“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” -Tim O’Brien
On Seeing and Writing and Painting
My world opened up for me when I met my tenth grade English teacher, Miss Marshall. She looked to be 100 years old at least with her stark white hair and her cane. She required each of her students to keep a daily journal and when we arrived to class her journal entry was written on the chalkboard. We didn’t begin class until each of us had written our own journal entry. She became my mentor and encouraged me to write, not just in my journal, but to write my stories as well. She taught me to see – to look at my world and translate it into words – into my words. I fell in love with descriptive words and the structure of sentences and the physical sense of holding the pen and writing in longhand.
And then along came computers and the internet. And brevity became key. So instead of writing for the sheer joy of writing, I became the queen of one-paragraph updates. And at first it was fabulous. I could stay in touch with everyone – send one paragraph to all of my friends and family at one time. I could even add images. So I didn’t just stop writing, I stopped thinking ‘descriptively.’ I stopped looking. I stopped seeing. And soon I stopped writing longhand altogether. I stopped journaling.
I was lost during that time period with no creative outlet, so a friend encouraged me to take clay classes. Oh I fell in love and stayed with clay for about twenty years. Then I changed clay bodies and began working with earthenware. Earthenware requires a more painterly surface treatment, so I started drawing and making marks on the wet clay. I was fascinated and became obsessed with mark making. The downside to working with clay is the time it takes to bisque and glaze fire in a kiln so it could be weeks before I had a finished product. There’s also loss in kiln firings – things don’t always turn out the way you envisioned it.
In my impatience and frustration, I bought a sketchbook and asked for paint supplies for Christmas and I haven’t touched clay since (2012). The interesting thing about painting is it has required me to learn a new language – a new way to tell my stories. But finally I am looking again. I am remembering how to see.
It’s taken a few years to learn my materials and how to use them correctly. Execution is important and you need quality materials. But you can’t execute without seeing properly. Seeing is hard to teach because seeing is unique to each of us. How we see is our authentic voice. You can’t force yourself to see like someone else.
So I am forever grateful for Mrs. Marshall. She taught me how to look and how to see my stories and how to structure words to tell a story. I am using the same skills, but I am using paint and markers now to tell my stories. And I am enchanted.
So this year, 2018, I will journal again. I will write –
I will write just for my own pleasure
I will make time to enjoy words
I will marvel at their simplicity and
their ability to transform.
I will play again
I will use a pen and my favorite paper
I will write for the sheer joy of writing
or perhaps I will write
just one word.
And marvel at its simplicity.
This year I will write.
I will tell my stories
I will translate them in to my sketchbook.
It all started with writing
and learning to see.
This is the year
I will remember
what it’s like to really look.
This year I will continue
to paint my stories
“With wild mind, you live with the whole sky. It’s very different from the idea of a muse, which is something outside of yourself that appears and magically helps you.” -Natalie Goldberg