Challenging Times: Stay Close to Creativity

If you are anything like us, you are struggling in these days of despair and derailment to focus on giving your creative energy the time and space it is desperately demanding. We are, no doubt, out of alignment, and there has never been a greater call to pull our collective mindful acts together and allow our inner creativity to thrive.

We — Jodi, Adam, and Rus — are staying as close as we can in supporting each other’s creative efforts during quarantines and lockdowns as we work together throughout the world to stop its deadly spread. We, ourselves, are separated by continents, yet, our energies that we are pulling together are as strong as they have ever been.

It’s not easy, though, and we know many creatives are struggling out there to continue working on their writing, their music, their art, no matter what that might be.

We established this Collective to create a sacred space for the three of us to share our works, to challenge ourselves to take greater risks as artists, and to challenge other creatives across the globe to do the same. We took a break to focus on our own works as we did our best to manage through the challenges of domesticity.

In this time of our greatest crisis yet faced in our own lifetimes, however, we feel more empowered than ever to breathe new life into this sacred space, to share our focus in creating new works, and to encourage you to do the same.

Below, each of us shares two things: where we find ourselves in this unprecedented time, and what we are working on to keep our creative focus. In the comments below, we encourage you to do the same as well.

At this moment, we do not care what you are creating, and neither should you. For some of us, it might be an ongoing love letter to our children (even to the unborn) about what we are experiencing on a daily basis; for others, it might be a dystopian piece that captures how you are feeling at this moment. Still others might stray as far away from our current situation and create stories and poems of quiet summer evenings, of unrelated tales of horror, of stimulating erotica; all awaken the suppressed Svadhisthana chakra of creative and fertile energy that yearns to flow freely within and beyond you.

Beginning today, and every week hereafter, we are going to be offering encouraging challenges to you as we share the works we are creating. We must remain as close as possible, in any way imaginable, to pull us through. We all know that unfulfilled and stifled creativity can manifest dangerously into depression, anxiety, and even physical illness.

Here at the JAR Collective, we won’t allow that to happen to each other, and we won’t allow that to happen to you.

Join us, as we come together, and bind our creative energies in an irrefutable, strong force that manifests wellness for all.

JODI

I’m self employed, with a son who is homeschooled so not a lot has changed in one respect and everything has also changed. Our spoodle is one of the legions of internet hounds beside himself with joy to have all his humans home… especially my partner who will ‘work from the couch.’ I had signalled the March equinox as my return to work, after I was hospitalised in early January after a chronic health issue turned acute. While I took clients in the lead up to equinox to get my hand in and my confidence back up, I haven’t actually done client work since ‘officially’ returning to work. I haven’t quite found my centre yet, to be able to offer to hold that space for anyone else.

I am so aware of what I need, in terms of when I need to get up in the morning, the parts of my stillness practice which are non-negotiable for my mental health and general wellbeing. Yet as I flux in and out of great and horrific sleep, getting up at that magic 5am point is difficult. What my partner and I have been doing, is taking the dog down the road for coffee, and talking about what is going on in the world. We are very clear we do not want to talk about world events in our home; it is our sanctuary. I am also very clear about what brings me joy, comfort and pleasure, in small ways. Stopping to appreciate moments which would otherwise have passed unnoticed in different times.

My creative space has been anchored in the return of my daily poem project, The Daily Breath. It came down to the wire for me to decide to do it. Who the hell asks people to pay for art in a crisis, I asked myself when I was trying to decide what to do. People who know the power, the medicine and the comfort which art provides in times of high stress and uncertainty. It is all I am managing at the moment. Somehow time is moving faster than I am used to. Faster than I am able to fall into the flow of.

This too will change and I look forward to being immersed in words in thrive mode, rather than survive mode. I know what I am here to anchor in this time and words are only a part of it.

ADAM

As a teacher, these are different times. We are navigating pedagogy and syllabi and curricula in different ways to meet the needs of our students, some of whom require extra attention and care. We are doing our best at remote learning (not homeschooling) and there are challenges and rewards. There is a sense of apprehension and uncertainty, and how we allow our students to discuss and process these emotions that will determine their resilience. And from it will come good work, and average work, and rushed work. The usual.

As students are susceptible and vulnerable to change, many creatives are keenly attuned to the undercurrents of society and attempting to make them visible and/or audible to the greater masses. And some creatives are unsettled by the situation so creative works are difficult.

I’ve turned to drawing as a grounding activity when I feel words are hard to come by. I began to create single line drawings just over a year ago when there was a tumultuous time of moving house in the first half of the year, and resigning from my old school to start at a new school in 2020.

A single line drawn; a continuous, unbroken line.

The pen invents the existence of the image from the blank space of the page, drawing the white into the pen to reveal the darkness of the solar system beneath. Conversely, the tabula rasa of sight is given vision through the pen, leaking the blackness of the imagination onto the page.

The line takes shape: straight paradoxes, curved obstructions, angular indices, folded waves, circular epiphanies. The brevity of a single line suggests, coaxes, entices or has the complexity of a woven tapestry to illuminate, postulate, seduce.

As it is with words.

Single words.

Verb. Noun. Adjective. Preposition.

When connected together they expand, like the line, to form phrases and clauses. When arranged in single horizontal lines as sentences they give direction and purpose to the shape of the narrative.

Sentences with the lines of tailored couture bestow a resplendence of awareness.

Sentences with the sparseness of underpants and socks bestow a nakedness of understanding.

What are words but a single continuous line.

RUS

As a full-time teacher, serving at both the university and secondary levels, I find this time to be unsettling for both educators and our students. Everyone seems to be doing their best to navigate the right path forward. Fortunately, I have been teaching online at the university level for 10 years, so my focus is on supporting my secondary colleagues and students.

I have been home for 13 school days now, and much of my time is spent helping and supporting my other family members who are as directly affected by the shutdowns and quarantines. It’s what each of us should be doing: staying close, supporting one another, and clearing a path forward in these uncertain times.

I have preserved my creative space in two ways: delving into the world of watercolors, and working on a new piece of fiction, set in 1926 in Argentina. Both of these pursuits are beyond my comfort zone, and yet I find great solace in working on them, as they challenge me in a way that does not merely appease my uneasiness. That would be easy to do with creating and coloring Mandalas (which I still do). This new work in watercolors and writing allows me to get beyond appeasement; it is a surge in new energy that requires new thought, new courage, new focus.

A Challenge:

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way among other books on creativity, encourages individuals to make an “artist’s date” with yourself. We cannot think of a greater time to do this, with one caveat:

This date should be for no less than 90 minutes, and you must rid yourself of any expectation whatsoever to share your work. You can, if you like, later. But those 90 minutes must be sacred and personal, intimate and uninhibited. Abandon any worries about sharing; use this time to reconnect with your Svadhisthana energy.

 

 

7.1 A Glimpse at the Glass Marionette

Almost 2.5 years ago, Rus and I embarked on our most ambitious collaborative adventure to date. We called it The Glass Marionette, after becoming enamoured with Angela Meyers’ photo of a glass marionette on Instagram, when we were in the early stages of brainstorming and writing.

This month we are returning to the hallowed (hollowed?) narrative hallways to pick up where we left off…which turns out to be no mean feat given the breadth and craziness of the original idea.

SPARK Fiction

Spark is a monthly collaborative post written from a spark of inspiration that organically finds its way to us. This month we were inspired to write fiction based on this fabulous picture Rus came across.

Adam

Coven of One by Stephen Mackey

The table was always set the evening before. The mismatched crockery and forks with tines askew and knives with the tips slightly bent. Communing with the future, she called it. A eucharist for the deceased of the past, of the present, of the soon to be.

She set the kettle set on the hob early first thing in the morning and filled it to capacity for guests who would never wet their lips or ask for sugar or decline milk. Rubbing the air between her fingers she felt it at first thicken like rubbing folds of velvet, then thinned out to the vapour of gauze. At the whistle of the kettle she warmed the tea pot, rinsed it and poured out the clean water as a libation before adding spoons of finely cut leaves.

Seated at the table she rubbed the air between her fingers again and the gauze whispered into singular strands of cotton. Wisps of clouds dancing around the spout of the tea pot. She sliced the fruit cake and served herself. Poured the tea and watched the sugar crystals dissolve.

And he was there. A memory. A framed portrait. As if memory was nothing but cake fragments and breadcrumbs to be fed to the birds at the park. And bone china cups held the structure of trauma and the rigidity of tradition. Around her an exoskeleton, a carapace, as thin as a veil, as thick as love. The thinness of the day giving way to the thickness of night.

 

JODI

I wanted the green hat or the sheet. Wardrobe insisted I wear the red. It’s always the way with these things. Everyone knows better than you.

‘We can see your lovely face,’ they cooed.

I screwed it up and everyone said I was difficult to work with.

‘Can we trade?’ I asked.

‘You want me to be the girl?’

‘No. I want you to wear the red hat.’

‘I prefer the green,’ he said. ‘If I can’t do green hat, I’m doing the sheet.’

‘No one listened to me when I said that.’

He shrugged.

‘Can we have a dog?’ I asked. ‘I’m allergic to cats.’

Someone laughed and then they all laughed.

‘We love your sense of humour,’ they said.

But I am not amused. It’s hard to laugh when you’re sneezing.

We are pretend reality, masquerading as common place. We are the things that go bump in the night, tidied up, sweetened up, so you’ll never think we are anything other than what you want us to be.

‘Smile,’ they say.

I grimace and secretly wish they would all go to hell. Or perhaps we are already there.

 

RUS

They waited, with undying patience, for the others to make it through the forest and take their seat at the table.

“Perhaps they have lost their way,” said the ghost, unable to really understand any concept of time.

“Or perhaps they have found it,” whispered the girl, knowing that, sometimes, these things happen.

The cat, though, would have none of it. He was hungry, and he looked beyond the forest for his next meal, staring at us in the distance, as if we would be providing him a tasty rodent for a late-night snack.

On the other side of the wall, where the wild things walked and stalked under the light of an endless moon, three creatures sat under a tree, staring longingly at the wall in front of them.

“Perhaps they have lost their way,” said the goblin, chewing on a recently fallen twig with fresh berries still clinging to the underbellies of bronze leaves.

“Or perhaps they have found it,” replied the boy, proudly wearing a green beanie. “You know how they are, always seemingly finding a different way to where they need to be.”

The dog, though, would have none of it, though. He was longing for the sweet flesh of a floundering rabbit stuck in some hole. It was late, and he was too hungry to think of much else.

Above, the owl sat perched, chin in chest, observing the stale mate of patience as he, himself, preserved his energy with great will.

“Perhaps this is their way,” he hooted. We are never as lost, or found, as we think we might be.”

5.1 The Next Story

I have been plotting the next story (or stories as the case may be here) since June last year when I decided I wanted to invite a small number of friends, former collaborators, readers and creatives into an intimate group which I ended up calling The Belief Trust. I wrote to them all and asked them if they could provide an energetic net of support for me while I worked out how to be a writer again. It was an enlightening process — handwriting the 13 handmade bi-fold postcards — which helped me to better understand what I was actually asking for.

This year when I wrote my update, I included a blank handmade postcard; these postcards were the backbone of my FireStarter Project. I asked each member of The Trust to send the postcard back with a set of prompts: a song, a year and a socio-political-cultural event. These would be the catalyst of a new set of short stories.

A week later, the Australian cards began to land in my post box: my next stories were arriving!

I was so excited reading what I had been sent. And then nothing else happened. The prompts flatlined.

I am being a little bit of a drama queen. They didn’t so much as flat line but were given a number and asked to stand in the very, very long line with other stories waiting their turn at the counter.

As it turns out, it has not been such a bad thing. The slow maturation of these postcard prompts is allowing something far juicier to emerge.

In 2014, I wrote a short story for the Strange Little Girls anthology. It didn’t make the cut and when I shopped it around, one of the rejections I got said I had to make the story shorter, or longer; at the current length of 4500 it didn’t work. I knew I could not make it shorter and I was at a complete loss at how to make it longer. Sometimes you have to be patient across years and wait for a homemade Velveteen Rabbit postcard to arrive with the year 1961 and Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love nominated on the back, to know what to do with a story.

And I loved that the first song I was gifted was Funnel Love as it is on a playlist I made for The Starling Requiem (the cover from the Only Lovers Left Alive). Little moments of synchronicity like that light me up.

When I get to my next story is debatable because while The FireStarter project is my next story in spirit, I first have to complete the current revisions of my birthpunk novella ahead of passing it to Rus for editing mid-month and its publication in December. Then there is the completion and editing of The JAR Story novel, ready for March 2020 publication. Plus Rus and I are both seriously drawn back a story we started in 2017 called The Glass Marionette.

However…

There are no tumble weeds rolling through my creative life. There haven’t been for a quite while. My creative life is the most fertile, expansive and actionable it has (perhaps) ever been. I look forward (rather than backward) knowing that everyone has their time and my time is now and there is never a time that is not now. The Next Story is really this: living my best creative life every day with the JAR Writers’ Collective at my back, making it all possible.