“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Pay attention. Attention is vitality.” – Susan Sontag
Once upon a time, a poet and a painter embarked on an eight week sojourn. They drove in the rain out a two lane road to a tiny little undeveloped sea island on the Carolina coast, the one called Edisto, arriving finally at their rented rooms. On Sea Cloud Circle. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to capture and define those practices which sustain the creative spirit. They limited their reading, and chose only three books each to study, ones they thought would nurture their vision. The poet chose to re-read the memoir by the Greek writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco. The painter picked the memoir by Karen Armstong, The Spiral Staircase. Together, they re-read Poetics of Space by the amazing French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard.
Inspired by the writer, Susan Sontag, they tried to follow her advice. She taught her students this: “Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
That was three years ago. I now live on this sacred island, which is also the land of my ancestors. I am the painter and devised this idea in order to create a format to share the retreat principles with others. The eight week retreat was so successful that it inspired me not only to keep painting, but to write everyday, to begin this blog, and to move here. There were more magical moments during this eight weeks than I can record on this one page, but the following principles are a few of the ones that we tested then, and which I now practice and believe are lasting and genuine tickets for keeping one’s creative spirit alive. I hope workshops on Edisto Island will soon be forthcoming.
I painted out on borrowed docks, and gave away the work. He taught the children free in poetry making at the local elementary school. In return, we were showered with pounds of fresh shrimp and the open arms of the community. Not only did I awaken to myself and my artistic vision, but I made lasting friendships that continue to this day. The small watercolor below is of the house that still stands at Middleton Plantation on St. Pierre Creek, owned now by the very dear Caroline Pope Boineau.
The Lessons of Sea Cloud Circle
* Keep a journal and write three pages in longhand every morning upon waking (thank you, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and Vein of Gold)
* Walk three miles everyday (with eyes wide open)
* Practice Gratitude
* Make friends
* Give stuff away – for generosity of spirit
* Eliminate distraction (tv, especially the news)
The Sea Cloud Sojourn was pilgrimage, which Phil Cousineau defines as “poetry in motion, a winding road to meaning”. Edisto Island is often referred to as a sacred place. The word sacred originates from sacrifice. Living here sometimes requires some of that. Highway 174 is a winding sixteen mile path of a road from the Edisto bridge to the the ocean. A winding road to meaning. The experience of this sojourn was even more. So much more.