The Spark: Insights into Creativity

David Crosby has never been known as a prolific songwriter, especially compared to his band mates (in The Byrds and CSNY). And what songs he has written have, as with many works of art, come from turmoil. It seems he believed in the old adage: an artist must suffer to create. But now Crosby is 75 years old. Time is running out, and he’s hit the most creative years of his life. In his song, “By the Light of Common Day” (working title “The Muse”), he gives insight earned by long experience into the creative process: that those hard times he had–the early loss of his girlfriend, the drug years, prison–weren’t necessary. He didn’t need “to make it rough,” as he says in the song. The muse doesn’t need that; it just needs us to listen.

By the Light of Common Day (Lyrics by David Crosby, music by Becca Stevens)

By the light of common day
Things look different
Than they did in the starlit dark

The dark was warm and clouded
It was easy to deceive yourself
And those around you in the work

To say the craziness and pain
The spreading of the stain is
Exactly where you gain the spark to make it
As if being happy isn’t quite enough
Somehow I needed to make it rough
Rough enough to break it

To make those long connections
And run in wrong directions
Till I break it loose

I was wrong of course I see now
The spark is there all the time now
If you know how to listen to your calling
The muse is quietly knocking on your door now

To say the craziness and pain
The spreading of the stain is
Exactly where you gain the spark to make it
As if being happy isn’t quite enough

Somehow I needed to make it rough
Rough enough to break it
Rough enough to break it

You have to go faithfully each day
And open up your head some way
Somehow

And what will come in answer
Some strong and gentle dancer
Will carry a song through your door
Some great lifting force of light
Will come to balance fearful night
And raise its voice and then raise yours
Raise its voice and then raise yours

 

 

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Oh the places they’ll go….

Lucia Perillo Is Gone

I just read Lucia Perillo died. She came to our school years ago and gave such a brilliant reading, I’ve been following her career ever since. I learned so much from her poetry–the art of humor, the freedom to talk about things you don’t talk about. There were her beautiful lines that I admired, stole from. There was her honesty that took us into the vulnerable corners, and her courage. So many of her later poems talked about the body as a cage, as meat. She had MS, and she knew it was coming for her. Below is one of her most famous poems, I suppose the poem that tells the story of the moment she first realized her life would never be the same. My heart goes out to her husband, James, and to Lucia, now freed of the body.

 

THE BODY MUTINIES (from The Atlantic)

When the doctor runs out of words and still

I won’t leave, he latches my shoulder and

steers me out doors. Where I see his blurred hand,

through the milk glass, flapping good-bye like a sail

(& me not griefstruck yet but still amazed: how

words and names–medicine’s blunt instruments–

undid me. And the seconds, the half seconds,

it took for him to say those words). For now,

I’ll just stand in the courtyard watching bodies

struggle in then out of one lean shadow

a tall fir lays across the wet flagstones.

Before the sun clears the valance of gray trees

and finds the surgical-supply-shop window

and makes the dusty bedpans glint like coins.

 

 

Gene Wilder’s Brilliant Character Note

Gene Wilder famously asked for one key change to the script of Willy Wonka:

“When I make my first entrance. I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”

When asked why he wanted the change, Wilder replied, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

 

One Sentence from Salinger

I came across this line by J.D. Salinger and thought it was a line from a poem:

She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.

It’s not a line from a poem. It’s from a short story, “A Girl I Knew.” The story is about a girl a young man knew. The girl later became a Nazi victim. The man returns to her apartment after the war, and realizes everything has change.

Somehow, I don’t care what the story is about. The line is enough.

Here are other beautiful lines to ponder.

Moving Backward in Time: John Ashbury on Delmore Schwartz

John Ashbury’s essay, “The Heavy Bear: On Delmore Schwartz,” explores Delmore Schwartz’s life and poems and mentions his most famous short story (read above, oddly, by Lou Reed), “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” Ashbury writes of the story, here “the poet himself moves backward in time, dreaming he is in a movie theatre watching a silent film of his parents’ courtship at Coney Island years before. At a crucial moment, “I stood up in the theatre and shouted: ‘Don’t do it. It’s not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous.’ ”

 

A Manner of Being: Writer’s on Their Mentors

A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentorsedited by Annie Liontas and Jeff Parker, is a collection of essays by writers reflecting on the influence of their mentors (or lack of mentor). Most of the relationships were born in university classrooms, but despite this similarity, the experiences explored in Manner of Being are as varied as the collection of writers from which they’re drawn. The book delivers many lessons–in writing, teaching, life–and the lessons aren’t always delivered by writers (a nanny here, a bookstore owner there). There are some heavy hitters, though. Of the seventy essays, some of the writers represented are Pam Houston, Philip Levine, Mary Gaitskill, Gore Vidal, John Irving, Gordon Lish, Mary Jo Salter. There are also lesser known writers who have wonderfully told tales of their apprenticeships.

Click here for an example essay originally published in The New Yorker: George Saunders on Tobias Wolff.