The Art of Subtraction
This Tuesday at The Cabin, we focused on creating through deleting.
There is an abundance of creative material, talk and words out in the world today.
Some people think there are too many words.
Some artists think the best thing to do about this is take away, rather than add.
We can create by subtracting, stripping down, erasing.
However you feel about this, much of our work as artists and writers
is about taking the parts of the world that matter to us and leaving out the rest.
I'm a big fan of Austin Kleon -- his books, his weekly newsletters, his art.
He's famous for his books on the creative process,
like Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work and Keep Going.
Before that, he came out with a book of Newspaper Blackout poetry,
where he finds poems embedded in New York Times articles.
We all have the same alphabet and words available to us.
Now we can do something with the words someone else put down.
We don't have to start with a blank canvas.
I've always wanted to bring this process into a Cabin workshop and did so Tuesday.
We talked about Kleon's work, I showed the above and below videos and
we perused models of newspaper blackout poetry examples through this website.
I only wish I had stumbled upon this video tutorial in time to share with the group:
Regardless, we had Sharpies, pens and fat markers ready to go.
I handed out the 20+ newspapers I'd been collecting.
(Thanks to my friends, neighbors and colleagues for their contributions!)
We tore through them -- mostly Idaho Statesmans but one New York Times.
We focused on scanning articles as Kleon talks about, instead of reading.
We put boxes around words we found, loved, and wanted to keep.
Then we blacked out the rest.
Before Tuesday, I'd done this in one other workshop, with 3rd and 4th graders.
This process was especially useful for the students who didn't like writing.
(At least, those who didn't at first.)
I've found the most successful poems have more words blacked out.
They transform the articles, as Kleon says.
They play with them as writing partners,
rather than summarizing journalism.
Transforming is one way to make something new, something all your own.
To steal like an artist.
You can consider making copies of your own work too.
Then black out, erase, cut up – choosing what few words to stand out.
We spent a lot of time making blackout poetry -- a good 30 minutes.
Some made a few pieces.
It was a bit like working on a puzzle or a collage.
I found the process very calming, also,
different from the cathartic feelings I can experience
when I put a lot of words on a page.
Almost everyone shared one of their poems.
Then we took our favorite poem, or a line we liked especially,
and used that as a launching point.
Writing that line on paper, we then wrote something new out of those words.
Some wrote new poems, some stories, reflections.
When you make newspaper blackout poetry for yourself,
think about what's fun about it,
what you can use from this exercise in your own work,
or perhaps discover that this is your new favorite way of writing.
My poems from Tuesday:
crossing the latest dread bridge
And one for Idaho's recent Election Day:
Maybe it would be good to combine these two.
Enjoy blacking out words, erasing and deleting.
Thank you for writing with me.
the drive to your house
and your door creaks
i wait for you in the pregnant clouds
but no hurry
late night skin
far into dream places
i sense us together
rising in the not too cold
when I make our tea
leaves fell off maples
i jumped in the damp
and grew up into a small dog
we looked at the stars
who took me across country
me the always new girl
too many men bought me too many drinks
the haunting night called me into its bars
and my lungs filled with water, clutching iron
he took me away in a van
i discovered the weight of my cranium
and feared i'd go off a cliff
finding the moon, lassoing it,
i saw the you glow in its spotlight
and pined closer
i got off the love train for a while
and found my breath stuck in my sternum
i stayed too too long in the bathtub
i found hope in sweaters
we found places speaking to us
and spoke back singing
i took a lot of classes
i fell from security
the way i wrote got faster sharper
i found relief in mossy woods
i felt temperatures rise in my face
i looked up and saw you
thanks for being t/here
New Project Survey
My amazing sister Kate Kraay and I are collaborating for the first time on a theatrical project. Well -- besides the times we performed renditions of fairy tales with our brother for our parents when we were growing up. I remember playing Gretel opposite my brother's Hansel when I was six, with Kate graciously taking on the witch's role...
Now we're a little older, devising a new play/performance/thing together and could use your help as we begin. We'll be exploring the effects of stress on the body, women's bodies in particular, in comparison with the effects of stress on our planet, stress caused by humans in particular. Your insights through the survey questions below will be most helpful in giving us more direction, context and research.
You are welcome to take this survey whoever and wherever you are. Though we are most interested in responses from individuals who identify as womenx, non-binary, transgender or gender non-conforming, if you are a human who has lived in this world, we appreciate your answers. And if you know someone who may have a lot to say about these questions, do consider sharing it with them. Thank you!
Learn more/respond below, save the form for later on a new page or share it using this link (https://forms.gle/8qw4ReXwR6vnYywA9). Thank you so much for your time and insights! If you have questions, feel free to reach out through my contact page.
Heidi and Kate
Sight, Watching, Seeing
In May's Drop In Workshop, we focused on listening and sound.
This week we focused on what we attend to with our eyes.
I started by asking participants to close their eyes,
paying attention to what they saw when I read this:
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Next we went outside to The Cabin's yard. I asked participants to:
Find a site that draws you near.
Focus on one small section of that site. One object.
Sit with it for a good five minutes at least.
Spend five minutes finding a place, five sitting with it, watching, paying attention.
Not writing yet.
After that five minutes is up,
spend time drawing what you see.
You don’t have to be good at drawing, just sketch what you’ve been sitting with.
No judging what you draw. Get it down, not perfect. Get down what you see.
Then, spend time writing down everything you see.
No need to be precious –
this can be a written piece like a poem/story/essay or just notes.
Then go back and either write or draw some more.
I’ll come around and remind you, let you know when to pick up the next thing.
Again, the sequence was:
Find the thing
Sit with the thing
Draw the thing
Write the thing
Draw or write
When we returned inside, we paired up with a buddy
and shared what we wrote and drew.
Then we read this poem, and spoke to what we saw:
by KATHLEEN JAMIE
Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.
It was August. She traveled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,
and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects
stirred, as in a rock pool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;
the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harbored some intention,
I waited; watched for an age
her cool gaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall
then glide down to recline
along the pinewood floor,
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, We’re both scarred now.
Are they quite beyond you,
the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death
So now, dear reader, after you do all of the above, take:
1. your notes,
2. the image you drew,
3. one line or one image of a partner’s work,
4. a line or phrase from the Moon poem,
5. something you see around you right now
6. and one true thing (whatever that means to you)
and write all that into a new story/poem/essay/something else.
That's what we did, and turning out some beautiful material.
Once you woke up and saw you had everything you needed.
Surrounding was the idea of enough.
The truth is, everything is alright under this white blanket.
One day I woke up and had everything I needed. I drank a cup of English Breakfast, then two, used the same bag for extra steeping. I had a notebook to write in and coverings over my feet. A sweater kept me cozy.
I was becoming myself. I could look in the mirror and see me, unapologetically me, stripping away armor me, in daily stillness in the neighborhood of meditation, of nothing, active nothing, the art of nothing, the art of doing less me.
Looking into the mirror there, eyes open, I saw myself, I saw through the universe.
With all the stuff and nonsense I put on top in attempt to prove my worth, I am already worthy by reason of being born, being here. I am already enough without having to do anything.
To see that, to give myself that amount of love and care allows me to return that to others. Others like the one I’ve loved since we met. Look back and, how many years ago was that?
Enough. A worthy number.
As I find myself at a pausing point in the play I'm working on after this glorious summer of writing, developing, researching, exploring and rewriting rewriting rewriting, I think back to my last solo-written full-length play How to Hide Your Monster and what I was thinking about around this time in 2015. At the end of that summer, I similarly found myself unsure of my next steps, knowing I'd gotten as far as I could go before getting outside feedback.
I think about crystalizing my voice.
I think about cracking the earth, opening it with care.
I think about the job of an actor.
How much it teaches me as a writer
to watch what a person can do onstage,
fully present in each moment.
I fall down watching.
Writing used to be what I did to get the desperation out.
I had to put my story into words.
Now the next step: getting that story out to the world.
I've done it step by step,
getting the fiction out in pieces through plays, stories, essays and poems.
Now with this play I'm trying to get up the courage
to speak with more specificity and openness
about who I am and where I've been in person, onstage,
outside the veil of fiction.
Fiction can tell the truth in magical ways.
More powerful is its ability to get me to accept where I've been
and to name it out loud.
To learn from my mistakes and to see my failures.
Enduring humiliation and failure is important for everyone.
What we do with that is important.
If we didn't accept our failures and successes, we wouldn't learn.
Terrible mistakes get made and they should be acknowledged.
There is a big difference between "I failed" and "I am a failure."
Celebrate those failures.
Those are my teachers.
They are for me.
Successes are for the audience.
Deep ocean bottoms, the blues, the blacks, rising up.
Find your swallowing.
We are liquid. Wade in.
Water rises, taking over shores, bleeding inward.
This country rich. This me spoiled.
I can drink water. I can dump it out.
Water you tear at me.
Your salt, your kiss.
In this desert can't get enough fluid.
My organs cook inside.
Water is scarce. Is everywhere.
Wish for a bridge, for us all to have enough.
I watch my breath, my frame.
I think worldwide of
people hungry in the mud
faces in cages
families capsizing in escape.
When I was young,
hearing my first tragic events,
my response was massive guilt and shame.
I had it okay while lives cracked apart across the world,
in my neighborhood.
And then I hurt myself.
And got addicted to hurting myself.
Now, here, globally, in this country,
cruelty happens daily.
I am healthy. I have enough. More than enough.
I want to help.
Instead of saying,
they suffer so I must suffer,
I want to say
I am at peace, how can they be at peace?
Instead of my limbs paralyzed,
instead of acting against myself,
I can reach out and take care of me
and thereby reach out stronger.
I don't have a lot.
I have enough.
I can be here for you.
I can sit in the same room as you.
I can listen to your story.
Open up the world for you.
Help you tell your story.
Get people to listen. Or try.
Bring communities together. Try.
I sometimes feel so young.
I doubled my gray hair the last ten weeks.
Still breathe, still be.
Open. Continue to open.
I wrote myself out of abuse,
out of disorder,
out of homelessness,
out of numbness.
in every moment
because we say so.
We create meaning
That's where I find beauty, elegance.
Simplicity is my way to wholeness.
I am already whole.
I feel my back pulse.
neurons can rewire
brain chemistry can shift
said I was hardwired
to need antipsychotics forever,
that I would never be stable not really.
I learn daily my neurons' plasticity.
All thanks to repetition.
Yes I get tempted to work longer
to stay deeper in screens
but that doesn't help me.
I'm learning to stop sooner.
take time to breathe
a ringing bell
resist the urge to control
hear the music of stillness
I'm captured by cremated energy.
keep it small
your day will thank you
I know you're addicted
will thank you
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: