I'm nearing the end of reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear, a book that I bought two years ago, on both my Kindle and as hard copy (!), and which I had never picked up until a few days ago.
I've also just discovered Yoga with Adriene, another resource that many of my friends already know about, but which is new to me. The genius of this woman is not only her lightness and authenticity, but her generosity in providing free videos such as 'Yoga for when you are stuck' and other such cleverly-focussed gems.
For both of these inspirations I have to thank the fabulous and supremely dedicated visual artist, my friend Megan Chapman, who herself records a Studio Video Blog and writes a Friday Studio Visit blog every single week.
As I'm reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book, I keep saying to myself, 'this is it, this is what I've been saying to myself and boring my friends with for years, this is my philosophy....' I'm so grateful to her for writing it out for me.
In this culture, surrounded by so many different models of creative process, so many of which are dysfunctional, at least for me, I can lose track of what I know. So this morning, inspired by the three people above, I'm thinking about taking one idea about creative ease, whenever I feel like it, and exploring it here.
I personally can't tie myself to a regular day or a promise of any kind of systematicity. But I may write something here, from time to time, as I feel the need for its guidance and inspiration. As always, I will be writing it for me, but putting it into the blog format because a) sometimes other people seem to like that, and b) because it makes me think and write differently from when I write in a journal.
The first thing I have to say about this intention is that it may come to nothing. Many people like to set themselves goals and intentions, make schedules, discipline themselves firmly in all kinds of ways that work brilliantly for them.
Such things are the death of creativity for me. I disciplined myself firmly for over twenty years as a teacher and an academic writer - I know how productive I can be when I'm being asked to create to a deadline. But I'm not now trying to 'be productive' within those kinds of externally-applied constraints. I'm not interested in productivity.
I'm interested in a particular kind of form and content; something that arises, sometimes, out of the interactions that I daily consist of as a biologically specific, open, dynamic system, interacting with and being produced by my history and my environment at every moment of my cellular life.
This type of system is moved along by emergence; a curious and untrackable event or change of state/behaviour, which in humans is particularly difficult to understand because they're dynamic open systems with consciousness, so they can choose to act up themselves.
Emergence helps me to understand why so much of human behaviour seems to sabotage whatever the human is wanting or planning for. In my head, for example, I may be sure that what I need is to produce a series of ten paintings on the subject of x, when at that moment what my whole system (emotional, biological, physical, dreamworld, psyche...) actually needs for its own flourishing is for me to step away from the paints and lie on the floor for half an hour. The normal animal process of responding to the body's communications about what it needs is sabotaged by conscious thinking, and that's when things start to get messy.
I see much of human creativity as emergence. I can't make an idea come, I never know what kind of image is going to show up on the page, or whether the image will work for me or not when it does. In a very real sense, I have no control over the process.
Emergence is mysterious in terms of not being something that can be causally understood or deliberately controlled, but it does take place within constraints. People often forget this when they talk about dynamic systems; an elephant cannot produce emergence in the form of a snake, though the reason for its suddenly violent behaviour may not be easy to track back to any specific cause.
My last ten years have been a study of how to create conditions for the emergence of images, movement forms, sounds and words that satisfy my 'need to make things', as Elizabeth Gilbert would say. It's a tricky and elusive process, as it doesn't respond to plans or intentions. In my case, it's actually usually sabotaged by plans and intentions.
An example of this is me deciding earlier this week that I would put myself on 'a residency', here in my own residence, for one to two weeks. A friend had asked if I was going to apply for a residency somewhere, and, instead of saying my normal, 'oh, no, that kind of thing doesn't interest me' I listened to the idea and asked myself whether it might be time to check in that I still believed this. I was unconsciously looking for a way to focus back in after a year of total distraction, and this seemed like it could be a good idea. Why not?
I set out with the best of intentions, keeping in mind everything I've learnt about not pressuring myself, not working endlessly without regard to my physical body, making space around things, remembering to stop, varying my activities - everything that a ten year study of personal process had taught me.
By the evening I could feel in my body that something was badly wrong. I couldn't say what it was. I had done everything right by my own subtle rule book. But by midnight I realised that I had to jettison the entire idea of 'a residency'. I saw that I had taken a normal, external, institution-based idea and had tried to apply it to an organic being that has just spent ten years escaping from the effects of accepting normal, external, institution-based demands after a life before that of remaining free of them. It felt like I had thrown a net over myself.
Writing about creative ease may or may not work out. I need to try it out, because I don't know where it will lead. It might lead nowhere. But how can I know if I don't try? And I can only even consider it because I didn't sit and plan to do it with my mind.