Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier


I’ve always been interested in any facet of the creative process, particularly in the ways artists in any discipline go about their work.  I’m fascinated with details about their daily lives:  what time they get up, if when and ever they go to bed, what time they write or paint or practice, what inspires them or discourages them. I don’t presume to be able to imitate or copy their modus operandi, but it’s interesting to see how similar some of my own experiences as a song writer are to others in different disciplines who spend time ‘courting the muse’. I’m especially pleased to learn about the special places where creation takes place.

I began writing songs when the last of my eight children went off to kindergarten.  I had exactly three hours from the time he walked (yes, walked!) down the road in the morning.  For the first time in many years I had a quiet house to myself. I would sit in the living room on a couch facing a window with a view of the backyard and the stones of the cemetery beyond it. Not a vista, but a comforting familiar sight that pleased my eyes when I was stuck for a word or a tune. This was “my place”,  where all my songwriting took place for many years. It’s also the place where I would try out my work on the disinterested children when they come home from school in the afternoons.

Mark Twain surely had more than one ‘place” , but a favorite spot may have been a tiny octagonal study built for him on Quarry Farm, his summer home in the hills above Elmira.Some years ago the study, along with the original furnishings were moved to the campus of Elmira College. It’s easy to imagine Mark Twain sitting at his desk working on his masterpiece “Huckleberry Finn”:  with windows on all sides, he had a vista  to inspire him (and a wife to keep distractions at bay.  I really liked the retro specs,and  the little model of his study on the desk.)

William Faulkner lived and worked in Rowan Oaks. his home in Oxford, Mississippi , which is  now maintained by the University of Mississippi as a museum. One of its more famous features is the outline of Faulkner’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel A Fable, penciled in graphite and red on the plaster wall of his study. When I visited this little room, his typewriter and table were placed in front of a window looking out on a side lawn of Rowan Oak.  There were sheds and wooden fences and fields in the distance.  I thought:  “ This was William Faulkner’s “place” and this is what gave him inspiration.

And,now, here’s “my place”, in the dead of winter.  Some vista!!  But for some strange reason, the Muse and I get along well in this spot.  Maybe it’s got something to do with that old birch tree, or, maybe, even the cemetery tombstones in the background that you can see if you look closely.

5 comments on “PLACES

  1. Kathleen Richardson
    January 29, 2010

    Mary Lu ~

    You have a way with words whether writing songs or writing blog entries.

  2. Wendy Hovey
    January 30, 2010

    Thanks for the opportunity for peaceful contemplation. Sometimes one’s “writer’s place” can be in motion. I do some writing on my thirty minute drive from Big Flats to Sayre. I also use a wonderful old sycamore tree as my marker when I need to transition from my self-absorbed state to a focus on the work that awaits.

    Your vista: birds? Are there lots of birds? That would do it for me.

  3. Mary Lu
    January 30, 2010

    Thank you, Wendy. Squirrels. Lots of Squirrels and a fair number of birds.
    Inspiration has struck me in many different places. In doctor’s offices, in airplanes, in the pool at the Y….usually just the germ of an idea which I can work with at length in my “place”. Most things I jot down while driving are undecipherable when the car stops.

  4. Guenveur Burnell
    February 20, 2010

    I have a wonderful book given to me by a friend years ago. It’s by Jill Krementz and it’s called “The Writer’s Desk.” It has interviews and photos of a lot fo famous writers. Your essay reminds me of what the writers in the book have to say about why their places are special to their own creative processes. Well done!

  5. Mary Lu
    February 20, 2010

    Ah, thank you, G. That’s high praise coming from a talented blogger and writer.

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2010 by .
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