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The Reason I Tell You This: how I keep on creating

NB: I am currently on hiatus throughout May so will not be responding to comments until June.

We are a day late, but time for another guest post 🙂  Today I welcome Janice Lynch Schuster onto my blog, who shares with us how she keeps on creating.

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My dear friend sometimes prefaces a story by saying, “The reason I tell you this is…” something her father did whenever he knew a story sounded tangential or off-point, but actually, after a meander, pulled together.  And so, in lieu of “Once upon a time”…

The reason I tell you this is that just this very day, May 22, 2019, I’m sitting outside my home near Annapolis, Maryland, capital of a state where I’ve lived my entire life.

The Blue Angels, fighter jets turned into entertainment as an airshow for the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy, roar overhead.

The pilots’ race for nearly an hour in crazy crowd-pleasing formations that seem to defy everything anyone ever learned about safety, aerodynamics, and physics.

Their tricks are remarkable, but I wish those magnificent folks in their flying machines weren’t part of a military under the control of the most crazed human being to ever occupy the Office of the President of my country.

The reason I tell you this is that just this very day a 145-character Tweet led me to a New York Times article about Elisabetta Matsumoto, Ph.D, a researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who will spend the next five years studying knitting as coding and yarn as programming, and trying to unravel the mysteries of yarn.

How do two basic stitches—knit and purl—create an infinite number of combinations?  Sound a little binary to you? Let your mind curl around this:

‘As a first step, her team is enumerating all possible knittable stitches: “We know there’s going to be uncountably many, there’s going to be a countably infinite number. How to classify them is what we are working on now.’

 

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Elisabetta Matsumoto, center, graduate students Krishma Singal, left, &and Danielle Skinner, is a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, embarking on a five-year study of the mathematics & mechanics of knitting. Credit: Johnathon Kelso for The New York Times

 

The reason I tell you this is that so many people claim not to need to learn math or science or aren’t good at it.

After all, we have calculators and computers. But what Dr. Matsumoto is trying to understand will have implications for making better textiles, applications for nanotechnology, things that come out of 3-D printers.

Wearable devices that might help people with missing limbs regain independence. The scaffolding that might form a basis from which stem cells can grow new hearts, lungs, kidneys, and a chance to live for people who do not yet live on this earth.

Science and math are hard to learn—but it doesn’t mean that learning them is not worth the effort!

Her quest as a scientist and knitter began as a young woman who just sat knitting with her mother because it was something that they could do together.

I tell you this because I was 7on July 20, 1969, the night America landed two men on the Moon and my grandmother, a scientist, woke up my two sisters, ages 6 and 4, and me. We grumbled but got up. She said. “You will always remember this night.”

The small black-and-white TV stood on a gold-painted TV stand at one of the living room. We sat on the floor to watch a man dressed in white, jumping around the surface of the moon. We were young but we knew this was momentous. And all three of us remember.

Many years later, as a young woman, I was an editorial assistant for a group called the National Space Society.

I tell you this because I’d just wrapped up a year working on Capitol Hill after graduating from Guilford College with a degree in mathematics.

Before that, I’d graduated from a special public high school for kids who were “gifted” in math and science. I spent the summer of 1976 hating my mother for forcing me to go there. She knew I loved to write, not dissect frogs or pigs or do math.

I was working at NSS while I waited to start graduate school in creative writing. My job at NSS was to visit NASA Headquarters each month to search its extraordinary art files for the best photos to go with our stories.

I tell you this in case you do not know that NASA funded more art than any US agency ever. It paid artists to chronicle what was going on, and to imagine what its missions, satellites, probes, and astronauts might find.

A man with the improbable name of James Dean helped lead that program and tells great stories about those days, trying to get men on the moon and artists—like Andrew Wyeth, Robert Rauschenberg, and William Thon—to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Apollo 11.

He’s even written a book about those times, NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration.I tell you this because I’ve met James, an artist at The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia.

He and my artist-mother are friends. I tell you this because James Dean is was also a friend of Apollo 11 astronaut, Michael Collins. (Not the other Michael Collins).

The astronaut Collins orbited the Moon while the others walked on it. My mother remembered I’d written a poem about him 30 years ago, and she thought that Mr. Collins and James Dean would like it. I’m adding the poem here with a caveat that I was only 23. What did I know?

Contrary to my poetic license, Collins orbited the dark side of the Moon concerned about being able to get his colleagues home. It was deep, dark space out there, and he lost all contact with them and with the Earth. What a brave soul he was.

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The reason I tell you this is to say why I keep creating.  I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil and spell my name. I was a quiet, shy girl, “a mumbler” my father said, and pen and paper let me put in notes and letters to my mother or father or grandmother (or boyfriend, husband, friend) what seemed impossible to voice.

As I reached middle school, my artist-mother began passing along books she’d been reading in college: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Leonard Cohen, Gilgamesh. Somehow Rod McKuen had a place at my table.

When I was 13 I asked my grandmother for the complete Emily Dickinson for my birthday, for Christmas, the complete e.e. cummings.

I never slowed down, not through the math degree, not the master’s degree, not being a single mom of 3 preschoolers or a new bride with a band of five under six.

Not when the surprise baby came when I was 40 and the oldest kid was 12.  Not while working full-time as a writer and freelancing for anyone who’d pay me, including the Washington Post. I always wrote because I love to write.

 

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Haiku art by Janice Lynch Schuster 

 

 

I stopped only when my grandmother died a few years ago and I’d lost the words for everything. Life overwhelmed me—and it did for years. I had no words for anguish or the deep losses that just kept accumulating.

Eventually, I found a creative world again through art, and through joining a talented groupof intrepid artists. Being with visual artists reminded me to truly see the world again: its connections, its curiosities, its splendors and its horrors.

They reminded me that I could close my eyes and choose to see what I pleased. I can make beauty out of the saddest days I will ever endure. And I will endure.

Because we are fortunate if we can call ourselves writers or artists or creatives, we must keep in mind that we are the lucky ones: we can observe and experiment; be joyful or silent; know our burdens or carry others’; we can make of every little thing something that says we are here, we are alive, we know what our existence signifies.

The reason I tell you this is because being a creative is hard, but it is the only work that makes me know I am still here.

I feel better on days when I make something: an essay, a poem, a collage, a painting. A scarf, a hat, a meal.  A beautiful arrangement in a flower pot.

Being a creative reminds me that all of these things connect in ways that we cannot even see until we stop, close our eyes, and look within at everything we know and are.

 

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Haiku art by Janice Lynch Schuster at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Maryland

 

The reason I tell you this is that the best advice I ever heard about art or writing or creating is still what E.M. Forrester said: Connect, only connect.

What are you trying to connect now in your work? It’s not the thing you must do, right? As my old friend from high school once told me, “What would you rather do?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

About Janice Lynch Schuster

Janice Lynch Schuster is a poet and artist who lives and works from her home in the woods and wetlands in Riva, Maryland. Her website is www.janicelynchschuster.com.

 

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Happy writing

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