Creative Tension

Creativity arises out of the state of thoughtless presence in which you are much more awake than when you are engrossed in thinking. Eckhart Tolle

 

 Right and left brains. An ad designed for Mercedes Benz. Image via Creative Jaunt.

What exactly is creativity? As a writer it’s something I often think about, particularly when the creative muse has gone missing, and I’m in urgent need of her – which is usually whenever a deadline is looming.

I think that most of us would describe creativity as a process whereby new ideas or concepts are generated. The professions that would most likely spring to mind would be the arts, and perhaps most specifically that of an artist.

Curiously, art was not actually considered creative until the Renaissance. The ancient Greek word for art – ‘techne’ is actually the root word for technique and technology, and art – with the exception of poetry – for the Greeks meant following rules.

Mind you, discipline, although less attractive than the idea that a single moment of creative genius can bring success, is as essential as the idea itself.

In other words – as simple as it seems – you can’t be something, unless you do it.

The concept of creativity is complex, partly because unlike results-based maths and sciences, there’s no absolute yardstick to measure anything by. Not that mathematics and sciences are not creative – take Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci as two examples of highly creative logical thinkers.

One thing researchers do agree on is that creativity involves more activity from the right-side of the brain, which is responsible for emotion, ideas and conceptual thought, so that any activity we can do that is conducive to producing that deep profound state of relaxation where creativity can make its presence felt is helpful.

Walking, meditation, time alone in nature, swimming – even the quiet insomniac hours of the night when you are awake and the world sleeps, are all ways to contact the muse.

Carl Jung, definitely a right and left-brainer, who understood the need to balance both, once said: “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

I remember once interviewing playwright Michael Gow, after the success of his play Away, and he told me that everyday he swam laps to create the next bit of the script. He would swim up and down the pool, plotting and planning, until he was ready to go home and write down the day’s work.

For me creativity is in equal parts inspiration, perspiration, frustration – and reward.

When I imagine a book, fictional or otherwise – I can see it in its entirety, completely finished and on the bookshelves. That brief illumination is followed by the disheartening reality that it’s going to take some time, years even, before the idea becomes manifest.

But if I manage it, then there’s the reward of a project well done, of the sense of connecting out into a wider universe – and the constant quest for the next creative idea. It’s a strange and not entirely peaceful way to live, when you think about it!

Although a recent British Management Institute research paper discovered recently that if stressed out executives were given art classes, they were as relaxed afterwards as if they had gone on holiday. I wonder though, if ‘being creative’ still has that effect if it’s what you do for a living?

Love what you do.  Do what you love.  Photograph:  Candida Baker
 Maya Angelou described the importance of discipline to the muse when she wrote:  “What  I try to do is write.  I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’  And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff.  But I try.  When I’m writing, I write.  And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay.   Okay.  I’ll come.'”

Children, mind you, seem to understand the creative state intuitively. They don’t have to fight to be in it or search for it, it just happens – perhaps because it’s not results-based so there is no anxiety about the final product, whether it’s drawing patterns in the sand, or pictures on paper, or words in a story – it takes a while before the unpleasant realisation dawns that other people can judge you or comment on what you do, or mark you, or misunderstand you.

When I’ve taught writing or creativity workshops one of the most frequent blockages people have expressed is exactly that reluctance to be judged. They may have only written a few pages, but they’ll say: “What if people don’t like it? What if I can’t find a publisher?”

They might want to write, paint, play music, dance, sing or do craft, but even before they try they are sabotaging themselves with the idea that ‘people’ will review, criticize, analyse and judge them.

But if there’s anything certain about creativity it is that it is an uniquely individual experience, it belongs to you, and you alone, and it has no need to be shared with the world before it’s ready.

So it’s a question of nurturing creativity in order to become more creative, of being disciplined and relaxed, having the courage to come forward, and knowing when to stay quiet and removed from life, of not inviting criticism but knowing when to withstand it when your creative baby goes out into the world, and most importantly continuing to nurture it once it is out in the world.

Nothing to it really… Now where’s that novel?

‘Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air – explode softly – and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth – boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn’t go cheap, either – not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination. ‘

Robert Fulghum

 

 

 

Meditation on: Our Inner Child

“The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us, when the world seems familiar – when one has got used to existence one has become an adult.”
– Eugene Ionesco

Photograph of Anna by Candida Baker

My daughter recently turned 12, and over the past six months or so I’ve watched that perilous rocking between childhood and young womanhood with a sense of trepidation and excitement – on her behalf, and on mine too, I might add.

I could almost pinpoint the exact moment when lists of girlfriends gave way to lists to One Direction’s names, with Harry being Numero Uno of course; the moment when riding up the lane on her bicycle became ‘boring’; when going to the movies with mum or dad became no match for going with a rabble from school.

My daughter’s growing up – no doubt about it. And, paradoxically perhaps, I see part of my continuing job as her parent to help her stay in touch with her inner child – to help her, if I can, to keep her soul alive with those little things that have sustained and nourished her throughout her childhood.

I’ve seen Anna look after herself in dark moments by dancing, or by drawing, and as a small child she could summon her imagination and her humour to her rescue easily. May those qualities stay with her always!

Surrounded by Anna and her friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inner child recently – by the time I was 12 my mother was an alcoholic, my father was often drunk and abusive and for me childhood was something I wanted to leave behind as quickly as possible.

Through a friend’s posting on Facebook the other day, I chanced across a wonderful letter from the poet Ted Hughes to his then 24-year-old son, Nicholas. Nicholas was only a baby when his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath, took her own life, and sadly, Nicholas too committed suicide in 2009.

In part of the letter Hughes talks directly about the vulnerability of our inner child, and of its essential importance to our lives and our own understanding of ourselves. He writes:

“Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them…It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful.”

In inner child therapy what is looked for is what therapist Robert Burney describes as the tools to unlock the magic of the inner child, without giving it free rein to drive the bus, and derailing life because of its lack of a proper place in someone’s life.

One of the main keys to understanding this internal secret garden is to remember what your child liked to do when he or she was young. Often, if we stop and ask our inner eight-year-old what it might like to do as a hobby, a surprising answer will emerge – an answer which can lead us towards a more creative, more joy-filled life.

 “The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anais Nin in her diaries.“Every child is an artist,” said Picasso, who knew a bit about his inner child, “the problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up.”

Such a multitude of grown-up concerns drive us away from that childish sense of glee and excitement in life – so many shoulds, musts, can’ts, fill our days, and as we grow older the accumulated weight of life’s lessons seem, well to me, I must confess, sometimes overwhelming.

Living in the country I’ve learned that sometimes something as simple as lying on my back under a tree and looking at the patterns in the leaves against the sky makes my eight-year-old grin with pleasure.

If I could say anything to my daughter now and have her remember it, it would be always listen to your heart.

As Ted Hughes writes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

Quote of the Week: 

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
G.K. Chesterton.

 

A Meditation on Magpies

The stranger in our midst

 And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle

The magpies said.

                                                 Dennis Glover.

Photograph: Candida Baker

For the six years we’ve lived at our property, we’ve shared it with a colony of magpies, or perhaps, more correctly, they’ve shared it with us.

At least I thought it was a colony, until I thought I should find out the correct collective noun – and there seem to be a few on offer: congregation, tiding, tittering, gulp, charm or murder; although I’ve always thought it was a murder of crows.  I’ve decided congregation is by far the most descriptive noun, since their singing sounds remarkably like a bird version of a church choir.

Their carolling is the first lovely noise we hear in the morning, and in the evening they gather interestedly to watch the preparation of the horse feed, and to ‘help’ the horses eat. There’s about 20 in our particular congregation, and they sing, squabble, eat and play very much like humans.  It’s always been a harmonious relationship between the birds and people around here – that is until last year, when for the first time ever, an aggressive magpie somehow found his way into the pack.

Suddenly, I found myself being viciously swooped, and generally forgetting to arm myself with an ice-cream carton or hat, or even sunglasses on my head, I would find myself wearing a grubby feed bucket, or even ducking under a horse to get out of the way.  I shouted at him, scolded him, explained to him that it was not how our magpies behaved, but he was having none of it, and kept up the aggression for what seemed like months.  It’s usually the males that are the aggressors, and you can tell the males from the females by the fact that they have vivid white plumage on their necks, as opposed to the softer grey neck plumage of the females.

Magpies are well known as collectors of anything that catches their beady eyes. 

A friend of mine once rescued a baby female Magpie who grew up to be a fully-fledged family member.  She could mimic the sheepdogs perfectly, and wasn’t above trying to round up the sheep herself.  She also, if anyone was repairing anything, would helpfully arrive bearing twigs, or string or bark for you – her head cocked on one side, as if to say here you are, just for you!

Celtic folklore suggests that when two or more magpies fly into your life good fortune is on its way – although it doesn’t mention anything about one grumpy male unfortunately.  They’re certainly clever, that’s for sure, surprising ornithologists with their adaptability to even a poisonous intruder, such as the introduced cane toad.  It took the magpies of Australia only a few generations to learn to flip the toads over and attack their soft and non-venomous stomachs – showing a highly-social learned behaviour skill.

Magpies are highly valued for their symbolism as well – their vocal songs a joyous creative expression of themselves that we could well emulate.  On the plus side they’re seen as communicative, social, extroverted and cheerful, their negative symbolic attributes include gossiping, deception, vanity, wilfulness and opportunism.

All that for one little bird!  Curiously, and quite frequently, the East and West have different symbolic takes on animals, and that’s also true with the Magpie, which for the Chinese is considered a ‘Bird of Joy’ signifying good fortune, but in the West, in stricter Christian times, it was seen as a manifestation of the Devil himself.

Mark Twain once acquainted himself with a magpie on a visit to Australia and wrote:

…He had lived in a lady’s house several years, and believed he owned it. He was always on deck when not wanted, always having his own way, always tyrannizing over the dog, and always making the cat’s life a slow sorrow and a martyrdom. He knew a number of tunes and could sing them in perfect time and tune; and would do it, too, at any time that silence was wanted; but if he was asked to sing he would go out and take a walk.

With that kind of contrary personality no wonder my aggressor was deaf to my pleas of a truce!  But curiously, this second year, he’s not so bad – still swooping and taking me by surprise, but not so viciously, and not so often.

Maybe by next year we’ll be friends, the Stranger in our Midst fully integrated, and our Magpie congregation and our family can live together in peace again.

Magpies

Along the road the magpies walk

with hands in pockets, left and right.

They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk

in their well-fitted black and white.

They look like certain gentlemen

who seem most nonchalant and wise

until their meal is served – and then

what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard

throws back his head in such a song

of grace and praise –  no man nor bird.

Their greed is brief; their joy is long.

For each is born with such a throat

as thanks his God with every note.

Judith Wright

 

Sad Sally…

Image

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.
A. A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh.

There’s no doubt about it, our Shetland Pony is depressed. 
We’ve had Sally-the-Boy for ten years.  He was bought for my then two-year-old daughter Anna, who insisted that she wanted a girl horse, so Dusty was re-christened Sally, dressed in pink, and, hey presto!  As Anna used to say until she had to accept defeat, ‘Sally is not a boy. He’s a girl.’

But it’s not gender confusion that’s brought about this bout of depression, it’s the loss of a friend.

During the past ten years we’ve bought, re-trained, trained and rescued a lot of horses, and Sal (as in Sal Mineo, or Salieri as our music-loving vet likes to call him), has been that wonderful bombproof child’s pony every horsey family wants.  He’s a friendly little chap but with a touch of small man syndrome, and over the years he’s often quite happily bullied horses ten times his size.

He’s had a few friends, but nobody special, not until last year when Mr Blue – so named because of his strangely blue eyes came to visit for a while and stayed for a year.  For Sally and Mr Blue it was love at first sight, and they hung out, grooming each other, eating beside each other and generally being best buddies for a whole year, but then finally Mr Blue had to go home, and Sal lost his friend… And his appetite, and his lust for life.

I recognise his symptoms, because I’ve suffered from depression myself – that dreadful sense that nothing is as it should be, when you can feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, worried, worthless, guilty, hurt, irritable and strangely restless – quite often all at once!

A depressed person loses interest in activities that were once pleasurable (in Sal’s case eating, and play-fighting, busting through fences and trying to get into the feed shed) they may experience loss of appetite, or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details or making decisions and may contemplate, attempt or even desire suicide.

Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may manifest as well.  Fortunately for Sally he doesn’t have to make too many decisions, but even so, seeing him stand, head down, in the corner of his paddock with a little lonely bubble around him, is a bit hard to take.

To paraphrase the song by Chicago, depression takes away the biggest part of us, or so it seems to me.  We become less than ourselves, and that biggest part of us seems to disappear down a tunnel.

I’ve learned a careful balancing act through my bouts of depression.  I’ve learned that depression often hides extreme sadness and grief and that if we don’t feel and acknowledge it then the blues or the black dog will stay much longer.  But I’ve also learned that giving in completely is no option.

Depression loves inaction – and in the end the simplest things are often the best antidote – walking for instance, swimming, or exercise such as tai-chi are all easy, low-impact exercises that help the brain re-focus, relax and re-energise.  (Although it has to be said teaching tai-chi to a Shetland isn’t easy.)

Acknowledging the depression is part of the battle, getting appropriate help is another part, and time passing another bit of the jigsaw puzzle, and there is nothing anybody can do about that.

I’ve seen animals depressed before – they feel emotions every bit as strongly as humans, perhaps even more so since the notion of a better future is not really in their lexicon.  As Rollo May so succinctly put it, ‘Depression is the inability to construct a future.’

While Sal is suffering, we’re treating him with kid gloves – extra feeds, little walks to juicy patches of grass, lavender oil under his nostrils (yes, truly), even homeopathy, and lots of cuddles and love. He’ll bounce back and be his naughty self again – and I can’t wait.

Treating animal depression

I ran a story by Katherine Waddington in my horse anthology, The Infinite Magic of Horses. She rescued two brumbies in Western Australia who were sisters.  Once they were rehabilitated the time came for them to go to new homes.

Lily coped well, but Sophie did not and fell into a deep depression.  Fortunately the humans around her realised what had happened, and they organised a visit from her sister, which immediately perked up her pining sibling.

Then, to lessen the blow of separation, they brought the two together from time to time so that both of them would gradually realise the separation wasn’t final.  Sophie gradually became so secure in herself that finally she appointed herself the nurturer for all the newly-arrived brumbies.