New Year’s Eve has come and gone once more. For a few hours, the entire world paused to acknowledge the passing of another year. By dawn on January 2nd, nearly all echoes of Happy New Year and Good Riddance to 2021 had faded away, and we resumed our lives. What intrigues me is that pause, or more specifically the nature of a year, which is nothing more than a human construct.
Time is woven into the fabric of the universe, but calendars are something else entirely. Though we imbue calendars with all sorts of metaphysical and poetic meaning, they are merely our attempt to control nature, hoping to impose our will onto the ongoing circling of planets and stars. But where is the beginning and end in a circle?
Calendars were invented to measure and compartmentalize time into hours, days, months and years. They organize society, mark agricultural seasons, and track our responsibilities to the government, to our religion(s), and to each other. In other words, their primary purpose is bureaucratic.
So what is New Year’s Eve? What is January 1st? For that matter, what is June 12th or 5:18 PM? Why do these abstract concepts define our lives? Read More
I subscribe to a number of email lists whose content challenge my mind and set me thinking in directions I might never have traveled without their stimulation. For instance, I enjoy receiving twice weekly emails of Maria Popova’s The Marginalian (formerly called BrainPickings) essays for their poetic and insightful curation of the writings of great thinkers, writers and artists.
I initially subscribed to MyJewishLearning‘s daily Talmudic interpretations as part of my research for a current work-in-progress, a new novel (Women of a New Moon). As a secular Jew, I’ve never really studied Torah or Talmud or any of the sacred texts beyond the cursory attention I gave to lessons at Sunday school. (Nor do I remember much Hebrew from then.) But I find myself intrigued by these emails, not necessarily for the Talmudic interpretations (which I often find irrelevant and boring). but more for the thought processes behind them. Those processes — the instinct to question and probe rather than just accept whatever is stated — is key to what I cherish about my Jewish heritage, and what has defined my life of intellectual and creative restlessness.Read More
All my life, the turning of the year has seemed to be something that would sneak up on me. Existing outside of everyday, it was beyond the reality that shaped my life, a pause imposed on the “real” world. One day I’d be playing with other kids on the jungle gym, or studying for an exam, or working on a story deadline. Then suddenly, the new year would appear on the calendar, and the clock reset to the beginning. Incrementally, life changed over time, almost unnoticed, unmarked except by momentous highlights: weddings and births, bar/bat mitzvahs and anniversaries, deadlines and book launches, and deaths.
This year is different.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days, time seems to be slowing down, giving me the luxury to wonder and wander, touching places in my mind and heart that I haven’t visited before.
That isn’t to say that deadlines aren’t looming, laying on the pressure professionally. Nor is the world any less hectic or demanding. But something in me was broken this past year of isolation and fear. Broken then healed, broken and healed… over and over again. In some ways, I feel like a piece of Kintsugi, a Japanese work of art created by using gold dust to rejoin the pieces of something that’s been damaged, creating beauty out of pain. But instead of gold, it’s light and lightness that is shining through the cracks in my universe. Shining on the stories within me, because stories are the gold, the light that keeps me together, and creates a new me with each character born and plot woven.Read More
Happy New Year and Welcome to the (soon-to-be, I hope) New Roaring Twenties
What a rollercoaster ride we’ve been on since my last new year’s newsletter. I hope you and yours are well, and finding reasons to smile despite the strange and difficult times we’re experiencing.
Since the initial March lockdown, I’ve been sheltering in place in my comfortable bunker (as I’ve come to call my home), alone with my dog Shayna. While I had some bad spells (who didn’t?), I managed to keep a somewhat even keel by choosing to treat the whole episode as an extended writing retreat. Up until last Wednesday, the words were flowing rather well, including making a decent dent into the first draft of a new novel Women of a New Moon.
Throughout my isolation, I often fantasized about what it will be like once I’m released. I imagined all of us being freed from fear by vaccinations, so that we can safely gather with (and hug!) family and friends, dance to live music, and mix with strangers in theaters, restaurants and art gallery openings. As I had written in a previous newsletter:
I crave the fellowship of artists, writers and all kinds of creative thinkers…. I need them almost as much as I need air and water and chocolate…. It helps me see beyond my here and now, and inspires me to reach deeper and wider in my own work.
It’s this craving that gave me hope. I was sure that others must Read More
100 years ago, the world erupted into the mayhem and creative verve of The Roaring Twenties. Given the popularity of gangster and jazz movies, we’re all familiar with the frenzied world of 1920s wild parties and speakeasies. Liberated from the horrors of World War I and the terror of the Spanish flu pandemic, the world went crazy. The sexually charged sights and sounds of what F. Scott Fitzgerald called ‘The Jazz Age” were emblematic of a sense of pure abandon. Social relationships, personal constructs, public behavior and political philosophy became fair game, as people broke through at traditional boundaries and constraints.
The 1920s were also a time of great art adventures and experimentation that altered the nature of creativity not just Read More
Three years ago I came out of a coma. Not the kind that lands you in a nursing home, but the kind of self-imposed creative coma many of us inadvertently experience. After receiving my degree in Fine Arts, I put away my oil paints and pastels to pursue a career in fashion design. Although I continued to use my color and design skills, I did not touch a paint brush or canvas for decades.
When I finally left the fashion industry in my early thirties, I did not go back to art. Instead, I pursued a writing career. As creative as that turned out to be, it wasn’t until I was in my 60s that I impulsively enrolled in an Introduction to Watercolor Workshop at a local art center. It was an odd choice. Read More
I was very gratified how many folks sent me emails and notes in response to my most recent newsletter, in which I invited people to share what inspires their creativity. I’m reprinting the cover letter below and providing a link to the full newsletter (please click the image to the left), in the hopes that even more of you will share the experiences that helped you “reach deeper and wider” within yourself.
“A couple of weeks ago, I spent Wednesday evening wandering around the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a new friend, sharing some of our favorite works of art as a way to get to know each other. So we visited a few of my old “pals” — Cezanne’s Bathers, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Duchamp’s Nude Descending Staircase, the chapel-like room of Brancusi’s sculptures, and other works of art that are my current points of reference. These are among the artists whose pieces I visit when I need to be pulled outside myself, to find new paths into my own creativity.
“I crave the fellowship of artists, writers and all kinds of creative thinkers, the many who came before, as well as those who “walk” beside me. I need them almost as much as I need air and water and chocolate. Read More
Is it un-American of me to admit that spectator sports leave me cold? Sure, I can get a contact high from my young nephews’ excitement when one of their heroes sinks a perfect 3 point shot into the basket. And I used to enjoy sitting with my father while he watched an intense rally between tennis champions. But that has more to do with being with the people I love when they’re happy.
Intellectually, I can appreciate athletic virtuoso performances. It’s impressive how a well-trained mind can control every muscle, every fractional movement, how those powerful (and beautiful) bodies can do things I couldn’t even dream of achieving. However, for me, passively sitting on my duff, watching baseball, basketball, football or any similar game can be as boring as watching the minute hand on an analog clock ticking away the hours. I’d much rather be doing something… well, almost anything else. That applies not only to watching sports on TV, but also attending sporting events in person.
And yet, sports fans would probably be just as bored by one of my favorite pastimes: sitting quietly in a darkened concert hall or theater. The difference is that nothing within me is engaged by sports. On the other hand, a great play or fine piece of music fills my mind, awakens all my senses and sends my thoughts and emotions on unexpected journeys. In that darkness, fed by the creativity of others, ideas and words percolate out of me, often Read More
This past Tuesday, I attended my first Rosenbach lunchtime talk. The Rosenbach museum and library is one of Pennsylvania’s hidden treasures, though it is open to the public and is now affiliated with the Free Library of Philadelphia. The elegant Delancey Street double townhouse contains a remarkable collection of rare books and documents originally assembled by the Rosenbach brothers, famous dealers in books, manuscripts and art. It’s also the site of frequent public discussions, readings and lectures that fill the intimate rooms with interested and interesting people from near and far – such as the monthly lunchtime talks.
I didn’t know what to expect, except that the topic was one of my favorite authors – Toni Morrison – and the speaker would be Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson. I was sure that it would be a hour well spent. Besides, I needed to get away from my writing for a bit. I’d been struggling with the first draft of my new novel’s second chapter, and the more I fought the words – the more I wrote, edited and deleted – the more frustrated (and, yes, self-doubting) I was becoming. Perhaps, I had finally bitten off more than I could chew with this ambitious project.
Throughout the hour, Trapeta interspersed Morrison quotes and her own poems, a weave of words and ideas that illuminated the ideas she shared, until they shimmered with energy and life that could not be denied. She spokeRead More
Here’s my first newsletter of the new decade which explores how creativity is fueled by venturing beyond our comfort zones. I wonder if all creativity requires that we throw away old templates and let ourselves be a bit unsure, unrooted. Is that the key to true creative thinking? What do you think?
Please click the image the the left to read the newsletter.
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