Even the local grocer is crying out for creative problem solving…let’s all begin again.
Needless to say (which happens to be my toddler’s favorite transition statement, at the moment – FYI, thanks to the Little Critter books), so yeah – needless to say, we are in a period of forced firsts. When we use the term forced, it sounds so rough and aggressive, no? Hmmm, I’ll begin again, for the sake of modeling…
Welcome back to a period of new beginnings. Rethink how you want to be living? Reimagine how you wish to be art making? Rethink how to spend time (in the flesh, eye to eye, skin to skin) with those you cohabitate with? Reimagine….possibility.
There is no time, like this moment, to start living with new intentions and habits.
Let’s begin again, as I often say…let’s begin again:
The more time we spend with something in open curiosity, rather than routine applications, the more dynamic it becomes. Frequent beginner’s outlook applications result in novelty and playfulness. Open to the subtleties. It’s good for you. Do not judge outcomes, just take in the moment of creation.
Reach for a new palette, explore new materials, work in a new environment, consider artistic genres of which you are curious, explore a new or neglected voice.
In these new moments of art making, begin with fresh intentions and point of view. The rest is subjective shaping, morphing into whatever it is that you – the artist– constructs – and the audience perceives, which often isn’t one and the same. How fun!
As a young dancer, I had a career ending injury. Weekly visits to a top doc could not fix my situation. While I attended those lengthy appointments in Philly, I’d get teased for things like my fascination with the obituary section of Dance Magazine and the fact that I was from Phoenixville.
“Phoenix, Arizona?” a fellow patient asked.
“No, Phoenixville,” I said.
“I love Phoenix,” that same patient responded.
“She said, Phoenixville,” the medical assistant clarified. She followed with something like, “no one has heard of it. Very different than Phoenix.”
And they shared a chuckle at my expense.
I went back to reading, then. That is what I did.
When injury permanently sidelined me, at fifteen, dad asked me to take a drive with him. Drive: code for pep talk. We drove along Phoenixville’s main street: Bridge Street. He played Doo-wop. Maybe he also longed for a more hopeful time.
He said, “we are checking town.”
He pointed out the – then – shutdown Colonial movie theater where the Blob had been filmed. He pointed out the half-dozen places he’d worked.
He pointed out shops that his own father had owned during the ’50s and ’60s; soda fountains. One soda fountain’d close. Another soon reopened. The family business eventually moved a few streets down – off the main street – after hard times. I went into that triangular space a few years back. They were selling – appropriately – vintage furniture.
Our origins credit iron and steel production.
By the nineties, most Phoenixville storefronts were abandoned.
Town colors were gray and grayer, except if you were a fan of high school baseball – in which case you wore purple with pride.
I saw a very different Phoenixville than my father. It embodied my own internal dystopia, another thing I’d have to overcome if I wanted to make something of myself.
First chance I had, I did leave town. It came in the form of a letter of admission to a place more people may have heard of than Phoenix, Arizona. One word: Harvard.
Harvard exists in a lesser known community (as vibrant and equally full of schooling) – Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was everything I’d hoped to inhabit: eclectic, diverse, energetic, intellectual, dressed in indie books, vintage fashion, bustling cafes by day and novel bars by night.
I said I’d never move back home.
Then, life happens. And love clarifies where we belong rather than a place in which to come of age.
Here I am.
I fell in love with Phoenixville, this time around. Or maybe it was my original imprint of love. Maybe the way my dad had painted a vision, and I recalled in heart, Phoenixville – this go around – seemed to heal both personal and community loss via transformation as an artist’s haven.
“It’s bohemian balmy,” a classy friend, passing through, once referred to my beloved Artisan’s Cafe.
Phoenixville. One word.
Forty-five minutes west of Philly, minutes beyond the Main Line, and minutes enough to be all I’d hoped to raise a family: eclectic, diverse, energetic, intellectual, dressed in indie books, vintage fashion, bustling cafes by day and novel bars by night.
This is my town.
You will rise
The phoenix from the flame
You will learn
You will rise
Being what you are
There is no other Troy
For you to burn
Troy, Sinead O’Connor
I had a dream last night. An explosion set fire to buildings starting down around Bluebird Distilling, and I was unsure if the bookstore – a few blocks up, would be spared.
For me, the businesses that shot me out of bed, concerned for and motivated to write this post, are precious to me; like high schoolers might have felt about Nathan Honig’s soda fountain in the ’50s. I’ll never get to set foot inside his creation, but walking among the establishments at the corner of Prospect and Gay, I feel his presence, still.
I feel his presence, here, and I better understand how and what I value. Acknowledged roots generate creative ideas.
My engagement with Phoenixville – now – however, involves deliberate, independent thought:
The Farmers Market, with its family-friendly hospitality and easiestaccess to kale that does not require salad dressing drench.
Reads & Co, indie enough to house favorite books – and even my own. After our visits, my daughter begs to return, especially to resume her flight inside her reading rocket ship.
Nectar Yoga Studio, where my gritty guru – Kate Goodyear – (conveniently, also, my favorite muscle toning diva) – operates one of the most soulful places on Earth.
Refinery, with fashion sense way out of my league, except for the fact that the owner makes everyone feel like someone special and seen.
Vecchia, ah – sweet Neapolitan-style pizza, or vvvrrreeal thing, as Nathan Honig’s Czech accent would’ve revealed. Pizza by this creator and owner – Frank Nattle – is one of the best things to come from the local high school baseball team legacy (if you ask me).
Soltane whipped foam, in the shape of a heart, atop both my daughter’s hot cocoa and my latte. We drink our beverages and share an owl cookie after our monthly jaunt to the library.
Steel City Coffeehouse yes, my original jaunt into town, as a bohemian-wanna-be-artist-teen, and one of the original and strongest offerings to creatives drawn to authentic music and coffee. It’s also hosted some of my favorite off-beat artists over the years, including Jeffrey Gaines and Kevin Manning. The current owners continue to blossom this wildflower.
Then, of course, pragmatically speaking – there’s the local bank – Phoenix Federal, where my immigrant, refugee grandparents could set-up an account for me when I was a toddler. I bank there today, after trying out bigger brands, coming home to honest, reliable, and friendly.
I have wandered along these streets. I have wandered much further.
I think of the statement, now, “not all who wander are lost.” That does embody my spirit. Maybe it’s a Phoenixville thing – born of steel, transformed by art and food; wanderers. This moment in time, yet a blip, slight against this town’s eternal lifeline.
I developed a metaphor this week, for anxious clients. I described the tides of the current pandemic like bubbles of a bubble bath, moving from dense, fresh spigot then spreading out – before evaporating. For now, we sit in the bath. We aim to protect what is most sacred: our flesh. We reaffirm priorities. We pause. But, as bubbles dissipate, as they have in eastern parts of the world, so will we be fortunate to move forward, once again…
When it is time, move along the streets of Phoenixville. Watch us rise, once again, like our patron saint.
In the comments section or your own upcoming creative endeavors, I invite celebrations of home. Celebrate the shops, shopkeepers, vibes, and originality that makes your home and YOU, the best you can be. Keep their spirit alive now, and get ready to boogie with them, again, soon.
Creative introverts have long known the secret expanse that is our own imagination. Mix in the flexible problem solving of a mindful artist, and voila – you have a well built homebound machine.
That power combo fuels something (approximate, perhaps, in memory) that I recall Louisa May Alcott teaching me in her Little Women – “destitution is the mother of invention…”
Join me, explore ordinary household items that could be transformed into an extraordinary universe for you and your little ones, while social distancing.
Please share your ideas in the comments so that my daughter and I, and many others -could explore, as well. Social distancing=Isolation? eh, nah – it’s the new Radical Interconnectedness.
Here is my recent adventure with my daughter:
Locate that household item you almost threw out, because it broke (ie, here – fridge drawer). Give it a new life. Watch Toy Story 4? All things have feelings, including inanimate objects. They await a fresh purpose …otherwise they should be passed along for someone else’s repurposing vision.
Get your Dr. Seuss-honoring-Oobleck on…I’d like to thank Charlestown Playhouse Orange Room for traumatizing me and providing a lasting imprint on the fluid properties of Oobleck. As a parent volunteer, a few weeks ago, in truest parent-volunteer intentions, the experience made me a better parent. Because? Threshold for stress, foremost. When I was asked to CLEAN-OUT a three foot by two foot bin of WET oobleck, YES, I dang well lost my mind; but more so – when my husband said we had to preserve the FLOUR for our daughter’s upcoming birthday cake – I thought, CORNSTARCH AND WATER! Back-up plan for a morning of tactile delight with my toddler. So, I got my own Oobleck on…kinda. You can see…it turned out, SO SO…
OOBLECK is a 2:1 ratio, cornstarch to water, people. That’s it. And we had only so much cornstarch to work with.
NOW, given our OOBLECK awkardness, clumpy and goopy and some leftover very wet areas, this provided the greatest inspiration of all: LET’S CREATE AN ISLAND, WITH VOLCANIC LAVA, AND AN OCEAN. Thanks to a boost from food coloring, that is just what we created.
The rest of the adventure, endless…and history. Because, this time around, I knew how to clean it up. WAIT UNTIL IT ALL DRIES UP! SCRAPE, RINSE. DONE!
It’s been a whirlwind for most of us, in light of the concerns and precautions engulfing our world. I am sharing mindful wisdom that I am practicing. Trying to live and share, respecting boundaries and health, during these unprecedented times:
STAY INFORMED, BUT DO NOT FIXATE.
ascertain information from minimally biased sources
read news articles rather than social media blasts to slow down stress reactions
gather information in moderation, compartmentalized amounts of time rather than news streaming – constantly – on the television, like white noise
MAINTAIN A SENSE OF ROUTINE.
enjoy your morning coffee, exercise, and shower? bravo, keep that up…
consider a breathable, flexible schedule that spells out a few actions and engagements for the day
now, more than ever, carve out time for art making
if you are homebound, tending to loved ones, that is an obvious priority
respect the priorities and boundaries of others
if you are working from home, prioritize the essentials of the to do list – the rest of the world is doing the same, right now
take stock of what your true priorities are, practicing a priority A v. B column, and let go of the B column til our way of life recalibrates
with senses wide open, soak in extra moments with rapidly growing children or aging parents
be grateful – exactly where and as you are, right now
PERMISSION TO PAUSE, SLOWDOWN, HEAL, AND BE CREATIVE…
we are too busy during those other days of 21st century standards, pause
slowdown, that clean or that phone call or that evening story
allow stillness and joy via gratitude, to provide deep healing properties
create with novel materials already in your home (waiting to be repurposed), recreate your career, rebrand creatively….now, has never been, and you were made to BE, creatively in this moment.
Almost all good things come and go…what’s your wabi-sabi?
Readers and clients are aware of my broad stance on what constitutes art: there is a material, an outcome, an intent to express – and so long as no one is intentionally harmed in the process – I’m down with it.
Art affecting material things – that’s an ongoing philosophical dilemma, for me. Part of me likely does not value the material world as much as most people, and yet, I honor that defacing property or things of importance to others can be a terrible violation of trust and respect and safety. So, when I think about guidelines for my toddler, I adopted traditional ones like – markers and crayons go onto paper, only, unless permission is granted.
When it comes to play-doh, you’d think I’d take a similar stance. Stickers throw me into a philosophical spiral, as well.
I hear a conversation in my head like, “there is value in your daughter learning boundaries.”
“But who made the boundaries, and why?” I spat back at myself.
“Oh, shoosh,” I reply, “concrete boundaries give her peace of mind, it will make her a better friend and guest, and she will already know what to do in the classroom.”
But then I hear the voice of her magical, progressive playschool in my head – so long as you are kind to yourself, one another, and the environment, you’re cool. It’s both challenged my parenting guidelines at times – ie, I used to be firm that “on slides, you only go down,” and enabled my artistic biases.
Typical Monday in suburbia, I had an aha moment. It was a small opening into permission to broaden, or rather sink into broader ways, how I wished to allow my daughter to be – especially, as an artist.
So, then, this typical Monday in suburbia, when she brought this very wabi-sabi idea (of pressing play-doh to walls) to my attention, I said, “sure honey…throw some play-doh all over our finest molding, coated in bleach-white paint. you go, girl.”
I thought of my past self: the worrier, the rule follower, and the one concerned that a child from my wildest side could never fit it…
Then I embraced the moment, and glad that I did.
I aimed for an up-close photo to capture the ephemeral art (c’mon, I’m not that liberal to let play-doh permanently crust over the main entrance of our home). My daughter shouted, “No momma, not yet! No picture.”
I asked, “why not?”
And she replied, “I’m still in process.”
At the sound of her declaration, my wild-art-heart exploded with joy and confidence.
What are your guidelines regarding art and children? Please share…and please share your stories from the front line!
Immerse yourself outdoors for at least ten minutes. Have your smartphone with you only for the purpose to potentially take a picture. Feel free to leave your phone behind, as well. Locate an object that seems displaced: a fallen leaf, a pebble all alone, or a blade of grass upon cement. If collecting this object does not harm the object nor the surrounding nature of things, take it with you for a project or future inspiration. If you prefer to leave the object in its most natural state, take a smartphone or mental photograph. Simply, be aware, be playful, and find one new element of nature that you might have overlooked, if you hadn’t immersed yourself outdoors with beginner eyes.
adore this heart, formerly known as a shell, created at daughter’s awesome daycare
Super excited to learn that Jason Reynolds has been named Library of Congress’ current ambassador for young people. Inspired by an interview that I overheard, featuring him, this morning on NPR – I’m gonna share some how-to-be-YOU basics. Reynolds reignited my sense of purpose, describing that his mother nurtured his love of writing and that he hopes to do the same for other young people. His mother, he noted something like,
“she told me that my stories mattered because they were mine.”
Look outside of yourself. Notice the natural plus not-so-natural state of the things. Gather what you notice from your unique angles on life and the world. There is no wrong way to find inspiration in this way. Jot down notes for future inspiration:
The Natural World Around Me –
The Not-So-Natural World Around Me –
My Imagination –
True artists construct from whatever angles exist, with whatever materials spread out within and before them. In true artistry, the true part involves recognizing then piecing together the artistic angles. Angles spring from personal experiences (thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations), the world around us, and our imaginary universe.
Some artists prefer one of these angles more than others. Their work reflects this. Some vary between the angles and some flow seamlessly between all three. Take Wendy Whelan’s flow, for example. This longstanding principal dancer with New York City Ballet is also the subject of the documentary Restless Creature. In an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, from 2017, Whelan was asked how she felt about embodying the “ballerina” and if for her, like the stereotype, fulfilling this role resembled ultimate femininity.
Whelan responded to Gross’s (brilliant, piercing) probe by saying her own traits as tall, thin, and athletic filtered into the work she produced. Her personal traits brought an angular influence to the art. Therefore, she concluded to hardly relate to feminine stereotypes. This stance evolved based on self-knowledge and the art world in which she practiced. This gifted artist has maintained an awareness of mind, body, and imaginary worlds to deliver art for over thirty years. At 51, Whelan continues to make art – after retirement from ballet, a major hip surgery, and with no less tenacity than her 17 year-old self. The art just looks different and has different intentions. Her roles demanded and continue to demand a high caliber of physical and mental awareness.
Without calling it that, mindfulness integrated her personal being alongside what choreographers, culture, and the rest of the universe asked of her. Even if you’re not a former ballerina type (and for the sake of biodiversity, I hope not), I want you to get clear about what personal and worldly and imaginary traits define your true artistry.
Do you tend to get inspired by your emotional states? Your physical structure? Your age? Your neighborhood? Your memory of childhood? Or, the invented kingdom sensed in your belly that, as you told your shrink, you figured everybody else probably had that too (um, yeah – that’s a personal reveal)?
I prefer the imaginary places. Maybe that is apparent to you after reading my philosophical blah blah blahs. My mind longs to go to places to which neither plane nor train can transport. I imagine kindness as a core currency and what makes us different makes us beautiful. Thoughts of global compassion fire me up. Imperfection is sexy. And I hope these angles come through as distinct elements of my art making.
Those elements are true to me and therefore belong to my true art making. Every artist will be different, as will every artistic moment or decade in a true artist’s life. But what makes mindful art original is the awareness of the creator to be able to identify their personal, community, worldly, and imaginary sources. With such awareness, narrow aesthetic values inherently erode. They are replaced by broader options, because no two people, no two places, no two moments in time could ever be the same.
GO ON, HEART YOURSELF…REFLECT IN SOLITUDE, OR I DOUBLE-DOG-DARE YOU TO SHARE YOUR ARTISTIC SOURCES WITH US IN THE COMMENTS SECTION.