When I am not writing…

I am popping peas from their pods

Plucking carrots I sowed last May in nice, neat rows

Snapping the necks of courgettes

Pulling lettuce for supper, washing it, gussying it up like its a gala

instead of Wednesday night

I am eating ice cream everyday because it is sultry

Or to cool off after savage Scrabble games

Or inventing cozy mystery titles over dinner, like

“The Last Scrabble Match”

(where the victim has a U shoved down the throat)

I continue to cheat at crossword puzzles

The pets pant and lie on tiles

And shed like they want me to spin thread from their coats

I could knit into shawls for wintertime

I  chase animal hair down the corridor

Like they are ghost town tumbleweeds

At the launderette I watch God go around with the wash

It’s spin cycle time

But the rains come and give the laundry on the line

Three heavy showers so it takes five days to dry

I still have to iron dry the cuffs and waistlines

I Hate ironing

I mention my not writing to my bestie who asks carefully if anything

is festering

I embark on a long

Extended metaphor about how it is more like compost building

And I have been doing that, too

Wet stuff, then the green matter scrunched up from the recycling bin

Then some chopped comfrey as an activator

But you need heat to make the good crumbly fertile stuff

That is perfection

And I am not sad. Or anxious.  Really.

I remember the profound silence at the solar eclipse a month ago

When the whole world was holding its breath

It was that still, palpable

I held it like it was a touchstone or talisman

The blank page isn’t really scary

It is just waiting patiently for that moment

When the cloud formation speaks

And it is time to transcribe

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

The Blessing of Boredom

In a recent email from my brother, he pointed out that in a survey by Business Insider magazine, the town I was raised in Pennsylvania was rated ‘most boring’ in the state. Which started a train of reflection how my own youth in the most boring city in Pennsylvania may well have been the making of me.  Also, that boredom is probably an unheard of luxury for most kids today who have a highly structured schedule and lots of electronic devices for instant distraction. But perhaps boredom is the cradle of creativity.

Meanwhile, as a pre-schooler I can remember lying  face down on the patio watching an ant build its hill. No fan of heat or brilliant sunshine, I spent hours of summer holidays in the air-conditioned public library, just moseying around the stacks. I could walk there and back, having a very vivid fantasy life going on in my head. It was in Berwick that I perfected the art of doing nothing much.  This also taught me how to become still so that something could be created. Boredom bred in me a self-sufficiency. It also bred in me an interior life that was full of curiosity and observation.

In retrospect, living in the most boring town in Pennsylvania also provided a buffer from the very real, chaotic world of 1960s USA. By the time I was eleven,  my father had died, his contemporary President John F. Kennedy had been assasinated, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. There were riots and a jungle war on television after supper every night. People just kept disappearing or being disappeared. The maelstrom went on (mostly) outside. Meanwhile, the hum-drum routine went on.

Not unlike some protagonists in the Thornton Wilder play ‘Our Town’, I wanted out of my boring town. I dreamt of foreign parts – not Paris, but England, and then Ireland issued a siren call. But now, living once again in a place where not a lot happens, I can see how boredom played its part as both stabilizer and instigator.

I was with a group of friends today and we were posed with the question of how we accessed our inner wizard. Where does that magic come from? And instantly, I knew that for me it comes from doing a lot of ‘nothing’. I sited staring out of windows. I referenced Michael Hardings’ memoir ‘Staring at Lakes.’ Poet Billy Collins is alleged to have said that writing poetry takes all day just looking out from your desk into space. Or maybe at the tree outside the office.  I mentioned the deep peace of meditative plain knitting. It is not so much emptying the mind as stilling it. And then you enter that zone where you are not the doing, the doing is using you. In that moment there can be creation. But you are certainly not ‘doing’ the creating.

In which case, then perhaps if we want more workers to ‘think outside of the box’ then we should foster a healthy level of boredom? Mooching. Maundering. Noodling over an idea without really thinking about it. Then something comes through you. It is not about you. You just become the instrument for creation.

And that is the real blessing of boredom.

Creating

I’m locked away again today with the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign dangling from the doorknob.  When I finished  my 1,200 words yesterday I wasn’t sure where my almost teenage boy was going.  It appears the hormones have already kicked in or perhaps it’s also his nature, but dialogue is not really his thing.  So I went to dinner last night wondering if I was stranded with this strange, inarticulate boy, who admittedly has some sterling characteristics. I like the boy.  It’s just dialogue isn’t his way of communicating.

There’s no point losing sleep about it or pushing the river.  So I did some knitting last night before bedtime and figured something would turn up.  I’d been using Mark Illiss’ suggestions for character development.  I figured out what could be a secret but that didn’t help me out with where I had left him in the kitchen with his mum.

At 6:30am I woke up. I picked up my notebook, which was beside the bed.  I began to expand on some of the Arvon character development exercises Mark gave us last week. I scribbled for about ten minutes.

Those close to me know that I do not voluntarily or easily wake at 6:30 at any time! But here I was awake and somehow I knew I would get him out of the kitchen and even though he’s not a talker I’d figure it out. I knew he was going to meet with a kid from his school.  And I knew one other thing about him.  He was smart but he also wants to be happy.  Both those things are relative and so far in his short life mutually exclusive.  I also knew that this kid embodies the qualities of wolf.  Wolves are pack animals but they can also effectively operate as lone wolves.  I took him out of his pack and watched how he operated as a lone wolf.

creating

After breakfast I wrote another 1,400 words having imbibed four cups of tea. (Why are the cups so minutely sized in hotels? Do I know need to add my own mug to the packing list?) At breakfast I actually managed a little civilised conversation, which is probably a first for this trip.   (On the first night I warned my companions that I don’t really talk until I’ve had a lot of tea; it’s not that I don’t love people, it just the effort is too Herculean in the morning. Mornings are bruising experiences for the likes of me.)

I had to stop right before the story concluded for lunch.  My mother brought me up to be prompt and polite.  So I saved the document and went down to meet with the group who have been either working away on their own projects in their rooms or doing a workshop with Kate Ennals.

We are off to the Lowry Studio Theatre tonight where I’ll get my ear attuned to how a dramatist works dialogue.  I’ll also be watching out for any less articulate characters to see what the actors convey with body language.  While we have some people particularly interested in writing drama on this fortnight, observing the characters’ dialogue will help us all.

A friend posted an article on Facebook this morning “18 Things Highly Creative People do Differently” (I kind of  hate all these  ‘numbered’ articles so popular on the web and with SEOs, but I forgave the writer just this once.)  It is certainly true that we need solitude.  Yet, I have witnessed some creative colleagues over last week write in very public areas of  Lumb Bank.  And yes, creative people do seem to have a way of growing roses when they are showered with shite.  They are noted for noticing – people, details, EVERYTHING – as well as being  change agents.   I could relate to a lot of the listed characteristics in the article but one thing it didn’t mention was that creative people tend to cluster.  Julia Cameron writes about this in her Artist’s Way book.

We are a creative cluster this week, envoys of creativity from Cavan.  As we talk over dinner or in workshops we are striking sparks on the flint of creation.  We don’t work in a vacuum. It’s not a competition. It’s the great unfurling of creation, the wise spiral that is our DNA.

We were all born to create.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices.