Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some Thoughts on Creativity


When I was in high school, I was cast in the play Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie. I was the old lady who would die from a “bee sting” in the second act. “It would be good if you could knit while you sit on stage. Can you knit?” I was asked by the director. Well, how hard could it be? My grandmother could knit. My mother, some cousins, some aunts could all knit. I set about learning and ended the run of the play with a long, lumpy, holey gray scarf. No point in knitting after that. I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. But I have to say, I truly admire people who can knit.

Some years ago, when my kids were little, I decided to take up needlework. I bought a crewel pillow kit with an absolutely gorgeous picture on the front of what my pillow would look like when I finished.  I worked diligently in my spare time for, oh, probably six months. This is a very complex pattern, I told myself. I’m learning new things. It’s supposed to take time. I completed about a fifth of the pillow in that six months. My mother came for a visit and said she had forgotten her needle work. Did I have anything she could work on? she asked. I figured she could do a little work on my pillow that week – give me a little boost in completing it. She finished it that afternoon. Perhaps crewel wasn’t for me after all.

I was at Border’s a couple weeks ago and bought a drawing kit. It has a drawing pad, charcoal pencils, and a book about how to draw. I am famous with my former students for my basic stick figures. Why, you may ask, would I buy a “how-to” sketching kit at my age (approaching 65 at the speed of light)? I looked at it once on the clearance rack and nearly bought it, but knew that I would get a coupon in my email any day, so waited. When I got a 50%-off-any-item coupon the next week, I picked it up for a whole five bucks. I didn’t just buy it because it was cheap. I bought it because I was stuck in my writing, and when that happens, I decide I need to learn something new.

In the fall I got stuck in my writing – had a dry spell when I couldn’t seem to write a sentence, let alone a story or article. I headed to the fabric store to find the cure. Maybe it was time to try needlework again. This time, knowing myself, I bought the Embroidery for Dummies kit and spent several days trying to make French knots that didn’t look wads of used dental floss. I did not prevail. If you know someone who might need a barely-used Embroidery for Dummies kit, let me know. I moved onto sewing gifts for Christmas. I can actually sew, but I make sure I stick to things like pajamas so no one would ever be expected to wear what I make in any public place. I know my limits. I worked my way through that dry spell and am working again.

I think a lot about the process of creativity. Our daughter Maggie is overtly creative in many ways, something that amazes me and that I admire. She is an accomplished actor, singer, songwriter, knitter, writer, and on and on. It all seems to come so naturally to her, but I wonder if she doesn’t work as hard or harder than most people, and has great discipline, confidence, and innate talent as well.  I guess I should underline “discipline,” because I’ve come to believe that’s the real key. You have to work at it, regularly and thoughtfully. You have to study it and practice it. I want to do many creative things, but find myself perhaps talented enough only in writing to feel hopeful of succeeding in that, but the discipline isn’t where it needs to be. I need to work on that. So I think I’ll stick with writing and skip the artsy stuff – at least until I hit another dry spell, with any luck just in time for those beautiful Christmas pajamas.

2 comments:

thefirstgates.com said...

Several artists I admire come right to mind for taking their R&R in other media.

- Jerry Garcia had gone to art school and turned to painting when the stress of the road got to be too much. I have a bright red Jerry Garcia tie for the times I cannot get out of wearing one.

- Henry Miller did water colors all his life, with a freedom and abandon anyone who has had formal art classes cannot help but admire. In a wonderful book my mother (an artist) gave me, "Henry Miller on Painting," he explained that some of his horsies were drawn horizontally because it was easier than vertical. I saw some originals in a gallery in Carmel and they are great.

- And speaking of Carmel, for breaks from struggling with Poetry, Robinson Jeffers apprenticed with a stone mason and built Tor House - a house and tower, with boulders he hauled up from the shore. I think you'd be better off sticking with embroidery.

Plus, as a kid, I remember seeing Roosevelt Greer, a star New York Giants linebacker, showing some of the needlepoint he did to relax before and after a game. Men simply did not do needlepoint in the late 50's or early 60's, but this guy was a solid 285 pounds or so, so no one said anything!

In writing we learn that there are times to escort our inner critics out of the room and times to invite them back in. I really think other activity that engages concentration and or imagination will cross-fertilze writing.

As they used to say ad-nauseum in art school - but it's true - it is the process not the product that is nourishing.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I sometimes turn to poetry when I'm stuck on fiction. And, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I sometimes turn to lists. But often, in good weather, it's the garden that gives me satisfaction and a little reprieve, while allowing new ideas to well up and take root.