Monday, January 18, 2010

Fallow Ground

I hate the term 'writer's block'. It sounds so purposeless and broken; like a part of me that is important to myself has fallen into disrepair and needs remedy. I remember a favorite author and writing mentor of mine, Luis Alberto Urrea, at one time saying: "Then write about why it's difficult to write." This is my attempt.

At a time in my life when I was very broken physically, a teacher of mine told me I had to learn how to rest 'intentionally'. Up to that point I looked at resting as a necessary inconvenience - a collapse of sorts from my purposeful life. He instructed me to walk out into nature every day, find a place with few people, and sit. Intentionally. Not walk because it's good exercise, but sit, because IT would be good exercise if I did it with intention and purpose. I followed his advice and found myself sitting under a large oak tree every day.

I'd pry myself off my couch or bed, a place I had every right to be collapsed upon due to my condition and force myself to go elsewhere - just to sit there. To make sitting my purpose. To become the best dang 'sitter' I could be. Intentional rest.

It's not so easy. In fact, at first it's quite uncomfortable. The rest of the world seeming so purpose-driven while I was trying to accomplish what really looked like nothing - AND become good at it.

It's the same thing with the rest of my life. I love it when there's lots of energy pouring through me, when the fire is burning high and my only job is to keep up with stoking it. But then there are those times when I have no logs to burn. Limitation can feel painful, confining and imprisoning.

Last week I learned something about that through my own physical limitations - the funky nerves whose electrical circuitry suddenly go into a 'brown-out', the muscles of my legs that follow into weakness and then the joints that won’t operate properly and slide painfully out of place. I was in such a predicament last week; one of the worst episodes I'd had in a while. With that comes lots of opportunity to revisit past 'bad episodes' in my mind and to actively 'awfulize' my situation.

But this time, I refused to go down that road.

You see, I had a plan. I had to drive my son across the border to catch the train so he could visit his friends in Toronto. That meant not only driving - an activity that is difficult under these conditions, but I also had wanted to stop in Detroit on my way home to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. I've wanted to go there for inspiration for several months. Finally, i was going to go. But then the brown-out happened.

But I'm an ornery ol' cuss - and I was going dammit! I didn't care if all I could do was be there on my feet for only ten minutes. I was going - and NOTHING was stopping me.

Walking from the parking garage to the admissions was a short, painful walk. It looked like I wouldn't be able to be there for long. I paid my eight dollars and stood there staring at the folded up wheelchairs to the side, debating inside myself. Now, I've used the little electric carts before in the stores; those are fun. You can zip around in those like you're in an electric go-cart, but a REAL wheelchair, well, that's a different story - one that I resist. The woman behind the desk noticed me with my cane staring at the wheelchairs and said the most perfect thing she could have to a middle-aged man grappling with ever-changing disability: "Why walk when you can roll?" She made a lot of sense.

"SOLD! I'll take one," and she unfolded it for me. I hopped in and took off. Now, even though this latest hurdle of mine was a challenging one, as it is for most people when they find themselves in the position to use a cane or a wheelchair or some other 'prop' for everyday activity, I have experience.

When I was much younger, I worked in Special Education with kids with multiple disabilities of one type or another. As with all kids, life was playful and you play with what you have. We'd often have wheelchair races - kids against kids, or better yet, kids against staff. I became quite good at 'spinning on a dime', quick stops, ninety degree turns and going fast - really fast! It was a gas! A gas IF you didn't HAVE to be in the chair. Now it was my turn; my turn to HAVE to use a chair; either use it or just go home - AND I WASN'T GOING HOME! Instead, I took off like a madman on wheels! I had art to see. Matisse awaited me along with Diego Rivera and I'd kept them and myself waiting for far too long.

I flew from one room to another, from gallery to gallery, taking in old favorites and new ones I'd never seen. I whipped down the hallways excitedly to the next room, and the next, and the next.... It was a GAS! and I had THE BEST time I've had in recent memory.

Five hours later I looked at the clock and realized it would soon be closing time and I'd spent the day so immersed, so captivated in the Beauty and Creativity that my body with its limitations was nowhere to be found. What normally would have been painful walking to endure, had become a cruise through the best of what humanity has to offer. I'd forgotten my pain, my limitations, simply because I had surrendered to the wheelchair - my cruiser. I'd become so immersed I'd forgotten my body; I'd forgotten to eat, drink water or go to the bathroom. My bodily needs had become nonexistent. There was only art and my creative mind taking it all in. It was a piece of heaven on earth - and I'd only found it by surrendering.

I learned a lot that day about myself and about how art can carry us - a vehicle to somewhere beyond 'here' - especially when 'here' is difficult or challenging. I learned again that sometimes the path of least resistance has its own rewards. But it's also coupled with my ornery will, my stubborn determination that I WILL do it!

It was a strange day; one of the more crappy ones physically, yet mentally and emotionally one of the better ones. It could have so easily been otherwise.

So when the tide of creativity and writing seems to be in an ebb, I try to remind myself that these moments are equally as important as the highly productive ones; uncomfortable, but important. Sometimes we need to rest; to sit fallow and empty. That's the time of taking in inspiration; time to read, to go to the library, to look at art, watch movies and nature - take in - breathe in - INspiration. Later will come the exhalation, the breathing out, the expression. Fallow ground IS productive - as is INTENTIONAL rest.

I leave you with two pictures here. During the Depression, Diego Rivera was commissioned by Edsel Ford to paint a mural in the courtyard of the Art Institute. Rivera lived with Frida Kahlo for several years in the hotel next door while he painted what he considered to be his life's masterpiece: four large, towering walls of murals depicting Nature, Technology and its uses both positive and negative. There are hundreds of stories on those walls. The one at the top of this post is one small frame high above the floor. It got him in a lot of trouble with the Catholic Church in 1932: How dare he depict a baby coming from the earth! To me, it's a wonderful depiction of 'fallow ground' - purposeful, intentional incubation.

The other I just add for fun and interest; an honoring of the spirits of Diego and Frida that resound within those walls. Look closely to the right side and you'll see the two of them stealing a moment of 'love on the scaffolding.'

Here's to Diego and Frida; here's to fallow ground; and here's to surrendering to the creative fire and how IT wants to burn.


el poquito said...

ps: update - all is well. legs recovering, once again. not to worry. thnx.

Stella Magdalen said...

Cheers from the queen of fallow!

Sylv said...

Glad you're doing better. I wish I knew you were going to be there I might have been able to meet you.

I used a wheelchair on our trip to Disney World at the suggestion of my doctor. It was initially a depressing idea to me but then I realized that realistically it was the only way that I could keep up with the others. After surrendering to the experience I found I'm not actually half bad at wheeling myself around - good for future reference.

el poquito said...

i bow to Queen Magdalen ; ) how ya doin'? hangin' in with the mid-january hibernation/fallow ground, i trust. sending you good vibes across the allen creek vibeway...

Sylvia, race ya! disneyworld on wheels just makes the whole experience one amusement ride from entrance to leaving. same at the art museum. i'm hoping to get back there soon and it'd be great to meet you at the arch w/the baby growing under the earth. haha! a thinly veiled metaphor for us newborn babes.

Sandi said...

Man, I need to work on this whole fallow thing! I am loving this concept! A few years ago, I was visiting a national park when I was weakened from disease and treatments. I couldn't see as much of the park as I would have when I was stronger. My husband suggested that I use one of the park wheelchairs. I was horrified. "Isn't it bad enough that I AM sick? Do I have to LOOK sick, too?" Your story makes me wish that I had swallowed my pride. I would have enjoyed my time at the park so much more. Thanks for this.

Dedalus1947 said...

Wait a minute! Didn't this post start with an invitation to share the miseries of Writer's Block? Here I was all set to listen, commiserate and give advice, when that wily trickster Poquito appeared.

I'm not writing to compliment you, encourage you, or motivate you - all I want to say is "Thanks". You just gave me hope by relating the truth about an incredibly vulnerable and unpleasant situation that needed to be expressed in writing. I hope I remember this lesson, because that's what it is. Good teachers teach this way.

I'm glad that you are feeling stronger. Stay well old man, you have much to teach us by your living.

el poquito said...

hey Sandi, the 'fallow thing' isn't hard to work on here in Michigan in January; the challenging thing is doing it halfway gracefully. That's the surrendering part; and worse, the waiting.... But I totally get what you were saying about "not looking sick." But then, I just sorta look like a madman on wheels you should get outta the way of!

"Coming through!" Be bold! What do WE have to lose?! hahaha!

and thanks Dedalus for the props and good wishes. This piece 'Fallow Ground' is still about 'writer's block' and every other kind of block and obstacle thrown in front of our path. Obstacles didn't stop Frida Kahlo, or Matisse or many other souls who had a fire burning in them...

Burn, baby, burn!

Thanks for coming by folks. And sometime when you have the time and are feeling playful, I'd like to suggest trying out one of the electric carts next time you see one at a store. Nobody's gong to stop you and ask: "Do you REALLY need that?" Oh, what an education that is! Consider it a class: Sociology of Disability 101. It's an eye opener.

My best to all of you. Thanks for stopping by.

tarzan said...

Ed.....I had to give this post some thought. When I first started reading I hurt and cried for you.... With painful legs, a bruised ego, a lack of energy, and with a funky nerve brown out, you laid it all aside and forged on. While I'm "sitting here" waiting on my surgery so I can walk again, you're out there enjoying life! geez man, don't you have any good sense at all? :)

Seriously.... Congratulations! both in your efforts to experience and taste life, and for finding a way around another one of those blocks towards restoration.... As I neared the end of the story and rejoiced with you through your glorious day of beauty, I finally smiled, all because you did what you needed to in order to make it happen.

"fallow ground" indeed holds life, but it will stay unproductive unless someone plants a seed. You and your chair have done that. Thank you

el poquito said...

" it will stay unproductive unless someone plants a seed." - Tarzan

yep, indeed. those seeds are dreams. dreaming's free and you won't hurt your back, either.

so whatcha wanna do AFTER surgery, when it's spring and your feeling all frisky?

It'll happen.

; )

ps: whatcha REALLY, REALLY wanna do these next couple of weeks until...? whatever it is, enjoy it with absolute pleasure. You deserve it.

Mickey Sperlich said...

El Po-
Thanks for your great post! That baby in the placental ground is my favorite thing at the DIA - I've taken pics of it too. I guess not a surprise coming from a midwife - but I love how you wove the concept of fallow ground into thinking about resting. It seems true that sometimes what looks like resting is really gestating! Thanks for making those connections. Stories, like babies, require much thoughtful preparation. Again, thanks for your words.

el poquito said...

Gestation: now that's something you know a LOT about, Mickey - the patience required while things 'appear' as if 'nothing' is happening. And here we are in our "end of January in Michigan Gestation" - hope yours is going well. See you when the daffodils are blooming and we've 'emerged' once again.

el poquito said...

For more photos of this masterpiece mural of Diego Rivera:

Anonymous said...

ok edwaar: keep in touch about thisjourney!!!!

May K. Cobb said...

Dear El Poquito,

Another inspiring, uplifting post and amazing piece of writing. Your words are so moving to me.


el poquito said...

Thanks, May. I appreciate your kind words and for taking me back to a time of getting through - and reminding me how art is a vehicle to carry us through, regardless of its form: painting, writing, music, etc. We know this, but forget.

Especially in difficult, challenging times - whether personal or collective, the arts are very much needed to carry us through and forward - to give us hope, inspiration and courage.

Nice to have you as an addition to our group in the writing cabin.