By Christine Kane
It is cold this morning for May. There is a bird outside singing the word “procedure.” She sings it four consecutive times and stops. And then she sings it again. “Procedure procedure procedure procedure!” (Yesterday there was one singing “Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera!” My birds are so over “peep” and “tweet.” ) The deck is covered with oak tags from the heavy rains we’ve had. Among the oak tags are many soggy heaps of dryer lint. I had the brilliant idea to leave dryer lint out for the birds to help them in their nest building process. None of them wanted it. So the lint sits in piles until I concede that the birds have managed to build their nests just fine without my help. Whenever I do something that makes the house look mildly trashy, or when I leave something on the front porch that I’m too lazy to take to Goodwill right away, my husband calls it “Hillbilly Feng-Shui.” We’ve definitely got it going on now.
Some mornings I sit outside at the table and just write in my notebook. Just the feeling of pen on paper is ecstasy, and I could care the least if I’m writing about soggy dryer lint or world politics because it feels so good that I’m writing. When I teach writing or creativity, I always start the class with timed writing exercises just to get the hand moving. After about three of these exercises, the students lose the heaviness they brought in with them. They get little smiles while they write. They start to float a little bit.
Art isn’t a big deal. Creativity isn’t a big deal. One of the best reasons for daily writing or engaging in any daily creative practice is so that you’ll notice life. Another reason is so that you’ll get over the idea that it’s a big deal. You’ll notice that the birds are singing words and smile. You’ll catch the glint of light here, the smell of that there. As Julia Cameron says, “Art is born in attention.”
Now that artists can so easily support themselves independently — musicians making CDs, visual artists posting their work on the web, writers self-publishing (the possibilities are endless) — these same artists can easily find themselves getting so wrapped up in the business of their careers that they forget who they are and that, above all else, they create. I need to be reminded of that often. I can forget how to play.
When I was talking to a group of college students a few years ago, one girl raised her hand and said that she wanted to be a singer but didn’t know how that was even possible without getting on American Idol. (I am one of the few people who has never watched this show, but I can’t imagine wanting to be on it.) I offered her another option — to find a musician, a pianist, a guitar player, and start learning songs together. In other words, to sing. To create a sound. To have fun. And then, maybe after they had learned twenty songs or so, to find a few places to perform. This wasn’t good news to her. She sat down hard and crossed her arms over her chest. She wanted Big Deal art.
When you are caught up in the insanity of this world — American Idol, for instance — your ego holds your heart hostage. It wants none of the process — of art, of creativity, or even of entrepreneurship. (Yes, business is creative. Really.) It wants to arrive and to stay there. (Wherever there is.) It says, “If I’m gonna create, it had better be big.” The convenient thing about this thought process is that it allows the thinker not to begin.
In an earlier post, I wrote about what it feels like to be recovered from bulimia, and the freedom and space that arrive slowly. None of what I wrote would be good news to a practicing bulimic, an addict. The only thing a bulimic wants to know is that she’ll be thin and never have to deal with the inconveniences of her body again. It’s pretty cool to me now that I can eat a huge piece of chocolate cake at a party one night, and still get up in the morning to go to the Y. I’ll do this without beating myself up, or running myself ragged on the elliptical, or deciding that the week is “ruined” because I did something “bad.” Bulimics think in terms of all or nothing. Joy is not an option, especially if it means having chocolate cake.
I use this example because I believe most of the world, certainly the media world, is addicted. Addicted to worry, to drama, to big deals, to busy-ness, to self-hatred, to television, to substances, to shopping. It takes consistent acts of commitment to sanity to step away from that and make things, write things, draw things. And these days, those acts are nothing short of revolutionary.
I was reminded of all of this by the work of an artist named Elizabeth Perry. She and I were among the featured artists at a Blog Carnival called Carnival of the Creators. Since January 2005, she has posted a sketch, or a watercolor, or some piece of art she created every single day with a small commentary under it. (This week she reached the 500 mark!) I have bookmarked her site on my computer because scrolling through her work gives me chills and reminds me of why we are alive at all. It’s not because of the big deals. It’s because the little deals are where we are taught to celebrate life.
Today is my birthday. I want to celebrate by paying attention and remembering to be happy.