Pearls are what happen when an oyster or some other mollusk is irritated by the invasion of some disturbing intruder into its closed shell. A grain of sand may be slight but not too slight to cause a pearl to form. Pearls are layers and layers of soothing nacre intended to insulate the delicate mollusk from the irritant that has abraded it. At the very core, a pearl is a disturbance, a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there. It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty. Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion.
Artists have the ability to invite intrusions into their lives and then use its fire as creativity. They turn the environmental irritants into words, images and sounds that renew the onerous attacks in the lives of others. Our world is an oyster and it is filled with irritants and disturbances. Many of us may try to keep our shell tightly closed to avoid any disturbance within. Others may be inviting this discord in closer, allowing a metamorphosis to occur. This change – even the most infinitesimal change – presents an opportunity to create a precious pearl in our lives.
I sit in my home office, pen-to-page, contemplating the irritants that have found their way into my life shell. A ladder of memories, both distant and recent, form on the blue lines of the page. Some bring pause like the larger events, divorce, births and deaths. Others slip along one after the other with only a glimpse out of the corner of my memory’s eye. All of them, meniscal or grand, torpid or alive, they all shimmer together forming the many pearls in my life. In writing this blog I have realized that each and every one of the pearls, black, white, cream or green, make up a life lived and experienced. How do I view the jewels of my painful moments in life? Do I honor them or merely place them in a crevice in my mind that goes unnoticed like a tarnished penny on the street?
- Make a list of all the disruptions in your life.
- Make a list of all the irritants – no matter how small – that have caused you to react in a way that set you on another direction in life.
- Make a list of irritants you may have invited or allowed into your life.
- Make a list of all the pearls that have been created because of the irritants you experienced.
- Explore turns that have been sharp or maybe more of a slight deviation in your direction due to an interruption in your life.
- Make a list of people that may have entered into your life whether they were welcomed or unwelcomed, and how they may have subverted your life or merely shifted your firm stance.
- Once you have your list, I welcome you to do a free-write about the experience of the irritant entering your shell. Creating the layers of nacre over and around the irritant and then describe the pearl that was created in your life. Slow down while remembering and allow each layer to the story to be full and enriched with details. When your story is complete, spend time with it so that you can take in all the beauty of your transformation and resilience, wear your pearl with pride!
When my spouse walked out on me, he opened and closed the door behind him and never looked back. I thought I was going to implode. I knew it was the best thing for me but inside I felt like my lungs became stone, no air could pass, no breath could flow. I wanted to cry a monsoon but inside was only a drought, a basin filled with memoires, debris. They were washed there by the flooding waters and left as the monsoon softened bringing the torrid desert sun. My lips quivered and my body trembled as my mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened. Was I standing or sitting? was I inside or outside? I don’t remember how long I was there in this torpid state, alienated from anything around me and bound to nothing. I don’t remember how I was able to welcome my kids’ home from school that day or to parent them at all, but I know I did. I moved through task after task disconnected from family or friends and myself.
I began to feel this force inside of me, this propulsion, but I did not know what that was or how to release it in this turbulence. I reached out to my old writing group and found myself swaddled among all the other wonderful women whose voices and stories I had missed. I started writing again from a deeper space, from the basement and attic of my soul. I found myself going deep into the earth, below the roots of my life, and being able to look at them, touch them and feel the vibration of each and every one of them. It was writing that helped me to understand them. I wrote my way to some clarity and found my way back to me. I began to remember all my qualities and strengths, but more importantly, I remembered my passions. It felt as though I had been swept up in the eye of a tornado and I was sent spinning and twirling, a mere particle that had no control or say in what was happening. When I relaxed, I suddenly just dropped from the tornado’s hold and landed back in my life.
My new relationship with writing was the pearl that was created out of what felt like an unbearable pain. This pearl remains a critical part of me and one that continues to enrich my life. It illuminates every grain of sand that enters my shell, guiding me toward creating something better from life’s irritants, something worthier of a life lived.
In her book Writing the Natural Way, Gabriele Lusser Rico introduced the concept of “clustering” also known as “webbing,” as a creative technique to return to the playfulness and wonder of childhood storying. Traditional schooling programs our brains to write in a prescribed way that follows a sequence of events. When writing for school we write from the cognitive rational part of our brain. The creative part of the brain is often shut out of the process, which discard any emotional or sensory experience from the events in the story. This kind of writing can often feel dull and unimportant, which lead a lot of people to turn away from writing or retelling their life experiences through the written word.
Children love to create stories and hear stories. They learn how to translate themselves through the stories they create. The psychologist Renee Fuller termed “storying” as a term for what children do to try to create wholeness out of their experiences in an adult world. Our ancient ancestors also storied their daily experiences and life stories with their community around the fire. Images carved into rock or painted on rocks told the story of hunting and life in the early communities. Stories are a way for humans to connect, to have relationships and to express who they are to others.
Gabriele Lusser Rico explores how adults lose the sense of pleasure and wholeness in their writing that they had as children. As adults we trade curiosity for the mundane, delight of the new with worry for the future. Adults replace a free sensory notion of the world with a preconceived notion that has been written in a prescribed formula.
According to Gabriele, we do not lack ideas for writing, but we lack the access to them. Her clustering model allows for the creative part of the brain to be very active. The child curiosity and wonder are reignited.
To begin clustering Gabriele suggests that a single word, or a few words, are written down in the middle of the page. Then circle it. Jutting out from the initial circled word draw lines connecting to other words or phrases associated with the original word. Some words might become their own nucleus with many spokes coming out from them with connecting images or thoughts. Continue to allow the creative mind to make these connection and form patterns until it feels like you have exhausted any new ideas.
Below are some examples of words to choose from to begin your creative clustering experience. You can also place the name of a person or specific experiences you might want to explore deeper in your first circle. Include sensory experiences as a way to expand your memory and bring it to life. I choose the word prompt “things found” and wrote about my Gramp’s chair. I also provided an example below of the clustering I did first that led me to the short written piece. You can choose just to cluster or, if the story wants to be told, allow your clustered memories to take shape to form your story.
Fear, Pain, Hunger
Age, Body part’s (stomach, shoulders, feet etc…)
Myself, My mother (father, grandfather. . .), childhood memories
Letting go, Time, Dreams
Things or people Lost/found, things desired, things despise
The name of a person, a place or a time in your life, friends, enemies, person admired
Dinner table, favorite foods, places to eat
Travel, vacations, Events, situations and circumstances, concerts attended
Things said/things not said, things known and unknown
Jobs lost/jobs found
Pets you have had in your lifetime, car’s in your life
My Gramp sat in his bedroom chair twice a day, once to put his shoes on and once to take his shoes off. I don’t know where the chair came from or why it was the chair in my Gramp’s bedroom, but I remember sitting on his lap as he sat to get ready for the day and later to end his day.
The chair was a wood frame, burnt umber, with a hunt scene of horses racing across the chair in an eternal chase for the fox. A conservative block pleat wrapped around the edge of the seat and- a wood frame with line webbing criss-crossed beneath the horses and their riders. It had a barrel shape back that was softened by a cushion shaped with a larger surface for the back and two smaller sections that appeared to wrap around and hold my Gramp’s shoulders, supporting his rotund body comfortably. The chair sat lower to the ground like it was made for the purpose of putting on and taking off shoes.
I used to sit on my Gramp’s lap after he laced up his brown leather high top shoes. We sat there together in our generational union looking at pictures of people I never knew and would never know. Gramp kept a piece of corrugated cardboard wrapped around a parcel of photos tied with white string in his top dresser drawer. My Gramp would show me these small black and white photos, although they were more brown and cream colored. The photos were of people that never smiled and wore long dresses and men all in suits standing in place they just stood on a porch or what looked like a backdrop of plain cloth. Taller ones in the back and smaller ones in the front. All of them the men and woman wearing high-top leather shoes like my Gramp’s. Some of the photos were on what appeared to be a sheet of tin, the colors black and gray. Gramp always looked at them, all these people that he knew and loved and now missed, with joy as he named them and told a little story or two about a few of his family members, my ancestors.
There was a picture of my Gramp as a young man after he graduated from college in engineering. He was on a ship heading to Canada as a graduation gift from his father. I didn’t recognize him in that young skin, wool pants and matching jacket. He had what looked like reddish-brown hair and even though he didn’t smile he looked into the camera with a slight grin. I suppose he felt proud of his accomplishments and excited about his travel adventures. I loved to look at that photo, always trying to find the Gramp I knew in that tall slim body. I tried to imagine what he was like back then, a young man so full of energy and with a bright future ahead of him, sitting there on a boat alone about to embark on a journey.
I would look through each and every photo and hold onto the metal ones. I was so amazed at how they got a picture on this material and I wondered how my Gramp could know so many people that came from a time I was not to experience. He would put them all back in order and wrap the corrugated board around them for protection. He tied the white string in a coil around them, securing his memories before laying them to rest in the dresser drawer on top of his handkerchiefs. They would be tenderly lifted from their repose in the evening and the ancestral tails would be my bedtime story that lulled me sleep.
After fifty years, I have his chair again and it sits in my extra room. It had been in a basement for many years and never attended to or sat on or even noticed. I ran my fingers over the old tattered fabric with the horses and riders now faded, the back cushion missing, and the wood discolored, and I remembered my Gramp, now among the ancestors. I plan to restore this chair and maybe I will sit in it and share photos with my grandson and tell stories of my Gramp, his great- great Grandfather. But the photos will be in color now and he will see some wonderful smiles and goofy expression on the faces of our family. I will bring out the ancient parcel of photos and show them to him, but I will only remember some of their names most likely not all the details of the stories. Those stories now all live within the faded colors of the small thumb size pictures and metal sheets.