the Muse is In

MAry oliver
is a gateway drug

Jill Badonsky Art

Poet,  Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg wrote, “[Mary] Oliver’s writing is a gateway drug to poetry, gently and fiercely cajoling would-be readers into the wilds of the shining earth and living poem…Oliver’s poems landed on thousands of refrigerator doors and in multitudes of journals, scribbled by people at wit’s end finding solace in the questions she asked, such as ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?’”

My poet friend, David Brydges, shared that, “ Much of Oliver’s inspiration was going for walks in the woods with her dog and observing. She even hid pencils in trees so she would not forget to write down anything.”

I’d like to complete the equation from the two paragraphs above and surmise that one way this wild and precious life will come alive is to pay attention (and hide pencils in trees). 

In other words, write things down! 

They do not have to be fantastic; the “normal” is filled with poetry too.

I don’t know about you, but my attention is often captive to a habitual loop of required daily activities, chaos in the news, curious meanderings of social media, as well as teaching, marketing, healthy fats, hairballs, rock and roll, and the perplexing but delicate nature of relationships – and within that merry-go-round, I can forget to pay attention to the creative possibilities inherent in everything. Including mundane trivial happenings.

When I amuse myself with creative inner commentary about my merry-go-round world, using humor to survive the chaos in the news, making social media a playground of prompts, stirring my passion with new approaches to teaching, and observing those nutty cats! — I am at a low pressured vantage point of practicing paying attention to easy creative prospects. Thinking something different about the usual things in our lives is a gateway drug to poetry and art.  People put so much pressure on themselves to produce astounding works when “simple” is the place to start.

What’s right in front of our noses is art and poetry waiting to alchemize a rut into an original. We can simply start with the question:

How can I think differently about the simple things in my world?

Write Now:

Take 30 seconds and write down three things you see right now. They can be simple, mundane things but add two specific details to each of those three things; perhaps add a feeling or commentary about them.

If you’re into sketching, sketch something right in front of you, but embellish it with an attitude or a random addition.

Take away any need to be brilliant, precise, or articulate because those are expectations that keep people from trying at all. Simply be curious, like an anthropologist studying the emanations of poetry and art waiting for you to notice them. Find a tree of pencils, pull one out, and record them without care that what transpires, wins a prize, or impresses your followers:

A silk poinsettia leftover from Christmas is watching me from underneath my dresser, laughing at my laziness for leaving it there but pleased that it wasn’t stuffed in the box with the snowman ornaments.

My chaotic bookshelf is my rebellion against becoming so ordered that my life is no longer an art installation of a messy human.

My kitten fetches pipe cleaners obsessively like a huntress bringing the booty home, 100 times only to have it thrown out to retrieve again. 

This exercise takes seconds, can turn the small things around us into poetry or art, (even if they are really rough first drafts that go nowhere), and is an act of healing creative transcendence. We are refusing to get lost in the blind hypnosis of routine and the fear-mongering media which erodes our creative capacity. We are choosing to exalt our existence by wrapping it in the attention of a Muse.

“Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.”

~Mary Oliver

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