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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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