Life’s Imprint

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A handful of out-of-town family members and two friends were in town recently and they all insisted that we visit the Art Institute of Chicago.

So we went. Three times in one week. I spent more time there than I had in years.

On that second visit I noticed that I was taking the art in differently. It wasn’t simply that I was viewing pieces for a second or third time. I was seeing them in a deeper way. Like I had been absorbed into them and was viewing them from the inside out.

The painting above is a great example. I was mesmerized by it. So crafted and chaotic at the same time. It conjured up the memory of a subway wall I saw in New York City a few years ago:

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Which is all chaos and no craft, but beautiful nonetheless. Just a wall. Exposed to the elements.

A few days later at the Chicago Botanic Garden  – I know where to take out-of-towners – I saw this rock:

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How amazing is this? It got me thinking about how life makes its mark. Not only on rocks and walls, but on us, too. In ways we can see like our scars, wrinkles, freckles and bruises. But also in ways that’s harder to see: The weather system of feelings and emotions that live inside us.

These moments made me grateful for art, nature and out-of-town visitors. But it also deepened my appreciation for personal narrative. For the process of getting it onto the page and the gift of reading or hearing it.

Which left me with this thought:  That the lines and curves in the letters that make up the sentences that constitute our essays and memoirs are the writer’s art. The visible marks of life’s imprint on us.

Photos by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.

 

Creativity is Contagious

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I am surrounded by some really creative people and in the past year this has had a profoundly productive effect on me.

It all started in March 2013, when my husband and I and a few folk and blues-minded friends  – Pam, John, Deb and Tom – formed a monthly, house-hopping gathering where we make music with our guitars, drums, harmonicas, accordions, violas and voices. The music loosened me up, shook off the cobwebs and opened up some room inside.

In June, I went to New Mexico with a group of painters with the plan to write, but the charcoal pencils and oil pastels found their way into my fingers and all I wanted to do was sketch and paint.

A month later, in July, because my innovative new friend  Jill asked, I read a personal essay I had written in front of a live audience at a Chicago bar which led to meeting a new group of writers and another reading night at an independent bookstore in January.

Then, in February, because Lori, another out-of-the-box thinking person asked, my photographs were hung on the walls of a nearby café that features local artists.

What’s particularly interesting to me is that a significant number of dear, longtime friends are in a similar state. All of us are women who are seasoned and ready to serve up what’s been marinating within us for a long time.

I feel compelled to share what they are doing so that you, too, might catch a whiff of the atmosphere that’s created by creative people.

My friend, Nina, an author and bibliophile, is opening an independent bookstore in Evanston.

Alysse, who makes sculptures and transforms landscapes from a wheelchair, is project managing an art exhibit made by people with disabilities at Moss Rehabilitation Center just outside of Philadelphia.

My oldest friend, Leah, whom I’ve known since we were five and is also a Philadelphian, has returned to something we did together as little girls: she’s writing beautiful songs on her guitar and is preparing to record them in a studio. You can hear them under construction on her Sound Cloud site.

Rebecca, director of Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, writes a column for The Business Journals on ways women can start and grow their businesses. She provides sound, non-nonsense professional advice.

Judith, a Chicago-based psychotherapist, author and activist in the health-at-every-size movement, just published the second edition of her book “Beyond a Shadow of a Diet.” 

Marianne, a painter and teacher in Denver, is transforming lives through the presence and practice of art. She was recently profiled in Colorado Expressions magazine.

My friend, Sean, a family archivist who lives across the street from me in Skokie, provided artifacts and memories and was interviewed for a documentary and museum exhibit about her amazing grandmother, Marjorie Lansing Porter who archived the music of the Adirondack region.

Kacky just went international from her home in Vero Beach, Florida, by launching an etsy site offering her beautiful handcrafted crochet, bridal and vintage jewelry. 

And Mary Ellen, a Chicago writer and blogger was nominated for an “Inspire to Aspire” award that celebrates bloggers who inspire through their posts and stories for “On the Wings of a Hummingbird,” her blog about joy.

Alll of this energy seems to have spilled over to my writing students several of whom have had their work published in the past year (see “Writing Dreams Do Come True” from earlier this year), as well as my husband, David, who was inspired to write and tell his own personal stories, one of which was recently featured in a Story Sessions podcast.

Creativity is contagious. Hope you catch it and then spread it around.

Many thanks to my very creative friend, Lori, who told me about a cool new watercolor app to apply to photographs.