Envisioning Astonishment by Suzi Banks Baum

the future is female Mar 05, 2018

I get stuck in my writing sometimes, like today. I get to a point where I wonder if the book I am working on is worth the effort, or if the work I am doing is helping or hurting something that is not yet ready to stand on its own in the world. I have never written a book before, even though I have contributed to a few, published one, and read hundreds.

This book writing action is new. I have been working for 9 years on one project that I pick up and put down, initially, because my children were 10 and 13 when I began and I lived an interrupted life, as most mothers do. My book is about how creative practice helped me navigate motherhood.

Creative practice helps me navigate snags like today.

I go to my studio table and open a journal of watercolor paper.

I wet the page.

I write with water-soluble graphite pencils.

The tight coil of my thought slackens.

Usually a word or phrase appears, like a bridge out of the mess I am in, or at least a sense of solid footing, a way through.

I begin to make sense of things.

My breathing slows and gets deeper.

Hope flames a little.

I use this process for all of my business planning. I collage and paint pages in my planning journals that house my notes for a new class or project. The random play of image, color, and text loosens my ideas and allows new word combinations and thoughts to emerge. It helps me envision an offering, helps me create new language for course descriptions or titles for blogs or poems. I play with different techniques in new combinations and strategize a different approach.

I have been a collage artist for many years, working in to journals or on canvas. But I learned to utilize this free form method to cultivate ideas for business development from my friend Lisa Sonora. She teaches this mixed media approach to business in her Creative Entrepreneur classes. You can find her book here. I highly recommend it.

I have taken this process in my own direction, using generative writing prompts or specific writing challenges as jumping off points for mixed media envisioning on paper. Sometimes, I also just play with collage. I make mail art and create compositions that have less of the spirit of inquiry and more of some other inner expressive mandate.

“You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.

-Annie Dillard
The Abundance”


I have reimagined my own version of messy, exploratory play with mixed media. I teach it as a process for writers, called "illuminated pages." This summer for the International Women's Writing Conference, I will guide a group of 20 women through six days of this process with specific prompts to help them explore the themes they are writing on and give them tools to navigate the thickets that bar or confuse our paths.

I am also teaching "illuminated pages" in my upcoming online writing workshop, The Powder Keg Writing Workshop for Women. We will meet early mornings for 90 minutes on Wednesdays, beginning on April 29. If you are intrigued, please read more about it here.

As a mixed media artist and writer, allowing myself to cross-pollinate my own work, to “learn from my own writing” (see the collage up top?) and to play with ideas on paper, in thread, in poetry, I explode the strict boundaries I grew up with which told me, "You must do one thing for a long time in order to do it well. You cannot do more than that one thing in order to excel."

I find my own version of excellence in this practice and it serves my soul.





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