I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Photographer and teacher David DuChemin has been writing about it, and my friend Sabrina Henry always has something important to say on the subject. I also turn to writers for their ideas. Writing is a form I admire and have studied, and sometimes writers are able to describe the process of creativity in ways that inspire me or at least make sense.
One of my favorite novelists is Stephen King. He is a master storyteller and careful craftsman who seems unafraid of letting the question “What If?” lead him into the unknown. A man who is serious about his work, but who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He plays in the band The Rock Bottom Remainders for fun. (And, yes, one day I hope to hear them play.) But it is his non-fiction book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that I recommend to anyone who is curious about creativity and art and process. Part (sometimes harrowing) memoir and part writer’s toolbox, it is both entertaining and thought-provoking. I have read it twice and I’m about to pick it up again. My copy is underlined and starred, with notes in the margins. I was interested specifically in writing when I read it before, but I know there are lessons there for photographers too. I find lots of parallels between written and visual language.
It’s no surprise that King often writes about writers. In Lisey’s Story, the writer character describes his process this way:
He claimed that for him, writing a book was like finding a brilliantly colored string in the grass and following it to see where it might lead. Sometimes the string broke and left you with nothing. But sometimes — if you were lucky, if you were brave, if you persevered — it brought you to a treasure. And the treasure was never the money you got for the book; the treasure was the book.
Whatever our passions, doesn’t it feel that way when you get it right? And don’t you think the bolder you are and the harder you work, the luckier you become?
It’s no fun when the string breaks, but isn’t it thrilling when it leads to something you’re proud of?
Be brave. Persevere.
I can’t seem to get this image off my mind. It is a moment from my recent road trip: a garden in Asheville, NC, in the late afternoon sun. To me it speaks of serenity, surprising strength, and light that seems to come from the inside.
Today I feel none of those things. I’m scattered, a little overwhelmed, and I don’t seem to be making much progress on any front. An image of today’s mental garden would look weedy and overgrown and threatening to take over my house.
But I’ll keep trying to take that one step forward, even when it is accompanied by three steps back. That’s just the way life is sometimes. And it helps me to have an image of the state I aspire to. Tomorrow’s garden.
A small-town 4th of July celebration in Twain Harte, California. Charming, fun, and very hot.
A cowboy singer named ‘Tater. He was performing on the Main Street of the Gold Rush town of Columbia, so he couldn’t talk for long. He did a mean version of Folsom Prison Blues and Patsy Cline’s Walking After Midnight. When I asked his name he said, “I don’t like it, but it’s ‘Tater. You know how nicknames can stick?” I assumed it had to do with potatoes, but no. “It’s actually from my river-rafting days. Short for Dictator.” He grinned. “But I wasn’t. Honest.”
My favorite time of day in the mountains is early morning. It’s so peaceful and quiet, and not yet as hot as you know it’s going to be. But when it does get hot, where better to be than beside a lake?
It was a good vacation.
We’re headed for our annual week in the foothills with the Armstrong clan. Long summer days. Marathon golf for some; miniature golf for me. Quiet early mornings, with coffee on the shaded deck. Afternoons spent reading by the lake. Evenings filled with good food, good wine, laughter and conversation. Four generations, ranging in age from one to 90. Continuing a family tradition that has its roots in the 1930s. I like that.
I’m taking more books than I can possibly read in a week, looking forward to being away from the magnetic pull of my computer. No internet up there.
I’ll have my camera with me. We’ll see what happens.
Happy 4th of July, everyone!