A demanding mistress

You work and you work and you work and you work and you work, and you are determined to wrestle this thing to the ground, making art… But your vision is not yet formed, your work does not yet bear that distinctive mark, your unique hand, your DNA… In your despair, you toss and you turn, crying yourself to sleep night after night after night, endlessly doubting, endlessly doubting your ability and sometimes feeling like a motherless child. I have been there — I know. Searching high and low for your own voice, for your own expressive utterance, you lead yourself down paths that dissipate… Confused and fuzzy, you begin to imagine that all the forces of the world are conspiring against you…

And yet, and still, the pursuit — that driving thing called art — hounds you, and you don’t know any rest. And, determined to make a way out of no way every day, you rise up and you hit it, own it, go into your studio… Art is a demanding mistress.

~ Carrie Mae Weems, 2016 School of Visual Arts Commencement Speech


Sources: Photo – Gund Gallery. Quote: Brainpickings

Tuesday Morning Wake-Up Call: A little country in between where I can be the king

Yoann-Lemoine

It’s uncomfortable because you’re never going to be an expert in every field. I’m not the best director and I’m not the best musician – and I don’t think I will ever be – but at least there is a little country in between where I can be the king. It’s probably going to be a small country, but at least I can live there happily…

I think that pressure of wanting to absolutely succeed precisely on the one thing is very toxic. I do want to succeed in general, but I’ve been asking myself, “What is success really to you?” And I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I think that success to me is to manage to be free, but also to do things that I like. It seems very stupid, but at the end of the day if I completely like and am proud of what I do, then to me it’s success.

~ Yoann Lemoine,I’m not there yet” (Director of Woodkid)


Notes:

  • Yoann Lemoine, 33, is a French music video director, graphic designer and singer-songwriter. His most notable works include his music video direction for Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”, Taylor Swift’s single “Back to December”, Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” and Mystery Jets’ “Dreaming of Another World”.
  • Quote source: Clean Well Lighted Place.
  • Photo: Moving Image

Writer’s Block


For a complete list of the 53 films used: Writer’s Block – A supercut. (Thank you Steve)

to let silence spiral deeper into silence

hands-rest-black-and-white-sit

All of us, child or adult, need time to find our way to that heavenly gate, time to sit back and listen to the sounds outside, and to our own, half-formed thoughts, to attend to the call of the birds and the roar of the air conditioner, and to our own interior voices as well: to let silence spiral deeper into silence. Mary Oliver writes about this beautifully in her book, Winter Hours.

In the act of writing the poem, I am obedient, and submissive. Insofar as one can, I put aside ego and vanity, and even intention. I listen. What I hear is almost a voice, almost a language. It is a second ocean, rising, singing into one’s ear, or deep inside the ears, whispering in the recesses where one is less oneself than a part of some single indivisible community. Blake spoke of taking dictation. I am no Blake, yet I know the nature of what he meant.

The speedy modern reader may not realize it, but poetry comes to us like the holy infant, wrapped in swaddling bands of silence. There is silence, often, in the place where it is made, or at most, a slow heart beat. There is silence in the thought that greets particular words and phrases, and in the care with which they’re weighed and pondered, and again in their particular layout on the page. And finally there’s the silence that surrounds the reading of the poem, and in the quiet intake of breath with which, so often, the poem is received. For all the emphasis that is placed on words and imagery, poems need that silence, as a painting needs the naked canvas, or music needs the pause between the notes. Most poets know this, in however inchoate a way. They slow down, they listen, they learn to pay attention. They root themselves in what the Celtic bard Taliesen called “the cave of silence” from which all words are born.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Notes:

 

Lightly child, lightly

light-bulb-inspire

I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come…. Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

~ Toni Morrison, excerpted from Roderick MacIver’s Art As a Way of Life

Notes:

  • Poem: Thank you Roderick MacIver
  • Photo: Kat Mix (via Banished From Camelot).
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

The virtue of hard things

Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including “The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp.” But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?

Angela Duckworth argues that the answer is “grit,” which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal. The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past decade studying why some people have extraordinary success and others do not. “Grit” is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success and also tells the stories of many gritty exemplars, from New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, who submitted some 2,000 drawings to the magazine before one was accepted, to actor Will Smith, who explains his success as follows: “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. . . . If we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”

As for Mr. Irving, though verbal fluency did not come easily to him as a young man, what he lacked in aptitude he made up for in effort. In school, if his peers allotted one hour to an assignment, he devoted two or three. As a writer, he works very slowly, constantly revising drafts of his novels. “In doing something over and over again,” he has said, “something that was never natural becomes almost second nature.”

~ Emily Esfahani Smith, in an excerpt from The Virtue of Hard Things, a book review of Angela Duckworth’s new book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance


Portrait of John Irving: CBC

It’s been a long day

mist-fog-burn-portrait-Rob-Woodcox

I emphasize this.
I will do anything to avoid boredom.
It is the task of a lifetime.
You can never know enough,
never work enough,
never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough,
never impede the movement harshly enough,
never leave the mind quickly enough.

—Anne Carson, “Introduction.” Short Talks, 1992


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

drip

Two years from now I can hear people saying: Your play is extraordinary. And my answer: It took me ten years to perfect my craftsmanship. I am wrestling with giants here. Every morning I wake up in a sweat, ready for the struggle. The impact is great, but I am never defeated. It is the rehearsals I miss, to attend them and see the progress the actors make. My being there is an absolute necessity. My eye and ear criticize every move and every intonation. I listen to the “commas” of the play as if they were drops falling from a fountain. Dis moi comment vont tout tes affaires. I am alone.

~ James Salter, Light Years


Notes:

Monday Morning: An Insistent Beat

anka-zhuravleva-dreams

Where was I when it started.
At my desk?
Scribbling in a notebook?
On the bus?
I don’t remember.
Just the sense of something bubbling up from underneath,
not words so much as information:
an ache,
a rhythm,
an instant beat.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Notes:

 

Protect those early mornings: A symposium with the self

handwriting-light

Kim Stafford’s father was the West Coast poet William Stafford, a man whose “rich beginnings” lay in the calm and quiet of his own sleeping house. Every morning for more than forty years, he would get up at 4 a.m., at least two hours before the rest of his family, and settle down to work. Stafford himself described his practice in terms of “just plain receptivity.”

When I write, I like to have an interval before me when I am not likely to be interrupted. For me, this usually means the early morning, before others are awake. I get pen and paper, take a glance out of the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long, for there is always a nibble—and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me.

Years later, Kim Stafford wrote a memoir about his father entitled Early Morning. He described William’s steady practice as a “symposium with the self.” A particular day’s writing might include images from a recent dream, news of the family and the world at large—and a couple of poems. Often, these first drafts didn’t seem to amount to very much. Stafford himself said that they were “often so colorless, so apparently random, so homeless and unaccountable,” that most people wouldn’t have bothered to work with them. But by making time for them, by lending “faith and attention” to what he called those “waifs of thought,” a total of more than sixty books made their slow way into print.

“A good life is partly a matter of luck,” wrote William Stafford. “I can look for it and cherish its intervals. But I can’t control it.” Still, he could choose to set aside that time: to protect those early mornings. “To get up in the cold, then make a warm place, have paper, pen, books to hand, look out at the gleaming rain, shadows, the streetlight steadfast. You could stay awake all night, not give away those hours.”

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Notes:

 

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