A recipe for creativity

Surrender

In the middle of last year I was going through a creative slump. It was well after Poetrees had launched and toddled along and I was burnt out from the effort of trying to put the work out there and engage people in it. (Turns out that marketing is not my forte.) I was very fortunate to receive an invitation to do a process called ‘Renewal of Creative Path‘ with a friend, Margaret Hogg and a group of women in her community.

The process really helped me to identify and articulate what I need to be creative by reflecting on the times when I felt most alive and connected. What I realised was that it wasn’t just one thing that gave rise to creativity but an ecosystem of mutually reinforcing elements. This is a rough list that I came up with but I’m sure there’s more…

Financial stability: having work I enjoy that is super flexible gives me the space and freedom to be creative. Any kind of pressure or expectation is death to my creative spark so I have to know that food is on the table regardless of my creative output.

Supportive community: people who allow me to be me, who give me a sense of belonging, who hold me in my vulnerability. They give me the personal strength to allow the vulnerable experience of creativity and also enrich my thinking. Meaningful conversation is a major creative turn on for me and feeds into the next two elements…

Rich life experience: without getting out of the house and doing things I’d have nothing to write about. I need to feel engaged in life and in the world so I have to follow my curiousity, my sparks of joy and go have adventures. Examples include going out into nature, going on retreats, looking at other people’s art, learning new skills, meeting people, following the things that make my heart beat fast.

Deep reflection: for me this comes from solitude. Quiet moments where I can turn those rich experiences over in my mind and make sense of them. In practice it looks like having a chai with my journal at my favourite cafe, sitting in the garden and watching the world go by, going for long walks or meditating. I often get my best ideas first thing in the morning as I lie in bed and listen to the birds.

Unstructured playtime: the actual act of creation needs time, actually turning up to the page or the studio and making the thing. It needs a special kind of time though, the process must be focused but unhurried and, as I mentioned earlier, unburdened by the weight of expectation. It feels like total surrender to what ever mysterious thing wants to come forth.

Enthusiastic audience: this one is not essential but it is a fantastic motivator. Some artists talk about doing the work for themselves alone, for the simple joy of creation, and I can relate to that but it’s not always enough. Perhaps it feels self indulgent, though I strive to overcome that kind of thinking.

The thing that motivates me most is knowing that someone is ready and waiting to see what I’m working on. They have to feel like a safe person for me, someone who is purely curious and enthusiastic with no hint of criticism. I don’t need everyone to be that way, one person is enough. For example I started blogging again because my friend Sarah wrote me an email and asked me to. She mentioned several big experiences I had late last year and said she wanted to read about them and wanted to be able to share it with someone she’d met. Sarah’s always been an enthusiastic supporter of me in general so it was a no brainer, of course I’d write some stuff for her but without that invitation the blog would still be languishing.

I hope you read this and use it to improve your creative ecosystem, the world needs us all to flourish in our gifts! I also hope you take it as an invitation to encourage the artists in your life, you could be the enthusiastic supporter that gives someone else the courage to make a great work of art.

Dancing with shame

Back Creek heading into a tunnel

The other day I got to meet some awesome new people who are living close to the Earth, growing vegies in their backyard and building community. Lots of big ideas were thrown around about worker cooperatives, festivals and financial collapse. It was exciting but, if I’m honest, also a little intimidating. Why is it that instead of being happy about people embracing new ways of living/being I turn it into some kind of judgement on myself?

They had boxes and boxes of zines from Doing it Ourselves and were generously encouraging my friend and I to go through and take what we needed in exchange for a donation. My friend amassed quite a pile but when I looked at it I felt sick. I imagined reading all those ideas and strategies and comparing it to the life that I lead now and finding myself wanting. A pile of what could be a gateway to inspiration and creativity was looking to me like a big pile of shame – some kind of indictment on my way of being in the world.

I work full time in a public health organisation, I get paid to look at the big picture of what’s going on in society and develop strategies that will change the way people think and act so that we all have the opportunity to be healthier and more connected. I work with awesome people who are genuinely passionate about the work that we do and care very deeply about making the world a better place. And yet, yesterday, in a bid to garner the approval of these ‘cool new people’ I found myself dismissing my work and the way I feel about it by calling myself a ‘wage slave.’

I’m not writing this post to get sympathy for myself or to beat myself up, I just think the strength of my reaction is interesting and I’d like to unpack it. At the end of the day I was exhausted and fuzzy headed,upon reflection I wonder if this was the result of ‘performing’ for the ‘cool new people.’ One of the topics that came up in conversation was burn-out. Apparently there are a lot of people around suffering from burn-out and I wonder if there’s a connection. Burn-out is a product of doing too much, of feeling driven to perform, perhaps I’m not the only one who can feel berated by a stack of zines I haven’t even read yet.

Reflecting on the train this morning I wondered what would happen if I ran a workshop that deliberately created that sense of shame. Delivering to people a list of criteria for the ‘perfectly sustainable human’ and then inviting them to reflect on how this list makes them feel. When I think about shame in terms of the impact on our community rather than me personally I can see the insidious ways that shame operates to keep us small. Marketing is all about encouraging a sense of shame of ‘not enoughness’ that we must buy our way out of. When we are measuring ourselves against the standard of ‘perfectly sustainable human’ we are perpetuating a cycle that prevents us from opening up, connecting with others and creating the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Activists, radicals and other idealists have the courage to see what is wrong with the world and dare to hope for something better. They carry the shame of humanity on their backs, but if their action is borne of shame it will inevitably lead to burn-out and if they are judging themselves they are bound to judge others and create disconnection along the way. We need to name this shame collectively, to bring light to it, and support each other to operate from a place of love and care. As one of the ‘cool new people’ pointed out to me, in practice our actions may look very similar but when the feeling that drives us is love, our lives can be gentle, peaceful and nurturing as well as revolutionary.

Craft is cool

I’ve been on a craft spree over the last month or so. I’ve made a journal, a dress and some wall art. I lost my phone for three days (which was unnerving and liberating) and was inspired to do a bit of crochet on the train. It has made me think about the value of working with my hands.

girl holds origami butterflies on strings

I once taught someone to crochet and jokingly said “It’s good to have a practical skill come the environmental apocalypse.” Of course I don’t know if that’s where we are headed but it certainly seems like things need to change, (this post articulates it beautifully). One of the things that would have to change is the value of manual labour.

I find it strange sometimes that sitting at a desk pushing paper is valued so much more highly than my ability to create books or clothes. To the point where it’s just not worth trying to sell the fruits of my labour even though I love it. Our economy values the thoughts in my head much more highly than the skills in my hands.

Handbound coptic stitch journal with postcard covers

I admit I find the thought of a reevaluation of this hierarchy … delicious. ‘Craft’ is overlayed with political and cultural connotations that become particularly apparent when one considers its distinction from ‘art‘. According to one scholar “what white European men make is dignified by the label “art”, while what everyone else makes counts only as craft.” I hope for a more socially just world as well as an Earth-caring one and this seems to be one of places where those passions combine.

The cauldron

I’ve had so many ideas and thoughts bubbling away lately. I thought perhaps it’s time to air them out. Let this be a space to launch interesting conversations and see what flies.

Next week I’ll be starting the We are wildness 30 day challenge. I thought it might be helpful to have a place to capture my reflections on the experience (and keep me engaged in it).

I will use it to let you know about the ‘Work that reconnects‘ workshops I run based on the work of Joanna Macy.

It’s an opportunity to share my experience of parenting, exploring ways to keep myself and my son connected to nature in the middle of suburbia. I’m about to embark on a new career, hence the bubbling of ideas. I am meeting someone different for lunch every week with a view to sharing ideas and expanding my knowledge of who is interested in the human/nature connection and what the current thinking is.