Lynn Bechtel is a current participant in the Jewels on the Path, a 12-week online intensive for women writers who are seeking accountability, support, ease, and momentum in the creative process.
The Art of Allowing
by Lynn Bechtel
On the wall facing my desk at work is a piece of art created at a staff retreat many years ago—we used watercolors to make colorful strips of paper that our graphic designer then wove together. The title of the piece I’m looking at is “The Art of Allowing.” I don’t know if any of the strips used in this piece are strips I created. It doesn’t matter—the beauty and meaning live in the collaboration, in the whole that is greater than a sum of its brightly colored parts.
The art of allowing. I study those words the way I might study a painting, shifting perspective, moving closer, stepping away, tilting my head right then left. I’m drawn to the words, hearing something I need to remember.
To make these art pieces we worked in groups of three or four gathered around a table supplied with strips of paper, water colors in color palettes carefully chosen for each table, and brushes of various sizes. Some of us were eager, some reluctant, complaining that we weren’t artists, couldn’t draw, would make a mess. But we all soon realized that there was no right way to do this, no competition. With the support of the pre-determined palettes, it would be hard to create an ugly strip, and so we all relaxed, let go, allowed the process to unfold.
I had a similar experience once with music, in a workshop on vocal improvisation. We’d been singing together every Tuesday evening for a few weeks. On this evening, five of us sat in a circle on folding chairs. The teacher dimmed the lights. “Time to sing,” she said.
I closed my eyes and waited. Someone bravely stepped in and began to hum a low rhythm line, so soft I felt the syncopated vibration rather than heard it. I began to sing a high melody line. Another person punctuated my melody line with his own riff and then someone provided a counter point and another filled in around the edges and finally we were moving, literally moving as we each swayed to our own rhythm until we surrendered to the group’s rhythm.
Someone tugged gently at the melody line, pulling my major key curve into a minor key, and I eased into my own rhythm riff while another voice took the melody line, soaring up into high rolls and turns.
I don’t know how long we sang like this, weaving in and out around each other—five people who allowed the music to emerge, who became one voice.
The art of allowing. I tilt my head again. The art form that I’ve worked at for years and that sustains me is writing. What is the art that allows words to emerge, take shape on the page?
Over the years I’ve tried various things to open that door, allow the words to enter. I’ve given myself mini-writer retreats—a borrowed apartment on a Maine beach, a friend’s house in the country, a cabin on a snowy Vermont hilltop—but inevitably the isolation works against the writing.
Solitude is essential for my writing but so is community, connection. I’ve found community in face to face writing groups where someone throws out a prompt and we all write then share. Sitting in that space with only the sounds of pens scratching on paper or the click of keys I feel the cumulative juice of creativity and often, although not always, words come.
Lately I’ve participated in online writing groups, facilitated by Jena Schwartz. Although we’re scattered around the world, knowing that we all are engaging minds, hands, hearts with words and then sharing the results buoys us. Our words—in our own writings and in our responses to each other—nourish each other and allow the spark of creativity to flicker.
Lynn Bechtel is a writer, editor, gardener, reader, occasional knitter, shower singer, and novice meditator. She grew up in Ohio but has lived in New England for most of her adult life. She writes essays and short stories and blogs at www.athomeharlow.com.