Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #42
A'musings #11 (Jan 2008)
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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Death has found it's way into our family circle...
A chilling sliver of our inherited wholeness
Scattered remains tossed at sea
Veiled memories seeking revival
For now, caught in the ebb where words do not flow
I trust all is not lost in creations underbelly
Raw and whirling as it is
No, all is not lost,
Something delicate stirs, a foundling awaiting
Patiently awaiting it's announcement
A word, a naming, a remembering
a calling back into the scheme of things
Yet again, yet again
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In Sight of Lightness Beyond Winter's Night
Summer has always been a source of inspiration for me. Whether it be the warmth of the sunshine that bathes my skin or the brilliance of color that is reflected from every petal, feather, ripple or blade, sunlight is a joyful muse. The summer's sun comes freely, without calling, awakes before I do, and lingers for dessert. It flows through hands and brushes the canvas with vibrant hues of choice. It seeps through the openings to illuminate the otherwise obscure. The summer's sun holds truth and carries life.
It would be easy to fill the page with praises of the muse of summer's light, and give little mention of her darker sister. The muse of winter's night is not an easy companion. She does not come to me. I must follow and work to approach her secrets.
Where might the muse of winter's night lead? She is not one to offer clarity of vision. She makes no assurances. Her domain lies beyond the edge where word or thought or light may reach. She lives in a void that is easily dismissed, though hints of an essentialness not unlike that of exhalation to breath. But it is not the void that entices me to accompany the muse of winter's night. It is more the chance to glimpse the lightness that is only seen from her vantage.
This journey, though, can not be a quest. The void has no space for intention. I must follow the dark muse blindly, avoiding the endless distractions, such as the simple beauty of the winter lights. Starlight, moonlight, candlelight, holiday lights all offer charming retreats to inspire peaceful reflection and contemplation. This path rarely leads to the void.
The journey is a long one and easy to abandon. Although the winter's night may offer a head start past the sensual distractions, the inner voices and visions often divert. Before I realize it, the dark muse is nowhere to be found.
From what I can apprise, I have, on occasion made the journey into the void and have sensed the lightness beyond. Slivers of the lightness shine like auroras from the realm around the bend from the void, where conscious observation is forbidden. The serene smile on the muse of winter's night offers enigmatic evidence of this pure and simple light.
My desire to know this lightness inspires speculation. Is it akin to the glow of grace in moments of sublime beauty or selfless love? Is it of the same nature as the light near life's end, when senses yield to a profound experience of light? Is it a lightness of hope, as one looks forward to brighter, warmer days after a deep, winter's slumber?
Could it be experienced in a dream? Once, in a dream I had, a dream shepherd shared the secret of flight. Carefully lift one limb at a time, stay close to the ground, and glide, she whispered. It's as easy as that. One by one, the bindings of intention, identity, gravity and time were loosened, and I flew. I flew to a place of unimaginable beauty. Brilliant pools and terraced waterfalls flowed as far as the eye could see. Lightness of color, lightness of self, lightness of light abounded. Could this, too, be related to the lightness beyond the void of winter's night?
It remains a paradox to me, a light in the darkness, or rather, a lightness in the void. The desire for a closer experience only pulls me further away. The bindings of intention and identity must be loosened. Then perhaps I can follow the muse of winter's night once again into the void. And maybe, if the fates allow, another sliver of lightness may grace my return.
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"Artists are intellectually and creatively freer than anybody. It is the essence of art to do what your inner demon or angel tells you to do regardless what other people think about it."
This quote caught my attention recently as containing great insight into the essence of what makes an artist an artist, and what also can lead to a richer and fuller life experience for all of us. It also reveals the essential secret of The Way Of The Arts. It is to develop a fully functioning relationship with our inner demons and angels as we take responsibility to find a way to bring their contributions into life experience!
In this age of expertise, so often we have given over our personal direction to experts as directors of our lives rather than guides. We are often afraid to act on our own impulse or intuition for fear of making a mistake or being less than perfect. When we hear the inner voice, we often do not readily see an appropriate way to use what has been gifted to us from the unconscious and cast it aside. Having a good outer support team in this age of complexity is important. However, as we grow in maturity, it is more important to have the support of our inner team of angels and demons to help us with the final choices we make for action. Ultimately we must decide for our selves if we are to be truly free. However, this process is complicated and requires risk! It also helps to be curious!
It is complicated when we have lots of voices giving us advice, both inner and outer voices. It is risky to be the free one often dancing to a different drummer—to be different than our peers. Curiosity becomes the motivating force responding to what has claimed our attention calling us across the dangerous edge of conformity and respectability.
I am reminded of the great Greek story of Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld when she was called beyond her Mother's strict safe boundary because of the beauty of a narcissus she saw. Consequently she was abducted by Hades, the God of the Underworld to be his bride. All sorts of chaos ensued before fertile order was finally restored and the Underworld gained the wisdom of a Queen.
This is the creative way where destruction of the old order must often take place before a new and better order comes in. Ultimately each of us must violate boundaries in order to be free—it may be the boundary of our parents guidance, our culture's rules, our early experiences or other regulations that helped us survive at earlier stages. Hopefully these creative choices are done consciously with thoughtfulness and care.
In this particularly troubled time in the world, a creative response to life from each of us is essential in order to free it from its troubles. Pay attention to what has caught your attention and find the appropriate way to give it life! Follow the Way Of The Arts! Our contributions matter!
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Today I came across a phrase that caught my attention:
"Success comes from finding the right approach."
Immediately I am back in grade school, being told that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. There are rules, I'm told, and my job is to find out what those rules are, and follow them to the letter. How are we supposed to behave when we are at recess? What happens when you hit someone over the head with a school book? I listen, I learn and for the most part, I follow the rules, incorporating them into my internal system as if they were food to keep me alive. And it's true; they were meant to keep me alive. The rules were designed to establish order out of chaos, and to keep young children from doing dangerous and lethal activities. By learning to behave the "right" way, I successfully survived.
But something else happened during that long process of growing up, learning the rules, and following someone else's directions. Like so many of us, I took all that I learned about what to do and what not to do, and I used those rules in areas of my life where they aren't necessarily always appropriate. One area that springs to mind right now is artistic creativity, where I believed in an inflexible set of rules that didn't give me the freedom to spontaneously create whatever I wanted to create.
I can remember as a young child creating a picture over and over that satisfied me completely. There was a house, with curtains in the windows, smoke coming out of the chimney, and a path lined with flowers going from the door into the garden outside. A tree stood there, always an apple tree dripping with bright red apples, with one sturdy branch that stretched to the side. On the branch, the profile of a grey squirrel, sometimes holding a nut, sometimes not, but always with bushy tail curved in a perfect arch. The sun was always out, nestled in the corner of my paper with bright rays fanned out in perfect formation. Sometimes I might have birds flying above the scene, small black V's that simply hinted at the wings of the creatures far away, but often there was nothing but sunshine and sky.
But somewhere along the line of growing up, I began to believe that I couldn't draw. The rules in my head said that good drawing looks a particular way, and if it didn't look real, then it wasn't good drawing. I started to avoid creating scenes on paper. I certainly didn't risk drawing animals or people—they were too difficult to make. And those rules in my head expanded to cover other territory: "Beautiful sculptures have to look THIS way" and "Real artists are the ones who are driven to do art every single day" and "If your art isn't good enough to go in an art gallery, then it's not good at all." I don't believe anyone ever actually said these things to me, but somehow I developed these rules anyway. The result was living my life with a tight rein on those unstable, unusual tendencies of mine to be spontaneous and creative.
Today, thinking of that phrase about finding the right approach, I realize I've finally become successful at living my life with creative freedom. I've somehow managed to let some of those strict, inflexible, internal rules fall away, allowing me to follow my own artistic wanderings in whatever way seems right to me. So if I want to make a piece of art out of an old purse, I can do it! If purple seems to be a better color for the sky, then I paint it! None of my art will ever be in museums because I like my art too much to sell it—I now surround myself with my own creative expressions. I may not sit down to birth a work of art every day, but I do follow my spontaneous whims in many aspects of my life, and when it's time to create, I do so with reckless abandon. So yes, success does come from finding the right approach: for me, success came when I forgot those pesky rules, and followed my own heart.
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
Surfing the Mavericks
The Mavericks big wave surf contest took place last week. Instead of driving to just north of Half Moon Bay where the contest occurs, a group of us gathered in my home and watched the competition unfold on the internet. I baked scones in the morning and served lunch in the afternoon so we were well fed and cozy as this remarkable surfing "Superbowl" unfolded before our eyes.
The Mavericks contest plays a role in a story I am writing. Only problem is, I had never attended this event so couldn't write about it as an observer.
Last year I eagerly watched the Mavericks internet sites, packed with weather and wave data, and even signed up for text messages from the contest organizers. The competition is called fast and with little warning. You must pay close attention during the window of months that serves as the green light period when 24 top big wave surfers are poised to drop everything any moment to fly to San Francisco.
Alas, last year Mavericks was never called. The big waves never came. So this part of my story was put on hold. I studied surfing in an armchair way writing around the Mavericks event.
Then the text message came declaring the contest on for 2008!
The challenge is sectioned into heats and rounds until all but six finalists remain. They compete for first place. The contest began at 8 in the morning. The awards were given out at 3 in the afternoon. Fabulous close-up shots of the surfing, replays and special features augmented by a stream of intriguing commentary made the internet coverage an exciting non-stop experience and learning opportunity.
Surfer talk is wild stuff, its own language:
"It's all about the drop. Some of those curtains... oh, man!"
"He pulled into this 20 foot tube."
"Missed a chance to ride switch foot..."
"The reverberation of that detonation..."
"You've got to understand the bowl."
"There's a snake in the waves."
"He's a goofy foot..."
"Insane air drop..."
But the surfing itself was extraordinary: a human accomplishment of an extremely rare kind. These gifted, death-defying titans of the big waves made gliding briskly down a 40 foot mass of water look easy and joyful. There really are no words to describe it adequately. Even surfer talk can't do justice to this triumphant collaboration of nature and human.
In the last heat, a lull in the waves paused the surfing. The winner reported later that the six finalists were talking with one another in the water as they waited for the next set of big ones. They spoke about how incredibly lucky they were to be able to do this and how much their deep mutual friendship meant to all of them. They agreed that this wasn't so much a contest as a happy reunion for them.
So when one of the them suggested they split the purse six ways, whoever won the heat, they loved the idea. Thus liberated, the six men waited to surf the monster waves simply for the joy of it, in homage to the moment and the wonder.
And, the set that came afterward was unheard of in a big wave contest: seven huge ones in a row for stunning finish! Best of all Mavericks 2008 concluded in a spirit of generosity and camaraderie that made the heart glow.
No wonder my characters head up to Mavericks when the contest is called. Now I know why!
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I buy myself flowers
not the exuberant bouquets
formerly bestowed upon me by suitors
but a multicolored bunch
wrapped in plastic at a store
that could hardly wear the name florist
and I carry them into the house
with the groceries.
This week, I buy a flower mixture
set it into a tall cobalt blue vase
where it looks sparse, shy,
needy, silently pleading for company.
I consider tossing the flowers
noting them almost unworthy,
but they perk up just a bit
in the fresh water and ask to remain.
Taking the garden shears
from the kitchen drawer
I walk outside.
The lavender bush still holds
blossoms at the end of long shoots.
A plant that usually blooms in spring
shows gatherings of deep blue
on two protected sprigs.
Carefully, I cut these offerings
add the stems to the awaiting vase.
Fullness arrives, not only of bouquet,
but of bounty, abundance, floral aroma
scents the house, dissolves the membrane
that separates indoors from out
and I know why I buy myself flowers.
I invite the New Year to hold me well, to allow me to serve and contribute in the manner of my parents, my legacy. I invite people into my life, knowing the recent hibernation to a cave whose door is opening, allowing a revived self to enter the world of activity. I invite the New Year as I would invite a friend to visit, to be with me in true unison, so that, with the New Year's blessing, I will move forward into the circles of days and months that lets me create art with colors and words and to have the feeling of worth as a companion. A New Year, a babe as I once was, and through story, I know my birth, my tentativeness that found strength and as I aged, stood straighter and felt taller. The New Year needs me to care for it so that later I may care for it. I invite the idea of partnership in much that I do, within nature creativity, activity. Being alone does not mean being lonely. There is gift in the comfort of stillness, in the gentleness of quiet. I invite myself to be more adventurous, go place never before traveled, taste unknown spices, read and listen to the unfamiliar. This is a year that I ask for a fuller view of whom I have become while being aware of my constant ongoing becoming. 2008. I promise to keep track of our journey and write down the serendipities of each day. "Miracles", some call them, but I would like the idea of calling them electricity generated by walking hand in hand with you, 2008. What a lovely number. May we both wear it well.
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It was about this time last year when our beloved Rev. Rory died, and our eldest son was heard to comment that our language desperately needed a lot more words for "Love." The only synonym either of us could summon at that time—the Greek "agape"—was somehow too external, too bright, too communal, and somehow a polar opposite to the hollowed shadings of a treasured friendship now imbedded in bereavement and mourning... As best I remember, I agreed we had no fine words for naming such grief. And for a time I let it go.
Much later, while reading a local critic's revue of "The Trojan Women," the word "anguish" provided the catalyst I'd been seeking. Curiosity finally returned. I've since been drawn again and again into meandering explorations of random textbook glossaries. Side trips among "Key Terms" from the scriptures have turned up a wealth of unexpectedly useful words—I suppose it's much like re-inventing a wheel to exclaim over the amazing vitality of classic Greek embedded within our wisdom-seeking semantics.
Finally I can appreciate why so many devoted 19th and 20th century scholars preferred to learn Greek "in order to read the classics in their original form."
Several millennia ago, with single words, the Greek language devised thought-containers that continue to give clarity and credibility to our synthesizing concepts. I have found a terminology treasure captured within "exegesis." Its original root meant "to lead or guide out;" This single word continues to serve biblical scholars, archeologists, and philosophers—no matter their native language or cultural background. "Exegesis is the art of interpreting and explaining—the art of extracting the Truth from inter-faith scriptures, as the Kabbahlists do—or numinous works of art, as historians do—or for that matter, identifying the archetypal patterns underlying one's own life, as Jungian followers do.
Imagine that! Ancient Greeks had a word that can still give us a handle for all that!
As an artist, I have found great comfort in discovering the existence of such a word as "exegesis." It has given a name to a natural law of esthetics. It reassures me that—if we stay true to our own inner wisdom, if we choose themes aligned with our spirit—our work will ever be valid and relevant for others...
For "Truth is beauty... And Beauty, truth..." Whenever, wherever, and with whatever media the Truth has been embodied, it may continue to be re-interpreted and re-applied cross-culturally. It can nurture in all times.
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