Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Against the ruthless furnace

"He didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. He told them they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world."

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert was describing her namesake, the poet Jack Gilbert, and his approach to his students. I found these words on Brain Pickings, where I have lingered for hours already this morning, drinking in philosophies of creativity from people who make me think so hard on their ideas that my brain hurts. There were so many different quotes I wanted to share with you as I went deeper and deeper into the well, including this one, because of the times, and because of the idea of "stubborn gladness." So often, we ask what can we do in the face of what is unfolding in our politics, on our social landscape. This is one answer, and it's not easy, and it's not small.

As I return to my own not-small effort to resist the ruthless furnace, here is some more of the treasure I found:

Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative Courage and the Art of Living in a State of Uninterrupted Marvel:
"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.'

"Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them."

And this one, which my dear friend Brittany posted, and which sent me on the Brain Pickings hunt to begin with:

Martha Graham on the Life-Force of Creativity and the Divine Dissatisfaction of Being an Artist:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open...No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”


  1. That last quote, from Martha Graham reminds me of something I've been thinking a lot as I grieve a friend who died recently. He was a musician and I think of the literally thousands of songs he knew, he played, the many that he wrote, and how long it took him to learn and write all of these songs. Literally his entire life was dedicated to his art. He never stopped. Ever. And now, in the blink of an eye, in the exhalation of a last breath, all of that which was his and which he had made his is just gone. This is such a sorrow for me.

    1. And yet, dear Mary, he lives on in you, and now he lives here, too, because you have shared him with us. His work wasn't ever in vain. It enriched you, and does so even now. If it didn't you would not feel such sorrow at his loss. I think your sorrow honors him, and his dedication, and his wonderfully creative life. Thank you for helping us know him.

  2. I love this post. That first quote will be printed out and added to my growing stack of my favourites.

    I hope your writing is going well.

  3. I like the ideas of "stubborn gladness" (which we all need to maintain!) and finding those buried jewels.

  4. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.

    Oh I so much needed to read that exact sentence this morning. Thank you.

  5. "Brain Pickings" is a treasure of written and visual inspiration. So many links to follow that lead to more links. Always a fruitful use of one's time. Good to read the Martha Graham quote again today. Many years ago, my mother went to an art opening where she was handed a piece of paper with that quote on it. My mother stopped writing poetry and short stories, but she continued to write letters until a few days before she died unexpectedly in 1993. That quote was included in a letter years before she died. Good to remember that affirmation from my mother who was both an artist and a writer. Now it is connected in my mind with you.

    I'm intrigued by the photograph. Reflections and light within.

  6. Loved reading these quotes, and most especially this, "because there is only one of you in all of time..." How easy it is to forget that.

  7. some great thoughts for the day. "the divine dissatisfaction of being an artist"...I can certainly relate to that. my husband will tell you I am never satisfied with any finished work. which is true and not true all at the same time. "the art of living in a state of uninterrupted marvel"...I love this. and "stubborn gladness" and all that conjures up.

  8. "No artist is pleased."

    The best. Always true.

  9. Thank you, I do get happily lost in Brain Pickings, the chosen quotes in this post have set me off and the thoughts are pin balls pinging off the sides of my brain, my whole self! Turned on! Last night I watched PBS , the life and works of Eva Hesse, find it if you can, remarkable!! You may have watched it already, I think it is up your alley. Inspired by playfulness and being- glad in spite of life's horror.

  10. "He told them they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world." How this line speaks to me. Thank you for that. The Martha Graham quote also bears thinking about, as I keep stalling and self-censoring in my blogging now, and as I "think about" rather than "do" my sewing and crafting projects. Even those of us who do very small creative things need to read these words.

  11. So much to read -- and that Brain Pickings woman is a marvel, isn't she? What an incredible curator -- I wonder exactly how she does it -- does she have a staff?

  12. Martha Graham on not determining how valuable or how good our work is gives me FREEDOM. I've been reading lately about listening to our lineages and ancestry--both of our blood and of our craft, and how each of us will have our own particular lineage of those who have gone before us in our creative work. I'm adding Gilbert, Nin, and Graham to mine.