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Writing

I have been surrounded by paper and ink my entire life. A bibliophilic mother who passed the love on to me, a father who worked in a print shop whose hands always smelled of hot paper and fresh ink, a twenty-five year old book collection that currently numbers closer to 1,000 than 500, and journals everywhere.

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I love journals. Beautifully made books full of blank pages and promise. I have never filled one of my journals, but my heart is in each one. The first pages of each of my journals are filled with words. Sometimes the words form poems, other times they become the prose I write that sounds more like poetry than an essay.

Sometimes the pages are just words. Lists of words in no particular order that I hope will one day become a poem. That is often how poetry happens for me. I feel the urge to write something that I have seen or heard or read, and I write the words that feel like the experience. Like a Rorschach test of sound and meaning, the words come to me, vowels singing and consonants dancing around and around each other until I hear a harmony, or an intentional dissonance, that says everything I feel. It’s like a beautiful audition. The list stops as I begin to feel the rhythm that I need, and then the page becomes a chopping block. Scribbled lines are crossed out, mutilated. Punctuation is trashed, dug out, brushed off, and trashed again. Articles are the hardest — take them out, put them back in, whittle them down smaller and smaller until the lines mean nothing (start again), or they mean everything.

In these moments I wish that there were a literary equivalent of the mathematical term, the inclusive or. It has all of the meaning of “or” and the meaning of “and” at the same time. How wonderful that word would be for poetry. This or this, but neither rules out the other. It’s always seemed ironic to me that this concept is an accepted rule in math, the most absolute sector of academia. Art is never simply black and white.

DH

This morning I woke early. Everything was peaceful and quiet and ever so slightly tinged with pink as the sun began to break free from the horizon.

Coffee is a requirement today. As I sleepily start the kettle and put the grounds into the press, I listen to birds singing joyously at the morning. Stepping outside, sweater wrapped, reveals a world glistening with dew drops, sparkling in the  now-golden sunlight. The shining blanket, almost as thick as frost, is belied by the warmth that, even in the early morning, is already making my cotton sweater unbearable. Delicately tiny mushrooms have emerged in the night, dotting the green grass with their little white parasols.

Morning Dew -- D.Hitchcock 2013

Mushroom -- D.Hitchcock 2013Dewdrop -- D.Hitchcock 2013 Mushroom 2 -- D.Hitchcock 2013Everything is still as I take in this fleeting beauty. Once the sun is higher, it will take only moments for these watery jewels to evaporate and the sweet mushroom bonnets to shrivel in the heat. A moment so easy to miss. So simple, and yet impossible to recreate. It may be just like this tomorrow, or it may never be again.

Mushroom Dew -- D.Hitchcock 2013

And that is truly beautiful.

DH

It’s funny how sometimes the things we love most are the hardest to do. That can be especially true of artists. For whatever reason it is suddenly difficult to create, and while waiting for inspiration we get distracted. Or we wait for inspiration for so long that we no longer feel that we can be inspired. Both of these are issues that I struggle with, especially the second one. If I go too long without creating something, I second guess any urge I have when I should just act on it, for better or worse.

Sometimes, too, it is because we get bogged down by using our creative skills for other reasons. Work does this to me. I write and research all day long, and then when I have the time to write what truly matters to me, I feel tired and restless and want nothing more than to do something, anything else. In my two and a half months of blog silence, many lovely plans has gone to waste because of this.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, but ultimately it comes down to deciding what is really important.

I must remember that my creations are important.

I must remember that creating is one of the best things that I can do for myself.

I must remember that creating is a huge part of who I am and who I want to be.

I must remember that I am important.

I guess you could say that these are my extremely belated New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been working on these ideas, though they were not yet articulated, since the beginning of the year, mostly trying to change my mindset. It’s slowly working, as evidenced by the existence of this post, but it is time for me to be more proactive about it. Which will include writing even when I do not know what I want to say.

I had no idea that this post would end up being what it is when I started it.

I have to let the process of creating inspire me and not wait for something that may never come to strike out of the blue. I have to inspire myself.

I am not going to make any lofty statements about starting a specific schedule for my posts — I already have that for work — but I will try to always share when I have something to talk about, rather than allowing myself to think it is not good enough to publish, or not the right time, or whatever other ridiculous excuse the evil parts of my brain try to throw at me.

Thanks to those of you who read the blog and my awesome followers who were hooked when the posts were as thick as thieves but still came back to read this post after my long silence. I hope you all keep coming back. I’ll do my best to have something new for you when you do :)

<3
DH

I really am going to start posting regularly again. Seriously this time. Oy.

Adjusting to my new schedule (or lack thereof) has been more difficult than I anticipated and I am STILL unpacking and organizing the new house, so blogging had to take a backseat for a bit, but I’m back and here to stay!

Speaking of the house — It’s amazing. We are settling in nicely and I have been doing quite a bit of cooking to break in the kitchen. I was even able to start hanging artwork the other day, so it is really starting to feel like home. Photos will probably happen within the next few weeks, if all goes well.

Today we are getting back to the art. In the depths of the archives, you might remember this post. I spent a long time working on the Big Question and now I’d like to share with you the first completed stage of my exploration. I call it the first stage not because the piece is unfinished, but rather because the Question is far too involved to answer in a couple thousand words. Scholars in every discipline could write tomes on this topic and never reach a perfect answer, but I hope that you will accept my simple contribution and enjoy the photos. The links within the text will take you to more images from the exhibition and information about the artists.

Why Do We Care?

I do not remember ever being without some appreciation for art. I remember looking at illustrations in children’s books that my parents would read to me and being able to tell, in my toddling way, why I liked them more or less than the ones in the book we had read the night before. I remember how I felt as I watched my first professional stage play, a performance of Woody Guthrie’s American Song, and exited the theatre full of awe and inspiration at the talent and creativity that I had witnessed. I remember reading Macbeth for the first time, sitting with my mother and taking turns reading aloud, and just feeling. I could feel the words that reverberate in your mouth no matter how softly you speak them, feel the tension that grew with each scene, swelling until there was nothing left for the characters to do but self destruct, and feel the emotion that makes each of those characters so human.

When thinking about art and “appreciation”, I tend to be drawn to empathy to explain why art matters to people. Empathy with the artist, his motivations to create, and the subject matter, are all reasons for an audience to care, but is this the only way that art can connect? If the audience doesn’t experience empathy, has the artist failed? What about art that is viewed without any knowledge of the circumstances of its creation? If I don’t know that Wheatfield with Crows was the last painting that Van Gogh created before he committed suicide, does that mean that I will not care about it? That it will have no meaning for me?

Wheatfield with Crows (1890) – Vincent van Gogh

Perhaps, then, empathy is not the only, or best, answer. The ability of art to make a person feel, to evoke emotional, intellectual, and physical responses, must be more than an audience simply understanding where an artist is coming from or what the topic is about.

The Exploration

The photography exhibitions, Lust and Longing, at the Jennifer Schwartz gallery are deeply personal. The first is an exploration of sexuality through the eyes of several different artists. The second reflects the mind-scape of an artist suffering from depression. In Lust, the personal quality of the subject matter is highlighted not only in the individual images, but in the structure of the show itself. Being a presentation of several artists’ work, the photographs vary widely in method and style with some pieces having more traditional sensibilities, while others are more abstract. From the capture to the processing and presentation, each image allows the artists’ individual voices and approaches to the idea of lust to come through. Images depicting lust are juxtaposed with photographs that find interesting ways to evoke it: there are nudes, images of full lips blurred as if seen from behind fabric or frosted glass, photos of inanimate objects, and even food. Objects of desire and why we desire them are explored at every turn. When you see a large image of a hamburger hanging on a gallery wall, you are forced to ask yourself why it is there, and then realize as you feel a twinge of hunger that it, too, is something that can be lusted after. The artists experiment with ideas of lust through their own preferences, as with Mary Ellen Bartley‘s diptych image of a nude woman seen past pages of a book. An unfocused glimpse is all we see of the woman, as if our faces are hidden behind this book as we peek at her undressing. Bartley’s artist statement explains that she chose this approach because she finds books to be sexy, and she showcases this well: there is an element of mystery as neither the woman nor the book are completely recognizable, but the sexuality of the image – in the softly curling pages, enticingly parted, mirrored by the model’s curves – is undeniable.

Untitled Diptych (Hip) – Mary Ellen Bartley

Longing, though just as personal, is a very different viewing experience from Lust. This exhibition showcases the work of a single artist and, where the images in Lust are tied together only by their shared theme, Longing is a cohesive and consistent body of work. Rounding the partition wall in the middle of the gallery, the viewer moves from the varied and somewhat chaotic selection of sensual imagery to a different world. There are only a few photographs in this series, but their size fills the space as the the pristine images transport us to a tranquil beach environment. The colors and simplicity of the images evoke a sense of calm, but this is not just destination landscape photography. There is deeper feeling living just under the surface, a profound feeling of loneliness, that is conveyed through the composition and content of the shots. These large images are highly detailed but very empty, with each one having a very small subject shot from far off, as if the photographer is unable to interact or make a personal connection and can only watch the world go by. The subjects, though dwarfed in the complete image, do not only convey this distance, but also depict escape and evoke a sense of hope. The individuals in the photographs are all pictured moving away from the photographer into the expanse of empty beach around them or flying through the air on hang gliders. This, along with the escapist quality vacation images can have, seems to offer a solution to the confining loneliness that fills the images. Such a solution undoubtedly offers hope, and what better than the freedom of flying, being lifted up and soaring on air currents into the sunlight, to depict such a feeling.

Untitled No. 0357 (2010) – Kerry Mansfield

The personal nature of these two exhibits and their themes seem to correlate to the personal response that is evoked in the viewer. The themes and feelings depicted are easily relatable, but become more relevant when presented in a genuine way that shows how a real person, the artist, actually thinks and feels. In the case of Longing, Kerry Mansfield was in a state of severe depression at the time that she captured the images, so the visual tension between the open spaces and the feelings of lonely separation, as well as the hope for escape, may have been inevitable as it can be difficult to prevent such strong feelings from bleeding into the work. The viewer feels these emotions because the work is permeated with them. Just as when someone can tell without asking if a person is upset, it’s as if the feelings have a life of their own. Lust explores not only the photographers’ feelings on the subject, as with Mary Ellen Bartley, but also their thoughts and commentary. Michael Grace-Martin, for example, has an thought provoking artist statement for his photograph Emerge. He puts forth the argument that his model, though beautiful, is not doing or wearing anything particularly seductive, so if the viewer picks up on a sense of lust he should consider whether the photograph or his own feelings toward it are the cause.

Emerge – Michael Grace Martin

But where does this leave us on the topic of why art matters? Empathy, I think, still plays an important part – after all, why would there be any study of art whatsoever if viewers did not have a desire to understand it? – but, again, there is more to feeling than just understanding. Feeling is not always rational. We often feel before we think. Perhaps all of our art study is actually an endeavor to justify the feelings that art evokes.

To really get to the root of this, I think we must examine both parties, the artist as well as the viewer. I do not doubt that art will always exist in some form, even if there is no one who wants to look at it. Artists tend to create because they feel a need to do so, whether to organize their thoughts, to vent their emotions, or because they have something that they want to say to or about the world. This need is what we see when we view their art. The passion of the artist for his subject, and his own empathy for it that allows him to see it in all of its detail and know what to highlight about it to communicate his message, even one as simple as “look how beautiful spring is”, are the mental states that allow an artist to create. Art made to satisfy such a need has an immediacy and urgency that highlights the passion with which it was created. Communication of such passion requires an artist to open up and make himself vulnerable to the world, and this may be why art is so universally relatable. We feel first when we can see the emotion and the passion that is being shared because we know the dangers of opening up in such a personal way, either because we have experienced them before, or because we avoid them, lacking the courage for our own expression. Art is capable of inspiring and exposing our emotions because, intentionally or not, it has been infused with its own by the artist, and making a person feel something – whether love, hatred, happiness, or sorrow – is undoubtedly the most effective way to forge a connection.

I hope you enjoy the piece. As always, I love to hear your thoughts, so comment below!

-DH

Tomorrow morning I will be getting out of bed in the wee hours and getting all dressed up. Why you ask?

Tomorrow morning I graduate.

Graduation is a normal thing, and I almost didn’t write about it today so as not to add to the glut of “OMG graduation!!!!” blog posts that I’m sure are floating around on the internet right now. Not that there is anything wrong with being excited about graduating of course, but even though it is an exciting time, that sort of reaction is just not who I am.

I am not a super sentimental person. I understand that life changes happen and people have to move on to new phases and places, and I am one of those people who would rather embrace the change than be sad about it. It’s like a director I had for a while said: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I’m also not going to treat it like it is the end of an era and nothing wil ever be the same again. It’s a big change, but I’m still me.

So graduation? Not a huge deal. I mean, it’s a big deal, but I’m not going to get all weepy. It’s just college.

Except it’s not.

This is what I am saying goodbye to tomorrow morning. This beautiful Castle on the Green has housed my family of friends, some of my hardest times and some of the happiest times, all while nurturing my mind and spirit. This is home for me in a way that very few places have ever been, and that’s what makes it difficult. I have relaxed in the grass with friends and professors. I have walked the sidewalks so often that I am surprised my footprints are not a part of the concrete. I have rung the bells in the clock tower. I have moved every three months for the past four years to be a part of this place. I have given it my heart and soul and this home has taken good care of them.

Tomorrow morning will be a culmination of all the laughter, tears, anger, hope, and work of the past four years. It still hasn’t really sunk in that this is it. I know it is, but I don’t feel it yet. Those feelings are going to be interesting, but if they must happen during the ceremony tomorrow I’m glad that I will be surrounded by the grey stone and mortar and my family of friends.

I could not have found a more perfect place to spend the last four years of my life and I am so proud to be receiving my degree from this amazing place. Oglethorpe is the best life decision I have made thus far and what I have learned here — in class and out — will live in my mind, my heart, and my actions for the rest of my life. I guess that’s what they meant when they said make a life, a living, and a difference.

<3

-DH

I am working on something new today. It’s a writing project that I have been planning for a few weeks, but today I am trying to dive into it head first. I wanted to post about it here, partly to get my motor running, but also because I’d love to know what people think about the question that I am exploring:

Why do we care?

From Grounded: Untitled No. 0077 -- Kerry Mansfield

More specifically, why do we care about art?

I have always been a lover of art of all kinds – visual, performance, music, etc – and I can usually find and understand some value in any piece that I see, even ones that I do not particularly like or enjoy. I guess that means I have a sort of empathy when it comes to art. An empathy with the artist, perhaps, and his or her feelings about the art that is being created. I’m not sure if that’s it, but it is a start to how I’m feeling.

But what I’m not sure how to explain is why art touches me in the way it does, why it is able to affect so many different people in a variety of ways, evoking emotional, intellectual, and physical responses, and how. Is it a function of the artist taking something that matters to him or her and capturing it in such a way that displays their personal passion for the subject? Does seeing someone else’s passion make us care? Is it because “art” has some sort of magic property that has been acquired from social constructs? Why are we able to relate to art and why does it elicit such strong and uniquely human reactions?

From Lust: Erin -- Heather Musto

I began my exploration by visiting the local Jennifer Schwartz gallery (which I highly recommend if you happen to be passing though Atlanta). There I saw two exhibitions: Grounded and Lust. I spent a very long time looking at the images, taking the time to really study them, but also to step back and enjoy. I left excited to write up a review of the exhibitions and the gallery, and I am beginning to see how to approach my Big Question, but this is definitely going to be a case of needing to “write my way in” to decide how best to answer it. Hence the blog post.

From Lust: Pomegranate Seeds -- Wynn Myers

And this is where I’d love some help from the world-at-large! Oh lovely readers, what are your thoughts? Tell me, please:

Why do you care?

Comment below if you have a little something to say. Share with people you know and encourage them to comment as well — the more voices, the merrier. Let the conversation commence!

-DH

I have not always enjoyed writing. There was a time when I would only write if I absolutely had to, I disliked every moment of the process, and could find nothing of value in my work. This was a time of forced formulaic writing, the days of 5×5 essays, and the oppression of creative grammar. My only outlet was a varied vocabulary which led to criticism for an overly verbose writing style. Writing did not allow me to express myself. Words and topics were fed to me and I could appease the authority only if I hog-tied my creativity and my voice to keep it from interfering with the precious rules.

So, writing was not my thing. I was okay with that. I had other hobbies that I enjoyed and which allowed me to express myself. I didn’t need to write. Or so I thought.

I would occasionally get this itch to write but I would try to talk myself out of it. I wasn’t a writer. I knew that I wouldn’t produce anything worthwhile and it would just be a waste of time. But the drive was there, so I started writing free verse poetry just to stop the words bouncing around in my brain. My approach to poetry was to play with words and sounds and rhythm, and it was a good outlet, mostly because I refused to adhere to any sort of rules. I used punctuation to give cues for reading aloud, like musical notation, and collected words for their sounds, focusing on alliteration and balancing soft and percussive sounds to evoke whatever it was I wanted to capture. I started using my poetry notebooks as photo albums with the collections of words acting as snapshots. I captured trees, rain, the way the air feels right before a storm, anything that spoke to me. I enjoyed the experience of writing poetry and I was happy with many of the pieces I created, but I still couldn’t think of myself as a person who could write well.

Then I had to write a college application essay.

I dreaded it. I fretted about it in the same way I fret about auditions. I looked at the prompts I had to choose from and couldn’t begin to think of how to approach them. I could crank out a rote piece of junk for class no problem, but this mattered. Someone was going to read this and care whether or not it had quality, not just that I followed some guidelines.

One prompt was formed around an Amelia Earhart quote, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” It was an open prompt, just the quote and the request to explain in a page what she meant by it or what it meant to me. Even in my anxiety, I was intrigued by this quote because, though I hadn’t heard it before, I had always believed that the sentiment was true. And eventually something came to me. Reflecting on the quote made me remember moments when I had felt this way and I recalled my most recent vacation: a road trip to the North Carolina mountains.

If you have ever driven through the mountains you know that it can be a wonderful way to spend a few hours, as far as car trips go. If I must spend an extended period of time in a car, I had better have something lovely to look at, and the Blue Ridge mountains and surrounding rural countryside never fail to deliver.

I remembered and I was on fire. The words poured out of me as I recalled the journey, the “adventure”, that for me embodied what Amelia was trying to say. As I wrote I was able to express a point that had been clear to me for a long time and that I was, in my burgeoning adulthood, trying to make a guiding principle in my life: that a goal in itself is important, but just as important is how you get there. The goal is an achievement, but what have you done, gained, experienced along the way? If I spend a huge amount of effort to achieve a goal or reach a destination, shouldn’t the experience of getting there be something that I can treasure as well?

I wrote until I had said everything. I edited. I crafted. I didn’t even know what it meant to craft a piece of writing at that point, but, looking back, that is the only way to describe what I did. This mattered to me. This quote, this sentiment, this belief mattered to me. What I had on the page was me. I have never been prouder of anything I have ever written.

This was the first step. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this opened the door for me. I wrote a huge amount of poetry during the following year and a half, and I was able for the first time to allow someone else to read some of it (a big thing for the girl with zero confidence in her writing). I still didn’t think of myself as a “writer” exactly, but somewhere inside a switch had been flipped and I knew I could do it and that it could become something that I loved to do. Now I am experimenting with the idea of being “Danielle the writer”. That’s what this blog is all about. I am writing about things that I care about and at the same time allowing it to be an experiment to discover whether or not the outside world thinks it’s any good.

I am loving every minute of this journey. I would love to have the opportunity for this to be a part of my professional life, but even if I don’t reach that goal, this adventure in self expression and sharing what I love with the world is more than worth the time I invest.

And that brings me to you, Reader-Friend. This was a long post, I know — one I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks, and actually not what I originally set out to write — but I discovered as I was writing what I needed to say. I’d love to hear what readers and my fellow bloggers have to say on this topic. I always wonder if others have struggled with writing in the same way I did (do).

As always, thank you for reading, and I sincerely hope that you will continue to visit and enjoy this journey with me.

<3
-DH

Boone, North Carolina. D.Hitchcock 2007