Sure, once I published a piece or once I closed my notebook and left the cafe or stopped daydreaming, I was scared again, but while I was writing, while I was telling the truth, I was unafraid. I wanted that again. Fearless-ish. Afraid and not afraid. Scared and doing it anyway. Holding more than one thing. Two things at once.
― Jennifer Pastiloff, On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, ‘Freeze, I have a gun,’ and you say, ‘That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,’ our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, ‘Freeze, I have a gun!’ and you say, ‘The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!’ then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.
― Tina Fey, Bossypants
So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.
The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.
― Norman Rockwell
In the process of making art we can learn so much about ourselves. How does creativity help us understand life?
Yesterday, I took a trip to the craft store with my mother. I wasn’t thinking of making anything, but when I turned onto an aisle with moss and raffia I felt the creative twerge. Yes, twerge. This is something that occurs when my creativity seizes on a path to expression, when a connection or resonance forms. It is part twinge, part urge, sort of a tightening and quickening in my center. My stomach flips; I become breathless.
Blogger Gilles Havik at Sailing on Dreams, who has an enchanting way of making new words, challenged me to coin some words of my own. Twerge is the first of these. It’s impossible to predict what will set off a twerge. A color, a flower may get things going while an exquisite piece of music or art causes no awakening, or vice versa. When I’m writing, a particular set of words will resonate just right, or the layout on the page jumps with electricity, and the twerge appears, as if to say, “over here”. When I’m painting, the blending of color, the creation of texture or an edge or line may reveal the twerge, peeking out from the underbrush. I seek out those twerges and follow them, even if they lead down strange, scary or lonely paths. I have abandoned some creative efforts because they felt twergeless. Sometimes the feeling occurs when I’m not creating, when something fits together in my life. You see, I think the twerge is a divining rod for synchronicity, pointing at meaning that conventional wisdom might miss.
Back to the craft store. I assembled my materials at the insistence of the twerge, quickly realizing that I was about to build a nest. A coconut fiber liner (intended for hanging baskets) would become the foundation. I bought excelsior, a mass of long, thin, curled wooden shavings, in a deep reddish brown to be the core of the nest, along with cream colored raffia, made from palm tree fiber. A bundle of light and malleable twigs, a package of delightful assorted mosses and a strand of speckled wooden beads rounded out my haul.
Once I got everything home, excited to start work, I realized that I had no idea how this was going to go together. The twerge was stubbornly silent on the matter. Knowing that it would not show itself again until I got something interesting together, I began constructing. The coconut fiber liner was a large, floppy bowl. I cut slits in the bowl from the edge toward the center, creating flaps of coconut fiber, and threaded the twigs through the slits, making a framework to hold the bowl up. It was a bit of a pain to find a weaving pattern that would work for the sticks. The twerge thought this smelled like work and kept its distance.
I put some excelsior in the center of the bowl and then spent time trying to wind the raffia around the edge, enamored with the contrast between light and dark. The raffia didn’t want to work that way and the twigs kept falling out. I cut some of the slits a little deeper and one sliced much farther than I intended. This nest was bigger than the image I had in my head and I had serious doubts that it would ever look like anything. I stopped to make lunch, leaving a nasty mess (thanks to the uncooperative raffia) in the living room. Things were not going well.
Inspiration comes from weird places, like this escarole.
After lunch, I put away the organic grocery delivery that arrives on Mondays. Totally unremarkable, except that the groceries contained the biggest escarole lettuce I have ever seen in my life. I’m not sure if I processed it at the time, but that escarole has an extremely similar form to my nest. Returning to the project, I took a handful of craft moss, which is quite pretty and has fantastic texture, and glued it to the flaps. In a matter of minutes I was breathless with twerge. Inspired, I took a few individual pieces of raffia and tied them to the support sticks so that they came up through the structure. The deep incision, which had seemed a bit of a disaster earlier, had made one side much lower than the other, giving the nest a pleasing angle when viewed as a centerpiece. The twerge wagged his tail and barked with glee.
After completing the application of copious amounts of moss and a tiny bit of raffia, there was no doubt that the new creation was a nest, but it was missing the most important ingredient. I threaded some speckled beads onto pieces of raffia and tied the raffia to the twig frame, placing ten new eggs into a pit in the excelsior. Stomach jumping, I added a couple of sweet gum seedpods and a few small touches I had been saving to build fairy houses. It was done.
The twerge wasn’t finished yet. As I looked at the nest, I realized that it is the perfect symbol for the early stages of synkroniciti. When I began, I had no idea how it would fit together, and some of my assumptions were not useful and had to be changed. I had to find a foundation, shore up that foundation, and make the nest beautiful and inviting, but that was not enough. The eggs in the center symbolize my most precious assets; the creative souls that come to my nest to experience something new and the creative ideas that lie within them and within me. Some day these will hatch and fly far into the sky, but for today, they enjoy the safety and comfort of synkroniciti’s nest. I call this piece of art Incubator.
The jewels of the nest, the speckled eggs.
Have you ever felt the twerge? Maybe you get goosebumps or have déjà vu? Keep in mind that just because something can be explained by science as a natural process does not mean that it doesn’t have meaning and that the meaning can’t be metaphysical or spiritual. That’s conventional thought speaking.
Maybe you don’t experience twerge at all. That’s okay. It can’t be coerced and it can be extremely fickle. Often it feels a whole lot like fear. You don’t have to be a twerge addict like I am. All I encourage you to do is to be open to it and start creating. Should it appear, follow your twerge!
A cordwainer is a person that fashions luxury footwear from soft leather by hand, designing, cutting and shaping shoes into objects of beauty and usefulness. The term is derived from the same word that gives us cordovan, a soft leather that originated in Cordoba, Spain and has long been used in the trade of making shoes.
The Cordwainer’s Technical College of London has an illustrious history of training world class artisans. Famous fashion designers like Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox trained there. In 2000, Cordwainer’s was folded into the London College of Fashion. Barbora Veselá, the immensely talented artist featured in this short film by Petr Krejčí, is a recent graduate. Combining techniques that have provided beautiful results for centuries with a modern creative flair, she’s inspiring to watch and her shoes are fantastic. There is a certain peace and comfort that settles over me when I’m watching an artisan at work.
Krejčí’s exceptional film captures the magical textures and sensuality of Veselá’s work. The shoes featured in the video are inspired by the colors and contours of geological maps, hence geological shoes. The creative process is refreshingly slow and careful compared to that of objects made entirely by machine, as leather scraps of different colors are cut and assembled on a shoe tree, sanded and cut again to become shoes. The punching of the leather for laces is a supremely sensual moment– so delightful!
If you are interested in looking at more shoes, or perhaps even ordering some from Veselá’s shop in London, please take a look at her website.
This poem tells of the swirling feelings of expectation, disappointment, and wonder that are part of putting your work on view for others. No matter how small or relatively inconsequential that piece may be, the artist identifies it as a part of himself or herself and its rejection or acceptance feels personal.
Nothing is more precious than the moment in which empathy is established between the audience and the artist. Sometimes the artist doesn’t even know that we have reached someone, but when we do find out, we can’t help but be exhilarated or moved. If a work speaks deeply to one person that is enough validation for creating it.