Excitements and Possibilities

“…the excitement and possibilities are in the working and can only come in the working” – is a quote of long-standing importance for me. The words are those of the painter Francis Bacon, and they’re scribbled on a paper scrap, edged with blots and scratches from attempts to get my fountain pen started. It sat on the desk for a long time, and now is thumb tacked to a shelf – a reminder to get started.

Bacon referred to creative work, but I try and tell myself the same principle operates with house chores. Now in October, jobs pile up that I’ve let go during the summer when the garden is priority (or truthfully the blog is priority). But just now I am trying to convince myself of “excitement and possibilities” in resealing the bathtub. It’s the kind of job I stall about.

I already know the phrase applies to garden work. I go out to do some specific task and suddenly have ideas about what else I’d like to do. Moments when work gets accomplished and new potential excites me.

Lists work – one on a yellow pad in the kitchen and one on my desk calendar. I just need make them – and then look at them. (I love a peek at other people’s lists. The first time I saw a son’s long “to do” list on a yellow pad, I knew things were different.) The best thing about the sealant job would be being able to cross it off the list.

I’m hoping going public about the caulk job (and taking a toothbrush to the grout wouldn’t be a bad idea either) might spur me on. Once engaged, the fall jobs won’t take so long. “Well begun is half done” the adage says.

I’d like to get past the “must do” part of the list to elective tasks – like organizing the recipes (the mother of my young friend told me about plastic pages in a notebook making finding things simple). Changing the nook pillows. Clean out my closet.

Virginia Woolf once wrote of the summer being “folded up and put away on a shelf like a sweater.” I think of that each time I get a sweater off the shelf at the top of my closet. It’s past time to get out the heavier sweaters (the distinction here is not sweater or no sweater, but the weight of the wool). It’s time to wash and organize the sweaters, add fresh lavender sachets and discourage moths with their own job in mind.

Freeing my mind from nagging and reminding might lead to excitement, and I have a gift from the young writer to help – words from John Cage: “If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, try it for 8, 16, 32 and so on. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” Olé!

Books – Pixels or Pages

On a rainy Sunday (no, not all Sundays are rainy these days, but many), we headed for the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair at the Seattle Center. We rode the ferry from Bainbridge and walked up the hill to the monorail – a Sunday morning city – quiet.

And it was hushed in the Exhibition Hall – a huge room full of aisles of booths manned by book people of all stripes – independent bookstores, dealers with first editions, collectors of posters, individual pages of manuscripts, and author correspondence.

My main goal was to visit Vamp and Tramp Booksellers. I don’t know how or if they assign those titles to each other, but Vicky Stewart is pretty with southern honey-tones in her voice, and her husband Bill is professorial and kind. Both are gracious. Together, they cross the country in a van with their goods aboard – handmade books consigned by the artists that Vamp and Tramp, with enthusiasm and care, represent.

They have a great web site (vampandtramp.com), but with artists’ books there is no substitute to seeing, holding, and opening pages. Vamp and Tramp make this possible by visiting book fairs and special collections at libraries and universities on their rounds.

Artists’ books are hard for galleries to exhibit, but they are comfortable owned by individuals or in special collections. Housed in custom made boxes in closed stacks, these often one-of-a-kind books are brought out by request for students and interested visitors, and for exhibitions organized around individual artists – or particular subjects.

To visit Vamp and Tramp at this book fair is a little like a visit to a collection. In a setting with many faded (but valuable) books, their books are colorful and inventive in shape and content – popup books (handmade and amazingly intricate), accordion folded books, elaborate hand bound books, and books of unexpected materials. I asked particularly to see books that contained text beyond letterpress (many book artists are printmakers, and they produce exquisitely beautiful volumes with large text blocks).

I’m curious because I want to make more books, and wonder now about beyond the year of the blog. Combining words and pictures is joy for me. The mechanics of constructing a book by hand is at the other end of the spectrum from sending out the blog with a push of a button. Paper pages or pixels – both a chance for expression.

On this visit I delivered my set of foldbooks, newly bound and housed in a red portfolio. On their circuit to Canada, back home to Alabama, and up the East Coast, Vamp and Tramp will show these books where they might be of interest – all before Christmas.

While I stay home and work – that’s inspiring – and I’m very grateful!

On Time

Alarm clocks – necessary evils – give us time. I am a snooze button pusher. I am also likely to set the alarm for an hour before I need to get up. Then I can sleepily reset it for the correct time and dive back into sleep’s warm nest for just a little longer. But – after negotiation with my clock – I do get up. Sleep fog doesn’t last long, even on these dark-in-the-morning days, and the rewards are great.

Robert Grudin, in “Time and the Art of Living,” describes a commonality (in spite of many differences) of Anthony Trollope and Gustave Flaubert. “They understood that no artistic necessity – not technique, elegance, genius itself – is more basic or inalienable than regular and expansive time. One need not be great or famous to experience its positive force.”

And in “A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write,” Kenneth Atchity says a part of our brain, the part he calls “the managing editor” knows our “strongest, most faithful collaborator is time.”

Anne Lamott wrote a snappy article about making time for creative life (http://www.sunset.com/travel/anne-lamott-how-to-find-time-00418000067331/). (A young friend who is the mother of two sent the link – she keeps a copy on her refrigerator.) Lamott in her funny but fierce-about-what’s-important voice declares “no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor,” and adds, “I’ve heard it said that every day you need a half an hour of quiet time for yourself or your Self, unless you’re incredibly stressed, in which case you need an hour.”

Grudin lobbies for a little more: “…when we allow ourselves not just one or two hours, but several for productive activity, we show mercy and patience to our own minds, and they bring forth good things even on bad days.”

And Atchity says: “The satisfaction will come from knowing that each day you’ve allotted time for the work you love, the work you want to do.”

With a little help from that alarm clock!

Big Bird’s Banana Bread

September might be my favorite month. I love the often-fine weather and the potential for exciting new beginnings. School starts (all those years – as students and as parents of students). We married in September. Three years later in September our first son was born. Virginia Woolf wrote, “It’s a pleasant thing come autumn to make plans.”

But this September is looking a little quiet, and I am fighting the empty feeling that comes after a full holiday weekend. It’s sad to see the two pairs of slippers, worn by the young people on their visit, lined up in the corner of the entry. Dimming light brings a little melancholy this damp morning – foghorns on the Strait and three sweaters on me.

I’m always trying to wrestle my mind away from an unconstructive default. Overripe bananas moved me to make “Big Bird’s Banana Bread.” The fragrance of the banana bread baking set up a series of nostalgic (and not realistic) thoughts about the beginning of school, remembering years of banana bread as afterschool treat.

The recipe came from a long ago Sesame Street Magazine – I used to know it by heart, but to make it after we moved here I had to ask the mother of my young friend to send it down to me. It takes just a minute or so to put together – melt the butter, heat the oven, mash the bananas with honey, and add the dry ingredients and nuts if you like.

But it takes an hour to bake – and by that time I had turned to finishing up a series of foldbooks about autumn. (The words of Mary Oliver set me to work: “The working concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work – who is responsible to the work.”)

The handwork of cutting the endpapers, titling the books, and picking colors for covers reset my mind. The six books, embellished with hop vines and rose hips, an orb weaver, late blooming-lilies, and Washington winter plant color, trace this time of late summer into winter. Drawn and painted over a couple of autumns, these pages are overdue for binding. (The foldbooks will decorate the header of “Her spirits rose…” to finish the year.)

I decided to take the banana bread to my bookbinder friends along with the books to be bound. They might have fall plans to tell. Then I can plan how to record September here – the images on the foldbook pages remind me there is much to cherish about this season.


While getting ready for my “demo” at a retirement center on Bainbridge, I thought about a handout – I liked the idea of ending it the way the artist Don Nice did once for a workshop. At the bottom of his requirements he wrote: “courage.”

I’d made palettes out of yogurt lids and labeled the squeezed out colors around the edge: Rose Madder, Ultramarine Blue, Thalo Yellow, Green, Red, and Violet. I took cut squares of good hot press watercolor paper, a handful of older small brushes, and a mix of pencils and pens. Before we began I set jars filled with water on white paper towels.

Any “excellent prep” about me proved unnecessary. I’d printed out some of the blog and gathered old things – by way of explaining why I paint, but have no recent big paintings. That didn’t matter.

These folks were interested in doing. I tried to hold the board upright and draw a yellow sunflower, while chattering nervously and keeping my eye on the crowd’s restlessness (10 swelling to 14 or so as the time went on). My drawing had no life, Cadmium Yellow dripped. I gave up and said, “Let’s paint!” One woman had already begun with the stir stick from her coffee, making enchanting gentle marks. The individuality of all the pictures amazed me.

Cherries seemed possible subjects to me, but I also brought flowers in vases. More for cheerful prop than actual subject – I thought. One woman said right away: “I don’t like cherries, I’ll do the flower.” (In the end she made a tiny expressive still life with cherries added to either side of her flower’s vase).

We talked about primaries and secondaries, and I allowed as how you can’t really make green with blue and yellow in watercolor. A painter corrected me: “Well I just did!” I don’t know if they learned anything but I did.

As I left (many “thank yous,” “that was funs,” and one woman said maybe she could do this instead of on-line solitaire), it struck me that after our teen years, we often can’t see past the disadvantages to the possibilities of a time with less independence.

Driving home, listening to the radio, I heard Rosanne Cash say with a chuckle that she was a better person (more expressive I think she meant) in writing than in person – that she didn’t understand things until she wrote about them.

She’s so right. And the next morning it dawned on me (writing) that considering a more restricted life made the drive home literally full of the freedom of the road. Normal irritating things – hot afternoon traffic full of worker bees off the ferry, the drone of NPR crisis news, intense west sun only partly blocked by visor and sunglasses – might be what I will miss and remember at some point (like the way I think back on my children’s childhood, while in truth I was often frustrated and impatient).

Impatience. I wonder just now if impatience is a signal – that’s worth thinking about. As is Nice’s essential ingredient: courage.

Tea with David Hockney

Tea With David Hockney

Well, no, I didn’t really have tea with the master, but in my old journal I read where I dreamed I did. I was in the midst of trying to paint, with as much immediacy and facility as I could muster: the dog, the cat, and the elm in our Anchorage backyard.

That winter I’d seen an exhibit of David Hockney’s work at the L.A. Louver Gallery in Los Angeles and been refired with his view of the world and art. Encountering Hockney’s lifelong, ongoing passion for his work inspires courage and renews me always.

Best known as a painter of pleasures like Southern California sunshine and swimming pools, Hockney is a master of line and color and shape, experimenter with photo collage, stage sets, and the iPhone. An extraordinary draftsman, he uses oil, acrylic, or colored pencil to make portraits of family, friends, or his dogs, celebrating life in all his art.

And, to my joy, for this work (painted in his home landscape – the rolling hills, fields, and valleys of England’s East Yorkshire) Hockney turned to watercolor, imbuing it with his particular individual character. I bought the L.A. Louver catalogue “Hand, Eye, Heart” (“An ancient Chinese saying of what is needed for painting.”)

Endpaper photos show Hockney at work in his car, pulled over to the side of the road. A flat wooden box wedged between gearshift and dash holds his premixed colors in lidded jars. Hockney balances paper on a drawing board in his lap, dips a brush into a little palette perched on the armrest with one hand, and holds a moppy brush and a tissue with his other. In the back endcover photo, he paints with a brush held delicately in his right hand – a cigarette with dangling ash in his left.

In an interview in the catalogue Hockney tells Lawrence Weschler why he became interested in watercolor: “The full-laden brush, I realized, was very effective. It’s the most direct method of laying in a mark flowing from the eye, the heart, down the arm to the hand, through the tip of your instrument, everything flowing very quickly and seamlessly. Oil painting in a sense you have to push. Watercolor just flows, ink flows. Much more immediate and direct.”

With unlabored marks of paint Hockney creates flowers, raindrops, the roofs of buildings, roads twisting through fields, and skies – layers of landscape. He tells Weschler of pulling off the road often to “sketch a particular stalk of grass or weed in the low roadside hedge. See? Each one quite distinct, quite different.” I love Weschler’s description of this: “A calligraphic cavalcade of things noticed.”

When I see these paintings I feel like I am in the car, traveling the lanes of rural England past fields in various stages of ripening, trees blossoming or bare. I’ve read and admire that Hockney paints and draws all the time, so I appreciated his taking time out to drive me along those country roads, home to tea.

Excellent Prep

When asked for advice about giving a “demo,” my friend who paints in the woods (and teaches art) said: “excellent prep.” (That might be the key to a lot of life.) And while I am thinking about her words, as I get ready to make a presentation as part of a Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery outreach program, I am often preparing for summer guests.

My sister-in-law is a great traveler and curious. She has never been here and her visit inspires a dinner party. I think she would enjoy learning about this place, so I’m melding together a couple of party strategies.

At first I pictured a manageable dinner party – six to fit comfortably at the big table. Because the guest list grew, we’ll make a long table from the six-foot dining table and the four-foot nook table, layer short but colorful tablecloths together, assemble motley plates and napkins and chairs, and many small jars of flowers. My plan is to go around the table and ask people to tell why they came here and what they like about it. “Somewhat directive,” but a chance for everyone to talk and compose a story of this place.

Friends make the food part easy. They’ve offered dishes, a mingling of tapas and potluck, to serve family style. So far I’ve heard guests will bring a special coleslaw, savory bread with onion topping, a grain of some sort, deviled eggs, tofu with peanut sauce. The as-yet unknown dishes – summer vegetables – will be fresh from gardens. I’ll put out simple starters – olives, nuts, and carrots – and revisit my Catalan foods – frittata and bean salad. This summer marks the fifth birthday of our house, so my clever friend will bake a celebratory cake, something with fresh fruit she says, for dessert.

Our first-ever visitor was a history professor from the University of Texas. At a large and ungainly dinner before we had much furniture or really lived here, we gathered around the two tables to share a potluck with our visitor and an assortment of recently met local people.

The professor made the evening memorable by suggesting we employ the “Austin Rule,” born of dinner parties in his college town – one conversation for the whole big table. It can lead to some great fun – especially if a topic is introduced.

So that’s my hope with this party – one table, one conversation, and lots of great food. Then I turn to prep for the demo.

Summer Scenes

After a Gardeners of Peace visit to the politician’s garden, I’m changing her moniker to head gardener for the Gops.

We other three wandered around admiring everything. From the head gardener’s Craftsman cottage, a walkway under flowering dogwood trees leads to flowerful perennial beds – tall lilies lean out, small blossoms spread below. Plump plants of lavender border a handsome arbor near orderly vegetables, ripening raspberries, and a charming chicken house. It’s a picturesque scene.

Then we came upon a “secret space” – a glade hidden by trees, real geraniums, and a carpet of perfect grass. This green room was furnished with a hammock, and a picnic table laid with colorful tablecloth and tea treats: lemonade and iced tea to mix or not, deviled eggs in a deviled egg dish (no untoward jiggling off the plate), spicy cucumbers, bite-size chunks of ripe watermelon, a bowl full of cherries, crusty real bread, and gorgeous scones and jam!

A chance to catch up in a glorious summer setting. We talked trips mostly – and the librarian, being fond of details, asked me about travelling and painting, how did I do that?

“Because of my painting kit,” I thought later driving home – a seven-inch by eight-inch zippered pouch of rip-stop nylon. Small and light, it contains a tiny, simple studio for a watercolor painter: a pocket-size box of paints with the original pans of pigment pried out and replaced by squeezes of tube watercolor. The paint box came with a little take-apart brush (the brush stores in the handle), and I added one with a better point. On the faded and worn cardboard cover of the box is a watercolor scene – a classic English painting, surely by Winston Churchill or Prince Charles.

Mostly I work in my journal on a trip – but the kit contains cut pieces of hot press paper and a tiny drawing pad. Tape from a small roll can turn a folded-over piece of paper into a letter to mail. The cut-off end of a square plastic juice bottle holds just enough water for painting, and tissues from a tiny carton blot an overloaded brush. Colored pencil stubs are handy when water is not available, and color is called for.

The little kit holds a lot of memories of places – adding color to drawings on mountain trips, in airplanes – or sitting up in the early morning with cup of tea in a hotel bed. Even when not accurate, little paintings, colored drawings say something different than photos. They represent moments of concentrating, the moments of effort I cherish.

I didn’t have the kit with me, but would have liked to linger in the head gardener’s glade to capture some part of her summery scene.

Journal Keeping

When I began to write each day about life in this new place – which led “Her Spirits Rose…” – I began another slightly embarrassing endeavor: rereading my old journals – from the beginning.

I wrote the first journal from the back to the front. I’m over that – also over the grown-crackly-with-bad-glue books I used then. I’m even past arguments with myself about my worthiness to write and draw in the handbound Watermark books I love.

Art making led to the record keeping initially – what I’d done, what inspired, figuring the next project. Entries tended toward the tedious and technical – the fixing times and recipes for fiber dye colors, kinds of watercolor brushes, transparent versus staining pigments, hot press or cold press paper: these notations which reinforced what I learned formed a reference to return to.

After reading a lot of years (just a bit in the early morning) work rhythms became clearer. Eventually I gave up griping at myself – fretting I allowed, but not belaboring failures. And I can see the power of tossed-off wishes, one of which – “I wish I would do something about all the flowers in my life…not just the wildflowers but flowers from grocery store and garden.” – led to a focus and a book.

At first I wrote briefly before getting children out of bed. Then growing children left more time and more references to them (happily to me now) – chicken pox and driver’s licenses, college acceptances and travel adventures.

Approaching the present, I encounter the house-building years and all my worries. Sitting on the second story floor here, with windows framed in but no sheeting or roof, wondering if I would ever really sit at a desk in that spot. I repeatedly query myself in the journals about whether the move would happen, and what I would think. This writing endeavor might attempt to answer questions I posed in the past.

For that is what journals do – allow time travel. I like best to read the details – not my feelings, but descriptions of actual events – welcome rain on the roof or a splendid rhubarb pie. Virginia Woolf wrote that we don’t know our feelings in the first moment. But she’d agree the details are only vivid at first.

The author with the challenging name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explored “optimal experience” in his popular book “Flow.” He writes: “The prodigiously detailed letters so many Victorians wrote are an example of how people created patterns of order out of the mainly random events impinging on their consciousness. The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down. It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place.”

Mostly the journals are a record of getting to work and a good source of encouragement, full of the intrinsic reasons for writing and drawing – to organize, to observe, to express, to have discipline, to gain knowledge. Keeping a journal rewards the doing.

A Pig in a Post

My bookbinder friends brought the pig back from a trip to Mexico in a winter colder than this, a year when spring refused to begin. Watching for spring indicators, needing to make the foldbooks, I was in a work stall. The pig, all folk art decorated blue, got me going.

The inhospitable weather these March days reminds me of then. Outdoors the wind chills, but indoors the sun cheers. In March I think about the sun verbs: pouring, flooding, streaming. How we are enveloped, soaked, awash with light. And we get filled up – with warmth and with energy.

Light and energy are inseparable in my mind. I’m grateful for the sun pouring in these mornings – in spite of a ten-minute hail pass-by. Blue sky to the south but it’s hailing here, collecting on car, bouncing on birdbath, rat-a-tatting on metal roof, pellets sliding down skylights. And just as quickly as begun – stopped. Sun hot on the back of my head.

Frances is an indicator of weather outside – on really bright days she sleeps in a puddle of sun on the end of the bed with her paws over her eyes, on windy days which chill the house, she tucks those paws under her breast.

Like a northern house needs to do, this one reaches for all the available light. The brightness from windows is doubled as sun streams through panes, forming grid pattern shadows on the floor. My workroom faces south and is saturated with abundant March light. Feeling rich, I shut out all but the glow through shades, to dampen the white paper glare. As the length and strength of light expands, so does capacity for work.

And – a sunbathing pig is a sign of spring.

A Woods Walk and the Winter Wren

Beginnings sometimes challenge – and getting going seems easier with routine. A daily walk isn’t such a sure and efficient raiser of spirits as a run, but it’s close. Our daily walk, regardless of weather, is a routine guided by my exercise-dependable husband.

But wee scholar days disrupt the schedule, and I must discipline myself. Being in town leads to temptation, the lure of a giant morning gory muffin or maybe a few errands. Morning time is precious. It’s best if I just go home and go for a walk.

The woods walk begins on public land nearby, along an old logging road that turns to a path of duff – layers of fir needles and broken cones, leaf and branch litter, all soft underfoot. The route is not long, an up-hill, down-dale sort of forest amble, the circuit takes less than an hour.

Sometimes we see horseshoe prints or bike tire tracks, get passed by a runner coming or going, greet dog walkers. Neighborhood users of the trail care for it – after storms, downed trees get cut apart to clear the way. A green-all-winter-understory of ferns, salal, and rhododendron grows beneath fir, cedar, and hemlock. A couple of fallen logs are fashioned into rough-hewn benches. This time of year bright new moss cloaks stumps and nurse logs.

March is too early for the full-on dawn chorus, but the overture begins now – individual birds test solo songs. When the music rings out from a winter wren, which I rarely can see, I have to resist the notion that a giant tree sings. I stop in the woods to try and find the source of such beauty. Brown, tiny, and rounded – the wren has a voice out of proportion to size. To hear this hearty melody coming from such a tiny body is joyful.

Once walking the path with a friend – little and winter wren-like herself, an artist who paints in the woods, a wearer of green and brown – we got close to a winter wren perched on a branch. One of us saw it and signaled the other. But it was October and no song to be heard.

Soon more than one will sing, winter wren songlines will stretch through the woods, interrupting and echoing duets of competition.

The path loops back to the logging trail through a wet spot, catkins signal alders above. Here forest edge plants thrive. Salmonberry and ribes blossoms are ready to welcome hummingbirds and bees. Elderberries begin with leaves.

Back at the house, in those moments at the end of a run or a walk when ideas often occur, I stop at the front steps. In a fitting finale, two utterly silent eagles circle overhead, and from offstage, in the nearby woods, I hear a winter wren –  four cycles of his aria – hidden but glorious.

Step by Step

March in Washington – the growing begins. Richard Mabey writes in “Flora Britannica” that “The opening of flowers is a major part of the definition of spring.” That seems obvious, but before the welcome blossoms – weeds and grass are the opening acts of spring.

I saw the young writer the other day, and when I asked her how she was, she said, “Oh OK, but overwhelmed.” I said “Work?” and she said “No this…” indicating the yard of her tiny, and new to her, house.

If the growing begins while you are away or with your head in a manuscript, the first thing you see is overgrown grass and associated lowlife like shotweed, cat’s ears, and dandelions. To regard it all at once is the very definition of overwhelm.

My garden seems a modest garden here in the big woods and then, when I actually tangle with it, completely overwhelming in the work to be done. When faced with a large project, Anne Lamott famously counseled “Bird by Bird.”

This morning watching a newt cross the paved road with a deliberate pace that defied the danger of his route, I thought step-by-step. He crossed, one half-inch at a time, his mind on his goal (I’ve never seen, but have heard of the newt ball he’s headed for). It’s that half inch that impressed me – one little clawed foot, front left, then right, then back left, then right.

So I will just begin to write about the garden bit by bit, (work in it as well), focusing on flowers as they bloom, noticing where and when, and explaining why this plant in this garden.

Except for the weedy lawn – no bloom followed by seeds there. It’s time to get out the mower and off with the heads!

Ti Plants and T-Shirts

hinking more about creativity, I consider other, but intertwined words – imagination for example.

A reminder of why imagining is worth pursuing comes from Emerson: “There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”

My imagination doesn’t operate well in a vacuum or when surrounded by sour talk or negativity. I’m looking to encourage creativity – and maybe not separate it from regular life. What if, as part of honoring the everyday, we credit ourselves for little strokes: an idea given away to someone else, a thing repaired because you “figured it out,” or the untying of a knotty situation.

Every time we rethink when we forget the reusable grocery bags (without accepting new paper or plastic) or momentarily inhabit another’s mind to buy them a gift, and wrap it without buying paper, that imagining is a little hit of the same juice. If the meeting-daily-life challenges became warm-ups, practice drills, perhaps the ideas which bear on what one might want to achieve could more easily slip in.

When we neared the completion of this house, I badly wanted one of those iron pot racks – locally made, dramatic and functional. Our house designer offered the one she’d used to store tools in her basement. Since in the building we strove for reuse and recycle, I was delighted – and most dismayed to realize the rack would, when hung normally, be way too close to the burners. The designer flipped the rack and asked it be hung upside down. Perfect.

When the young writer thought she killed our tea kettle, she responded with a story which begins: “Once upon a time, there was a shiny metal beauty, on the kingdom counter outsteaming all teapots in speed of boil and elegance.” The clever language of the tale winds through her reaction and the replacement she bought “plastic charade, a placeholder, a poor substitute, lady in waiting until the true prince arrives.” Asked how she came to write such a fairy tale gem in apology and explanation, she admitted uncertainty – “Where did that come from?”

That’s an Emerson stroke for sure, an imaginative leap achieved because she was at the ready – able to express strong feelings because of practice with words. But her query is an indication also of the mystery of such vibrations.

I wish I could sum this up easily (for myself as well as for anyone reading). Put A in front of B and attach C – for creativity. It is about wooing, not demanding, making space and opportunity and being hopeful – trusting in the undermind to bring forth “Where did that come from?” ideas.

I should be able to provide here some illustration of how a burst of imagination sparked something specific in my art. In spite of only having a black and white photo, I offer a small stroke – when laundry and plant image vibrated together to make a quilt.

Dust, Iron, Sort

Well I liked eat, pray, love better, too – but dust, iron, sort, along with frame, mend, and weed badly need doing. There are various theories and strategies for housework, like the “do it every week and on the same day” principle which I mostly observe. But this last week the cleaning lady (that would be me) didn’t come. (She was blogging.)

Usually I show up weekly in that persona and do the basics. In spite of what you read about vacuuming just scattering the dust, somehow rearranging dust molecules is a necessary fundamental. It’s hard to be creative for me in a mess. That can also be an excuse to not get to the real work.

But even if I adhere to the basic schedule, the secondary tasks pile up. Oh yes, even just clean the bugs out of the corner of a couple of pictures. I’m tired of the thought pattern that occurs when I look at a long-framed picture of a belladonna lily, amaryllis like, blooming for the new year. For too long now I’ve looked at that picture, and instead of thinking about the amaryllis and how much I loved drawing it and how the real-life version might bloom soon, I think about that bug. Very dead and very irritating.

Some jobs on that list of house verbs are good for wit gathering, always a worthy endeavor. Scattered wits allow no space for important thoughts to surface. Folding laundry works – making those one-of-a-kind piles – but not putting the laundry away. Too often the t-shirt or sock drawers are overstuffed and that leads to a whole internal lecture about the necessity of making room while trying to fit the newly folded pile into the drawer.

Ironing quiets the mind for thinking, warm fabric, hiss of steam, but it is prioritized way down – tablecloths from Christmas won’t be needed for so long that they exert no pressure, allow no solace today.

In theory I could devote a day, and sometimes that seems the best thing to do for creative work, to organize the real world. Do the high dusting. Clean under the sink. Or under the stairs. Sort out the pantry. Doable and not confusing jobs. But in one day, because of a concept an old friend introduced the other night, I might not get under the sink.

My friend told how she’d cleaned out a cupboard and discovered food products of ancient lineage. I asked, being curious about people’s housework habits and since she’d started the comment by saying she was taking down the Christmas tree, how she happened to clean that cupboard, “Oh,” she said “don’t you know about One Thing Leads to Another?”

And indeed I do, but never had labeled it quite so accurately. Now I’m wondering if I can employ it to my own ends. I began to clean the fridge this morning (if you really love vegetables your fridge is always stuffed, and the only hope for a bare shelf is the day before the CSA). I’m looking for a reversal of my friend’s One Thing Leads to Another experience – in hopes a clean refrigerator leads me to bid farewell to the Christmas tree.

A year of order

Gardeners say, when speaking of plants settling in: “The first year plants weep, the second they creep, and the third they leap.”

In January the third year here, there was no leap for me. My forward motion dissipated, January felt low-ebb with doubts of all sizes and shapes. My work appeared the most dismantled – a show scheduled but energy lacking.

In New Year’s week that year, I wrote “a year of order…” on the back of an envelope and stuck it on my workroom wall. I wasn’t sure what it meant – something beyond tidying up.

Structure supports order, so I began volunteering to tutor at a local school – reading with wee scholars twice a week and joined a yoga class. These made a sturdier framework for time – and reasons to go to town.

I let myself be engrossed using paper scraps from bookbindery friends to cover the spines of all the photo albums, transforming random, ugly plastic bindings into cheerful, colorful order. I felt a little foolish, it wasn’t real work – but gave me thinking time.

Discipline also underlies order – “showing up” as they say. I wanted to write and draw about this place and for two years had scribbled notes on scraps of paper, in pocket notebooks and daily journal. I hoped I could sink roots and gain nourishment by observing.

So I began, every day for an hour, to take my tiny computer and cup of tea to the window seat on the landing surrounded by books, I could follow the time-honored practice of just writing – and I could gather all those notes. It really is the doing that matters.

And here in the fifth January? Into the blogosphere – now that’s a leap.