Monday, June 13, 2016

creativity requires a state of grace

“I have an idea for a ‘play.’ Summer’s night. Someone on a seat. And voices speaking from the flowers.”

- Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 19 January 1935

"The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely, or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers—has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way."

- Mary Oliver, from A Poet's Handbook

For the sake of a single poem,
you must see many cities,
many people and things,
you must understand animals,
must feel how birds fly,
and know the gesture which small flowers
make when they open in the morning.

- Rilke

"When I’m writing the way I want, the way I love, which is without thinking about what I’m writing, a strange thing happens: I feel simultaneously the most myself I could possibly be, and at the same time totally relieved of self. I become, I guess, a version of myself that isn’t filtered through the detritus and clutter of experience. We can’t control so much of what happen to us in life. Even our own actions unfold in time in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But there is someone inside who remains untouched by all of that. That person may not really exist in the light, but she is there, waiting, in the dark."

- Kathryn Harrison, from an article on The Atlantic, "To Write, Stop Thinking"

From the same article:

"I have to write. It’s not an option. When I write, I am literally building myself a place in which to live. Once I’m firmly established within the narrative I pop awake in the morning and it’s the first thing I think about. Not in an analytical way, as in “Oh, I haven’t really reached the crisis point and it’s already page 200—I’d better work on that.” It’s very much just running towards and into the place I most want to be.
When I can’t go to that place, I feel anxious and unhappy. I love writing, and I’m miserable without it—and as time goes by, the people around me are miserable also.
It’s funny, I teach writing, and before I taught I never would guessed the thing I say most often is: “Please stop thinking.” But people really write better without thinking, by which I mean without self-consciousness."

each day's terror, almost
a form of boredom—madmen
at the wheel and
stepping on the gas and
the brakes no good-
and each day one,
sometimes two, morning glories,
faultless, blue, blue sometimes
flecked with magenta, each
lit from within with
the first sunlight.

- Denise Levertov


"Among the roses, she seemed thoroughly out of place. One can tell instinctively what sort of flower a person would be if born a plant, and her genus certainly wasn't the rose, with its shameless carmine unfolding - the rose is no innocent. I felt immediately that Emerence could never be one, though I still knew nothing about her, or what she would one day become." 

- from The Door, by Magda Szabo

By now you might have read about, or come across this novel, The Door. Or perhaps you've read it. For me, it's the best book I've read in ages. I love it. I've already reverently placed it on my top 10 novels, among the novels I can't live without and I know I'll return to it over and over. 

(I've placed the book on my recommended shelf, above). 

I'm terrible at talking about the novels that I love and revere. Part of me doesn't want to tell anyone about this book or that I've read it at all. I don't want to talk about it with anyone, I just want to carry it around inside me. 

So instead, here is a review in the NYTimes by Claire Messud. 

Maybe it will remind you a little bit of Rumi and the Red Handbag, because both books are about female friendship. I saw The Door on a list of books about women's friendships recently....But what it immediately reminded me of was work by Clarice Lispector. The Passion According to G.H. mostly, but also The Hour of the Star.  And you know how I feel about those books. 

From a review in The Guardian:
It was Virginia Woolf who first drew attention to the relationship between creative output and domestic chores. There are no 17th-century female poets, she wrote, because "Shakespeare's sister" was too busy mending stockings or watching the stew. Centuries later, and with cash to spare, the great-granddaughters of Shakespeare's sister have been solving this problem with hired help. In The Door, Hungary's most famous living author, Magda Szabó, gives a rare insight into the precarious relationship between the "lady writer" and her woman who does.

From near the end of the book when Emerence is in hospital:

"I would have loved to write, but as I've said, creativity requires a state of grace. So many things are required for it to succeed - stimulus and composure, inner peace and a kind of bitter-sweet excitement - and these elements were missing." 

And earlier:

"I hadn't been able to write a single line, but then the ebb and flow of writing involves, even on good days, being in a state of grace. The situation had drained my energy. Cheerfulness keeps you fresh, its opposite exhausts."


"From the very first day of the new year, it was as if an invisible hand were turning the mysterious tap from which good and bad flowed into people's lives, sometimes off, and sometimes on."

Okay, so I too, have been looking for that state of grace, trying to arrange my life as I always do, always have, around the possible act of writing. But yes, there are so many things that need to be in place for this to happen. 

So okay, I've been writing not writing all this past week. I've been reading the Szabo book and I've been writing in my journal and writing other things in my head and one day I really did write five pages but I think I might need to reconfigure the whole book but who knows how so I just sat there thinking about that for days.

Which is maybe why I love this poem by Anne Boyer called "Not Writing" which begins, "When I am not writing I am not writing a novel called 1994 about a young woman in an office park in a provincial town who has a job cutting and pasting time."

And also:

I am not writing epic poetry although I like what Milton said about lyric
poets drinking wine while epic poets should drink water from a wooden
bowl. I would like to drink wine from a wooden bowl or to drink water
from an emptied bottle of wine.

I am not writing a book about shopping, which is a woman shopping.
I am not writing accounts of dreams, not my own or anyone else's.
I am not writing historical re-enactments of any durational literature.

I am not writing anything that anyone has requested of me or is waiting
on, not a poetics essay or any other sort of essay, not a roundtable re-
sponse, not interview responses, not writing prompts for younger writers,
not my thoughts about critical theory or popular songs.

I am not writing a new constitution for the republic of no history.
I am not writing a will or a medical report.

I am not writing Facebook status updates. I am not writing thank-you
notes or apologies. I am not writing conference papers. I am not writing
book reviews. I am not writing blurbs.

But you should read the whole poem, here.

When I read this poem it reminds me that I would like to write a book about a woman shopping, not necessarily for flowers, but perhaps flowers. (She would buy the flowers herself).

It's always a rather exciting moment when the first poppy emerges in our front garden.

I'm also grateful for the steadiness of the vine in the backyard, the predictable reaching and winding and balletic gestures.

This past week I began to experiment a little. Hauling out some of Rob's old still life props. This glass ball, for one.

And this convex mirror which Rob has included in several paintings.

I feel like I'm not quite finished muddling around with the mirror theme....

Another attempt, with the help of my hand model, Chloe.

My prayer flags continue to unravel, but I think this must be part of the process.

Our cherry tree has a terrifying number of small cherries on it....not sure what I'll do with them all this year. 


by Robert Walser

How quiet you are, you dear, delicate flowers. You don't move from place to place, you have neither eyes nor ears, and you never take a walk, which is so nice. Now and then you look like you can talk, but in any case you certainly have feelings and a sensitivity of your own. I often feel like you are pondering, with all kinds of thoughts. I'm doubtless deluding myself. But still, I think about you a lot and I would love to live with you, as one of you. I would happily be like you, let the sunshine caress me, rock and sway in the wind.

- translated by Damion Searls

I hope you'll forgive the silly abundance of photos but they were a pleasure to take. An escape, if you will. And anyway, I remind myself, soon it will be winter, so I'm allowed to take as many flower photos as I like.

A few of Ace, exhibiting his usual knack for finding the light.

And lastly, I had it in my head to record some scenes of the suburbs. This could be an ongoing series, I'm not sure. I think the first one is my favourite. I've always had a fondness for flamingoes. 

Garbage day in the 'burbs. This woman can be seen collecting bottles and cans on a regular basis.

This really says everything about the suburbs. The pretty roses, the pink garbage dumpster (perhaps they're moving, getting rid of the clutter, the too much stuff we all seem to accumulate), and the over-huge truck in the background. 

This yard offered up so much. A frog, some bunnies, and a colourful, spinning flower.

I'm also fond of the bistro table set configuration. They always remind me of the poem "The Chairs That No One Sits In." (We have two chairs on our front sidewalk as well, though we do sit in them from time to time).

This next one will remind some people of certain Dr. Who episodes.  

And so I leave you with this potentially terrifying image, lol, but wishing you a calm week ahead, full of good books to read, lovely tea to drink, and stronger. Wishes, also, for an abundance of flowers, light, and if you write, for that particular state of grace.

- Shawna



  1. That state of grace, I think all artists try to find that. I'm now very curious and excited to read "The Door". As always, I'm blown away by all the beautiful color and light...and I love how Ace has found his own patch of god-light :) This post is filled to the brim with such goodness, I will have to return many times to soak it all in, as I so often do. That's what I love about your posts.

  2. Oh, and I must thank you for this beautiful needed today. xo

  3. How could that beautiful, gentle lady possibly be creeping up behind me with her jagged stone teeth when I blink...

    I haven't been to your blog for awhile as I am preparing to move across the country and my spirit has not been peaceful or patient, but in light of this weekends events, I felt the need to return the calm spirit of your space. Thank you for your ever gentle words.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...