This month's Write-Away Contest judge was Allysha from Bells on Their Toes--which I've subscribed to for years and read whenever I want valuable thoughts on motherhood or life. About a year and a half ago she started a second blog, Just an Orange, where she publishes her artistic endeavors. Allysha is the mother of three and I asked her questions about her thoughts on art, writing, blogging and creativity and her answers are wonderful, just take a peak.
Why did you decide to start your second blog, Just an Orange. What was lacking from Bells on Their Toes that you were looking for in a new blog?
This first question is ironic in that I checked on Just an Orange the other day and realized it has been a year (a year!) since I posted anything there. Bells on Their Toes started out more as a focus on my kids and is more about my domestic life, if you want to call it that, and Just an Orange is more about ideas.
Blogs, like any creative endeavor, can take on their own personality, which is in part why I started a second blog. While I wrote about the humanities some on Bells on Their Toes, I wanted to share more poetry and thoughts on art and music etc. It seemed like more information than could fit onto just one blog. However, as my kids get a bit older I write less about them. I have thought for a long time about starting an entirely new blog that would incorporate some ideas from both blogs, but we'll see. I have a hard time saying goodbye to something and Bells on Their Toes has been a really great outlet for me.
I did get really sick a few months after launching Just an Orange and unfortunately that eventually did me (and it!) in. I have four small children, a husband who teaches at a university full-time while also getting his PhD, so when something had to give, that did. Despite the accidental hiatus, I really love Just an Orange, especially the guest essays I was able to post (check them out!). Hopefully I'll be able to resurrect it in some form or another one of these days.
Which do you feel is more important to you and your creativity?
Bells On Their Toes is more personal than Just an Orange, and it's obviously the blog I am most consistent with, but both are important for me from a creative standpoint. Posts for Just an Orange were more like mini college essays, so they usually took more time to compose. Bells on Their Toes is so much about my life it's easy to just sit down and plunk something out.
I am the first to admit that sometimes my posts are simply a way of saying “I'm still alive!” They aren't all great compositions. But I write for myself and I enjoy the blog format because it gives me an audience, albeit a smallish one. Once upon a time I worried more about building my readership and always having something new for them to read, but with my kids (ages 2-7) I decided I didn't want to spend the kind of time and energy needed to launch that sort of blog right now. It was then I realized that for me the most important thing is my own creative release. I so appreciate my readers and their comments however, because it is really nice to feel like I have connected with someone else. Bells on Their Toes has been a great outlet in that way.
You’ve come from an artistic parentage, do you have siblings and how did they find their creative outlet? What has passed onto your children?
All of my siblings are creative but I don't consider my family really artsy, maybe because most of us have a hefty dose of analytical fervor that keeps us grounded. That said, in the mix are writers, artists, musicians, dancers and designers of all kinds (graphic, interior, and a landscape architect). Everyone does at least one of these. But sports and the outdoors also plays a prominent role. More for some than others.
My kids love art, and books and are very musical. One of my daughters has been putting on her own solo production of the Nutcracker the past few nights and her sister designed the set. So I guess it's just naturally passed on.
You’re interested in so many things: dance, literature, poetry, painting, drawing, music—which is your favorite of the fine arts and why?
Oh, that's hard to answer. It may be that words are my first love, or at least the most accessible, but the fine arts all sort of move around inside each other, don't they? I guess I consider the paintings on the Sistine Chapel a kind of music and the movement of a dancer a kind of poetry, just as the words of a poem laid down on the page is a careful kind of dance, or more particularly, a kind of music. They all give me the same kind of thrill. I'm not sure what it is.
I've been able to participate in some form in all of these things, nothing earth shattering, mind you. The culmination of my musical career was perhaps my experience in the jr high band, but I loved the synergy of performing a piece of music in a big group. Growing up both of my parents, but especially my father, taught me to have a great appreciation for wonderful art in all it's forms. I'm really grateful for that.
What projects are you currently working on? What’s on the workbench now?
I have a few short stories I'm quite fond of (of which I am quite fond? That sounds pretentious) that need to be revised and a book that is in the beginning stages (doesn't everyone?) but these days they sit on the back burner of my consciousness slowly simmering while I finish tiling the backsplash in my kitchen.
What are your favorites: book, poet, composer, painting?
I don't have absolute favorites (too many!) but here is what comes to mind at the moment:
Book: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
Writer: Edith Wharton's short stories are what I've been reading lately. She is amazing.
Composer: Ralph Vaughn Williams has some really nice stuff. (Also the standbys Beethoven and Mozart. Really.)
Painting: Hmmm. Let's go with work of art and I'll say Michelangelo's Moses.
How can mothers find time for creativity in their own lives? What are ways they can make time in small ways? What has worked for you?
It's always a trick isn't it? You can't have it all at the same time. Given the ages and needs of my children there are things I'd love to do (regular writing time) but I don't. With my personality and the demands on my time these days most of my creative endeavors are participatory; I read, I watercolor with the kids, I listen to good music in the car while shuttling people around. If I'm lucky I get out to see an art exhibit at the local museum. But honestly, I have simply chosen to not do a lot of things I'd like to do. I trust there will be time in the coming years as my kids get older when my energy level, their demands, and my ability to juggle it all will become, not less demanding because come on, this is motherhood, but maybe more compliant with one another.
What can mothers do to inspire this creativity in their children (or husbands?) How have you approached this?
I don't really have a grand plan. I suppose that just as my parents shared different experiences and opportunities with me, I in turn share them with my children. It's not calculated. I have memories of looking though my mom's art books and being fascinated, especially by Van Gogh. My dad always had some interesting classical piece playing on the record player. And he took me to the ballet a lot.
It seems to me that if I truly love something, it will be natural that my children are exposed to it, if I am interacting with them in any meaningful way. And so far, that seems to be working!
How do you see the marriage between technology and creativity? Do they compete or compliment and why?
The trick with technology, especially as involves the internet, is that it makes things so immediate, it almost demands an immediate creative process and I think it's easy for quality to get lost in the bid to get something out there. Also it's very easy for the technology to become The Thing, as opposed to the creative work. Am I blogging? Or am I writing and posting it on a blog? I can tell the difference. Is one better than the other? Depends on what you're going for. However, I have read some rather interesting stories in 140 characters or less.
What is your favorite poem you’ve written (if you don’t mind sharing)
I don't think I'll share my favorite poem, the internet sometimes being a vast black hole into which certain things can fall and never return (too melodramatic?) But I will share a rather facetious poem I wrote at the end of a poetry class in college entitled The End (Someday you can read my work in The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker – ha!)
When the last word has been written
I will take this tired body to the water
and lay it down. Though my fingers rest
upon the shore they will still try
to wrap around pencils the same way
that my mind will spend the next week
walking around on a metaphor, forgetting
that it isn't real.
I’ve wondered if it’s as easy to be creative nowadays—that so much has already been done and what’s often produced is mimicry and not original. What do you think? Have all the best stories been written? Are there great things still left to do?
I'm sure there are still great things left to do. The question is, who will do them? I'm not sure our culture nurtures or even appreciates great art or the process needed to create great art. We saturate ourselves with easy entertainment full of gratuitous sex and violence. We are a culture that tries to avoid consequences and hand out lavish rewards for doing just about anything.
Great art must tell the truth. For a lot of people this means telling only about the dark side of life. But I don't think a great work can wallow in the muck the entire time any more than such art can simply be a didactic morality tale. Great art is about redemption in some form. But we seem to be afraid of saying that we need redemption. Either we are too comfortable in our sad states, or too afraid of the glorious possibilities.
Obviously I am not speaking individually, but collectively. I think there are some wonderfully talented people out there and I expect that they will be able to produce wonderful things if they can see their way to do it.
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