Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Art of Small Things

This past weekend I enjoyed my final birthday gift: a seminar called Writing as a Blessing and a Prayer, at Mercy by the Sea. It was a day for writing, which I do well, and deep reflection, at which I have to work very hard.

It felt good to stretch my meditative muscles, and I also opened up to the idea of how many different ways there are to live artfully. During the discussion times, I met or heard about women who meditate daily, women who are skilled calligraphers, women who raised 6 children, women who are recluses, women poets, women who sew, women who keep art journals.

All of these women craved ways to express themselves, ways to connect their spirit with what they do every day. All of these women had journaled, some only a few words a day, many only once in a while. Still, the journaling seemed to mean a lot.

Men were vastly underrepresented, except for Rainer Marie Rilke (oft-quoted author of Letters to a Young Poet, a man who always seems to show up for these things). But the main men in my life back home were dipping into artful living, too. Gavin, who’s never been very interested in art projects at school, has become decidedly passionate about painting, and he got Tom to paint a sailboat scene. Eighteen years married and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him paint. Gavin painted the beginnings of his first “art book”, and called my artist sister Linda to share notes on “my latest project.” All this from a $6 purchase of cheap brushes, watercolors, and paper at Job Lot.

What I wouldn’t give to get back that uninhibited, consuming devotion that goes with new discoveries of childhood. Aiming for that, I’ll take the small moments I can get in the meantime. While I’m often too distracted to be utterly saturated in creative flow, I can take small steps in that direction.

One of the distractions that seems to plague so many is the quest for perfection. How many paintings or poems have withered on the vine because of a fear of imperfection?

I’ve been struggling with some of that--my great idea for a book on nature rendered me temporarily paralyzed in the face of two small acorns. I brought them home from the woods as a writing prompt. Between me and the acorns stood the agonizing (and silly) question: What if the book concept flops? I got an answer to that during my seminar - a quote by Alexandra David-Neel:
Neglecting small things because one wishes to do great things is
the excuse of the fainthearted.
So here I am again, revisiting my acorns (the younger one has already turned from green to brown). They seem to be laughing gently, sympathetic with me — they know what it’s like to have big plans, and to temper that grandiosity with slow and steady growth.

Once again I am reminded to attend to the small things. Big things are sure to follow (eventually).

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