Monday, October 19, 2009

Stating the obvious

As I read and learn about creative people, there is one element of their creativity that stands out. Creative people create. Duh. But it's true. Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, writers write, composers compose, knitters knit, weavers weave, jewelers jewel and so on. It's such an obvious thing but so many people miss it.

Consider that in our modern world, we all can be creative. There is nothing stopping me, for instance, from going a few clicks from this page and buying everything I need to be an artist, an easel, oil paints, brushes and canvases. No, wait, I want to be a weaver. In six to ten working days, I can have a loom, shuttles, nice yummy wools and oh, some yarn made from pop bottles for a table runner. Pop bottles on pop bottles. Very cool. The very fact that I am typing this on a computer tells you that there is no reason why I can't write that murder novel that's been in my head for about twelve years now. So why don't I?

I might make a boo boo, a mistake. It, whatever it is, may not be perfect.

We remember our mistakes but forget the mistakes of others. We exaggerate our own mistakes. We forget that successful, creative people had to create student works, bad art, trial runs, mock-ups and the one that knocks me out, muslins. What are muslins, you may ask? They are garments made from muslin that a designer makes to test the drape and fit of a piece before making the final product from some fabric costing a gazillion dollars a yard. I have a hard time imaging taking the time to make the muslin of a garment, sitting in an atelier making a garment that will never be worn.

I also have a hard time imagining spending years grinding pigment before putting a paint brush to canvas or spending time sharpening the nib of a pen before beginning to write. Yet for creative people in years past that was the reality.

Do I want to go back to those times? Not. Do I want people to be creative? Absolutely. How do I see this happening? By knowing that mistakes will happen and keeping them in perspective. By learning to say,
  • "I'm practicing...
  • "I'm experimenting with...
  • "I'm trying something new...
  • "I'm making a mess...
  • "I'm playing with...
When you understand and accept that not everything is going to be perfect, you can't make a mistake. You recognize that there will always be room for growth, no matter how good you have become. So go. Make a muslin. Write a shitty first draft* or two. Weave a sample. Paint a color chart. People won't know it was meant to be a still life of kiwi fruit if you don't tell them. Knit a swatch, so what if it's three feet long?

And be thankful you are not grinding rocks to make paint.

* Read Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird for more on the shitty first draft.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Don't quote me on this.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.


Why can't I slice it neatly and have lemon with a nice cup of hot tea, like the one I'm drinking now? A slice of lemon would go very well, I think.

Leap and the Net will appear.


Why not Leap and one of those big, yellow, rubber cushion thingy's like they show on Mythbusters when a stunt involves a person jumping from a burning building will appear? I think more people would leap if a big, yellow, rubber cushion thingy would appear. Of course, The Leaping, Big, Yellow, Rubber Cushion Thingy Blog doesn't have quite the ring to it as The Leaping Net.

I've never understood the attraction for quotes or folk sayings. Yet when I started to seriously study what it means to be creative, I found that most of the books about creativity were liberally peppered with quotes.


Some are discipline-specific, say only for painters like this;

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment. -Claude Monet

That makes sense, if that's the way you think about color. Personally, I think color is more fun than that.

Some are meant to be inspirational, I think.

The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. -Orson Welles

As someone who works best with deadlines and structure, this one makes sense to me.

Some are just plain practical.

The waste basket is the writer's best friend. -Issac Bashevis Singer

If that's not the truth, I don't know what is. Of course, I might want to update it to read "The delete key is the writer's best friend" but again it doesn't have the same ring.

Some of my favorite quotes are just passages from
books and not meant to be taken as advice or inspiration. For example, this one from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

It has been said that civilization is only twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.

Now that to me is inspirational. But I still haven't answered my original question.


Why are quotes and similar comments so popular with creative writers, writers about creativity and other creative artist-type people? I think I've finally figured out the answer. Compare quotes and such to the popular books about ingesting poultry-infused broth for the [insert some demographic cohort here] spirit. Now look at the size of the average quote.

Quotes are the multivitamin of the creative spirit, short and memorable they act as a nudge towards the keyboard, the easel, the loom. So the next time that you see a quote, scribble it down and the next time you need a nudge, a little push, a swift kick in the ass, look at the quotes you've saved and know that you are not alone in your efforts to bring beauty into the world.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Blooming

One day last month, I walked in the backyard and saw these buds. Now, the interesting thing about them is that they were growing from a stalk on one of five large, green leafy plants near the ivy along the back wall.

These five plants have been there since my hubby and I moved to this house almost twelve years ago. They have never done anything but grow big green leaves that die off during a cold winter. Then I cut them back and they grow again the following summer.

The next day, the buds had opened into this beautiful group of flowers with a light, spicy scent. My sister Kim was able to identify it as a Crinum Amabile or Giant Spider Lily-Thanks, Kim- In reading about it, I learned that if I amend the soil, which is the proper way to say add manure to the dirt, that the five plants should bloom every year. Amazing!

So, why did this plant bloom this year? Why not any of the previous eleven years? What combination of Texas drought and rain signaled this one plant out of five to put forth such a gorgeous display? Why not any of the other four plants? And to add to the mystery, this plant has since sent out another stalk that bloomed, not quite as profusely but still rather nice.

I plan, of course, now that I know these plants are capable of flowering, to amend the soil, fertilize, water and all the other proper gardening things with the hope of seeing these flowers every year. Will I be successful? Only time will tell and to be honest, I'm not going to hold my breath. They seem to have their own agenda and timetable.

What do these lovely flowers have to teach us as artists, writers or mere mortals? Simply this. Keep growing. Years from now, you too can be an overnight sensation.