Tag Archives: creativity

Don’t Go Back To Sleep

It has been just about a year since I began this blog.  So it’s time for a reckoning, I figure.  Today’s contribution from Emily is helpful.

#245, c. 1861

I held a Jewel in my fingers —
And went to sleep —
The day was warm, and winds were prosy —
I said, ” ‘Twill Keep” —

I woke — and chid my honest fingers,
The gem was gone —
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own —

She’s meditating on the work. Her work, my work, your work. You know . . . the work. In the realm of Emily, the winds are prosy and drop jeweled phrases into her hands. Everything around her shimmers with some kind of artful story. Poems happen with each shift in the breeze. Once you wake up and notice the lovely vein to be mined, the world becomes so rich with imagery and meaning that you could become doped into a stupor by the plenty that lies within your fingertips.

That’s what Em did, and I think she’s very sorry about it. She made the mistake—an honest mistake but wrong all the same—of going to sleep and thinking she did not have to capture the jewel and commit it to paper immediately. Foolish girl, she believed it would still be there later. That laziness, although understandable, left her bereft on waking. The poem had slipped through her honest fingers. Poems will do that if you’re not careful. At first they always have that bullet-proof brilliance, but it doesn’t last on its own unless you get it into the notebook. It evaporates like a gem made of mist. The sun and the wind take it away. There is no one to blame but the lazy poet.

Okay, I’m being too hard on Emily, way too post-Industrial Revolution for her. Not fair. Laziness is not the culprit for the poem’s loss. Instead the problem is that the writer can become too easily dazzled by her own wealth and forget to husband her resources wisely. (I love the word “husband” as a verb, but that’s another blog entry.) It’s no trouble at all for Emily or me to remain in our respective bubbles of radiant potential. This realm of pure thought is threaded all through with the shocking sense impressions offered by experience of “out there”. Rude physicality enlivens what is “in here”, and the result is an utterly absorbing tension between “what is” and “what might be”. Writers live on that tension and get drunk on the excitement it creates. The only drawback is that often writers, for whatever reason, do not mine the gem and bring it back to the surface. They are so captivated by their own supercharged radiance, that they forget their day job: Make it make sense and write it down!

It’s easy to see why writers are careless with their own gifts. That richness in the experience could seem infinite in the moment. So why bother rendering it into rigid form? There will always be more. Why not instead just enjoy the rich flow of imagining? This sense of infinity may even be true. Certainly, I have never noticed a shortage of words. Emily knew that better than anyone. She wrote a poem nearly every day of her life. The problem lies in the drunk stillness and rapture taking over the whole process so that the coherence dissolves. The writer naturally wants to communicate, bring her own radiance out of that vast potential without boundaries into some externalized structured form that makes sense to someone else, not just herself. She has to wake from her own trance to do that.

How many times do my thoughts pursue a shimmering trail of thread, all the way down a rabbit hole, while the pen falls to the notebook? Who knows how much time passes like that? An hour? Ten minutes? It all feels the same. Pursuing the invisible becomes more absorbing than recording it. Next thing I know, I look down at the notebook and can’t recognize the last thing I wrote because my thoughts ran ahead of my hand. The connection dissolved because I didn’t keep that psyche/soma port open and working. There isn’t any blame to assign here. It’s no one’s fault that my thoughts race too fast for my pen to keep up. But it is a problem.

The solution is to cultivate habits that make coherent capture possible. That is show up at the page and just keep the pen moving, for god’s sake don’t lose that thread of ink. Most of the stuff in the notebook is junk that makes no sense to anyone, but if I have enough junk in some fixed form outside of my head, there is a chance I can craft a shapely thing out of the junk. The best to hope for is something resembling that faceted jewel I found in the mine, but those always appear more beautiful in that pure radiance of potential than they do in the ordinary surface world light. The manifestation out of potential into form necessarily imposes limits, therefore crushes the radiance. You never have the same jewel, once rendering it to others. This loss of perfection is heartbreaking, but at least it leaves you with something more lasting than thought. Why do this? Why not let it remain pure radiant potential? Oh, I don’t know. Somehow I believe it’s worthwhile to keep the pen moving, if for no other reason than it keeps me busy.

Official notice here: Last week at the Neighborhood Story Project’s Write-a-Thon I wrote another 1200 words in this thing I’ve had moldering at the back of my hard drive for a year. I’m calling it a “thing” because there really isn’t any other word for it. Sorry to be so vague, but that’s all you’re getting from me right now.

I’ll close with another poem from Rumi that I return to often.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are moving back and forth across the threshold
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

I enjoy hearing Rumi and Emily speak to each other across centuries and continents. . . . okay, I just answered my own question.

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Death At The Birthing Bed

Again, Emily concerns herself with potential coming into expression.

#952, c. 1864

A Man may make a Remark —
In itself — a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature — lain —

Let us deport — with skill —
Let us discourse — with care —
Powder exists in Charcoal —
Before it exists in Fire.

Here the potential is a fire, which may be productive or destructive. A fire may warm you through the winter and cook your food. Or it could destroy the whole village. Pure potential is morally neutral. It answers only to itself when not directed toward any goal. The fire doesn’t care if it burns down a village or warms the nourishing soup. It’s all the same to the fire.

Em says we are shaped or our potential is ignited at various times in our lives by outsiders. A chance remark made without explicit intentions could start a fire that burns down the village. We don’t know what we possess until we are forced to react to random intrusions from the outside. We can’t know the breadth of our potential (or the moral content we may give it) until irritated into a response. We won’t know if our fire is that flame of inspiration, a cheery warming force that feeds us and others. Or if we contain the earth-scorching force that brings down the foundations of our structure.

That’s the test for evolving beings. How do we direct our power as it explodes from potential into expression?

Emily points out that this is a dangerous test. She cautions care because many have failed. None of us knows what we may be setting in motion either within ourselves or others. That unrealized darkness is exciting because it contains everything in potential. The movement into expression, like birth, contains many perils. The angel of death always perches over the birthing bed, waiting and watching. The result is not certain or safe until it arrives in sensible hands. Even then . . . who knows.

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Lenten Promise

So I gave up wine for Lent, and I’m real cranky about it. Now, seems as good a time as any to review my progress. I do not enjoy this business of imitating Christ’s suffering. If he wanted to fast in the desert for forty days and grapple with Satan, that’s his decision. What does it have to do with me? Still not sure what benefit I am supposed to derive from this practice, except that I get to observe how angry I am when I can’t have a glass of wine with my dinner. Sure, observing one’s own anger is always useful. Yep, there goes my anger again. I’d recognize that anger anywhere. No mistaking it, that’s my anger, all right. Hey, know what would help my anger? A glass of wine. Thank goodness for the loophole. Ya’ll know about the Great Catholic Loophole, right? You can break your fast on Sundays during Lent because it’s a sin to fast on the Prince’s Feast Day. Sometimes my Sunday comes on a Thursday, but I figure if I make it up later, then I’m in the clear. It all comes out in the wash. For the love of Christ, Easter can’t come soon enough this year.

(Being Catholic isn’t a struggle. Being polite is a struggle. Catholic is easy. It gives me something to write about for all my life.)

Speaking of art forms that spring from repression . . . I went to hear Zachary Richard, the Acadian activist rebel poet, play last night. He told us a story about his earliest memory of music. He sang in an all-boys church choir in Lafayette. The bishop had envisioned something like the Vienna Boys Choir in Southeast Louisiana. Richard was first soprano. Later when he got to be a teenager, he decided he preferred the Devil’s music and started a garage band because he thought that would help him meet girls. The history of rock and roll could be written with that one sentence.

Entirely by chance, I received this comforting note from Emily this morning.

#1101, c. 1866

Between the form of Life and Life
The difference is as big —
As Liquor at the Lip between
And Liquor in the Jug
The latter — excellent to keep —
But for ecstatic need
The corkless is superior —
I know for I have tried

When she writes the difference between “Life and Life”, she means the difference between potential and expression. The inner life and the outer life. Both are alive in that they have force and movement. Both are informed by spirit. Without clubbing us with her joke, she puns on spirit(s) so both resonate at once—the alcohol and the eternal aspect of ourselves, the ghost in the machine. Further to be “inspired” is to be intoxicated with spirit, or out of your everyday head space where mundane tasks are accomplished.

Get drunk on joy, she advises. Allow yourself to be overtaken by this expansive wave of power and creation. It carries you (against your better judgement) out of the usual sober sense of duty into a realm without boundaries. Here is a place of perfect indulgence, where you can’t put a foot wrong. You move perfectly in time to the music. Everyone likes you, and your jokes are always funny.

Emily has been there, she says. She also says that we need this indulgence, this departure from sobriety into unalloyed happiness. That it fails to resemble a workable everyday life is not the point. The point is to be released from restrictions to make real what had existed as potential. Emily says, you must drink deeply of yourself and become intoxicated in order to write that poem. Or converge toward whatever center your life demands.

She calls this an “ecstatic need”. Imagine if we treated transcendent joy, the pure pleasure of being alive, as something we needed, like vitamins? Emily says we are nourished when we release the contained self outward into expression. Probably a lot of us keep that potential creative expression stoppered-up in a sober safe container because if we do drink deeply of ourselves and go on that antic joyous spree . . . we’ll be out of control and probably look silly. Then what? We’ll have some explaining to do. Some mopping up, maybe. Big deal. Fortunately, no one has ever really died of embarrassment.

Emily says, it’s a waste of fine spirit(s) to hold your creative gifts in a state of contained potential. Lose yourself, once in a while, to find yourself.

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