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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

I don’t know anything about classical music. I’ve played some — back in my mercifully short career as a high school flutist. I’ve sung a fair bit. I have favorite pieces. There are symphonies I love, composers who generally never let me down, but I don’t actually know anything. I haven’t studied, don’t understand intricacies or what makes one piece speak to me and another leave me cold. I’m that classic, “I know what I like,” kind of fan.

I could fix my ignorance, of course, take classes that would give me the background and vocabulary for all the things I don’t know how to say about this music. I don’t mind my not-knowing, however. Not really. I like coming to this music following my heart, my emotional response, rather than paying close attention to my head.

Last year and this — and again for next year — I have bought not one but two subscriptions to concert series at Carnegie Hall. And they’ve been all classical music all the time. Last year, one of the series was all Russian composers, and that was pretty fabulous. I hadn’t really thought about having a particular love for the Russians, but apparently my musical tastes run similarly to my early literature-reading tastes. Give me the Russians (shame to think this is something I’d have in common with THOTUS)!

The final concert of my subscriptions for this season, the last of my Philadelphia Orchestra performances, was Leonard Bernstein, Mozart, and Robert Schumann. Of the three, as much as I have discovered myself as a lover of Mozart (I resisted at first because it seemed too easy, too obvious — he was someone I was supposed to like), the Bernstein and the Schumann won me, with the Bernstein resonating most deeply.

Just as I love choral singing — my one voice melded into a crowd of others — I love orchestral music, love the singular pieces all playing together to make a whole. And the beautiful playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the dynamic and gracious conducting of Yannick Nézet-Séguin doesn’t disappoint.

Favorite moment? At the end of the first movement of the Bernstein, the percussionist is called upon toe use maracas (what does the scoring look like for maracas, I wonder) … and he picks them up … and uses them as drumsticks to play the timpani!! That, truly, was everything. Every last thing.

* * *

Not long ago, I posted on Facebook about how self-doubt creeps in on me, makes me question whether I’m really a writer at all, whether I should just quit messing around and use my time more productively. Watching the orchestra, I wondered if that doubt is fueled, in part, by the solitary echo chamber that is writing. As a member of an orchestra, you can see and hear your work every time you take up your instrument. Your place in the larger whole comes back to you as harmony, rhythm, a full and beating heart of sound. And watching the Philadelphia Orchestra reminded me of some of the self-care I know my creative self needs, things I haven’t been making time for.

I like writing in community. I don’t mean that I like working on group writing projects (although that sounds like fun and could someone please propose one for me to join you on?). No, I mean that I like being around other writers while I’m working. I like basking in and soaking up that creative energy. I like not being alone, like working next to folks who get what I’m trying to do, having those folks be right there when frustration or procrastination hit.

And I know this. But somehow I allow myself to forget. Over and over. Somehow I set aside this vital truth and, instead of finding more ways to write in community, I isolate myself so I can get some work done … and I grind myself down smaller and smaller until I get almost nothing done at all.

My smart, talented lovely friend Lisa wrote a manifesto for nurturing her creativity while nurturing her new child. She drafted it on a dramatic length of butcher paper and hung it on her wall. I’m thinking bout that now, the larger-than-life, in everyone’s face commitment of that butcher paper. I’m thinking I need something similarly large, large like the poster I’ll be making of the Joe Louis fist, large enough that I can’t help but see it and can’t possibly ignore or forget about it.

It needs to say obvious things like “write in community,” but also things like “keep your Carnegie subscription,” “go to the singalong Messiah,” “go to the theater.”

And you’ll notice how few of those things have specifically to do with pen and paper, with me actually doing some writing. But I think that’s another part of the point. Because yes, I need to sit down and work — with other people when that’s possible — but I also need to feed my creativity. When Julia Cameron wrote about “filling the well” in The Artist’s Way, she wasn’t talking about writing every minute of every day. She was talking about the exact opposite, about the fact that we can’t create if the well is dry, if we never give ourselves the chance to take in beauty, nature, music … whatever is going to replenish our spirits so that we can sit down and do the work.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is definitely a well-filler, but my Carnegie season is finished. I won’t be back in my second tier box until the fall. But there are so many things I can do in the mean time. I have a whole summer of well-filling ahead of me, a whole summer to remember to make artist dates and friend dates … and writing dates. I have a friend with whom I have semi-regular writing dates. First summer task: do a better job of making those dates more “regular” than “semi.” It’s a start.

__________

(There was no way I could resist using that title. As soon as I started writing this post, it came flying up from the deepest depths of my memory. I couldn’t even remember what songs OMD were known for, but the name was right there, ready for me to scoop it up. I went to The Google, and was reminded of If You Leave. Oh yes, it all comes back to me now …)



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind. I committed to writing an essay a week … but fell behind behind pretty quickly. I’m determined to catch up, committed to 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride.

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Last week I printed out a photo of Detroit’s Joe Louis Memorial, the gloriously enormous sculpture of Louis’ mighty fist. I saw it in an article someone forwarded me and immediately knew I needed it posted on the half-wall of my cubicle. Needed it.

This sculpture is one of my favorite things in the world. The first time I saw it, driving from the airport to a conference at the Renaissance Center, I was so wowed I couldn’t breathe or speak for a minute. It is a thing of absolute, graceful power and beauty. It is magnificent.

Here’s one of the pics I took of it in 2012:

I printed the photo from the article (a slightly more close-up, angled, under-the-fist view) and tacked it to my cubicle wall.

I feel it there, casting it’s dark, black spell, enveloping me in its strength and conviction.

So many times during the days since putting it on my wall, I have hung up the phone after an annoying call or looked up after reading an email that has made me sigh and shake my head, and my eyes go right to that picture, go right to that beautiful bright light.

And I feel myself become calm.

The first time I saw it, I was with the woman who was my boss. She was appalled, thought it was “so violent.” I wondered if we were looking at the same piece of art. Violent? Where? How? Could she really not see the sleek, delicious glory of it, its heavy, soul-filling affirmation?

No, she thought it was angry. Angry.

Maybe it is angry. Maybe that’s why I love it, maybe seeing it then — two years before the finally-and-for-good emergence of Angry Stacie — was the initial push, the moment when my heart felt the vibrating resonance of recognition, felt how completely I would come to embrace my rage.

I don’t think so, though. Yes, to the vibrating resonance, but not in recognition of anger, or not anger as such. Recognition of the fullness, the beauty of being exactly who I was — as big, as loud, as angry, as strong, as emotional, as articulate, as fed-the-fuck-up, as loving, as hungry as I actually was.

Which is what it’s giving me now, too. I have to swallow myself at work sometimes, hold back my honesty, pretend to a version of myself that can be made to fit the space I’m given. Like not lashing out when a superior refers to  formerly-incarcerated youth as “little criminals” and can’t seem to understand the value proposition of creating education and job training programs for them. Like not slapping the hand of the coworker who reaches out to touch my hair.

That fist is a signpost, a reminder that I’m still here. A reminder that, even when I have to walk softly, I can still fight, can still push back. That my voice can still shout, even in the dark, especially in the dark. That fist is my mantra, my affirmation, my vision board all rolled into one.

I need the picture poster-size and on my wall at home. That fist. To wake up to it, to fall asleep under its watch. Imagine.


In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … I’ve fallen behind, but I’m still committed to writing 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride.

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Tonight was the second Chapters reading for Girls Write Now mentees, and Sophia was on the bill! She was so nervous, but she was great! All the girls were great. I’m always so amazed by the writing I hear at Chapters, by the power and beauty and honesty and vulnerability and humor. These girls are fire. 100%

A favorite moment came from the mentee who was co-emcee of the evening. When it was time for her to read out the name of the raffle winner, she took the paper and looked at it quizzically then leaned into the mic and said, “The winner is … Moonlight!”

The mentee/mentor emcee pair will be a hard act to follow. And that’s exactly what Sophia and I will have to do in two months when we emcee the June Chapters! I’m already stressing about what to wear and what I’ll do with my hair.

I’m so honored and proud to get to work with Sophia, to get to know the other mentees and mentors that are part of GWN. Such a great evening. Can’t wait to get back to work with Sophia on Tuesday!

Fire

Fierce, beautiful words
these young writers are power.
Their energy shines
reminding me: stay open,
keep trusting my voice
keep welcoming my muses
there is treasure here.
There is music and magic
all of this is free —
free … in exchange for the work
in exchange for faith
and yes: the blood, sweat, and tears,
the torture of the blank page.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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In her comment on yesterday’s post, Ramona said: “Stopping by your blog reminds me that it’s time to try another arun. Such a fun form for me and I love that you introduced me to it.” I had a whole other post in mind for today, but reading that changed everything. I can’t say how happy it made me to read that Ramona was thinking about aruns, thinking about writing some come April. I guess I really did create a poetic form! That is still so crazy to me.

I’ve been thinking about April on the horizon, too. I have many writing deadlines for March:

  • Submit my VONA application next week
  • Keep up with my comics homework
  • Post a slice of life every day
  • Prepare a story to tell at How to Build a Fire on the 31st

(Yikes! Seeing it all written down is a bit alarming!)

But still I’m thinking about April. Part of me wants to go back to prose poems, or go even further back to rhyme royals. There is still the trusty arun … or maybe I should just create something new!

Every year, about halfway through April, I start to think I’ve lost my hesitations, that I can finally say I write poetry without offering up a series of apologies and disclaimers. It’s never true, however. I always come back to this sense that “POET” is a hat I’m not qualified to wear. For the last two years I’ve been reading fiction and non-fiction at a reading series run by two wonderful young women I met (of course?) through the Brainery. I got an email from them not long ago asking if I write poetry, if I’d like to be part of a poetry festival event with them this summer.

Yeah. Can I tell you how quickly I tried to push away from that table? Me? Write poetry? Read poetry at a festival that’s all about poetry? At a festival where people would assume that anyone on the mic sees themselves as a poet? Oh, that’s clearly taking things to extremes.

I did push myself, but toward instead of away. I sent some sample poems (and a full serving of disclaimers) to the series ladies and let them judge. So, this summer, I’ll be reading at a poetry festival. Me.

How many times am I going to acknowledge that I need to get out of my way before I figure out how to do it? Sigh.

So, with April looming, I was already worrying about how I have the nerve to call myself a poet and take on a 30/30 poetry challenge. But then here is Ramona talking about writing aruns and thanking me — me — for introducing her. It may just be time to set aside my disclaimers and apologies.

Maybe.

Possibly.

We’ll see …


It’s week two of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to yourown slice!

SOL image 2014

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I
cannot
mold my thoughts
fast enough, catch
ideas easily.
Here
my tongue
is quiet,
lies in silence
full, shaping no words,
numb,
aching,
now stumbling.
Meaning hidden
somewhere inside, mute.

Paul got me thinking about snowballs, but my brain kept running slightly differently from what he described. Is there a name for this form? Each line has one more syllable than the previous line, and then starts over again at one syllable after the fifth line.  In any case, it’s almost April, so it’s time to remind myself just how much I’m not a poet … and how much I continue to make poems in spite of that fact.

_____

Are we really at the 27th already? Can almost the whole of March be behind us? Crazy.
Check out all of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.

sols_6

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Winter Poem

once a snowflake fell
on my brow and i loved
it so much and i kissed
it and it was happy and called its cousins
and brothers and a web
of snow engulfed me then
i reached to love them all
and i squeezed them and they became
a spring rain and i stood perfectly
still and was a flower

— Nikki Giovanni

_____

It’s that time again: National Poetry Month!  I’m not ready, but the calendar will not be denied.

I’ve spent the last few days at Medgar Evers College for the National Black Writers Conference.  And I shared the Giovanni poem in honor of her receiving the Gwendolyn Brooks award at the conference.  Sadly, the divine Miss G is in Switzerland and wasn’t there to receive the award in person.  Wouldn’t I have loved the chance to meet her glowing self?  I did get to meet plenty of other interesting and talented selves, however, and I did come away with something I didn’t expect: inspiration and maybe even a road map for a new, large-scale project.  I’m going to keep it to myself for a minute, let it percolate in silence.  It grows out of writing I’ve done here, and I’m even ready to be bold and say I think it has an audience.  Now to get writing …

And now to get writing: it’s Poetry Month, and I should be writing a poem a day, yes?  Yes.  In addition to the Conference, I’ve spent the last four days trying to put together a submission for an anthology of VONA writers.  Not because I was feeling all cocky about getting in, but because I didn’t want to let the deadline pass without sendingsomething.  And the muses smiled on me by having the deadline extended from March 30th to today, giving me enough time to get my act together and upload a submission tonight.  What I didn’t have time for was writing a poem.  Or thinking about writing a poem.  Or even deciding what type of poem I was going to focus on this month.

And I’m saying all of that to say that I wrote a poem, and it’s a Zeno (for real this time), and it’s not great but it’s ok, and I’m not sure I’m going to do Zeno poems for the whole month because I still haven’t really thought about it, but I have this one for tonight, and it’s inspired by being at the Conference, so here goes:

Here I am welcome, here I fit
I know this place, know
these words
know
the way to breathe
music
go
deeper and deep
finding
flow

It didn’t work the way I thought it would, but I’ve got a month ahead of me to play with the form, right?

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let there be new flowering

let there be new flowering
in the fields let the fields
turn mellow for the men
let the men keep tender
through the time let the time
be wrested from the war
let the war be won
let love be
at the end

— Lucille Clifton

__________

Today my colleague and I presented our Intimate Partner Violence workshop for one of the teen groups in our peer mentoring program.  I was pretty nervous about doing this.  I really wanted to, but wasn’t sure we’d had enough time to put everything together, wasn’t sure the kids (ahem, excuse me: the young people) would respond well to us … just wasn’t sure.

Right.  Can I be so bold as to say we rocked?  No, but we really did.  And part of that was because we put together a great workshop, but a lot of that was because of this wonderful group of young people.  I’d met some of them before, but never had the chance to work with them, the chance to just sit and listen to them talk.  This group has been working together since the fall, so they’ve had a lot of time to come together as a team, and it shows.  They are so warm and funny with each other, so encouraging and supportive.  And they were a perfect group for us as presenters: immediately into each activity, so talkative, really focused on the issue, full of questions.  In short, a complete pleasure to work with.  Here is the result of the first activity.  We put out markers and asked them to come up and write whatever came to mind when they heard terms like Intimate Partner Violence and Domestic Violence:

(I’m sad this picture isn’t better, but I’m glad I caught even this much.)

And how can I be so sure that the workshop was a hit?  Before it was even half over, they wanted to know when we’d be back, wanted to know if we’d help them work on the theater piece they’re developing about domestic violence.  (Easy answer to that last: YES!)

Tonight’s rhyme royal is dedicated to the wonderful, intelligent, inspiring Theater Team:

Like a noonday equatorial sun
their rhythm is strong.
Given free run,
it is full of their light, their youth, their song
their energy a-kindle as they fly headlong
into each challenge, each new thing
and I watch in wonder as their power takes wing.

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