My favorite exercise happens in the early spring, when San Francisco comes alive with flowers. Spring weather in February and March is normal here. Even the trees—plum, magnolia, acacia—come alive with color.
For this exercise, I simply walk through my neighborhood and pick flowers—daffodils, camellias, forget-me-nots, little daisies growing up through cracks in the sidewalk—and place them in a vase on the coffee table. During the workshop, I give everyone a flower (along with the quotes below), and ask them to really see, smell, and touch the flower. After a moment, they pass this flower to the person on their right, and take another flower. We do this until all the flowers have gone around the room. We don’t talk while we do this, so we can get into what I call the dream space (where we begin to imagine and make associations).
Since I am such a flower fanatic, and I love spring, it brings me great joy to look around the room and see each person spending a few moments with a flower. (This can be done with herbs, too, which generates interesting writing.)
Last Tuesday, everyone in the room read their flower piece; I did not (because I couldn’t write one). I was stuck, blocked.
I’ve learned from past experience that we don’t get blocked as writers because we don’t have anything to say, but because we have too much to say. By Thursday, I found my words again.
“Nobody sees a flower –really — it is so small it takes time –we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like having a friend takes time.” -Georgia O’Keeffe
“A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy looking at it.” -Oscar Wilde
My muse arrives again.
I wish she were a handsome Latin man with a bottle of champagne, but I’m happy to see her nonetheless. I lost her earlier in the week. On Tuesday night I sat dumb, pen in hand, while flowers inspired everyone in the room but me. It was torture, seeing a flower but not really seeing it. I couldn’t face the flowers. Couldn’t appreciate the ghoulish magnolia, the tiny rosemary blossoms, the forget-me- not. I was stuck.
Now I know why my favorite writing exercise didn’t work for me: I was telling myself don’t. Don’t write about him again, or love, or your mother, or the other men who brought you flowers. Don’t write about desire, or sex, or the pale green hydrangea at his memorial. Don’t write about the surprise of spring that first year when you were only fourteen, still dreaming of becoming a singer, a boy on Broadway, a beautiful dancer. Don’t tell them again how the plum blossoms surprised you the first week in February; don’t mention pink petals against dark branches, or the rusty gold dog at your side, companion all throughout the mess that became your adolescence, the loss, the illness, the fear of what you witnessed. How before that you were nothing but hope and dreams, and the world was safe and warm and exciting.
I told myself, don’t write about any of that. They’ve heard it all before. Your opera. Your arias. And yet, here I am again, the pen filling the page with ink. Liberated.
Now I can write that I’m proud of the way I loved him, I’m thankful I had her as a mother, I’m satisfied with the way he slipped out of his body. I can circle back around to the dreams. I will learn to use the voice I still have, take lessons, sit down with my new friend and his new guitar and harmonize. I will let spring lift me, blossom by perfect fleeting blossom, out of this fear, this funk, these fantasies of the end, and see again—oh! am I boring you yet?—really see once again how limitless it all is. How much more there is, how many more people there are to love.
That’s my muse, returning. Reminding me.