Note: This post became a section in my book, Keep Going.
After being a nun in Los Angeles for 30 years, Corita Kent moved to Boston to live quietly and make art. Her apartment had a big bay window with a maple tree out front, and she liked to sit there and observe the tree changing throughout the seasons. (Something much harder to do in Los Angeles, or here in Austin, Texas, where we have two seasons: hot and hotter.)
“That tree was the great teacher of the last two decades of her life,” her former student Mickey Myers said. “She learned from that tree. The beauty it produced in spring was only because of what it went through during the winter, and sometimes the harshest winters yielded the most glorious springs.”
An interviewer came to visit Corita and asked her what she’d been up to. “Well… watching that maple tree grow outside,” she said. “I’ve never had time to watch a tree before.”
I moved to this place in October and the tree was in full leaf then. I watched it lose its leaves. I watched it covered with snow. Then these little green flowers came out and it didn’t look like a maple tree at all. Finally the leaves were recognizable as maple leaves and that in a way is very much how I feel about my life. It seems a great new stage for me – whether it will ever be recognizable by anyone else I don’t know, but I feel that great new things are happening very quietly inside of me. And I know these things have a way, like the maple tree, of finally bursting out in some form.
For Corita, the tree came to represent creativity. In winter, she said, “the tree looks dead, but we know it is beginning a very deep creative process, out of which will come spring and summer.”
Creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season it is, and act accordingly.
People occasionally wonder out loud when I’m going to write another book. “I don’t know,” I say. They ask me what I’ve been up to lately. “Not much,” I say. “Reading a bunch. Raising the boys.”
To an outsider, it sounds like I’m doing nothing. It looks like I’m doing nothing. But I feel very much like Corita: “new things are happening very quietly inside of me.”
It may be the hottest day of summer, but it’s winter in my world. There are processes at work that you can’t see.
Things waiting to burst forth.