop myself from writing a poem, or an essay, because who am I to say anything at all, or  it has all been said, or what I write will be wrong or worse of all, no one will ever care whether I write or not.  This is a mindset brought on by the assaultive effects of bullying, gaslighting, and fear. And the outcome is a hurt soul and mental pain.

Yet, because at this point in my life I finally have the time, the means, and the luxury to spend my energy on more than the basics of survival (as so, so many do not), I want to evolve beyond the comforts of privilege I might otherwise cling to. To push past the silencing effects of mental, physical, and emotional violence happening on so many levels in our country, in our world. Sometimes that means being justly and painfully held accountable for what I believe and say (thank you especially, wise millennials, for teaching me so much). We (and by we, I mostly mean white people) are rightly  being called to radical change at this crucial time in our human community. We all suffer when we let complacency or even despair, kill our gift of creativity.

Creativity, when practiced with a good heart, is a potent catalyst for change, no matter who is doing the work, or who the gatekeepers are, or who is sanctifying it. Creativity is a potent antidote to futility. That is something we can bring to the world, that is how we keep going, and that is how we can find a way to persevere and even to laugh sometimes in the face of the reductive absurdity of white privilege and fear; ours, or someone else’s. Creativity, at its best, seeks to alleviate suffering and to free all of us. So at least for today, I will take a minute to locate myself on the pain scale, even if I am so far up the scale that all I can do is think about what I might write if I had the energy to do so. Or perhaps I can’t think at all, but can just be a part of all creation. That’s ok too. I will at least try to remember to bow with respect to my own and the world’s beautiful and powerful resilience, and go on.

 

 

Whitmanesque: Above My Skill Set, But Worth Trying

It’s the poet Walt Whitman’s birthday today.  In the spirit of his poetics, I’ve been working on a poem that was first inspired by my own kids and then became about other young adults I know, then millennials: a whole generation. Not every culture, not every situation, certainly not all of America, but still, broad. Many poets and academics would advise me not to speak too directly, not to preach, not to generalize. That’s the edge for me- speaking directly without pontificating. Telling my truth without telling others what to believe.

I’m no Walt Whitman but I do like to try and extend my reach sometimes, to go beyond my immediate concerns, universal though some of them may be, and write lines that address the world- but are still anchored in the quotidian. Quite a challenge, and most likely beyond my skill set, but worth trying. I’m inspired by this quote by the wonderful poet Eve Joseph:

“I like the idea that a successful poem may be a flawed one that comes from an authentic place. A poem that holds fragility and imperfection. In a strange way, I would say that my most successful poems feel as if they have come “through” me and not “from me.”  What better reason to make the attempt?”

(From this collection of interviews by the Griffin Poetry Prize finalists, in the Toronto Star. )

While acknowledging and lamenting Whitman’s undisputed racism, sexism, and imperialism, reading his poetry can certainly feel at times as if something greater than himself was flowing through the very body he so eloquently celebrates: a poetry imperfect at times, but always authentic.

 

Photo of the poet, Walt Whitman. Looking forward, older man with long and full beard, wearing a western style hat.

Photo of Walt Whitman from the Library of America https://images.app.goo.gl/2RtrisPL7J4G6y1H9

 

 

Unprepared for Joy

Creativity is a fool’s journey in the best sense. Wandering, trusting, falling into muddy ditches and lying down in sweet meadows. Then another peak, another view of the great beyond, before heading once more into the dark night, and then out the other side; a cycle of birth, death, and resurrection, a microcosm of the universal truth of regeneration.

I’ve wanted to write for most of my life, and I’ve fulfilled that desire when I could, how I could, despite various detours and dire obstacles (a universal experience) that I won’t enumerate here. But I will say this: the magic of creativity, the power of writing, the moments I treasure, have always been unexpected and have rekindled a sense of gratitude and wonder. This sense of homecoming and awe is also, I believe, universal.

painting of water moving in cycles

Salt and Other Spells: painting by Melissa McCanna.

Last Sunday was a perfect example. A few months ago, I had sent three poems to a juried committee for a local community event called Ars Poetica, a collaboration of poets’ words and artists’ interpretations. All three poems were chosen, two by one artist, one by another, who then set about making art from what they felt the poems were saying to them, in preparation for a gallery exhibition and poetry reading. When the day came to attend the public event, I was prepared.

Prepared to be very nervous. Prepared to be disappointed in my own delivery of the poems. Prepared to feel let down, or overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional response I would have to seeing my poems on a gallery wall, never mind the stunning impact of the art which emerged from the images I  had conjured in the privacy of my mind.

ice tongs hold a small crystal heart, which holds in turn the image of a sleeping woman with long flowing hair.

Melt: an art assemblage by Steve Parmalee

Or how momentous it would feel to meet in person, the artists who had engaged so deeply with my work, Melissa McCanna and Steve Parmalee. It was a magical experience: unexpected in it’s impact, momentous in the way it renewed my understanding of why I write. To connect, to inspire, but more importantly, to experience the creative force that is life-giving, joyful, heart-sustaining, and community-building. May we all find ways to connect with Source, with one another, and may we all remain open to the blessedly unexpected gift of joy.

The Sailor’s Daughter: painting by Melissa McCanna