SPARK: An Elemental Discourse on How We Keep Creative

In our first collaborative article, we take Lindsay Mack’s March theme of ‘tend the flame’ and put creative well-being on the table for discussion.

‘Tending’ is a dynamic word – it implies active participation, and when applied to the nurturing of fire (for anyone who has lit a fire) requires both focus and patience. We explore first via word association and then elemental breakdown, how each of us conceives of the flame and turns up to care for our creative well-being.

JODI (Air)

Fire as a metaphor for creativity is exemplified for me by three words: passion, will and catalyst. These are all central to my conceptual understanding of creativity and my daily engagement with it. In the tarot, the suit of air belongs to the mental realm: thoughts, mental patterns, brain chemistry and truth (among other things). This is what shaped my exploration of the element of air.

Ideas (catalyst)

Big, wild crazy concept is what lights me up. I love stumbling on something old done in a brand new (to me) way, like this essay, essentially written in non-fiction vignettes and so cleverly wound together. It is why I remain fascinated by creatives talking about their process: collecting, collating, synergising and unfolding ideas. I’m always looking for, and open to, new ways to engage and cross-pollinate. In unfamiliar spaces (whether that’s reading, doing or literally, just being out of the house) ideas find me. But ideas also need stillness, quiet and space to make first contact, which makes things like mundane domestic activities like showering and pegging laundry essential.

Related to: process, openness, authenticity, flow, wellspring, collaboration, brazen
Take away: Know the spaces ideas slip through and make sure to turn up there.

Oxygen (passion)

At the start of this year I created The Daily Breath poetry project as an intentional daily investment in my creativity. I get up at 5am, make a cup of tea and sit with fragments of text and arrange them into poetry to nurture, nourish and spark my fire for the day. For so long I struggled to be able to breathe into my creativity, to feel any kind of passion. Cut-up poetry helped me to survive the creative suffocation of depression because I wasn’t deeply invested in it, like I was fiction. This year I want it to be the avenue via which I thrive.

Related to: meditation, mindfulness, #artwithheart, ritual, self care, stillness, peace
Take away: Commit to something small and creative every day, for yourself.

Boundaries (will)

I’m unapologetically fierce in saying no to other’s wants and expectations when they threaten to, or directly impinge on, my capacity to create. The boundaries I struggle with are the ones I need to enact to protect me, from myself. It has been a bitter process coming to know what I truly want (and don’t want), what I need (and don’t need) and learning to say no/let go of anything not aligned. The biggest struggle has been to stop offering to help when I don’t really want to but I have the skill-set to assist. Honouring my time and preserving my energy so I can invest only in what makes my heart sing, is an ongoing process of radical honesty and discernment.

Related to: structure, rhythm, space, desire, refinement, ‘no’, self awareness, truth
Takeaway: Know what’s essential for your creative wellbeing, and protect it, fiercely.

RUS (Water)

I am, through and through, a Pisces, the sign of water. And in my creative excursions, I have worked with the metaphor of letting go, free-falling into the watery abyss to go as deep as I can with my words. To do this, I daybook. Every day. And in those entries, I explore the deepest possibilities of creativity as it aligns with my real-world experiences, past and present. It’s the safest place I have that is unconditionally welcoming, even in the darkest moments of my writing. My Constant Readers tell me that my writing has evolved over the last few years, and I attribute this fully to cultivating my voice through daily daybooking.

Immersion (risk-taking)

I learned long ago the importance of immersing myself fully into my writing projects. In my younger years, this meant secluding myself into cabins or taking long road trips to write “on the set” of my stories. But as I have gotten older and have assumed more familial responsibilities as a father and as a grandfather, I have learned that I can immerse just as deeply at my own dining room table, on a corner desk in my basement, or in the driver’s seat of my car waiting for my daughter to emerge from a friend’s party. I’ve heard such meditation called “walking zazen.” I think this is what I have learned to do with my writing.

Related to: meditation, trust, free-thinking, letting go
Takeaway: Let go. Immerse yourself into your creativity.

Fluidity (being open-minded)

I used to be held so tightly to outlines. In high school, we were walked through a strict writing process filled with notecards, outlines, and final drafts. By the time we reached the drafting stage, we were so structurally imprisoned into the details in the outline, that straying a little to the left or to the right was unthinkable.

Around my third year in college, I threw away those outlines and learned how to write with fluidity, an open-minded approach to uninhibited writing. I knew there would be time for revision; what was most important was opening up all the channels to see where the writing took me, and allowing the fluidity of ideas to lead the way. I’ve come to call this “vomit” writing, and it has served well as a foundation for pieces that I have taken to publication.

Related to: free writing, getting the work done, evolving
Takeaway: Let your mind wander uninhibitedly. You come first; there will be time to consider your audience later.

Belief (trusting the process)

As I mentioned in my earlier post in this series, I was introduced to “the process” when I was still in elementary school. Over the years, though, the “trust the process” mantra evolved into something more complicated. As my writing matured, I found that my audience was more critical of my work – for a variety of reasons that I have come to learn that some were not always in my best interests. It was easy to lose faith in myself as a writer. I found myself sinking again, but not in the immersive way described above that helped me “go deeper” with my writing. I was sinking into depression and self-denial that I could write effectively and passionately for an audience beyond myself. I let the motives of others derail my writing in an effort to please the masses. I struggled with “owning” my own words through publication.

This is where a strong belief in self is essential. “Trusting the process” now means something beyond the writing itself; it’s about trusting in myself at different stages of the process, and understanding that my work is not always going to please those great masses that I had once hoped. There’s such a fine line between what the writer creates and what the writer decides to give up in sharing the work with a larger audience. Now at the age of 54, I understand that holding on to that belief in myself, while trusting the multiple processes of writing, empowers me to swim in the waters of creativity for many years to come.

Related to: small goals lead to great gains, writer vs. audience, self-care
Takeaway: Trust the process (and yourself) in what you ultimately give to and share with others.

ADAM (Earth)

The Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah); it is also the name Adam. My name.

Earth without life is a vessel. It requires breath to give it life. Fire is symbolic of life and light, a representation of that spiritual breath that gives this jar of clay life.

Spirit

I used a phrase recently in a post – “useless beauty” – and it startled a few people. The term  came from a book I read years ago called Addicted to Mediocrity. One of its takeaways was the idea that God, as a creative being, purposed us to be creative, and that the expanse of the created world was a reflection of that creativity. Hence while some things may appear “useless” they are a response to the desire to create and engage. They exist because they can and because they reflect the desire of a creative deity, theologically speaking.

Hence, to create is to have spirit and life. In whatever form that creativity takes: large or small, hobby or career. Creativity is like a form of meditation and communion; a sharing of space with the reader or the viewer, perhaps even holding a space for the recipient as they process their own stories.

I create as an act of worship. An act of spirit.

Related to: capacity of self, authenticity, belief
Takeaway: Create because you were designed to, in whatever form works for you.

Regeneration

I love watching the different cycles of the year. They are not as pronounced in my home town as they are in other parts of the world but I see and acknowledge the change of seasons through the different flowers that bloom. The vibrant purple of the tibouchina means Easter in approaching, followed by the camellias and azaleas. Native gum blossoms in their sprays of yellow, red, pink and white; wattle is the turn of spring. Grevillea and bottle brush, banksia and jacaranda. These are the way points of the year.

I find I have to regenerate myself at the start of every calendar year. I look back at the year in the light of a range of factors of what I haven’t achieved and what I have done. I weigh up what I want to continue with and what I want to leave fallow and go to seed untended. The previous year’s activities fertilise the soil, letting the offcuts become compost to enrich the soil. I can neither make an idea grow but I can tend to the soil and prepare it.

Related to: rhythm, structure, ritual, cycle, discipline
Takeaway: Learn your cycles and how you work within them, with them, against them.

Sustenance (Loaves and Fishes)

Stories have the ability to multiply, not in the hands of the story teller but in the ears and eyes of the reader.

Stories are the magnification of essential truths; some are told as fables, others as parables.

Some stories seek an understanding; others an experiential exploration of truth.
Some stories are joyous moments of insight; others are recognition of the wounds we carry.

Stories feed the giver and the receiver.

But it is in the daily art of thinking and conceiving, the doodling and drawing, the scribbling and scrawling, that stories take shape. While I’m in between major projects I play with blackout/erasure/zentangle poetry; or write brief sentence stories on paper; or attempt to draw. Once you have fed yourself you can feed others from the overflow.

Related to: community, compassion, know your audience.
Takeaway: Feed and nourish others through your art and creativity.

Image by Martin Adams via Unsplash

 

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity #4

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

Small

Make it accessible for yourself. Easeful. Invite yourself into a place and a space free from the pressure of overwhelm. Pressure to perform. Keep it simple. Small is not subjugation. Small is not less than. Small carries a power all of its own. Gift yourself 5 minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be anything more.

Rebellious

Rebel against apathy, procrastination, perfection, self contempt, self doubt, lack of confidence, lack of time, other people’s antagonism, lack of belief, the voice of the inner critic, and anything else that wants to tell you ‘no’. Flip the bird at your Imposter Complex. Interrogate. Innovate. Initiate. This is a space for saying yes.

Act Of

Do. Doable. Doing. Done. Even if it’s five bed-headed minutes, on a Wednesday morning, with your first infusion of caffeine for the day, tapping a list of ten things into your phone. Make a space. Fill it.

Creativity

Make something from nothing. Anything. The possibilities are endless. Draw. Paint. Build. Dance in the shower. Play. Howl. Doodle. Bake. Cut up poetry. Block out text. Collage magazine pictures. Snap a photograph. Garden. Read something aloud. Send someone a card. Make a digital mash-up. Create a playlist. Hum a song. Journal. Daybook. Write a list. Instagram a favourite quote. Play the instrument you have buried away in your cupboard.

This week’s invitation is…

We will be back Sunday to share our meanderings and renderings and to see where ‘the strength in fragility’ took you during the week.

SRAOC #3 When Stars Collide

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity #sraoc is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or a phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.


ADAM

When you shoot
     two elements
     at each other
     with enough force
     their collision creates
     a new understanding
When you hurl
     two words
     at each other
     with enough force
     syllables fracture
     at the foundation


RUS

When this prompt was pulled from the JAR, I immediately thought of the collision of ideas and experiences that allow us to create our artwork, our writing, our music, our everything. I asked other creatives what words best describe their collision of ideas, and here’s what I received.

So to all of our creatives out there, Thank you. Your stars are now colliding, providing us all with this meditative collection of collisions.

 


JODI

My offering this week is more akin to the love child of a digital shoe box and my journal than any one tangible obvious item. A meandering of collisions and synchronicity.

Celestial

The Big Bang and how things begin (11.03.19)

It started with a photo – as the three of us were joking around about all the possible directions the prompt could take. On a different week, I might have actually tried to write about two jaded starlets having red carpet fisticuffs, or something like that. Sadly, this week was not that week.

But it is always nice to start with a visual (when it comes to the three of us, it’s usually a well sourced gif!) I’ll be honest, the only thing colliding in this photo was my intent to find something space-related and my enchantment with the ease of pexels.com.

The Star

On House Fires and Hope (mental wanderings 12.03.19, while escaping the heat in the pool).

The Star from the Ostara Tarot – one of my favourite renderings.

The Star is my favourite of the tarot’s major arcana. It embodies guidance, hope and the new possibilities which open out of the catastrophic demolition of The Tower. This is where my thread of ‘hope’ begun as my exploration of ‘when stars collide’.

When I was thinking of the place the The Star holds in the major arcana it brought to mind a lady I met about a decade ago, who in the course of delivering a workshop told us how her house had burnt down several years before, in the time that it had taken to do the school run. A lap top had set a couch cushion alight and they lost everything. Her story invoked a communal sense of horror. Then she told us how they discovered their house insurance had not been paid, in a complete oversight, when the renewal arrived the month previous. It was at that point that someone commented how it must have been the worst thing to ever have happened. She smiled and said simply: no actually, it’s the best thing that ever happened to us.

Pandora

From Kim Falconer’s Astro-LOA Flash (13.03.19)

As the story goes, Pandora came with a carved chest full of gifts from the gods, and she wasn’t meant to open it. Of course, she did so anyway, unleashing unimaginable ‘evil’ on earth, but that’s not all. In the box stayed the greatest blessing, the Star of Hope.

Writing As An Act of Hope

From Krista Tippet’s Interview with Teju Cole for the On Being podcast (listened to on 12.03.19)

Well, Virginia Woolf talks about the future being dark. Rebecca Solnit cited this. The future is dark, and that’s the best thing it can be. “The future is dark” doesn’t mean that it’s bad. “The future is dark” means we don’t know. And that, itself, is a consolation. It probably is not going to be our very worst fear. And John Berger talks about the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is “Oh, well, it’s all gonna be fine.”

Wishful thinking, impractical; but hope is this kind of — it’s an arm you extend out into the dark on behalf of others. To go back to the idea that in a moment like this, we all have different strengths — with all the privilege I have and all that is working out for me and all the access I have to certain forms of concentration, how dare I be hopeless? There are people who need the hope that I can convey. Even if I’m writing about something very dark, to take it through eight drafts, to take it through ten drafts is an act of hope, because you’re saying, even in this moment, a well-shaped sentence matters — because somebody could say, “We’re facing the apocalypse. Who gives a shit how well it’s written?” And my hope is that if it’s written well, it might catch somebody’s attention and be a balm for something that they’re going through, if it’s written well. And so I try to write it well.

Poeting As An Act of Hope

Quickly thrown together, but ended up being too big, to got on Adam’s poet tree for Open Day. (12.03.19)

You were told

To be one was to be two
To be nothing was to be something
To be small was the biggest you deserved

And for a time you drank it down
But now you dig your own well
Drink of your own waters

You know the difference between
the nothing that precedes the something
and the nothing that holds you down
That small is not smallness
but smallness always asks for less than
and half is not the whole of anything
much less you

And you tend the well
You tend the flame
You tend yourself
And you tend the truth:
you are always
in every moment
in every breath
enough

Using the mantras “I am okay; I am enough” was a massive source of strength and hope for me through the hardest parts of 2017, when I had found my way to the bottom of despair.

Movin Up

And finally music… this song is my go-to feel-good song.

May you always find hope in the darkness and and allow it to guide you into the best kind of collisions.

 


1.3 Writer Rising

The scent of chickens from the coops across the street sifts through a cracked window, where on this warm Monday evening in early September, 1971, I sit crying at my dining room table. The lights are low. I struggle to remember my alphabet as I write letters in some imagined style of script. It is the night before the opening day of first grade, and I am panicking that I will not be perfect and ready for what Mrs. O’Donnell, my new teacher, has in store for us.

The fowl sounds of scratching and hackling nag at me as I wonder if I will ever be good enough, ready enough, to please others.

Such is my foundation for audience awareness, a blessing and a curse for me as I struggle to let go of pleasing while taking the risk in vulnerable words — forms that go against the styles and structures of our times.

Conform. peck peck peck Conform. peck peck peck Conform.

I read through my poetry from my youngest years and see a remarkable attempt to paint pictures in soft pastels, a diluted wash of me, as teachers remarked just as plainly.

“Excellent.” “Has potential.” “My favorite.”

In the strongest desire possible to please an audience, I failed at making any memorable connection.

I often look back at that evening in my dining room and ponder the origins of such anxiety and dread. It certainly didn’t evolve out of any parental or sibling pressure; I was the only one who freaked out about pleasing my teachers or always being prepared. That cycle of anxiety-to-pleasing-to-failure continued for several years until I happened to have a teacher named Jack Delaney in sixth grade, a charismatic man who taught me all about the writing process and the power of drafting and revising; risks were possible before a real audience would take a look at what I had written.

It was the ’70s, and we were all about open-space classrooms. In one large room we had six sections of fifth and sixth graders with a reading space in the center. We looked like a race track with avid readers on the inside, absorbing the stories of Judy Blume, Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, and so many others.

In our slice of space, we held something called “writers’ workshop” where we shared our drafts with others, took risks in reading them aloud, and then letting our peers know what we liked about their stories, and what we didn’t. For the first time in my life, I could feel the stress and anxiety leave me. There was a process after all; it didn’t have to be perfect the first time around.

The concept was liberating to me, as it provided me space to make mistakes, experiment, and even fail. This was the first time anybody had ever taught me to “trust the process” and to think less of what pleased others and more of what I had to say as me: the writer, a real individual with real ideas that — shocker — weren’t necessarily the same as those of my friends.

And so, in retrospect, I’m not really sure which came first: the structure and style of writing recursively, or Delaney granting me permission to take risks, be myself, and — most importantly — write for myself.

When we felt a piece was ready for release, Delaney gave our words an audience, and each Friday, we would gather in a circle on a reading carpet — just like we did when we were in kindergarten — to share our polished works. No criticisms, no judgments. Just applause.

If only origin stories had happily-ever-afters built nicely into them.

Years later, in my first months of teaching, the anxieties returned. I found myself worried about being the “perfect” teacher and pleasing everyone: administrators, colleagues, parents, and students. It was an impossible thing to do, but I could not break from the cycle. It affected my writing, too. Everything had taken a back seat to the whirlwind of pleasing, acceptance, and fear of failure.

Conform. peck peck peck Conform. peck peck peck Conform.

After an evening school event in early spring, in the very same month that my writing mentor Jack Delaney died, I had an unlikely conversation with best-selling author Tom Clancy. I was teaching a few of his children, and he knew I was working on a book. He took me aside and asked me how the writing was going.

I hung my head a little and muttered about how busy life was as a first-year teacher. I could barely keep up with the demands placed on me.

He laughed at me and shook his head. “My god, boy. You’re still in diapers, a writer rising. Just make the time and write the damned thing.”

I took his advice, and a few years later, I did finish writing the damned thing.

There’s still no happily ever after, and the struggles continue. But I do make the time to write, no matter what, and I still remember the power of writing in cursive, I still remember to let go of the anxiety, and I still remember to trust the process.

After all, I am the Writer Rising.