My Creative Spark Journal

Prologue: As I got this post ready, I was keenly aware that I was not going to address what is going on in the United States – and the world – right this minute: multiple mass shootings, another Black man killed by police, the loss of women’s rights on 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the continued assaults by Russia on Ukraine, and so much more. All of these things flow into whatever art we make, into the statements we put out into the world as creative people. I thought about how One Minnesota Crone can offer a refuge and it felt like that’s exactly what was needed right now. A refuge. A reminder that our creativity matters, that our voices will do what they need to do at exactly the moment when it’s right. A thoughtful piece of art that has taken time to craft will have its impact.

My creative spark journal

I have a 4X6″ Canson sketchbook, black covers, heavy paper with a little tooth to it, binding loosened from years of use, that lives on my writing desk most days. Inside this sketchbook are sketches done with words: quotes, memories, flashes of thought scribbled in my favorite Cretacolor Monolith 6B pencil, quick-writing pens filched from credit unions and dental offices and veterinary clinics, Flair markers in assorted colors, colored pencil. The first dated entry – and they are all dated – is 3/20/11; it’s a six-word story about zombies (yeah, I know – what the hell was that?). I have scribbled in this book off and on for 12 years. The one requirement for anything that gets put onto these pages is that whatever it is, it has made me stop, inhale sharply, caused the word “wow” to erupt from my lips, or ignited a cascade of images that light up my mind. The zombie thing was absolutely image related. I even drew a little monster hand pointing to a bowl of frosted flakes. Must have been breakfast time.

The first entry in my old sketchbook makes me laugh every time I see it. I’ve never done anything more with it.

Words and ideas that matter to me used to be picked apart on the pages of journals that I kept for years. I’ve seldom done daily journaling, but frequent journaling was a huge part of what I thought I needed to do as a writer. I processed everything in those journals – parenthood, politics, religion, sex, love, travel, anger, grief. Those pages were for my eyes only. Once I got the little sketchbook, the shift away from frequent journaling began its slow drift. It made more sense to me as a poet and essayist to have fragments from which to work; their succinct nature suited me and gave the next thoughts broad leeway. If someone read my sketchbook out of curiosity, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I didn’t need to process everything as much as I needed to understand there are a lot of paths to creative work. And there are a lot of creative mediums in which to muck around.

Biology often shows up in my sketchbook.

Lately, I’ve been scribbling a lot of fragments in the little sketchbook as I’ve read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. I started the book months ago, knowing as soon as I began it that it was a text for which I would have to slow down. I read several other books concurrently, but none of those nudged me to copy quotes and thoughts into my sketchbook. Braiding Sweetgrass did. Over and over, I found myself putting my finger on the page, looking out the nearest window, and thinking about how I take care of the earth. Then I would have to scribble something down, think about what to do with this bit of wisdom, that piece of the story of how the United States came to be, or some scientific fact about fungi and algae and symbiosis. The little sketchbook had been sitting on my desk for weeks, unopened, and then boom – there was much to add.

Quotes from Robin Wall Kimmerer have hit home too many times to count these past few months.

I love that this is how the creative process works: we move along looking around, reading, watching, asking questions, listening, and then there it is, the piece of art or literature or fact that we cannot resist engaging with. The thing that we turn over and over in our heads. The one that our partners get tired of hearing us talk about, so then we must stop talking and start making something. Craft our response in whatever form works that we then send out into the world to see if anyone else engages. Even if no one does engage, we’ve still had our own epiphany that might change how we inhabit the world. We’ve still learned something.

Creative work is never wasted. I’ve had moments when I’ve questioned the value of making a poem that maybe three people might read, or a painting that is destined to either live in my basement or get painted over, but not anymore. It all affects the next project and the one after that and the one after that. Ultimately, it affects how I live in the world and the excitement with which I welcome each day. 

I don’t miss my old habit of frequent journaling at all. My little old sketchbook is a great collection of sparks and memories and ideas. It’s almost full. I have a new one, the same kind of Canson 4X6″ sketchbook, ready to take over. The new one sits on the windowsill above my painting table, its stiff binding waiting for its invitation to loosen up and let the covers flop open to reveal clean pages that beg for their turn to hold a spark. I have no doubt there’ll be plenty to put in there. 

The new journal, hanging out in my art space, waiting its turn.

Published by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Kathleen Cassen Mickelson is a Minnesota-based writer who has published work in journals in the US, UK, and Canada.

16 thoughts on “My Creative Spark Journal

  1. I love this glimpse into your process and how it has evolved. And that, too, is how I find myself when reading Braiding Sweetgrass or other awe-joggling works. Reading stops, the eyes drift upward, the whole self has to pause for wonder.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope you will one day share your collection of items with the Minnesota Historical Archives. So few women donate their journals or creative items and then it is lost to future generations that can read and learn from our experiences. This was a very insightful blog post and even with all the “crazy” going on in the World, made me smile.
    Go be creative women! It will change the narrative.✍️📝

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love hearing different poets’ processes. It reaffirms that there isn’t one right way, different things work at different times even for the same person. It helps me just love the process of noticing and recording, however it comes out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read “Braiding Sweetgrass” last month. Like you, I found myself having to read slowly, thoughtfully, carefully. I stopped to ponder a lot. I don’t think I can put into words how deeply I felt pain for our earth and the intense need to shelter and protect it.
    These words of yours are extremely encouraging to me: “Creative work is never wasted. I’ve had moments when I’ve questioned the value of making a poem that maybe three people might read, or a painting that is destined to either live in my basement or get painted over, but not anymore. It all affects the next project and the one after that and the one after that. Ultimately, it affects how I live in the world and the excitement with which I welcome each day.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robin Wall Kimmerer made me pause or exclaim or jot down a thought. Made me wonder. I wish I’d kept those times in a little journal or sketchbook. Thank you, Kathleen. xoA ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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