Tag Archives: creativity

Community creativity

My local theatre festival happened over the weekend. I was, at various times, a paid worker in a venue, a performer, a volunteer and an audience member. I went to three of the ten venues and saw six of the forty shows. It was an intensive sort of weekend.

It struck me how innately good it is though, to be moving between those different roles. To be a performer, and also an audience member. To be someone who moves the chairs around, and someone working the door, and to experience an event from most of the available perspectives. These are wonderful opportunities to have. Over the weekend, it was very normal to see performers going to other people’s shows, and volunteers who had been on stage in other years.

We’re so used to being entertained by people who aren’t even in the room. Television and film give us distance between performer and audience, and no sense of moving about. If you watch alone at home there is, for most of us, no sense that other roles might be available. However, go to a community event like this and getting involved in some capacity is easy. There’s no barrier between performer and audience. No one is so grand that they can’t do a shift on a door, or help set a room up.

There’s also something very powerful about sharing this kind of experience with other people. Over the weekend I talked to other people about shows I had seen, shows they had seen, shows we had both seen – and that added depth to the whole experience. Performers talked to me about how their shows had gone. The feeling of involvement was delightful and made me realise how little most of us get of that in the normal scheme of things.

If you can only ever be an audience member, only a consumer of other people’s creativity, you miss out on a lot. I feel strongly that everyone who wants to should have the opportunity to be creative and expressive. The way in which we hive off creative roles for the few – especially at the level where you might earn enough to live on – frustrates me. It’s not how I want to do things.

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Things I’ve learned about the working week

In the last year I have established that I can work a 40-50 hour week. I’ve also established what happens if I do that. I get to the end of my day, and fall into a weary heap on the sofa. I will likely be too tired, too short of concentration to read, or craft, or listen to music or watch a film. Socialising is right out and I’ll have no energy to go out anywhere, walk, or otherwise exercise. I got away with this during the 50 hour weeks only because I had to walk to get to a number of the jobs. All I could do was recover and get up the next day and do it all again.

Weekends taken off at the end of a 50 hour week (not always an option, I worked a fair few weekends during that time frame) were not great either. My scope to do anything fun or enriching was totally undermined by my exhaustion.

If I work a 30-40 hour week, I still need a fair amount of recovery time. I can manage to be sociable a bit, and I might manage to do something for me at the weekend. It is more viable. If I work more like 30 hours a week I am fine, I can have a life and do other things.

If you’re on minimum wage, (which for young people is very little money) the hours you have to work are considerable, just to get by.

One of the things I notice when I’m in the long hours and exhaustion mode, is that I come to feel defined by it. I’m just a person who works. I’m not someone who is supposed to have fun things, or who deserves anything emotionally sustaining, or enriching. In my time off I am so useless that there’s no reason for good things to move towards me.

It doesn’t help that the work I do requires a lot of concentration and thinking. To get it done in a reasonable time frame – and thus, as a freelancer, for a decent pay rate – I really have to focus. The more tired I am, the harder it is to keep focusing so in the 40-50 hour weeks I am less efficient.  If I’m working in a way that leaves me exhausted and I’m not getting enough time to recover, my efficiency levels fall, so I have to work longer for less per hour.

There’s a lot of pressure on self employed people to work all the hours we can, for fear that if we don’t, the work will dry up. Creative jobs are woefully underpaid, it’s an industry-wide issue impacting on everyone who isn’t a household name. This too creates a pressure to work more in the hopes of making some progress. Grinding poverty will make you feel like a failure, and feeling like a failure will undermine any scope you had for creativity.

There’s a further complication in that creative work requires time to study, practice, explore, experiment, imagine and gather inspiration. This is not time anyone pays you for, and if you’re already worn from the day job, that investment time can push you over the edge – wherever your edge turns out to be. This is a thing to bear in mind if you’re considering supporting someone on ko-fi or patreaon – you’re buying them the space and time to start the process, and that makes worlds of difference.

My patreon is over here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB . It helps me take some time each week for learning, thinking and imagining. I know that to really invest in the creative side of my life I need a lot of things I can’t currently afford – more time off to make some headspace, a dedicated space to work in, and to have the energy and concentration to invest in developing projects. I’m aware that I might never be able to afford the time to really dig in. Most creative people are not doing their best work because we simply can’t afford to.


Sharing a world

I like collaborating with people. Making stuff up is fun, but making stuff up when that process is shared, is a greater joy. I think this is a big part of what motivates people to engage with both fan fiction and folklore – that it puts you in a community with people who love what you love and who want to play with it. With folklore of course there’s no sense that any one person can own the material. With fan fiction, the tension between original creator and people who want to play can be a thing. Where does celebration end and exploitation begin?

Hopeless Maine has always been a kind of ‘open source’ project with room for people to get involved. How the money works is an interesting question, but there’s not so much money floating about around the project to make is worth ripping off, and the people who want to play with us tend to be inclined to play nicely. Which technically makes it some sort of unofficial anarchic co-operative.

Thus far, co-operation has included people making creatures and objects for the island, writing for the island’s newspaper, performing with us at events, composing music inspired by the island, creating a role play game, and now, prose books. I enjoy this process immensely. The island is a big enough place to really benefit from having more people exploring it. Hopeless Maine feels more like a world in its own right because it has so many real people involved with it.

I do my best work when I’m writing for someone, or because of someone. Left to my own devices I’m not reliably creative. Give me a co-creator who is expecting content, and content turns up in my head. Give me people asking questions and wanting to read stuff, and my output improves. I’ve never been the lone creator in the high tower, my work has always had everything to do with the people in my life. And I like it when some of those people are involved in making things with me.

At the moment, I’m doing a kickstarter to launch one illustrated prose book of mine, and a second by Keith Errington. Both are set on Hopeless, both are illustrated by Tom Brown. Keith’s story also owes something to fellow Hopeless Maine collaborator Meredith Debonnaire. We’re simply raising enough money to print books (in case anyone wonders about the financial implications of this sort of thing.) Get in for both books by the end of the week and you might get an obituary – at time of writing there are 38 slots left for obituaries. You can read the first obituary here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/bertram-fiddles-death-mystery/

And here’s the kickstarter link – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine


Creatively doing nothing

One of the trickier things around being creative is the issue of time spent apparently doing little or nothing. It can be awkward in terms of how you see yourself. It can be very awkward around how other people relate to you. Ideas require time and space – and this isn’t just a creative issue, either. This is an issue for living well.

Time to think gives us room to explore what we want and how we feel. We can digest experiences and reflect on them and decide what to do next. For anyone who wants to be creative, in any sense, there needs to be this process of input, assimilation and then making something new.

There are of course important balances to strike. Being creative doesn’t mean you are entitled to take time other people in your household don’t have. Make sure the time to productively do nothing is shared about. If one person gets to sit around contemplating only because another person is working themselves to the bone, that’s not acceptable. It is all too easy to use the need for creative non-productivity to justify doing very little.

How do you tell, from the outside, if someone is doing the needful inner work to keep their life and/or their art in order? How much space do you give someone to stare dreamily into the middle distance? The odds are it will depend a lot on what they do the rest of the time, and how much you value that. None of us are under any obligation to find anyone else’s processes acceptable – it’s all about negotiation in the end. How we make space for each other is an important question in all relationships.

Appearing to be busy is of course not a measure of worth, either. If you’ve just knuckled down to spending every spare hour on revision twenty four of the three hundred thousand word long novel you’ve been working on for the last ten years and still aren’t happy with… that business may not be any measure of the worth of the work.

It’s also important to remember that being productive and being economically viable aren’t the same issue, either. You can create the most beautiful, inspired and worthwhile things and not be able to make a living from it.

Even so, it is good to gather wool. It is good to sit and let your mind wander, considering anything and nothing that floats through. It is good to make time and space for your own reflections. Without this, it is difficult to sustain any kind of creativity. It’s in the quiet, unstructured spaces that we come to know ourselves and can figure out something about who we are and where we might be going.


Creativity, community and audience

As with most things, it’s all about finding a workable balance, and exactly where that balance lies is likely to be quite personal.

If you create purely for yourself, what you do may well be quite self involved. You probably haven’t given much thought to where it fits in genres or markets, or who the readers/viewers/users/listeners might be. This is fine if all you ever meant to do was make something for yourself. However, trying to go from making something that is only about your own vision and inspiration, and then trying to pitch it to other people can be very difficult.

If you create purely for other people you’ll probably spend your time doing things that are in keeping with genres and led by market trends. For a significant number of creators, this is a viable way of making a living. But, it can be emotionally exhausting, and it tends to result in work that is a lot like work that already exists. If you dreamed of doing something groundbreaking – and probably when you started, you did – this can prove deeply unsatisfying.

I’ve come to the conclusion that finding the balance between what you do for yourself and what you do for other people may be better approached outside of the creative process. I think the key here is relationships and how you interact with people. If you don’t read/listen/look at things akin to the stuff you are trying to make, you have no relationship with the form, the market or anyone else in it. This may seem ok if you are only creating for yourself, but it does cut you off. If you love something, surely it makes sense to engage with it? I’ve encountered creators who don’t want to sully themselves with other people’s work, but I’ve never felt it enhanced what they did.

If something truly excites you, then you explore it. I’m frankly suspicious of creators who don’t want to engage with anyone else – you can’t even know how relevant or obvious your work is if you go that way. There’s so much we can learn just by paying attention to other people. You want to talk to other people who are in the same territory. You want to exchange ideas, and find out what other people are excited about. In this process, you build a sense of people you might want to create for. You end up with interplay between your own vision and creativity, and the enthusiasm, vision and creativity of other people. It’s fertile ground – not wholly commercial, not wholly self involved.

I firmly believe that no good work is done in total isolation. All creativity is to some degree a consequence of a wider community and influences – whether you own that or not. The people who work consciously with these relationships get a lot of advantages. The snobby creator who sees themselves as a lone genius needing no relationships to sustain them, tends not to be as good as they think they are.


What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.


Time off – some observations

I took last week off – sort of. I still wrote a few blog posts and checked my email most days, but compared to a normal working week it was minimal stuff. I used the time to look after my home a bit, to read, craft, walk, and rest.

By Friday of my week off, I was starting to feel a bit better. That told me a lot about how exhausted I’d been. I need to make some ongoing changes around rest and time off, clearly. Once I reached this point it was also noticeable that the anxious aspects of my thinking had toned down significantly. I would like to spend more of my time not so close to the edge, so this is something to explore.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what uplifts and restores me, and how to do more of that.

I’m going to keep notes on how long I’m working each day, so I can cap the length of my working week. There are some hazy areas around working and not working for me. Is rehearsing a mumming side work? Is doing technical support for a friend part of my work time? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not going to get bogged down in the details because the self employed life is sprinkled with speculative stuff that never turns into paying gigs, and fun things that turn out to be research. I can’t read a book without learning something, but that doesn’t necessarily make it work…

I want to be able to work a solid eight hours a day when my brain is sharp and fast. I want to have the rest of the day off to do domestic things and potter about. I know if I slide into longer days I become slower and get less done for the time put in. Creativity is dependent on having time when I’m not busily thinking about workish things –I’ve not been getting this balance right. I’m hoping this time off will have given me a reboot and that I’ll be able to change some of my working patterns.

And if it hasn’t been a successful reboot, I’m simply going to do it again!


Dancing Awkwardly

Dancing has been important to me for most of my life. However, as I frequently struggle with pain, stiffness and low energy, it’s also a bit of a challenge. This is something I’ve been deliberately working on for a few years now. I can’t throw myself about like a lunatic pixie anymore, so finding new ways to dance that my body can sustain has been necessary. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I’m using my arms more – I can create an impression of speed and energy with my hands for far less effort than using my feet. Also, big, slow arm movements look really dramatic, but don’t even raise my pulse. I have the energy for those, reliably.

Jumping up and down on two feet at the same time jars everything and is way too labour intensive. However, a bouncy shift between feet with one foot on the ground at all times takes far less effort and jars nothing. I can feel like I’m making a lively response to the music without wearing myself out too quickly.

Dancing from the hips and not moving my feet very often takes less energy than moving my feet.

I can share the motion round my body, if I have one or two bits of me moving I can be creative without getting too tired. I am learning to think more about my body as a whole when dancing, and how to use every part and spread the motion around so I don’t strain anything.

I can work with my own awkwardness. There’s interest and drama in not being smooth and graceful. Sometimes it is better to dance more with my elbows and knees, to embrace the stagger, to flail a bit and let my body do what suits it. Overtly not-sexy dancing can be emotionally liberating as well. I don’t have to be sexually performative or attractive, I can be messy and punk and feel better about myself for dancing with what I’ve got.

I don’t have to go with the most obvious rhythm in a piece of music, there are always slower currents in a song that I can get into. I can dance with different melodies and instruments. It doesn’t have to be all about the drum speed. Again, I have the scope to do something more interesting by resisting the obvious and co-operating with my own body.

My limitations are obliging me to be a more creative dancer. Amusingly, from the feedback I’m getting, what I’m doing looks high energy. It isn’t. I can dance while barely raising my pulse, if I want to. I can dance without hurting myself, not overloading joints or tiring my muscles too much. I can dance with my own limitations and by doing so, I feel better in my body and better about my body.

 


Seeking the handcrafted life

Creativity should be an option for everyone. Making and re-making, repurposing, and upcycing are skills we all need to reduce what we throw away. The pleasure of creating from scratch should be everyone’s right, not seen as the domain of the talented few. Whether that’s cooking or gardening, rag rugging, painting, dancing or singing or anything else you can think of, we should all have the time and resources to follow our creative interest. Not as a way of making a living, necessarily, but for the sheer joy of it.

As an aside, I think there would be much greater appreciation of professional creativity if everyone was engaged with it for fun as well. A culture of creativity would increase the value of original work.

Creativity is not just about obvious arts and crafts activities. It’s also about how much innovation we have in our lives. Do we just run through the same routines day to day? Do we do what we’ve always done, powered largely by habit and clinging to what’s familiar? Does life have scope for adventure in it? Is there room for surprise, for joy, excitement, novelty and pleasure? Can we make these things for ourselves or are we only looking to buy answers to those human needs for interest?

One of the things I’ve learned working creatively, is that inspiration requires space. You can’t be busy all the time and expect to keep coming up with great ideas as well. It’s the quite down time that hatches plots and plans. It’s the unstructured spaces where I can daydream, chew over things I’ve learned and wool gather that makes room for a lightning strike of inspiration. If I’m nothing but busy, I don’t have anything like as many good ideas – about anything.

The busyness of conventional western life doesn’t leave us much room to think. Most of us are sleep deprived as well. We rush from one thing to another, time pressured, money pressured, constantly getting messages about why we aren’t good enough. These forces can leave you living a life that is not of your designing. You can so easily end up running after money and then needing that money to console yourself for everything that’s missing. A slower, less economically active life can be both less expensive and more rewarding. Without the space to think creatively about how you live, this is hard to achieve.

Most of us have more time available than we think we do. The trick is to turn off the screens for a bit. Screens are addictive, and feed the fear of not keeping up, the pressure to be available, the sense of panic if we don’t know what’s going on and aren’t busy all the time. Turn the screens off. Remove small screens from about your person. Turn them off and leave them behind and go to a quiet place, and just breathe for a while. Look at the sky, or a tree, or the life in the grass. Sometimes it takes a while for all the chaotic, stampeding things in your head to calm down, but eventually they will, and once there is calm, there is space to ask questions about what you want, and what you need, and what just has you chasing your tail to no real purpose.

When you have time to think, you have the scope to think creatively. When you can think creatively, you can take much more control of your life and live on your own terms. A handmade life, imagined and crafted by you and for you. It’s well worth making the effort for.


Dreaming differently

What would happen if our dreams were not driven by the desire to consume? What if we weren’t drawing our inspiration from adverts, and weren’t being fed a constant consumerist narrative about what we need to own in order to be happy? What would we daydream about then?

We might stop dreaming about new cars and kitchens and carpets and start dreaming about how to live at our hearth and in our homes. Dreams of community and time spent with people we care for, and who care for us. Not the look of the kitchen itself, but the scope to make good food and share it with good people. Life changes dramatically when you’re less focused on how a home might look and more concerned with what you can do in it.

Equally, if our gardens don’t have to look like something off the telly, we might dream of wildlife havens instead. We might plant trees and welcome insects, birds and small mammals to share the space with us. We might dream of the summer humming of bees and the beauty of butterflies. We might want a space to just chill out and watch the clouds go by – dreaming of a space in which to dream.

We might indeed dream of holidays, but not of planes and other countries. We might dream of having the time to really get to know the land we live on, or having more time for the people who come into our homes or the wild things in our gardens.

We might dream of changing our bodies, but not through the misery and seldom successful methods of commercial dieting, and not by purchasing a new look from the planet trashing fashion industry. We might dream of the things we can joyfully do with our bodies. We might aspire not to thinness or fashion, but to grace and delight. We might start listening to our bodies and let our dreams come from the needs our bodies have.

Rather than dreaming of fame and fortune, we could dream instead of the things we want to achieve. The book we want to write – not to be famous, but to say the things we need to say. The art we want to make. The dance styles we want to learn. The courses we want to study. The things we want to create with our hands. We can make space to dream up ways of re-using rather than throwing away. We can get excited about our own creativity.

We can dream about how good it would feel to know we are living sustainably. The pleasure of not harming the living planet, and of knowing we’ll leave it in good shape for those who come after us. We can dream of a world in which life and beauty flourish, rather than profit and greed. And the more we dream this, the more we move towards it. The more we share these dreams and draw other people into them, the more feasible it all becomes. Dream it and talk about it, and see who you can co-dream with, and then see what you can co-create as those dreams turn into ever more viable possibilities.

(And I can recommend the Transition Towns movement as an excellent place to find inspiration and turn dreams into action – https://transitionnetwork.org/ )