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
I invest in the edge between brutality and beauty.
I write until I run out of ink.
I work until I run out of life.
I want to perform confidence.
It's no longer a luxury.
It is what I need in order to do the job I must do.
I need to pull in the authority and believe I know what I'm doing.
Say what is on my mind. Listen. Let that be enough.
I give away my time a lot
to help others with little things
because I feel I should.
This is a distraction.
I need to hold each activity in my palms and sit with it.
Marie Kondo it.
Ask, does it give me joy?
And if not,
and especially if it also doesn't feed my belly or build bridges,
I can let it go.
Each thing I take on has several elements inside.
Going deeply into them takes me away from other things.
I don't want to do any of it halfway.
I want to immerse in each job, not fall apart, not take it on the surface level.
I want to aim higher, go big.
Survey for New Play
My next full-length play, see in the dark, will explore how we handle the threat of outsiders and ask the price of suspicion versus compassion.
As research for see in the dark, I'm asking some anonymous questions in the survey below. I'd love your input, as in-depth or quick as you'd like. You don't have to answer all the questions, but I appreciate your input toward any of these topics.
You can also write answers to any/all of these questions below in the comments section, over email through my contact page, or if we're connected on Facebook/Twitter.
I'll embed the form below and here is a link to the survey.
Thank you for your insights! By posting answers, know that your ideas, experiences and words may be used in this new play.
Sound, Silence, Listening
In this week's Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, we focused on listening and sound -- dissecting that sense throughout our 90 minutes together. We started by reading "The Sound of One Fork" by Minnie Bruce Pratt.
The Sound of One Fork
BY MINNIE BRUCE PRATT
Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honeybee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.
While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.
Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.
And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday, afternoons
on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night
will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.
My family, my children live in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper,
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.
In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Still, we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turn yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank,
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.
Read the poem once. What do you hear?
Read again. What else do you hear? What else do you notice?
What else does this poem say to you?
John Cage talked about the other half of sound being silence.
I’d like us to take some time now to listen and let silence speak to us,
so that we can be ready to really notice sounds in our next step.
For the next few minutes, please don’t write, read or talk,
and try to keep your movement/sounds still.
Set a timer for yourself for 5, 10, 15 minutes.
From this quiet place, listen to your breath. Listen to your organs.
Listen to the other listeners. The room. To what’s outside the room.
If you can, close your eyes. Otherwise, let your focus be soft.
After your timer goes off,
you can take a moment to jot down what you heard.
Next, we’ll be going outside. Bring a sheet of paper with you or a sketchbook.
Grab some colored pencils or markers too.
We’re going to make sound maps in the area around our residence.
This can look like many different things, but mainly the process is:
Go to an area outside. Wait there, listen.
Draw or briefly describe what you hear
in a spot on the page that symbolizes where you are.
Then go to another area.
Repeat until you’ve captured the sounds all around your building
(or inside your building if you prefer not to go outside).
Instead of a map of what you see, this is a map of what you hear.
Take about 15 or 20 minutes to do this. Take your time, go slow.
Back inside, we can incorporate the sounds into a new piece.
You can do this in several different ways.
Maybe you travel through the sounds as a journey, describing them.
Maybe you write a story that incorporates all the sounds.
Maybe a poem tried to define all the sounds.
Maybe a scene blows the sounds up into giant noises a character has to overcome.
Maybe you're a composer and create a new tune or song from the sounds.
Maybe something completely different.
Any way you’d like to incorporate the sounds writing something new is good.
You can use "The Sound of One Fork" as a model or push in the opposite direction. Use your life. Use your interests. Use what you hear around you.
During the workshop, I played additional music
(tracks from Gnarly Buttons by composer John Adams).
You can play music (preferably instrumental) and incorporate those sounds too.
Write for at least 20 minutes. Share your work with someone.
After we wrote for about 25, 30 minutes,
we created short poems out of our longer texts
and everyone had a chance to share --
some hauntingly beautiful stuff came out of that session!
Thank you for writing and listening with me. Enjoy your spring!
Dark alleyway, piss smell.
Shadow places for hiding. For trapping.
A hole. No space to breathe.
I sneak on people and don't mean to.
Blamed for my quiet feet. "You scared me."
I don't blame them for not being present,
Not noticing their surroundings.
Something behind me.
I turn and there's nothing.
Except on my back, on my neck.
Like a grizzly bear's hot breath.
I taste metal. Nails.
I was going somewhere important
but now I forget who I am.
Now that someone's following,
I want to give up, turn around.
See who it--
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: