Category: Creativity course

This all happened

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Context: A student introduced me to the Hourlies project, wherein you draw a cartoon marking each waking hour over the course of a 24-hour day. I’m going to assign this as our class’s Reading Week homework. Fortuitously, I decided to test it yesterday/today, on what would become a snow day, and therefore essentially useless to me for other purposes.

Observations: I couldn’t do this project while doing any other project requiring sustained attention. But I’m playing around with ideas for how to do it again — perhaps once a month, or perhaps, when I’ve got time to spare, doing a marathon version over a week; and I’m brainstorming about how to do it as its own standalone project. I really really really did not want to stop today, and in fact made an extra panel (there are two 4:00PMs). I learned a massive amount, which you can see for yourself by comparing the first panel to the last.

Feedback: Welcome, please.

xo, Carrie

I turn toward the sun

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Weekends, I’ve been spending quite blissfully, drawing and writing in preparation for the creativity course I’m teaching at UW this term. I’d planned to blog more often and in more detail about this course, but it feels like a fragile and unique undertaking that needs to be protected from scrutiny, the way that creative projects need to be protected from scrutiny, lest they crumble beneath the weight of judgement, of what they’re supposed to become.

A creative undertaking can’t really be expected to become anything at all. It just needs room to grow, the way a baby can’t be expected to become anything in particular, though we might imagine in the infant’s freshness a future filled with everything we would want for our beloved. But it isn’t up to us to fill the infant’s future for it; only to give the child room to grow, and food and light and attention and care and love.

This is beautiful moment in my life. I can’t describe it better than that, but I would like to remember it, somehow, to remember the sense of purpose and calm I’m feeling as I move through the hours of my days. There are specifics to grab on to, to help explain what is happening (early morning exercise, reading books for pleasure, writing days, vegetarian suppers, family meals, biking in snow, productive & inspiring meetings, bringing The Shoe Project to fruition here in KW, meditation, yoga, music, cartooning), but beneath these specifics is something deeper, and I think it’s forgiveness — that I’m recognizing that my imperfections and errors are not shameful, but merely human, and as I would forgive others for their imperfections and errors, so I remember to forgive myself. Life feels both serious and light; not something I can put my hands around, but whose mysteries I’ll feel compelled to track for as long as I’m able.

I feel at peace with my calling, such as it is, to collect and record.

I feel at peace, and determined. At peace and resolute. There isn’t much time to do what we’re called to do. There is and there isn’t. So I’m doing it while I can.CCI26012019xo, Carrie

 

Draw your own tiger

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How often do you sit and draw in public? Or sit and write in public? Can you imagine sitting and colouring in a child’s colouring book in public? That was the first task I set for my students this week. Most students completed it. I did too.

And as I sat at my daughter’s violin lesson, crayoning colour onto a rabbit (who was wearing running gear) chasing a rooster (who was not wearing running gear), I kept hoping no one would notice. As soon as someone did, I felt compelled to explain: this is an assignment for blah blah blah. See, actually, I’m not flaky or weird. I’m doing this for a legitimate reason.

Because colouring rabbits and roosters with crayons is not legit all on its own.

Why not? Because I’m not a child.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I grew up, I put away childish things.

I don’t know where that came from — well, I do: 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11 — but the words just popped into my head, and I want to rebel! I will not put away childish things!

I’m feeling such excitement about making space to make things. I’m feeling excitement because I’m making space! I’m making space for myself, and for others. We’re going to make so many things! We are already making things! I don’t know what these things will be. I don’t know. I’m going to let myself rest in the not knowing.

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from Lynda Barry’s What It Is

… To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape!

The two questions Lynda Barry is referring to, in her cartoon, above, are the ones we’re always asking ourselves, the ones that pop into our brains unbidden and stop us from making things: Does this suck or is this good? If it sucks, why bother? If it’s good, what’s it gonna do for me?

You can’t really stop yourself from asking those questions. I mean, the critical brain has its uses. But you can find an answer that will quiet both questions.

The answer is: I don’t know. But I’m doing it anyway.

It’s only week one, but already the work my students are showing me is blowing my mind. I’m seeing in many of them this huge appetite to make things. Like they’ve been waiting for someone to come along and tell them to make things. And these things, these amazing, expressive, funny, sad, wild things are just waiting inside of them to be made.

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I’ve never coloured in a public place before, though I often write and draw in public. In order to do this, I claim a built-in excuse: I’m a writer! What a privilege it is to give myself that kind of permission — permission to do these fundamentally embarrassing tasks in public.

Why embarrassing? Because someone might look at what I’m making? A little bit, maybe.

Because no one else is doing it? A little bit, maybe.

Because making things is kind of pretentious, while also being kind of childish? Ah. Yes. That.

At night, our brains dream, constructing metaphors out of images from our daily lives, whether or not we are aware of this activity. And our waking bodies and minds want to do this too — to construct meaning from the material that surrounds us, and that we carry in us. We want also, joyfully and freely, to play. To wonder. To be here and not here. To lose track of time because we’re so occupied by our task.

This is not merely a childish desire, it is a human desire, it propels us and compels us, and sometimes it makes us sick and sad and unhappy, when we bottle it up or it struggles within us, unrecognized.

The desire to make things, to express our creativity, is fundamental. It is human.

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On the page with the running rabbit and rooster, I coloured the leaves on the tree green — didn’t even think, just reached for green. Why green? I thought, pressing the crayon into the soft paper, feeling a bit annoyed with myself. Does the grass need to be green, too, and the sky blue? I found pleasure in choosing magenta for the tree’s trunk. But my flowers were yellow. I wanted everything to look pretty. In the end, I wasn’t satisfied with the colours I’d chosen, but I wrote my name at the bottom in purple block letters. A child would turn the page and start colouring another picture.

I’ll do the same. Because I don’t know yet what I’m making. I don’t know, I don’t know. But I’m doing it.

Do you need permission to do this too? If it helps, you can say that I told you to. Make things. Colour in public. Draw your own tiger. You have permission. You always, always have permission.

xo, Carrie

Word of the year, 2019

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Puppy photo unrelated to post. Rose with her best friend Murphy, who is six weeks older and three times bigger.

Hello, 2019.

Hello, pleasant glass of white wine near the wrist. Hello, Saturday evening.

Hello, my lovely kind encouraging friends who somehow have found me here, in this online state in which I exist, occasionally, as if I’ve peeled myself apart to become a thing both corporeal and ethereal at once.

Today, this is what I did with a spare hour or so — drew a cartoon showing the Classroom Rules* for my new course. It seemed like a good use off my time. Why not? *with thanks to Lynda Barry for the inspiration

 
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My new word of the year has arrived! Last night, I spoke it out loud at my Word of the Year group, so it’s official.

SPACE

Another one-syllable word: FIRE, 2018; STAND, 2017; PEACE, 2016; LIGHT, 2015. I must be drawn the solidity of the single syllable, because the choice hasn’t been deliberate. I only just noticed. The word SPACE called out to me this past fall, when I felt overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities. I was craving not physical space, but spiritual space, mental space, space to think clearly and slowly, space to formulate, to spread out my ideas and gaze upon them, space to be whole, calm, peaceful. It has emotional and figurative connotations for me, rather than concrete ones.

But a word has a habit of showing more of itself than one can guess.

What will I make space for, in my mind and in my heart, and in my days? A friend on FB posted 100 things she intends to do this year, but I don’t think my list is so long.

  1. draw cartoons for class
  2. draw cartoons for larger project
  3. listen to music
  4. find new favourite songs, add to playlist
  5. revise / rewrite novel project
  6. write new stories for a partly-completed collection
  7. read peers’ work, share work with peers
  8. apply for grants
  9. go to Lynda Barry workshop this summer
  10. retreat weekend solo
  11. retreat weekend with friends
  12. yoga in front of the fire
  13. kundalini yoga
  14. read novels
  15. host a poetry night
  16. eat dessert with my family
  17. cuddle with Rose
  18. go for walks, be outside
  19. write in my notebook
  20. play the piano and sing
  21. visit my grandma
  22. meet friends
  23. connect with people
  24. lift weights
  25. cook vegetarian suppers
  26. play
  27. meditate
  28. sleep in
  29. go to Spain
  30. take a trip with my family
  31. go camping
  32. sit around a campfire
  33. lie on my back and look at the stars
  34. let myself dream

Today, I’ve done #1, #3, #16, and #28, and #16 is about to happen! (Panettone!)

xo, Carrie

PS Read this poem by a former student. It’s so beautiful, I keep reading it over and over. Sending huge gratitude to former students who continue to reach out to share their work with me. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.

Where you are

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Yesterday was my birthday. But I did not feel contemplative; I have avoided contemplation for this entire holiday. I’ve given myself a solid break from my office, from email, from planning, from organizing. Instead, I’ve read books, watched movies in the theatre (with popcorn), done some yoga and walking, hung out with family, worked on puzzles, listened obsessively to Joni Mitchell’s Blue. As soon as thoughts of duties and responsibilities approach, or anything to do with the future, both near and far, I’ve turned away.

The next four months of this new year resemble quite closely the past four months of this old year, with changes only minimally implemented or inched toward. Is change so important? And if so, why?

Because you can’t leave a fire untended. It will burn out or burn out of control.

Because some fuel burns bright and quick, while other fuel lasts a long time.

How many fires can one person tend? What fuels me, long and slow, sustaining? Are there fires I could let burn out, or would I grow cold?

(Do I just need more sleep, maybe? I’ve slept so much this holiday. It’s been blissful.)

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What is it I want from this coming year?

What did I want from this past year? I can’t recall.

But I can tell you what I got. This past year, I recognized and accepted my own grief (and shame) for all the ways in which my writing career has not been what I’d hoped and perhaps even expected it would be. This was the fire untended, burning out. Without even noticing, I’d been setting other fires, here and there, and this was the year I became a pyromaniac, when the flames from all these fires rose so high, so hot, the smoke so thick I couldn’t see myself, or breathe. Now the question hangs: Which fires? Which fires, Carrie, will you continue to tend?

I seem to vacillate between wanting to lead a big bold busy demanding life, and seeking the small peace a spirit can aspire to embrace. The former requires support and agreement from others, attention that must be earned and commanded (and that feels good and affirming); but the latter hangs only on the self allowing the self to live without any notice at all (and that feels hard and awfully quiet).

Both are possible, in theory. But in practice, the balance isn’t so easy to calibrate.

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Begin with the honest admission that one person cannot do all the things, all at once, all the time. Acknowledge that some things take up more space than other things. (A career, for example; becoming an expert in anything, for example.) Come January, as before, I’ll still be teaching, coaching, coordinating The Shoe Project KW. I’ll still be mother of four, wife, friend, daughter, sister, puppy trainer, laundry-doer, meal-maker, chauffeur, occasional bathroom cleaner. I’ll still go to the gym, practice yoga, try to run, meditate. And then there’s my writing. And all of the things that support it: grant-writing, story submissions, revising, research, reading, speaking, relationships with peers.

Yet here it is — writing — at the end of the list, because it’s one of those things that takes up a lot of space, if done with devotion and cause for hope. And I’ve not been willing or able (which is it? is it important to know?) to give writing that kind of space. I’ve squeezed it into an ever-smaller corner of the room, in truth, as if this part of myself only deserves attention if there’s proof of validity, permission, signs pointing toward success. And there hasn’t been, not for a long while. This is the year, 2018, I’ve come to recognize: there may not be. And with that the reckoning: what now?

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What if it turns out I’m not a very good writer? What if I can’t earn (more) money as a writer? Are these the same things? What if I’m not very good and I can’t earn money, but I still want to make space — lots of space — to keep trying? Is that okay? Especially if it means not doing other more worthy, more admirable, more noticeable, more helpful things?

How can I convince myself that it’s okay?

You step onto a treadmill because it is a guarantee that you will move (paradoxically, it is also a guarantee that you will stay in one place). What is the desire to press ever-forward? To progress? You want new experiences and challenges, but you want, too, to build a big roaring fire around which to gather — the fire itself ever-changing, as the mind is ever-changing, and this body. It is time that keeps turning, or that is the sensation — that time churns forward, with or without you. Maybe you feel obliged to run in order to keep up with time itself. But isn’t time always with you, wherever you are, whether you are running or sitting, paused in thought or too busy to stop and think, or feel? There is no need to run, to catch up. You aren’t behind, no more than you could ever be ahead. You’re exactly where you are.

xo, Carrie

What would you change if you could?

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Set your timer and write for three minutes. This is your prompt: What would you change if you could?

What would you change if you could?

I would make a few key strategic changes in priority that would blow my current life to smithereens. I see myself running in the woods with the puppy, my mind as open as the sky, no lists churning, just the hidden lives of my characters, these avatars of the self, the better and clearer self, and I see myself returning home to a clear office, light and empty, to pour out what I’ve found in effort and solitude.

It would be amazing.

I wrote this passage a month ago, during an in-class exercise.

For the next part of the exercise, you put boxes around all of the phrases that jump out at you and then use one as a title for a new story. This passage had plenty to choose from.

CHANGE; BLOW MY LIFE TO SMITHEREENS; I SEE MYSELF RUNNING; MY MIND AS OPEN AS THE SKY; CHURNING; HIDDEN LIVES; AVATARS OF THE SELF; LIGHT AND EMPTY; SOLITUDE

Which would you pick? I chose “Avatars of the Self,” a story I’m still working on.

While I haven’t blown my life to smithereens in the past month, I have made changes. After agonizing for ages, I dropped one of the courses I’d signed on to teach this winter. (I’m still teaching the new course, Creativity Unplugged.) Essentially, by this simple act, I’ve given myself the gift of time.

The question is, can I accept the gift of time without filling it with more responsibilities? (I’m going to try.)

Set your timer and write for three minutes. This is a your prompt: What are your goals as a writer?

What a great prompt for today. Because it’s all I’m thinking about right now — how to feed and sustain this writer self, how to hustle for her without resentment or bitterness, how to celebrate her, how to make space, and as important, hold space. I am going to honour this being that I’m becoming and I’m going to honour her with offerings of food and care and kindness, and in this way, I will let myself be.

I wrote this passage one week ago.

Earlier this month, I went to the Wild Writers Festival here in Waterloo, and was especially inspired by a panel on mentorship; it expanded my definition of mentorship, which can and should include peer-to-peer support. It’s what I try to foster and nurture in my classes; and I recognized, profoundly, it’s time to do this for myself. The key to feeding the writing self is nurturing community. I know how to do this. It takes energy and vulnerability. It’s generative, it’s sustainable, it’s beautiful, it’s meaningful, it’s worthwhile. And maybe, just maybe, it will blow my current life to smithereens … and make space for a better, clearer self.

xo, Carrie

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