Guest Blog Post, Jon Pearson: Unleash Your Imagination

I asked a seven-year-old girl once what the word “imagination” meant, and she said it meant “going further than you can think.” I have been pondering her answer for thirty years. What is it to go “further than you can think?” Is there a thinking beyond thinking, beyond words and that nonstop flow we call “consciousness?” Well of course there is. And I feel it every time I sit down to write or draw. There is something about blank paper that makes me feel like a small blue rowboat about to push off into a wide, bottomless lake, to break the water with my wooden nose.

When I was a kid, I used to draw incessantly. My older brother was off playing. My parents were off doing whatever grownups did, which I always pictured as occurring up in the sky for some reason. If my dad were at work, I’d see him at his desk in a building way up in the clouds. Even if I had actually visited his office, I’d picture it up in the sky. I want to say that I knew his office was on land, but, truth is, what I knew was that his office was somewhere in the sky. There is no explaining this sort of thing. It isn’t about facts. It’s about knowing. Or, perhaps, going “further than you can think.”

Anyway, I drew constantly at the big, low wooden table in my upstairs bedroom with the window looking out on the yard. I always drew with my back to the window. Apparently, I didn’t need the “outside world” for inspiration; blank paper was enough, plus a box of Crayola crayons, the jumbo box. To this day, I can remember the thrill of drawing a battleship. I wasn’t a big fan of war, but I loved drawing battleships. My brother, who was a year older and a foot taller, was off with the big kids – the BIG KIDS. And I imagined the “BIG KIDS” as a country where mythical, semi-gods jousted and had swordfights. So, it was easy for me to see why my brother wouldn’t want me tagging along. At eight years old, I, of course, knew that “BIG KIDS” wasn’t a country and that they didn’t actually joust there. But that was a mere understanding, a puny sort of knowing, compared to the deeper, finer knowing that came from the place in me that knew that the big kids did joust or could joust or jousted when no one was watching.

It was the same place from which I drew battleships that lunged and plowed through the salty waves and weren’t afraid of anything. Or intergalactic space vehicles that could land anywhere and send messages back in code, a language that I, alone, could understand. Or ancient fire-breathing, mind-reading, baseball-playing tyrannosaurus rexes. Or dolphin acrobats that could sing songs inside out. The place from which I drew was beyond logic, reason, words, worry, self-pity, self-criticism, or any need to “succeed.” It was a vast, secret place of freedom and confidence, mystery and surprise, joy and anticipation lodged in a tiny ball of infinity that I carried with me wherever I went. It is the same place from which I now write. If I am lucky. If my need to do well and look good doesn’t get in the way. But, at eight, with a crayon in my hand, I was God: creator of worlds and worlds within worlds. Not a lonely, runty kid.

Everything I ever learned about writing I probably learned from drawing, from drawing at the big, wide upstairs table when I was a kid, when I was God, and knew it.  Knew it quietly. The same way your tongue knows the back of your teeth. Of course, I learned the rules of writing in school, which is where I learned to hate writing. I “learned” to write for the teacher, for the grade, for the grammar police. Speaking of which, I am a big fan of the grammar police. Just at the end of the process, not while I am trying to be some place beneath or beyond my “thinking.”

Spewing out gorillas and battleships and dinosaurs and space vehicles and flying buffalo, I wasn’t following anyone’s rules or trying to get anything “right.” I lost myself in that most sacred of all things – PLAY. Naturally, drawing has rules. Writing has rules. Brushing your teeth has rules. So, learn the rules. But don’t let them keep you from dropping down your own, personal rabbit hole.

I started to write seriously when I was nearly fifty. By accident. I was slamming my van door when the phrase “He lived in Edward G. Robinson’s head,” popped to mind. I had no idea my mind was thinking about Edward G. Robinson, the nineteen thirties’ movie gangster. I was just slamming my van door. Next day, I got a pen and paper and, beginning with the sentence, “He lived in Edward G. Robinson’s head,” I started writing and writing and writing. I wrote about a guy working in an amusement park on Gangster Lane in a giant stucco replica of Edward G. Robinson. I wrote the guy’s observations about life, death, bugs, mice, sex amongst houseflies, border control, malaria, King Arthur and his famous (make-believe) dog, junkyards. I just wrote. And every time I “hit a wall,” I said to myself: “It doesn’t have to make sense,” and I burst free. “It doesn’t have to make sense”became my mantra, my stick of dynamite, to blast through barriers. I wrote and wrote: eight hundred and fifty pages by hand. I called it “In the Nostrils of an Icon.” Took about a year.

I was working as an educational consultant at the time, and everything I did in the schools had to be “objectives driven.” You had to know what you were going to say, say it, and then check that people got what you said. Which, turns out, was the opposite of my own creative process. I’d come home from work and mess around in the “backyard” of my mind. I’d let my imagination go nuts. My ability to go “crazy” kept me from going crazy. And I realized the biggest creative secret of all (for me) — MY MIND HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN. It was something I knew as a kid with a crayon in my hand, but learned, later, to forget or not trust. My mind, actually, has a LIFE of its own. It’s a kid who wants to go to the park and swing on the swings and go ape. If I let him, all is well. If I don’t and don’t regularly spend time creating, all isn’t well.

I wrote a second book, “Memoirs of a Gorilla,” all about the difference between the freedom of time and the freedom of space. School seems to make a grand distinction between the intellect and the imagination. But there IS no intellect without imagination. Again, I just trusted the kid in me. And then I started writing short stories: about three hundred of them. I went to a local coffee shop and wrote. Writing at home was too solitary for me, but writing in public (at a table near a window away from people) was heaven. I’d wake up, gobble down breakfast, and hurry to the café. I couldn’t get there fast enough. The place in me “beyond thinking” was already brewing up a story. The houses and streets and billboards along the way were all in Technicolor. By the time I got to the café, my eyesight had practically tripled. I’d pour my own coffee, and the “little kid” in me would be so damn happy, I could explode. The gorillas and dinosaurs were all flying around in my head. I didn’t think I was a “Writer,” not a writer with a capital “W.” I just wanted to write.

I’d sit at the table near the window, wave at the sky above the building across the street. My mom had passed away eight years earlier, and I’d wave to her in the sky. “Hi, Mom.” I’d say, “I’m doing it.” Which meant I was writing. My mother was a brilliant writer, but because she didn’t feel she was a writer with a capital “W,” she never let the little creative kid in her play. Now, of course, I found my own ways of not trusting the “kid” in me, the ball of genius that wants to break the rules and fly off the edge, to go beyond “reality” to unknown truths. So, for hours a day, I just took the old blue rowboat out onto the lake. I felt giddy and indispensable. After four hours of writing I would walk around the block and involuntarily start skipping.

See, that was the part I didn’t learn about in school. That writing wasn’t a competition. And it wasn’t serious because it was important. It was serious because it was fun. The sort of fun where, afterward, I felt more myself because I was being exactly myself. Of course, it’s not always fun. Often nothing comes. Nothing at all. But I know I am in the right place, at least, the place where something can come. I always start with the first thing that pops into my head, usually something odd and specific. Like how I used to draw. Like this recent beginning of a story that I wrote in a white heat because I was pissed at something:

I live in the lavender gut of a horse, a beating heart just beyond the wall. And beyond the centuries-old loftiness that is horse, two old ladies sip tea on a white porch in the crabapple South, hoping for something that might squirrel up out of the ground, the age-old ground, the southern ground, the ground at the top of a hill: a thin line of angels listening all boneless and hospitable from above, managing nothing with their tiny, modest, angel hands, hands that might just as well be days of the week. The long-gone Civil War is wearing a small red and gold cap once worn by an organ grinder’s monkey.

Where did it come from? What does it mean? Where is it going? Well, to me, it comes from the place of “flying buffalo” and “mind-reading dinosaurs,” the place from which I used to draw as a kid and still do – a place beneath words that goes further than I can think.And, hopefully, I can wrestle and shape the story into something made of flights of imagination and depths of emotion.

Yes, I learned to write by learning to draw, by learning to observe and imagine. The world is always brand new. Just observe and imagine. A number two Ticonderoga pencil becomes extraordinary if you stare at it long enough. And language doesn’t have to merely describe and explain. It can re-wire everything. Because we don’t just live in a world where “dogs bark.” We live in a world where “bogs dark.” In the end, I write from the place where children live– the senses, imagination, and emotions. I write from that place we all know from long ago, the place the seven-year-old girl called “going further than you can think.”

#ArtLitPhx: The Messenger is the Message: Voicecraft and the Personal Essay with Gregory Pardlo

artlitphx

Date: Thursday, March 21, 2019
Time: 6:30 p.m
Location: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281
Cost: Free

Event Details:
One of the tragic consequences of being confined to a single body is that we will never know what other people experience when they meet us for the first time. We can’t know how someone will register the slight change in the atmosphere that our presence causes when we enter a room. We will never know what another person feels while keeping us company. Memoirists choose to make themselves, someone they can never objectively grasp or fully represent on the page, the primary subject of most of their writing. But there are ways to cultivate a kind of out-of-body-relationship to the self that does get on the page. Voice is the messenger we send to greet the reader. We can craft voice the way one might craft a social media presence. Voice can conjure an entire world in a few phrases, images or references. The question is how do we want to be represented on the page?

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gregory Pardlo for his talk, “The Messenger is the Message: Voicecraft and the Personal Essay” on Thursday, March 21, 2019 at the Tempe Center for the Arts (700 W Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281) at 6:30 p.m.

While encouraged, RSVPs are purely for the purposes of monitoring attendance, gauging interest, and communicating information about parking, directions, and other aspects of the event. You do not have to register or RSVP to attend this event. This event is open to the public and free.

For more information and to RSVP, visit the Eventbrite page here.

About the Author:
Gregory Pardlo’s collection Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is Poetry Editor of Virginia Quarterly Review and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Rutgers-Camden University. Air Traffic, a memoir in essays, was released by Knopf in April.

About the Book:
The long-awaited extraordinary memoir and a blistering meditation on fatherhood, class, education, race, addiction, and ambition from beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gregory Pardlo.

Gregory Sr. is a charismatic air traffic controller at Newark International Airport, leading labor organizer and a father to two sons, bookish Greg Jr. and musical-talent Robbie. But, when “Big Greg” loses his job after the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Strike of 1981, he becomes a disillusioned presence in the household and a disconcerting model for young Greg’s ambitions. As Big Greg succumbs to addiction and exhausts the family’s money on ostentatious whims, Greg Jr. rebels. He hustles off to boot camp at Parris Island, falls in love with a woman he follows to Denmark, drops in and out of college, and takes a job as a bar manager-cum-barfly at the family’s jazz club.

Rich and lyrical, Air Traffic follows Gregory Pardlo as he learns to be a poet, father, and teacher, as he enters recovery and hosts an intervention for his brother on national television. Throughout, Pardlo grapples with the irresistible yet ruinous legacy of masculinity he inherited from his father. This is his deeply-felt ode to Greg Sr., to fatherhood, and to the frustrating-yet-redemptive ties of family, as well as a scrupulous, searing examination of how manhood is shaped in contemporary American life. (Knopf)

To learn more about Air Traffic, you can visit the author’s website or order the book from Changing Hands.

Authors Talk: Beata Wehr

Beata Wehr

Today we are pleased to feature Beata Wehr as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes the time to discuss how she arrived at her current artistic style and what she wished to accomplish in creating and sharing her unique artist’s books and boxes, some of which are featured in Superstition Review.

Beata discusses how her artistic style has changed over time to include artist’s books and mixed media work which she sees as a “container for my ideas,” providing more opportunities than a singularly visual art form such as a painting. She also notes that her art is like “an allusion to a narrative” which the viewer may interpret themselves and this helps her achieve her artistic goal of “recording the passage of time” with her work.

Now living in Tuscon, Arizona, Beata is originally from Poland and develops her art by drawing on her unique life experiences as an immigrant. She describes her thought process and some particular choices that went into creating some of her pieces as they were made as a response to “the disturbing spread of nationalism and xenophobia.” This sentiment is then combined with a desire to demonstrate a “hopefully harmonious and yet ambiguous opposition between nature and culture” through her art. She also notes that she is “attracted to the beauty and mystery of found objects,” which speaks to the heart of her artistic work and style.

You can view Beata’s work in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.

#ArtLitPhx: Anne Lamott

artlitphx

Date: Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Time: 7:30pm
Location: Ikeda Theater, 1 E Main St, Mesa, AZ 85201
Cost: $28-$50

Event Details:
Presented by Mesa Arts Center as part of the Performing Live series

Anne Lamott writes and speaks with self-effacing humor – she is laugh-out-loud funny. She writes about what most of us don’t like to think about. In all her novels, she writes about loss; loss of loved ones and loss of personal control. She doesn’t try to sugar-coat the sadness, frustration and disappointment, but tells her stories with honesty, compassion and a pureness of voice.

This performance is eligible for Mesa Bucks

For more information, or to buy tickets, click here.

 

#ArtLitPhx: March Fair Weather with El Roy Red and Saretta Morgan

artlitphx

Date: Sunday, March 17, 2019
Time: 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Location: Jewish History Museum, 564 S Stone Ave, Tucson, Arizona 85701
Cost: $5 Suggested donation

Event Details:

March’s Fair Weather brings us to the Jewish History Museum who are generously cosponsoring this event ♥

Doors at 6:00pm
Poetry at 6:30pm
$5 Suggested donation
Snacks and wine provided

El Roy Red works in the space btwn hope & efficacy until they reach actualization. Galvanized in Black/ Brown queer liberation, Red utilizes writing, movement, ritual & performance to facilitate healing, growth, & alternative futures. #postafrofuturism They have shared work in print w apogee journal, handjob zine, & femmescapes zine. IRL She has performed in Amsterdam & Berlin…. Stateside @ the Bronx museum, Printed Matter, & the Poetry Project, & the Segue Reading to name a few. & most recently, she has spoken @ the Brooklyn Museum as a part of the Trans Oral History Project.

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Saretta Morgan uses text and objects to consider relationships between privacy and narrative forms. She is the author of the chapbooks, Feeling Upon Arrival (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018) and room for a counter interior (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2017) as well as a forthcoming full length collection Plan Upon Arrival (Selva Oscura/Three Count Pour). She was a 2016-2017 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Resident and her work has received support from the Jerome Foundation, Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, among others. Saretta received a B.A. in writing from Columbia University and an MFA from Pratt Institute. She teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

The Jewish History Museum is a wheelchair accessible space. Street parking is available, and we are working to cone off space near a curb cut for wheelchair users.

#ArtLitPhx: Great Books Discussion Group

artlitphx

Date: 3/13/19
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: Library Connections Café, Tempe Public Library, 3500 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, Arizona 85282
Cost: Free

Event Description:
The Great Books Foundation promotes reading, thinking and sharing of ideas. Kathy and Don Dietz will lead discussions on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. in the Connections Café. Participants provide their own copies of the books.

W     3/13   Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris

W     3/27  The Entrepreneur by Po Bronson

QUESTIONS? 480-350-5500

FEE: None

REGISTRATION: Not required

Authors Talk: DJ Lee

DJ LeeAuthors Talk: DJ Lee

Today we are pleased to feature DJ Lee as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes the opportunity to talk with her daughter, Steph Lee, about her creative essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures”. The essay covers the period in which DJ and her daughter were estranged, their reconciliation and, in a broader sense, the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

The two discuss the difficulty of writing a personal piece about family, but they acknowledge writing can be a way to process family traumas. DJ considers Steph’s reaction to the essay, as she felt the person in the essay is “another form of me.” After reconciling, DJ felt she needed to publicly share their story through her writing, speaking to “people dealing with this kind of loss, especially of a child.”

DJ also considers the inspiration she found in the earthwork sculpture, Spiral Jetty, built by Robert Smithson in the Great Salt Lake. The art piece, significant to the pair, became an important element in the piece as she constructed the essay “to have a spiral form, to sort of fold back on itself like the relationship between mothers and daughters.” She also considers the idea of “something very beautiful and precious and special being under the surface.” Not only does she find meaning in this inspiring art piece but uses numbers to connect the fragments of her essay in order demonstrate the “ruptures in peoples lives” and how “a fractured relationship” can be made whole.

You can read DJ’s work in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.