Like a lot of people, I’ve been reading books about creative people and approaches to life for most of my life. Some suggestions are inspiring but impractically exotic, relying upon settings or resources so difficult to secure as to obliterate the naturalness of the effort, and diminish the expected lift.
And some of them are so wonderfully obvious that they humiliate us with how hard they are. How can something simple in concept be so terribly hard to do?
The classic is probably the idea of writing ‘daily pages’ – to make sure that every single day includes exercise for the creative muscles, and also tempts fortune to offer us the sort of dream gem or funny notion that might otherwise vanish easily, were we not in the habit of regular recording.
Yes it is a great idea, and every artist in every medium ‘should’ find an excuse to create something every day – but like most self-help advice, there is a key part missing (at least to me) which helps explain why these habits can be so frustratingly hard to make and sustain.
What you need to make it work is a reason.
That reason is usually a person.
Since Covid hit, I have missed nothing quite so much as walking with my friend Nada. We used to go out every week and explore the world, taking photographs, meeting interesting new people, hearing new music, seeing new art – laughing at funny dogs, trying weird food – enjoying being alive!
So how can I tell my best and most inspiring friend that I am thinking about her every day, and can’t wait for our adventures to resume? Daily pages!
I only started about a month ago, and I don’t want to jinx anything – but since I have been spending some energy I was using on FB for this instead lately, I thought I ought to share a few of the pieces that came out well.
Enchantment is fun for everyone – and nourishing in many ways.
And as a happy bonus these snippets, adventures and dream-food images prove to my own inner skeptic that a playful spirit yet lives inside my skull!
Here are six. Let me know if you enjoy them, and I’ll share more.
The high hedges could almost be a maze, but aren’t really, they just don’t have enough staff on the grounds anymore to prune everything in time. We don’t mind a bit – we already crossed the bridge they warned us was slippery, and walked through the blue shade woodlot where the new streams made the old path into an archipelago of muddy islands, and gave frogs and turtles right of way instead.
It is warm, but not oppressive, the breeze is fresh and it rustles the leaves as we finally find the entrance they told us about. And there within, a tiny garden surrounded three sides by hedges and on the fourth by a high stone wall with no door but one thin timber framed window, three stories up. A little small for Rapunzel’s purposes perhaps, but enough for Juliet to swoon and whisper.
Around the edges of the gardens a profusion of roses blossom just a little wilder than the designer first intended, and the yield of the small but perfect fruit trees smells halfway between a farmers market and Eden.
In the centre of the garden is a raised stone fountain in the shape of a great embellished goblet. One small playful jet of water emerges from the pool.
The stone bench has been warmed in the sun for hours, but is just now slowly passing into shade. As we take our seats, a tiny yellow bird alights on the rim of the fountain and bows gracefully.
She has been waiting for us, to begin her concert.
Tonight’s adventure is a little noisier than usual – sorry, but the old Pratt and Whitney engines on a 1936 Catalina flying boat are not very well muffled!
There is one hammock hung in each of the big clear bubbles on the sides – I’ll take the port side, and you can have the starboard (so I’m behind the pilot, but you have a way better chance of seeing him from your angle, like in a car).
Because the blister-windows stick out so far from the plane, we can see straight forward, and we can look straight down at the ocean – it is like we are riding two magic carpets in close formation – and the fact that an airplane happens to be in formation with us also, is sort of incidental!
But even though this is a wonderfully decadent way to fly, we are especially excited now because we are slowly circling our destination. The sparkling starlight and the luminescence of the calm tropical sea reveal the clear outlines of a submerged volcanic caldera which forms the deep lagoon and supports a crescent line of islands around it.
There is one island where they have sheep and grow crops. There is one island full of crazy artists and eccentrics who often put on plays and give recitals for the other islanders. There is another full of scientists and scholars who debate at the highest level even as they rake the leaves in their yards.
The island where people don’t speak, but just listen to the animals is the roughest, still only a few shelter huts, because the animals rule there – and everyone is happiest that way.
The island of the makers is where people usually land. They have the dock and they have the small government house, for when such things are needed. They even have a bank (but you have to call ahead to make sure someone is awake, because they can do their weeks business in an hour).
We will land there first – we have some very interesting people to meet!
But we are welcome on all the other islands also.
The pilot just announced we’ll be on the water in about five minutes – the temperature is twenty two degrees celsius with a light breeze. He also says he called ahead and the restaurant (there is a nice one by the dock) just started working on our dinner.
But first – we are in for a truly spectacular water landing. Get ready!
You are a better swimmer than I am, but the sky is cloudless and the starshow above is so bright that we navigate easily by that celestial glow, and we both reach the anchored wooden raft with no problem, much refreshed by the warm tropical swim.
Lying on our backs and looking up it is funny to note the contrasts. It is sort of relaxing and tranquil in an almost hypnotizing way – but unlike our trip in the flotation tank, the sensory stimulus, though subtle, is absolutely everywhere. And I don’t just mean the wave-polished texture of the bark of the raft on our backs – which is actually much more relaxing than simple smoothness.
I have always had a particular fondness for the Perseid meteor shower – so many small birthday gifts from beyond, over the years. This one is definitely the best I’ve ever seen. No clouds, no light pollution interfering. We don’t wait for minutes between seeing one – instead our eyes are constantly teased, flickering around the sky to catch the plentiful glowing fairy harvest above.
It is enough to make us laugh, all on it’s own. But I think the trombonist who arrived that afternoon to join the rolling beach party, and has been playing more and more soulfully ever since the sun went down could also have got us there, all on his own.
There are guitars, but they don’t carry so well across the water as the drums, which don’t carry so well as the voices, which still only support that trombone.
On the other hand, the smell of the roast might be the most powerful note of all. I was so sure they were exaggerating when they said how long and slow they would turn and cook it – but now my stomach has already pre-calculated the necessary volume for a heaping plateful of food, and is sending me strong signals about how glorious it will soon feel, to fill that pre-alloted void!
When we see an especially bright dot enter our view and sail a straight true arc we both point. It is the Space Station – there is nothing else so bright in the night sky, which moves that fast. We don’t even have to say it, because we both know it instantly. Then we both wave – as if they can see us – and we both start laughing because we know they can’t, but we love the idea anyhow.
We will hike up to lookout point tomorrow, very early, before the tourists crowd it and scare away the beautiful animals (I will be grumpy for a minute or two, but only until I get my morning dose of coffee, then I’m good to go). ;o)
We will take many spectacular photographs, and while we walk, we will see if we can spot the famous albino Muskrat, who escaped from their zoo a couple of years ago. There is a reward! (one of the locals told us – though another one already said he was a myth).
But for tonight how about we stay for another hundred meteors? One century of dancing fire and unlikely action in the interface of vacuum and vitality.
And then we are going to swim back and eat so much we can hardly move!
Hey – I can still sing when I can’t sit up – as long as you get me a nice drink!
When we were walking toward it and savouring that delicious alpine air, the cable car looked like a tiny shiny bead on a silver thread next to the scale of the mountains themselves, but it felt fairly sturdy when we got in. The rocking action from the wind felt almost like waves, until the whole thing came to a sudden grinding stop and the rocking felt less like progress and more like instability. For a couple of minutes we shared embarrassed looks with the other people on the car, but they don’t know what’s happening either.
When the voice on the intercom explains in German Italian French and then English that rescuers are on their way, but it will be awhile, we are all rather nervous at first – but that lasts only a minute, before we do a better thing.
The young couple right across from us have a little girl called Marguerite, I make a face and say, “sometimes waiting is just sooooooo boring!” Her eyes go wide, and she smiles and shyly nods. Her father smiles at us, mom too.
“The rescue part is fun!” You say with a big smile to reassure her, and she is surprised and has to think about that idea – but she definitely likes it.
“I wish they still had those great big dogs,” I say, “I like the idea of a giant dog coming up here with a big ladder and a flask of brandy to warm us up, and helping us all get down safely, don’t you?”
“A giant dog?” She has not heard of this. “Like Clifford?”
“St Bernard,” you confirm my story. “Rescue dog, very brave and very strong.”
Marguerite is almost smiling steadily now, so I start singing a silly song about bears that I remember from when I was a boy, and her mom laughs and the kid relaxes and all of us feel better making her happy than we would worrying about things. Every time the intercom gives us a quadralingual update, the girl smiles when they say the word rescue, and we know she is picturing the giant dog coming to help us. I wonder if I should tell her dogs fly helicopters?
By the time the helicopter does get there we all know each other’s names and we have shared a little picnic of pocket finds, sung silly songs, told each other funny little stories of our favourite place to get a snack in our home town. We invented a new game about mountain peaks and we have new friends who we will not forget anytime soon.
I am even looking forward to the mountain helicopter ride, to be honest. But next time we are going in by the helicopter door – not winch and basket!
I think we will buy Marguerite something nice for Christmas, don’t you?
We are feeling cautious but curious, as we walk along the soft woodchip path by the edge of the dense treeline and see that flitting furry figure keeping pace with us. Parallel so far, he hasn’t once turned to snarl, or even to give us a funny look.
He seems a bit too big to be a fox, but definitely too small to be a wolf. Coyote probably, we have heard they have been visiting downtown ravines more often lately, so why not here in the isolated forest?
Wild dogs are not to be trusted, we both know this – and at the same time we are not in the city now, and when we walk in the forest, we know we are in his territory not our own. We hope he will sense our respect and our gentle non-threatening way of moving – but we have also both found nice big walking sticks, just in case we need to shoo him and keep him away.
We keep hoping he will stop, that our walking will take him to the edge of his territory and he will stand there like a little sentry so we can perhaps take one telephoto shot and then move on to walk with less vigilance.
But he is still next to us, just behind the first line of trees, his graceful style of jogging making it look almost as if he is floating above the forest floor and gliding through the foliage.
Does he think we are following him? Is he following us? It may be a simple question, but we are concerned about the answer. Trying to be hopeful, but watching him every minute.
And then our path veers away from the treeline and into the flowery meadow at last and when our stalker breaks cover we finally understand. Just behind him, mostly screened from our view by his lithe body are three young pups with huge ears and paws – so cute!
We aren’t dinner – he is just being a good dad, and staying between his kids and trouble. (Humans can be a lot of trouble, we can’t deny it!) ;o)
He finally does stop near a thick clump of bushes. The way the pups start rolling around and playing we can tell they feel safe – must be in their own front yard – and if their den is there they are safe and we are no threat.
We just have to get a couple of pictures of his kids – they are ridiculously cute – but then dad barks just once and we understand. “Just because I’m being nice today, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a reputation to uphold.”
We walk on smiling. Good dad.
– Mind you, we will also bring good walking sticks next time we walk here!
Tonight we have been invited into the circle. It is rare, we feel honoured.
They do not want fancy dress – be comfortable please – we will be still for awhile and we don’t want things that will pinch or cut off circulation.
We aren’t sure how it works, but quickly see that everyone takes whatever pose makes them feel comfortable, and as many pillows as they like.
There is a note of jasmine in the air, but it isn’t smoky like incense. Orange blossoms are nearby, still growing. The evening birds are melodic, almost melancholy, like wolves calling out from hills too far away to reach.
The musicians enter, their flowing robes are beautiful, but not fancy. Exquisitely well made, just as their wearers move like dancers, with grace.
The drone makes me think of bagpipes at first, until it swells far richer than the celts ever took their reeds. Pythagoras might know this tuning.
The poet and the flute speak together, almost startling in their unity.
The flute far more literal, the poets words a flowing melodic rapture.
How can that drum know my heartbeat and yours? Have we made it, or has it made us part of this – or have we always been?
Strum and pluck, fret and slide and glide rich counterpoint against the grain of the great swelling theme that we always knew could never quite materialize, because it is too beautiful for this particular planet right now.
Would drive them mad – run the banks – empty the offices and crowd every gallery theatre concert hall and pub with lust for beauty in our moments.
But we have been trusted with that sight. Just a peek of that which lies behind.
And for that flute and poet we may be grateful.