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Out of the Box

Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and respect for strength – in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.  Alice Walker

It is your work that is the ultimate seduction.  Pablo Picasso

I didn’t expect it, this creative ocean-wave surge of energy flowing through me.  I didn’t expect the inner message that it’s time to let myself ride this wave forward, that it’s a “go”.  I had tucked it all safely into a box, a large sea-grass box that I had bought three years ago at a local import store.  In fact, I had bought four boxes on that September day, had labeled each one with a title, printed in color and accompanied by an image on a sheet of laminated paper the size of a book cover.  I had imagined four different projects, four different book possibilities, and I had begun, that autumn, to fill up these boxes.  And I have to tell you that there’s something freeing about throwing things into boxes: the rough drafts, the quotes, the photographs, the scribbles and the scrawls.  It’s messy liberation, the antithesis of left-brain perfection.

So, after three years of allowing myself the joy of contained creative chaos, I noticed last week that the boxes were beginning to spill over, that the creative tide was indeed high and that it was time perhaps to examine what had washed up on my metaphoric shoreline.  It was the night before flying east to Maine for a two-day writing retreat with my friend Muriel that I decided to haul my sea-grass boxes out of the closet.  And three of the boxes, they were easy to sort through, to tidy up and tie together in neat little bundles, to set back in the closet for more sea-grass brewing.  It was the fourth box, the one labeled, “Get off your fanny and vote for Annie!” the one about my mother that set my sea legs quivering and my mind all salt-water sticky.  What was I to do with all of this?!?  This overflow of treasures from the cove and the sea beyond?!?  That was what I was thinking about two days later while walking along the real Maine shoreline at Popham Beach just hours before meeting with Muriel.  As I stepped over the pieces of seaweed and the mussel shells at the place where water meets sand, as I breathed in the salty September breeze, I wondered how to do it, how to take what seems like an ocean of material – the recipes and essays, the twenty years of poems, the photographs and quotes and treasures written with my mother’s own hand – how to fit these gifts from the sea and the shore into a book that also contains a storyline from this past year.

I honestly thought that it would remain dinnertime conversation, that it would stay neat and tidy in the realm of ideas and brainstorms and fun things to tuck away for a later date, that posing my sea-grass-box-wondering to Muriel would be an appetizer in an evening of rich and delicious sharing.  But that’s not what happened.  Muriel, who spent ten years living next door to my mother at Fish House Cove, who shared with my mother recipes and stories and her own inner treasures, who knows us both, mother and daughter, brought to the table that evening, a week ago, her seasoned writer’s eye, and, with ease and a bubbling sense of fun, came up with an idea, a brilliant design to bring it all together in a glorious creative way.  And it must have been in me, too, this physical means to contain the rich ocean of material in a single artistic project, because it felt so right.  I could envision it; I could see it clearly, as if it had already transformed itself into a tangible tactile reality.  And when that happens, when your inner tide is rolling in, and a creative project is ready to be born, maybe one that has been boxed up for some time, there is no stopping it.  All weekend, more and more ideas for designing my book flooded into my mind.  And the project gained a clearer and clearer focus.  And do you know what?!?  The process was exhilarating!  The process is exhilarating!  Just as exhilarating as it was three years ago to toss all those polished poems and those rough drafts, those scrawls and those scribbles into that sea of a box.

And now, more than ever, I realize that there is a time to hold on to all the treasures, to polish them perhaps, or to just let them simmer and stew on their own, the poems and the essays and the stories not quite finished, a time to place them into a sea grass box, and a time, at a later date, to haul them out again, to wring them off and arrange them as best you can.  And then, there comes a time to let them go.  All weekend, while walking the beach at Popham, while sitting beside the gardens at North Creek Farm, while driving the winding road that traces the Kennebec River, I kept seeing the monarchs, floating through the air with such ease, from aster to aster, sailing in the breeze.  It was a delicious sight.  And I thought of my mother.  She loved September, her birth month.  She loved the way the ocean sparkled in its special shade of September blue and she loved the monarchs that drifted into Fish House Cove in flocks.  She loved how they landed on the tall asters that grew along her driveway, how they sucked the nectar from the purple flower’s center, and how they drifted away again.  She loved it all.

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