“Winter garden, the moon thinned to a thread, insects singing.” ~ Matsuo Basho (trans. by Robert Haas)

  

Toei-Zan Temple from “Twelve Scenes of the Eastern Capital” by Utagawa Hiroshige (no date) 

“Winter solitude
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.” ~ Matsuo Basho

Drum Bridge at Meguro by Hiroshige

Thanks to those of you who have visited my Collecting Dust page and perused my verse. I had always thought that my first book would be a book of poetry, but as the years have passed, I have realized that while I can occasionally write an inspired verse, my creative non-fiction seems much stronger than my poetry, at least in my opinion. But then what do I know? I have written for years and years for myself and have never bothered to try to get anything published, with the exception of one essay. All of my other publications were on the professional side, which is great except that it wasn’t for me.  

The poems that I have included on the Collecting Dust page are mostly ones that I have featured in earlier posts. I actually have lots more verse that is sitting in computer folders doing a whole lot of nothing.  

With that in mind, I’ve decided that 2010 will be the year that I will try to find an agent. I say this with great casualness, as if finding an agent were akin to checking out the local grocery store and finding a good canteloupe. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth  (yes further, as farther is reserved for physical distance). I realize that literary agents are a commodity, and that finding one to give you a bit of time is well nigh impossible, but I’ve made this my one writing goal for the year.  

If at the end of this quest I am still empty-handed, then I shall have to regroup and rethink . . . well at least it sounds good for now. and if I am to be truthful, which I try to be on this blog, I really don’t know if I can muster the courage needed to try to find an agent.   

Is all of this just more of my personal setting myself up for failure state of mind? Who knows. Certainly, not I.  

Moving along . . .  

“The first soft snow!
Enough to bend the leaves
Of the jonquil low.” ~ Matsuo Basho

Had a very strange dream last night about one of my cousins from Great Bridge. I was writing a paper for him on this computer that was shaped like a toy cash register. I was having a hard time figuring out how to work this computer as there was no apparent save button  anywhere, and the keyboard fell off at inconvenient times. Very strange.  

I remember something about race cars going on in the background, and the movie Hidalgo, with my LOTR idol, Viggo Mortensen, making an appearance. Bizarre in the extreme. Have absolutely no idea what any of that was about, especially Hidalgo.  

"The Bridge of the Brocade Sash at Iwakuni, Hiroshige (1859)

So it’s February already, and not a peep from the guy from Vane Brothers Shipping. I am trying mightily hard not to devolve into full-blown panic mode as it would only rub off on Corey, who doesn’t need yet another thing over which to worry. But I mean, geez, February, the second month of 2010 (as if you were unaware of that fact), and still no call to duty, as it were.  

Corey spent over an hour on the phone with his dad the other night, talking about this and that, mostly his dad’s lawn care business in Ohio. Corey started that business when he was just out of high school, and it’s still going strong. I do envy him his long conversations with his parents. That just wasn’t something that ever happened in my house. Even though my mother lives less than two miles from our house, the last time we had any kind of conversation over anything of substance was years and years ago when my marriage to my ex broke down irreparably.  

I’m glad for Corey that he can get on the phone and talk forever to either one of his parents about just about anything. That’s enviable, especially coming from a home in which deep subjects were never pondered, politics was not a topic of discussion, and emotions were always kept in check unless someone was yelling. Don’t misunderstand: I did not come from an abusive home. Hardly. But I came from a home in which my parents were always pitched on some kind of battle ground, and I was forced into a forward position, like it or not.  

I vividly remember one time when I was a teenager, and I was horribly depressed, weeping depressed, and my mother and I were out running errands. I picked up the book Holocaust to buy, and my mother made me put it back. Her reasoning was that I should read happy things to feel better. That was her treatment for my depression. Over the years I have come to realize that my mother was wholly incapable of dealing with things such as clinical depression as she was so much a child of her generation in which any kind of mental illness was a taboo, something people hid from the neighbors. So think happy thoughts was pretty much it as far as treatment.  

Of course I did not know it then, but my father was suffering from his own personal demons while I was growing up, depression being one of them. I just used to think of him as being quiet, but it was a comfortable silence most of the time, until it wasn’t. It’s hardly surprising that my country-born mother and my Filipino father never seemed able to be there for one another. That they lasted for so many years probably has more to do with generational ideology than anything else.  

Not really sure what made me go there. Just sort of popped into my head.  

“The winter leeks
Have been washed white—
How cold it is!” ~ Matsuo Basho
 

Night Snow: Kambara, Hiroshige

It’s raining today, and I heard some forecaster calling for a rain/snow mix later in the week. Now that snow has come to the area, it will continue to pop into the forecast until March, undoubtedly.  

I do seem to have acquired another cold as my head is full of fluff and pressure, and my throat has gunk. Delightful. What can I say? I just have a flair with description.  

I decided that today would be a good day to feature some images by Utagawa Hiroshige (also known as Ando Hiroshige), a famous Japanese artist who produced over 1,000 prints in his lifetime (1797-1858). Hiroshige produced several well-known series (12 total), including “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” and “Famous Views of the Fifty-Three Stations,” which featured images on the theme of the Tōkaidō, the road running from Edo to Kyoto. Personally, I love the snow scenes, mostly because of the contradiction that I always feel when seeing snow on Japanese landscapes, which in my mind, should be covered with cherry blossoms.  

Hiroshige, a near contemporary of Hokusai (another of my favorites), was a renowned ukiyo-e landscape artist of the late Edo period who produced woodblock prints in the oban format, which was the most common print size of approximately 15×10 inches; tate-e refers to the print being vertically-aligned (portrait), and yoko-e means horizontal alignment (landscape). Ukiyo-e translates as “pictures of the floating world,” and the term refers to the woodblock prints produced in this school. Hiroshige’s landscapes, which featured, snow, mountains, rain, and the moon, were popular with European Impressionists such as Monet, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.  

The term japonisme arises from the 1870s, after the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, which featured a Japanese stand that included art. The public became enamored with all things Japanese, and the Impressionists were particularly taken with the Japanese artists’ use of broad spaces of color. In particular, Horishige employed the use of perspective, primarily a Western technique, something heretofore not employed in the ukoyo-e prints, which were largely two-dimensional.  

Van Gogh was so taken with Hiroshige’s work that he painted copies of two Hiroshige prints: “Plum Tree in Bloom” and “The Bridge in the Rain.” Van Gogh described his interest in Japanese painting in saying that “I envy the Japanese artists for the incredible neat clarity which all their works have. It is never boring and you never get the impression that they work in a hurry. It is as simple as breathing; they draw a figure with a couple of strokes with such an unfailing easiness as if it were as easy as buttoning one’s waist-coat.”  

"Plum Tree in Bloom" (left by Hiroshige; right by Van Gogh)

Hiroshige was a member of the Utagawa School, a famous group of 19th Century Japanese woodblock print artists. The school was one of the more successful schools, and many of the ukiyo-e prints that have survived are from the Utagawa School. Today, many of these prints can be found on greeting cards, fans, posters, even book illustrations.  

Just thought I’d share more of the minutiae that rolls through my brain and makes an appearance on occasion.  

Haiku by Basho.  

More later. Peace.  

“Silk Road” by Kitaro. Simply lovely.  

   

“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

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"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

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"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

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"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

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"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe White Sweet Peas 1926
"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

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"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Georgia OKeeffe Black Place No 3
"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.