Thursday, October 10, 2019

Inspiration comes from many places


Inspiration comes from many places. The landscapes that surround us, the personality traits and quirks of those we interact with, and the varied experiences we have each day get woven into our psyches.  As an artist and a writer, each experience I have works in harmony with the others, below the surface, to add depth and realism to my work. 

For instance, I have spent my entire life collecting new ways to create art.  For two years, I learned to blow glass with master glass blower John Miller.  Before that, I worked with renowned ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu on some of the largest sculptures she ever made.  Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser taught my creative writing class.  I’ve been lucky to have such an esteemed array of teachers, authors, and artists in my life.  I have been mindful not to take these experiences for granted.  Rather, I have catalogued them in my mind, where I continue to draw inspiration and lessons from them, even decades after the fact. 

During the fiction class I took with Steven Millhauser, he let us write whatever we wanted, in whatever style we wanted, and he didn’t judge us.  Instead, he asked us questions which were meant to bring our thinking to the next level.  Despite all the poorly written work we submitted, he never made us feel bad about our nascent styles or undeveloped themes.  He understood that we were still children, even as college students, and that to crush an unformed ego is to damage the future.  That is not to say he wasn’t critical, for he was.  He saw through bullshit, he always knew when a student had phoned it in, and when the students were cruel to each other, in his quiet way, Professor Millhauser would redirect the conversation to kinder pastures.  I was lucky to learn from him.  

When I was twenty, and a student in Skidmore’s ceramics department, I would stay late to work with the diminutive and soft-spoken Toshiko, who was a visiting artist there for many years.  During these quiet moments, as we layered thick slabs of clay onto a slowly spinning pot base, she would impart tricks of the trade and stories from her long life as an artist.  I made her laugh one evening when I came to the studio wearing a blonde curly wig and costume jewelry, both of which were meant to set off the floor-length, boa-trimmed chartreuse polyester gown a friend had found at a thrift shop.  After a good laugh, we got down to work and had a very productive evening.  I think Toshiko appreciated the unexpected as much as I did.

With John Miller, I learned to be wild and daring with my work, to take risks, to brave heat and intensity for the thrill of the finished product.  We worked balls-out, all the time, in a frenetic pace I’d never before experienced.  I also learned about disappointment, loss, and regret, and how those things will try to kill us if we let them.  I learned about what it means to love another person like a brother, at moments so intensely you think you might die if you leave each other’s side.  When my friend recently sent me a photo of her son standing next to some of John’s work at a major DC museum, I couldn’t believe how strongly I felt his presence was still a part of me.  The pang of love for John that resonated through me was elemental, and every bit as strong as the day I said goodbye to him, almost seventeen years ago. 

When we love deeply, when we humbly learn from a master, when we open ourselves to the experiences, ideas, and lessons the universe offers, we become infinite vessels for creation.  Writing creative and artistic characters brings all of my experiences onto the page.  I am never afraid of failing because I know my teachers failed sometimes, as humans do.  When John’s giant, multi-layered blown-glass hamburger smashed to the ground into a thousand pieces one night, he walked out the door in silence and returned a half an hour later, calm and ready to start working again.  When one of Toshiko’s biggest pots cracked in the kiln, she decided to work even bigger the next time.  When we bombed in our short stories, Steven Millhauser would gently encourage us to pick up the pieces, salvage what we could, and start again without fear.  Everyone experiences setbacks and failures in creative endeavors, for to create is to take a risk with the unknown.  But I learned from the masters that when we get flattened by our failures, we cease to learn.

It’s not always easy to take this lesson to heart, especially when we get so involved in our work we can’t see daylight anymore.  As artists and writers, we take inspiration from our experiences, but we also invest so much of our selves in our work that to fail is personal, and sometimes physically painful.  Conversely, when we succeed, we know that everything within us has contributed to that success.  When we create something beautiful, we can know, with complete confidence, that we have persevered through the difficulties and we reign triumphant.  I am so thankful to have learned that lesson from the masters I’ve worked with.

My collection of experiences and lessons makes its way into everything I write.  Even though I don’t write about myself, it’s all in there.  Therefore, to read my work is to know me, even just a little bit.  I have deep gratitude for the many experiences I’ve been afforded.  Thank you John Miller, Toshiko Takaezu (somewhere in the afterlife), and Steven Millhauser, along with all the other fantastic mentors and teachers I’ve had throughout the years.  Your contributions to my creative vernacular, to my ability to persevere through failure, and to my effervescent desire to teach others were invaluable gifts.

MEND THESE BROKEN STARS

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE

Blake Anderson has not set foot in his father’s cabin in fifteen years, and now that his dad is dead, Blake must confront the painful past he’s tried to forget while getting the place into saleable shape. When Alex Taylar, a local restoration contractor, shows up in her truck looking like a scruffy little cherub, Blake is blown away. While working together to restore the cabin's original beauty, he finds this feisty, independent woman is exactly what he needs. As their attraction draws them closer, they unearth a tapestry of corruption and crime spanning decades, and Blake learns there’s more to his mother’s death than he knew. Compelled to find the truth, Blake and Alex face danger while they struggle to overcome their pasts and open their hearts.





2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post. You have been so lucky to have worked with such talented, giving, and inspirational artists. What a gift their teaching was. MEND THESE BROKEN STARS sounds like an interesting and complex exploration of the characters lives and relationships. I hope it is most successful.

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  2. Ooh - these sound really good and right up my reading alley �� Congrats on your new release and thanks for the blurbs/author info!

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