The Joy of Experimenting
A series of prose poems/flash pieces about a woman who lives in various strange environments. A multi-part hybrid meditation on body and language. A fiction piece made from rewriting the same events. A devotional to the importance of words. A collage made from an old found “How to Learn Hindi” workbook. A painting of bubbles.
What do all of these things have in common?
Let’s backtrack a bit and recall my only new year’s resolution: TRY. I have started January trying to let go, to experiment with words and art in a way that pushes me into new directions, ones where I enjoy the process and worry less about the product. The opening list of this post is a portion of what I've worked on so far in January. One of the most significant reasons I’ve been successful so far in my quest to try is community, support, and outside inspiration.
That series of prose poems/flash? The result of my Billy Budd experiment. The three longer writing pieces? From a class called “Branching Out” with poet Cynthia Arrieu-King at the Murphy Writing Getaway and the encouragement of my close friend and workshop partner Rachel Bunting (who is challenging herself to One Creative Year with 30 minutes of creative activity every day.) The collage and the painting? From the Instagram January art challenge #startwithamark, where a word prompt is given for each of the first 21 days of the year. I have had fun following fellow writer and painter Carolee Bennett who is also completing the challenge. (Carolee writes about her process on her website - highly recommend!)
Sounds like a lot when I write it out! But having the support of a community - whether in-person, online, or in your own home (shout out to my spouse for giving me the time and space to try all of these things…), trying is easier when not in isolation.
What I have learned from all of these experiments is something I should have already known: that there is joy in the trying.
I’m a new painter and not very accomplished, but I have loved trying the art prompts every day, even if I don’t love the outcome. The collage has a sense of order that I haven’t used in art before, and the painting included my first attempt to be slightly realistic.
I have a tendency to always write short, lyric poems, so to write three lengthy fragmented stories/hybrid pieces in one weekend class was a revelation. It was also the result of being pushed to read experimental work I was not familiar with, something I need to do more.
My initial tendency with the Billy Budd language was to write poems in persona, to revisit the story. But my mind took me in a different, slightly odd, direction, and following my instincts has me excited about what these pieces could be.
My hope is to continue this trend. I am taking a poetry class with Joan Kwon Glass starting next Monday night. I have prompt exchanges and check-ins set up for both writing and art projects. I have some literal blank canvasses and some new techniques up my sleeve. I don’t have to rush—to share, to publish, to sell, to do whatever one does with the end results of creativity. I can simply try.
Try to allow myself to create something new, even if the product is a failure or a mess. To read beyond my usual borders. To allow myself to wander into unfamiliar territory without a map and machete my way out. To let go—of the internal editor, the critic, the fear of doing something “wrong” —and just try. So far, I’m on the right track. I hope you are trying, too.
Take out a piece of paper - journal, scrap paper, computer paper, whatever you have laying around. Fold it in half vertically so that you have two columns.
Write down ten objects you see around you. Any objects, big or small. Make your list extend down the page so that there is an even amount of space between each object.
Next, write a word and/or color that you associate with the object near its name.
In the column opposite, use that color (marker, colored pencil, pen, crayon, paint) to do a quick sketch of the item. (Or, if you’d be more comfortable, sketch it in pencil and then color it in.)
Cut the language and the sketches apart into small boxes and use some or all of the pieces that seem to resonate with you most to make a collage.
TA-DA! You tried something. No risk. Maybe you hated it, maybe you didn’t. Maybe the process sparked another idea in you. Maybe it was just a nice creative respite for thirty minutes. Maybe you’ll toss it in the trash or maybe it will be a reminder to try another new thing.
(Sample to encourage you not to be too precious: my words were: bowl/white/vessel; journal/black/vault; pen/purple/grip; yoga block/support/blue; water bottle/orange/refresh; binder clip/black/hold; trash can/silver/mouth; salt lamp/pink/calm; speaker/noise/white; free weight/green/strength. I used the bolded words/pictures, and I pasted them on a scrap painted background. They turned out to be a little sequence that goes from stress to relief, including some of the things that relieve my stress, like writing, staying hydrated, and doing yoga. I might use this as a way to think about metaphors for what I hold and what I release…see, I’m trying!)
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