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Creative Goals 2014

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As our family gets more intentional with our time this year, my own goals have floated to the surface.  My goals stem from a desire to grow in artistic skills and also to make room for things that I delight in doing, that refresh me in a brief time of respite.  And underlying those goals is a hope that God will shine His light through whatever I’m creating with my hands or my words.

As I wrote “Aimee’s Writing Time” on the Saturday morning slots on the family calender, a little shiver circled around my heart.  “Can I really do this, give myself this time?” I wondered, feeling both spoiled and worried at actually using the time.  To put the time  on the calender frees me to say no to other things that come up, decisions that sound odd when I say them out loud to friends.

Me: No, I’m not going on the retreat, I have writing goals this Spring and if I set a weekend aside, it will be to write.

Quiet. Awkward moment.

Friend: But you have to go!

Quiet. Awkward moment.

Me: I’m really not going to go.

In addition to setting aside time to write (specifically to adapt a children’s chapter book into a play), I’m taking a year long art class with my favorite art teacher, Carla Sonheim. It’s called The Year of the Fairy Tale. I’ve written before about the luxury of being a student and about recovering from a perfectionism that petrified me from making art. Now I get to continue on this journey, mixing my favorite art teacher with stories, and the kids get to come along as well!

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Carla also has an exciting schedule of shorter classes lined up for the start of the year. Coming soon are Faces 101 and GelliPlate and I recommend both.  Don’t let the the online aspect bother you or scare you away. Taking one of her online classes is like having her come and sit at the table beside me, show me her work, share her process (successes and mistakes) and encourage me to jump into the art supplies and make something. She’s also great at never leaving me with a blank page.  There is a blob of paint, a series of words, almost always something rather than nothing, a place to begin.

If it’s art that makes you breathe easier and loosen your shoulders (or if you feel in your bones that art could be that way for you if you could fear less and art more), then put some art dates on your calender and sign up for a class.  If it’s not art, then find out what it is, write it down, and say no to something else!

 

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Beyond the Borders of Mamaland

 

Next month I turn thirty-six and I find it uncomfortable to be stretching beyond my world of mamahood.  If you’re thirty-six and you’ve been a professional of some type and now you’re about to jump into the deep end of parenthood, it’s probably a similar feeling.  It’s less to do with my current area of knowledge and experience and more the growing pains of learning something new.

In my case, I’m not an expert parent, but having been a parent for twelve years I’m pretty familiar with the aspects of my little world. Though I might still occasionaly look at another mama and think, “Hmm, she seems to do that part of parenting better than me,” the thought doesn’t rock my world me because over the years I’ve gotten used to having inadequacies and I know I will continue to have them forever.

Amongst my mama friends, I’m “the artsy friend”.  I have one other mama friend who enjoys writing and a few mama friends that spend time drawing and painting.  Through the years I’ve thought of myself as an artist of some sort-the writer part of me, the part of me that wants to create something with my hands and somehow reflect out, an inner part of my heart.  Maybe months passed between endeavors, but the essence of “artist” remained.

As I’ve spent time in the last year with writers and musicians who work at their craft as a full time job and lifestyle, the gap between myself and Artist/Writer seems to have grown exponentially.  Now, many of you are my friends, so you’re going to try to protest what I’m saying or it might sound as if I’m putting myself down in some way, but that’s not my goal. Most of you would agree that someone who works at a craft sporadically and “when the inspirations strikes” will not be nearly as developed as someone who has put in the hours (many hours) daily, for more years than I have been a parent. And so we’ve arrived at the gap.

As I’ve stepped off the edge into the gap it’s become very clear to me that improving as an artist requires self-discipline.  It seems an obvious statement, but my relationship to art has been “when I can fit it in”, so to face the wall of self-discipline in this area is new and hard. Self-discipline has never been a strong character trait of mine, it certainly wasn’t present in school and I haven’t had to sharpen it too much over the years.  That’s not entirely true, self-discipline is absolutely a requirement in Mamaland, but it looks different than the shade of discipline I’m trying to muster at the moment.  Right now it’s a floppy, ignored muscle and I’m asking myself if I have what it takes to develop it.

Can I write every day, not just when I feel like it? What about the long days, the days with unexpected circumstances? Oh wait, almost all days as a parent fit that description. I’m trying to find a way to bridge the gap between myself and the artists I’ve spent time with in the last year, not for the sake of self-promotion, but to be excellent at the passions that have simmered in my heart most of my life. But the truth is that no one is going to tell me to sit down and write five hundred words or create something with my hands.  It’s not anyone else’s job, it should come from me.

Most of my questions about myself and self-discipline remain unanswered.  The starting place I’ve found is humility. In this world beyond the borders of Mamaland I’m not “the artsy friend”, I’m the amateur.  Accepting that I’m in these early stages of development feels crucial to calling out for help and for putting the hours in to grow.  I need to strengthen my writing muscles the same way I did my parenting muscles, one day at a time.

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Writing Poetry about Writing Poetry

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been meeting with a friend to talk about writing.  The first samples of work I showed her were about my Dad and they were in verse form.  I didn’t call them poetry, I just said “that was the way my thoughts and feelings came out”.  I figured out over the next week that I simply didn’t want to call the work poetry because to call it poetry meant I had to acknowledge poetry rules and etiquette.

A whopping clue came when my friend asked me, “So who are your favorite poets? Who are you reading right now?” I calmly explained that I wasn’t reading poetry because I wasn’t writing poetry because I was just “writing however it came out”.

Once I accepted that the form of my pieces did fall under the heading of poetry, and once I started reading poetry, I realized how far my apple fell from the wind-sculpted tree. Last week, as I found my intended thoughts slipping through the lines of my poems, I decided to vent my frustration by, of course, writing some poetry about those feelings.

Here are two poems about writing poetry.

A Better Way to Poem
There’s something I want to tell you,
but with every new draft
the words twist themselves
into a puzzle that I can’t solve.
If only I had Dumbledore’s Pensieve
and could pull my thoughts
into a thin, blue whisper of smoke
and swirl them into the stone basin.
Then you could place your face in my poem
and sitting in a blue chintz chair,
understand everything.

 

Dear Final Draft    
I liked you better
the first time I wrote you,
with your dangling participles
and your mixed metaphors,
at least we understood each other then.

Now you’ve grown distant
with your fancy synonyms,
too good for me with your verses
purring like Milton and Yeats,
instead of stumbling over syntax,
waiting for my help.

It may be true
that you don’t need me anymore,
but I’ll never forget when
I was the romantic poet,
and you were my first draft.

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The Day I Didn’t Get Discovered

 

Each year as I watch the Oscars or the Tonys, I am fifteen again, dreaming.  I imagine the style of dress I’m going to wear when my name is announced (my mom will sew my gown since I can’t afford high fashion). And, of course, I practice my acceptance speech. I thank my high school theater teacher, I’m witty and make people cry, and for my speech only, the orchestra holds the music to allow the power of my speech to finish in awed silence.

The inkling of these dreams began when I played a pointy-toed elf concerned for Santa as he contemplated leaving his job in the classic 5th grade play “Santa Goes Back to the Future.”  That same year my teacher gave us the weekly task of concocting a short story with our vocabulary words. The assignment sharpened my youthful writing skills as I blended Hamster, Circus, and Automobile into the same story.  That year, as I stared at the clouds with a wall of stiff bangs usefully blocking the glare from the sun, I saw glory in my future.

Two decades later when glory still eluded me, I thought to myself, “Now they’ll no longer say  ‘I can’t believe she’s so young!’ when I write my first play or book, instead they’ll say ‘Wow, she’s sixty!”.  The abundance of my years will be my legacy, instead of my youth, I lamented.

Nowadays, I continue on in the land of Mamahood but remain open to the possibility of being discovered.  When I saw Kevin Costner in our local pancake joint last year, I stuck around after the pancakes were gone to give him a little extra time to turn on his movie spy senses and notice me.  I gave him time to saunter over in his scuffed jeans and cowboy boots and tell me I was perfect for his next movie or that he’d like to co-write a screenplay with me (clearly I was attributing a strong spy sense to him).  That day it didn’t work out, but I like to keep my options open.

Last week I met with a friend.  She’s a friend plus a Real Writer.  I showed her a few pieces of writing I’d been working on, she gave me some positive feedback, and between our next meeting time, I dreamed of exactly how my Big Discovery would happen.  Maybe she’d encourage me to write a book or in the very least ask me to write something for her blogging community. Oh the possibilities, I dreamed.

This week we got together and we talked again about those pieces that I had handed her last week.  Last week those pieces carried a little gleam around the words because they were filled with promise. This week unraveled a little differently.  The first piece was solid but as she gave me her honest feedback about piece number 2 and 3, the glow dissipated.  These were not the pieces of promise.  It turns out, I’m much closer to the beginning then the middle or end of getting to my Big Discovery. Her words were truthful, and even as she spoke with grace, I knew every word was true.

As the hope of the Big Discovery grew cold like my forgotten cup of tea, my heart swung into motion to close-up and close-out.  But the Lord had already been at work in my heart all week, getting me ready for this moment, and I was able to recognize the gift of this friend.  She had taken a risk.  Did I wish that she’d told me my mediocre work was actually brilliant? Instead she told me how to begin the process of moving from mediocre to great (or at least better).

In the weeks since the-day-I-didn’t-get-discovered, I’ve been working my tail off to improve.  When I thought my skills were better than they were, I didn’t work very hard to improve them.  So it was also the day that I discovered that I could, and would, stick to the process even if it wasn’t the instant gratification of striking gold, but an extended excavation, a painful process to get the work done. So, I’ll work.

However, I’m still open to discovery over pancakes or maybe at this Starbucks as I finish this sentence.  And I plan to keep honing my acceptance speech.

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Hibernation: A List Poem

I’ve spent 13 years in Tennessee.  The trade-off for the hill-topped horizon line and the simmering hues of the Autumn trees is Winter.  Darkness and despair at 4:30pm and days empty of anything but gray.  Rather than adjusting to it, I’ve grown more and more offended by it.  You can tell me that I need the gray season in order to appreciate the pomegranate and apricot colors come Fall-you could tell me that, but I would wait until Spring arrives because right now I might have an unpleasant reaction.

At the moment I’m contemplating migration or hibernation.  Neither of which were designed for humans.  I’m still entertaining the possibility. Hibernation seems tempting since it knocks out any reason for grocery lists or cleaning the house.

Human Hibernation: A List Poem
One incredibly, cozy down comforter
An Electric Blanket  (the color of a faded fireball just like the one I used as a child),
Books,
Books,
More Books,
An occasional peppermint hot chocolate (delivered, of course),
Children (optional, depending on their need to be fed and ability to remain cuddled).

There is still a little time left to decide.

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L’Engle Quote

“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said, by me. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

 

Amen.

 

 

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There is No Green Room at Hutchmoot

*please forgive all of the botched paraphrased quotes, I did my best to catch the essence.

After Hutchmoot 2012: Day 3

If New York is the place where everyone is really an actor, and just a waiter “on the side”, then Nashville is the town where every other person is a graphic designer, but what they really want to do is play music professionally.  By this I mean that it’s a city of ambition.

One would think that if one attended a conference with musicians, songwriters, and authors, in Nashville, it would be one big schmooze fest of making contacts and getting oneself noticed.  (I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have minded getting noticed.)

When I came here I introduced myself by my professional name, but by day two I found myself introducing myself as Matt.  I realized I was not making business contacts, I was making friends.  When N.D Wilson introduces himself here he introduces himself as Nate, Andrew is AP and, Pete (the Moot Master) is just Pete.”  These are the words of one Rabbit on the last day of Hutchmoot and they’re a great introduction to the atmosphere of this gathering.

“There is no backstage, we’re all out here together,” declared Andrew Peterson and his description was not just a pretense of humility.  All of the musicians and writers were standing around in the general hubbub and there was no special table for Charlie Peacock or Steve Talyor, director of the recent film Blue Like Jazz.  Is this possible in Nashville, where every artist has a clause for the kind of drink or furniture he wants in the green room?  There is no green room at Hutchmoot.

In the same way that Jesus knelt down to wash the dust and grime for His weary disciples’ feet, I saw the leaders of Hutchmoot serving the guests.

I want some water,” I said to my husband, getting ready to look for a cup of refreshment. Pete, who is not just a Head Rabbit but also the author of two outstanding books, apparated from somewhere to the space beside me and asked, “You need water?”  How had he gotten there and why was he concerned for my needs out of the other 180 attendees?  I tried to reassure him that, yes, I did indeed need water, but that, no, I did not need him to retrieve the beverage for me.  He pointed me toward three locations where fresh water was available, then apparated to the bathroom to refill the toilet paper.

Didn’t these leaders find their self-worth in the artistry of their books, songs, and films? Weren’t we supposed to lift them up and remember that we humbly come with nothing but hearts to learn from their wisdom of the ages?

In session after session I received this heart-probing message,”Go use your skills, but don’t define your worth by what you do.”

In the theater session, a profession that begs for praise and adulation, Stephen Trafton reminded the room, “Your worth and identity come from God and will never come from anything you make or create.”

And in Phil Vischer’s testimony of broken dreams he quoted C.S. Lewis, “He who has God plus many things has no more than he who has God alone.”

The capital “R” rabbits were also quick to share their weaknesses.

In my first session, one of the pastors confessed readily that he struggles with the longing to boost up his vanity at every Hutchmoot as the other staff have books and cd’s to show on the tables but he doesn’t. “I don’t mean I used to struggle with this, I mean this morning, about 4 hours ago, I struggled with it.”

One musician shared openly about the many dark places of his depression, and  all around I heard men and women release their breath as they realized they didn’t have to hide the mess in their lives to be accepted or prove their artistic significance in order to start using their gifts.

This is a new kind of community, or maybe, a very old one.

 

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Have you been writing anything lately, Momma?

“Write a bad story.”

I read the words and consider closing the book on such a ridiculous idea.

Why would I set out to write a bad story?  I want to write truth-infused stories that compare to the giants of literature and stir the hearts of readers everywhere.  (music swelling in the background)

It’s true that I’m not currently writing stories of such caliber.  In fact my daughter, (who is currently sketching daily and taking a creative writing class) and who knows of my dreams of writing, asked me just the other day,

“Have you been writing anything lately, Momma?”

“No, not really.” No. Nada.

In fact I haven’t written any blog posts, or picked up my sketchbook to create a drawing or watercolor in months.  I’m surrounded by artists of great skill, some of them young in my house, some of them lining our shelves, and some in my surrounding community.  I want to draw like them (but not like them).  I don’t want to do bad paintings.

Turning to my last (and most dear) genre, I think about plays and theater, and I certainly don’t want to teach, direct or write anything of poor quality.  So I haven’t done anything.  For about 12 years.

If I’m paralyzed by such lofty aims, and certainly by the chance that someone might catch a glimpse of my mediocre failings, maybe changing my target could be helpful.

I think of the words again.  “Write a bad story.”

Can I aim for bad, and possibly create more than, well, nothing.

And if I aim for bad and fail at bad, does that mean my failings might be good?

A perfectly preposterous idea.

But what have I got to lose with preposterous ideas?

That’s right. (Nothing.)

Revised Goal:

Write a bad story.  Draw a bad picture.  Start a mediocre theater class.

Just. Start.

 

 

Extra: Watch this video by NPR’s Ira Glass, on creative work.

The quote, ‘Write a bad story”, can be found in the book  If You Want to Write by Brenda Uleland, an absolute gem of a book for anyone dreaming of creative pursuits, writing or otherwise.

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In the Making Of

I haven’t checked to see when I last posted something, my guess is that it’s been about a month.  It wasn’t a carefully considered decision, I just stopped writing.  And I haven’t once thought about sitting down to write a new post. Until this one.

Up until now this blog has been a place to work out my heart-thoughts into words and I usually find myself coming to peace with the inner turbulence inside as the words also find a pattern, a winding journey.  It’s also been a place to share joyful family moments and harrowing parenting perplexities. Often it’s just been a conversation between me and my friend. Calling me out a night or two a week to sit at starbucks to face the challenge of the blank screen, it’s been writing practice as well.

So why am I suddenly without a drop of compulsion to grab a tea latte and hen and peck out the making of my abundant life?

I find that blogging, for all of the many things I said above, also splits me in the moment of living my life. My brain registers, “This would be a good topic for my blog” and therein blog lines take shape in my head, even as I’m still in the making of. Right now I need to stay in it.  Instead of moving so quickly to the process and production stage that blogging moves me toward.  And finally, I need to stay in my house, instead of outside of it, writing about it. There’s too much happening in that 7-9 hour that I don’t want to miss right now.

I can call it a season.  It might be two weeks.  It might be 6 months.  This might be my last blog post.

Whether you write about your life on a blog, or follow other people’s lives in your reader, take the time to feel your life-the joy, the pain, the reasons to praise, the blessings filling up your arms and bouncing on you when you try to rest, and all that’s in between.  It’s all happening now.  Words, even very well-written ones, are still second hand knowledge to the real thing. Both are gifts that I treasure.

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Art Takes Residence

word man 2

A torrent of words and sketches
have shacked up in my chest.
Poem them, story them, call them wretches-
If I art them, will they let me rest?

A relentless slideshow and ranting wordsmith
are spinning on my hamster wheel,
they call themselves real and my real job myth.

Pastel them, design them, film them from my head,
Cut them, collage them, glue them last to best.
Can I hope, is it possible, skipping past the dread,
If I art them, do you think they’ll let me rest?

Illustrated by 10 year old Mookie

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