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Regensburg. August 17, 2010.

I am on a path toward more regular creative practice in my life, and this blog (particularly the 76 Days in Europe series) has become my first ritualized creative effort.   What started as a way to catalog a trip has turned into a(n almost) daily meeting of the blank page, a deep breath and the first keystroke.  I’m learning to scan my day for what, in art therapy or dream interpretation, is called the “bizarre element” – that moment that catches my breath, even if only for a moment, and takes me somewhere.  This is an exciting new skill for me, and learning to trust that it is naturally happening through the practice of doing it, rather than being something I feel I have to absorb conceptually before I can do it.  Life-sized asterisk here – big distinction for me.

The arts have been in my blood since birth, I’m sure.  I learned to read music at the same time I learned to read words, and my parents had to convince my first piano teacher, Mera Seifert, to take me on as a student just before my fourth birthday, because I was so eager to play.  It came rather easily to me, which turned out to be a detriment in an important way, because though I could play many of the easy pieces Mrs. Seifert placed in front of me, when a piece didn’t come easily to me I freaked out a bit.  Looked away.  Found a piece that came easily and played that again.  Poor Mrs. Seifert fired me twice before I turned ten, because I never established a habit of practice, and would come to my lessons unprepared and thus not advancing as she knew I could.  I’m not sure what was happening, but the curse of doing-well-without-trying continued to follow me throughout my childhood years and I have always had trouble implementing the skills of habit, repetition, progress and accomplishment.  Doing-well-without-trying often led me to make easy choices in my art, rather than play around and try out terrible impulses and give myself permission to fail.  And that led to a certain flatness, and a lot of moving-into but not moving-through.

I don’t say this to discount all the art I’ve made, because I’m quite proud of what I have accomplished in my life – especially in recent years, as I’ve grown and allowed myself to muck around and make the tougher choices and fail a bit more often. I say this simply to point out a hole in the fabric of my creative life.  One that I feel ready to patch and fill, and make whole.

Up on my Kindle is Twyla Tharp’s recent book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Twyla Tharp has long been an inspirational figure for me; ever since I saw her choreography for the film of Hair (it really gets good around 3:25) I’ve been entranced by her unique eye, the emotion so effectively evoked through her physical movement, and the freedom to use or leave behind convention as it fits her expression of what’s inside her.

I’ve always held an idealized view of generating creative work: the lightning hits you, and you better get a pen to paper post haste or the divine rumblings will dissipate through your feet and be lost to you. (Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for describing it so eloquently.)

But Twyla (may I call her Twyla?) just bitch-slapped me with a reminder that there’s also hard work involved.  Much of that work is the peculiar creative practice of showing up.  Making a habit of coming to the page or the stage, the canvas or sauce pan.  Facing the white space, taking a deep breath, and heading into a practice.  Not concerning yourself with what will be there when you’ve finished (which has, more times than I dare say, stopped me dead cold in my tracks) or whether it’s good enough or whether anyone will want to read/see/hear/taste it or whether you’ll piss somebody off by telling your truth.  Ritualizing your showing-up practice so that it becomes habit, so that you’re limber and aware and available to the sparks that do light up in your day.

How do you show up?  What’s your practice?  Have you created habits in your life that make you more available to your moments?