- what role does this detail play in my day?
- how does this detail shape who I am?
- why this, and not that?
- experience memory
- re-establish connection
- appreciate how small things help us create BIG meaning.
Hi, I’m Elizabeth Howard.
Hi, I’m Elizabeth Howard.
The first said: “You won’t have time for writing your blog when the baby comes.”
The second said: “You’ll make time for anything you really want to do.”
Before the baby, the hours and days stretched out in front of me. I got up before my husband and wrote for three quarters of an hour every single day. I moodled around, watching TV, reading, sewing, swimming, having baths, surfing the web, cuddling my husband and playing video games. Now, not so much.
Everything I need to do to care for myself has to be done again for the baby. Everything I need to do to care for the house and my marriage has to be done around the baby. And even when we are not doing anything, the baby must be amused and kept safe. And sometimes, quite often, when I’d rather be doing something else, he needs my full attention and no-one else will do. (I sent this post in late because he had a few difficult nights and just wanted to be held).
I haven’t missed a single blog post, though.
(As a side note, I haven’t seen the first friend for months – she never has the time. It’s painful to admit, but maybe seeing me is not something she really wants to do.)
I fight – every day – to make time for the things that I really want to do. I fight to remember that “comforting things” are not the same as “things I really want to do”. But most days I win, and I feel good about that.
Jean Morris lives in London and blogs at Tasting Rhurbarb.
Bio: Fifties. University administrator and freelance editor and translator.
Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music,
Buddhist meditation and the countryside.
## Add a rhythm to our days
Simple rituals that we enjoy and that are easily repeatable (like writing small stones) add a rhythm to our days that make creativity a priority and that can increase our creative output hugely.
I believe it hardly matters what the ritual we chose is, it can either be something that is directly creative in and of itself, or something that inspires and supports other creative endeavours. I have two daily rituals that add to and feed by creative output.
## My creative rituals
My first ritual is to record a short daily podcast. The One Thing Today podcast is sent out each day to members of my site, Sustainable Creativity, and in it I choose the one small thing I’m going to do each day to move my creative life on a little and hopefully encourage listeners to do the same.
Recording the podcast is simple and takes me about twenty minutes each morning. The regularity of making the recordings shows me that I am capable of sticking to a small creative endeavour, helping me learn to trust that I can do more of the same. It also kick starts my day, every day (well every weekday anyway). They have become part of my daily creative routine and set the rhythm for the day.
My second daily creative ritual is to stop each morning at about 11.00 am for a pot of tea, cup of coffee or (sometimes) a large mug of hot chocolate. I stop, not just because I am thirsty, but because pausing at this time each day is the way I keep myself on creative track. It gives me some time to reflect and check that I’m making the best use of my limited energy and has become an important part of my creative daily rhythm.
## Your own creative autopilot
Whether you make writing small stones your longterm creative ritual, or pick something else, you’ll be on the road to creating a lifelong creative habit that will act almost like an autopilot, getting you through your creative highs and lows and ensuring that you will be able to build up a substantial body of creative work over the long term.
## What makes a good creative ritual
Remember – the best create rituals involve three things:
1. They are based around something you enjoy
2. Simple to do
3. Easily repeatable
Good luck with finding and adopting your own creative daily ritual.
This post is part of the river of stones guest post series. The river of stones is our mindful writing challenge. Properly notice one thing each day, and write it down. Click here to find out more. Our guest post series features writers talking about the art of noticing, writing and more…
A.F. Harrold is an English poet (1975 – present). He writes and performs for adults and children, in cabaret and in schools, in bars and in basements, in fields and indoors.
He is the owner of many books, a handful of hats, a few good ideas and one beard.
He is available for hire at fairly reasonable rates.
Find out more at www.afharrold.com.
The works of Meredith are astonishing; an assault on the senses in every good sense of that term. And since his talk I’ve been looking again at the chalk horses that are a feature of the hills by my home. In all, there are nine such images scattered across the Wiltshire Downs – there’s seldom a week goes by when I don’t pass one, and it occurred to me that always my eyes look upward – always they demand more than a glimpse.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be given tickets to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition in London. It’s been hailed as the greatest collection of his work ever curated. Da Vinci’s skill is undeniable, his vision and influence as important to painting as Shakespeare was to literature. And yet… and yet I couldn’t help but agree with Meredith’s assertions: the size of Da Vinci’s images was disappointing, it reduced the experience, it let me turn away more easily – ultimately, to pay less attention.
It was interesting that the images in the exhibition I enjoyed most were da Vinci’s drawings – most of these were so small that to view them properly my nose was touching the glass. And importantly, in requiring such close inspection they captured all my attention – it felt like peering through a microscope, and reminded me of the sense of wonder we have when objects of magnified.
I came home from the exhibition by train. The line passes to the north of the Ridgeway, and as it nears Swindon the image of running animal appears on a hill to the south. The Uffington Horse was carved 3000 years ago, one of the oldest public images in Britain – and increasingly I think, one of the best. It succeeds as work of art by displaying almost precisely the opposite of the qualities that, for me at least, were the reason Da Vinci paintings had failed – a combination of its dramatic position, its rejection of realism – and ultimately, its sheer unavoidable scale.
Mark Charlton is a writer and painter, dividing his time between work, family, Wiltshire and Wales – his first book Counting Steps – journeys into fatherhood and landscape will be published in October 2012.
He blogs at Views from the Bike Shed.
Today we’re delighted to host Luisa A. Igloria. Luisa’s essay is the longest one in the series. I encourage you to make time to read the whole thing. Luisa is writing about how art forms a bridge to our homes and asks what this means for those of us unfixed from our homes. (There are some of Luisa’s poems here too.)
Go and make yourself a cup of tea, or coffee, and come back, settle down, and read something wonderful…
Luisa writes: In the northern Cordillera region of the Philippines (I am from Baguio City), there is a legend that tells how, in an older time, the world was once nothing but a wide and level plain. There were no mountains or hills then, nor rocks, trails, or landmarks by which to calculate distances and tell a man where he was going. Thus, people who went on journeys always lost their way; or, venturing far afield, when they stumbled into enemy villages, were killed or captured. Their god Kabunian pointed out that all they had to do was note where the sun rose in the east and set in the west, and they would know where they were. But the people complained that since the land was flat and unmarked, east and west seemed the same. Their god sent a messenger from the underworld to make a journey alongside a representative of the tribe. If the former managed to find his way back unaided to the starting point, he would be allowed to take the souls of people with him into the underworld; if he lost, then the god Kabunian would have to give the land more definition. The messenger from the underworld was crafty; when he set out on the prescribed journey, he made deep holes in the ground with his walking stick, creating a trail he could follow back to the village. Some of the young hunters from the tribe saw what he was up to. They took a jug of rice wine and raced ahead of him and set it on his path. He came across the wine, and delighted; sat down to drink. When he was thoroughly intoxicated, the hunters emerged and did away with him. At the end of the day, the people said defiantly that since the messenger from the underworld technically did not finish his journey, Kabunian had to keep his part of the bargain. And so Kabunian made mountains and hills of many heights and shapes, created rocks, ridges, landforms and water forms, each one different from the rest; and it is said that from this time on, the people never got lost again.
I thought of sharing this story because Fiona’s and Kaspa’s blog is called “Writing Our Way Home.” It’s a story that privileges place, location, mapping, landmarks, and travel—all of these, insistent motifs in the works of nomadic/expatriate or multilingual writers. At the same time, the legend reveals how the creation and foregrounding of difference—that departure from the notion of the familiar and homogeneous, whether we call it home, village, culture or nation—is paradoxically what allows for the traveler the fantasy and in some cases the reality of “return”.
Granted, there is a simplicity to the tale, one that does not completely take into account the specific situation or sense of nomadic subjectivity experienced by the one who has left her original home. Edouard Glissant* writes: “… Subjectivity emerges from … traumatic memory, rooted in [the] abyss and given to thinking with ghostly figures. If subjectivity cannot appeal to a single root in history, memory, or place as a holder of [its] center, then we have to think the subject without fixity. What names this subject? How can we think subjectivity without [the] ultimately nostalgic undertones and resonances of alienation and dispossession?” Glissant’s answer in Poetics of Relation is something he names the rhizome, which we might perhaps think of as a state of being marked by a peculiar nomadic character. A rhizome is something that becomes rooted in several places, cannot attribute itself to a single origin or root, and consequently manifests as a hybrid or polyvocal character that thinks of itself as both/and rather than as either/or. Or maybe it’s a stone, tossed from place to place along the path, picked up and examined with curiosity by those such as we— who are trying to write our way home.
Borrowing from these notions then, for the migrant, the anxiety-provoking separation from the past and from history give rise to what a few other writers have referred to as a “poetics of detour, diversity, and relation.” In other words, the traveler’s unfixing from what came before gives rise to uncertainty, but also to important opportunities for strategic reinvention and creative possibility: unhoming gives rise to tactics of negotiation and survival as the traveler inhabits foreign spaces. Practices of memory are bridged and recreated by the traveler across time and space through language (stories, poems, songs, art). In this way language also simultaneously becomes the repository and a kind of mobile museum for those artifacts of former existence that could not otherwise be carried into the new. Every moment becomes a way to encounter a new relationship to the past as well as the future.
The task of writing nomad experience and memory resonates with political implications too; it urgently presses for an aesthetic and praxis that demands that writers honor history but at the same time not concede the ability to work free from its claims. These were some of the issues I found myself working with as I wrote the poems that went into my latest book Juan Luna’s Revolver. The material forming the background for the poems is rooted in the very personal, in ways that we associate sights, sounds, smells, memories and feelings with their locations; yet it does not remain only within the personal or anecdotal. For instance, when I wrote about my family members on the paternal side (who liked to emphasize their mestizo or Castilian origins) and how they were violently opposed to my parents’ marriage because my mother was a farmer’s daughter, I found that I necessarily had to deal with the complicated web of relations that included the Philippines’ colonial, postcolonial, and transglobal histories.
In this town filled with solid Midwestern architecture
and the barely noticeable twang of vowels, she is unsure
of why ghosts of foreign languages haunt her,
even those she has not learned enough to master.
She copies phrases from books she reads— lenguaje electrico,
lenguaje del rayo—intuiting their patina, tasting their
elusive salt. Her daughter, sleepy from waitressing
at a Japanese restaurant, yawns on the phone.
She laughs and says Good night, eat something;
there are ghosts everywhere. Here among sweet clover,
coneflowers, queen anne’s lace, and other respectable weeds,
she feels monkish, brown. Her brother-in-law remarks
at lunch that hazelnut butter is So Euro. Years ago,
her Castilian grandmother fell and shattered
her pelvis on the patio. Bedridden three years before her death,
she darkened in the sheets like a mildewed El Greco.
Punctually after midnight, the plaintive command: ven aqui!
which her son’s wife met with bedpan and warm water.
Light dapples the windows in a room where linens
and sheets have just been changed. There is no smell
of lavender water, but she remembers how she and her mother
would climb the seventy-five steps to the Cathedral.
During Lent, candle wax petaled the mosaic floors.
Penitents bowed to kiss the statue of the crucified Christ
laid prone on a velvet bier—in each painted wound, the trace
of spittle flowering from fervent, uncountable mouths.
From Juan Luna’s Revolver (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009)
The scent of camphor strays across a hedge
and I am back on Mabini, where as a child
I stared at man-roots growing filaments, fluid-filled mason jars
next to powders ground from deer horn and dried seahorses.
It wasn’t till later that I’d read of revolutionaries
and blood compacts, an island traded for a hat,
the annual parade of caravelles and galleons
setting sail for Spanish ports, their holds filled
with copra and anise, barrels steeped with stolen
fragrances, bales of peppercorn and laurel. The dead
swim back and forth alongside these vessels, brown-skinned
sailors and their sad Marias, throwing cameos
on black ribbons at the moon. The dead,
not Magellan, circumnavigate the world,
jump ship somewhere near Louisiana, build houses
on stilts. The dead are magnetized by the call of water.
The dead peer through bedroom curtains, including
Grandmother, half-breed who wants to tame
your tongue and braid your india hair tighter than
that careless peasant bun. Infidel, will you return to the house
that holds the ghosts of your forbears? I’ll look for the town of Zafra,
I’ll look for the villages of San Fernando and San Juan,
for a yellow house where the statue of San Vicente
sits at the foot of El Sagrado Corazon, his blood
perfumed with roses. I’ll close my eyes and imagine
ceilings fed with rain, where every night
mold-stippled constellations emerge, islands too
insignificant for any maps save those in our vagabond hearts.
Writing the poems in Juan Luna’s Revolver, I was also increasingly struck by the idea that artists who lived and worked in a different time and place nevertheless grappled with the same issues I find I am always trying to respond to: what are the subjects of my work? who is my audience, who am I addressing in and through these poems, who listens to these poems? I was led to examine more closely the lives of some of the Filipino writers, artists, and intellectuals who left their homeland in order to study and travel abroad in Spain and other European destinations in the 1800s. It was a time of change and shift perhaps in certain ways comparable to our own: colonial anxieties over race and class had become uncontainable and by this time had given birth to a newly mobile, enlightened class called “ilustrados.” In a way, their migratory journeys also prefigured later outflows of Filipino migrant and diasporic labor all the way into the American colonial period and beyond. When the Filipino painter Juan Luna won one of two gold medals in the Barcelona Exposition in 1884 for his mural “Spoliarium” (painted in the neoclassical style and depicting two defeated Roman gladiators being dragged from the arena and into a small antechamber where their bodies were to be stripped in preparation for burning), both his feat and the image he created were appropriated as allegories prophesying the emancipatory future of the Filipino subject and the Filipino nation. Nevertheless, this was also a time undeniably fraught with trauma, including for the expatriate or immigrant artist:
In a music studio waiting room, waiting
for my daughter to emerge from piano lessons,
I read a magazine article on tubercular
Modigliani—how after his death, his lover Jeanne
leaped to her own from a Paris rooftop, pregnant
with his second child. It was a time
that critics describe as the emergence of
Modernity, the coming-of-age of that inconsolable
and perturbing child who gazes
through window gratings of an apartment
and sees the world fracturing into little cubes of blue.
What a world to have lived in, to have arrived in,
especially for the wayfarer, the exile
with his portmanteau of souvenirs, describing
the pavement between the world of no return and the world
of always beginning, and the light that shimmers
somewhere in the dusty trees. A public outcry shut down
his first exhibit, because it threatened prevailing notions of decency—
those women’s necks lengthening in twilight, their tulip thighs
promising welcome. Not sixty years before,
the painters from Manila made their way to Rome and Barcelona.
Only fifth or sixth class, said Retana of Juan Luna: no notable place
among the ranks of Spanish painters. Reviewers said the same
of Jose Garcia Villa when he came to America to write
among the early Moderns: at best, a minor poet.
Modernity, Modernity, how cruel you’ve been
as Muse, demanding constant servitude and reinvention.
In Luna’s Spoliarium, the two gladiators dragged from
the arena to the chamber of bodies where they will be
stripped and burned, leave rust-colored tracks upon the floor.
The music teacher, a Russian émigré
who used to be a biophysicist in her former life,
might recognize the paradox: distance
infinitely halved, never sutured close.
The Cordillera legend I referred to at the outset, describes the flat expanse of a world extending outward. Without differentiation and any landmarks to anchor memory, it has no apparent boundaries but also unnervingly lacks nuance. The story hints too at the violence of both extremes—of the danger in making one position more important than the other. And so for the nomadic writer, the real challenge lies in figuring out both how to embody and open to further examination, the liminal spaces that lie between the romantic(ized) or exotic past and that equally alluring and open-ended future, without privileging one over the other.
“Postcards from the White City” is a sequence of poems in Juan Luna’s Revolver that I wrote on the 1904 World’s Fair and Exposition, to which 1100+ indigenous Filipinos were brought to serve as live exhibits in a pageant demonstrating America’s bid for status as a new empire. Strangely enough, some of these poems first came to me during a two week summer writing fellowship in St. Petersburg, Russia – walking abroad in the streets past buildings of corroded beauty where grandmothers carried their string bags from market, it felt as if I were in a more familiar place, as if I were glimpsing figures from my own past in this other place so far from home. Writing poems about the galleon trade between Manila and Spain via Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries, or about Filipino expatriates in Europe inspired by “native American Indians” in the Buffalo Bill Cody show to re-appropriate and revalorize the pejorative name “Indio” for themselves— likewise returned me to those spaces where I could see more clearly how much my own personal narratives are always deeply connected to that larger story that others are also trying to tell.
Perhaps, then, this often hallucinatory, vertiginous and time-traveling sense of subjectivity is one of the gifts of an aesthetic that urges the constant contextualization and re-contextualization of stories, which in turn gives deeper definition to the place one seeks to occupy both in time and in poetry. Perhaps, it is a good reminder: picking up stones on the path isn’t such a bad place to be, for a poet.
Underneath plaster moldings, old barns,
stables; plain masonry, blocks of factory space.
Rafters where finches once scattered in a panic
of light. Marvelous facades applied in layers—
so the white glare of buildings rendered smoke
glasses an absolute necessity.
The muses of science and industry
press marbled foreheads against the pitched
roof. Scrolls flutter down the length of pillars
by the entryway; crowds thicken
on the esplanades, lining up for tickets.
In the galleries, a low monsoon hum—
camera shutters whirring open and close.
In rooms where lamps are shaded with mica
bodies hang from walls, robed in dusky brown.
Luisa is the author of Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. She has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. She now teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. Luisa keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings.
Her author website is at http://luisaigloria.com/, and she blogs at The Lizard Meanders.
*Glissant, Édouard. Poetics of Relation (trans. Betsy Wing), Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Texas image by cobalt123
Today we are very honoured to welcome Susannah Conway.
I write things down to remember them, which sounds ludicrously obvious, I know, but wait for a moment. On my kitchen table there is a Post It note that holds the words: kale, lemons, broccoli. Beside my computer there is a piece of paper that holds the words: book gas appointment, pay tax, email Rose. Neither of these will be kept, the words simply memory-joggers, used and then discarded just as quickly.
But then there are the other lists I keep, like the running list in my journal of my nephew’s first words: apple, tractor, mama, moo cow. At some point Noah’s new words will outrun my list-keeping abilities, but for now I scribble down each new word as if receiving dictation from above.
On the 16th of November 2011, I wrote: “New words he said to me on Skype today: orange, melon, horsie. Horsie is the best.” In the years to come, when I’m helping him with his homework or watching him get married, I want to be able to remember how pleased he looked when he held up a little plastic horse and said horsie!
We never know which days will be full of meaning until we look back at them and understand. In 2005 I lost my partner, and as I went through bereavement I found it wasn’t the photographs or his clothes that I clung to for comfort: it was my journals. I had a pile of black Moleskines filled with the trivia of our life together — the celebrations and milestones as well as the arguments and frustrations. The first time he told me he loved me was chronicled with as much detail as the last row we ever had. All of it mattered, and all of it was relived as I re-read my own words in the months after his death.
And now I am here, recording new memories in my notebooks. This afternoon my sister told me Noah said please for the first time; last week he said “look daddy!” I scribble the words down with lots of exclamation marks and underlinings. I take my auntie role very seriously, as I watch Noah climb on the sofa, help to tuck him in at night, and collect the small stones of our shared story in paper, ink and so much love.
Susannah Conway is a photographer, writer and e-course creator. A Polaroid addict and very proud aunt, her first book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (Globe Pequot Press), launches in June 2012.
You can read more about her shenanigans on her blog at SusannahConway.com and connect with her on Twitter.
Photo by Susannah.
Today we’re delighted to host Beth Adams.
Beth Writes: January brings a new River of Stones to the literary and spiritual blogsphere, right at a time when our attention to the world around us might be flagging, along with our spirits. This challenge — to write one small observation each day — inspired large numbers of us last year and I have no doubts that it will be the same in 2012. For some, this is the beginning, or renewal, of a daily writing practice. For others, it’s the first taste of what that might be like. But the real challenge for all of us, no matter how long we’ve been doing this, is how to keep going.
There are lots of reasons why we find it hard to continue writing every day, and I’m only going to talk about one of them here, but it’s a big one. Somehow, as we read what others have done, and re-read our own efforts, a little voice in our head starts making comparisons and judgments, almost always at our own expense. Maybe we hoped for more comments, more support, more encouragement. Maybe what we’ve done falls short of our own expectations. Maybe we think other people’s writing always tends to be more___________ — fill in the blank — creative, interesting, unusual, perceptive, clever, intelligent, poetic. Most of us, I think, have been in this kind of negative, paralyzing place whose sole purpose seems to be to tell us, “You aren’t good enough, this is too painful, this is pointless…just stop.”
Of course, all the arts can be problematic in this way: it doesn’t matter whether we’re writing small stones or a blog or a novel, or trying to practice the piano, or make a drawing every day. My worst crisis over my own work came in my mid-thirties, when I was mostly working in the fine arts. I had had some conventional “success” but was convinced I was missing something significant; that something inside me was holding me back. I became so discouraged and frustrated about art that I gave up painting and drawing for five years, but I was equally determined to find answers.
During that time I learned to meditate, and studied the writings and teachings of masters of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, and the contemplatives and mystics of my own Christian tradition. There were common threads, one of which was mindfulness and attentiveness to the present moment. With the experience of meditation as a practice, I gradually found a new way, which still continues to deepen twenty-five years later. The point of making art, I gradually realized, is not the finished piece of writing or art and the praise we hope to receive for it, but the process of creation and what it teaches us.
Shunryu Suzuki helped me a great deal. I still remember the first time I read his essay, “The Marrow of Zen,” in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in which he wrote:
If you study calligraphy you will find that those who are not so clever usually become the best calligraphers. Those who are very clever with their hands often encounter great difficulty after they have reached a certain stage. This is also true in art and in Zen. It is true in life.
The awareness that you are here, right now, is the ultimate fact…In continuous practice, under a series of agreeable and disagreeable situations, you will realize the marrow of Zen and acquire its true strength.
Eventually, I began again. I learned not to judge my work, or continually compare it to others: just to do it, and let it go, moving on to the next piece of art or writing. It’s one thing to be inspired, and to study work we admire, and quite another to allow our expectations and fragile ego to rule us. In meditation we follow our breath, noticing thoughts as they arise but not judging them, and then we let them go. We try to do this, we fail over and over, but we continue practicing anyway. Likewise, a daily writing practice is an opportunity to observe, think, and write to the best of our best ability right now, and then let that work go without judging, simply moving on to the next day, the next small stone. It’s important to have faith in the process and its ability to teach us. That’s difficult at the beginning, but — please trust me — it gets easier.
We are all meant to be creative beings; I firmly believe this is a big part of why we are here. Eventually, changes are wrought within us as we practice being observant, mindful, and creative. These changes have almost nothing to do with “success” in the eyes of the world, and everything to do with the contentment and peace and quiet wisdom that come from feeling our deep connection to everything around us. There is no hierarchy or limit to this potential; it is within each and every one of us. Even in the face of great difficulties, knowledge of our deeper selves — including our own inherent creativity which is one with the inexhaustible creativity of the universe — sustains us, and is a great gift which we both receive and give.
Beth Adams has been blogging at The Cassandra Pages for almost nine years.
She’s a graphic designer by profession, the co-managing editor of qarrtsiluni online literary magazine, and the founder of Phoenicia Publishing, a small publishing house in Montreal. Her biography of Bishop Gene Robinson was published in 2006, and she’s currently at work on another lengthy writing and art project.