One of the most inspiring art exhibits I’ve seen in recent years was called “Suddenly This Overview.” On display at the Guggenheim in New York, it featured 250 small sculptures by artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The sculptures were made of a pale gray, unfired clay, and were presented individually on white pedestals around the curving spiral ramp of the museum. Clean, Times New Roman captions explained Pythagoras Marveling at His Theorem, Jesus Walks on Water, the Fish Are Amazed, and (my favorite) Mr. Spock Looks at His Home Planet Vulcanus and Is a Bit Sad That He Can’t Have Any Feelings.
At the time, I was in the middle of a blogging challenge to write a poem a day for the month of April – National Poetry Month. A friend asked what it felt like to write a blog post every day, and I couldn’t help but think of the Fischli/Weiss exhibit.
In an interview with Artspace, Weiss explained “The intention was to accumulate various important and unimportant events in the history of mankind and of the planet—moments in the fields of technology, fairy tales, civilization, film, sports, commerce, education, sex, biblical history, nature, and entertainment.”
That’s a sweeping, broad source of inspiration for them—and for us! (Aren’t those the very things WE write about, think about, create about?)
One of the Fischli/Weiss sculptures was a plain block of clay entitled Without Words. Their starting point, perhaps — a blank page of clay onto which they were challenged to put their thoughts and ideas. It’s that place we all start when we first listen to our own inspirations—what will we create today?
Blogging is like that block of clay. It gives us a place to start and a medium to shape into whatever our Muse suggests — a poem a day, for example. A book review. A photo essay. Random musings about mankind and the planet.
A blog can no more sit idle than that block of clay. It’s very nature is to be used, shaped, molded. To be a vessel for our creative efforts is its raison d’être.
All we need to do is show up…and shape it.
Photos of Without Words and A Copy of Jack Kerouac’s Typewriter by Jen Payne from “Suddenly This Overview,” by Peter Fischli and David Weiss at the Guggenheim Museum, April 2016. David Weiss quote from “The Pleasures of Misuse: An Interview With the Irreverent Swiss Artist Duo Fischli/Weiss,” Artspace, February 2016. (https://tinyurl.com/yc6cz5yh)
In addition to blogging, Jen Payne is the author of LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, and the new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. Both books are available for purchase from Three Chairs Publishing.
When I told a friend last spring that I was writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, she asked me how I found the inspiration for 30 poems.
“It’s like rummaging around in a junk drawer,” I told her. “You’re bound to put your hands on something!”
And sure enough, in April, I found inspiration from a seagull, bugs, a haiku class, a trip to the Dollar Store, and pizza. Among other things. (See the full tally here.)
Now granted, they are not all masterpieces. But that’s not the point. Like any writing challenge — NaNoWriMo, HistNoWriMo, SciFiWriMo — the goal is simply to get into the habit of writing.
“Simply” of course being somewhat of an issue if you are lacking inspiration. Which brings us back to that junk drawer. There are so many things in your junk drawer – think about it!
the first time you rode a bike
your best friend from kindergarten
what you had for breakfast
your first kiss
last night’s dream
what you saw on a hike last weekend
your favorite painting
the song you can’t get out of your head (and why)
an object sitting on your coffee table
So, GO! Rummage around — see what you can find. Reach way far back if you have to…and then CREATE! Describe, elaborate, enumerate, paint a picture with words (or even paint if you are so inclined). It doesn’t have to be perfect…as Nike says, JUST DO IT!
Here is some evidence of rummaging. This quirky little poem showed up from a post-it note I found on my desk one morning:
The note says (Chinese Food)
but it is random
out of context on a piece of paper
in a stack of papers
at least 2 months passed
my past included (Chinese Food)
and with whom?
and what is the purpose
of this little clue
set out for me to follow
too early even for General Tso,
though I never met him personally
rumor has it, he was a press man…
as a proponent of the written word
do you think he rose early
to consider form and function,
rhyme, reason and rice —
like this poet now hungry
for the pork fried variety at 6?
But a fair warning about rummaging…you have to be brave. You have to be brave because you never know what you’re going to find in that drawer. Sometimes, it will be as benign as a post-it note about Chinese take-out. Other times, you may pull out a ghost, some long lost memory that needs to see the light of day.
Hans Christian Anderson is credited with saying: “Everything you look at can become a fairy tale, you can get a story from everything you touch.”
Ultimately, isn’t that our job as creatives? Telling the story. No matter our medium — poetry, painting, prose — we are charged with the task of putting our hands on the story and sharing it with others.
So, get in there! Rummage around for the inspiration. Reach way far back if you have to…and then TELL THE STORY!
You can read more of Jen Payne’s poetry in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind available from Three Chairs Publishing.
“Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay away alive.” — Barry Lopez
I spent some time at the local Library last week — right before New Year’s. It’s part of my two-fold effort to a) read more and b) de-Amazon myself. The read-more part of that equation includes my membership in Goodreads, which lets me keep a running list of To-Read books, conveniently accessible from an app on my phone. So, that’s me there, in the stacks, with my iphone held out like a tricorder, looking for my next book.
Last week, though, I went sort of old school and resorted to the card catalog. I say “sort of” because it’s now a computer, and the only reminder of the spiffy wooden drawers and actual cards were the sheets of paper and midget pencils that truly, truly gave me much joy.
Anyhow…on the card catalog computer, I searched for the next book on my list, Ten Restaurants That Changed America, but what came up instead was Ten Prayers That Changed the World. For several reasons, that sounded interesting (or important, maybe), so I used one of those pencils to write down the book’s GPS and headed to the Religion section of the Library.
(I think, by the way, that Library should be capitalized. It is due that respect. Wouldn’t you agree?)
As I was saying, I made my way to the Religion section, and found book 242.8, Ten Prayers, but it was dry and historical and…yawn. Then, as I slid it back on the shelf, my eyes spied Anne Lamott on a spine and I smiled. So THAT’S why I’m here.
If you have not read Lamott before, she is one of the most witty writers you’ll find, funny and thoughtful, She writes a lot about faith, most notably the classic Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (2000).
The book I found last week, Help Thanks Wow, narrates “The Three Essential Prayers,” according to Lamott: HELP, THANKS, and WOW.
It is (of course, because this is how the Universe works) exactly what I needed. At this moment. Here at the completion of a year that has been fraught with wide world crises, full of more personal Help moments than I would like, yet balanced with enough Thanks and Wows to keep me almost hopeful enough for the year ahead, just enough faith (we are in the Religion stacks) that 2018 will be a breathable year at least, a shining year even? Perhaps, maybe, I pray.
HELP me to remember to breathe and stretch and move, to set good boundaries, to seek out joy and laughter, to practice good self-care, to keep an open heart.
THANKS for the roof over my head, the food in my cupboard, the cat, the car, the…daily blessings so often overlooked; thanks also for the ability to make a living on my own terms, to confer daily with my creative muse, and to live in this most beautiful spot on the planet.
and WOW! because I am blessed with and surrounded by the most amazing friends with whom I get to share this journey.
©2018, Jen Payne. More of Jen Payne’s writing can be found in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, available online from Three Chairs Publishing.
For the second time in five years, I successfully completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge, reading 50 books in 2017! In a year fraught with way too much reality, fiction was the name of the game: magical children, brave creatures, curious characters, time travelers, mystics. Yes, yes. yes!
This year’s tally of 11,193 pages otherwise included 8 books of poetry, 10 non-fiction, and 4 children’s books. Also on the list were a few Young Adult novels including the final book in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, as well as the Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (The first of which, Life As We Knew It, remains the most haunting book I read this year.)
According to star-ratings, my least favorite books in 2017 were The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi.
There were a few other low-star rated books—mostly me wandering out-of-genre (Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Jaren Russell) or buying into hype (The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman).
I was generous with my five-stars this year, but I always am. If it captures my attention, makes me wonder, keeps me interested to the final page? Yes! Bestsellers like Dan Brown, Amy Bloom, and Mary Oliver, of course, but even more so for friends and local authors like Luanne Castle, Robert Finch, Gordy Whiteman and Nan Meneely. What delights!
(Was it shameless of me to include my own book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, in the mix?)
A few classics showed up this year—The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas—and a few personal favorites returned (Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert and Alice Hoffman!)
The most memorable books of the year? Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick, and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.
But my most favorite (also probably most recommended) was definitely the Roland Merullo Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner with Buddha series. I thoroughly enjoyed each book with equal measure and still pine for Rinpoche’s humor and wisdom—some seven months since turning the last page.
That this year’s collection of favorites included the counsel of a Buddhist monk, pages and pages poetry, and a dystopian end-of-the-world series is not ironic. It is, I think, reflective of this new and startling world in which we find ourselves.
Thankfully, so is the book I’m reading today. In Braving the Wilderness, social scientist Brené Brown outlines a clear path out of our “spiritual crisis of disconnection” by advising that “People are hard to hate close up, move in; Speak truth to BS, be civil; Hold hands, with strangers; Strong Back, strong front, wild heart.”
And so we bravely go…2018. Are you ready? And are you reading?
“Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind provides an unexpected metaphor for individual life, culture, and so much more. Nearly all the poems are accompanied with a photograph, often of trash in which lays a dental flosser (yes, one of those instruments with which you floss your teeth) with date and location. Flossing is supposed to prevent anything from being left behind. Hence, the title brings up an unusual play on words.” – Juliana Lightle
>> CLICK HERE to read the full review.
This review is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!