Walking through my school on the way to teach a high school class last week, I passed a few elementary students pottering around in the grass. I smiled at them in greeting. We don't often get little folk on our side of the campus.
One boy stepped off the grass towards me. "Hi! Want to know what we're doing?"
Of course I did!
"We're taking pictures from a worm's eye view. We just learned about it in Art class. There's bird's eye view," he explained as he reached up and pointed downwards, "and worm's eye view." Now his hand was on the pavement, pointing up. "That's what we're looking for over there in the garden. See you!"
I was happy for that short lesson in perspective. It reminded me not only to take the time to chat with people and ask about what they are doing, but also to look through different lenses, whether creatively or in my personal life.
The Bird's Eye View
I often get lost in the details of an immediate problem, and feel it looming over me. The more it is in my mental gaze, the more overwhelmed and intimidated I feel. It doesn't help that I can get obsessive over tiny details. Going for a walk and literally looking at the sky and the horizon (the sea, if possible!), really helps to reset my frame of mind. Then I come back to it and decide to get one step done. If I have a huge stack of papers to mark, I grade a few, and then it doesn't seem so bad.
The Worm's Eye View
Getting a worm's eye view as a photographer is a way to stop and mindfully observe your surroundings from a completely different angle. Where I live there are huge palms, and if you looked straight up into the bunches of dry fronds that hang down under the green leaves, you might see bats sleeping, or monitor lizards several feet long hiding from the world, since they are invisible from the side and from above. I only noticed this because I once saw a lizard run up the tree, and decided to go over and take a look from the base. Yep, he was still up there. I need to do that figuratively but not allowing myself to be consumed in the daily rush of things I feel I must do. This journal is a way to carve out time for a worm's eye view.
This is my favourite poem about perspective:
I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.
I am currently reading John Berger's Why Look at Animals?, and each of the essays in it are tremendously thought-provoking. The first one, called "A Mouse Story", talks about a man's encounter with various mice that sneak into his kitchen to nibble on his bread. After using a humane trap to catch them, he releases them in a field near his home. The style is simple and it is largely written in the present tense. It is a quiet and intimate encounter with the animal world.
This reminded me of the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, such as "The Lion Cage", "The Panther" and "The Gazelle", which focus intensely on the perceived inner and outer world of the animals named, suggesting volumes about the relationship between humans and animals.
It strikes me how many poems and essays about animals are written in the present tense, as curiously intimate encounters and descriptions. Yet Berger's book, according to the cover notes of the Penguin edition, explores "how the ancient relationship between man and nature has been severed in the modern consumer age, with the animals that used to be at the centre of our existence now marginalized and reduced to spectacle".
I really want to think about how my love of animals helps balance my life. I need to spend more time relaxing with my dogs and walking with them, and I need to reflect more on the many ways they enrich my life. Also, I need to think about ways humans and animals can be brought together in ways that promote learning rather than exploitation.
MORE CREATIVE FUEL: Watch John Berger's influential Ways of Seeing series, as well as The Art of Looking. And read this Brain Pickings post that mentions John Berger and animals.
Today I looked to animated poetry for inspiration. Here are some of my favorites:
I think I am going to browse through Poetry Foundation and create either a comic strip, collage or single illustration to accompany a poem. Then, I'll put it in a matchbox an give it to someone as a gift. If I'm feeling really creative, I'll create a tiny diorama in the matchbox, or include some related objects.
MORE CREATIVE FUEL:
Moving Poems - a collection of poetry videos
Whenever I feel a lack of inspiration, I turn to Ray Bradbury. His book, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, should be on every aspiring writer's bookshelf because of its energy, enthusiasm and wealth of creative ideas. I have read the essays in this book over and over.
One of my favorite essays in the collection is called "Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds". Near the beginning, Bradbury asks,
What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.
He goes on to explain that as he started writing, he found his own way to be creative:
I began to put down brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates. All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.
This evolved as time went on:
But along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.
The lists ran something like this:
THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. The TRAP-DOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.
I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds.
The essay goes on to explain how these lists gave birth to many of his stories and novels, Including "The Thing at the Top of the Stairs", which he finished that week in 1986.
I am going to time myself for about 20 minutes, and list as many nouns as I can. I will think of things I love and hate, and how they drive me, as well as how they might drive my creative writing or visual art in some way. A collage might be a great way to express this, too.
FOR MORE CREATIVE FUEL:
A Conversation with Ray Bradbury
Day at Night: Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer
I came across a couple of powerful pieces by Sergio Barrale on a recent post on Supersonic, part of an series entitled Our Private Religion. He has this to say about religion: “To me, religion is just feelings that guide us and inform our choices in the world…" I like that there is the idea of a private world, as well as a sense that it is shared with others.
Related to this, last summer I discovered Georgiana Houghton, a spiritual medium of the late 19th Century. I visited The Courtauld Institute Gallery to see her Spirit Drawings. Meticulous and ethereal, the automatic drawings were each said to be guided by a group of spirits, whose names were listed in spidery script on the back of the canvas.
Finally, on the same subject, Poetry Foundation's featured poem this week was "Faith" by David Baker.
I am going to think more about what forces move me in my inner world, and how I want to express these in my life.
The Longing In Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World
Abstract Art Painting: Expressions in Mixed Media
They Knew What They Wanted
They all kissed the bride.
They all laughed.
They came from beyond space.
They came by night.
They came to a city.
They came to blow up America.
They came to rob Las Vegas.
They dare not love.
They died with their boots on.
They shoot horses, don’t they?
They go boom.
They got me covered.
They flew alone.
They gave him a gun.
They just had to get married.
They live. They loved life.
They live by night.
They drive by night.
They knew Mr. Knight.
They were expendable.
They met in Argentina.
They met in Bombay.
They met in the dark.
They might be giants.
They made me a fugitive.
They made me a criminal.
They only kill their masters.
They shall have music.
They were sisters.
They still call me Bruce.
They won’t believe me.
They won’t forget.
by John Ashbery, from London Review of Books and Vanitas
This poem was created using found movie titles. Found poems can be a strong creative boost, since results are unexpected and thus take on a magic of their own.
I decided to create two found poems with movie titles containing "he" and "she" respectively. It gave me some things to reflect about regarding gender, and also what I want my own representative movie title to be.
MORE CREATIVE FUEL: Read more found poems here at Poets.org. And here are some excellent anthologies:
Found and Lost: Found Poetry and Visual Poetry
The premise of Lucia Dill's chair paintings is simple. "Folding chairs function as unspecific characters to convey relationships, interactions, and body language." Above is a picture of one of her works with the attached tag/title: "You know?"
This is a great idea for a creative project. I want to take inanimate objects and use them to represent relationships. It might be a way for me to explore relationships in my life, or just express something in my collage art or photography.
MORE CREATIVE FUEL:
I saw Lucia Dill's work in a fantastic blog I just discovered: The Jealous Curator.
Here are two books recommended on that site that I plan to buy:
Collage: Contemporary Artists Hunt and Gather, Cut and Paste, Mash Up and Transform
Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists
Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk: and Other Truths about Being Creative
Share your response to these prompts in a comment below if you like.