(This blog post has just been sent out by snail mail to those on the Joy Center mailing list. Happy September!)
This world is but a canvas to our imaginations. Henry David Thoreau
It had already been a good day, a great day, that Wednesday in Salt Lake City two weeks ago. Our son, Chris, had defended the thesis for his PhD in Applied Math, and now, hours later, the backyard celebration at his professor’s house on this balmy evening was winding down. We had said our good-byes to Chris’s friends and colleagues and professors, and were helping our hosts to pack up the leftover food. And that’s when I noticed the handmade patio table with its inlaid top, each tile colored in rich, earthy tones. “Our daughter made the table, designed and painted the tiles herself,” Chris’s professor, our host, told me when he saw that I was admiring the handiwork. “Claire is fearless when it comes to her art!” his wife chimed in as she beckoned me into the house. She motioned me over to the staircase and pointed to the wall rising up to the second story – to the buoyant and varied exhibit of their thirteen year old daughter’s work.
It was quite a show! Paintings on wood and paintings on canvas and paintings in swirling whirling colors and paintings that weren’t paintings at all, but instead lively installations using a quirky combination of unexpected mediums. Claire must have heard me as I oohed and ahhed, because for the first time that evening, she left the haven of her teenage bedroom and joined me at the staircase exhibit. And it was wonderful, listening to my new friend, this thirteen year old sprite, as she shared with me her creative process. I was especially drawn to a series of colorful paintings with words scrawled across their paper. The writing was loose and free and, yes, her mother was right, fearless. It was exciting for me to see the two mediums, the visual and the written, dancing together in this careless, carefree way. “Do you plan out what you’re going to write?” I asked. And Claire’s reply was easy, and not planned out at all. “I try not to think too hard,” she said.
Don’t think too hard. It changed the way I wrote when I first applied that rule. It was the late 1980’s, and it was Natalie Goldberg, and her book, Writing Down the Bones, that first invited me to keep my hand moving across the page, that gave me permission to write what I deemed “the worst shit ever written”, that instructed me to give things their specific names, and to write for a certain amount of time, and to not think too hard. It was exhilarating, writing like this, picking a topic, any topic, and saying to myself, “go”, and letting it fly, the words, the thoughts, the great unexpected leaps. And it didn’t matter if it was indeed “the worst shit ever written”, because it felt so good, so free to let the energy move through me like a wild river. And I began to realize that shit is also manure and it can be composted and make the soil of a creative life even richer. So when Claire said that she doesn’t think too hard, I nodded. I knew what she was talking about. And I felt energized exchanging ideas with this thirteen year old artist. I felt inspired.
Not only do I want to continue scrawling words across blank sheets of paper, but I also want to scrawl them across my colorful paintings. I want to be fearless in other areas of my life as well, to sing my heart out in my tone-deaf voice, to let my inner comedian have more room to play, to go for the outrageous if that is what is calling to me. And what better place to break through fears, to plunge into the new and the gloriously unexpected than at Joy Center, this safe, nourishing and beautiful haven that we, as a community, have created together. This autumn, the variety of offerings is as rich and colorful as one of Claire’s paintings. Come and explore your inner colors! Come and have fun! Joy Center welcomes us all!