My Artistic Practices

May 20, 2018

 

 

I have many artistic practices.  It turns out that that's pretty much what I do. Over time, my students and I have decided that two practices - one social, one private - is our basic recommendation for those living in the  era of late capitalism.

 

WRITING

A few decades ago, I studied intensively with Natalie Goldberg. Ever since, I've written steadily. When I began, I didn't think I was a writer; now I know it's my deepest practice.

 

On Fridays, from 1-3, I write with my friend Jude. We've been doing this for 25 years. We meet at her house or mine, talk minimally, and do timed writings: 10 minutes, 30, 15, then 10. After the buzzer goes off, we read out loud and listen without comment. The silence, and the sensations of being witnessed, are medicinal. 

 

Sometimes I also write on the phone with friends who live out of town. We agree on a time limit, hang up, write, call, and read and repeat.

 

I also write alone in which case I read whatever I've written out loud and move on.

 

I try to fill a notebook each month or so. I like an unlined artist's sketchbook and a thick black rolling ball pen. 

 

DISAPPEARING & SCALES

I use a harmonium. It looks like a small suitcase with bellows and a few keys. I play either a fourth (Do plus Fa) or a fifth (Do plus Sol), depending on the mood I want. Then I sing an AH and disappear into the notes. One of my teachers was from Northern India. She said that her teacher told her to do this for forty five minutes a day.That's all she had to do because she was also a mother. Women without children are recommended to do an hour to an hour and a half daily.

 

I also sing some scales, singing the Sanskrit syllables which are more evocative than the European solfege. (Solfege = Do Re Mi Fa Sol etc.)

I stay on one note until I feel its longing for the next. This practice has taught me more about relationships than anything.

 

CONTINUUM

This is a subtle practice, conceived by my root teacher, the late Emilie Conrad. This practice is less structured than my others. It involves making certain breaths and sounds followed by undulating movements. I do it on the ground or in a chair or - my favorite - upside down in a chair. At best, one feels as rooted and free as kelp. I do this every other day or so and often before bed.

 

TUESDAY DINNER

On Tuesday nights, we have dinner with my son's godfathers and sometimes their boyfriends. We take turns hosting. After we've gathered and begun the meal, we each tell the story of our day. It's a powerful practice as it creates equality for introverts and extroverts.

 

Often, we think that nothing personally newsworthy has happened today. The practice of finding the story inside of ordinariness can be revelatory.

 

My son and his friend have attended the dinners for years.This practice has helped them, gently, to feel a part of things even despite the inhibitions of adolescence.

 

MARRIAGE COUNCIL

Keith and I sit down with a stone, or anything that has heft, to use as a talking "stick." Before you can talk, you must hold the stone in your hand. This enhances listening - to yourself and your beloved.  It also allows you to notice how often you would like to interrupt and how unnecessary those interruptions would have been.

 

FUD

Every day, my friend Jan and I send short emails to one another listing what we have eaten. These emails are called "Fuds" for an unimportant reason. When we receive a Fud, we read it and reply briefly. Sometimes we say, "Got it." Sometimes we say a bit more.

 

We never evaluate choice or quantity of the food, but we do often express appreciation for the fact that a simple list of food, without much embellishment, reads like a little song. We do this practice to keep ourselves awake about food and grateful for it. We also like the challenge of fashioning quick and accurate descriptions. In the summer, the chance to witness Jan's search for ways to describe heirloom tomatoes is one of my annual pleasures. As far as I can tell, she incarnated mainly in order to eat tomatoes.

 

BOOTS

On Tuesday mornings at eight, my friend Carrie and I have what we call a "Boots" session. The name isn't important. We split the hour. She listens to me for thirty minutes, then we trade. We talk about anything to do with our work and artistic lives. The important thing is that each of us is given full attention for half an hour. Human attention has magical properties; it calls things out of us we didn't know were in there.

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