ruth gendler is an artist and the author of three books: Notes on the Need for Beauty, Changing Light, and the long-time bestseller The Book of Qualities. she has taught writing and art since the mid 1980s; she is both a long-time student and teacher of creative process. you can visit her on her personal site, or at red room - "the online home of many of the world's greatest writers."
Here are Ruth's "Five Rules For Life":
1.) Ask questions.
And listen for the questions inside the question, listen for multiple answers. Let yourself stay with one question over time. One of my long-time favorite questions is: Who gave you your eyes? Inside that question I have found other questions: Who taught you to see? What do you like to look at? What don’t you see? How can I see with more clarity and compassion? How can I see with less fear? From this question I have remembered art assignments and science teachers, loved ones and friends who have taught me to see. Looking at how to see and how I see I have been able to see more beauty.
Walking brings the physical world of light and air, shadow and scent to our imagination, feeds our senses, gives us a felt sense of the distance between where we have been and where we are going. Even if your head is in the clouds, your mind is still in your body. The brain is connected to the spine, the nervous system, the fluid that holds the organs. Nerve cells extend the mind through the meat of us, our flesh. Walking, we sense that intelligence lives in the whole body - the skin, the senses, the ankles, the soles of the feet, the toes. Walk to make sense, to marry the rhythm of thought with the rhythm of feet. Walk to find yourself in the world, to appreciate the everyday beauty in our lives.
3.) Learn how to wait.
And when to wait, and what to wait for. Creativity has a different schedule and a different rhythm than other forms of work. It doesn't like to be rushed but sometimes it is urgent. Investigate the difference between procrastination, avoiding work and gestation, waiting for the work to ripen and oneself to grow into it. Sometimes there is a great difference between gestation and procrastination; other times they borrow each others’ clothes. Sometimes we need to invite the creative into our lives with attention, awareness, personal rituals. At times we are waiting when we need to act. Other times we are busy trying to make things happen when it is time to wait.
4.) Attend to your dreams.
Listening to and writing your dreams, drawing them, dancing them develops respect for our immense imagination and the inner coherence of the psyche. As one seventh grade student wrote "A dream is made when your soul writes." In our dreams we never stop and say "I am not creative. I don’t know how to finish writing that line of dialog or describe the attic room with the old white furniture. I don’t know how to draw a sycamore or paint a bridge." Dreams, like poems, operate on many levels at once; they teach us about fear, courage, and transformation, humor and mystery.
5.) Learn a foreign language.
Studying another language is a much more lively way to understand what English is and what language can do than studying grammar and vocabulary. Playing with the sounds and structures of another language invites us to appreciate the richness and idiosyncrasies of our language. It reveals the way language and thought are intertwined, but are not the same. Likewise listening to everyday idioms and etymologies wake us up to the images that live in our words. Language, like the body, is alive, expressing the soul, the self in breath, phrase, and tone. Language whispers and weeps, walks, dances and sings. Find your language.
Ruth currently resides in Berkeley, California.