It was MLK evening at the Bedford library and I knew this would be a great workshop. I had already asked my all-girl cast to pretend they had no imagination, to show me what that would look like. They promptly assumed a cool and somewhat haughty style of boredom. Out came the imagination dust we scooped into our brains, swirled around our eyes, ears, noses, lips and fingertips, rubbed into our hearts. These girls unpacking storyteller magic did not hold back; their gestures were a teaching artist’s best made plans.
Then we named the contents of a book: words and pictures on paper bound with a sturdy spine. But what if there were no books? Shoulders fell, eyes drooped and lips among this chatty group made clear that, among other things, “If I didn’t have books, imagination would fall right off my head.”
This was going to be a great workshop.
And it was. In homage to diversity we told a Puerto Rican folktale. Gestures and sound effects flowed unstoppable as storytellers took the stage. Kindergarten through third grade girls morphed into mango trees and palm groves, mountaineers and thunderstorms, cave crawlers, angry gods, tiny frogs, hooting owls, gesticulating monkeys — an island ripe with all of the above.
We wound down the evening with one last question: If we didn’t have books, would there...
Feelings. I’ve known you a long time, though we’re off again, on again friends. I’ve tamped you down, even when I was a girl on the swing set, bawling for no good reason, so I thought.
What I missed then, and often since, is that you want me to acknowledge and accept you. I think you seemed very strong to a young girl, and so much more complex than I was. I didn’t know how to proceed with my life to include your lavish entertainments. So I’m pretty sure I turned around and smiled meekly at my world, as though your chaos were chimera, a neighbor’s rude side show.
Certainly I remember arguments with boyfriends who finally pierced my rubberized shell against which you had burned and raged undaunted and unwilling to let go. I remember well, lashing out at some of those boys, incoherent, odd, with hurt intended. It seems to me now, in my well-aged wisdom, that knifing the messenger was my attempt to send you packing. But you’d gotten inside already and no amount of dome repair could bar your escapades from my tent.
What followed, no surprise here, was depression. But feelings must out and in. You. It turns out you’ve loved me unrelenting all these years. And as I’ve trusted you by small measures, you’ve opened up the shades from room to room.
Don’t worry, you...
Old world gate-kept publishing involved a certain classy restraint by the literati, who offered us good books now and then, followed by long intervals of mysterious unavailability. We readers dared assume their writing time did not include extended spates of air hockey or coupon clipping binges. Unless, of course, the protagonist of a story fancied that kind of thing, in which case it counted as research!
Authors nowadays keep in touch routinely to remind readers of the fascinating commonplace of their favorite writers. Do we care? Or, if we hang on those astutely crafted warbles, aren’t we also irritated at ourselves for being fans instead of disciplined creators of our own hot mess?
I’m guessing we’re easily distracted from the deep work of sustained creativity by the seductive call of ‘I don’t care.’ If I don’t care enough about my art to give it time and concentration, I’m free of anyone’s judgement, including mine. The not-so-well-kept secret is that we tend to adore judgement in one flavor only: unequivocally scrumptious acclaim! Otherwise world, do leave me in peace. I am watching YouTube kittens burp.
Death in the Afternoon is not my read of choice, yet I slog through Hemingway’s earnest prose because...?
Because the man’s bullish self-confidence destroys, angers and...
“So it wasn’t magic?” says the girl, pink feathers sprouting from her jewel encrusted crown, her face a mixture of satisfaction at perceiving the truth and chagrin at having found it.
Make-believe is proprietary artist fare. It’s powerful stuff. Politics and advertising ravish it routinely for the purpose of persuasion. But at its heart, making your audience believe you is the artist’s prime directive.
When I teach pre-schoolers anything from insect anatomy to empathy to how to count by tens (yes, they can!), every lesson begins with imagination. We grab it out of the air, rub it into our brains, massage our hearts with it and chant its praises to the beat of our respective drums. We move, echo, laugh and dance until we make ourselves believe that we can create something new with our ideas and make it even better with more ideas and do all this with discipline and joy.
And here we thought discipline and joy might be opposites. Writer Anne Lamott says, “very strict discipline is the only way I’ve found any freedom as an artist.” If an artist forgoes the discipline, chances are good her show, her piece, her play, her prose will fall flat. Why? Because unless she’s very very practiced at her art, she makes no one believe her.
“So it wasn’t magic?”
“When you are taking part in events like these you are, I suppose, in a small way making history, and you ought by rights to feel like an historical character. But you never do, because at such times the physical details always outweigh everything else.” George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
Events like these being the Spanish Civil War, and physical details being rats, mud, hunger, lice, exhaustion, and a state of mind of which he wrote, “I think few experiences could be more sickening, more disillusioning or, finally, more nerve-racking than those evil days.”
So much for my initial response to Orwell's measured thoughts: to point out the turmoil of birthing babies. True enough, it can get dicey. But compared to freezing in fox holes or baking in base camps for months on end, your typical birth giver generally gets it over with in a few undeniably physically detailed days.
With my young ones long out on their own, birthing trauma is a distant memory. Just now I'm ensconced in a warm attic, washing down Hershey’s dark chocolate with coffee Magnifico brought back from Barcelona. As someone clearly without a dot of historical significance, I highly doubt scholars of our age will even find the recent nerve-numbing round trip airlift to Spain worth...