Wednesday, 31 October 2012

never belabour yourself with creativity

After three years of writing this blog and amassing a massive 25 followers (I don't try to promote it at all) I was recently invited to join a new bloggy social network called Storylane. I imported the blog there, and, extraordinarily, after about three days,  I suddenly have 83 followers. There must be other people out there struggling with this stuff!

My friend Anicet found it this way, read back quite a way until she found the post on idiosyncrasy, and then wrote this long, thoughtful response:

Oh, What a pleasure to read on an other artist struggle and finding her way out of the "creative block" or too much freedom syndrome. I feel and realize that when I had a house to run, kids to take to music classes, tai-chi etc. and had so many chores to do, I was much more balanced with my creative energies. My work in my spontaneously set up studio, between cooking and organizing had so much better flow and my two different activities had fed each other energetically. My interaction with people were exciting, which they didn't always understand, but it all came from my joy of painting...seeing where I was going with a particular image or not seeing it joy I received from the people, their positive response to my exuberant communication with them gave me the energy and the inspiration to go back and continue daily for an hour or so my unfolding images. The rhythm between my creative expressions, of music, painting and sculpting for a good period of the time well balanced and thus made me happy as a person as a mother and as a partner to my man. I so can identify with your struggle with this imagined or self-created /subconsciously/ block,( which after a year of focus which resulted in six difficult and complex, structurally strict and deliberate images, with perfection to satisfy my desire for the aimed result) that sits on me for the past year and a half. I am creating nonstop in my mind, I am collecting data, I am planning, making sketches, but I also feel that all this is in order to avoid mixing out my colors and face all that is in me to express and finally throw myself back to that sea of delicious creative energy I so love. Our mind understands and realize and all that, but it all comes down to action. I am not waiting for inspiration, but my excuse right now worded as..: "waiting for the right energy". And compare to my previous life, my domestic life in Connecticut years past, this is a very different world, full of other activities, mostly running away from myself and my own private space. Why, I still have to figure out. But I wouldn't be surprised if it had to do with my social interactions and it's imbalances. Something equally satisfying to my old community that fed me energetically, spiritually and kept me physically fit. So many things that are responsible for the formation of a healthy artist. I didn't mean to write such a long comment, but reading your blog on this subject made me in a way feel better about it and made me conscious of this problem, kind of helping me to face the music. :) Thank you Tamsin! 

Thank you Anicet! This whole thing is almost impossible to work out, but it seems to be helpful to share what it feels like, at least for me. I met an artist on my Authentic Artist workshop last week who was talking about exactly this - looking and looking and wanting to paint, but for some reason the painting not happening.

I've been thinking about this for three years. There seem to be a lot of problems with the inner critic ('that's pathetic, I can't show this to anyone'; 'who am I to make this painting?' etc), and with other forms of inner talk. Sometimes there's not even any talk, just distracting behaviour; the body always finding something else to do with itself (though I wonder if that is the body, or if it's the mind using the body to avoid working at deeper levels...).

However, I also came to realise that I was in a big period of transition, after decades of pushing myself and being insanely focussed and busy. I'm wondering this morning whether that looking, creating with the mind, maybe taking photographs instead of painting... whether that kind of activity might actually be a kind of recuperation, a settling, after so much activity for so long. Our culture tells us that we should be constantly producing, focussed, disciplined etc. But I'm increasingly coming to believe that the kind of creativity that I'm interested in comes out of space, not out of pushing or forcing.

Here's a quote from Paul Oertel, one of my teachers, which was dictated specifically for me (!)at my recent workshop:

Never belabour yourself with creativity. 
Follow the juice.
Outsmart yourself by following the fun.
Look for the stream that is open.

Oh, Anicet, I also meant to say - all my paintings here are done by hand. I don't do any work directly on the computer. I always do a painting first, and then usually just slightly enhance the colours using basic free Picasa photo-editing software (you know the kind of thing, brighter/darker etc) after I photograph them. Recently Picasa added a few fancy enhancing techniques, but it all starts with a physical painting....


Saturday, 27 October 2012

my manifesto

1.    Respect the delicacy and unknown nature of your soul.
2.    Prioritise the making of space for exploration of the fact that you have a soul in the first place.
3.   If you can’t see or hear or feel it, never mind. Make the space anyway.
4.   Accept the possible boredom, quietness, apparent non-productivity of contact with the soul.
5.   Never force or push things. Listen and wait. It will not appear unless the conditions are right.
6.     If something feels bad, stop immediately [whether soul work, or any other kind of work].
7.   There’s no time in the land of the soul. This means that you have no need to hurry and that your mortality is not relevant [at the moments that you make contact, you know this to be true].
8.   Don’t try to do this all alone. Keep contact with your tribe. Ask and share.
9.   Try to practice gentleness at all times.
10.   Bump soul-space-making up your agenda, until it reaches the top.
11.  Watch out for your saboteurs. In my case, frustration, resentment, impatience at anything which interferes with this process.
12.   Be realistic about material maintenance requirements. Pretending they don’t exist only leads to inner trouble.
13.   Make sure material maintenance requirements stay at the correct position on your agenda. Be alert to the way your fear tries to push them up to the top.
14.   Practice patience, space-making and love.
15.   Trust that your body and your soul always know what to do, at any moment [if you listen].
16.   Build this trust. In time it will replace pushing and forcing.
17.   If you feel lost, have faith in this process and in your community.
18.   Put your heart on the ground a lot, all day long.
19.   Listen to your own breathing.
20.  Tend your life force like a sacred flame.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

the opposite of faking it

                 Ripped                                                                         Paulina Kwasow

This is a TED talk about shame and vulnerability, which gives a rather different take on the conscious or unconscious feeling of smallness I was talking about before...... (and here is her original video from two years before on vulnerability...which has been viewed by over 6 million people)


Friday, 19 October 2012

'fake it till you become it'

Jim posted a link the other day to a TED talk on body language, in response to my posting the following Paul Oertel quote:

You serve no-one by making yourself smaller out of an inappropriate consideration of someone else's scale

It's an interesting talk about how deliberately changing your physiology (for example, open out and stand confidently, rather than let yourself unconsciously curl up or slump) can change both how you feel, and how others react to you.

It works. I know it does, because I did it for over twenty years. I learnt how to project calm and confidence; in small or large groups, in lecture theatres, in keynote speeches. And it's true, in a way, that I became it. It's also true that I did this by learning to pull down a kind of blind between myself and the audience, by being super-prepared, by learning how to operate smoothly behind a facade.

It's powerful. But faking it, even though it had become second nature, fatigued me. It depleted my soul, even though on the outside everything appeared to be going so swimmingly. I still think it's good to remember the basic message of this talk - that if you're feeling threatened or small, you can adjust your physiology with very real results. But I now feel hesitant about the idea of bullying yourself in this way, and of faking it at this kind of level.

For me, the Paul Oertel quote is talking about how we talk to ourselves, about ourselves, privately, in relation to our creativity. For example, how we might compare ourselves to other artists, and belittle the validity of our own artistic contribution. I know it's in the same ball park as the TED talk, but I think the Oertel idea is about silent, inner work, rather than pumping ourselves up in order to manage a stressful social encounter. Perhaps these are just two equally valid but rather different things. Or perhaps there may be a cost to bigging yourself up through physical manoeuvres, rather than trying to understand something about the original feeling of smallness...

This links to the other discussion about self-consciousness and singing. I worked out long before I gave up my previous career that one of the reasons I was feeling so uncomfortable playing music with an audience was precisely that with music I couldn't hide behind my well-oiled blind.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

a different kind of insight

Some days ago I wrote about the useful insight I gained from the experience of trying to 'normalise' my jittery voice when singing in front of (some) other people. A couple of days later, the insight developed in a slightly different direction.

It was very important to understand that messing up in public is really not the end of the world, however much it may feel like that to the ego at the time. Later on, though, I began to think about the strength of those emotions that make you feel foolish, or inadequate, or jittery, or whatever it is. There are any number of sources of advice about this kind of thing, framed as things like 'how to get over performance anxiety'. Visualise, practice, breathe...... A lot of it is very good information about how to begin to get out of your head and the negativity that your mind/ Self 1 is serving up for you once again.

However, there's another perspective on this, which sees the purpose of emotion as communication; often communication about things that you're missing because your head is so busy chattering away. This view suggests that your overall emotional/physical system may be picking up on something about the situation that isn't quite right, in terms of what is productive and nourishing for it.  Why, exactly, it asks, are you forcing yourself to do something that feels so bad??

What interests me now about my own recent experience is a), why I thought what I was doing was a helpful way of approaching a situation that (sometimes) causes me anxiety, and b), why I kept on going, despite the fact that I was feeling more and more uncomfortable. It strikes me now as a very brutal way of dealing with something that I know to be extremely delicate. My teacher quoted John O'Donohue to me when I told her about this:

                              the soul is shy, and if you approach it too directly it will do a runner....

It looks as if my mind was reproducing cultural imperatives about it being 'good for me' to tough it out; telling me that it was useful to expose myself to a difficult situation, in order to help me to 'get used to it'. But I see now how these kinds of imperatives are simply crushing to my soul, and my creativity. I don't always feel bad singing. I can sing with friends I play music with, and in other situations that feel supportive and benign. Perhaps I was just being impatient. I would love to sing for others, to share the wonder and beauty of music-making. But you can't offer what is not yet yours.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

inappropriate consideration

You serve no-one by making yourself smaller out of an inappropriate consideration of someone else's scale
Paul Oertel


Friday, 12 October 2012

in your rags of love

...and the way forward always in the end
the way you came, the way that you followed,
the way that carried you into your future,
that brought you to this place, no matter that it had
to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, that called you back in the end
to the only road you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in a voice
that by night, became a prayer for safe arrival....

Excerpt from “Santiago”

From Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte


Thursday, 11 October 2012

coming out of hiding

In celebration of my difficulties yesterday and Jim's encouragement, I'm re-visiting David Whyte's idea of coming out of hiding...

To find good work, no matter what path we have chosen, means coming out of hiding. Good work means visibility. We have all had dreams in which we face large audiences without clothes, without notes, without an inkling of what to say; the faces expectant, waiting, terror in our eyes, the focus entirely on our lone naked figure. Let me tell you that the terror involved in that dream is almost entirely and utterly accurate and most of our intuitions about the dynamics of facing large audiences are horrifyingly exact. 'Just be yourself' people say, as if they have suddenly thought of something entirely original, and as if they have forgotten the terrible, wrenching initiations most religions insist on for arriving at that elusive self. To be yourself is to be no self at all but to be a frontier, the frontier between you and the audience - the large audience of a waiting crowd or the smaller more intimate audience of our immediate co-workers. Their ability to see us and know us in ways which give them a close knowledge of who we are and what we are attempting to do in the world, can seem too much, too intimate, too soon. Vulnerability and intimacy can make a very frightening shoreline. But that is a wave line we must walk in work. Work is exposure, our fancy ideas about ourselves a sandcastle built right on the edge of the incoming sea.

In ten days' time I'll be at another Authentic Artist workshop. Hoping to sing, despite it all. Hoping to play my simple chords, hoping to experience singing the world without my body going into agitation. Ha! Let's see....

Undo it all
Take down the bunting
Those cheery flags
That got so used
to waving in the breeze
Saying, look, here
An accomplished adult
A successful professional

Take it all down
Calmly, folding up the colours
into a neat little pile
Put them into a drawer
For old things

The line is bare again
The wind no longer moves
those happy little lies
There's no cleverness
on display
Just the line
A tightrope
Against the backdrop
of the mountains

Image by Oliphant via Flickr

I'm mixing my visual metaphors here. These are Tibetan prayer flags which symbolise something entirely different. But this is how I saw the  image of the bunting in my mind, stretched out across the sky......

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

massive insight

I've just had what feels like a massive insight. I know, it probably won't seem any such thing to you. But I've just had my creativity group (formally known as Artist's Way group) at which I forced myself to sing. I want to be able to sing. I sing at home all the time. And yet as soon as I'm singing for an audience, my voice goes all peculiar. So this was an attempt to try to begin to normalise the situation.

It was piano instead of a keyboard or electric piano. It was loud and unwieldy and I had no idea how to get a nice chord transition without being able to control the volume. My voice was wavery as a ferret. And afterwards, it hit me. It's ok to be mediocre. That's it. That's my big insight. It's ok to be mediocre. It's ok not to impress people, not to be proficient, not to wow them, not to get a big reaction. It's ok not to be holding it all together, it's ok to be seen as nothing special.

It's ok to be seen, being imperfect. 

Join the human race. And find something out about something that, one day, I might be able to do a bit better.

How did I think I was going to get better at anything without an inbetween stage???

creative instinct

I've spent a great deal of the last couple of years worrying and wondering about how much I'm working, whether on music or on art. In the end I learned to be philosophical about the long gaps and spaces that seemed to be occurring, and even began to see that space might be an essential part of the working.

From this perspective, it's interesting to observe my internal state and my behaviour since my involvement in the Ecstasis project. After the first day of recuperation, I've found that, though I'm not tired, I've not wanted to play the viola at all. It says something about the driven habits of my mind that perhaps I should even consider this to be notable. I still seem to believe somewhere that if I stop for a day or so that it's 'the thin end of the wedge' - the beginning of a steady slide downwards into sloth and apathy. At the very least that whatever capabilities I have will start to decline from 'lack of practice'.

Yesterday, some part of my mind said, 'right, back to the instrument before the slide begins'. I played the violin for about three minutes and the viola for the same. As soon as I stopped I could feel my hand beginning to hurt, in a way that it hadn't done, remotely, after the four hours of playing on Saturday, or in the two days that followed. And it's been sore since. It looks as if my overall body/emotion/mind system knew instinctively that it was not a good idea to play. Maybe for a week, who knows. And who cares, said the system. The minute my mind over-rode that instinctive knowing, more drastic halting measures were instigated.

The other thing that's interesting is that, in the lead up to Ecstasis, I was aware that I wasn't really doing much painting, as there was so much to explore with the music. I somehow didn't want to paint, there wasn't space for it. The minute the project was over, the painting just started itself up, no mind-stuff involved. It was like reaching out for  a glass of water when you're thirsty.

Why do I worry that if I relax my vigilance, or change my routine (which actually changes all the time anyway, I just pretend that it doesn't), everything will stop? Why do I seem to believe that somehow my natural state is sloth and inactivity, and that I have to keep geeing myself up with my mind to make anything happen? When in fact all the actual evidence suggests that if I stop all this trying and intending and disciplining, 'creativity' seems to happen like breathing, like a river winding down to the sea. It has its rhythms; its tides and its storms, its patches of calm, its cool breezes. When I get out of the way, it seems to be the movement of life itself.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012


I'm a bit non-plussed after my first public arts performance. It's very easy to see what I learnt from doing it; what I would do differently, and what I want to do in the future to develop what I offered. I'm currently finding it a little harder to focus on what was achieved (which was certainly considerable as a group, and not too bad for me personally either!).

I played the viola on and off for four hours - I learnt a lot from that about how I might try to develop a kind of pattern-bank for improvising. I got quite bored of what I was able to come up with..

I also missed a really great opportunity to practice interacting with an audience (which I'm pretty phobic about, and hoping to work on in the next Authentic Artist workshop...). Originally it was planned that I'd be in a dark, echoey corridor, out of sight. For various reasons this didn't happen, and I ended up in the larger, more open space with the others. At the last minute we got a message not to talk to anyone if they talked to us, and somehow in my mind this combined with the early plan that I'd be out of sight to mean that I  decided  not to make eye contact with people, but to focus on the sound I was making which was supposed to be adding to their overall experience. I don't know if that was wrong or right, but afterwards I decided it was wrong, and that I could have been looking, at least from time to time, even if I wasn't going to talk.

But what a lot we achieved after only three days working together. There was no time to rehearse - we all just went in and did our thing for four hours. And it worked, as far as I can tell.



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