Creative Spaces

Creativity demands space–space to digest our experiences, reflect on emotions, contemplate the human experience. This space provides us with opportunities for introspection, a necessary component of artistic processes. Without such space, we find our muses have left us and the distractions of our daily lives leech beyond their usefulness and rob of us any creative impulse.

This is the old trope of writer’s block. There is nothing new about “letting life get in the way” of creative processes. The creative experience and the creation of art in its many forms provides a window to our soul and insight into our worlds. Yet, it also exposes us to critics and criticism. Sometimes it is simply feels safer to succumb to the “busy-ness” of our lives than it is create a space for vulnerability.

 

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Writing in April

Writing is hard.

It is especially difficult when managing the unyielding demands of a three-year old social butterfly who demands the limited emotional life-force that survived from a day of constant civil interactions that stress the introverted self.

It is notably difficult when April does not just bring rain showers, but snow, wintery mix, and icy roads that restricts any out-of-doors excursion such as shopping in crowded grocery stores where the produce is not quite seasonal and the ring of the cash register, not matter how calculated, tightens the chest.

It is extraordinarily difficult when distractions, like the children in the front yard of the apartment across the street howl “yard sale,” shift focus from the opportunity of writing mean poems and super short shorts to the present fantasy of the kind of financial security promised by degree, job, homeownership.

Writing in April is hard.

Leaves below the stoop

 

Searching for Inspiration

Inspiration is one of the most exhilarating, yet fleeting conditions of the human experience. When inspiration hits, it is hot and passionate and invigorating. It can make you mad with thoughts and feelings and determination. Everything becomes sharp, well-formed, musical. You are focused, able, confident.

Your heart beats in your chest as you relish the high that only inspiration can give you. The excitement is nothing short of dangerous. A wild look comes into your eyes and you feel the intensity in every inch of your soul.

And then it is gone.

You spend time searching for it. Blaming the lack of it for your reluctance to do what it is you do- paint, play, write. Seeking to regenerate the spark.

Because, indeed, it is a spark.

And it can be done. It took twenty days of writing before I really wrote, before some came from my fingertips that was art, even it is was sloppy and childish and undeveloped. Twenty days of writing, of inviting the spark, of coaching inspiration back into existence.

For twenty days, I wrote for 30 minutes. It often felt like a chore. I committed to writing and my partner in crime would remind me to do it. Sometimes, I would blow it off, surf Facebook, house hunt or check my bank statements. Sometimes, I spent the time and wrote down feelings, emotions, dictated the scene around me. Nothing generated. Nothing organically creative.

For me, I felt like a failure. I wondered if I had allowed something so core to my identity that I dread sharing too much of it with others to fade away. I wondered if I let “the real world” rob me of my essence, the softness of my cold New England heart that bleeds for Frost, Dickinson, Lowell and many more. I feared that I had made a mistake and allowed the drive for financial stability and the naysayers of creative ventures to sway my unsteady commitment to writing. I feared that my bed was made.

And then, in a moment of brief clarity, it was there. I felt it as I broke lines to create choppy phrases in a rough poem. I felt it as I exploited repetition to emphasize my opinion of the piece. I felt it wind down as real life started to call me back and self-doubt set in.

To feel inspired is to feel fearless. I share this story often with students before they are about to take an exam: When I was preparing for a solo performance, by instructor told me to feel inspired because the chakra that houses fear also houses inspiration and if I felt inspired than I would not feel fear as I stood before the audience.

And it worked.

Our lives are filled with excuses to fall into fear. Fear of failure. Fear of mockery, of wasting time, money. Fear of not being good enough. Even, fear of success.

It is not easy to replace fear or reluctance or indifference and acceptance with inspiration and motivation and determination. It took twenty days of determination before I felt a glimmer of inspiration.

To be inspired is to be fearless.

Some Thoughts on Writing and other Things: Confidence

This past year, I’ve been doing some thinking on the idea of confidence: What does it mean? Where does it come from? How do we cultivate it within ourselves and each other? Etc. After coming off the confidence bender that is college, I felt a little drained and rather out of sorts. I did not have the same support system that fostered such intellectual confidence that I had found in the halls of academe. I was out of my comfort zone, a place that conditioned the kind of strength I had. But where had that confidence gone? How could a trait that is often seen as the cornerstone for a solid foundation of self-worth and purpose seem to be so fleeting, especially when tested? Where was my confidence as I stocked bananas and corrected comma splices?

Writers know that a lack conviction for the words they choose can be crippling. Stage fright and self-doubt will destroy a musician more than any missed note or poor pitch. And artists show their truest selves with every display of their work.

To be honest, my misplaced confidence has stopped me for writing more than a quick entry in a worn notebook.

As a tutor, I see that one of the greatest challenges my students meet every day is a lack of confidence. One at a time, they come into my office, looking for guidance and assurance that they are truly on the right track. Through some coaching about language and sentence structure, we reach an agreement that they have great ideas and that I am here to help them convey them coherently.

Not only are my students overcoming a number of academic and transitional obstacles, they must also overcome their own self-image. Often, although many of my students are smart and have profound insight, they are inhibited by their lack of confidence as some voice from their past continues to whisper that they can’t do it.

For a while, I would joke that I was more of a cheerleader than a tutor. The majority of many of my sessions with students would consist of words of encouragement and exclamations of “You got this!” in my most New England of accents.

Why is it so easy for us to say that we are not good enough, but so hard for us to see our strengths?

This summer, I stumbled across TED Talks. I feel like I’m late to the game of one of the greatest sources of really awesome lectures and new ideas. Amy Cuddy’s Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are has really resonated with me. She explains that our posture, the way we hold ourselves, not only directs how other view us, but also how we view ourselves. If we appear hunched or walk with our heads down, we not only tell others, but we tell ourselves that we are insecure. Yet, if we walk tall with our heads up and our shoulders back, we not only tell others that we are confident, but we tell ourselves this too.  There is an exchange between the brain and body that causes us to believe (or not believe) in ourselves.

Now, I know that I am not doing her talk justice, so I recommend that you watch it. Here is the link: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html

Later that same summer, one of my colleagues told me about the phrase academic confidence. Because many of our students come from non-academic backgrounds, the transition to the classroom is really difficult. Although I’m not sure exactly what has come of this or where she caught this idea, I’ve latched onto this idea. As a tutor, I can foster the development of this kind of confidence in my students–the ability to speak with conviction within the classroom, to share new ideas in an educational setting and to be comfortable with this idea of student/scholar.

And with this, I return to my original dilemma–how do we translate this kind of confidence into real world applications? How do we find the same conviction outside our comfort zones?

I use my experience as a tutor because it allows me to distance myself from my own doubts and insecurities. I can see the difference between first semester students and continuing students by the way they carry themselves. Most returning students demonstrate their confidence as they walk through the halls with their heads up. By witnessing how they overcome their challenges, I can reflect on my own and this begets the writing process and some personal reflection on my posture.