The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a sniffed-out candle. – Albert Einstein
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. This is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art. – Toni Morrison
As always, books are comforting. Both to write and to read. To give away, to loan, or to borrow. To read aloud or listen to. A shelter from the madness outside. Consolation. Oh, the “sweet serenity of books” as Longfellow puts it.
I write a bit, I delete a bit more, I pause, I stare through the window at the rough sea and the white clouds of surf. A blackbird jumps back and forth on the grass, looking for worms. The cat suns herself, lazily licking her paw. I write away the virus, the anxiety, the madding crowd.
Since my house burned down
I now have a better view
of the rising moon
– Mizuta Masahide (1657–1723)
Amid the alarming corona reports, fake news and yes, fear and anxiety, Masahide reminds us that beauty can be found everywhere, even in challenging times. We only need to pay attention.
So, take a break from your busyness, look around and see the world as it were new.
Taking my own advice, I continue writing, despite alarmist media reports, gradual movement restriction in Sweden and my own distraction. Creativity is hard work at any time, not only during a pandemic. So, I sit down every morning, turn on my computer and start typing.
I’m writing a short story at the moment. I was working on a novel but decided to pause it for a while. With a story, I can (hopefully) be done quickly and that would give me a feeling of accomplishment. It’s also good fun writing it, and fun is a good thing these days.
The funny thing (see what I did here?) is that I had completely forgotten about it. I had a few loose ideas, but I was working on a different thing at the time, so I just wrote them down and saved them in a “Writing Ideas” folder for later, and then promptly forgot about it.
A few days ago, two years later, I was looking for something else and came across this file titled “The Author”. I had absolutely no idea what it was. I opened it, read the couple of pages it consisted of and, not to sound my own trumpet, but they were good! With a few funny twists thrown in for good measure. So, I grabbed the file, got to work and ended up in that creative bubble where everything seems far away, even the coronavirus, and the world is warm, and nice, and fuzzy.
1) Always carry paper and pen with you and jot down any idea that you get. You will not remember it later. I’ve placed small blocks of paper and pens strategically everywhere in the house, and in my pocket when I’m out. You could argue, of course, that you can use your smartphone, but I favor paper and pen. I just enjoy leafing through the pages, slowly, back and forth, for the incommensurable joy of the unexpected connections that sometimes may jump at you from the pages.
2) Use a folder to organize these loose thoughts so you can easily find them later. Whether the folder is digital, or analog doesn’t really matter, it only needs to suit your organizational system. You do have one I trust?
Then let them marinate for a while, while you can carry on with your ongoing projects. You can come back any time to look for some ideas when you’re stuck or ready to kick off a new project.
Chance, or fate, or just the butterfly effect may sometimes lead you to the end of the rainbow too. All you have to do is trust your creative genie.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh.
“Novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQ as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”
I find solace in this Kurt Vonnegut quote in my moments of doubt, struggling with a text that doesn’t resemble in any way the picture I have in my head. I continue hammering at the keyboard, hoping to reach that exhilarating state when everything becomes possible.
From Suzanne McConnell’s book, Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style.
While other countries in Europe are under a lockdown or the freedom of movement has been much limited, Sweden goes its’ own way. The elementary schools, kindergarten, and shops are still open, the limit for permissible meetings is 500 people* and there is no mandatory curfew. However, more restrictions apply almost every day so it’s likely we’ll see more movement constraints eventually.
* A few hours after writing this, the limit has been set at 50 people.
Some of the museums and theaters have already closed on their own though, so my husband and I went to Millesgården last week in case it would close too. And right it was because Millesgården closed as well – the day after. We saw the announcement when we returned home.
Carl Milles (1875 – 1955) was a Swedish sculptor. Millesgården, that he designed and built in 1908, was his home and is now a museum with Milles’ antique collection, sculpture garden, and art gallery.
This is my favorite sculpture of Carl Milles. I probably have hundreds of pictures of it, I never tire of photographing it.
The garden is inspired by Italy’s Mediterranean gardens and it’s a work of art in itself. Carl Milles and his Austrian wife Olga, an artist herself, spent the winters in Italy that both loved.
My husband and I both love Millesgården. We used to visit it very often as we’re annual cardholders and it lies 10 only minutes from our home. During our seven years in Switzerland, these visits were one of the things we missed most, and we were looking forward to them when moving back to Sweden. Unfortunately, the corona pandemic put many things on hold, Millesgården visits included.
But life goes on and even the coronavirus will eventually be contained. When Millesgården will open again, you can be sure we’ll back in a heartbeat.
In the meantime: stay healthy, stay safe, stay calm and wash your hands. And don’t forget to laugh.
The secret of it all is, to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote. No prepared pictures, no elaborated poem, no after-narrative, could be what the thing itself is. You want to catch its first spirit – to tally its birth. By writing at the instant the very hear-beat of life is caught.
Walt Whitman on writing from ”Walt Whitman Speaks: Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America”. You can find it here.
The New York Review of Books published the introduction (in a somewhat different form) in the April 18th, 2019 issue; a good read available here.
151 words. That’s all I’ve written yesterday.
527 words. That’s how many words I’ve deleted yesterday.
Welcome to the corona world!
While I’m not anxious about the coronavirus (yet), I do feel some healthy concern and I admit that I find it hard to concentrate on anything. I sit at my desk every day from 9 to 12 and write, mostly my new book, sometimes the blog, sometimes a poem. Some days everything is easy, the words flow, and I feel on top of the world. Some days … not. And that’s OK. As every creator knows, ups and downs are part of the creative life. We muddle through those days and hope for a better day tomorrow.
But this is new. It’s not writer’s block or lack of inspiration or ideas. This is just staring at the monitor while wondering whether I should check the WHO site or the corona tracker for updates, call my parents to check they’re still fine, talk to my sister who’s, of course, working from home, or just work in the garden and escape from it all.
These are unsettling and for lack of a better word, weird times. The uncertainty, not knowing what will happen, not knowing how long it’ll take or what the long-term impact would be, take its toll. And it will get worse before it will get better. This is just the beginning.
So how are we to live through this unreal and frustrating reality? Holed up in our homes, social distancing and binge-watching all TV series?
I don’t think so.
Granted, there are certain constraints that we simply have to live with (sorry, grandma, no visits!), however, I think we should try to hang on to some degree of normality. Working from home? Get out of pajamas and dress for work. Then work, not check Twitter for “a five minutes break” and be gone down the rabbit hole of social media for an hour. Have a set schedule for work and follow it. Do your chores as you would normally do. Do your laundry on Fridays as usual. Get out the trash on Wednesdays as usual.
The mundane is the new black. We shun the everyday life, dreaming of adventures in faraway lands, but in a crisis, we find ourselves longing for that everyday. We wish to be able to sit in a traffic jam again; to rush breathlessly from work to the kindergarten before it closes and be greeted by a teacher giving you the evil eye; to quarrel with the neighbor about his tree leaning dangerously over the fence.
So, what now? How do we keep writing? How do we keep creativity alive in the times of corona?
The worst thing in a crisis is to be idle. It just gives you more time to feel anxious. The danger is that anxiety spreads faster than the virus.Creativity is your butt on the hard chair, every day, whether you create or not. Creativity is hard work, whether you feel like it or not. Especially if you’re not feeling like it. Do the work. Show up. Every day. Click To Tweet
Me? I’ve done my time, written some paragraphs in my book and a blog post. Now I’m going out to work in the garden. It’s a whooping plus five degrees (that’s 41 Fahrenheit) here in Stockholm and the sun is out!
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh.
I finally found some time to listen to Neil Gaiman talking to Tim Ferriss in ”The Tim Ferriss Show” (a podcast that I highly recommend, it’s one of my favorite podcasts). The interview is almost two hours long and I wanted to have time, and peace of mind, to really enjoy it. And take plenty of notes.
It’s always such a pleasure listening to Neil Gaiman’s hypnotically soothing voice talking about creativity and writing, books, his friendship with Terry Pratchett, fountain pens (he writes with a fountain pen) and the New York Fountain Pen Hospital (yes, there’s such a thing, the place to go if you want to buy a new fountain pen or repair the one you have).
I have included below a few points that have resonated with me. It wasn’t easy, I could have gone on much longer but wanted to keep the length of this post manageable.
* About Ian Fleming’s writing process (yes, James Bond’s creator), who didn’t like writing. His method? Lock yourself up in a not too good hotel, in a not too good room in a town you don’t want to be in (as to avoid distractions and getting comfy), and just write ”like a fiend” until you’re done.
* Most important writing rule: you can sit here and write, or you can sit here and do nothing; but you cannot sit here and do anything else. All you are allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write. You give yourself permission to write or not write, but you end up writing eventually as doing nothing is boring and your wandering mind will start sparkling ideas. Not having to write takes off some pressure as well.
* On first drafts: nobody is ever meant to read your first draft. That is just you telling the story to yourself.
* Setting up a Groundhog Day: writing (a novel) works best if you can do the same day over and over again. Figure out a daily practice that works for you, and repeat that day, every day, day after day after day. Austin Kleon used the same image in his new book ”Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad”: every day is a Groundhog Day.
You can read the whole podcast transcript (and, of course, listen to/watch the podcast) on Tim Ferriss blog.
Neil Gaiman Quotes from the Podcast
All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.
What I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write, but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. (…) I think it’s really just a solid rule for writers. You don’t have to write. You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.
Part of what I discovered, particularly about being a novelist, is writing a novel works best if you can do the same day over and over again. The closer you can come to Groundhog Day, you just repeat that day. You set up a day that works for yourself. (…) I would do that day over and over and over and over.
I also think that the most important thing for human beings is to be aware of the change. The biggest problem we run into is going, “This is who I am, this is what I’m like. This is how I function.” while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore
The biggest thing, looking back on it, that I learned from Terry <Pratchett> was a willingness to go forward without knowing what happens. You might know what happens next, but you don’t know what happens after that, but it’s okay because you’re a grownup and you will figure it out.
Wondering where the post title comes from? It’s a line from one of Gaiman’s old notebooks that eventually become the beginning of The Graveyard Book; Gaiman talks about its genesis in the interview.
Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight. Orhan Pamuk, “My Name Is Red”
Orhan Pamuk is one of the most prominent Turkish novelists, and recipient of the first Nobel Prize to be awarded to a Turkish citizen in 2006.
- Find Me
- Afrikaans Shqip አማርኛ العربية Հայերեն Azərbaycan dili Euskara Беларуская мова বাংলা Bosanski Български Català Cebuano Chichewa 简体中文 繁體中文 Corsu Hrvatski Čeština Dansk Nederlands English Esperanto Eesti Filipino Suomi Français Frysk Galego ქართული Deutsch Ελληνικά ગુજરાતી Kreyol ayisyen Harshen Hausa Ōlelo Hawaiʻi עִבְרִית हिन्दी Hmong Magyar Íslenska Igbo Bahasa Indonesia Gaelige Italiano 日本語 Basa Jawa ಕನ್ನಡ Қазақ тілі ភាសាខ្មែរ 한국어 كوردی Кыргызча ພາສາລາວ Latin Latviešu valoda Lietuvių kalba Lëtzebuergesch Македонски јазик Malagasy Bahasa Melayu മലയാളം Maltese Te Reo Māori मराठी Монгол ဗမာစာ नेपाली Norsk bokmål پښتو فارسی Polski Português ਪੰਜਾਬੀ Română Русский Samoan Gàidhlig Српски језик Sesotho Shona سنڌي සිංහල Slovenčina Slovenščina Afsoomaali Español Basa Sunda Kiswahili Svenska Тоҷикӣ தமிழ் తెలుగు ไทย Türkçe Українська اردو O‘zbekcha Tiếng Việt Cymraeg isiXhosa יידיש Yorùbá Zulu
My Instagram Feed
My Twitter Feed