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Simply Sunday - May 21
Graduation, Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech, messages in a bottle, Illustrate Your Week, and more
“I wake up some mornings and sit and have my coffee and look out at my beautiful garden, and I go, ‘Remember how good this is. Because you can lose it.” —Jim Carrey
Good morning and happy Sunday!
Graduation and a graduation memory puzzle
Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech
Messages in a bottle
Prompts for Week 21 of Illustrate Your Week
Final thoughts on Write for Life
The Index-Card-A-Day Challenge (ICAD)
There was no real commencement address at my son’s college graduation last week. I had been hoping that there would be something moving, profound, wise, a kernel of wisdom that would give shape to the day. It was disappointing that there was nothing really inspiring to anchor the day, but, in truth, I don’t even remember who spoke at my graduation.
None of us remember. Jumping ahead a few years, we spent a good bit of time this week puzzling over whether I even went to my graduate school ceremony and, if I did, who was or wasn’t there. All three of us potentially were there, and none of us could figure it out. I have no memory of that day at all. The others each had some sliver of memory but couldn’t lock in on how the fragments fit into the time and place.
Photos Or It Didn’t Happen
We debated about timing and years and visits and how different milestones fit into a timeline and intersect with the timelines of others. We know certain pivotal years, when we moved or lived in different places, when family members passed, but it was hard to make the details fit into a whole that felt right. A photo that recently turned up came to mind, me in a black gown, clearly a graduation day. I didn’t think much of it when I first found it. But with so many questions this week, I went looking for it again, this single photo.
It had not only clues but answers. It wasn’t able to fill in the memories for me, but it had a date on the back, which confirmed which graduation it was (and that I went). More importantly, the date was written in my grandmother’s handwriting, which solved one of our areas of debate. If this and this were true, then this must also have been true, but was it? The handwritten date suggests that my grandmother was there. My mom remembers she and my grandmother visiting, but she didn’t think it had been for graduation. What she remembers are beignets. She remembers my grandmother loving beignets. But none of us even remember a trip to the French Quarter after graduation.
Why can none of us remember the day? Where do the memories go? It alarms me even more when we are all together and still can’t piece together a coherent shared story, one we feel sure about. Our memories shouldn’t need to feel right. We should just know. It happened or it didn’t.
On the Lawn
The graduation this past weekend was partially held on a lawn. Four of us should have been there, but it didn’t work out. So there were three of us there. (Writing it down now, maybe someone will be able to verify a half memory years from now.) I’m not a grass person, and I wasn’t entertained when I looked down one time and saw a large spider nestled in the crook of my arm and then, a half hour later, a wriggling larva on my sleeve. A beautiful commencement address might have been a good counter balance, but there wasn’t one.
It was a monumental day, of course, as such milestone points innately are. Of course I was tearful when parents were acknowledged. Of course I was proud when my son crossed the stage layered in symbolic sashes to have his hood draped around his neck. Of course, of course, of course. But there were no profound words, the kind you remember for the rest of your life, carry with you, think back on as part of the symbolism of your graduation.
There was no Neil Gaiman speech.
Make Good Art
Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement address is one I always go back to, the 134th Commencement at University of the Arts in 2012.
In thinking about my son’s (then) upcoming graduation, I pulled up the Gaiman address a few weeks ago. It is full of wonderful moments. I shared a “mountains” quote in a recent mailing, and that’s what I ended up using last week for an “alphabet magnet saying” prompt in my illustrated journal. It’s hard to go wrong with a “mountains” quote, right? But the speech is full of memorable lines. The one you may be most familiar with is the injunction to “make good art.”
Basically, go forth and make good art.
Just keep on making art.
If life is good, make good art.
If life is challenging, make good art.
Just keep making good art.
It was a speech for art school students, but it is one I find powerful to contemplate every time I read it. I think we can all take something from it, at any point in our lives.
The Make Good Art Speech
The speech had six core sections, orderly and numbered, little footholds in the speech. Here are some of the highlights. Which one has the most resonance for you?
If you don't know it's impossible it's easier to do.
If you know what you want to do, do that. Otherwise, imagine the goal as a mountain and just keep heading for it.
You need to be thick skinned to deal with failure but also prepared (if you are lucky) to deal with the challenge of success.
Make mistakes. “If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.” Just keep making good art.
“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.” (“Make it on the good days too.”) — Neil Gaiman
Be true to your voice.
“Make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do…. the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
Realize that sometimes success is random. (At least that’s how I interpret it)
Ultimately, “let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.”
Messages In a Bottle
When I reread the speech this week, these lines reached out and grabbed me:
“A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.“ — Neil Gaiman
What a beautiful metaphor for this process of putting ourselves out there over and over again, folding up slips of wisdom, vulnerability, story, hopes and wishes, and setting the bottles afloat.
That’s certainly been the story of the podcast all these years. So many notes put into the water. So many years. And here I am still at it with the Illustrate Your a week prompts and now with this space. It can really wear you down, the odds of a bottle coming back. As I lost more and more in the process of these years, it has been a mark of resilience and strength each and every time I’ve shown up. Showing up is an act of bravery. Showing up has always been my flag in the sand, my declaration that I am here and, yes, still here.
May we all continue to fold our words, our art, our reaching for connection, for someone to read and see and listen and understand, into tiny slips or wall-size panels or square sticky notes, sliding them into colorful glass bottles, and pushing them into the water.
As we continue to fill bottles and set them into the water, the current doesn’t always grab them. There may be bottles bobbing in the shallow waters all around you. On the darkest nights, they catch light from within, and the waters light up, sparkling with colorful, pulsing, beacons of glass.
Though beautiful, it is never enough to simply look at the bottles, never enough to think about the hundreds of bottles launched, drifting somewhere, catching moonlight. Every writer craves a reader. Every writer writes with the hope of a reader. Every writer writes to someone, someone that might retrieve a bottle from the waters, wipe off the seaweed, look past the muck of the travel, hold the bottle to the light and admire the mystery before tipping the bottle to the sand to let the folded paper fall free … and read.
A Fog Vignette
One night this week, we were driving home from the guitar store, a very rare, random, and probably only-a-few-times-in-a-lifetime moment. As we headed up the traffic-packed road towards home, the fog was rolling in the distance. We were driving in blue, sunny skies. But ahead of us, a landmark hill was completely covered by fog, white billowing clouds of fog. At the bottom edges, the fog was in motion, you could see it churning and rolling, billowing.
There was the sense of an avalanche of snow falling over a mountain. It was beautiful and bizarre. As we drove the few miles into that fog, we left the sun and blue skies. I have watched fog from so many angles and window views, and it always inspires me. On that drive, the rolling motion was captivating. The feeling of driving into a vortex…. inescapable.
Illustrate Your Week — Week 21
The new prompts for Week 21 have been posted.
Write for Life Read-Along—Final Thoughts
Thank you to those who joined in reading Write for Life. My final thoughts are posted.
“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?” — Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
If you haven’t read Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World, by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Chris Riddell, you might enjoy it. It’s a small book and a quick read. I remember enjoying it one afternoon at a coffee shop a few years back. I have a copy checked out for a reread. I just didn’t get to it this week.
Are you an ICAD person? ICAD is hosted by Tammy of Daisy Yellow and runs June-1-July 31 via Instagram. Grab a stockpile of index cards (I like these) and get ready for a fun and inspiring summer series on index cards! Tammy puts out great weekly prompts, if you like the challenge of incorporating or responding to prompts, or do your own thing!
Find resources, podcast episodes, video flips, and tips for tracking a series like ICAD with Notion on the Creativity Matters Podcast site.
Learn more about ICAD on the Daisy Yellow site.
What project are you finishing in May or planning for June?
Let me know what you think about these weekly mailings, too!
Enjoy your Sunday!
“Writing is a job, a talent, but it's also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.” ― Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty
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