Inky Fingers

I had a great discussion with my friend Anna last weekend, one of those rambling conversations about creativity and life, cultural politics and the way we struggle to remain real and compassionate. The thing I’m realizing about creativity lately is that it requires Time. Time to slow down. Time to observe. Time to get down and dirty with the pen. Inkysludge on your fingers time.

My favorite scene from the 1998 Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman written movie “Shakespeare in Love” is when Will’s at his desk, absorbed in the creative moment, fingers smudged with ink (the quill he stores in a tomato). It’s messy. Manuscripts are full of cross-outs and arrows and the signs that a human intelligence, a human heart is at work. Beautiful. Also, smudges on fingers are sexy.

Being on deadline after deadline — well, it’s productive, for sure. But space without boundary, time to Dream and hear what’s moving inside us…ahhhh. *slow breath* How can we write about life if we don’t take time to feel it?
That same impulse, that same moment to moment energy, I’m learning that this is a manifestation of the F L O W, the current of The Story. Whether it’s creative nonfiction (in the form of journalism) or fiction (in the form of historical epic), I still seem to really crave, need that time to hunker down, get quiet, and let the Story take over.
When there are oil pastels on my fingers, or the gel pen’s leaking (yes, soft rubber grip, black ink, fat tip), or it’s raining outside and life is spilling out, drumming on the roofs and sidewalks, those are the times I get absorbed in the creative process. Mmmmm…

Koan # 4: From my Field Journal, 3/7/09


It’s been a long, good week, very productive — and I’m here again parked in the rain at a bend in the Des Plaines River. The ice on the riverbend is a soft, translucent white. The thawed parts of the riverbend are a flat brown tinged with green, gray on the surface. The bare-limbed trees are reflected in the sheen at the river’s edge and the rain is plopping, like water fountains sounding beneath a rumble of thunder. The roots of the old oaks along the north bank are submerged. Two mallards and a stray goose glide smoothly among the trunks, unperturbed by the showers. I am here again, in the pelting rain, in the drumming, thrumming rain, in the winter-turning-to-spring, in this hidden pocket of Chicago. I am here, again, because where else can I go (so co close to home), away from the productive bustle and noise of the week? Where else can I turn but to the riverbend, in the rain, to catch my breath and slow the racing of my pulse and the pace of my hours? Where else can I simply be?

It’s storming full-force now. And so many fat raindrops hit the river, between the tree trunks that the river is splashed white. Puddles and rivulets deepen on the softening banks, returning rainwater to the bend.

It smells like old road salt and boots and winter’s last cough in my van. But I don’t care because when I roll down my window, I smell the natural richness of the bank, the fresh rain, and the wet bark while the storm drums on my windshield.