Tag Archives: New Orleans Museum of Art

On Going Back to Basics

Zeshin Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons
“Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons” by Shibata Zeshin, Meiji Period, 19th century; Google Art Project.

I don’t know where to begin.

When that happens, it’s usually best to go back to basics. But what happens when you forget the basics?

What happens when you strip it all down to it’s natural state, and you still get nothing? Something is supposed to bleed through, right? At least that’s what I thought.

When it didn’t, it was paralyzing.

I’ve been in a semi state of paralysis for the past year. There. I said it. It’s out in the open. It can’t have any power over me anymore.

So here I am, back to basics.

It isn’t where I wanted to be, granted, but it’s something. An admission. An affirmation. It fits. In my own round about way, I arrived at something.

It’s been a theme for the past year, these false starts, and every time I found myself face-to-face with them, I ran in the opposite direction. It was easy to find excuses—my health, my business and career, my personal life—anything not to look in the creative mirror.

We try our best during this journey to stay true to who we are, sometimes forgetting that we can’t be the same person at the end of the journey that we were at the beginning. I think that’s even more so when it comes to art. It’s an intimate thing to share your art with the world, and the act alone will forever change you. The tricky part is learning what’s actually a part of the new you and what’s just noise.

 

This post’s image is  “Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons” by Shibata Zeshin, a revolutionary Japanese painter of the late Edo Period and early Meiji Period. Zeshin invented the form of “urushi-e”, painting with lacquer, and is the only artist to be successful in the medium.  I chose Zeshin for this post because one of his paintings, “The Gods of Good Fortune at Mount Horai”, is currently on display in the Japanese Gallery at the New Orleans Museum of Art, as part of their exhibit on auspicious imagery in Edo Period art. NOMA has been a huge source of inspiration for me and turning to it now is definitely going back to one of my “basics”.

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On war paint, rituals and writing platforms

Having arrived at the office a little earlier than I would like this morning, I quietly go about my routine. Mornings like this means I arrive earlier than most at the building. The place is unnaturally still (even now, several hours later, it’s eerily quiet). In the silence, every sound from the outside is magnified. Due to the several large windows that line the walls, the space has an abundance of light. For the moment, it feels like I’m the only person in the world.

Since I am the farthest thing from a morning person, I rolled out of bed thirty minutes before driving here—just enough time to shower and put on a dress. That means that I will spend the next thirty minutes carefully applying my war paint. Before doing anything, I slip off my stylish (highly uncomfortable) heels and put on slippers. I can’t function like a civilized human being without a warm cup of tea, so I tiptoe into our conference room and turn on the fancy little hot water dispenser my husband bought me as an office-warming gift. While I wait for the water to heat, I slip back to my desk to set things up.

With a small mirror and my makeup spread out on my desk, I have one last thing to take care of before the chime sounds that the water is hot. I reach for my cell phone, search for the app, and soon enough I am surrounded by the sounds of a Japanese garden in the morning, complete with the hollow clack of a bamboo fountain. A few minutes later, I have my hot green tea in hand, and the ritual of applying makeup can now begin.

I’m sure, by this point, you’re wondering what, if anything, this has to do with writing.

Well, something dawned on me while I was carefully drawing the line on my eyes (other than the fact that the liner brush and I engage in a cold war every morning)—sitting here, going through my routine this morning, felt oddly familiar; this kind of ritual had played a huge part in my writing process.

Every morning, I would get up and follow a particular routine. First, I made an unconscious decision at some point in the beginning to wake up at a certain time every morning, as if I were going to work. I admit, I didn’t always stick to the schedule, but I tried my hardest, and I never called in sick. Initially, I had intended to leave the weekends free, but as I got deeper into the project all I could do was write. Every Wednesday, I would take some time off to visit the New Orleans Museum of Art, just to clear my mind.

Equally important to keeping my schedule was my daily set up. First, I set up my work space. Due to my complete inability to work in a library or other public space, I worked at home. We were living in a small place at the time, so there was limited work surface. I made due with what I had, either the overly-wide couch or a work station set up on our bed (employing a creative use of breakfast tray, pillows, and side tables); someday I will be as fortunate as Neil Gaiman and have my own writing cabin in the woods!

Once my workspace was set up, I filled it with my research materials for the day. Now that we’re on the subject of research, prior to beginning the writing process (sometime after the emergence of Mr. Muse and the brainstorming session that followed), I found myself preparing an outline. Now, I will readily admit that I had scoffed at the idea of writing an outline for years (it seemed offensive to my right-brained sensibilities). However, the need soon proved crucial. If you want your story to be consistent, chances are you’ll need an outline. It can be as detailed or as rough as you like, but you’ll need something on paper outlining the overall story arc. For me, what started as a rough bullet point outline, by day three of researching, turned into a full-blown roadmap of how the story would develop and where it would end. New character concepts came into being, and I went so far as to mapping out different pantheon genealogies and detailed summaries of each theology.

Returning to the issue of daily ritual, once my workspace was set up, the next step was to prepare hot tea. I would make a small kettle before sitting down to write, and get up from my perch to make more throughout the day.

After all of this, I finally sat down. I turned on my laptop and eagerly awaited the very last step—opening my writing application.

Writers make a big to do about their word processors, and for good reason. I can’t write with all of those distractions. There’s too many buttons to think about, too many options. Style and font formatting. Toolbars. A plethora of views. Document elements. Layouts. The most recent versions of Word include a focus view for limited distractions, but it wasn’t enough. Apple’s App Store came to my rescue. I started playing around in the app store and came across something called Ommwriter Dana II. I am not exaggerating when I say, I could not have written the book without this.

Whether you are a sometimes or a daily writer, or just need a platform to be inspired, Ommwriter Dana II is an indispensable tool. It offers you a beautiful writing environment free of any clutter or distractions. Just you and your words, in a fullscreen view with background images and sounds created specifically to help with concentration. I had to do all of my formatting in another word processor afterward, but it was worth it! I highly recommend the program. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can download version I for free, from their website. The program works on both Macs and PCs.

And with that, I bow out and leave you to your thoughts.

(P.S. If you know of any other good writing platforms, or if you’d just like to say hello, please feel free to leave a comment!)