Life Lessons from Dante and Pink Ice Cream Vans

It’s a funny old life. Who would have imagined a connection between one of history’s most iconic and enduring works of literature and a modern novel about travelling the world in a converted bright pink ice cream van. And yet here we are.

On 1 January, I decided to join a ‘Divine Comedy Read-Along’. Hosted by Nick Senger, this is the first part of his 2021 chapter-a-day project. This was a rather random, impulse decision on my part. I had not previously been harbouring any particular desires to read Dante in 2021. However, as 2020 drew to a close, I was looking for ways to kickstart my reading mojo that had sadly deserted me for most of last year. Committing to reading something small each day, in the form of a single Canto, seemed like a positive contribution in the right direction. And so, why not make a daily date with Dante?

I sat down this morning to write this post about how I have found this project so far. Of course, there was the inevitable noodling about on the internet first (I’ll just check in on Facebook, then see what is happening on Twitter, and THEN I’ll start…..). For once, this proved to be justifiable time-wasting because it led me down a rabbit hole of the most wonderful kind. I stumbled on Cat Walker’s YouTube video, Lockdown Life Lessons, in which she briefly shares with us and her recently deceased father some thoughts from her novel The Scoop. Making the most of a chair placed by a kind soul at the end of a pier, she sits by a gently lapping sea and reads a short extract to us and her Dad. It is utterly beautiful in every way.

And what has this got to do with Dante? Cat’s life lessons happen to encapsulate perfectly my thoughts so far on reading The Divine Comedy:

  • life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it or necessarily want it to;
  • you cannot know all the answers and the more answers you find, the more questions you’ll want to ask;
  • learning is a goal in itself, a reward in itself and a profound frustration;
  • and all of this is normal.

For now, I am just about keeping up with the ‘story’ of The Divine Comedy, with the help of endnotes, internet cribs and my fellow read-alongers (thanks guys!). This is clearly a work to which one could devote a life time of study. But in this moment I am enjoying being in the daily presence of greatness, immersed in writing that seems as relevant now as it did in the fourteenth century, even if it means enduring a constant reminder of how much I do not know. It’s good for the soul (I’m sure Dante would approve!), as is Cat’s writing too. I have downloaded a copy of The Scoop and look forward to reading it – another helpful step in the mojo-recovery direction.

Meanwhile, perhaps the best overall lesson for today is the importance of noticing, so that we may gather to ourselves all those tiny moments of joy and serendipity which bring such unexpected wonder. 🙂

Life goes headlong… Now pause, now possession is required, and the power to swell the moment from the resources of our own heart until it supersedes sun & moon & solar system in its expanding immensity.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

100 Days of Creativity: more than half-way through

Today is day 61 of my 100 day creativity challenge (you can read more about the background to this project here and here) and I wanted to share some further reflections as I move towards the final straight.

Picture the scene: you are out walking through beautiful countryside with the aim of climbing a particular peak. You can see it in front of you and you stride up the sloping path towards it. When you reach the top, guess what – you are not standing on your intended peak, but instead a nearer, lower rise. ‘Your’ peak can still be seen in the distance, so off you set again, only to find the process repeating itself, such is the nature of the landscape. The thing is that when you get to the second ‘false’ rise, you look back down on the first and it seems now so insignificant, even though it was initially a challenge to climb.

This is how I feel about my 100 day challenge. From my 61-day perspective, the 100th day still seems like a distant prospect. Yet looking back on my previous two posts about this project, one written at the start, the other at the 25-day point, it seems like years ago that I was feeling rather daunted at the prospect of tackling 100 days’ worth of image-creation. From my lofty platform of two-thirds through, all those worries and fears are tiny and insignificant.

There is definitely a life-lesson here, right? I suspect we have all heard the ‘take one day at a time’ advice many times when considering some kind of endeavour. Just focus on making a change the here and now, and you will naturally gravitate towards your end goal. Yes, ok. Fine. We know this logically but it can be hard to buy in to it emotionally, to really believe that small steps add up to make a big difference. Actually doing it provides the empirical evidence that such an approach does actually work.

 

it’s all in the doing

I have often picked up art materials in the past with the aim of developing my creative skills. After one of two ridiculously bad drawings it has been all too easy to give up when it becomes immediately obvious that the kind of masterpieces I admire in galleries are beyond me. The difference this time is that I have given myself permission to ignore the quality of the work produced. The aim has been to create something each day, regardless of merit. By focusing on the process rather than the outcome, I have given myself the space in which to move forward.

It has been a joy and a marvel to experience a sense of development and progression. I have come to love the question ‘what if…’ when exploring new image possibilities. Here’s an example. I created this image for one of my daily posts:

I love the colours, texture and movement here. I enjoyed the process by which it was created. I decided to have another go at a similar image:

 

Again, I love the colours, slightly more intense than the first, the shapes with more body and heft. What if I combined the essence of both images into a third?…..

 

I was really pleased with the glassy nature of this one – the shapes seemed to be taking on more form. So what if I went one step further, with an added colour….

 

Wow! I adore this image – it might be my most favourite of all, so far. I love the textures, colours, shapes and sense of fluidity. But perhaps most of all, I love that I would not have been able to create this image from a standing start – it took the work on the previous three to get here.

Ah ha – this is the benefit of a daily practice.

So on we go. I will look forward to sharing more thoughts about my project in the coming weeks. In the meantime, it might be of interest to know that all my images have been created digitally. Most have been developed on an iPad Pro with an Apple pencil, using the marvellous Procreate app. For a few others, I have used my iPhone and a stylus, with the Procreate Pocket app.

And for anyone who cannot see my daily entries on either Instagram or Facebook, here is a gallery of selected work since my last blog post:

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