I saw this post on a Google+ contact’s stream the other day, and was inspired to take a couple of photos of my creative space. The space tends to be pretty flexible, depending on what I’m working on. I have a folding table that I can set up if I want to do some extended work like crafting or drawing (some of the photos from this post were taken in my home studio, some in my mom’s kitchen). Lately I’ve been experimenting with living close to the floor when I’m at home, because I had a strong intuition that this would be better for my knees and back. So I set up my laptop on a small wooden chest, and I sit on my meditation cushion every morning and evening, writing.
The studio includes several bookcases and a couple of lightweight armchairs that I can move around at will. Right now they’re pushed to the edges of the room, so that I can enjoy the wide-open space of my hardwood floor.
What does your creative space look like?
If you’re curious about artists’ and writers’ spaces, you might enjoy this blog.
When I was a little girl and started visiting my friends’ houses, I remember being blown away by the fact that not every family did things the way my family did. It was a life-transforming revelation to me. Suddenly my world – which had never before seemed limiting – became HUGE, as I realized that there were literally endless possibilities for living one’s life. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by the ways that other people live. That fascination is the reason I read so much, and so widely – because I want to discover my options.
I’m especially fascinated by other people’s work habits. One of my favorite blogs is From the Desk of… because it’s a voyeuristic look at writers’ and artists’ creative spaces. I also used to buy all those magazines featuring artists’ and crafters’ studios, for the same reason. I thought, If I can have a peek inside their workspaces, maybe I can begin to unravel how they do what they do. And maybe there’s some gold there for me.
Apart from assignments for school, I didn’t start writing regularly until my late 20s, when I first began seeking out work as a freelance writer. I loved being published (and being paid for my work!), but I found writing for a deadline agonizing. Most of my articles involved interviews with musicians and artists (which was awesome!), but that meant endless hours transcribing interview tapes. I hated transcribing. I also hated being tied to a word count, because that meant making decisions about what to include, and what to leave out. (In retrospect, this was a blessing. It made me a really good editor – quick to discern what’s essential, and what’s superfluous.) I never had a huge problem with procrastination – I always made my deadlines – but I did pull two or three near-all-nighters in order to submit a story on time, usually because the perfectionist in me fretted endlessly over word choice and word order.
Discovering blogging in the fall of 2006 was another revelation to me. For the first time ever, I got to write exactly what I wanted to write, and then see it immediately published. My writing exploded, and I created dozens of blogs as I came up with new ideas for subjects that I wanted to write about. (Most of these didn’t live to see the light of day, mercifully.)
Then I began working in the business and nonprofit sectors, and adapted my skills for proposal writing and technical writing. I still write every day for my paid job, and I appreciate this experience because it’s taught me to be a workhorse. The subject matter may not always be scintillating, but I’ve learned how to write when I’m not inspired, or don’t feel like writing. And I’ve learned that “perfect is the enemy of done.” I’ve learned to release the work to the world, and move on to the next project. I’ve acquired grit and stick-to-it-iveness and discipline. I’ve learned how to be fast and succinct. I’ve gained facility.
Since returning to regular blogging nearly a year ago, though, I’ve been experimenting with my extracurricular creative habits. I know how to be a writing drudge, but is that all there is? I hope not. I’m still looking for something deeper. I have a sense that there’s more to writing than just showing up at the screen. (Any blogger using WordPress will recognize the photo at the beginning of this post… and will probably also know the agony of showing up at that blank screen every time they write.)
I’ve read some amazing books in the last five months, including three by Steven Pressfield that continue to inspire me to explore what’s possible as a writer. The War of Art is about battling resistance to creative work. Do the Work is a step-by-step coaching session through a creative project. And his latest book, Turning Pro, is about crossing the mine field of addictive and diversionary behaviors that incapacitate the artist. It was humbling for me to read this book, because in it I recognized many parts of myself that I’m not proud of. I also recognized that I’ve spent most of my adult life engaged in “shadow careers.”
Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.
Are you pursuing a shadow career?
Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk becoming an innovator yourself?
If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for.
That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.
There’s no running away from that realization. I know what my calling is. And I know what I need to do. And so I’ll continue to show up, every day, in my free time. And write. And write some more…
Do you ever experience a moment where you just want to reach out and grab it before it gets away? Yell, “That!” and press pause? Hold onto it forever, suspended, for always? I sometimes have those moments, and surprisingly enough they often happen during very mundane, very insignificant activities. I had one Wednesday night.
From my journal:
Sitting in my kitchen. It’s 7:30 p.m.-ish. I just boiled a kettle of water. When it cools a little, I’ll enjoy a mug of hot water.
I spent some time online for about an hour. It left me feeling unsettled. I’m trying to get my equilibrium back. I sat down in my kitchen. I turned on some quiet music. A cat jumped in my lap. The other curled up behind my right shoulder, in my kitchen pass-through window.
I want more time in my life for detours – for un-doing. For non-trying. For anti-settling. I don’t need anything, right this moment.
I took both these photographs immediately after writing. The May evening light in my kitchen was perfect. Tear (below) was purring in my kitchen pass-through window.
In February and March I tried to publish one story a day on Cowbird. In April I struggled to find time to continue doing that, but I haven’t abandoned the site. One of my favorite aspects of publishing there is creating the photo illustrations for my stories. A sample of some of my favorite Cowbird illustrations is below.
Beginning this month, I’m switching to weekday publishing only. See you Monday!
All photographs taken with iPhone, and processed with Camera+
I commented on a thread on Gwen Bell’sGoogle+ page today. She asked: “Tell me something about yourself. (Like: What are you learning about yourself right now? Like: What’s moving you? Growing you? Like: What’s asking you to be a little more tender?)”
I love Gwen’s questions, because they inspire or prompt me to look deeply, with fresh eyes, at my actions and beliefs. In this case, my answer was clear and almost instantaneous:
“Something I am remembering about myself right now (that is also asking me to be a little more tender): I am very comfortable (patient, caring, attentive and helpful) with seniors and sick people.
“Nearly a week ago I was at a meeting at a seniors’ residence, and helped one of the residents with her walker after the meeting. A simple act – all she needed was her walker brought over to her. But it was a strangely profound experience for me, accompanied by a kinesthetic memory of doing the same actions many, many times before. (My first paying job as a teenager was working in a nursing home. I was also a candystriper at a local hospital, and for several years was self-employed in a service industry where I frequently came into one-on-one contact with seniors. I have not worked with seniors or sick people for several years, however.)
“Then yesterday I visited a loved one in the hospital, and was surprised by what a calm, touching experience it was. Hospitals don’t freak me out the way they do some people (probably thanks to the whole candystriper thing), but I’m not necessarily good at making conversation with people who are unwell. In this case, however, what was really needed was a little personal care. I rubbed lotion on his back and limbs, to soothe his itching skin. I fetched him some ice chips (he’s currently nbm). I sorted out all his tubes and bags and took him for a walk. All of it was so strange and familiar at the same time.
“He was so thankful when I was done. I was so thankful that these things came so easily – that my body could remember things I’d forgotten I knew…”
In yoga we work with the “edge” – the place where a pose becomes uncomfortable. Working with the edge teaches me how to work with other edges in my life – the places where relationships become uncomfortable, or my work becomes uncomfortable, or my thoughts and emotions become uncomfortable, or my habits become uncomfortable. I’m often a whimpering coward when it comes to working with edges, though. Just saying. I don’t like pain.
I visited my loved one at the hospital again today. He was sitting up, waiting for me, eager to repeat yesterday’s “massage.” (Funny: for me the experience was simply “rubbing lotion on his skin.” For him, apparently, it was something much greater.)
I wasn’t as present with him today as I was yesterday. Yesterday, it was all uncertain and new. I could only wait and respond to what was needed. Today I expected (and was expected) to repeat yesterday’s magic. And somehow it wasn’t as magical (at least for me).
My edge, today, was my awareness of the nakedness of his need. He needed help getting a tissue. He needed help cleaning his glasses. He needed help checking his phone. He needed help getting more ice. He needed someone to touch him with healing intention, and love. He needed help using the toilet. He needed help going for a walk around his floor. He needed his hand held. He needed help pushing the little-blue-sponge-toothbrush-thingy to the bottom of his styrofoam cup of ice, so that it would soak up the precious few drops of water he was allowed to put in his mouth. He needed to know that his needs weren’t too many for me to help him with.
They weren’t too many. But having met all his asked-for needs, I rushed off to let him sleep – afraid of all the unasked-for needs I couldn’t hear. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for him. I don’t know what they’re going to find. I don’t know if he’s going to be okay. I don’t know if this afternoon was the last time I will ever see him.
There’s a hymn I used to love singing in church, although I could never make it through all the verses without choking up and having to stop. It’s called The Servant Song. I heard it today in my head as I drove home from the hospital.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
fellow travellers on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.
Brother, let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant too.
That last line is a killer. “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” That’s another edge I withdraw from…
This morning I made a list of things I wanted to do today. I don’t normally make to-do lists, but I was feeling scattered.
* visit —–
* x-mas card blog post
The list was supposed to remind me of what was important. So I tended to the compost when I got home from the hospital.
There is a compost bin behind my apartment building. I don’t think anyone else uses it but me. I compost all my kitchen waste – and there’s a lot of it lately, since I’ve been eating a mostly raw food diet.
Funny, he was the one who taught me about compost. And about the rhythm of the seasons – the outdoor tasks for spring, summer, and fall. The composter is nearly full, and I know that when the freezing weather comes, the process of decomposition will grind to a halt until spring. I wanted to make sure there was room in the composter for all my winter waste.
I pried off the two covers at the base of the black plastic bin, and started scooping out dark brown humus with my kitty litter scoop. (I KNOW. At least it’s a really good scoop, okay? I paid a lot of money for it. It’s strong.)
I managed to get out about two buckets’ worth of brown mud. I slid the covers back on the bin. Then I worked down from the top, using my winter snow shovel to dig out layer after layer of progressively muckier rotting fruit and vegetables, in an attempt to get down far enough so that I could push the compost down into the spaces I’d just emptied.
It smelled awful. But it was beautiful.
Compost is a living ecosystem. I saw ants on the very top. (The fruit flies that had been omnipresent all summer died with the recent frost.) Near the middle of the pile I found earthworms. Juicy, plump, wriggling. They eat the decomposing organic matter, and their poop makes nutritious food for plants.
After I finished shovelling everything back in the composter (and gently relocated a few stray worms), I spread the humus on the nearby flowerbeds. Lilies of the valley and peonies will grow there next spring and summer. As I passed my hand over the humus to smooth it, I had a flashback of my palms rubbing soothing lotion over itchy skin.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sacred activities and ritual. About the intersection of the mundane and the holy. About purification, transformation… and shit.
There’s a blessing I perform on my apartment whenever I am about to have guests. (I also do it sometimes for myself, but this particular blessing is primarily for welcoming outsiders into my home.) I wander through each room with incense, blessing each of the four corners with a different intention. “Bless everyone who enters this place.” “Bless their intentions.” “Bless their creativity.” “Bless their relationships.”
As I leave my kitchen, I say, “Bless our elimination, which gives back to the Universe that which we don’t need.” By my back door, I say, “Bless the shadow, which makes us whole.”
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode.
“So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”
My kitchen smells like ghee and steam and the soft, dry perfume of fresh apples.
My kitchen smells like cold water on brass taps and handmade soap with flecks of spices in it.
My kitchen smells like washed hands and unwashed brow.
My kitchen smells like hungry cats and traces of feet on my yoga mat.
My kitchen smells like heat and damp linen tea towels.
My kitchen smells like potatoes going south.
My kitchen smells like herbal tea in white crockery and butternut squash in dusty vintage baskets.
My kitchen smells like stricken matches and compost that needs emptying.
My kitchen smells like What’s for dinner? and Are we there yet?
My kitchen smells like fresh basil and aching legs.
My kitchen smells like stretched patience and empty canning jars.
My kitchen smells like loose change and stray hairs getting caught between my glasses and my eyes.
About this poem: I’ve heard it said that a work of art that needs explaining is probably not a good work of art… but sometimes people really like to know more about how something was created, so here goes.
I rarely write poems. When I do write them, they often come to me all at once in about half an hour as I’m doing something that I never anticipated would inspire a poem.
In the case of My kitchen smells like, I dropped and broke a glass on my kitchen floor this morning, right before I was about to begin my daily yoga practice. As I swept up the pieces, I noticed a funky, sweaty foot smell, and kept trying to figure out where it was coming from for the entire time that I did my yoga.
Later I noticed that my kitchen smelled like apples. And then I kept thinking of other things my kitchen smelled like, and the poem was born.
I didn’t necessarily intend for the poem to feel so harried near the end, but breaking the glass first thing in the morning and having to postpone my yoga practice to clean it up made me feel rushed and cranky, and a lot of that seems to have oozed into the similes I’ve used.
My favorite line is “my kitchen smells like loose change,” because I like the wordplay in that phrase. A lot of my life smells like loose change, come to think of it.
I also like “my kitchen smells like stricken matches,” mostly because I’m not really sure if stricken is even a word. But I figured this was a poem, and therefore I had poetic license…
This post was originally published on my writing blog, tell it well.