After writing the last post on sleep and dreams, with the poem by Herman Hesse*, Maria Poplova posted her Brain Pickings :
You were made to be yourselves. You were made to enrich
the world with a sound, a tone, a shadow. – Herman Hesse
For makers, and I think for most of us, there is a yearning to make a mark, leave a sign, sing, write, paint, proclaim– to leave a footprint .
What does it take for you to believe that your particular sound, tone, shadow is already in you, already good enough, and unlike anyone else’s? And that this has nothing to do with fame, acceptance or perfection?
These are questions I return to like water over stone. How often I forget Mary Oliver’s proclamation:
For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!
Yesterday I taught a class in brush lettering at the University of Louisville, to young students who don’t remember a time before social media…who feel the universal pressure of class assignments, and find it difficult to set aside time for what is going on inside. I was delighted to see how willingly they surrendered their phones to the “basket”, which was placed outside of our circle, away from our bodies and minds, allowing uninterrupted no ding-dong time to enter. They seemed to delight in the freedom of attending only to breath, brush and ink. (It’s just as well too, that I had no idea we would have an audience of students and teachers from the rest of the art department, as spectators. The students proved to be undaunted by this, completely willing to enter the temenos).
One of the great gratifications of teaching brush lettering is being witness to a student who suddenly comes alive, in body, mind and spirit, whose countenance is all at once lit up, by making of an unself-conscious, authentic, unedited mark. One unguarded moment of freedom from what anyone else thinks, including herself!
One door to finding yourself, and your path to enriching the world, is doing something that brings you pleasure.
A phrase from our recent poem by Tony Hoagland comes to mind:
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,
that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
Back in my studio, I took the time to find some things that give me pleasure, things that you can do even when you feel you don’t have enough time:
Put on music that you love.
(To see my brush lettering video, click here):
Try something new.
3. Writing with your eyes closed (as many of you know, this is my best method for “getting out of my own way”):
4. Make a small gift for someone. This can be as simple as a note made from a scrap, a birthday card, or a small book:
5. Play with a favorite or new tool. On the left is a mussel shell, a longtime companion that I hand out in my classes. They are free, and friends save them for me when they order mussels at a restaurant. I boil them in vinegar and water, and then they are ready. The page on the left is the beginnings of an alphabet design based on earliest musical notation. The one on the right is with my favorite travel brush and my new “Handwritmic”:
6. “Sorting the Seeds”: Not everyone is as messy as I am, but the creative pattern does not seem to attend to order when on full tilt. In between times, or when I don’t know where to begin, I find it satisfying to sort one area, one drawer, or one pile of scraps. This activity often leads to new ideas, as if out of the corner of my eye.
I will end with these words from Herman Hesse:
In each one of you there is a hidden being, still in the deep sleep of childhood. Bring it to life! In each one of you there is a call, a will, an impulse of nature, an impulse toward the future, the new, the higher. Let it mature, let it resound, nurture it! Your future is not this or that; it is not money or power, it is not wisdom or success at your trade — your future, your hard dangerous path is this: to mature and to find God in yourselves. – Herman Hesse
And a bow to Mary Oliver: I have been touched by hearing from many of you after the death of our beloved poet. Below is one of her short poems that speaks to the idea of finding pleasure in using what you have available, in forgetting about making a masterpiece, and remembering this is not a contest:
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
–Praying, by Mary Oliver
What are some of your favorite things? I’d love to hear from you.
*Much gratitude to my German friends who sent translations of Hesse’s poem on the last post.