Tag Archives: creativity

Lessons from the crisis

Extreme circumstances always have the capacity to teach us. For the person who has never had their life upheaved in this way before and has never felt so powerless, those will be serious lessons. To be frozen and overwhelmed, unable to act or think when you have always assumed you would stay in control of yourself, is a hard lesson to learn. I hope as we move forward, more people will understand how it is that so many people freeze in response to domestic abuse and sexual violence. Freezing is a very human response to having no power.

We will all learn things about ourselves. What we do under pressure. What we miss and long for. How we handle fear, and what we fear. Most of us won’t be able to use this time to do the great project we always dreamed of – most of us will be hanging on by our fingernails at best. But we may find out what role other people’s creativity plays in our lives. If you are turning to Netflix, to books, films, games or music then you are using creativity to get you through. I hope people learn to value their creators, and the way the vast majority of creators are seriously underpaid becomes visible.

We’ve learned about who really matters in our societies, and that wage doesn’t come into it. We’ve learned that low paid folk in retail and in care homes are all that stands between us all and certain doom.

There may be lessons to come about the way busyness has filled our time and what the quiet of its absence looks like. The role of work in terms of our social interactions. How we really do with the people we live with. The terms that make our lives and relationships possible. For many of us, these weeks will bring into focus who it is that really matters. Who we need. Who we can’t bear to be parted from. No one knows who is going to survive this crisis, which for many of us means there is an urgency to dropping guard and telling people we love them. There may be no second chances.

We’re learning what it’s like to have quiet roads and clean air. We’re learning that a great many things we were told had to be done a certain way… don’t. There’s a lot more room for innovation than anyone was previously willing to admit. You don’t have to be in the building to be in the meeting. There’s a lot we can get done without consuming anything like as much energy or putting out anything like as much carbon.

None of us really know who we are until circumstances test us. We might not like what we see in ourselves as these challenges unfold. We might not be as good, or heroic, or worthy as we thought we were. But, if you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to make good choices around where you need to go. Discomfort is also a powerful teacher.


Magic in the creative process

As a Druid, I hold inspiration sacred and I see creativity as an inherently magical process. However, there’s one aspect of this that is stand-out magical for me, and it has to do with how I work with other people.

Without a doubt, I do my best work either when I’m collaborating with others, or writing for someone very specifically. It gives me focus. Ideas are easy to find, for me the key moment of inspiration is when I see how to pull a selection of ideas together to make it into something for someone.

What I write depends a lot on who I’m writing for. When I’m writing for someone specific, my relationship with them colours what I create. There will be a moment, or moments when I’m thinking about them and drawing on all the emotions that go with that. What happens next is like opening a door. Until I open that door, I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to me or what I’ll be able to do.

I feel this in a tangible way. I feel it in my body, in my thoughts. The door has a reality. Opening it changes things. Stepping through is a shift. I have no idea what I’m stepping into, what this space is or how it works, but it changes things for me. It lifts my creativity out of the stuff I can do from practice and experience, and elevates it into something with more inherent enchantment in it.

The door opens, and I pass through it. I write whatever it is that I could only have written by taking that step. Some people I will only ever write one or two things for because there turns out not to be much magic on the other side of the door. Some people I will keep coming back to because writing for them brings out the best in me. I’ve been writing for Tom for more than a decade now, and that door always leads me to good places.

Inevitably, this process impacts on my relationships with people. I’m drawn to the people I can create for in this way. I’m even more excited about people who are prepared to be a bit more active, engaging with me around whatever I’ve written for them, and deliberately opening doors for me by asking me to write specific things.

It’s a giddy feeling, when it works. Wild and wonderful, unpredictable. When I open those doors to write for someone else, I go places I would never have gone on my own. I’m able to think differently. Possibilities open up before me. I am at my happiest and my best when I can do that.


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.


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.