I have been writing a lot of words in the past week although they are mostly not ready for prime time. I discovered Jeff Warren‘s meditation designed to help with creative block and have been using it for the past few mornings. Warren’s approach is similar to Julia Cameron’s morning pages applied to whatever you create: just write or draw or sing or sculpt without thinking or judging. Warren even suggests that it should be terrible. Making bad art is something Austin Kleon has written about as well.
Warren uses a timer–I’ve been doing 20 minutes–and rather than writing long hand the way I have for decades of morning pages, I am using my Freewrite keyboard. I want to start producing publishable text and the morning pages don’t lend themselves to formal writing. For now, the goal is getting the habit in place.
I haven’t given up the long hand morning pages, however, and am experimenting with approaching them as letters to an old friend. Still mostly stream of consciousness but with a bit of organization and thoughtfulness.
Letter writing has been on my mind, perhaps as part of a general nostalgia I’ve been feeling as I continue my transition into semi-retirement. In the olden days, I loved nothing better than spending an afternoon writing long letters to friends and family, settled into a comfortable chair with favorite pens and paper, a beverage alongside, maybe some music playing. I had a few good correspondents over the years, including the friend I visited in Pennsylvania this summer, but time and life and technology eventually saw our letters dwindle to a few lines on birthday and holiday cards, and now have largely been replaced by email, text messages and social media messages.
I am going to make time this week to write a newsy letter to my old friend. I did send a short thank you note, one of those cards with a few scribbled lines, when I returned home, but life has happened since we sat beside her pool. I will tell her about all the tomato sauce I am making from my San Marzano tomatoes, the cool, rainy weather that seems to herald fall’s arrival, what I am reading and watching, plans for the fall. It will be, at least for a little while, as though we are together again.
One of my work-from-home rituals is to stop working at noon on Fridays. I am happy to take a few hours on Saturday or Sunday to do a few things if it means being able to get away from work.
Today, I spent time in the garden. While my husband grows the vegetables, I am the flower gardener. We have a formal garden near the house, just outside the south porch. It had gotten overgrown in the past year as my arthritis kept me from doing the work of weeding and mulching. With my new hip in place, I am back to battling weeds and close to being ready to lay down the mulch. My husband grew plants for me from seed, and I transplanted borage and milkweed thistle.
I’ve also been baking from scratch. I like to bake but had taken to using mixes, kind of semi-homemade. But a friend gave me sourdough starter and then I turned some of it into a whole wheat starter and now I am baking at least twice a week. Yesterday, I just baked with the “discard” from the sourdough, that is, the stuff I wasn’t going to keep after a fed a smaller amount of the starter to keep it alive for next week. If you don’t, you end up with the starter that ate San Francisco, which is almost the plot of Robin Sloan’s Sourdough. I had enough to make Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread and some crackers using the outlines of a recipe from a baker on Twitter. I went for rustic and “artisinal” for the crackers. The bread was lovely toasted with butter this morning. And the crackers are a little thick but they have a satisfying crunch. I used some flavored salts that we received as a holiday gift along with a bit of pepper.
Finally, I’ve been cooking. Years of watching Food TV and the Great British Baking Challenge have given me a foundation for putting meals together. I put a piece of pork in the crock pot with carrots, onions, potatoes and apples. I layered in our first experiment with sauerkraut and was rewarded with that tangy bite. The picture is pre-cooking: once it cooks away for hours, it doesn’t like quite as pretty but it tastes delicious!
I wrote about the continuum of practice in crocheting, creating a dichotomy between easy and challenging. But, I missed a dimension, I think, that I was reminded of last night as I contemplated the end of a stale loaf of home made chocolate babka and the proverbial light bulb went on.
Bread pudding. It was just enough for two and that was all I needed. I skipped the Internet on this one: milk, eggs, some cinnamon poured over the bread and life was good. I baked it until the custard was set and then, thinking it needed a little more sweetness, put together a quick glaze with confectioner’s sugar and milk.
In this case, I knew enough about bread pudding and baking that I could just make it up and be decently confident that it would turn out alright. The real unknown was how long to bake it and that was just a matter of checking and having a good idea of what done should look like. Where did I learn all this? I did learn some basics in home ec and from my mother and grandmothers, but most of it just came from awareness and experience. Would it have tasted better if I had found a real recipe?
I am doing a little hacking with my crochet as well. I did a twist on a granny square that begins in the corner and uses three colors to create some drama. From there, I put them together to form a larger block with the corners now forming the center of the square, giving it a quilt like quality. I have two blocks now and am wondering where to go from here: a bag? or more squares for an afghan? I can do either of those without a pattern or even a YouTube video!
Once we get the foundation, then build our skills with support, we can often move away from the directions or the recipes or the patterns. We move beyond skills to imagination and application. I often see the final preparation–whether it is made of food or yarn–and then work backwards to figure out how to do it.
I have had an urge to make some postcards for fun and to use as examples for upcoming Creative Commons presentations. I did it in March 2018, mostly using images found at the Digital Public Library of America. That is where I started this year, too.
I don’t think there is any connection between April Fool’s Day and the The Fool, “first” card of most Tarot decks. I use the marks because it is usually numbered 0. Tarot cards, once the stuff of carnival midways and roadside shacks, are makingtheir mark in the mainstream.
The Tarot of Marseilles dates back to the mid-17th century. It has roots in Switzerland and the card I used was created in 17551 by Claude Burdel, a master card maker and engraver in Fribourg, Switzerland. I found the card and went looking for “foolish” poems. The lines from Cat Stevens seemed to float to the top of my brain.
And that made me think about my favorite movie, Harold and Maude. The ending is one of the best I can remember. NOTE: this is THE ENDING, so if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t watch it. Go watch the movie, instead.
For now, in order to get in the habit of blogging, I’m going with pieces I am calling “short bits.” Basically, what I am thinking about it. Sheri Edwards, the blogging mentor to us all, calls them blog shorts and has a wonderful introduction here. So, my short bits are blog shorts.
This one is simply about the seeming lack of nuance in all sorts of places, due I think, in large part to our continued distraction with media. We want quick answers and memes to share, diving into the ever flowing stream of stuff, generating quick comments but never really digging deeper than the surface. We label things good and bad, and certainly there are examples of both of those in the world, but there are also nuances of good and bad. Events are often more complicated than they seem. Zero tolerance policies almost never work. And, teachers and students and content and pedagogy overlap in complex ways that do not always lend themselves to easy charts or frameworks or continuums or, for that matter, 280 characters on Twitter. Whenever someone says you should ALWAYS or NEVER, I want to shout, “It depends!”
But, in the interest of seeing nuances myself, there ARE good conversations going on within communities, including Twitter. The #clmooc has made long term use of the web to connect around creativity and collaboration. I am sorry I missed the #clmooc book discussion about affinity communities online. Participation in these kinds of groups allows users to access the power behind the tools when wielded with a mission of authentic connection.