My Favorite Creativity Gurus

ifyouwanttowriteBrenda Ueland wrote the book IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT, one of the best works on creative process. I love her book, STRENGTH TO YOUR SWORD ARM, a collection of her astute, funny, short, packed articles from a newspaper column she wrote in her hometown. And I love her biography, ME, a title she used well before Katharine Hepburn did.

Natalie Goldberg wrote WRITING DOWN THE BONES and other great books on writing process and life and creativity.

Jessica Abel is a comics artist and storyteller who is helping lots of folks go down the creative path. Her website is here. Check it out.

Oh Yes, It Feels Like A Brand New Day

A Waitress taking a breakfast order at Kahala ...
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As fall seduces us with temperatures in the nineties instead of triple digits, I notice I change my clothes less often.

All summer I’ve worn my old handkerchief linen shirts and khaki pants and shorts. It turns out regular weight cotton clothing was too hot this year. At the height of the summer, coming inside after a brief chat with a neighbor, I’d change into a very lightweight whirling dervish skirt and papery thin sleeveless maternity tank-top. These clothes are the new normal. They sit on my frame, weightless, barely touching my skin. I bet if you’re in Texas, you’re in your undies or something like it as soon as you’re inside. Am I right? Or am I right?

I bought some rockin’, clunky, ice blue round-toed seventies-style shoes on sale at Instep on my birthday one of the years of the current drought and couldn’t figure out why I’d never worn them. Then it hit me. I’m changed. After the first in series of summers with high heat and drought, I simply wouldn’t commit to regular shoes (non-sandals) even when it started to cool down. A seven-month-long summer might trigger a hot flash in anyone at anytime. I get flashbacks. What if I get stuck in traffic and can’t get my shoes off? There I am in a hot car with no A/C, moving a little too fast to get those suckers off, but just slow enough so there’s no breeze. Day ruined. I found when winter came, all I could manage were Keen sandals with Smartwool or Thorlo socks. (“Winter” is defined as the two weeks either in January or February or the week of spring break, when it gets cold, sometimes really cold, ice storm cold, during which you may as well stay home; it’ll be over soon).

When writing I wear the worst outfits imaginable. I have on at this moment the aforementioned thin skirt, a big blue print elastic-waist cotton number and a pink, ribbed cotton “Life is Good” tank top. Underwear. No bra. Not cute. But life actually is good. Nothing beats writing, except maybe writing in comfy clothes.

I love the movie Wonder Boys starring Michael Douglas. It’s fun, funny, poignant, well-written, beautifully-acted. Michael Douglas plays a writer who wears a woman’s soft pink robe whenever he writes. The robe makes me believe the main character really is a writer by being a visual symbol connoting a combination of physical comfort, emotional support, and creative talisman. It takes me to my own writing, the way a movie character smoking makes a smoker or a former smoke want a cigarette, or a waitress serving coffee in a cafe scene makes coffee lovers want a cuppa joe even if it’s ten PM. Seeing wonder boy Michael Douglas in a pink robe makes me turn off the DVD  and go sit down to write.

Usually I dress like a waitress, because, let’s face it, waitress clothing is functional. They’re plain and don’t attract attention (unless you’re waiting tables at Hooter’s, and even then you could argue they serve a purpose, albeit attracting attention. I wonder what the uniforms would look like at my sister’s idea for a chain of pool halls called Big Sticks and Balls). Waitress clothes still look good after food gets on them, and they dry fast if you get a big wet blob from the dish area. You can find back-ups at Goodwill, because they’re basic:  black pants & white shirt, khaki pants and blue shirt, jeans and polo-style shirt of various colors. And an apron.

Dressing like a waitress may simply reflect my inability to move on from a previous phase. After all, I worked in restaurants for thirteen years. Before that I was an athlete from the age of four (gymnastics) to nineteen (first and only year playing college volleyball at Texas State).  That’s a long time to wear sports clothes – in heat – sometimes drought – inside gymnasiums that remain about 99.99 percent humidity year round. I lived through the Great Female Sports Clothing Revolution. I started out wearing boys and men’s work-out clothes that fit badly in all the wrong places, yet were strong, cool, and properly fibered. Later, we began the march toward the sexy pole-dancing style sports outfits seen on the women of today. Guess what. You cannot find them in natural fibers. At least there is such an item as a sports bra. Thank the clothing gods for that.

For years following my athletic career I simply wore a version of work-out clothes everywhere:  T-shirts, comfortable pants, sports bra, and cotton underwear you could play a volleyball tournament in. Or, jeans (variation on the comfy warm-up pants), t-shirt, and gym bag – I mean purse.

What’s it going to be next? Am I destined to wear Licensed Massage Therapist clothes for ten years after I’ve left the field? This is not as glamourous as it seems. While some therapists wear their non-natural fiber sexy lady-sport clothing (which appears to work great for them in this active job), and others wear beautiful hemp tunics and gemstone chokers, I never actually wore clothes like that to practice massage. I’ve worn jeans or shorts and t-shirts the entire time. After all, I chose massage therapy as a career in part, because I could wear a tie-dye t-shirt and go barefoot every day to work. Predictably, this urge reflected the fabric arts period that preceded it. After a brief stint as a school teacher (teacher clothes were my least favorite, because they were not jeans or shorts), I returned to restaurants full time to figure out my next move. I had spent tons of money on tuition, books, equipment, and new teacher wardrobe. I had gone to class, done my student teaching, and continued waiting tables full time, all at the same time, all for a career path that turned out to be all wrong for me. During my time at Tia’s restaurant in Plano, Texas, the place I worked before, during and after being a professional teacher, I made beautiful tie-dye shirts, scarves, towels, jeans, and shorts for my colleagues, family, friends, and even restaurant customers. Who knew there was such a market for tie-dye in Plano?

Those days right after I quit teaching were a beautiful year-long meditation. I made myself wait a year before choosing a new career path. For the first time since early childhood I was experiencing the simple joys of daily living. I spent the days before my night shifts at Tia’s, cooking, cleaning, walking my dog, practicing fabric arts, listening to music, reading any book I chose whenever I wanted, which, amazingly I’d never had time to do before. As I lived and walked in the neighborhood, old ways of thinking were dissolving inside me: the internal hammering against my psyche of the relentless notions of achievement, making something of myself, and the vague, elusive idea of  “success.” I was just living. I wrote down and posted this quote on my door, reminding me of the simplicity of happiness each time I left the apartment:  “Before enlightenment, wait tables. After enlightenment, wait tables,” a variation on the original “Chop wood; carry water.”

One morning after staying up all night dyeing clothing, letting them “cook,” rinsing them out, hanging them to dry on the curtains, walls, and supply shelves of my tiny apartment, I experienced the meaning of Van Morrison‘s song, “Brand New Day,” while listening to it and watching the sunrise. Here’s the first verse:

“When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Makes me feel so free makes me feel like me
And lights my life with love.” – Van Morrison

I felt he must have written the song during or after a difficult time, pulling some kind of all-nighter, maybe sleepless from worry. Particularly the end of the song where he repeats “here it comes” over and over as if he’s watching each brighter moment of the sunrise and being blown away by it, I felt he simply let go, watched the sun, and felt its healing power. Life is big and we are small, and so are some problems. We must always work. That never changes. What changes is consciousness. “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I notice the various stages of my clothing choices, boy sport clothes, waitress outfits (not the iconic 50’s kind, but the sensible kind that go with the word, “foodserver”), hippie massage therapist duds, writer/creator barely-there, not-for-public-viewing sheaths, are all variations on the same theme:  the absolute best thing I can wear for my actual life as it unfolds before me.

I can live with that.

This post brings new meaning to the question:  what are you wearing? Also, how has the weather changed you? What era of your life most affects your clothing choices?

And Maybe I Love You

Pennybacker Bridge takes Loop 360 over Lake Au...
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This summer I haven’t gone to see my dad as much as I’d like, and I miss him. I’ve got a clunker car with no AC; so, I’m waiting until it cools off. I tend to stay close to home anyway, but I hardly venture out at all these days.

Dad loves to keep moving. He’s a car person. He drives all over, adventuring and visiting friends on Galveston Island every summer in a rented beach house, visiting me and my dogs and my sis here in Austin, and seeing the sites and visiting friends and relatives in the surrounding Texas Hill Country. He also takes day trips closer to his place.

I’m a car person like this:  I need a car; I have a car; I’m thankful for it. Sometimes I wash it. I get it repaired when I can. Dad’s the kind of car person who used to keep several different vehicles for different purposes, mainly making sure my sisters and I had back-up when we needed it. He takes great care of any car he owns; it always looks shiny and clean. When buying a new car Dad researches and gets great deals, and he helps other people get great deals. If you mention in passing that you’d like a new car, or even if it just crosses your mind, watch out, he’ll look up the blue book value and call you with information and ads he’s seen. He wants everyone to have a car. He once told his life-long friend, a wealthy man in Dallas, he should give a car to his long-time assistant. Why, the friend wanted to know. Dad told him, he needs it, and you should be the one to give it to him; you have so much, and he has served you so well.

Once when I was despondent from a break-up, Dad advised me to buy a new car.

“I don’t want a new car. I want my old boyfriend,” I said.

“All I’m saying is a new car makes you feel better,” he said.

“For, you, maybe,” I said.

But I was tired of being stuck, tired of wishing and lamenting. So, I decided to take Dad’s advice. He helped me find a fantastic deal on used 280ZX that had very low mileage and only one previous owner. What use do I have for a sports car? It had never occurred to me. The engine knocked and hesitated in my old truck, and I had gotten used to that. But, I was amazed at how the little Z car handled. Dad was right. The new car really did make me feel better. I felt safe and powerful. I could put that baby right where I needed it to go. When I pressed the gas, no hesitation, no moment of wondering if the car would make it.

I drove all over Austin every night at first, driving past my ex’s house and the restaurant where he worked. Yuck! What a crappy feeling for me and possibly for him if he ever saw me doing that. Soon, I forgot my ex-boyfriend for minutes at a time and began to feel the night air, the dark invisibility that comes from just driving around at night. The vice grip of the mind that I thought was love started to loosen into an awareness of space. In my night drives I experienced how each section of the city was connected to the others. They were not actually separate neighborhoods after all, but one continuous movement of a little brown and gold 280ZX whishing around town, freeing the one trapped inside.

In the same conversation my dad told me to buy a new car to forget my ex, he also told me he loved my mother. I’d been going on and on about my boyfriend and how much I loved him, how bummed I was over the break-up. The regrets, missed opportunities, even my other struggles within the web of my friendships. Then suddenly Dad and I were really conversing, not just the back and forth monologues that happened sometimes. I’d always known my mom loved my dad. That was part of the family story. It had been spoken aloud numerous times. And both my parents had told me and my sisters they loved us. But that piece, Dad loving Mom, I’d never heard it before. I was 29. They had divorced when I was 9. My dad had remarried when I was 12 and divorced again when I was 14. My mom had remarried when I was 15. She had divorced when I was 23, and she died very soon after that when she was only 46.

We also knew Mom had done some calling before she died. Settling old scores, telling the truth, making a general disturbance for which our culture likes to crazify women. I figure sometimes people talk too much about love and relationships, but the echo chamber is lonely, and maybe they just need to hear their own voices come back around to know there is love. Maybe Mom was making one last ditch effort to hear the words spoken, even if they were going to have to be hers alone, this time, not just words of love, but other words expressing anger and regret, the parts of her relationships with friends and family she struggled with.

I never wanted to be the one fishing for love, grabbing at at, trying to fashion it out of the thin air of a relationship that’s ending. I never wanted to be the one who talked so much about love it left no space for the other to speak. Or, the other felt compelled to speak, and his words of love were forced and fell flat, not love at all; or the other felt so judged for his love he chose to keep it quiet, lest that be judged, too.

I never wanted to be the one who drove by the ex’s house and had a tough time letting go. I identified so strongly with the parent who seemed the strongest and most in command of himself:  Dad. But the truth was I ended up like Mom. I was lost after a break-up, feeling just invisible enough to drive by a few nights in a row, looking at the facades of a duplex and a restaurant for the spirit inside I couldn’t see or feel. Not realizing then that’s what that relationship had become. It had been a worthwhile experience. It was simply over. I just didn’t know it yet.

Sometimes I think I might not have chosen some men who pushed away my love if I had known earlier that my dad actually loved my mom. But it’s good news to find out when you’re 29. And it was extra nice, seeing it as their struggle, not mine. Dad says it often, now:  they loved each other but were too immature to rise above their problems, and their break-up was devastating to him, as well. We just didn’t know it back then.

In those free, breezy nights driving around Austin in the Z car, literally moving through the grief of a break-up and its corresponding origin in my childhood, I realized I believed certain stories just because they were spoken. There are other stories not yet told. But they’re lived. They’re real. And the storyteller has to tell them when he’s ready. When the listener is relaxed and open. Defenses down. Judgment tucked away. I’m glad for that moment in the car, talking about cars and the way they can help us move through pain. And I’m glad my Dad told me he loved my Mom. It was a story I was ready to hear and believe. And it was true.

Did any of your family stories catch up to you at the light after driving around for a long time?