Parades and Memories

November 29, 2013

by Deborah Atherton

Image

Today is Black Friday in America, and as you can see, I am not out shopping. The truth is, I can hardly stand shopping any more, except for a few places where I know it will be quiet—and I am not sure there are any quiet places left to shop on Black Friday, which has become so frenzied in recent years it is on the verge of overtaking Thanksgiving as a national holiday. 

In past years I have posted about not getting too frantic or depressed over the holidays, and not letting the memories of the past—or the ideal American holiday as presented by Hallmark—take over our minds and creative energy too entirely. (And for our readers who live in somewhat less holiday-and-sales-consumed countries, you have probably seen pictures of how crazy and sometimes violent our stores get today—and they aren’t kidding.)  But this year, maybe because the holiday responsibilities were taken over by other, generous relatives, I am in a more relaxed frame of mind. I really enjoyed little jaunt through Manhattan to Thanksgiving dinner, seeing the streets completely abandoned, and thinking about how compelling the holiday is for us—how everyone finds or invents a place to go and be, with family or friends, and how this one day a year extraordinary efforts are made to see that no one is alone and hungry.  The television is filled with images of volunteers at homeless shelters and soup kitchens.  And then today, we jump back into our consumer culture with abandon, except for those of us, of course, who seize it as an actual day off, and if not too exhausted from Thanksgiving festivities, retreat into our attics or basements or studios or closets.

One thing the holidays give us is a unique window to the future and the past—our memories of holidays tend to be sharp, as they are each different, and tend to stick in our minds as markers of a certain time of our lives.  We have our memories as children—many of us have our first memories from holidays—and then from each year of our adolescence and adulthood.  Perhaps we have our own children, and then begin to mark the years through their quick attainment of adulthood. And we might remember what year Macy’s added a new balloon to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, or a movie came out that we enjoyed or hated, or the day we finally made it to Rockefeller Center to see the tree.  These can be gateway memories, that provide us with guides to our own lives and the procession of our creative ideas—our internal time machines, a handy tool for any writer or artist. 

What hit me most strongly yesterday, though, as I was watching the Thanksgiving Parade on TV, was how quaint it was all going to seem in 100 years.  As the announcers were extolling the virtues of the sponsors of each balloon or float, I realized that although some of the characters would survive (I would put money on Mickey Mouse still being a household name in the next century, although I am unlikely to be here to collect) the products would not. In some ways the parade I was watching was very different than the one my father and grandmother saw earlier in the 20th century. And one of my esteemed relatives brought this up during the football game later in the day—“most of these products weren’t around to be advertised fifty years ago.”

 So we are fortunate that our memories give us a time machine to a past that seems immediate and not quaint, that is in color and not in black and white, and that those memories are often sharpened and deepened by the holidays.  If we have a moment to pause and reflect (before or after shopping and eating) they might offer us a little creative energy to fly—or at least float in a dignified manner—all the way into the New Year.   

Photo of the Mickey Mouse Balloon from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1934. Courtesy of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.


Follow me on Twitter @DatherToo.

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What Did You Do on Your Summer Vacation?

July 30, 2013

Everybody needs a vacation. For some, vacations give us an opportunity to take a deeper dive into our creative interests. We can go to a writer’s conference, or an arts colony, or go to a city where we can visit ten art museums in ten days, or find someplace off season on the beach where we can write or paint or take photographs undisturbed. Or perhaps we seize the opportunity for a class to learn an approach or a form we’ve never mastered. There are hundreds of places that cater to people on vacation who want to learn water colors, or listen to jazz, or take up jewelry making.

What many of us never do is take an actual vacation. The kind where you do no work of any kind whatsoever, but actually go to the beach IN season and drink frozen margaritas. Or go to Disney World without having in the back of your mind what a good setting it would make for a horror movie. Or go kayaking, or mountain climbing, or to a spa for a different kind of seaweed wrap every day. There’s little enough time in our lives for our creative projects, we tell ourselves—why waste perfectly good time off on unproductive activities?

That was how I felt for many years. You couldn’t sell me on a vacation. Time off was for writing, or possibly going places that would help my writing. Writing WAS my vacation.

Sunset at the ocean

But funny thing about that: I never found myself getting so much done on these writing vacations. Some people do, I know. They go off to writers colonies and actually write. They hole themselves up in a studio shack on a lonely beach and come back with piles of photographs or paintings. Me, I mostly get anxious. I tell myself I only have a week, it’s already Tuesday, and what have I accomplished? And then suddenly it’s Saturday, and I’m scribbling desperately—and I come out of the whole thing with a sense of having achieved very little. (This by the way, bears absolutely no relationship to how much I have written, whether it be five or fifty pages—it’s not enough.)

Last year, I took an actual vacation. I went with my sister to visit my brother and my cousins at the beach. (You may consider this cheating, as I did work a little bit with my sister on a novel we are writing together, but this was not the purpose of the trip.) We stayed at a pleasant hotel actually on the beach, and yes, it was off season, but warm enough to sit in the sun and put your toes in the water, if you were so inclined. We sat and looked at the ocean. We took rides and looked at scenery. We caught a spectacular sunset. We ate in seaside restaurants. We ate lobsters. We all talked a lot to each other, remembering family stories, looking at old photographs and catching up.

I did not measure my vacation in pages written, or stories plotted, or research done. I just had a nice time with people I don’t see often enough. And when I came home, I did have a little burst of creative energy, stemming from our seaside trip, but even if I hadn’t, it would have been rewarding and the best possible use of my time. Because sometimes, even though we can never really leave our creative side at home, a vacation should just be a vacation.

Photo Credit: Susan A. Hanson


The Saturday Collapse

February 22, 2013

By Deborah Atherton

Saturday Collapse

Whether we work at full-time jobs, as I do, or run our own businesses, as Leslie does, we are likely to be running at full-steam Monday through Friday attempting to pay our bills, all the while telling ourselves how much work we will get done on our creative projects on the weekend. We look forward to it; we plan for it; we schedule it.

And then Saturday comes. And before us lie all the weekend chores we don’t have time for during the work week, from laundry and grocery shopping to dry cleaning and buying a new electric drill at Home Depot. Plus all the bill-paying and newspaper/blog reading that couldn’t get done Monday through Friday. And the trip to the gym you are really overdue for. Not to mention the frantic emails from work or clients that mean you don’t really have the day of at all.

And you don’t want to do any of it. Not the writing or painting or photography. Not the laundry or dry cleaning or big box shopping.

What you really want to do is collapse in front of the TV and watch an NCIS or Downton Abbey or Big Bang Marathon or read the library book that is due back Tuesday. What you really want to do is just tear open a bag of chips or make yourself a cup of tea and cookies and not think about anything productive at all.

If you have reached that moment when nothing else seems possible, and your TV or your book or the movie you downloaded exercise irresistible temptation, give in.

Just do it. Watch six hours of the teams we all wish we belonged to, be they the detectives at NCIS or the aristocrats around the dining table or the geeky comic book devotees at a California university. Read the latest from Charlaine Harris or the Jack Reacher thriller or a brain-eating Zombie fantasia. Go through all the Oscar nominees and scornfully dismiss them one by one.

Sometimes your brain needs a break. Even more often, your body needs a break. Being Americans, we have all read self-help books on how to manage and schedule and prioritize our time, on how to organize our lives, on what is urgent and important, or urgent and not important, or barely worth thinking about—and once in a while, we have to throw it all out the door.

Take the day off. Indulge. Let yourself.

Indulge

Here’s betting that by 10 o’clock Sunday morning (or maybe 11 o’clock Sunday night), you’ll be ready for something a bit different, and that those task lists and chores will seem a little less overwhelming—or at least look like something you can postpone for another week. And that having spent a day actually off, you might want to spend at least a few hours of one writing or painting or heading off to film the polar bears enjoying the weather no one else is enjoying.

It’s your time. It’s your life. Every minute of it isn’t going to be spend fiercely engaged with the struggle to create. Some of it is going to be spent munching snacks and watching TV. And it is my belief that ultimately your creative projects will benefit by the downtime.

Thanks to Eric Ember for permission to use his photos.


Finding Your Inner Voice

November 26, 2012
by Leslie Zeigler
In this fast-track world we all now live in with iPads, Droids, Twitter, Facebook and Linked In,  we all may fear that if we dare to not have our devices within six inches we will be out of the loop.  I know that I have an ambivalent relationship to my own attachment to my now dinosaur Blackberry. Yet this is the new reality we all live in, and in order to survive, succeed and stay in touch, it would be really hard to turn off and tune out for very long. However, I sometimes think that tuning out is just what the metaphorical cultural doctor would prescribe if there were one.   My recommendation would be that during moments of high stress  (or even  medium or low stress) we turn off our devices to allow time to be creative and engage with our imaginations.
Five Minute Break
It could really be as simple as a five-minute break for reflection while walking to your car or subway (or possibly longer if you have the time.) In order to enhance your ability to do this, try to access your inner voice, which requires giving it some space to emerge. I find that those rare, and sometimes not so rare, moments when we can quiet all those various inner messages that try to demand our attention (almost as if our inner life were like a TV with many channels) are truly magic.   We are all familiar with our ever-present inner critic, who will try to tell us we don’t know enough, or that we aren’t really going to create something worthy of sharing. Perhaps we also hear our daily to-do list streaming through our minds, vying for our attention,  or maybe it is a message you keep hearing related to something your mother told you when you were just four years old.
 Finding Inner Calm
It can be a real challenge to find inner calm, to push the mute button on all these messages, and just relax and let go and let your intuition kick in.  You will not know where it is coming from, or how, but creative ideas and thoughts may just start to flow and it will be magic.  And for extra inspiration just remember the words of Steve  Jobs “don’t let  the noise of other’s opinions drown  out your own inner voice.”

The Perfect Storm Approaches

October 27, 2012

by Deborah Atherton

In the Northeastern United States, we are all currently waiting for Hurricane Sandy to descend and disrupt our lives.  The early warning system provided by weather satellites and 24-hour media, designed to give time for preparation, manages in fact to fill us with anxiety.  Instead of saying “Good night” when they leave work at night, people are asking, “Do you have batteries for your flashlight?”

It’s a kind of exaggerated version of the anxiety we live with all the time now, aware of every disaster, whether it happens around the corner or around the world from us.  You’d think we’d get hardened to it, but we don’t seem to; we turn on our computers, our phones, our TVs every day to hear more news.  It’s on in the elevator of the building I work in.  There is no separation from the rest of the world’s misery, or, as today, our own apparent impending doom, although it’s not actually arriving for another few days, so we have a lot of time to think about it.

I have batteries in my flashlight, I have the 3-4 days worth of food and water FEMA has suggested, I have candles and lots of books to read.  I am reasonably sure any flood will not reach the very high floor I live on, and if it does, the entire island of Manhattan is in more trouble than it is ever likely to get out of.  So this should be the moment when I pat myself on the back, and pick up one of the scenes I am trying to fix, or finish a chapter in the book Leslie and I are working on.

But no, I keep going back to the Weather Channel, hypnotized by the approaching storm.

We might tell ourselves we can multi-task, and of course, to some extent we can, but no one can stay glued to blow-by-blow reports of the pending apocalypse and get any creative—or even uncreative—work done.  And maybe this weekend, it’s an actual imminent threat, but even so—there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.  Sandy will waltz up the Eastern Seaboard, and either encounter—or not encounter—the other two weather systems that will help create a perfect storm.  She is disregarding the wishes of both Presidential candidates, who would just like clear roads so people can go and vote.  (That’s another impending event over which I have absolutely no control, but absorbs a great deal of my thought right now.)

The only possible thing to do is turn it all off.  Check often enough for safety—and I’ll undoubtedly check more often than that—but try and create a quiet space in which to generate a little quiet thought.  Push every little button with a green light and wait until the color fades away. Let go of the apocalypse long enough to know that however much we hype it, it’s just a storm.  It is the nature of storms to pass.

Of course, Sandy might just do all that for me.  In which case I might have 3-4 days with no news but occasional reports on my battery powered radio—since there is no way I am going to walk up and down more than 500 stairs unless absolutely forced to do so.

And who knows how much creative thinking and work we all could get done by candlelight in absolute quiet in 3-4 days? It might be an experiment worth trying, even without an apocalypse.


A Change is as Good as a Rest

September 30, 2012

In one of last season’s episodes of Downton Abbey,  the Dowager Countess Grantham (played so unforgettably by Dame Maggie Smith) said “a change is as good as a rest,” an expression I hadn’t heard in a while, but which can really apply to our creative lives.

Maybe you, like me, sometimes get mired down in a project.  This can happen at any time—you might have a wonderful idea, and then be completely flummoxed about what to do with it.  You might be halfway through your book or painting or film or graphic novel, and suddenly lose, not just inspiration, but the will to go on.  You might have finished it, and not be able to bring yourself to polish it and set it out on its journey in the world (if you’re like me, this means a virtual traffic jam of manuscripts sitting in your computer waiting to be set free.)

In this situation, I think we must sometimes take the Dowager’s words to heart, and just go do something else.  Ideally, this something else might be a cruise around the world, or at least a trip to Disney Land; but in real life, if you aren’t able to just pick up and take yourself elsewhere, it might be going to hear a band on Friday night instead of settling down in front of the TV, or taking a walk in the park if it’s not something you do every day, or even (God forbid)
tackle cleaning out the garage or hall closet.  Or, if you are feeling creative but just hating what you are doing at the moment, you might pick up your camera (if you’re a musician) or some paint brushes (if you are a writer) and try a different way of expressing yourself.

What probably isn’t going to help is sitting with your  work and ruminating endlessly over it.   Of course, we all do this, and some of it is necessary.  But if you are entering day 3 of rewriting the same sentence or playing the same phrase or tearing up a sketch for the 14th time, it may be time to turn your back, shut the door, and pretend what you are doing never existed.  Our brains are strangely subject to trickery of all kinds and if we announce loudly to ourselves, “Well I’m done with that!” they usually believe us, not noticing the little asterisk we have put for ourselves next to it  (i.e., *for today).  Especially if we attach some little reward to it, like that walk in the park or maybe a rejuvenating cup of coffee at our favorite coffee shop.  (Note: our brains are gullible, but not so gullible as to believe cleaning out the garage is a reward, although an hour of that might be enough of a threat to produce all kinds of new and energizing ideas.)

So to those of us who are stuck today I offer a guilt free pass to go take a walk, take a break, visit our local Starbucks WITHOUT the tools of our trade, and just sit and watch all the poor people slaving over their computers.  A change is as good as a rest.  Maggie Smith said so.  And who among us would challenge either Lady Grantham or Professor McGonagall?


Our Haiku Contest Winners!

February 1, 2012

We were so completely delighted with the results of our haiku contest, and the brilliance and creativity of our readers, that we will offering the Intuitive Edge Haiku Awards (and, of course, Starbucks Cards) to all of our amazing participants. 

Please enjoy the haiku below:

Marcus Bales

… sugar in your tea?
what’s all these crazy questions
that they’re asking me?

 ecumenical
white, green, and post-fermented,
yellow, oolong, black

Claudia Carlson

First draft steaming hot
dreams fill the cup of the mind
rewrite in the dregs

Warm ink in a cup
steam paints sonnets to the air
send chai to my heart

A measure of sweet
over dry and bitter leaf
serve it to your muse

Eric Ember

cupped in both hands tea.
steam rises, aroma wafts,
ideas percolate

 tea percolating
like ideas from the ether,
creativity

K10ld

TIPPING POINT

If I have more than
a half cup of regular,
the muse freaks; I’m hosed.

Kitpancoast

teaspoon of honey
dissolving in morning tea
twelve bee’s lifelong work

Kimberley Roots

nothing impels me
to write like the slick hiss
of milk being steamed

L. Sylvester

THE PERFECT FORMULA

A sweet aroma,

Driving the pen to paper

Then again a sip.

Our thanks again to all, and we look forward to next year’s contest!

Deborah and Leslie