Creative Beginnings Part Two: The Family Artist Date

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In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron insists that we need weekly artist dates alone to court our inner artist. I have done these, and they are marvelous for boosting creativity. But I have also taken my family and friends along on dates and gotten oodles of inspiration that way, too.

At the beginning of this year, I completed two New Year’s rituals together with my family and one alone. My inner artist loved them all.

First, we all went to the Nisqually Nature Preserve, a place I written about before but have never visited in the winter. If you haven’t been there in the cold, you may have missed a few birds. They apparently come out to be seen when the temperature drops.

We saw herons, a bald eagle, a woodpecker along with the usual crows, seagulls and ducks.

Later, I took my youngest son to see the trains at the Washington History Museum. I fell down on the blogging job and didn’t take pictures but I was impressed by how much my four year old loved the whole place from the trains to the other exhibits. A museum full of things you can do with children playing and learning is always a grand place to start a new year. Inner artists love this kind of play.

Finally, I went to Starbucks in Sumner and spent an hour with my headphones on (it’s loud there!) mapping out my goals for 2015. It may not sound like a thrilling date, but alone time with a notebook, music, and a cup of tea is my kind of fun.

Overall, I’m happy with the creative beginnings I chose. My  inner artist must be, too, because the word output has been good so far this year and my joy level is up.

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Getting the Play Done

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This week a writer friend named Molly Blaisdell wrote a blog post on the importance of play to her writing work.

Before I read her words, I had been stuck on what to post and, honestly, stuck on whether to write all together. I was even having Negative Nellie give it up thoughts.  And those thoughts felt like an even deeper black hole.

Molly’s idea of play rung a bell somewhere just below my suprasternal notch (Can you tell I’m studying with the nurses in my day job? The notch is the dip in the middle of the collar bones.)

As I said, I’ve been feeling off. My teaching job lasted clear into mid August this year. By the time my students and I wrapped up the essays and grammar finals, the back to school sales were about over. My son started tennis tryouts a week later. I got exactly one weekend to go camping with the kids and that was the one weekend in August that it rained. Like Noah needed to come and rescue us.

And my writing routine always takes a whack when I’m out of the teaching groove. For four weeks I could write much more but, as almost always happens, I ended up writing less. The wide open space flattens my pen, I guess.

And then my work schedule changed these past two weeks as school life got going again. I used to work Monday through Thursday with Friday clearly marked as a play day.

Now it’s Tuesday through Friday with Monday for play. Something about Friday is so much more intrinsically free. Friday feels like barbecues and rowdy people wearing Seahawks jerseys. Monday feels more like cubicles and fluorescent lights.

I’d been thinking I needed that play back. Here’s a video of a writer who knows how to play better than some of the kids:

Maybe I need to be more like him and open a non profit with a pirate store at the front. Or convince kids that wasting fruit leads to invasive melons. I bet if I let myself think on it, I could come up with even wilder ideas.

In the meantime, I’ve let myself do some more down-to-earth playing. Sometimes these larks have nothing to do with my stories. Like Molly, I knit. I go for walks with my family, I paint pumpkins, I scour Pinterest for projects and then do a few of them. I paint. I cook. I play my clarinet.

And sometimes, after realizing with a head smacking ‘duh’ that writing needs play, too, I wrap fun into that work. I craft temari balls because they are in my story, I surf for pictures of my characters and paste them into the art book I’ve created for my novel in progress. I go to places my characters would be. And it’s fun. And the work gets better. Not just easier to do but better. Even the play that has nothing to do with my projects somehow zaps new life into the words I scratch on paper or punch out on the screen.

We all know by now that children need to play to learn and grow. I need reminders sometimes that I’m not all that different from the children I write for and about.

And so, I say, hurray. Hurray, hurray, hurray for play. (This is borrowed liberally from Dr. Seuss and The Eye Book — another good source of play.)

If you’ve got a moment, I’d love to know what you do just for the fun of it. I’m asking partly because I’d love to get more ideas and partly because I’ve noticed in writing this that I find joy in the mere thought of frivolous fun. I’m betting you will, too.

 

The Inexplicable Power of a Licorice Stick

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clarinet Sometimes when my reasonably fine life gets to be too much, I pull out my clarinet from its beaten case with the sides all sliced and peeling from when it faced various indignities on long ago band trips.

I open the metal clasps on the side and look into that velvet-lined interior to find the five pieces that make up my black wooden instrument. I feel the corks as I slide them together with the reed soaking already in my mouth (I’m always hoping it’s the right reed — the one that lets the tones flow out easily instead of one of those others that have me straining for each note).

I start with the bell, then the two middle pieces, building it from bottom to the top, sliding the bridge carefully together. Then I push together the barrel and the mouthpiece, pulling the barrel up to give it a slightly deeper tone as if trying to tune with a partner or band not in the little office room where I play. After all this, I’ll run through the chromatic scale, fiddle with the keys and maybe pass through my memorized “Sound of Silence.”

If my lip feels strong, I’ll play through old books, looking for fun things. But most of the time and especially if I’m playing to soothe some nameless hurt that came over me before I cracked open the peeling case, I’ll go back to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K 622 Adagio.

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I’ll play it long and slow with its climbing and then falling sixteenth and thirty second notes and trills. It’s in a book I used for contest but not a piece I ever played when I was in competition. No music teacher ever corrected me on it, and I think this is much of why I love it. I have no idea how badly I’m doing it. I don’t want to have any idea.

Somehow, when I play, I feel close to the man who wrote it shortly before his death — that crazy genius who died 10 years younger than I am now over 300 years ago. The sounds soothe me in a way that hangs in the air long after I pull the pieces of my well-loved clarinet back apart to let it lie once again in the velvet lining. Thank you, Mozart. Here’s what I hear in my head when I play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcIyTiKwDvU