On blogging (and spoons)

Carl Larsson

In an interview on the John Barleycorn site, my friend and neighbor Rima Staines discusses the art of blogging: how she started, and why she started. It's a strange kind of art form, blogging; and the question of why reasonably sane people feel compelled to blog is, for me, an intriguing one. It's got me to pondering why I blog myself...which I've actually done for quite a long time now if you count the years that Midori Snyder and I ran a blog for the Journal of Mythic Arts, although that was a good deal less personal than this one. And like Rima, it took me a while to find a comfortable “blogging voice” when I began Myth & Moor.

The thread of my Rima-stirred thoughts about blogging is all knotted up with a number of other things that I've been pondering lately -- about art, and life, and energy, and “spoons” -- and out of this tangle there's something specific I want to unravel, but I'm going to have to tease it out slowly from the snarl of other threads, so please bear with me.

Carl Larsson

This is also going to be a more personal essay than the others I've posted here, touching on the rather intimate subject of living with chronic illness. And that's a subject I approach gingerly, for an essay about illness can be mistaken for a plea for sympathy ("Oh, poor, poor me!"), or as a means of defining oneself as part of an aggrieved minority ("Us sick people don't get no respect!") rather than what it actually is: a creative/intellectual attempt to understand the process of living with illness while simultaneously living as a creative artist. (I'm thinking in particular of some very misguided reviews Nancy Mairs received for Waist-high in the World, her sharp, insightful essays on life with MS.) So I hereby give notice that I am about to tread further than usual into this murky territory today...and perhaps in speaking of the personal, I can find my way back to more general thoughts about living the Artist's Life; or, at very least, give voice to issues that others dealing with illness might find familiar, or useful.

Painting by Carl LarssonFirst let me define my terms. I'm going to refer to the limited energy one has when dealing with a chronic illness in terms of “spoons” -- so if you haven't yet read Christine Miserandino's very useful "Spoon Theory" essay, it might be helpful to do so. And by the term “blogging,” I'll be referring specifically to the writing of individual, personal blogs (like Rima's blog, or this one) rather than other sorts of blogs: professional, commercial, multi-author, etc..

With Rima's words running through my head, I was walking in the woods with my dog earlier (where I ran, quite unexpectedly, into Brian Froud and his dog, but that's another story...), thinking about the “art of the blog,” and why, after a somewhat trepidatious beginning, I find it so congenial. I'm in a different stage of my life and career than Rima, and thus my answer to the question “Why write a blog?” is bound to be a different one from hers, or any other young artist's. The answer that came to me suddenly as I trudged up the hill through the mud and leaves came from a thoroughly unexpected direction. It has to do with chronic illness and spoons and the thorny issue of communication.

Now, I can't speak for everyone with a serious and/or chronic illness, and my own (which I prefer not to name; the specifics of it aren't important here) has its rhythms and quirks that may be slightly different from other medical conditions, but what many of us with differing health problems share is a constant need to juggle whatever spoons we have to hand on any given day. And for me, the simple act of communication is one that consistently threatens to empty my spoon drawer.

By Carl Larsson

Perhaps it's because I communicate for a living, and therefore the spoons specifically shaped for that job are ones I particularly have to hoard in order to meet the daily demands of my work. All I know is that the simple act of writing a letter to a friend, or answering an email, or (especially) picking up the phone are entirely beyond me when those spoons are used up – and they're precisely the spoons I tend to run out of first, due to the nature of my work.

This is an aspect of my life that constantly frustrates my dear, patient, long-suffering family members (back in the United States) and friends (both in the U.S. and here). I drop out of sight, I don't pick up the phone, emails drop into some kind of cosmic black hole. I'm warm and engaged and present on a good day, and retreat into mumbles and chilly distance on a bad one. Sometime I'm a reliable sister/niece/friend, and a regular part of others' daily lives...and sometimes I disappear for days, weeks, months on end with no warning at all. If I were a hermit by nature, none of this would be a problem, but I'm not -- I'm a person with a wide, deep circle of close relationships; an artist who thrives on connection and community; an outgoing woman whose natural rhythms are often disrupted by the over-riding rhythms of illness.

Carl Larsson

What has all this to do with blogging, you ask? It is this: Writing short pieces for a more-or-less daily blog is, for me, a means of communication, of maintaining vital connections: with friends, with colleagues in the publishing field, with the wider Mythic Arts community. Yes, it takes spoons, but not many of them (now that I'm comfortable enough with the form and technology that I can put up a daily post reasonably quickly) – and when compared to the number of spoons it would take to stay in frequent touch with the many people I know and love, to answer every email and return every call, those couple of spoons become negligible and well worth the cost. Blogging, for me, is my daily missive from the trenches of my creative life to the people, near and far, who make up my world. It's a form of round-robin letter to say: this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm thinking, I haven't disappeared. I may not be entirely well, but I'm still here. And if other people whom I've never personally met are reading these missives too, well then that's fine by me. I assume they're here because they also love books and folklore and mythic arts, and that means they're not really strangers, they are part of my wider community too.

Carl LarssonNow here's where I'd like to see if I can make the leap from personal circumstance to something that might relate to other artists as well, beyond the small subgroup of folks also coping with illness or disability. It's almost always difficult for artists in any field (except, perhaps, for a very privileged few) to balance the time needed for creative work with all the other demands of life. The need to manage ones time and energy may be more extreme and urgent for the chronically ill, yet I know few writers or artists (heck, do I know any?) who don't wrestle with the details of work/life balance. If it's not medical issues taking up ones time, it might be children, or elderly relatives, or a day job, or community obligations, or all of these things at once. The sheer busyness of modern life can feel relentless and overwhelming...and that, in turn, conflicts with art's requirement for time, solitude, and periods of sustained, uninterrupted concentration.

I think that even if illness was suddenly, blessedly removed as a factor in my life, I would still be at this same point in my journey: having reached the years of middle age, and recognizing that time is not infinite, I feel compelled to turn inward and focus my time and attention on truly mastering my craft. The social gregariousness of youth is no Painting by Carl Larssonlonger possible, or desirable; there are only so many hours in the day, after all. And yet, the life- and art-sustaining web of connection begun in ones early years remains important even as one grows older, slower, and more protective of ones time. That, for me, is where blogging comes in. It maintains that web of connection.

Here's what blogging is to me: It's a modern form of the old Victorian custom of being "At Home" to visitors on a certain day of the week; it's an Open House during which friends and colleagues know they are welcome to stop by. I'm “At Home” each morning when I put up at post. Here, in the gossamer world of the 'Net, I throw my studio door open to friends and family and strangers alike. And each Comment posted is a calling card left behind by those who have crossed my doorstep.

But it's important to remember that the flip side of the Victorian "At Home" day is that it also provided boundaries -- for it was widely understood that visitors were not to drop by on other days of the week. Visitors could leave calling cards with the butler, but the Mistress of the house was not instantly available to them. Like every artist (and particularly artists deficient in health and energy), I too need large periods of time when I'm simply not available to others: when I'm working, or resting, or off at the doctor's, or re-charging my creative batteries, or working out thorny plot problems while roaming the countryside with the pup. In these days of speed and instant access, of Facebook and tweets and 8-year-olds with their own mobile phones, it's almost a revolutionary act to say: I'm not in to callers. You can't reach me now. And yet artists need this. We need to unplug. We need to spend time in the world of our imaginations, where the 'Net and mobile phones cannot go.

Carl Larsson

But here's what I find interesting: The very same technology that threatens to force constant communication upon us can also be the thing that allows us to create necessary boundaries. Blogging, for all its intimacy as an art form, is also an excellent boundary maker. Yes, we open up our lives on our blogs...but only this much, not that much, and each blogger decides where that line will be drawn. The blog is a controlled kind of publication. It doesn't provided instant access to its maker, unless the blog's author specifically wants it to. The open, generous space cultivated on a blog need not (indeed, probably should not) be duplicated in the physical world; for in the world, what a working artist truly needs is the equivalent of the butler at the door, politely turning callers away: The mistress is not 'At Home' today. She is working. I will tell her you called.

This, then, is why I write a blog: not for the reasons so many young artists do (as they build their careers and find their audience), but because, as an artist in my middle years, it helps resolve one of life's central conflicts: that both illness and art demand solitude, yet the heart requires communication and connection.

 Carl Larsson

I am also a woman woefully short on spoons and at this point in life I have learned to accept it. (Okay, my husband would say that I am learning to accept it.) Calls will continue to go unanswered. Emails will routinely begin with the words: Please forgive me for taking so long to respond.... Friends will continue to worry when they haven't heard from me for a week, or a month. But these days, at least, they know they can always find me here at Myth & Moor...with fresh coffee brewing, Tilly at my side, and a pen or paintbrush in my hands.

In the physical world, my studio is my work space, not a social space, and a rather fierce butler stands scowling at the door. But here, in my online studio, I am "At Home." And everyone is welcome in.

Carl Larsson studio

This post first appeared on Myth & Moor in 2011, reprinted today by request. The art above is by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1854-1919); all rights reserved by the Larsson estate.


The "Moveable Feasts" Page (regularly updated)

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In Mythic Arts circles, the term "Moveable Feast" is used when a number of different bloggers choose to address a common topic. Moveable Feasts tend to occur in a spontaneous fashion, and all are invited to join in -- either by contributing a dish to the Feast in the form of a blog post, or by joining the conversation via the Comments section on each participating blog.

The name "Moveable Feast" is a nod to Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast," his memoir of the time he spent among writers and artists in Paris in the 1920s. Whereas Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their colleagues once met up in Paris cafes for conversation, a circle of bloggers can meet up on the Internet despite living in different locations all around the world.

Here are Moveable Feasts that this blog has participated in (updated as the Feasts occur):

 

The Desire for Dragons: What Brings Us to Myth & Fantasy?

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Myth & Moor (Devon, England). Also: "Shaping Stories and Being Shaped by Them," "Finding the Colors Again," and "Dreaming Awake."

* "Dining in the company of Dragons" at Chest of Delights (Nottingham, England)

* "The Trouble With Dragons" at Posterous (Devon, England)

* "why i write the way i do" at Knitting the Wind (New Zealand)

* "Gift for a Dragon" at Omniscrit (northern England & central Italy)

* " dragon-wise" at The Drafty Garret (Troy, Ontario, Canada)

* "Dragon Decanter" at It's Crow Time (Sydney, Australia)

* "Desiring Dragons: On Facts and FairyTales, Science and Myth" at Omniscrit (northern England & central Italy)

* "The Blue Chamber" at Tea and a Notebook (The Blue Hills, North Carolina, USA)

* I come (to Faerie) because" at Sideways-In (North Carolina, USA)

* "Scafti (a dragon carving for a carousel)" at Carousel for Missoula (Missoula, Montana, USA)

* "Painting the Marvelous" at Small Offerings (Suffolk, England)

* "Why Do We Desire Dragons? A Dragon-Seeker's Quest" at Untraveled Worlds (Sydney, Australia)

* "I Desired Dragons" at I Saw the Angel (rural France)

* "The Windings of the dragon track..." at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Of Dragons and Devils" at Tea and a Notebook (The Blue Hills, North Carolina, USA)

* "Red Hibiscus and Dragon Wings"  at Makua O'o (Langley, Washington, USA)

* "The Place of Myths" at Wildspell (Mineapolis, Minnesota, USA)

* "wings of story" at Beneath the Bracken (Munich, Germany)

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Spinning Straw Into Gold (Florida, USA)

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (Oxfordshire, UK)

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Mused by Magdalene (North Texas, USA)

Related articles and posts: Tea Obreht's "High-school Confidential" in The New Yorker (2011); Lev Grossman's "What Fantasy Does Best" at Tor.com (2011); "Trading Stories" (and the Jhumpa Lahiri article it links to) here on Myth & Moor (2011); my "Fairy Tale Reflections" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (2011); Midori Snyder's "The Monkey Girl" in The Journal of Mythic Arts (2002); and Helen Pilinovsky's "Spells of Enchantment" in The Journal of Mythic Arts (2001).

Am I missing anyone in the Feast list, or do you have a related article to recommend? Please let me know -- and don't be shy, all are welcome to add a dish (or dishes) to the Feast. This is a community after all, so please join in!   

 

Mother Tongue:
On the entwined subjects of land, language, art, and storytelling

* Here at Myth & Moor, my contribution is a series of posts quoting various authors on the subject (Terry Tempest Williams, David Abram, etc.), beginning with "When Women Were Birds" (Sept. 4, 2012) and on-going through the month of September. (And a number of the August posts on animals relate to the subject too.) Many of these posts contain beautiful new poems from Jane Yolen, in the Comments. (Location: Devon, England, for me; Scotland & western Massachusetts for Jane.) 

* "Song Without Words/A Day With the Mosses" at RavenWood Forest (western Massachusetts, USA)

* "Being Still" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Animal Nature" at Makua O'o (Langley, Washington, USA)

* "Nettle-Eater" at Coyopa (Devon, England)

* "Drifting Veils of Morning" at Beyond the Fields We Know (Ottowa, Ontario, Canada)

* "Mother Tongue" at The Birch Grove (Houston, Texas, USA)

* "The failure of language part 1: forgetting" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* " On Mother Crane's oral recitation of 'Goblin Market' by Christina Rossetti" at Tales of the Mythical Muse (Mount Savage, Maryland, USA)

* "Beginnings and endings...they are often the same" at Tales of the Mythical Muse (Mount Savage, Maryland, USA)

* "The failure of language part 2: transparency" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Until we understand what the land is..." at Milagro Roots (south Texas, USA)

* "Telling Tales" at The Old Burrow (Hampshire, UK)

* "The King in Kensington Garden" at Unsetttled Wonder (Scotland)

* "The Ocean's Dream" at The Indigo Vat (Berkeley, California, USA)

Related posts: "Coming Home: Uncivilization & Sense of Place" at The Articulate Journey, discussing The Dark Mountain Project's recent Uncivilization Festival; "Silencing of Nature..." by Jay Griffiths at smh.com.au; and "Herman Hesse on What Trees Teach Us..." by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings.

 

On Artistic Inspiration:

* Brian & Wendy Froud discuss inspiration (and collaboration) on the John Barleycorn blog, and I respond here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England).

* "Turn the page and a few thoughts on process" at It's Crow Time (Sydney, Australia)

* "Giving them away" at Greenwoman Healing Arts (Western Oregon, USA)

* "Inspiration or madness...or both, Part I" at Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* Inspiration or madness...or both, Part 1 and a half" at Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Courting the Muse" and "The Madness of Art," a couple of small side dishes here at  Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "Intuitive Writing" at Sideways-In (North Carolina, USA)

* "Oh, the Mad, Magical Mind" at Temporary Reality (Göttingen, Germany)

* "Where go you get your ideas?" at Magical Moments (Jefferson, Georgia, USA)

* "The Spark of Madness" at The Drafty Garret (Troy, Ontario; Canada)

* "The Way of the Muse -- A Feast of Honey-dew?" at Bookish Nature (Bristol, England)

* "The Artist as Shaman, the Shaman as Artist & the Inspiration for Both" at Milagr0 Roots (Texas, USA)

* "Florence and the Mythic" at Temporary Reality (Göttingen, Germany)

* "You will stand in my danger" at Makua O'o (Langley, Washington, USA)

* "Of Otters and Words with Roots" at The Indigo Vat (Berkeley, California)

* "The Dark Woods" at I Saw the Angel (France)

Related posts: "On Reality" at Center Neptune (2012), "The Alchemist" at The Hermitage (2012);"Wooing the Poem" (2011) at Coyopa: Lightening in the Blood "Dare to be foolish" (2011) here at Myth & Moor; and "Artist as...shaman" (2009) at Mermaid in the Attic. Also, a related article: "Madness, Shape-shifting, and Art in The Wood Wife"  (2003) in The Journal of Mythic Arts. 

 

On Artisan Blogging

An interesting conversation on "artisan blogging" (i.e. blogging as an art form) began with Rima Staines, Howard Gayton, and Rex Van Ryn on the John Barleycorn blog, and then spread to:

* "Reflections on Blogging" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "The Imagined Village" at  A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "The Moveable Feast in the Forest" at RavenWood Forest (western Massachusetts, USA)

 * "On Blogging" by Theodora Goss (Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

* "The Imagined Self" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Magpie Blogging" by Midori Snyder (Tucson, Arizona, USA)

* "To everything its time" by Erzebet YellowBoy Carr  (Papaveria Press, England)

* "Around the table with Rima Staines, Part II" at John Barleycorn (Devon, England)  

* "The Gate at the Edge of the Village" at The Hermitage (Devon, England)

* "Late to the Table" at 5preciousthings (southwest Scotland)

* "Gratitude" at Milkmoon (Wicklow, Ireland)

* "Reasons to be blogging, one, two, three" at Lunar Hine's Blog (Devon, England)

* "My pasta dish for The Moveable Feast" at Conversations with the Muse (southern California, USA)

 

On Artistic Influence:

* A conversation with French artist Didier Graffet on the John Barleycorn blog kicked this topic off, followed by...

* Two posts on the topic (On Influence, Part I and Part II) here at Myth & Moor, followed by...

* Further discussion with British artist David Wyatt on the John Barleycorn blog.

 

Meditations on Home:

* "Homesickness" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "The Things That Save Us" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "Meditiations on Home" at Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Thoughts, Walks and Hares" at Moonlight and Hares (Wiltshire, England)

A related article: "The Folklore of Hearth and Home" (2008)  in The Journal of Mythic Arts

 

On Creative Burn-out:

* "Creative Blues" at I Saw the Angel (West Yorkshire, England)

* "Autumn Cleaning: On Creative Burn-out" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "On Burnout" at Deborah Biancotti's LiveJournal (Sydney, Australia)

* "Descending into the underworld, the labyrinth, the abyss" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "On Creativity and Burn-out" at The Rabbit Hill (Christchurch, New Zealand)

* "Into the Mystery" at RavenWood Forest (Western Massachusetts, USA)

* "Return" at Amused Grace (New England, USA)

Related articles: The entire Winter '06 issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts on "Healing and Transformation" tales is relevant to this topic, as is the Spring 'o6 issue, on myths of "Death and Rebirth."

 

...If I've missed any posts related to any of these Feasts, please let me know in the Comments. The illustration above is by the great Swedish painter/illustator/designer Carl Larsson (1853-1919).


Reflections on blogging (and spoons)

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Over on the John Barleycorn blog, Rima Staines discusses the art of blogging, and how she started, and why she started. It's a strange kind of art form, blogging; and the question of why reasonably sane people feel compelled to blog [that hideous word, I wish there was a better] is, for me, an intriguing one. It's got me to pondering why I blog myself...which I've actually done for quite a long time now if you count the years that Midori Snyder and I ran a blog for the Journal of Mythic Arts, although that was a good deal less personal than this one. And like Rima, it took me a while to find a comfortable “blogging voice” when I began The Drawing Board.

The thread of my Rima-stirred thoughts about blogging is all knotted up with a number of other things that I've been pondering lately – about art, and life, and energy, and “spoons” -- and out of this tangle there's something specific I want to unravel, but I'm going to have to tease it out slowly from the snarl of other threads, so please bear with me.

This is also going to be a more personal essay than the others I've posted here, touching on the rather intimate subject of living with chronic illness. And that's a subject I approach gingerly, for an essay about illness can be mistaken for a plea for sympathy ("Oh, poor, poor me!"), or as a means of defining oneself as part of an aggrieved minority ("Us sick people don't get no respect!") rather than what it actually is: a creative/intellectual attempt to understand the process of living with illness while simultaneously living as a creative artist. (I'm thinking in particular of some very misguided reviews Nancy Mairs received for Waist-high in the World, her sharp, insightful essays on life with MS.) So I hereby give notice that I am about to tread further than usual into this murky territory today...and perhaps in speaking of the personal, I can find my way back to more general thoughts about living the Artist's Life; or, at very least, give voice to issues that others dealing with illness might find familiar, or useful.

Carl Larsson First let me define my terms. I'm going to refer to the limited energy one has when dealing with a chronic illness in terms of “spoons” -- so if you haven't yet read Christine Miserandino's very useful "Spoon Theory" essay, it might be helpful to do so. And by the term “blogging,” I'll be referring specifically to the writing of individual, personal blogs (like Rima's blog, or this one) rather than other sorts of blogs: professional, commercial, multi-author, etc..

With Rima's words running through my head, I was walking in the woods with my dog earlier (where I ran, quite unexpectedly, into Brian Froud and his dog, but that's another story...), thinking about the “art of the blog,” and why, after a somewhat trepidatious beginning, I find it so congenial. I'm in a different stage of my life and career than Rima, and thus my answer to the question “Why write a blog?” is bound to be a different one from hers, or any other young artist's. The answer that came to me suddenly as I trudged up the hill through the mud and leaves came from a thoroughly unexpected direction. It has to do with chronic illness and spoons and the thorny issue of communication.

Now, I can't speak for everyone with a serious and/or chronic illness, and my own (which I prefer not to name; the specifics of it aren't important here) has its rhythms and quirks that may be slightly different from other medical conditions like MS, or HIV, or fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue...but what many of us with differing health problems share is a constant need to juggle whatever spoons we have to hand on any given day. And for me, the simple act of communication is one that consistently threatens to empty my spoon drawer.

Perhaps it's because I communicate for a living, and therefore the spoons specifically shaped for that job are ones I particularly have to hoard in order to meet the daily demands of my work. All I know is that the simple act of a writing a letter to a friend, or answering an email, or (especially) picking up the phone are entirely beyond me when those spoons are used up – and they're precisely the spoons I tend to run out of first, due to the nature of my work.

This is an aspect of my life that constantly frustrates my dear, patient, long-suffering family members (back in the United States) and friends (both in the U.S. and here). I drop out of sight, I don't pick up the phone, emails drop into some kind of cosmic black hole. I'm warm and engaged and present on a good day, and retreat into mumbles and chilly distance on a bad one. Sometime I'm a reliable sister/niece/friend, and a regular part of others' daily lives...and sometimes I disappear for days, weeks, months on end with no warning at all. If I were a hermit by nature, none of this would be a problem, but I'm not -- I'm a person with a wide, deep circle of close relationships; an artist who thrives on connection and community; an outgoing woman whose natural rhythms are often disrupted by the over-riding rhythms of illness.

Carl Larssen 3

What has all this to do with blogging, you ask? It is this: Writing short pieces for a more-or-less daily blog is, for me, a means of communication, of maintaining vital connections: with friends, with colleagues in the publishing field, with the wider Mythic Arts community. Yes, it takes spoons, but not many of them (now that I'm comfortable enough with the form and technology that I can put up a daily post reasonably quickly) – and when compared to the number of spoons it would take to stay in frequent touch with the many people I know and love, to answer every email and return every call, those couple of spoons become negligible and well worth the cost. Blogging, for me, is my daily missive from the trenches of my creative life to the people, near and far, who make up my world. It's a form of round-robin letter to say: this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm thinking, I haven't disappeared. I may not be entirely well, but I'm still here. And if other people whom I've never personally met are reading these missives too, well then that's fine by me. I assume they're here because they also love books and folklore and mythic arts, and that means they're not really strangers, they are part of my wider community too.

Carl Larrson Now here's where I'd like to see if I can make the leap from personal circumstance to something that might relate to other artists as well, beyond the small subgroup of folks also coping with illness or disability. It's almost always difficult for artists in any field (except, perhaps, for a very privileged few) to balance the time needed for creative work with all the other demands of life. The need to manage ones time and energy may be more extreme and urgent for the chronically ill, yet I know few writers or artists (heck, do I know any?) who don't wrestle with the details of work/life balance. If it's not medical issues taking up ones time, it might be children, or elderly relatives, or a day job, or community obligations, or all of these things at once. The sheer busyness of modern life can feel relentless and overwhelming...and that, in turn, conflicts with art's requirement for time, solitude, and periods of sustained, uninterrupted concentration.

I think that even if illness was suddenly, blessedly removed as a factor in my life, I would still be at this same point in my journey: having reached the years of middle age, and recognizing that time is not infinite, I feel compelled to turn inward and focus my time and attention on truly mastering my craft. The social gregariousness of youth is no longer possible, or desirable; there are only so many hours in the day, after all. And yet, the life- and art-sustaining web of connection begun in ones early years remains important even as one grows older, slower, and more protective of ones time. That, for me, is where blogging comes in. It maintains that web of connection.

Here's what blogging is to me: It's a modern form of the old Victorian custom of being "At Home" to visitors on a certain day of the week; it's an Open House during which friends and colleagues know they are welcome to stop by. I'm “At Home” each morning when I put up at post. Here, in the gossamer world of the 'Net, I throw my studio door open to friends and family and strangers alike. And each Comment posted is a calling card left behind by those who have crossed my doorstep.

Carl Larsson But it's important to remember that the flip side of the Victorian "At Home" day is that it also provided boundaries -- for it was widely understood that visitors were not to drop by on other days of the week. Visitors could leave calling cards with the butler, but the Mistress of the house was not instantly available to them. Like every artist (and particularly artists deficient in health and energy), I too need large periods of time when I'm simply not available to others: when I'm working, or resting, or off at the doctor's, or re-charging my creative batteries, or working out thorny plot problems while roaming the countryside with the pup. In these days of speed and instant access, of Facebook and tweets and 8-year-olds with their own mobile phones, it's almost a revolutionary act to say: I'm not in to callers. You can't reach me now. And yet artists need this. We need to unplug. We need to spend time in the world of our imaginations, where the 'Net and mobile phones cannot go.

But here's what I find interesting: The very same technology that threatens to force constant communication upon us can also be the thing that allows us to create necessary boundaries. Blogging, for all its intimacy as an art form, is also an excellent boundary maker. Yes, we open up our lives on our blogs...but only this much, not that much, and each blogger decides where that line will be drawn. The blog is a controlled kind of publication. It doesn't provided instant access to its maker, unless the blog's author specifically wants it to. The open, generous space cultivated on a blog need not (indeed, probably should not) be duplicated in the physical world; for in the world, what a working artist truly needs is the equivalent of the butler at the door, politely turning callers away: The mistress is not 'At Home' today. She is working. I will tell her you called.

This, then, is why I write a blog: not for the reasons so many young artists do (as they build their careers and find their audience), but because, as an artist in my middle years, it helps resolve one of life's central conflicts: that both illness and art demand solitude, yet the heart requires communication and connection.

I am also a woman woefully short on spoons and at this point in life I have learned to accept it. (Okay, my husband would say that I am learning to accept it.) Calls will continue to go unanswered. Emails will routinely begin with the words: Please forgive me for taking so long to respond.... Friends will continue to worry when they haven't heard from me for a week, or a month. But these days, at least, they know they can always find me here at the Drawing Board...with fresh coffee brewing, Tilly at my side, and a pen or paintbrush in my hands.

In the physical world, my studio is my work space, not a social space, and a rather fierce butler stands scowling at the door. But here, in my online studio, I am "At Home." And everyone is welcome in.

Carl Larsson studio

The art in this post is by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1854-1919).


Recommended Reading: on blogging

Camilla engman

Today's recommendations all have to do with blogging and the creative process:

Stephanie Levy's Artists Who Blog features interviews with artists discussing their work and the process of blogging. Most of the artists here are women, and most come from the illustration and design fields -- such as Camilla Engman, whose charming drawing of bear women is above. (Camilla's own blog is here.) I find it quite interesting to read people's thoughts about why they blog...a question that I (a normally quiet/private person who nonetheless blogs) often ponder myself....

Jude Hill's Spirit Cloth: Quilting a Story  is a blog that I know some of you follow already, but I wanted mention it for those who haven't yet come across it. My friend & colleague Midori Snyder (an excellent blogger herself) first lead me to Spirit Cloth -- and despite the fact that I'm not a quilter, and can barely sew well enough to stitch a button back on (unlike Midori), I find it engrossing, addictive, and a continual source of inspiration. Spirit Cloth is a meditation on the process of making art and of living an artist's life -- expressed sometimes through the medium of words, and sometimes by letting images, shapes, textures, colors, and qualities of sun- and moonlight tell the tale. This is a prime example of how blogging can be an art form in itself...and Jude makes it look effortless.

Spirit Cloth       Studio photograph from Jude Hill's Spirit Cloth blog.

Another good blog that I'm sure most of you already know but which nonetheless deserves a mention in any discussion of "blogging as a fine art" is Rima Staines' The Hermitage. Rima's latest posts, for example, look at the art-making process behind her creation of a cover for a new story collection by Catherynne Valente, and for works recently published in Marvels and Tales, a prestigious U.S. journal of fairy tale scholarship (pictured below). Rima lives down the street here in my village, so I also appreciate her posts on life in Devon and the magic of the countryside, and the ways they influence her as an artist.

Rima Staines Marvels & Tales

A few other folks who document and explore the process of art-making on their blogs: Danielle Barlow (Notes from the Rookery) here in Devon, Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog) and Jackie Morris (Drawing a Line in Time) in Wales, Karen Davis (Moonlight and Hares) in the Wiltshire countryside, Erzabet YellowBoy (Erzaveria), a fellow American ex-pat living in the UK, Viviane Schwartz (Letters from Schwartzville) in London, Nomi (Air and Parchment) in Oxford, Jen Parrish (Parrish Relics) in Boston [and oh, how I love Jen's new pup, who reminds me of Tilly!], Aria Nadii (Wild Muse Notes) in Boston [those are her magical shelves below], Valerie Claff (Ravenwood Forest) in western Massachusetts, Charles Vess (News from Green Man Press) in rural Virginia, Ulla Norup Milbrath (Ullabenulla) in northern California, and Christina Cairns (A Mermaid in the Attic) in western Australia, by the sea.

If you've got good artists'-creative-process blogs to add to this list, please do so in the Comments!

 

Aria Nadii's studio shelves                            Aria Nadii's studio shelves, from her Wild Muse Notes blog.

 


New York memories...

Gargoyles

The New York Times
has an article on the "Gargoyle Building" on 110th Street in New York -- where Ellen Kushner lived for many years (and where her "Riverside" series was born), and where I too lived for a spell (and where the "Borderland" series was born). Ellen's reminiscences about  living below the gargoyles are here (on her "Puggy's Hill" blog), and more pictures of the gargoyles are here. (In the top picture, the first full window you can see on the upper left used to be my bedroom window.) It all looks a whole lot fancier now then it did back then, when the neighborhood was scruffier, cheaper, more colorful, and a little more dangerous. . . .