Monday, April 19

Why we write. [Louise Erdich]

h/t anonymous benefactor, from Bill Moyers Journal, interview with Louise Erdrich.
And here is the poem she reads on the video, "Advice to myself."

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew in a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls under the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzle
or the doll's tiny shoes, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic.
Go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paperclips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience.

My guess is Louise Erdrich's children are like mine. They're artists in their own right. And so when I emerge from my writing / film mashing / photoshopping / podcast editing and walk into the living room and there is a garbage bag laid out on the floor (thank you child) with sharpie markers and paper and a bottle of olive oil from the kitchen (yes really) and they've made something too, there is mutual space, mental and physical and temporal, for all of us to do our work.

7yo is sitting next to me right now and so I asked her how do you become an artist. She replied, "I don't know, I was born that way. I was born with ARTISTIC ABILITY." as she swishes her hand across the air. It's in her, it's in me. And there is space amid the mess.

More, including examples of my children's work, at this post from 2008. You can help keep the crayons sharp at our house by donating on this, the last day of my quarterly fundraiser. Thanks.


  1. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Thank you! I have been meaning to find that poem all week, ever since I heard LE read it on Bill Moyer's last week. A profound antidote to our constant need to battle dust, "weeds", children's toys, all those things that will still be there despite dumping precious time down a rathole to the glee of corporate marketing. There are forces greater than ourselves and we can just stop peeing up a rope and admit the mighty dandelion is king/queen
    of the universe. They are putting on their finery outside right now in our area, probably saddling up their cockroach coaches and preparing to colonize a few more
    lawns. If you prepare them, they will come.

    Once we give up a few battles against dust and entropy, maybe we can turn our attention to smiles and kind words/works and rain and mud and sunshine and birdsong. Some people seem to think cleanliness is next to Godliness, but from what I can observe, God sure does love dirt.

  2. Major fan of Erdrich here.

    Thanks for this. I will copy and paste and print and then stick that poem right up above my computer. Right now.

  3. Oh, cool. I caught this show and was thinking of passing it on to some folks, but you usually see it... I enjoyed her speaking about identity and language, too. Thanks for posting the poem. (I'm glad my parents understood and respected creative chaos.)

    there is mutual space...

    I was born with ARTISTIC ABILITY...

    As Robert Fulghum and many others have pointed out, most kids are born knowing this, but then they get it drilled out of them. Here's to mutual spaces and empty spaces (Peter Brook). Also - "Let's not pretend to be airplanes - Let's really be airplanes."

    Neat way to start off the week!


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