It Turns Out, Patti Smith Can’t Play Guitar or Why I Won’t Learn To Draw

About twenty years ago, I realized I was going to do better as a person if I emphasized my strengths rather than trying to eradicate my weaknesses (That being the approach of my younger adulthood). For example, I’m a person of natural friendliness and curiosity totally stymied by huge anxiety. In new or scary situations I used to try and manage my fear. Now, I try to be friendly. And it is working better.
But it is in the creative realm that this really counts. I have a friend of many decades who has also been my student. She is a brilliant memoirist working on her next book. And she was thrown for a loop when given advice to learn and type faster. So fine, she isn’t a fast typist. But it is unwarranted to feel shame. After all, writing really is not typing! Of course she should just finish that new dramatic and intriguing book.
Earlier this winter, Patti Smith on stage at the Lensic did something I’ve never seen a rock and roller do–sing a capella. I couldn’t imagine Mick Jagger doing that. It was haunting, intimate, amazing. Then she mentioned she could only play a few guitar cords, and invited a local on stage to back her. The entire thing was incredible. Should Patti Smith work on her guitar playing? Obviously not.
I can’t draw. And I’ve turned into an installation artist. My secret weapons are:

1. Collaboration, notably with my daughter multi media artist Isabel Winson-Sagan as part of the creative team Maternal Mitochondria.

2. Concept. The truth is, I can see pieces complete in my mind’s eye.

Case in point, we were invited to produce an artist’s book for a show. We don’t know how to do this. Yet I saw it immediately:

a box covered in paper
a 36 stanza poem divided into two decks of cards
silk suminagashi wrapping

The collaborative poem is written–that I know how to do. Isabel is starting on the box. If she prints and produces the cards I can certainly add suminagashi, or she can.

I can’t draw, I can barely fabricate, but I can SEE.

A brilliant teacher told me months ago to work on mark making–not to produce anything but so I could follow Isabel’s mind. That was unusual fascinating advice which I am following.

I also can’t type or play the guitar.

On Site Poetry

On-Site Poetry is an art project by writer/performer Nick J. Swarth and typographic designer Sander Neijnens. Since 2006, the two have collaborated on more than 30 site-specific poetry installations around the Netherlands. Some are permanent, others are temporary, like the 90-meter poem shown above, created for an art festival with 2747 orange peels from the juice press at a local supermarket. (As the artists explain, “Decay is part of this work.”)
Unfortunately, neither the poem, ‘Zachte dromer’, nor its translation, ‘Soft dreamer’, are available online, but you can find a lot more on the On-Site Poetry website, on Facebook, and @onsitepoetry.

Doing Things by Lucy Moore

It’s always amazing to appear in another writer’s work–and in this case in another person’s mind! Full disclosure: I did not make this system up. I heard about it from a friend who had gotten it from an art teacher. I’ve been teased mercilessly about it over the years by my nearest and dearest. And now at last someone else is test diving it!

I had coffee with my friend Miriam the other day. As we sat down with our cups at a local coffee shop, she said proudly, “This is my fourth thing today.” Miriam is a poet and a wonderful, rambling thinker. I was intrigued. What do you mean a “thing” I asked her.
She explained that every day she does ten things. They can be fun things, hard things, boring things, any kind of thing. (I was relieved to hear that our coffee was a “fun thing.”)  She seemed to want to explain, with nervous laughter, why she did ten things each day, but I was already way ahead of her. Each day would have an order, a calculation, each thing I did would have a legitimacy – it would be a “thing.” No more would I slog through the day and wonder at the end, “what was that all about?” I would have a mental list of things that I did, proof of a good, productive day.
I wanted to learn more about the “thing way of life,” so I might master it myself. Would eating breakfast count as a thing, or feeding the cats? No, she said, those are just what you do every day to survive, or to make your cats survive, those do not qualify. Same with shower, reading the paper, watching the news. What about watering plants? I do that about once a week, not every day. Would that be a “thing”? This was a gray area, she confessed. If you needed to round out your list to meet your quota, then she guessed you could count watering plants. For further edification I asked what the first three things were that she had done that day. They included a phone call to an insurance company, cleaning out a cupboard, and taking a walk. I asked what she did if it was bedtime and she had only done eight things. “I read two or three pages in a book and knit a few rows of whatever I’m working on. And voila, I’m at ten!”

This is not me, but I thought she deserved to have a little coverage for all her hard work….several things, I would say.
I imagine that I have lost some of you by now. We obsessive types can be fascinating to ourselves and irritating to others. Sorry, but I’m going to plow ahead.
Needless to say I jumped into the thing system with great enthusiasm, choosing eight things as my target for each day. The first day I couldn’t wait to darn a sock and hem a pair of pants that had been waiting for months to get my attention. (I had to email Miriam to check whether or not I could count the sock as one thing, and the pants as another thing. She said I could, but that each pant leg could not be counted separately.)
As the days went on I found that I was getting things done that I had been avoiding. Letters got written. Drawers cleaned out. A jacket went to the dry cleaners. I also realized that I was focusing more on what I was doing. “Ahh, I am re-potting an orchid. That is thing # 6.” Or, “Out for an enchilada tonight – what a fun thing.” By identifying the activity as a thing, I had a relationship with it that I didn’t have before. I began to understand what Andy, the guy on my meditation app, had been talking about: “During the day, notice what you are doing. Make it your focus. Even if it is something very simple, be aware of it, pay attention to it.” So for me, the “thing way of life” is not only practical and efficient, it verges on the spiritual.
Today is the last day of the month and I am wrapping up my blog, thing #7 for the day. I am thinking that I can count the blog as one thing and writing the notification email to my subscribers as another thing. If Miriam says no, then I will have to do an eighth thing before I go to bed. I could fold the laundry? Write a letter to my congressman? Mix a martini?
Or, I could visit Miriam’s blog site and see what my mentor is up to


Moment of Today

I’m not a good housekeeper or home owner. Things are vaguely ok, but not great. ALMOST finished with replacing the kitchen cabinets, which looks fabulous, but that is purely due to my son-in-law Tim’s efforts.
Periodically I get the Marie Kondo fit and attempt to sort the bookshelves. I’ve been doing this for several decades. When my first husband Robert died he left many–many–books. About a hundred needed to be returned to the library! A few years ago I discovered some shelves were still double rowed. Obviously despite the passage of time and so much more I’m having trouble getting rid of his books.
However, I think it is finally sorted. There was one book, though, a fat book with a handmade cover of a Buddhist mandala. I was just keeping it because Robert made the cover. But what was inside? No doubt a mystifying tome of Indian philosophy. I opened it–for the first time ever–and found…THE ILIAD.
Which I’ll keep.

Have You Ever Used The Same Imaginary Place

From one novel to the next? I don’t mean in fantasy, more like magical realism. In my novel Black Rainbow I had a huge imaginary club called Babylon, where the teenage lovers end up in the middle of the night, circa 1968. Now I’m working on a novella set in Brooklyn just after the end of the war in Bosnia. Times have changed, so has the club, now called Babel.

Will this work? Should I focus more on how the very different characters experience it or on its own metamorphosis? I don’t expect readers to have read the earlier book, so it is “explained” (it is rather inexplicable!)