Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Breath, Movement, Image September 29, 2017

One of the gifts of age is being willing to do things you might not be terribly good at. For me those things are singing and drawing. I also dance, which I’m slightly better at, but which is a challenge with my illness. When I was younger, I didn’t attempt things at which I might fail. I also had enough on my plate, raising children and working, and had to scramble to write. I didn’t want to take energy away from writing. I have more time now, and I’ve found that playing in other disciplines has things to teach me about writing.

From singing I’ve learned to breathe—or am learning to breathe. Every choir practice when I pick up a new piece of music to sight read, I panic. I have no training in music, and have taught myself to read over the years, very imperfectly. Somehow my church choir puts up with this. I have to get past my panic and trust that I’ve done this before, countless times, and if I listen and pay attention, it will come. The beauty of choral singing is you can get your pitches from your comrades, although I’m working on not leaning on them. I have to let go of the fear that freezes my diaphragm and plunge in, knowing I will make lots of mistakes, but that eventually, I’ll get it. And I usually do, just minutes before show time!  I’ve also learned from singing that power is not force. Forcing never works. Ironically, powerful singing requires relaxation as well as engagement of abdominal muscles.

51445299-Dancing-couple-icon-isolated-on-white-background-Argentine-tango-Tango-dancers-vector-illustration--Stock-VectorDancing gets me out of my head, an occupational hazard of writers. I have been studying tango off and on for years, but I approach every class with beginner’s mind. Once you have a few basic steps, the beauty of tango is that it is, at least for followers, almost entirely intuitive. For someone who has always been a “bossy pants” it took a long time for me to learn to follow! Tango is very Zen, in that you can’t think, you have to feel it. I cannot anticipate what my leader might do; I have to trust him and be entirely in the moment. The minute I think about what I’m doing I ruin it. As Bruce Springsteen said about performing, if he thought about what he was doing, he couldn’t do it. Same idea. When I’m in sync with my partner and feeling the music, nothing is as exhilarating.

I love to draw, and yet am terribly self-conscious about it, coming from a family of visual artists. But for two years when I was bedridden, and unable to read or write, I began drawing. What I found then was if I let go of expectations and allowed myself to be in the moment, I could become totally immersed in my subject. Often I was overcome with love for what I was drawing—a dog, a person, a stool at a doctor’s office. Then I began seeing differently, even without a pencil in my hand. Really noticing the graceful arc of a tree branch, or the rough texture of its bark. The visual world became enlivened. Strangely enough, the same principle of relaxed breathing found in singing applies to drawing, as does the principle of intuitive feeling and movement found in dance. The more freedom of movement I allow myself in making marks, the more alive the drawing.

So what does all this have to do with writing and healing?

On my desk is a quote: “Writing is a negotiation with ourselves: it is about mercy and it is about breath.” (Jacqueline Jones Lamon). Writing, I suppose, is the most intellectual of the arts, and I think that can work against writers. Too often we start with ideas that conceptualize, rather than with breath, movement, images. For writing to be powerful, I think it needs to partake of all these, but especially images. Here is another quote from my bulletin board, “Images roost in our minds, consciously or not, because they have something more to say than we have yet to comprehend.” When an image draws you, even or especially when you don’t know why, stay with it.

Here is an exercise I’ve used in workshops that can help “call up” images. Write the first dream you remember, and then stay with the central image of the dream until it changes of its own accord. Notice what it becomes, but don’t force it.

I wish you breath, movement and imagery in all your writing.

Advertisements
 

Practicing Simplicity July 18, 2012

Filed under: artists,Process,Writing and Healing — saratbaker @ 2:58 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This past spring, my son Adam, fifteen, had to take a mandatory PE class.  Now, Adam will tell you that by and large, organized sports are not his thing.  He is a terrific artist, musician  and thinker, and an active kid who has ridden his bike to school since he was in pre-school.  Nevertheless, when his dad coached T-ball, seven-year old Adam would invariably be inspecting a ladybug on a dandelion or watching the clouds form interesting patterns in the sky when that ball whizzed past him.  Yet this spring, as the class sampled various sports, Adam amazed his class and even more himself by hitting not one, not two, but three home runs, two of them out of the park.

How to account for it?  Here is my hypothesis: Adam had no expectations of himself.  He wasn’t thinking of how he would make his mark in baseball.  He had no ideas about it.  If anything, he might have expected to not do well.  But at any rate, I think he was simply in the moment.  A ball was thrown at him, he hit it, he ran.  He had beginner’s mind; he was in the flow, not obstructed by how things should be, but simply letting them unfold as they are.

How enviable.  Could it be repeated?  Will he be a star if he tries out for fall ball?  I wonder.  I suspect that if he takes up baseball, he will begin to accrue expectations and fears about performance, as we all do.  And then he will have to practice arduously in the hopes of once again finding that sweet spot, that place of being in the moment, that simplicity.

We practice our sport, our craft, our art, in order to return to simplicity.

Recently, I was lucky enough to catch the Richard Diebenkorn “Ocean Park” series at the Corchoran in Washington D C.  As I gazed at the huge canvases filled with blocks of color, I was struck both by how simple and also how complex they were.  Yes, one might say, a child could have done those, and yet it was because the artist had studied and executed more realistic works–figures, interiors, landscapes–that the paintings were so resonant.  The viewer enters into a complex conversation the painter was having with himself and with Matisse, with Bonnard, and with all his influences.  Yet also, and maybe more importantly, a canvas opens up an expected door in the viewer, a moment of freshness, a new way of seeing,  echoing the unique encounter the painter had with media and moment.

Frederick Franck in his book Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation, encourages his reader to draw as a way to encounter the actual, not the projections of the mind.  Drawing becomes not product, but investigation.  It is a way to return to the simplicity of what is, rather than a way of   fancying-up reality.  It takes practice and it is hard.  Why do it?  Because in the middle of the struggle to render, there are those moments–where your pencil and the tree you are rendering  and the hand holding the pencil and the eyes seeing the tree are all one and everything else falls away.

Isak Dinesen said “I write a little every day, without too much hope, without too much despair.”   To get to beginner’s mind, that is what we have to do.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: