Saturday, April 26, 2008

Do It Yourself Creativity

My grandfather never bought anything, if he could help it. He would go up and down the alleys before garbage pickup, and salvage gorgeous wooden chairs, televisions, paintings, empty bins, scrap wood... whatever discarded treasure he could find. He would repurpose or restore or reuse them. If he couldn't find something he needed in the alleys, he would make it out of two by fours or fiberglass or cement. He even built a huge sailboat in his horse barn and he and my uncle sailed it down the Mississippi into Tampa Bay.

Granted, building a sailboat from scratch is not for the amateur, but the same creativity can show up on the large scale or the small.

My grandmother used to sew and crochet our dolls clothes, or create liniments and ointments that the neighbors all wanted.

My mother used to make fresh breads and pizzas and biscuits... mostly because they couldn't afford store bought, but it doesn't matter. She used her creativity to solve problems when she didn't have money to pay for things.

Friends who saw paintings in museums or magazines or books and would never be able to start collecting professional art were inspired to pick up their own paintbrushes and create their own pieces.

When someone needed a wedding cake, and couldn't afford a professional one, my friend volunteered her novice baker services and baked a delicious treat... even though she did vow never to make a wedding cake again.

It has always impressed me when people managed to create things of beauty or use out of nothing but their own two hands, some basic materials, and their ingenuity. Sometimes I think that having money can be a detriment to our creativity. If we can go out and buy new all the things we want, how much motivation would we have to sit down and figure out some way to create something meaningful out of what we have right there in our lives at our disposal.

When I was a child and we had no money at all, I wanted to read a new book but didn't have a library card. So I decided I would write my own. I started my first novel out of that, at 15, and sure, it turned out to be a lot harder than I ever imagined, but it also opened up a whole new passion for me that I am still pursuing, twenty some years later. If I'd had five dollars to go to the bookstore I wonder if I would have decided I wanted to be a novelist, and if I would have had the nerve to go for it.

Have you used your creativity to get what it was you wanted that you couldn't afford? How did it turn out?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Here is the balance between creativity and motherhood:


Creativity and motherhood are not separate entities. One does not detract from the other and there is no weighting one by shorting the other. It is not about stealing time for creativity from being a mother and vice versa.

Where one lets off, the other begins. Not even. They work in tandem. Creativity infuses motherhood, and your motherhood colors everything about your creativity… and mostly in very good ways.

Motherhood is not an activity, it is who you are, forever. Even when the kids are with papa or sleeping or grown up and living on your own. Even when there are no kids about, you are still and always a mother. When you are writing that novel or jotting lines in a poem or painting a giant canvas or cooking a gourmet meal or knitting socks or staring up at the clouds changing shape… you are a mother and all that means.

Creativity is a holistic approach to life. It is not just about that novel/poem/painting/meal/sock/cloud, it is about the way you look at things. It is about being open to the adventure. It is about looking for new uses for old things. It is about coming up with solutions to problems that do not seem solvable. It is about seeing beauty and meaning in the mundane. Creativity is about learning to speak what is in your heart. It is about looking for and nurturing possibility. It is about feeding your soul with what nourishes and about sharing with those around you, in effect, feeding them too. And all that? That’s what it means to raise children, too.

One and the same, I tell you. One and the same. That is a thing to celebrate.

I'm Taking It Moment to Moment now

Sure, I took the kids to an outdoor art festival where we wandered around and looked at paintings and handcrafted chairs and jewelry, but it was as much about eating ice cream and sitting by the bay as it was about the art.


Today, we were watching sesame street and one of the cartoon bits reminded me of a painting that G really liked at the festival, so I took out my sketch book and started drawing some animal people having a wild rumpus. Ivy saw me and wanted to be involved, so I took out the crayons and a notebook and she did some scribbling. So did the boy, but at their ages, I don’t know if it’s quite possible to do really sustained creative projects. I don’t know, G at least has shown a thorough attraction to watercolor paints. Maybe I should go back to those, they take only a little more advanced planning than tossing crayons and a pad of paper at the kids.

Along with the drawing, we sang along to the James Blunt and Telly Monster duet, “Triangle.”

I would just like to say that it is quite possible that the boy will be a punk singer, what with the way he thrashed around and howled, Triangle! Triangle! Triangle! ...Gle! Gle! Triangle!

How long until he begs for a mohawk?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Today was the day

I took out a folder of my old poems.

I don’t know what is in the folder, or where my mind was when I put the poems into this particular folder. There seems to be some sort of decision about the poems I put in as opposed to the ones I didn’t. I think these are the poems that I wanted to do something with, either rewrite, revision, or send out to magazines. But I don’t remember when I made the folder.

Some poems I don’t even remember, which is actually pretty cool, because I can look at them more objectively. I can see when they are just pretty metaphors without grounding context. I can see when they are complete and whole. I can see when they are confusing, and I can see when there are lines that hit hard.

I still have problems telling if they are too personal so that you have to know my story if you want to understand the poem.

I found a few poems about my mother. I didn’t remember writing them.

Almost all the poems are from my previous incarnation before I had kids. When I was still a mamacita, but the word meant something quite different. I have a lot of poems about relationships and break ups and the single life and teaching and then there’s a whole bunch of poems written about and around 9/11/01.

It is hard to go through the poems because I’m having trouble focusing. It’s a nice idea to read poems in the morning instead of doing the crossword, but perhaps I was doing the crossword because I could dip in and out of it while I was watching the kids play around.

I’ll keep trying.

I did feel the urge there, for a minute, to start writing a new poem based upon my current life and the richness of all the physical details that hold so much emotional weight, but then S had to go take a call and the G started crying for papa and trying to get in the house and Ivy needed to be picked up and put down and picked up again and the poem slipped away.

I believe there was something about the stair rail that my grandfather made, and how I could almost feel his big hands holding the wood in place and hammering it together and knowing that he had made it gave me the feeling that he was still here.

This wasn’t part of the urge, but my uncle told me that he laid the stones and poured the cement on the paths of the garden where he remembered my grandfather had habitually walked. And it is the stones of the path that hold back the jungle like wilderness of the plants. They will take over in a week if he lets them.

I wonder if I can try to write this poem now, or has the germ been lost? Or will the kids require I step out of my self imposed time-out?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What I Really Want Out Of Life

is to allow my creativity to permeate every part of my day. Even my sleep, my shower, my dress, my walks, my cooking dinner, my cleaning the house, my playing with the kids, my relationship with S… everything.

I am not there. Yet.

I have been there in the past.

I want to get it back.

It would be easy to satisfy my creativity by writing my novel and then shutting off the computer when I was done with my hour or so writing time, and go back to the drudgery of every day living. But I do not want my life to be drudgery, I want it to be creative. Since it is not, right now, I think I need to actively pursue the creative. I need to THINK about it and I need to ACT on it. I need to BE the creative, not think about it as something outside of myself that I can take care of once the dishes are done.

Ai Dios Mio. I think this is a big challenge but one that will be supremely satisfying, not only when I have accomplished it, but also during the struggle to get there.

Hmm. Some initial thoughts about what to do to get there?

Laugh more. Yell less. yikes, how do I make the switch?

Limit internet time suckage… but not all internet, because some of it can be truly creative and inspiring, like 43Things, or my favorite blogs.

Talk about creativity.

Play more creatively with my kids. They seem to enjoy running about the garden, but is there some way I can encourage their own creativity? Maybe giving in less often to my own laziness will help.

Pay more attention to the creativity that is already out there. For instance, I am going to go to Mainsail a huge outdoor art festival only a few blocks from my house. Or I can check in more regularly with my favorite creative blogs, and maybe engage more in discussion with those creative bloggers.

Document my journey to the creative life on my blog.

It’s a little overwhelming to take it on as a challenge, instead of just letting it organically evolve, but with the kids, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the things I really want to just happen. I have to go out and make it happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

4/14 Also the Day that G Fought the Floor and the Floor Won

I had a hard time writing my end of the day happy things, because as I was trying to put the kids to bed, I grabbed for G and he fell flat on his face. Luckily he didn’t fall too far, but he did land on his lip. I am happy that he didn’t knock out a tooth.

I was also happy that I managed to distract him from his ouchy with a dose of tylenol, and the activity of rearranging his room so that it was cozier and kept him from waking up every hour on the hour all through the night.

The new arrangement of his room, with both beds length wise along one room, with a bedside table and lamp between them. Looks nice with various stuffed animals cuddled up along them.

Oh yeah, that I might have a job waiting tables at a restaurant right down the street. I’ll go in tomorrow to meet with the owners.

What Does It Take To Be Creative?

I could have an art studio supplied with all the finest paints and canvasses and goos and gewgaws that my heart could dream of, and still be stuck in the arid desert of non-creation.

Of course, now that I have left most of my art supplies in storage in Brooklyn, and don't even have a corner dedicated to creating, I like to think that "if only" I had a space, I could then be so creative it would be like a was being put through a muse powered juice machine. All that lovely liquid gold gushing out of me and onto the page.

Eh. Not true. It's a fantasy that I think we all have, that if circumstances were somehow different, THEN we could really be creative and our true selves would shine through. If we didn't have these toddlers hanging onto our legs demanding attention and sticky jelly sandwiches. If only we didn't have that full time job that we need to pay the bills. If only we had that MFA that would certify we were indeed artists. If only our friends/family/life/past wouldn't get in our way, we could be something better.

There's the fallacy, because we already are the "something better." We already are our true selves. We aren't failures because we don't take the paintbrush out. We aren't losers because we aren't sitting down to work on that novel that has been languishing in our laptop for YEARS. We are just living our lives. (And by "we" I mean, "me.")

Now, perhaps the thing that is getting in our way of unleashed creativity is the "if only" fantasy.

There is no "if only," there is only today and the choice we make to write or paint or craft or whatever it is that is our hearts desire. Yeesh. Hearts desire. What a scary thing to go for. The fantasy of it is less frightening than the reality.

The fantasy of what it would take is easier than the reality of making the time in a busy day for the things we really want.

In truth, creativity comes from a mind-set, not Mount Olympus on high.

Creativity is about looking at what you have, and seeing what you can do with it-- whether that is a few blocks of wood that would like to become a house, or a few minutes between when the kids go down for a nap and when dinner must be started.

Creativity is looking at a problem, and coming up with the way to solve it. So, maybe I've got no where to paint, so I toss a few pens in a bag and get a small sketchbook, and make the world my art studio.

I suppose the key to being creative is taking our native creativity and applying it, not just to the canvas or the page or the knitting needle, but also to our very lives.

Speaking of, I think it's time for me to stop procrastinating and start facing the novel which is scaring me. And soon. Before the kids wake up.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

4/12 The Day of Super Duper Pooper Wildthings Let Loose (and maybe some peace for mama)

Releasing the boy into the wild of the garden, because he had been a wildman all morning. I asked if someone had been feeding him skittle behind my back, it was so crazy. And yet, once fed and let loose into the garden, the swaying green and dappled shadows and many small live things; lizards, insects, fish, must have exercised some calming influence.

Sitting in the garden letting the kids explore, and allowing me to read some of the newspaper.

A call from my brother about a friend of his who has a job he needs to fill asap, and which S actually has experience in. Wish us luck.

Poo. Poo makes me happy because this week, G has gone from a poo witholding, drama-making, screaming and crying, once a week pooper to a kid who poops whenever, no big deal. Knock on wood that it continues, even if there are more diapers involved. Maybe then we can work on potty training. This is the kind of happiness that will only be found on the happy list of the parent of toddlers.

Leftovers for lunch. They were very happy to see those fries and chicken tenders again.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Like any other writer

a mom who writes must maintain her commitment to the words. She must sit down and face the page, the fears, the demons of her past and she must simply, again and again, write.

Unlike any other writer, her time is not her own.

The demands of motherhood and often care for the house and the feeding of those in that house, and the job that brings in some money and all the other roles that a mother must play, well… all that doesn’t leave much time to leisurely explore the wreck and get those words down on the page.

I am exploring what is possible in those small spaces that a mother (me) might find in her day. While waiting for the water to heat for my shower, I wrote a poem. Maybe that is what made me dizzy, and not the heat in the bathroom or that I skipped lunch (again.)

These few weeks, I am afraid that S is going to see the reason why I am a crappy housekeeper. For a long time, I thought it was because I was just lazy and not very good at cleaning. That still may be true, but I think the real reason I suck at keeping house is because I am a writer.

Sure, other writers are able to sweep the baseboards, but I am not. And in the last few years when I have been struggling with the day to day care of two small children and a very messy house, I have also been struggling with my anemic creativity.

I think that is one of the reasons I am not as productive or as neat as I could be. The pull from one role makes me feel guilty and anxious about the neglect of the other, so I try to do little bits of both, neither of which are very effective or fulfilling.

Maybe if I commit more dedicated time to writing, I won’t feel the need to neglect the small time I have to house cleaning, and I will be energized to get something done on that front, too.

Uh oh. I hear babies.

And thus my small time is through for now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Poetry Month: I Loves You, You Knows I Do

I started writing poetry in high school. And it was god awful. In college, I studied poets, and I attempted to do a senior project in poetry, where I wrote a complete book of poems. I wrote constantly. I had hundreds of poems and did not seem to ever be able to turn off that part of me. I thought some of them were pretty good, but my advisor dumped me half way through, saying he didn’t think I could do it.

I still kept writing, but not as prolific as before. It was slower, and more haltingly. My confidence in my poetry was flattened. I wanted to apply to grad school for an MFA in poetry, but never managed to pull it off. Or perhaps I thought I would do it later, and then life got in the way. I kept writing, but stopped identifying myself as a poet, writer yes, poet, not so much anymore.

When I was living in New York City and single, I wrote scads of poetry, went to a few poetry slams and open mics, even read my stuff in front of complete strangers. I was always received well. I attempted to send my poems to lit mags, here and there, but after the initial attempt, it would take me a year or two before I got up the gumption to send anything else out. I spent an awful lot of time writing fiction and writing in my journals, and I could see the benefit of my studies in poetry and poetic tendencies in the prose.

Then I realized I was getting old and would need to do something if I didn’t want to be a waitress for my whole life(I was 25 when I made this realization,) so I decided to become a teacher. I might have thought that I would be giving up my poetry to become a teacher, but upon looking back, I can see that some of my best poetry was written when I was teaching. And let me tell you, teaching teenagers about poetry, and encouraging them to write their own is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I loved watching kids light up when they read something they connected with. Even better was when they found just the write words to share something of themselves, and opened up a door within them. So many of them took off into the poetry and blossomed.

Sometimes I think that door into myself was closed when I had kids. I know that poetry doesn’t go away. It’s still there somewhere inside of me, but there are times when the prosaic day to day of living is too loud and bulky to allow poetry sneak it’s way out into the sun.

I am working on opening that door. Maybe I’ll settle for a basement window.

It IS National Poetry Month, and that makes it a good time to make the attempt.

Next up: Who Knows!? Poets don’t stand for rigid schedules. Except for when they do.

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