“Nobody Understands Me”–Wayne White

A week ago, I viewed the documentary film, Beauty is Embarrassing.  This film features Wayne White, “an American artist, art director, puppeteer, set designer, animator, cartoonist and illustrator.”  He is a modern day renaissance man, a bit irreverent at times.

One thing that White grew to realize over the course of his career is that the artist’s expectation to be understood is unreasonable.  Art that follows the trend of having to meet the criteria of a select community or of what is currently popular is art that can become stagnant for the artist.

To be in one’s artistic unfolding,  you have to be willing to go where your muse leads.  You don’t have to have a logical reason…other than this is your current curiosity and inspiration as exemplified by the course Wayne White’s life and art has taken.

In viewing this film, it became apparent that in his later years, Wayne White shows up as an artist of impulse…he follows through on the inspiration of the moment.  He allows his creative curiosities–when he doesn’t know how to do something, he studies, practices and learns.

When someone says to me “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body,” what they are really saying is that they are comparing themselves to a standard of art.  Anyone can fall short of that standard and then think “I guess I’m not an artist.”  They have slammed the door on discovering the artist within that wants to COME OUT!

HERE’S YOUR HOMEWORK:
Watch the film Beauty is Embarrassing.
Afterwards, consider what creative expression wants to bubble up in you.  What have you always wanted to try your hand at but considered it a foolish pursuit?  Hey, try it.  If not now, when?

Go and discover!

Futuristic Writing

Recently, I watched a few episodes of a television reality show, PROJECT RUNWAY.  I find the creativity aspect fascinating.  Sixteen up and coming fashion designers are competing over a period of approximately twelve weeks.  They are given design challenges and they create their own unique take on the assignment.  One designer is eliminated from the competition each week.  A challenge was for the remaining seven designers to work collaboratively (rather than competitively) and come up with a line of clothing based on what fashions might look like in a futuristic society in the year 2055.  They were each given $55 to spend at a vintage clothing store and then used these purchases to create their line of futuristic fashions.

The overall theme that the designers chose to work with was that in the future, the environment would “be the enemy” and people would need protection against toxins and hazards that mankind had perpetuated through their reckless use of resources, greed, apathy, etc.  That these young designers would perceive the future to be hazardous in their futuristic imaginings, is probably not surprising.

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So, is all futuristic writing then going to be apocalyptic in nature, I wonder?
If we started to write about the future with more optimism, could we alter the course of things?

Writing Prompt:
What is something that you’d like to imagine into the future for the earth and her inhabitants?  Write about it.  Share your better vision with someone.

Orbs in the forest

Orbs…lucky me

Any Poem is a Feast

…to which you have a response.

In writing a poem, you feel a certain “release” and when you read or listen to poetry, you may experience a visceral understanding of this poetic language.  Don’t take my word for it.  Spend some time reading the poetry that attracts you.  There are so many poets, past and present, each with a unique voice.  Chances are that you are going to find one that resonates with you.  Or, that your own poet’s voice is straining to be heard.  Give it the opportunity…there is free verse, personal poetry and all varieties of poetic form (or not) to pour your poetry into.  It’s a sweet exploration, isn’t it?

Reading a poem, it is best to sit with it for awhile.  Until the thrum of it touches your being.  A poem is a meditation if you allow it to be.  A great poem can almost be too much to savor in one sitting.  And certainly, if you read many poems in a row, you are going to walk away from the experience feeling pleasantly or unpleasantly glutted, like after you’ve just finished a holiday feast!

It is recommended that you portion out your poetry.  Let one poem follow you around throughout your day like a little dog sniffing at your heels. You might discover that one poem could be quite enough.

Here’s one for today:

The Well of Grief
by David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.

Listening to David Whyte reading his poem many times over, I have a sense of “wafting”.  With each repetition, I descend into the “well of grief”, traveling through the layers of the poem and within myself.

Poetry has this power and provides this opportunity.

Contemplation:
If this poem has appeal for you, do let it follow you around throughout the day.  If not this one, find a poem that touches you and claim it as your “loyal pet for the day.”

 

 

 

 

“the inadequacy of logical reasoning”

The title of this blog, “the inadequacy of logical reasoning” is a phrase excerpted from the definition of a koan in an online dictionary.  This is an objective of the koan–to reflect the limitations of the logical mind.

That’s why poetry works!  A poem, by its nature, inadvertently asserts “the inadequacy of logical reasoning.”  A poem is a re-organizing tool for the mind.  A poem is an emotional repository.  A poem is a download from the soul.

Recently, when I was feeling sadness and uncertainty over my sister’s illness or my granddaughter’s dietary issues, I needed a way to express this without trying to control or fix things.

beyond this doubt
© by Christine O’Brien

Sullen is the feeling of this new day.
Who would choose to be in my company?
Are there words of wisdom I could relay
to soothe this hurt, a better way to be?

It seems I’m frozen in this sorry place.
Writing words, drawing images to abate
this well-contrived and crafted stubborn face
which staunchly hides behind this well-wrought gate.

We’re each here, wondering as we go
what is this “mortal coil” all about?
How do we find a path that is in flow?
Is there relief and trust beyond this doubt?

Is there a best way to be with the unknown?
What is this curious life I strive to own?

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A poem doesn’t have to logically solve anything.  It only wants expression and to be heard.  A certain type of integration occurs in the telling.  While logic has its place in one’s unfoldment, it sometimes falls short of what is needed in the moment.

WRITING PROMPT:
When logic doesn’t provide comfort or support, then what?  Where do your doubts lie?  Can you find a home and perhaps a healing for them in a poem?

onion

Tanka Poetry & Takuboku

Let’s talk Tanka Poetry for a moment.

“A tanka poem is a Japanese poem which can also be known as a waka or uta. A tanka poem is similar to a haiku but has two additional lines.” from Forward Poetry
There is a syllable count per line with 31 syllables in total.

The Japanese poet, Takuboku Ishiwkawa (1886-1912) re-popularized Tanka Poetry:

they said dance
I danced all right–
until I fell
dead drunk
on that lousy wine

got five blocks
that’s all–
tried walking
like someone
with something to do

just felt like
a train ride–
when I got off
there was
no place to go

If you feel inclined, read this linked article on the life of Takuboku Ishikawa.  It is a translation, informative and well-written.  One thing that I surmised is that across cultures and over time, there are those who effectively document the political climate through their poetry.

These brief poems, tanka,  are able to capture both the climate of the times and the sentiment of the poet.

Takuboku Ishikawa: engaged observer

“Celebrated tanka poet rode the tumult of his times as he transformed from provincial romantic to national firebrand.”

“He is a model for today’s self-sequestered youth, with his ardent commitment to life and word, his constant seeking of something better for himself, his family, to whom he was devoted in his own way, and his care for people who found themselves living in the lower economic and social strata in his country.”

Takuboku Ishikawa: engaged observer | The Japan Timeshttps://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2015/04/11/general/takuboku-ishikawa-engaged-observer/

inthegarden

Winter

inthemist

In winter, in this hemisphere, we bundle up to go outdoors, spend more time indoors and perhaps imitate the hibernating bear.  For writers and artists, this is an opportunity.  We don’t have to make excuses for doing our art.  It is a beneficial thing to have a “hobby” (as others might reference our artistic journey).  And, we can write (or paint) about our winter experience!

Here’s one journal piece I wrote referencing winter in January of 2005…time is fleeting, isn’t it?

“This winter so far.  We’ve had one week of great storms.  By great, I mean huge, all-encompassing storms, restrictive, interfering, disrupting-my-daily-routine storms.  I mean continuous snowfall with an occasional interruption of rain, creating slush; then returning to snow later on.  Flakes that pulse and whirl during the day; caught in the headlights or streetlamps at night.  A shock of soft, large flakes, which, when I awaken in the morning, have merged into piles and drifts.  Once plowed, impassable icy mounds, barricaded driveways.  Immobilized cars left in garages and carports or buried beneath the impartial snow.  Tromping across town wearing layers of clothing. Boots, thank God for boots to the knee–as I navigate icy puddles at the street corners.  Sinking down, trudging, slipping, falling, losing things.  I contemplate that life is a waning affair and I’d rather spend it with those I love than take the inward journey prescribed by this winter.”

That was my feeling thirteen years ago.  Now, today, I search the skies and the 10-day forecast for the much desired and needed rain and snow…it is winter in the mountains after all!

Writing Prompt:
Like place, a season affects our attitudes and behaviors.  Winter has a “temperature and a temperament” as another writer has noted.  Write, in poetry or prose, about a significant aspect of winter for you personally.  If personification is calling to you, try your hand at it.

 

Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions

In an earlier blog, I quoted an excerpt from the Chilean poet and writer, Pablo Neruda’s essay on “The Word.”

One of Neruda’s books, The Book of Questions, was translated by William O’Daly, in 1991.

oceanbeach1

Following is one of his poetic questions:

When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?

I’ve read this little nugget of a poem several times.  It’s comparable to a Koan–“a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” Wikipedia

I read that Neruda began writing poetry when he was ten years old.  I’m imagining that everything became a poem to him.  As children, we are full of our questions wanting answers.  Frequently, we befuddled the adults around us as there are so many unanswerable questions.  Yet, we must ask them.  It feels to me like Neruda gave himself permission to ask his questions, our questions, universal questions and then to answer them by furthering his own interrogative reasoning within the bounds of a poem.

His offered questions provoke our own questions and contemplation.

WRITING PROMPT:
Have you considered your own questions?  What questions would you like answers to?  Might you find some answers as you write your own poetry?  Or at least a place to safely log the questions?

The Motel

night3The Motel
© by Christine O’Brien

Light plays

with the dark

dawn’s quarter moon

night on the wane.

A single star

winks at the motel’s safety light

flickering between night duty and day.

Street lamps create harsh silhouettes.

Anticipating returning home,

I rise early

tired of my sparsely blanketed complaints and fears.

The building light blinks on again;

the too-early drone of a tv from another room.

Hot water burps from the coffee pot in the bathroom;

the score-less tennis courts below.

The Motel 6 sign flirts with a  Quality Inn sign.

I eat my granola,  drink my tea,

load the car

–an early start home.

Always headlights north and south.

Six in the morning.

I’ll leave him a farewell note.

Writing Prompt:
Travelling gives the writer an opportunity to gain a new perspective.  I actually was at this motel on a solo trip…but I played with the ending of the poem to add a twist.  Poets and writers sometimes like to add a twist.  On your next trip (or shopping expedition), in poetry or prose, take time to describe a setting.  Then add a surprise twist.

Art Challenge TV Show

I have been viewing a former TV reality show, “Work of Art,” via YouTube.  The show only lasted for two seasons.  The up-and-coming artists are given a creative challenge–i.e., explore the theme of movement, collaborate with a child’s work of art, visit a new place and paint a portrait of a local person, etc.  The judges choose a winner of the challenge each week and one artist who fails the challenge goes home.

As a viewer, I appreciate the unique and innate creativity that is part of each one of us.  I can almost see the inner wheels turning as these artists craft a concept into a tangible work of art.  For the artist (or writer) viewing this show, there is an inspirational boost.  You could take the challenge yourself–reframe it to your own genre–and give yourself a specified amount of time to complete the challenge.  If only for the fun of it!

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There is a cutting edge to creativity.  We repeat a technique over and over again (practice and patience) and in doing so, integrate this technique into our repertoire.  It has become part of our creative expression.  We have a conquest.

And then, another level of learning presents.  A chasm of sorts, something to leap across or otherwise navigate.  An artist or writer looks for the next creative challenge.  We want to grow.

Writing Prompt:
How’s the weather where you are today?  Is it a good day to be outdoors, sitting on a park bench with your journal in hand?  If not, how about a quiet little cafe where you can sit in a corner, sip your tea or coffee and play the observer.  Writers, notice the passers-by and try quick, one-sentence cameo descriptions…the goal is to capture something essential about that person…or place.  If you are an artist, try your hand at the sixty-second-sketch and then go on to the next person, place or thing that gets your attention.  Play!

 

sketch

Listing Your Endless Curiosities & Writing Historical Fiction

Isn’t that one huge key to being a writer?  That curiosity which leads you down a lane to explore and discover what’s around the next turn and the next one and the next…

Returning from visiting my family in San Francisco recently, I listened with rapt attention to an interview with Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach and several other award-winning novels (The Goon Squad, The KeepLook at Me to name a few).  Two things that were notable to me were 1) she doesn’t have a pre-planned idea of the direction that her book is going to go and 2) she follows her own curiosities in developing the story.  Egan enjoys being surprised as the story develops.  Her desire to find out what happens next helps her to maintain her interest in what she is writing.

Manhattan Beach is considered historical fiction.  Although the characters are contrived, the references to place and time–the setting are based in fact.  Along her writing way, these were some of the things that Egan grew curious about, explored and incorporated into her novel:  New York City in the 40’s during World War II–specifically the Brooklyn shipping docks, diving, organized crime during the prohibition era,  caring for a disabled child.  These well-researched curiosities lent her book the substance and the respect that it has achieved.

“In historical fiction, setting is the most important literary element. Because the author is writing about a particular time in history, the information about the time period must be accurate, authentic…” from Wikipedia

In writing historical fiction, the development of your characters and the unfolding story are superimposed on a ready-made scape of time and place where and when real life events occurred.  In a sense, as the writer, you have part of the story mapped out for you.  Weaving the historical with the imagined characters, their particular circumstances and where the story goes can be an interesting adventure for the writer and later on, for their audience.

WRITING PROMPT:
Consider your own curiosities over the course of your life.  Write them down.  As others occur to you, add them to your list.  Do you have a favorite historical time period? More than one.  List those also.  Have you researched this historical period(s)? Consider how your curiosities can provide you with inspiration and entries into what to write about.

“My esthetic or my method is basically guided by
curiosity and desire…”
Jennifer Egan

Prayer3

She is curious about her universe.