Saturday, September 26, 2009

Random Acts of Creativity

Random Acts of Creativity

This week focuses on everyday creativity, those small precious acts that could easily go unnoticed. At the counseling collective where I spend a great deal of my time, we collect our client fees and keep them in envelopes until our administrator does the deposit. I’m not sure who started the process, but I’m guessing it was a therapist sitting idly through a late cancellation hour, drumming her fingers on the desk, wondering what to do with the unexpected hour, perhaps distractedly doodling on her money envelope. Often creativity comes just like that—unintentionally, and from that place just beyond conscious thought. Anyway, the envelop wound up back in the cash box. The next therapist rummaging through the cash box to find her envelop noticed the “art” and decided to add something unique to her own envelop, and so on, and so on.

What was once rote, lifeless action--stashing cash in a white envelope--has now become a means of self expression. When my money envelope disintegrates from use, I set aside some time to create a new one that expresses something unique about myself, my thoughts at the moment, or my feelings. It has become a meditative process that takes on a life of its own. The cash box has become a sort of impromptu gallery with rotating “art.”

If, as I believe, money is an energetic means of exchange, it should be given due respect—perhaps even blessed before being sent on its way into the universe. And while it’s being housed, why not give it a beautiful home? Perhaps small acts of random creativity as do random acts of kindness, have a ripple effect in consciousness. I would love to hear what everyday creativity looks like in your life. Please leave me a Comment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Creativity Resource

This is a mid-week mini-blog to pass along an incredible video by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love--which I finally finished now that it's not "the thing to read"--only to find out, it truly IS the thing to read!

In this video clip, she talks about the process I was trying to describe in an earlier blog about "catching" music and being uncomfortable with the idea that I write it. For any of you who struggle with this, the video is a must-see. No, let me remove the qualifier, it's a great clip for everyone to see.

Truly, a wonderful investment of 20 minutes of your life. Give yourself the gift.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Satellite People

I spent the better part of today at our annual Book Fair...sellers, publishers, writers, and performers gather to celebrate the written word. Authors read from their work in this public forum enticing listeners to sit for hours in the blazing sun to hear one more story. The event takes over our local town square with tents, booths, and tables. Each year I have the sense of displacing the Square's residents for a day of literary madness. This is where, on a normal day, many of our satellite people spend their time. I passed some, on the fringe of all the activity, unsure as to how to best navigate their way through the throng. I started thinking about Bunker Man, who I haven't seen for years.

Satellite People

This is not a story about outer space. It is, perhaps, a story about inner space--that space between my consciousness and my heart, where some people dwell. They are those people on the perimeter of my urban life whose faces are as familiar to me as relatives who live across country. They are not the folks I’d ask over for dinner or to a movie. Yet, I count on them. Somehow, they shape my reality.

Bunker Man molds his body into an “L” shape, with legs stretched out on the cold cement stoop and back flat against the side of the faded brick building. A tattered ski cap the color of mildew covers his graying hair. A faded pea coat, like the ones we wore back in the 60’s at antiwar rallies in D.C., is his cover, his bedding, his tent.

Every Saturday morning I walk into town to mail my bills at the post office and deposit my checks for the week at the bank. I could mail my bills from home and bank on-line, but it’s my way of shrinking a large city into a small town, like where I grew up.

Each Saturday I pass Bunker Man, holed up, keeping an eye on the streets. We never speak, but we nod in recognition. His pale blue eyes sparkle, incongruent with the flat affect of his body. Or perhaps it’s the sun glinting off the leaves of the crape myrtle overhead.

I am consumed with curiosity about his life. Does he have children? Has he lived anywhere other than against the brick building? What has life presented him with that he sits, day after day, watching? I will never ask. The rains have come and the temperature dips low at night. Where has Bunker Man gone?

Then there’s Jean. I don’t know why I think of her as Jean, no one ever spoke her name in front of me. Jean walks. In her natty old black ankle-length trench coat, she walks the streets of the city with her zombie-like gait, eyes fixed on the pavement three feet in front of her. Her straw-colored brittle hair is covered with a non-descript scarf, faded and jagged at the edges, knotted under her chin.

Her mouth works itself in a tartive sort of way, soundless, mysterious. People shrink back slightly as they pass her, their nostrils narrow a bit as if readying themselves for a sour smell.

I smile when I pass her at one end of town or the other, marveling that she arrives on foot before me at the places I drive on the hottest, the coldest, and the wettest of days. She does not return my smile. She does not know I take comfort in the familiarity of her, or that I worry about someone harming her.

Jesus walks about town wrapped in a white sheet and little else. His beatific smile and golden curls remind me of a Renoir painting. His eyes are large blue saucers fringed with delicate blonde lashes. He carries a leather-bound Bible and blesses people. “Thank you,” I say. You can never have too many blessings. I wonder, in the cold months, will he don shoes and a coat? Does Jesus wear long johns?

For several weeks of my Saturday trek into town, Bunker Man hasn’t been on his stoop. The first week I thought perhaps he’d scraped together enough spare change to step out for a cup of coffee. The second week I looked around his “spot” for clues of his presence there, and found none. This, the third week, I stick my head into a small shop next to the stoop.

“The guy who lives just outside your shop on the stoop...” I begin.
“Oh, yeah,” the shop owner smiles, “he’s gone.”

My heart pounds. What fate has Bunker Man met, and why is this callused man smiling at his absence? Glad, perhaps, to be rid of another piece of urban blight next to his doorway? I set my jaw and narrow my eyes.

“Yes, I noticed that. Do you know what happened to him?”

The shop owner walks over to the door and leans against the frame. “His family came from Oregon. Brother and Mom, I think. Said they were going to take him home...that they had a trailer on some land for him. They’d been worried about him so far from the family.” The shop owner’s eyes are moist, and a soft smile plays on his lips. “I kinda miss the guy,” he says.

“Yeah,” I swallow around the lump in my throat, “me too.”

We stand for a moment, there in the doorway, honoring the memory of an enigmatic soul who’d been brought back into the folds of family. Instead of mourning an ending, we celebrate a new beginning. May life be well for you, Bunker Man.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Birth as Creative Expression

This week, my daughter delivered twin boys. They have had to fight for their right to be on this planet as they landed about a month early. I gaze in their eyes now as they explore and experience the universe...faces and voices that smile and coo, arms that hold, hands that stroke and touch, mouths that make kissy noises on their sweet little heads, nipples that provide sustenance, and all manor of beeps and blips from monitors and wires that poke into their fragile little bodies.

I was reminded of the saying, "It takes a village," as I watched doctors and nurses hover and skillfully minister to my grand babies those first hours of their life when they were so vulnerable that they couldn't even be held and loved by their mommy and daddy and grandma.

This is when I call upon my spiritual practice to know that this is God in action...these infants are an out picturing of the Divine, a creative expression of life itself in a unique and wondrous way. Nothing I could say or do or write or sing could even come close to THIS miracle of creative expression.

So, that's it for this week...perhaps I'll have recovered my words by next week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Let Me Introduce You

I’ve written about how I receive or “catch” songs that seem to be traveling through the universe in search of a composer. I’d like to introduce you to some of the wonderful characters who appear and ask me to write their stories. My short stories and novellas are mostly character driven, the plots unfold as the individual shows me more of her/himself. Eventually, I’ll post snippets of my writing so you’ll have a sense of these folks in context of their stories. But for now, there’s:

Cory, who came to me in a vision of a small boy standing alone in front of a large mirror in the hallway of their family mansion. He’s wearing his sister, The Ice Queen’s, fuzzy pink slippers and a pair of flannel pajamas. Cory drapes long strands of shimmering, silver tinsel over his blonde hair and smiles at the reflection of the most beautiful little girl looking back at him from the mirror. Gotta love him, right? Who is this child? His story becomes one of a brave transgender woman in “Waltzing With the Azaleas,” available as an on-line read at

Then, there’s Jenny, who plaintively told me, “I hadn’t planned to kill anyone when I left the house that morning.” Her life took a major reroute in a split second, and kept unfolding from that point on. She is one of the characters in “Best Laid Plans,” (still in process).

In “The Three Muses,” Winnie is about to check out with an overdose of alcohol. Her life just isn’t working and she’s tired of the struggle, until three witches/muses/hallucinations/spirits/angels (?? I still haven’t figured out exactly what they are) step in. Gwynyth, a bag-lady like visage in a ragged housedress of faded indefinable print and a tattered musty sweater several sizes too large for her scrawny frame had aimed for Winnie’s porch, but missed and landed behind the Hoover attachments in the utility room. By way of introduction, she merely states, “I’ve been sent,” and that Winnie can consider her a guardian angel. Winnie, however, is a “big job” requiring the assistance of Gwynyth’s pals AfroDidee and Fate. These three loveable apparitions entertained me by their antics throughout the whole story.

Occasionally, I choose an event from my own life that I want to fictionalize. It’s almost like a cast call—when I form a loose idea, all of these amazing characters show up to audition for the parts. By who they are, they take over the story line and do with it as they will.

Paddle, a young girl pushing chili in a roadside cafĂ©, meets Lucas Plumb, a new age hippie mystic who passes through Paddle’s life and introduces her to life beyond the bayous. Paddle hitchhikes to California where her life is turned around forever. Along the way, she meets Arizona Pancake and Kiowa Sue Lafner who sign up for the zany adventure of life in Berkeley and San Francisco. “Paddle” is one of the stories in a collection called Returning that is being circulated for publication.

The amazing thing about this story is that I started with the idea of writing about a cross-country trip from California to Colorado with my friend Gerry where she lost her wallet and we wound up staying in a mission overnight. Fortunately, the “cast” allowed me that little snippet within the larger story.

If you write, please let me know HOW you write. Are you disciplined? Is it anarchy? Who is in the driver’s seat? How much control do you exert over characters? Are you plot focused? Truly, I’m fascinated and would love to hear. My e-mail is if you can’t figure out how to leave a comment on this blog. Best to you…write on.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Introverts Unite

I just stumbled upon a quote from Anne Lamott in her wonderful book Bird by Bird, in which she says "If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining."

For me, this is why "social networking" seems so counter-intuitive to my introverted self. I was embarrassed to ask people to read my blog. I felt like a two year old hollering "look at me!" (which is appropriate for a two year old). If this is true for you, and it's held you back, let me share the next piece with you.

I've received e-mails and comments from people saying my words have touched them in some way, helped them to see the world a little differently, to feel a little more compassion, to understand something familiar more deeply. THAT'S why it's important. We all have something hugely important in our own way to share with the world, whether we stand there quietly shining or yelling from mountain tops or anywhere in the green field of possibilities in between. Social networking is just another means of sharing that presence with one another. It took me about a decade to get that; I hope I've saved you some time. Do let me know your thoughts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Music and Miracles

If you’re a product of this culture, you’ve probably had the experience of explicitly or implicitly being asked, “Who do you think you are to… (fill in the blank)? Perhaps you’ve internalized that question and have let it stop you from doing/being the best you can do or be.

This came up for me years ago when I decided to start writing songs. I have no formal training in music, play “survival” piano mostly for my own therapeutic enjoyment, have a good ear thanks to genetics, and am a believer in, and happy recipient of, magic in my life. I figured that qualified me to write music.

Like most things in my life, I learn by doing—sometimes by doing poorly and making many adjustments as I take in new information. I’m not good at reading how-to books or studying manuals, then applying the knowledge as are a lot of my friends. Yes, I’m envious, but I’ve learned to make friends with my own learning style which has become the key to unlocking the stranglehold of “who do you think you are” in my life, and has allowed me to at least try things that call to me.

About five years ago I was driving along the highway to the coast, through acres of rolling vineyards spotted with redwood groves--the best Northern California has to offer—when my eye was caught by a raven cavorting around in the sky, glistening black against a blue so pure and bright it made my eyes water. The way this large bird caught the air currents, coasted, dipped, dove, and sailed entranced me. I pulled off the road on a gravel turn-around.

The moment I turned off the ignition, a tune began drifting through my mind, a beautiful, haunting tune that I couldn’t place. As I watched the raven sail over the vineyard words started appearing somewhere just behind my eyes. It was the strangest phenomenon. I truly felt this music was being channeled from some place other than the moment, right through my mind and body, and it was imperative that I write it down. Write it down? On what? I read music, but I don’t write it (or so I thought).

I fished around in the back seat of my car for some table paper, found a pen under the front seat where I vaguely remember it falling several weeks ago, and began madly jotting down symbols to indicate where the melody went up or down, where there were pauses, what the feeling tone of the music was, and the lyrics as best as I could capture them. I was a woman possessed. Totally focused, totally in the moment. I have no idea how much time passed. Now that I think of it, it was similar to giving birth--same all-absorbing event that takes over your life completely as it passes through you and leaves you altered forever after.

Unlike giving birth (for me anyway), that experience was to be the first of a series of song-catching events that has led me to a collection of over forty-eight songs to date. Sometimes they spring on me in the shower, sometimes in the middle of a conversation, or while sitting in the hot tub, or stopped at a red light. If we’re in conversation and you notice that glazed look come over my eyes, I’m not bored, I’m probably hearing a new melody. If I start tapping my foot, it’s a dead give-away.

I didn’t make it all the way to the ocean that day. I turned around, came home with my sheet of notebook paper in hand, and sat down at my daughter’s little Casio keyboard. I figured out which notes went best with the scratch marks I’d made, drew five lines of a music staff, and placed the notes in their proper place. I struggled some with the math—how do you get the right number of beats per measure, where do the rests need to go? And what the heck key is this in? It was a feeble attempt at manifesting a miracle, but I did it.

What I want you to know is that there is nothing special about me. You could do this too, whether you catch a song or create it from your innermost self that wants expression. You don’t have to know HOW to do it already. I’ve taken my raw material to “the experts” who’ve smiled lovingly, praised my efforts, and told me that music actually has a form. A form? Yes—there is a particular way in which you structure how the verses, chorus, and bridge appear. And there needs to be congruency with the lyrics. Well, I’ll be darned. Who knew?? So, now I’m learning that. Someday, I will have my music available so that anyone could sit down and play it. I may even figure out how to transfer it from my music file onto a blog page. Who knows, I might even try a CD, or a music video. The sky’s the limit.

Who do I think I am? I’m just me, doing the best I can at allowing creation to express itself through me. Who do you think you are? Please let me know. And, know that I already believe you are a miracle expressing.