Category Archives: Blackout Poetry

Joy Jam

What were the 3-5 things that gave you joy this week?

1. Spring weather. Spring Break is next week at CSU and I have the fever because the weather has been so nice! The birds are everywhere, making all kinds of noise, and things are starting to green up. This is what the sky over my backyard looks like right now, (I just want to sit under it and stare):

2. Time spent with friends. I have some gems, seriously. This week it was coffee and life strategizing in the sun with one, an accidental lunch with another, and lunch and a movie with a friend who lives in Nashville, so I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like.

3. Superior ranking on my yearly evaluation. This isn’t about pride, ego, or needing external validation (much), but having my good work rewarded, (we are getting raises for the first time in a few years, and the higher your ranking, the more of a raise). It’s also a confirmation that I am doing what I “should,” and that it’s valued.

4. Fruit Salad. Luscious and juicy and sweet: yum.

5. Communally taught yoga class. The person who was supposed to teach this morning overslept and didn’t show up, so we led ourselves. One person started, and then we all jumped in at various times, adding a pose or series. It was awesome.

Bonus Joy: Blackout poetry on old business cards. These are one of the things I didn’t burn in a cleansing ceremony after leaving my old job (which technically is the same position I have now, just a slight shift in responsibilities–I’m now simply an Editor, and not for Writing@CSU), and I’ve always thought I would eventually do some sort of art project with them. This morning, I had two ideas, one being blackout poetry to cover over the old print. Here’s my first one (with an original card slid behind for comparison, to show you a bit of what is getting covered over):

bringing attention

With time to consider,
recall vividly

We are all seeking the good life
Each of us calls it by some different name

Friend, call it
Find out

Happy, happy Friday to you, dear reader!

The Thing

I love hearing stories about artists who are just doing what they enjoy, not thinking about it in terms of it being a project or product, not planning it out or considering how marketable it might be or who the audience is–just having a good time, when they stumble upon “The Thing.” Some small, seemingly random and unimportant thing that ends up being the big thing, the thing that they are known for, paid for, maybe even famous for–The Thing.

image by Tim

For example, artist Hugh MacCleod. His story, in his own words, is:

art by hugh maccleod

When I first lived in Manhat­tan in Decem­ber, 1997 I got into the habit of dood­ling on the back of busi­ness cards, just to give me something to do while sit­ting at the bar. The for­mat stuck.

All I had when I first got to Manhat­tan were 2 suit­ca­ses, a cou­ple of card­board boxes full of stuff, a reser­va­tion at the YMCA, and a 10-day free­lance copyw­ri­ting gig at a Mid­town adver­ti­sing agency.

My life for the next cou­ple of weeks was going to work, wal­king around the city, and stag­ge­ring back to the YMCA once the bars clo­sed. Lots of alcohol and cof­fee shops. Lot of weird peo­ple. Being hit five times a day by this strange desire to laugh, sing and cry simul­ta­neously. At times like these, there’s a lot to be said for an art form that fits easily inside your coat poc­ket.

Now Hugh writes a wildly popular blog, has published two books, is commissioned for his art on a regular basis, gives talks at conferences, is the CEO of a wine company, and sells prints of his work for hundreds of dollars. He found his thing.

art by Hugh MacCleod

Then there is author Dallas Clayton.

Dallas Clayton is a person who wrote a book for his kid, and it ended up starting a revolution of sorts, certainly led to a career where he got to work doing what he loved. He says, in an interview with Brene’ Brown: “Do what makes you happy. Use that to make other people happy.” He’s a guy who wrote a book for his kid, and it ended up being his thing.

And Austin Kleon, “a writer who draws.” His story, in his own words:

I’m probably best known for my Newspaper Blackout Poems—poetry made by redacting words from newspaper articles with a permanent marker. I started making them in 2005 when I was right out of college and facing a nasty case of writer’s block. The poems spread around the internet, and in April 2010, Harper Perennial published a best-selling collection, Newspaper Blackout. New York Magazine called the book “brilliant‚” and The New Yorker said the poems “resurrect the newspaper when everyone else is declaring it dead.”

Currently, he’s writing a new book called Steal Like An Artist. His work has been featured on 20×200, NPR’s Morning Edition, PBS Newshour, and in The Wall Street Journal. He speaks about creativity, visual thinking, and being an artist online for organizations such as SXSW, TEDx, and The Economist. But he started by just doing what he did and sharing it, and “it” turned out to be his thing.

And there’s SARK. In a dark moment of her life, after a failed suicide attempt, she wrote a poem in her journal called “How to Be an Artist,” her statement that “we are all artists of life.” Her friend saw it and said “wow, that should be a poster,” so SARK tore it out of her journal and put it on her wall, saying “there, it’s a poster.” Her friend said, “no for the world!” and SARK replied, “I wouldn’t have any idea how to do that.” She found out, and four days later there were orders for hundreds, and she ended up making 11,000 by hand.

Now she writes books, makes art, gives talks and workshops. She found her thing.

And one final example, Patti Digh. She explains:

In October of 2003, my stepfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died 37 days later…The timeframe of 37 days made an impression on me…What emerged was a renewed commitment to ask myself this question every morning: “what would I be doing today if I only had 37 days to live?”

It’s a hard question some days.

But here’s how I answered it: Write like hell, leave as much of myself behind for my two daughters as I could, let them know me and see me as a real person, not just a mother, leave with them for safe-keeping my thoughts and memories, fears and dreams, the histories of what I am and who my people are. Leave behind my thoughts about living the life, that “one wild and precious life” that poet Mary Oliver speaks of.

During the launch party for her new website, Patti shared how she started. She said that at first, she was simply writing for her girls, making something for them, and then she started a blog, to give herself and the project some accountability. Not so people could tell her if what she wrote was good or bad, but so that if she didn’t post on Monday like she said she would, someone would say “where was it?” She wrote her blog for two years, and was contacted by a publishing company: “We’ve been reading your blog and we’d like to publish a book with you.”

That first book was “Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally,” and it’s filled with art created by her readers. She’s published six books and is at work on another, and still writes an award winning blog. Patti Digh “travels the world teaching others about mindfulness: to live fully, love well, let go deeply, and make a difference. Patti’s comments have appeared on PBS and in The New York Times, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the London Financial Times, and many other international publications.”

On the main page of her new website is this statement: “I’ve learned to say yes to life–and that’s why I write, why I speak, why I teach: to open space for others to say yes to their lives in a big, joyous, fantastic way. I want you to live fully, love well, let go deeply, and know that you matter. Together, let’s re-discover the extraordinary in everyday life, every day. No urgent striving, just amazing being. And room to breathe.” She found her thing.

Here’s what I think is so magical and important about these stories and others like them: to be an artist, to be fully awake and alive, you don’t have to wait for permission, you don’t need to have a great idea or a plan first, you can simply start. You don’t need to wait for something to happen, you can happen. Simply start, and don’t get too caught up in “what does this mean? where is this leading? who will want to buy it?” because that’s not what it’s about. It is about being present, showing up and allowing whatever is going to happen, being open to whatever arises, being alive and loving the process without having to know where it’s leading–and trust that eventually you will find your thing.

So often we get caught up in trying to come up with a marketable idea, with determining who the audience is and what they want and how we get them to buy our product, that we forget we are all open, raw hearts looking for something true. We all just want to be happy and free from suffering, and we need to be reminded that we are loved and alive and good.

art by hugh maccleod

Something Good.

Holy wow, do I have a list for you today!


I call these “grown up cupcakes”: dark chocolate with buttercream frosting. I added peppermint chips on top because it was Christmas. Every time I make these, I think of the post that Leo Babauta wrote, “The Quiet Theory of Influence,” in which he says “Imagine owning a muffin shop. If the muffins are commonplace, you’ll have to advertise and do some ‘guerilla marketing’ to get customers. But if your muffins make people roll their eyes in ecstasy, they will tell the world of your deliciousness, and the world will pound on your muffin-scented door.” Or in this case, cupcake-scented.

Review, Reflect, and Resolve: Being Able to Start Again

Today, I am starting this process. My plan is to go through all the practices and worksheets I mentioned the other day, and distill them into a list that works, specifically for me.  At first, because it’s just how/who I am, I thought I would do all of them: “do all the reviews!” Then I thought maybe I could pick a few of my favorites, but finally decided I like the magic and possibility of reading through them all and selecting the questions and strategies that stood out, spoke to me, sparkled. Some things I know I’ll be doing is reviewing my journals from this past year (skimming, there’s just too much to actually read), coming up with a reading list for 2012, and personalizing the day planner Eric got me for Christmas, in which he wrote “Jill’s guide to the best year ever!”

Great Presents.

For the past few years, my nieces have sent me the cutest mugs.  Here’s this year’s offering:

Eric made me two terrariums. My grandma kept African Violets, and when I did my releasing ceremony on the Winter Solstice, towards the end of the burn, there was part of the fire that was the exact color of the one Eric gave me. I’d never seen fire burn that color.

And Eric really liked the book I made him, “The Story of Us.” He said it reminded him of Post Secret or Found Magazine, two of our favorite projects. Most of it is too personal to post about, but here’s one of the Blackout Poems I “wrote” that I am especially proud of, “Beyond the Horizon.”

a sense of being rooted
a memory profound, sacred
within space that is desire
a living source of the present.

We live
one to another,
the memory of a horizon that is not closed off.

New Music: Parachute Youth, “Can’t Get Better Than This.”

I plan to listen once, and then I find myself hitting “replay” ten times.

Cool Sites Whose Mission is to Find and Share the Cool Stuff.

Here’s just two of them:

The Cool Hunter,” (where I first saw the above video). On their “about us” page, they explain that their site “celebrates creativity in all of its modern manifestations…what’s cool, thoughtful, innovative and original.”

Kirtsy“: This site’s “about” statement says “Kirtsy is just like that friend who always finds the best stuff. Only better…art, design, products, pins, photos, and projects…curated by some of the most interesting people online.”

100 Ways

100 Ways to Live a Better Life” and “100 Ways to Screw Up Your Life.” Which list looks more like your life?

Deva Cards

This originally came to me from Susannah Conway’s most recent “Something for the Weekend” post, (in fact, lots of things from my “Something Good” posts come from her–she’s amazing). Hiro Boga shares these cards on her website. I tried it, because I love divination: picking a random line from a sacred text, tarot readings, throwing I-Ching coins, dream interpretation, Q-Cards qcasting, or any such oracle through which the universe might send me a message.

So, I typed my intention, “I intend to rest and restore,” shuffled the cards, and got the word “Transformation.”

I had to think a bit about what that might mean for me, and then it came to me, like a lighting bolt: my guiding word for the next year is “retreat.” I was feeling a bit sad the other day, thinking about words other people had selected, things like “brave,” “leap,” “shine,” “manifest,” “adventure,” and even “conquer.” I wanted to have an exciting word too.  Retreat? That’s boring, dull.

But, transformation? This word reminded me why “retreat” is exactly the right word. Every butterfly is first a pupa in a cocoon–fat, soft, round, vulnerable, and completely still. You simply cannot transform and grow wings without that time in stasis, and therefore, you must retreat if you are looking to transform. Yes, I might feel a bit sad or even embarrassed by my blobby, fat, slow self while the rest of the world is happily crawling around chewing on stuff, or floating in the sky on their beautiful wings, but I have to remember I am exactly where I should be, things are unfolding just as they should. It is right, true, and completely natural.

Just like savasana pose in yoga, this quiet and stillness and surrender is necessary to integrate the body and mind with the practice, to assimilate and process the practice into an embodied whole.  In the same way, off the mat, deep change needs a balance of deep rest and contemplation to allow our innate wisdom to work, for integration to happen.

Shit Girls Say

I might be offended by these, if I weren’t laughing so hard.

The Universe Says “Yes,” Again.

Chris Guillebeau, author of “The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World” and organizer the World Domination Summit (which I get to attend this year), mentioned one of my posts in his most recent blog post, “2011 Annual Review: Looking Forward.” Needless to say, my blog has gotten a lot of extra hits today. I write this blog for other reasons, but it’s still nice to be noticed sometimes–really nice.

  • Okay, your turn: tell us something good.