May 31, 2012

artist date: french market

One of my favorite books on creativity is The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. The book is designed as a twelve-week course, intended to help you "discover and recover your creative self." Ms. Cameron recommends a couple of creative practices to encourage creative thinking and living day-to-day.  One of these concepts was really new to me: the "artist date." Here is a bit of the author's description of the practice from the book:
"An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers." 
I try to make a plan for an artist date each week! This practice has been such a huge help in my creative process, even though it can be harder than you'd think to actually make it happen. I tend to be really social, and it takes discipline to commit to spending time out doing something fun alone. And the other thing that's sometimes tough is letting go of my comfort zone of 'structured' time and plans, in order to really embrace the chance to let my mind wander and my creative instincts amble aimlessly.  The time I spend on my 'dates' are a source of SO much inspiration, and it almost always turns out that what I thought was 'aimless' ambling turns into really specific and concrete ideas later!

So I would love to share bits and pieces from some of these 'dates' with you as I go! Perhaps they will give you inspiration for your own artist dates, or perhaps remind you of some of your own encounters with these different adventures.

artist date: french market 

Farmer's Markets and French Markets are one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend morning! The flowers, the baked goods, the herbs and fruits and vegetables and all of the goodies in between - I love the chance to stimulate my senses. I just recently began to learn to cook and so these weekend markets have taken on a new importance as I am learning to work with different vegetables, herbs, and spices. 

Recently, I took a trip to the Wheaton French Market on an 'artist date.' It was a rainy Saturday morning, so I tossed an umbrella into my tote bag just in case, and headed out. It was SO inspiring to walk down the aisles of the market and allow myself to explore the wares of each new table and vendor. I picked out a couple of potted herbs to add to my balcony garden, and I found a lovely mixed bunch of flowers to adorn my dining table.

To add to my sensory experience, I decided to indulge in some French Market breakfast: yummy crepes! It was hard to choose which kind, especially since I absolutely adore Nutella-anything. But in keeping with the adventurous nature of my date, I decided on the "Lemon Curd and Forest Berries." It was the perfect choice for a rainy morning. One of my secret favorite moments was watching the gentleman who made the crepe as he tossed out his first attempt at the crepe itself - it wasn't good enough for me, he had decided, without saying a word. I love that he held himself to his own best-crepe-expectations! (Also, a little bit of rain fell into my crepe, which I think made it even more delicious...)

I sat on a little stone wall at the edge of the market in the drizzly rain as I ate every last bit of my lemon curd and forest berries. My crepe-breakfast was so lovely that I decided to plan a French-market lunch as well for later that day! I picked out my favorite sandwich from the Suzette's stall: Brie, sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto on a raisin-pecan ficelle loaf. Once I got back home, I made my 'date' last even longer by enjoying this scrumptious sandwich with an accompaniment of salad made from veggies I also picked up at the market.

An 'artist date' should probably not always be food-related, hehe, but I feel like any activity that engages your senses will also truly ignite and inspire your creative brain, too!

Does anyone else participate in regular 'artist dates'? I would love to hear your ideas!!

May 30, 2012

writing practice: begin anywhere

It is advice that I have read in so many places I hardly know where to begin crediting them, but I love this simple quote from John Cage: "Begin anywhere." This is SO true for writing, there is no 'wrong' place to begin, and often the beginning is the hardest part. Perhaps this can be my motto, as I begin to share my writing, and as I look for places to "begin" with each new piece I will share.

I keep this little framed quote on my desk where I often write, to remind me always! Maybe you can write it somewhere important to remind you, too? What do you need to 'begin' in your life?

May 29, 2012

objects: Noritake Lemon Plate, c.1918

Writing prompts have always been one of the best ways to push myself outside of my comfort zone in my work - a way to challenge my brain to follow some new paths and reach into deeper corners. I have some books filled with prompts, and might share some of those along the way, but what I am really excited about right now is a series of "object prompts." I will combine a couple of my favorite hobbies: treasure-hunting and writing, in order to see where the writing might lead. 

This first "object prompt" is a Noritake Lemon Plate, c. 1918, which I found at an antique shop. It caught my eye and connected with me from the moment I spotted it, but I must admit I was not entirely sure what it was! I had never before come across a 'lemon plate,' and it just might change my life forever, hehe! :) Hope you enjoy the piece that came from this special prompt.

"The Lemon Plate"

It was time to serve the tea. The ladies’ luncheon had ended, and Eleanor, her co-host, had already brought the silver, tiered dessert stand to the table of eight, where the other women pretended not to notice and thought of nothing else. In the kitchen now, by herself, leaving her friend to keep the conversation going, Colleen squinted her eyes and rattled her brunette head quickly side to side as she leaned over the counter and tried to remember. “What else? What else?,” she murmured softly.  “Teapot, coffeepot,” (they liked to call it ‘tea,’ since it sounded so much more European and formal, but there was always more coffee poured than tea, not that anyone would admit to paying attention) “cream, sugar cubes, with a tiny spoon for serving.”  And it came to her, right in order. She had studied the list at least fourteen times for this very reason.  “Lemons. Lemons are what.”  She had forgotten to slice the lemons.  
Quickly, she took the long butcher’s knife from the drawer. She hated to look at it, hated the “weapon-ness” of it, but it was the quickest thing to do the trick. She set it on the counter and grabbed two lemons from the icebox; surely the women would never get through two lemons, but you always wanted to be sure it looked like ‘plenty,’ when it was your turn to host these sorts of things. A quick rinse of the lemons, each one sliced twice longways, “Ah, here we are.” It helped her to talk herself gently through even the simplest of actions, while he was away. So much silence, so much missing him, and always, always missing her mother.  These verbal instructions were the most she herself could sound like her own Ma’s soothing, nurturing tones. But no silence now, not with the house full of church ladies. “You had better keep your mind straight, Colleen.”
She had worked herself up to this moment, had anticipated its difficulty even as she was aware of its absurdity. He had sent her a present. He had thought of her and had sent her a present. How many of the women had already bragged about their own gifts from afar, their own war-tokens filling the stead of their men while they were away. And now it was her turn to hold her gift, loud and proud, to share how he had thought of her. She pulled the tiny dish from the shelf above the sink, where it had sat, untouched, since she had opened it. Five and a half inches in diameter, its smooth white center outlined with a thin gold circle and rimmed in a creamy shade of ivory, the lemon plate was decorated with tiny flowers and flourishes in exactly ‘her’ colors: gold and coral tones, with a hint of blue. He knew her well.
It wasn’t the smallness of the gift that upset her - she knew he had gone to trouble just to get her anything at all. It didn’t matter what the other ladies had received, she knew he had done just what he could. She set the plate on the counter and moved the lemon slices quickly, arranging them as neatly as she could (it was really too many for the plate, but that’s how “plenty” goes, she guessed). Her righthand index finger deftly hooked into the tiny handle of the plate, and deposited it gently on the wooden tray. She thought again how the plate resembled the candleholder stored in her imagination from her favorite childhood poem, “Jack be nimble.” Her mother had whispered it gently to her each night as a sendoff to her sleep and dreams. In third grade, she had learned in school the meaning behind the poem: One could expect good luck to follow if one could clear the candle on a jump and not blow out the flame. 
She had met her own Jack in her high school years, though not in school. She worked at the local wool factory and noticed his tall, broad frame coming and going from the building next to hers. All the girls knew him, all the girls wanted him, with his wavy dark brown locks always spilling over his brow and his twinkling grey eyes always in on the joke. When she mysteriously caught his attention (he never would say how or why), it was clear he knew he had only to say so, and she would be his. And it happened just like that. She should have played harder to get, perhaps, she should have questioned more and trusted less. But she had made her choice, and here it had all led, to an afternoon spent hosting the church ladies’ luncheon with two babies sleeping upstairs and letters that only came once a month.
Now was not the time to think, but oh, did she know him well. She knew he did not believe in gifts for no reason, but as penance, tokens of affection to make up for what had been done wrong. Her painted lacquer compact, her lovely tortoise-shell hair comb, her ruffled pink apron: each held an offense, but each had been forgiven. She had almost come to love them, these little proofs that they could heal and make amends. But her breath had caught when the small box wrapped in brown paper had arrived for her, and she bit her bottom lip hard as she tore away the paper and found the little plate. So far away, so out of touch, she didn’t know the reason or the sin, but she knew her husband, knew him well, and knew, too, she might never know why. 
Her hands tucked strongly underneath each handle as she lifted the tray and turned swiftly on her left heel to push her shoulder against the kitchen door. “Here we are now, ladies, tea is officially served!” She deserved better, perhaps, but she had chosen, and that was all. 

Best not to think on it too much, and best to keep the lemon plate tucked in a drawer from now on.

May 28, 2012

a beginning

What do you hear in your thoughts as you are almost asleep each night, once your body has begun to rest into the softness of the bed, aligned with the form of your pillow and blankets?  In that moment right before actual sleep comes over you, before the night is lost to your dreams, your subconscious begins to whisper softly.  Do you hear it?
What do you hear as you begin to wake in the morning, as your brain recognizes the sound of your alarm clock, or of your partner stirring, or the neighbors upstairs moving around?  As your eyes begin to open, and shift from the vivid, piercing, shifting lights of your dreams to the soft glow of the dream-light’s real source in the daylight that fills your bedroom... what do you hear?
We all fall asleep, and we all wake up, no matter where we are living, no matter what type of life we lead.  And in those moments in-between, what we might hear is SO important.  It is difficult to catch those thoughts, to give them time or space so they might really take a specific shape.  But it is a space of truth, and whether or not we listen is up to us.
For almost fifteen years now, what I have heard in those moments is soft, but clear: “write.” 
Write what?  Write how?  Write when?  When I have allowed myself to listen, the questions flow more quickly than the answers could ever come in response.  It has seemed so brazen, so ridiculous, this command that does not answer, only questions.  But it is not always the job of the dream-space to give answers.  We have all our waking days to seek and find answers, and perhaps that is the whole purpose of life, when it really comes down to it: to answer the questions that lay at the very bottom of us, like artifacts lost in a shipwreck; the questions that beg to be allowed to rise to our surface.  The dream-space nudges us to ask the most important questions, to hear the most important needs within ourselves.
For many, it will not be “write,” but “risk” or “sing” or “jump” or “paint” or “dare” or “love.”  Or “trust,” which is another word that comes to me often in that dream-space.  Each of us can only hear our own whisper-voice.  If we ignore it, it might start to come up at other times, as we are chopping vegetables or vacuuming the carpets or stopped at a traffic light.  If we ignore it longer, it might need to take a more desperate form, entering into our battles with depression or our addictions to work or TV or even the presence of others, as we numb ourselves to avoid our truths.
I have responded in almost every possible way.  I have avoided the command, I have humored it, I have set it aside for later.  I have tried to give it parameters and discipline in my everyday life.  I have kept it secret, shared it with those I love, and even, at times, proclaimed it loudly in hopes of gaining confidence.  I have sought to ‘channel’ it, to nurture it, to learn more about it through reading and practicing.  I have filled seventy-four journals with words.
What I have never done well - what I have always been too afraid to do - is to share my writing with others.
And now I will begin.