In her remarkable text, "World Enough and Time ," Christian McEwen offers some advice.
"Without a steady background of silence, it can be difficult to hear oneself think."
The fast pace of modern culture and its distractions inhibit our ability to settle into the quiet space of mind wandering - a place where ideas come to life. The work of making space and setting aside time for concerted attention to hearing the sounds in the quiet are an artist's responsibility. The rests between the notes, the exhales participate in the cycle equal to the sounds we call music or the breaths we take.
I have been reading Christian McEwen's book on slowing down and creativity in a manner dictated by these subjects. Information on creativity is always of interest to me, slowing down, while a curiosity, is quiet foreign. She calls it "headlong" when telling a story about her friend Arthur Strimling. (p. 215) I immediately related to this reference, when, as a child, I was considered quick-footed and nervous. The attribution was a negative in the eyes of my parents, who appreciated "slow and deliberate" behavior. Spritely pace and sensitivity could only bring chaos and doom.
While managing to survive my personality "flaws," I have come to recognize the value of stopping, settling in and listening for cues. I have taken her book in tasty dessert-sized bites. Losing my place, at times, rereading and rereading. I have enjoyed reading like never before, appreciating words and ideas as I like to believe I always have, but not really, I guess. I've slowed down to enjoy them as if I were doing the writing or discovering the story or a truth in the work of making them myself.
This knowing doesn't preclude a return to old habits now and then. Even Christian has to remind herself to catch her breath sometimes. So, for me, it requires markers, reminders that I incorporate quiet and meditative activity into my routine. I highly recommend it.
Consider this as creatives and makers:
" We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move…"
Persistence, Commitment, Intention
In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Good to Great," he suggests that becoming an expert at something, requires 10,000 hours at the task. Since that book's writing, various opinions on the subject have blown holes in this measure . But I use the reference as a platform for persistence and commitment to an act or an activity. The benefits of stitching quietly and with intention, do not emerge magically in an instant. While I recall a sudden physical transformation once, when I took up needle and thread amid the hurried backstage pace of a High School theater production, it is the constancy of work through years of stitching that has formed the thesis for my thinking.
Sitting quietly, focusing on a simple repetitive movement, opens the mind's eye with new clarity. The wandering mind discovers more. We can say it is the play of the mind that gives us ideas, but it grows from the work of the hands. What emerges are stories, memories, solutions. They are not about the stitching, but find their way into it as the work speaks in conversation with the maker. What comes next? Which direction should the needle take? The story takes shape, new form and in some cases a firm resolution as it exits from the thinking to the cloth.
There is only one rule for Threads of Meaning. Do not remove a single stitch. The hand knows the hearts intention long before the mind figures it out. Go with what your hand decides. And trust that as you see the work evolve and come to finish, it's beauty is in those imperfect marks.
Before you can begin to recognize the clues your stitching is giving you, you must practice the art of naming. For this reason, I give exercises and readings to tease out the ideas in the beginning. You will answer a question. You will create a list. You may read a poem, over and over and over. You will have to describe something, recognize something, discover something.
Later on, ideas will flow from the work. But you are encouraged to stay a bit off balance, not becoming too comfortable with the familiar. I will suggest, sometimes, stopping in the middle of a project (I hear the groans already) and pushing yourself to begin another. I will suggest revisiting previous themes in your work to help you explore them more deeply. (By the way, series work is evidence of intention.) I will notice things about your work as you go, and give you individual projects to push your work to another level of discovery.
You will borrow, from the world around you, imagery for personal icons that hold significance to you alone. A silhouette of one such icon, appearing in your project will hold volumes of information. I encourage you to build a library of icons.
Openness and Patience
Your goal is to stay open and be patient.
On day one, sit quietly for one full minute. Set a timer if you have to. On the second day, sit quietly for 1 1/2 minutes. On day three, take a walk and stop for two minutes. Use these windows of time to become aware of your body's sensors. Look, listen, smell. Use your body's radar to inform what you are feeling in these moments, be it your heartbeat or some emotional concern. See the poetry.
Poetry by William Stafford
Its door opens near. It's a shrine
by the road, it's a flower in the parking lot
of The Pentagon, it says, "Look around,
listen. Feel the air." It interrupts
international telephone lines with a tune.
When traffic lines jam, it gets out
and dances on the bridge. If great people
get distracted by fame they forget
this essential kind of breathing
and they die inside their gold shell...