Throw-Back…Friday?

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Gina, circa 1989 studying in her UPenn dorm. Christine, circa summer 1989, relaxing one last time before sophomore classes begin.

While Gina and her family traveled around Germany and Eastern Europe during the past two weeks, our family embarked on a different kind of journey. One that kept us (mostly) sleeping in our own beds each night, but transformed all those hours between bedtime and morning seem as if we were living in a foreign land. Over the summer Ray realized that it was time for him to put away the shingle for his small, home-based event production company and head back into the world of full time work in New York City. I, having not had any luck in the finding-a-teaching-job department, took on a bit of part-time work that has me running in several directions at once.

Our sweet little house by the riverside, once buzzing with activity all day long, is now quiet during the days what with Noah at school, Ray in the city and me…at one place or another. Poor Luca is home alone a lot these days, and is making us pay for our abandonment by jumping onto our bed each night and snuggling between us (something he’s never done before/we never let him do). I suppose we’re all trying to take advantage of the scant “together time” that we have now. So far this new chapter has been a wild ride and one that I don’t see an end to for quite some time as we get used to new schedules, missed meals together and calendar snafus. It’s an adventure, to be sure, and one that will hopefully be worth it in the end.

All this is just to say that I won’t be putting up a proper blog post today. Instead, I am treating you to that gorgeous photo history of Gina and me twenty-five years ago–right around the time the Berlin Wall fell. These photos were taken when we were in college in different places. Before husbands or kids, before we knew what we now know. We weren’t yet friends but we both watched that magnificent history unfold from vastly different perspectives but what I think is a shared passion for trying to make sense of and connections with the changing worlds around us.

Lucky, too, for both of us, our shared fashion sense was already intact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Leaps, Writing, and Libraries

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I love libraries. Big, small, ornate, modest, all of them. And I’m continuously amazed that as a species we seemed to have all (or almost all) agreed on this one fabulous idea, create spaces loaded with free access to books and information, and then put work spaces in there, so people can sit and… ahem… read quietly. In a world where we can’t agree on things that seem pretty straightforward like you shouldn’t be able to carry loaded weapons into a Target store, it’s rather amazing that the concept of the library has endured throughout centuries.

Back in our tiny Phillipstown, which includes both the hamlet where we lived, Garrison, and the small town, Cold Spring, where Christine lives, we were incredibly lucky to have not one, but two outstanding local libraries. Whether because of its proximity or its warm and exceedingly helpful staff, I spent a lot of quality time in the Julia Butterfield Library of Cold Spring. They had a fantastic collection of kids books that allowed me to bring home a fresh stack every week that our children, especially the older Zoel, happily plowed through. That little brick building on a hill also gave me a space to escape to when working at home was driving me nuts. I’m particularly thankful for one week in a October of 2012 when I was able to sit in their wood-paneled main room and tap out a first chapter of something… for now, I think of it as a memoir of an important trip to Cuba that I took for my 40th birthday. I may have filed it away after that October and gone on with the hundreds of little things that preoccupy our lives, but the seed had, luckily, been sown.

Almost a year later, once we had gotten ourselves settled here in Bologna last summer, I opened the document, and surprisingly, found that not only was the seed not lousy, but it seemed to have taken root in the depths of my brain. I had more to say on the subject, some things to water the seed with, if you will. Okay, I’ve gone too far with the seed metaphor now, but you see what I’m saying. Libraries work for me, and that’s probably why I’ve found another little one here. After trying out the large, swanky one in the middle of Bologna, and another one in our town, Casalecchio, I found the right fit for me at a small 2-floor library outside Bologna’s center, not far from the kids’ school. Here I sit today with about 2 dozen college students. Most of them are reading, writing and highlighting, while I tap away on my ipad. (They rarely have laptops or iPads, which I always find odd, and wonder if it’s a sign of this country’s struggling economy or it’s conservative education system, or something else.)

In this concrete, light-filled room, I have found yet another quiet and comfortable spot that vibrates with mental activity, and motivates me to let by mind leak out onto the page. I expect to be spending many hours here and at home over the next few months, continuing to put my memories and thoughts on the page.

This creative leap of faith that I’m taking into a very different kind of work then I’ve ever done in the past, has been inspired in no small part, by my husband’s work over the last few years as he developed a book, called The Considered Life and a related EP, The Pressure. In the book, he urges you to take a closer look at all the thousands of little decisions you make every day and assure yourself that they are firmly based in what you, and you alone, believe. And the music is just plain funky and soulful, inspired by the themes in the book. Both works are officially launching July 1, but will be available for pre-order on June 14th.

Vicariously, I’m living the thrill and the terror involved in releasing your thoughts and creations into the world, and surprisingly, I’m finding myself wanting to take the same brave steps. We’ll see what comes of it in the next few months or years, but before I run out of iPad battery, here’s more info on Stefan’s two new projects. I do hope you get a moment to check out the book, audiobook and/or EP later this month!

 

 

 

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In the Battle Zone

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The War of Art is the title one of the books I’ve been reading this week. It’s a sort of how to unblock your creativity guide written by Steven Pressfield and I checked it out of the library on Monday hoping to, well, unblock my creativity–which sounds so highbrow and obnoxious when really all I really want to do is find a way to motivate myself to write more. Write more on this blog and for a few other projects that I’ve started and abandoned and, eventually, for the more formidable ones that are still just glimmers on my imaginary literary bucket list.

In his book, Pressfield’s theory is laid out this simply: that there is a force that gets in the way of us humans making art and its name is Resistance. Pressfield begins the book by saying, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” Don’t I know it. My unlived life is filled with ideas for excellent poems, daydreams of hours spent at twinkling tables of brilliant food and discourse, travel to sunny, soul-infused lands and a closet full of red-soled shoes. The life I live confers none of those things.

According to Pressfield, Resistance is a self-generated force and its aim is to distract us and prevent us from doing our work. I’m unclear about what its motive might be (Do forces even have motives? I don’t think gravity does…it’s just always there, doing its thing) but I have certainly felt the power of opposition. Right now, queued up in the other tab I have open on my computer screen, is the IKEA website. As I was sitting here writing and looking at the river I remembered that I want to get a few new planters and candles and things for our gazebo and herb garden and since I have most of today free it would be a good day to head to IKEA. So I started googling the closest store and their hours and thinking about which color scheme might work best and planning out everything in my head only to, twenty minutes later, remember that I have this post to write. After just ten minutes of writing or “writing,” my attention had wandered from this blog post about not writing to me…NOT WRITING. Ugh.

So, something’s going on. Maybe I’m distracted by spring and the warm day (dontcha love the way I can’t let a post go by without mentioning the weather) or envious of Gina’s trips to all the fabulous places (see next door) or just plain indolent, but writing usually feels like chore instead of providing my soul the nourishment that I’d like it to be and I’m not sure that forcing myself to endure more time chained to my computer feeling bad that I’m not writing (even though I’m not writing…so confusing) is the most effective way to change things.

Pressfield’s theory about Resistance having to be wrestled to the ground is troubling to me. Also, his idea the creation of art has to be a trial; an ordeal. Do we, the artists, need to exert an enormous amount of negative force against ourselves in order to get anything done? Why is it necessary to suffer and struggle? Because then–and only then–will we experience success? Only after we’re laying bloody and bruised on the battlefield, can we expect the muses to come calling; can we expect to create?

I disagree with these principles for several reasons. One: what is up with the idea that we have to struggle in order to succeed? The axioms of success in our culture are consistently tinged with Protestant philosophies such as:

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
― Winston Churchill

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”
― Frederick Douglass

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
― Thomas Paine

And of course:

“No pain no gain.” (A sentiment that Jane Fonda made famous in her 1980s aerobic workout videos but one that has come to be short hand for the modern American narrative of believing that the road to achievement runs inevitably through hardship.)

I mean, what gives? I’m all for hard work and picking ourselves up after we fall, but I’m not so sure about this idea: that if we want something favorable and constructive to happen in our lives then we have to suck it up, be patient, endure, suffer, work, toil, never give up and maybe MAYBE after many many many years we might (though possibly not) experience some kind of triumph. Isn’t that kind of behavior pretty close to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Forget for a second that all of the truly terrible things that happen in our lives we deem the product of an instantaneous and effortless cruel, cruel fate.)

See the contradiction?

While I don’t want to rebut the brilliant minds I’ve quoted above, I’m also not blind to a possible by-product of all of this prodding and poking we’re to do to ourselves in order to become the artists we think we want to be. (i.e. guilt, regret, self-reproach) Here’s the thing: what if the fact that you have to constantly convince yourself to do your art (to write, to paint, to practice your oboe), then perhaps that said art is not your passion after all. I mean I have all kinds of fantasies playing out in that aforementioned internal life, but some of them are not simply possible. I’d like to win Wimbledon (but being 43 with a pretty weak forehand shot, that’s not going to happen). I’d also love to be a singer (but more than one musician has noted my tone-deaf-ness), so that’s out too.

I’m not trying to argue against hard work and struggle and I don’t necessarily think that life should be easy. I’m more than willing and able to hunker down when I need to–when I want to–but how do we know when our hunkering and struggling is necessary to overcome some kind of laziness in ourselves or when a decade of fumblings and failures are actually big giant road signs, warning us that we’re headed down the wrong path?

Allow me this comparison: Relationships are difficult–we can all agree on that, right? They, like art, require work and are sometimes very often beset with times of hardship and skirmish, but there are clearly limits to what kind of behavior we put up with from another person. There’s a line between accepting a person’s quirks and allowing their peculiarities to devolve into mistreatment or injury of us. The threshold is different for everybody of course, but the bottom line is not doing (nor allowing) harm.

When we wake each morning, dressed and ready to battle Resistance and we head out into our days to slay this dragon of sloth that is breathing fire at our feet, how do we know when to say ‘enough’? Because there is also the wisdom of this poem by Charles Bukowski.

Really. Go read it. I’ll be back with more tomorrow.