Thursday, March 21, 2013

I just read this fantastic book by Twyla Tharp

In it she candidly shares her personal methodology for starting projects, coaxing ideas out of hiding and sustaining creative momentum over the 
long haul. The techniques she's developed throughout her career build habit muscles and help stare down the demons lurking in the white canvas, blank page and empty rehearsal studio. Delivered in a direct, no-nonsense voice, these tactics include eccentric, smart and effective exercises that anyone can adopt for themselves.
Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov in rehearsal; Twyla dancing now and then.

The Bad Editor - At some point, everyone involved in the creative process, must stare down their Bad Editor who hides behind the mirror and points out all of the reasons why you are wasting your time on an idea no one cares about. The chattering voice encourages your fear that you might make a fool of yourself or embarrass others and scolds that time spent engrossed in the "monomaniacal bubble" of private pursuits is time stolen from loved ones who are counting on you to pay attention to them. 

During the development of what Twyla calls our "Creative DNA" these repetitive, negative thought strands become entwined with the good strands of our artistic purpose and intrude on our focus, confidence and delight in our work, chipping away at our resolve. It takes diligence and cunning to separate these strands enough to persevere and I find it reassuring to learn that artists of Twyla Tharp's level of accomplishment still struggle with their demon voices but have learned to dance with them and distract them enough to continue on their creative path.

Some of the Bad Editor's favorite tools
Did you know that the dunce cap was named after John Duns Scotus, an esoteric 13th Century Scottish philosopher whose musings were extremely difficult to understand? His loyal followers, called Dunsmen, wore pointed conical hats that Duns believed would enhance the flow of  knowledge. Originally the "Duns" hats were a source of pride and respect but after philosophical fashions moved on the term “dunce” came to be synonymous with idiot and the hats became a source of public humiliation. You can read more about this fascinating subject here.

Mining Memory - As I've been sorting through my memory/object experiment, one exercise in particular, "Mining for Memory in a Photograph" spoke to me loud and clear - "Take a family picture, any picture and study it" finding similarities and differences to the person you've become and exploring the people and places the image dredges up. "The goal is to connect with something old so it becomes new. Look and imagine". 

An editing moment. Frozen in time.

I chose this photo to look at - There is my mother. Isn't she gorgeous? Kabuki faced, with her proper suit and smart handbag, cigarette nearly burning her fingers while she waits, at the limit of her endurance for the photo to be taken. There I am, impatient, leaning out of the frame. With attitude. (You can't see it but I am wearing my skates over my shoes and my jeans are lined in red plaid flannel and have really big cuffs). My father is there too behind the camera, the director of our little band of actors. He has clearly asked for one to many takes. We are on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. It is 1960-ish. There is a dynamic here that personifies our later relationship and I am astonished to find it already firmly in place at such an early date. 

I love the girl in this picture. I recognize certain qualities in her that have eluded me of late. I am unfazed by the controlling impulses coming my way. See my mothers hand? Restraining fingers reaching towards my arm to keep me in place as I gaze heavenward. She and I already have an argument going over our plans for me - Don't pull away too far. Stand up straight. Look at the camera. Smile, say cheese. The editing process is well underway. 

Clearly this photo is an out take. For some reason, my father kept it (along with hundreds of other out takes that I now have to sort through) and I am so glad he did because it shows me my devilish little self, unexpurgated, going my own way. It reminds me of the way it felt to disappear in plain sight into 
a waking dream while the real world busied itself around me and even at that tender age I possessed the skill to dance with and away from a Bad Editor. 

I think you should read this book and try Mining for Memory too.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Creativity is the residue of time wasted"  - Albert Einstein

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rembrandt's Shell

A Little Fable

I recently visited the spectacular exhibit Rembrandt's Century - a sidekick to the Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshius (also great) - at the DeYoung Museum. Rembrandt's extraordinary etchings, drypoint and engravings are presented along with the other artists of his time who were expanding the vocabulary of printmaking techniques to keep a hungry new art market supplied with reproductions of paintings and original works illustrating popular subjects of the day.

Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Shell (Conus Marmoreus) - 1650 - etching, drypoint and engraving

Late in the exhibit is a room full of the wonders of the natural world. Expensive, exotic flora and fauna were making their way into the cabinets of curiousity of the wealthy Dutch, and Rembrandt was among the seekers of marvels. He purchased the shell - a Conus Marmoreus, native to south-east Africa, Polynesia and Hawaii - at great expense during the peak of his success. The still life created from it is unique to his printed work. It is lovingly rendered and his etching technique masterfully captures the quality of light and the surface sheen. Alas life, like a Dutch still life, begins to spoil, and Rembrandt's later years were fraught with personal loss and financial ruin. His home, studio and personal effects were sold at auction, the Conus Marmoreus shell among them.

As always, we exit through the gift shop. I stand patiently in line to purchase my little postcard of Rembrandt's precious shell. Next to the cash register - where they keep the last minute impulse buys - is a clear lucite box filled to the brim with Conus Marmoreus, not at all expensive.
I sigh and resist the temptation.

Rembrandt's etching studio at Rembrandthuis - studio envy knows no bounds.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happy Birthday Ms. Woolf

Elegant, wry, snobbish, smart and influential - It is my great regret that we never got to sit down together for a smoke and a ripping apart of the world. Here are a few thoughts and images that endure for us to ponder.

Virginia Woolf - January 25 1882

"No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself".

"It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a                  man womanly." 

Virginia by her sister Vanessa Bell

“I have lost friends, some by death...others by sheer inability to cross the street.” 

Her writing desk

“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends,                                 and then you do it for money.” 

Vanessa Bell's book covers for the Hogarth Press

“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

Virgina and Vanessa by Moi

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"I can't go on. I'll go on".

Samuel Beckett - Patron saint of the existentially challenged.                                              Photo by - Richard Avedon 

Some days you wake up and find yourself teetering on the fulcrum of hope and despair. 

Those are the days I find myself looking to Samuel Beckett for an attitude refresh. A confusing mixture of angst and optimism runs in my family and I find his wordly philosophy accurately sums things up and offers a kind of hopeful doom that I can accept.

We have a saying - Don't dig your rut so deep you can't see over the top - but perhaps that saying falls a bit short of a solution to the rut problem...
Winnie from Beckett's play- Happy Days

As I dig myself out I will continue to follow Beckett's timeless advice...

Monday, January 7, 2013

eBay beckons. A new project is born.

A few of the things we'll keep.                                                                                                        photo-  Hilary Mosberg •2013

Imagine No Possessions...

I have never thought of myself as much of a "thing" person. I enjoy objects of beauty and utility, I don't collect or have object obsessions. I don't change my home decor much or curate my belongings. I am not a gadget head.  My clothes and shoes get worn till they are shapeless and tattered, beyond Goodwill. Occasionally when flush, I go a little shoe, book and art supply crazy but those episodes have been scarce of late. 

Yet in spite of my best efforts, "things" have a way of piling up. Papers are kept, clutter accumulates and loved ones die or move away and their possessions sneak in and unintentionally become our own. Then, those twin demons, guilt and nostalgia have their way and before long our cupboards and attics are brimming over. 

Lately, I have been feeling the pressure of this accumulation. I have a great need to simplify, to pare down and eliminate all but the necessary and chosen. In theory, this should be easy, but attachments grow when we are not looking. Now that both of my parents are gone I find that even their things I don't like and would never have chosen have become imbued with their essence. Every object kept resonates in some way with my childhood or my parents life together - things they acquired and cherished and couldn't part with - things they wanted me to have even though we had lifelong disagreements on the subject. I find myself pondering my responsibility to the life of these objects and thus their memory.

But eBay beckons and from that necessity, a new project is born. Before listing each object of significance for sale -
I will record my reminiscences as a visual keepsake and share them here as an exploration of the life of objects 
and letting go.

It will be fun to see what form this takes over the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Resolution I Can Keep

Every year, like everyone else, I dutifully make promises to myself that I eventually break. Sometimes my resolve builds up a great head of steam and lasts into mid second or third quarter. Occasionally a bad habit is broken or a good new one is made. This year I am planning to go about it a little bit differently. The resolutions I make will be the ones I want to keep rather than those I think 
I should make. (According to a perfunctory internet search, the top 5 resolutions for 2013 are: 1- Eat healthy and excercise. 2- Drink less. 3- Learn something new. 4- Quit smoking. 5-Better life/work balance). The sticky issues that pop up year after year on my personal to-do lists will be brushed off and considered again after a shift of the prism allows me see them in a different light. Then, if I decide they are indeed problems and not just contagious notions in the prevailing wind I will set to them with renewed vigor and a sense of purpose. 

Until then, these words of wisdom will guide my resolve.

From an poster in the window of 
A Likely Story children's bookstore in dowtown Petaluma.