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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

THE PROCESS

selfie of the artist hard at it

This week, Christine in the Daily Creative Practice put up a question of process, how the artist works. My art form in this time is writing daily. Art, for me, is not about money, so it doesn't matter what form I choose. I wanted to write every day, but knew if I started a journal it wouldn't last more than a few days; from there on it would be notes, then nothing. That's how I journal. I was talking with a friend about wanting to write every day, but had not found a way to make myself do it, especially against my will. She suggested a blog. I said, What's a blog? It was something her daughter told her about. She gave me the site, BlogSpot.com., I thought about it a day and night, set up a blog and started. The point of putting it online was to give self a guideline to follow. I was thinking if I make it public, I'll have to keep it up. It started with one to three viewers five years ago. Yesterday, Waterfall Road had 233 views. 102 of them were USA, 26 Russia, 18 Poland, 17 Germany, 14 France, 10 UK, 7 Netherlands, 4 Canada, 2 Pakistan, and a long string of twos and ones. Every day the numbers are different. In one day last year over 500 from Latvia. I have no idea who is reading them, except for comments on facebook, or even if anyone finishes a reading. I don't even know how accurate these numbers are. Russia has been the number two readership for over a year. One time, Russian viewers outnumbered American. American exchange students? English language students? I love it that my readers span the globe. I sometimes laugh from thinking that if I'd spent this writing time putting together a long novel, it would not have near the readers the blog has. And counting readers is not my purpose. My purpose is to write every day something perhaps worth reading. This is the only purpose. It is good geography for me too. I've learned of four countries I'd never heard of. I love writing to international readers, though in the writing the only thing it tells me is to write with clarity. I consider that possibly half the people reading my writings are practicing their second language. This present entry is number 1,511. If I'd set out with this number as a goal, I could not have made it for the weight of so many.

the cubicle
the picture beside laptop is ralph stanley

I need silence for writing. Cannot listen to any kind of music, certainly not Prince, who puts me on my feet and takes my mind over completely. Music has a way of pulling me into it, from Philip Glass to Doc Watson. Instrumental music demands my attention the same as words. The only kind of background music that does not take me over would be New Age. It does take me over in that it repulses me so much I have to turn it off. My friends Lucas and Judy listen to almost every kind of music there is. Like mine, their collection spans almost the entire spectrum. I wondered while their girl Meredith was growing up how she could rebel musically in her mid teens. She found the needle in the haystack, or the plane in the Indian Ocean, Enya. Lucas hated Enya. I thought that was genius of Meredith to find the one thing her dad could not handle, like my parents with Little Richard. They only liked big band music, so I had a world of music to rebel with. Anything, even polka. In short, I cannot listen to music while I write or paint. I have to sit and listen to music like I watch a movie. To listen to YoYo Ma's album, SILK ROAD, I need to be in place, cat on lap, and listen. There is really nothing I like for background music. In the silence now, I hear the battery-operated clock on the wall, toc, toc, toc. I stack rocks in different arrangements on a small pedestal while searching between sentences. Out one window I watch the donkeys graze in the meadow. Out two other windows I see  snowbirds, chickadees, towhees, cardinals, doves, chipmunks and squirrels picking up snacks in and around the birdfeeders. I throw seed on the ground too, to keep the squirrels from dominating the feeders. I don't mind squirrels eating here. I think it a communal feeding station for anybody who wants it, my neighbors. It's the same squirrels every day. Four gray squirrels from the woods across the road, and four red squirrels from the pines around the house. I stare at pictures on the walls between sentences, drink coffee or hot tea, and sometimes smoke cigarettes, maybe a fourth of the time. I already know it's not cool. Judge me uncool, but leave me alone about it. I don't aim to give up smoking, so I smoke every once in awhile instead of all the time. Same with liquor, I don't want to quit, so I drink in moderation.

the environment

I sometimes have a dram to sip on while writing, but mostly not. It costs too much to do it all the time. I saw a quotation attributed to Hemingway, Write drunk, edit sober. I don't write drunk, but the idea appeals to me. I have done it and found it doesn't do anything for the writing to the good or ill. I have no mojo I put myself through, no fetish, no special outfit, no rituals, not even meditation or prayer. Time of day does not matter. My preference is to write in the night between midnight and five. It is in the late-nite hours I dive deepest within. That's where I like best to go. This is journaling for me, so I want to go the deepest I can reach and still have air to return to the surface. These daily entries have become the only part of the day I really care about. It takes four to six hours to write one. It sometimes takes around an hour to assemble the pictures and place them. A lot of time is spent gazing out the windows. I leave mind blank looking out the windows, seldom thinking about what I'm looking at. It makes me smile to see the donkeys and the squirrels. Yesterday I wrote first half in the morning and second half in the evening. Preferring to write them straight through, I have no problem with writing a paragraph at a time. Writer's block has not been a problem, because I don't take the writing seriously. When my head is blank and I can't think of anything, I start here, now, most often the weather. Anything my attention settles on will be good enough to open with. I recall a time a couple years ago my mind was blank and could not find even a first sentence. All it takes is one. I told self, I don't care what it is, next thought in my head is the first sentence. Sarah Palin entered mind. I said, No. Said no again and it hit, I don't have to write the whole thing about her, just the first sentence. And did. Choked down writing her name (one more step in making stupid people famous) and steered away from her quick as if she'd stepped out in front of me on the highway, segued into a new subject and it flowed.

rock stack

As for time of day, sometimes I get up in the morning, feed the stock, pour the coffee and am ready to jump in and swim. It turns out to be evening I write the most, between 8 and 2. Middle of the night messes me up with the donkeys and birds for sleeping til 11 or 12. I have found that I write the best so tired I can't sit up straight, when forehead leans downward onto keyboard, makes a long line of k's and I don't even know it's happening. The sentences arrive with great distances between them in time. I feel like I'm walking through mud up to the knees. Every step is a major effort that takes all I've got, the mental place of the physical place where Himalayan climbers pace themselves, resting between each step, thin air, so tired it would be a blessing to die. They love that physical place and I love the mental place. I close my eyes and my head drifts downward. I search the void for the next sentence and wait. It arrives, I enter it on the keyboard and wait some more for the next sentence. I say to self, just fold up the computer and go to bed. No, not done yet. The times this has happened, I dive into the bed immediately after the last period. No proof-reading. Don't even turn the computer off. I wake in the morning, or afternoon, not even wanting to look at it. I wait a long time to take a look, distracting self with clips from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher shows, looking at cartoons on facebook, thinking I probably ought to delete every pixel of the writing without even looking at it. I'd be ashamed to see it. Eventually I get there and every time am awed by what I saw written, came out of reading each one, maybe twenty over five years, in a mild shock, saying, "Damn (2 syllables). That was pretty good," impressed I'd written so to my own satisfaction. Like, where'd that come from? Recalling lines from a poem by Kabir, or another of the Persian poets, "Dive deep, O mind, dive deep in the ocean of God's beauty. If you dive to the uttermost depths, there you will find the gem of love." I feel like my experience is a lesser version of same process. He's talking about enlightenment. I'm talking about finding the next sentence. The most important, in conclusion, is allowing self the freedom not to write when I really don't feel like it. I skip about one day a week, due largely to events taking up the day. I call it a day of rest, battery charging time.
 
how much is the donkey in the window
 
 
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8 comments:

  1. Love that selfie of the artist at work...I'd give it a two syllable "damn" (which made me laugh as I said it out loud). Thanks for sharing how hard it can be, slogging through the mud to get to the next line sometimes...I know that one well. That's usually when I pour a glass of wine (if I have any in the house). Your rock pile is exquisite, and I love seeing all your art in your environment. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself, nice to see that deep dimple.

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  2. Oh my goodness Tj...What a wonderful and fulfilling experience it was to sit with you this morning and enjoy my coffee as I learned more about you the person and the artist...You, your home and your love of life. Thank you so much for sharing and for being so real.

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  3. Thank you, TJ for the peek into your world. I could feel every movement you described viscerally. You are good. Hope you're sleeping well after that one. Damn! (3 syllables with a y added in the middle for emphasis there)

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  4. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE your response TJ! My favorite line..."so I want to go the deepest I can reach and still have air to return to the surface." Thanks for the awesome pictures and sharing yourself with us!

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    1. Christine, thank you from the heart. I appreciate your feedback very much. Looking for words I want to use very very very very. So, so much. Thanks.

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  5. TJ I truly understand your practice of writing daily, regularly, stream of consciousness...practicing honesty, practicing being, practicing seeing...using words as a way to shape your reality and give it to us like taking in a puff on a cigarette and blowing the smoke out into the ethersphere. There is SOMETHING palpable here between us. You write. Post. I read. I feel. Do I understand? I lean into what you write and feel curious, even envious in some way. Don't know why.

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    1. Ruth, y'all are blowing my circuits. My sense of what you're saying is that my writing is connecting in the very ways I want my writing to connect, person to person, mind to mind, heart to heart. I didn't know my writing had that. How would I know but with feedback? I appreciate your feedback immensely. Everybody else too. This DCP experience is valuable, very valuable for me and I suspect for many others. Thanks.

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  6. Shoot - TJ - I left a comment on Monday from my phone and it looks like it didn't post :( I LOVED reading your blog and your quick response to my prompt - THANKYOU! My favorite line - ",,,,so I want to go the deepest I can reach and still have air to return to the surface." This resonated with me so much! Thank you for sharing your pictures of your space and of you. I love reading your blogs and am so grateful for your writing. Big hugs from GA!

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