Off-Leash Writing

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Posts tagged writing
Give It All, Give It Now: A Manifesto of the Creative Life

Confession: I still doubt myself. A lot. Even though I’ve lived more than half a century, even though I’ve been putting pen to paper on an almost daily basis since I was nine years old, even though I’ve made the arts my profession throughout my entire adult life, as actor/writer/solo performer/producer at various times, I still ask myself why I do these things and what makes them worth doing.

 

There’s an ebb and flow to this inner questioning—there are periods in which I’m so utterly absorbed by the work itself that the existential dilemmas blessedly recede and I’m carried along by the current of pure doing. Love those times. But when the Muse takes a call on her cell, leaving me with the ditherings of my own mind and the eternal struggle for a more disciplined daily existence, the doubting voices return. The most persistent of these is the one that says Why bother in the face of…fill in the blank: mortality, climate change, humans’ abhorrent treatment of each other, violence, racism, poverty, greed…

 

A year ago, I added regular teaching to the list of creative endeavors that comprise my professional life. Leading others in the act of writing has been an incredible gift, but it’s also ignited a blazing new round of self-doubt. Who am I to take the lead? Am I capable of holding a room? What do I have to give? And accompanying all of that, the old underlying refrain: why why why why why…

 

Since this inner Why has been with me for so long, I’ve developed a litany of responses, drawn primarily from the work of other artists: songs, poems, passages from favorite books. So when the questions arise within me, these alternate voices rise up to answer them. Together they form a kind of Manifesto of the Creative Life, a buttress against despair. This is why. And this. And this. I share them with you today, dear Reader, in the hope that they may help you through your own moments of darkness. And if these things don’t resonate with you as they do with me, I hope the examination they sprung from may inspire you to develop a Manifesto of your own.

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Thinking About Wearing My Jewish Star Necklace

It’s been more than a year since we moved across the country, but there are still boxes that I haven’t unpacked. Last weekend I came across a delicate bubble-wrapped packet inside a small jewelry box. When I carefully pulled back the tape and unfolded the bubble-wrap, out fell a tiny gleaming Star of David on a slender silver chain. Made of iridescent glass, it shimmered when I moved it back and forth.

 

My first thought was, I’ll wear this today.

 

My second thought was, Maybe I shouldn’t.

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After the Giddy Plunge

How to describe the beauty and challenge of that day? How high and steep the dune, how fine and bright the sand? How the ocean—no, Lake Michigan (ha, I wrote ocean!)— spread out below us, an impossibly pure colorscape, gradations of aqua, turquoise, teal leading out to a deep true cobalt?

We were at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in the Northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. We were traversing the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive when we stopped at #9, the Lake Michigan Overlook.


At first I tried to stop D and E from rolling down the nearly vertical dune, fearing they’d lose control, plummet over the edge and disappear. They started rolling anyway, tentatively at first, stopping and starting, looking back. I glanced uncertainly at my husband—I’ll call him H—and he, ever the cautious one, shook his head. I called, half-heartedly, Boys, come back. They ignored me, of course, and I discussed with nearby adults whether it was safe to go down. A couple with toddlers shook their heads and left. But then a man with two young kids, maybe 7 or 8 years old, appeared on the horizon as if by magic.

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The Me Who Stayed

When I was younger, I was judgmental about the use of anti-depressants. I thought that unless you were so depressed that you couldn’t get out of bed, taking anti-depressants was a cop-out, a refusal to engage with your own darkness. When a college friend started taking them, I was disappointed. I thought she was depriving herself of an essential part of the human journey, that facing whatever arose unadulterated was part of what was required to season the soul.

 

I was judgmental about meditation too: I thought it was a waste of precious time that was better spent taking practical, concrete action to make the world a better place.

 

It seems I am doomed to do everything I judge.

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Landscape of the Heart

I was born and raised in Kansas, and though I haven’t lived there in more than thirty years, its stretches of wheat and corn are within me still. That’s the thing about where you’re from. Even if, like me, you’re born to Jews and immigrants, who are no more of that place than an olive tree or an arctic fox, you are of that place simply by growing up there. Somehow the soil of the place, the shape of it, takes root inside you and never lets go. 

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