Tag Archives: creativity

Finding a direction

It’s been clear to me over the last few weeks that one of the underlying problems for me with my creativity, has been a lack of direction. I needed a sense of what the work would be *for*. I’ve long since established that money does not motivate me to write, and most of us in this industry will never make much money anyway. I came to writing as a child, wanting to say something that would make a difference, but that’s far too vague.

It’s been like finding the pieces of a puzzle, and those of you who read posts every day may have noticed the trajectory that’s been developing. I didn’t know there was a trajectory even until a couple of days ago, but sometimes you have to keep doing a thing before it becomes properly conscious and visible.

I’ve made several bardic dedications in the past, and they’ve tended to be about using my skills for the good of the tribe, and the good of the land. I’m returning to this concept with some very specific ideas about what it means in the current climate.

Many of us are alienated from our own bodies. Most of us live in ways that are deeply at odds with what our animal bodies need. We don’t experience those alienated bodies as being in the land, in the seasons, in the soil as a culture. Certainly there are individuals who do, but most people are alienated from their natural mammal selves. Provoked into thinking about this by Becoming Animal by David Abram, I think he’s right and that our treatment of the Earth is only possible because of our deep alienation.

I’ve experienced that alienation – trauma caused a retreat into my head, a dislocation from my feeling self. Stress and anxiety kept me there. I’ve spent years finding my way back towards my own body, and finding my body in the physical realm it inhabits. I can speak to the being lost, and to the process of returning. Dedicating to reconnecting person and planet serves my own journey and healing, but it also means I should have enough insight to be helpful to others.

Having just read a book that has greatly impacted on my life, I am reminded that writing is powerful, and can change things for people. I can’t fix everything, but I can work in a way that supports the idea of all the changes I want to see being possible. It’s a place to stand, and as I’ve managed to write a poem and a song in the last week, I think it’s a place I can work from.


Sharing your fire

  • In the current environment, being passionate feels risky. Many of us are keeping our heads down. It’s harder to be a passionate creative if you feel you’re surrounded by wary and measured people, or worse yet, cynical cold people.

When someone else shares their fire, the cold in my heart eases a bit. It doesn’t seem to matter what form it takes – overt creativity, the passion of activism, reading poetry, laughter that comes from the belly, affection that comes from the heart. I’ve never been the sort of person who could get by without other people. If I’m not in contact with other people’s inspiration, I wither away.

I can tackle this by picking good books to read, listening to great music, seeking out inspired films. I can book tickets for gigs and other live shows. I can actively seek other inspired people to help me keep my own small flame going. When I’m depressed, it’s harder to make the effort to do that, simply. I’m guessing it’s not just me, and that when we dare to share our passion, intensity and inspiration, we may all be able to lift each other a bit.

During the dark depths of last week, I had a flash of insight about how important it is to me to be in contact with other people’s inspiration, and the first small, creative piece of writing I’ve done in ages came into being as a consequence…

Show me your fire.

Show me the starstruck, moon crazed

Heart surging tsunami rush,

Deranged, intoxicated, transfixed.

Show me the wild honey

On your lips.

Show me the swan flight

In your dance, show me

Enchantments, woven with fingertips

And more than this,

Show me the consuming blaze of it

In your eyes, as though

A spark could leap the gap,

One igniting the other.

And awen bolt striking as lightning,

None to say which the source

And which the destination.


News, trolls, tolerance and headspace

This is not a climate in which you can afford to spend too much time imagining things. It is harder than it has ever been to image anything good, and if you accidentally start imagining how any of the not-good stuff is going to play out, you’ll hurt.

If we are to be responsible citizens, we have to know what’s going on. Given that neither our politicians nor our media seem wholly trustworthy right now, getting real insight that can lead to a truly informed opinion is hard work, and there are so many issues, and all of them have so many implications. Overload beckons. The more sensitive, empathic and caring you are, the more scope there is to tear yourself to shreds over the world’s many problems.

Shutting down and shutting it out can feel like not caring. It can feel like a cold, hard choice, a betrayal of causes that needed our help. We don’t want to join the apathetic many, or the uninformed many, but knowing comes at too high a price.

There’s no tidy answer here, not least because we’re all different. As creatives many of us need to feel in touch – but we have some scope for deciding what we’re in touch with. We are not all obliged to know everything.

Picking things to be informed about and letting go of other issues is a reasonable choice. Cutting down on exposure to media to avoid being overwhelmed is also an option. Taking holidays from the woes of the world in order to clear the mind and claim back some space for creative thinking. Focusing on news outlets that offer good news stories, solutions and so forth can also be a great help. One of the reasons I like being involved with campaigning groups is that they all, reliably, feed good news stories back to participants, when there are any.

My creativity depends on the interactions between my imagination and the world as I encounter it. I can’t run far on pure imagination, that’s a dragon eating its own tale/tail. I want my work to be grounded and informed, not pure escapism. I cannot insulate myself too much. But, if I don’t insulate myself to some degree, all I think about is what’s going on out there and the implications of it, or I end up having to not think, to avoid spiralling into anxiety and dysfunction. I think part of the point of what we’re being exposed to is to shut us down, shut us up, overwhelm us into doing nothing. I want to resist that. There are groups and individuals out there whose intention it is to trash anyone who wants to do anything good.

There are stories about troll factories and people paid to get on social media and spread lies. Groups driven by the desire to tear down. They aren’t a majority, they are people who for various reasons have the time to be online a lot, making noise. They give the impression of being a huge and popular movement, but I think there are more of us who want to improve things than there are people who just want to destroy. There’s a case for the balance between digging around and staying away right there… Because however you go about it, not hearing those voices will help you stay sane, and maybe we don’t need to know what the trolls amongst us think, feel and want. Maybe we aren’t responsible for them – although they will tell us we are, and that we aren’t really tolerant if we can’t tolerate their hate… Maybe the answer is to selectively close our ears and not have compassion stretched to breaking point by people who set out to break us.

 


Creating in a hostile climate

  • The world is terrifying right now. There are so many big issues, so much that needs changing, that any small creative act seems too little in the face of it all. We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

Logically I know what the answers to this are – it’s just that emotionally I can’t get it to work (yet). The answer is to think about the kind of world we want to live in, and act as individuals, and in groups, to make that real. The shit out there is nothing more than the cumulative effects of other people, deliberately and cluelessly doing stuff. We can push back. All forms of creativity can be a valid form of pushback.

I suspect the reasons I struggle emotionally is because I’m often attracted to whimsy and small acts of silliness. Small beauties, small projects, small publishing houses… I know my scale, and my very sense of where I belong conflicts with the need to be doing more. I have to work on this.

Like many people, I’ve been exposed to the folk who say ‘why are you even bothering with that when this is so much more important? Why help refugees and not feed the homeless? I have to keep reminding myself that these statements are made purely to derail by people who do nothing to help anyone. People who just spend their time knocking other people down. But they’re like toxins thrown in the ocean – my personal ocean may be bigger than them, but it still feels the effects.

One of the things we can do collectively is to affirm that each other’s contributions are good. That any small act of good, any kindness, any generosity or warmth or expression of hope, any good idea, or effort in the right direction is good, and welcome and wanted. I’m reminded of an anecdotal activist in the habit of shouting ‘don’t you want a future’ into the faces of people who do not agree with him. We have to not be that guy. We have to be the opposite of that guy, because well intended demands to do more can grind people down just effectively as trolling does. Always demanding that other people do more does not make for a better world or even get the outcomes we may seek. We have to help each other to do more, inspire and encourage each other to do more. If we lift each other, and support each other, we can do far, far more than if we pick holes in each other. And we can, with small good things, shared and appreciated.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed with ideas, experiences, shared what’s working and what isn’t. I was paralysed for a long time by what was happening with my creativity, I could not have started a rethink alone.


Naming the creative challenges

It’s not easy to be creative at the moment. I thought it was just me, but having put a hand up to admit this, I’ve found a lot of other creative people are struggling to be creative. Why is it hard now? Well, there are reasons that impact on many of us, and I think we need to talk about what’s going on because much of this has implications outside of the creative industries, too.

  • It’s harder to create if not creating feels like personal failure. If a sense of guilt, inadequacy, loss of inspiration is haunting you, and that feels like it is your fault, that can just add to the blockage.
  • The world is terrifying right now. There are so many big issues, so much that needs changing, that any small creative act seems too little in the face of it all. We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.
  • Following on from that, this is not a climate in which you can afford to spend too much time imagining things. It is harder than it has ever been to image anything good, and if you accidentally start imagining how any of the not-good stuff is going to play out, you’ll hurt. Many of us are not imagining too much, as a protective measure. You can’t spend most of your time not imagining and then expect the imagining to turn up for specific jobs.
  • Angry, hate-laden, nihilistic attitudes are everywhere. Put something good out there and the risk of being torn to shreds is higher than ever. Especially for those of us who aren’t creating material with that tone, graphically violent and violently sexualised material. It can feel there’s no point making anything kind, tender, beautiful, when the world seems to be craving the exact opposite of these things. Of course not everyone wants the ick, but the icky demographic shouts loudly and a lot and drowns out quieter voices sometimes.
  • In the current environment, being passionate feels risky. Many of us are keeping our heads down. It’s harder to be a passionate creative if you feel you’re surrounded by wary and measured people, or worse yet, cynical cold people.
  • The creative industries are a mess, and it is ever harder to make a decent living doing it. This is a real barrier for many. Some of us do okay being creative part time. The industry causes despair, disillusionment, financial misery, stress and challenge. Creative people have to be able to afford to eat, the majority of us are finding it hard to do what we love and pay bills.
  • Wider society offers massive instability – housing costs, health care, the price of food – it’s not like throwing it all in to get a ‘sensible’ job until things settle down is even an option. Are there any sensible jobs left that can genuinely be relied on? There are people who find instability and uncertainty are fuel for their fire, but you may not be one of those people and the massive scale of insecurity may be impacting on your concentration.

 

That’s probably not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to start. I’ll be following on from here in the coming days by talking about what we can do to change things – not as individuals but in small groups. Because if you’re feeling beaten, trying to pull yourself up is bloody difficult, and there are other ways.


Creativity and risk

There can be no real creativity without taking risks. Of course, there are a lot of good things a person can do who doesn’t want to take risks as well. Study, practice, developing skills, learning about relevant things – this doesn’t have to feel risky not least because we never have to share it.

There is a school of thought that says we should create purely for ourselves, driven by our own passion and inspiration and to hell with what anyone else thinks. Many creators we now think of as great were not valued in their own lifetimes. There’s another school of thought that says a piece is not complete until it has an audience and that the audience is co-creator of the finished work. Without someone to interact with a piece, an important part is missing. This is more how I feel about things.

When we set out to create, the idea of impacting on another human tends to be part of the mix. We want to move them, and we’ll probably know how we want them to feel. Write a horror novel and you want to scare your reader, and maybe gross them out and give them nightmares. Write erotica and you want to give them some hot flushes, and so on and so forth. Most of us, at heart, want to be liked, and want what we make to be liked, because that’s validating. And on a practical note, people who like what you do are more likely to pay for it, and this leads to being able to eat. Living only for your muse is fine if someone else is paying the bills, but most of us don’t have that option.

No matter how good you are, there will always be someone who doesn’t like it. That’s inevitable. Many people deal with the pain of bad reviews and negative feedback by having some people they trust, who like them. It’s a lovely thing to create for people who get what you do and are going to enjoy it. Of course, finding those people can be a messy trial and error process. How much risk can you take on that journey? How much negative feedback can you bear? Is there a point when a person should admit defeat and quit? Or should we never give up? I don’t know.

I come back to this blog, always. I’ve been through more cycles of despair than I care to count – it’s really tough in the creative industries at the moment without any personal angst on top of that. I have plenty of personal angst, too. I’ve wobbled repeatedly, and every time I’ve wobbled, people have come back and asked me to keep this blog going. It’s not my most creative work, it’s not a means to anything else, but it’s wanted, and I would rather put something wanted into the world than not. There are still days when blogging feels like a risk – too much exposure, too much vulnerability – but it’s useful, and that keeps me going.

So, thank you to those of you who keep coming back, keep commenting, keep saying that you find this useful. When I can’t write anything else, I push myself to write this, and there are times when it’s the only even slightly creative thing I do. I believe firmly that every human should have the right and the space to create, but that’s difficult unless we hold those spaces for each other. Thank you for turning this space into something meaningful for me.


Community solutions

For some time now, I’ve been exploring the idea that many of the problems our societies construct as individual issues, aren’t. I’ve mostly been looking at this in terms of mental health, but suspect it applies more widely. The emphasis on the problem as being the individual’s problem, and the solution being individual too, seems highly suspect to me. Depression, anxiety and other stress-induced problems happen in a context, and if we don’t change the context how can there be a real solution?

Up until this week, I’d thought of my problems with inspiration as being a personal problem, necessitating personal solutions, or otherwise unfixable. Opening up about the problem has brought me a lot of conversations – here, on facebook and by email. Thank you everyone who did that. Apparently it’s not just me. Rather than seeing a personal problem, I’m now seeing a much bigger problem(s) impacting on creative people. The answer, then, is to find solutions that aren’t just for me. Maybe what we have here is the sort of thing that can only be dealt with collectively.

My plan at the moment is to spend time over the next few days really facing up to this, to my own feelings of guilt, shame, grief and loss, and to look at what paralyses me. I’ve not done this before, because these are painful things to look in the face, but, I think it’s necessary to walk into it.

So, this is an open invitation to contribute. If you have experiences either of being able to maintain your creativity, or of struggling with it, and you’re willing to share what’s happening, then please do. If you don’t want to do that in public, just comment that you’d like an email and I’ll get in touch – wordpress helpfully shows me your email address when you comment. Anything shared privately I won’t put out in public except in a generic ‘some people are finding’ kind of way.


Where is my inspiration?

To be creative, to be innovative, a person needs inspiration. We call it the fire in the head, with reference to Yeats. For much of my adult life, it’s been a given – a head full of ideas and a heart full of a passion for creating. What happens if it isn’t there, or if it goes away?

When finding the words for a blog post, or a simple email takes considerable effort.

Last summer, I decided to change tack and try to sort out more of my general body and mental health issues rather than worrying about where my inspiration had gone. My theory was that fixing those things might well solve the awen issue anyway. I can’t say it has. I take more time off, rest more, I’ve tried to increase the amount of stuff I’m exposed to that could inspire me, but the fire in my head is just old, cold ashes.

A few observations on life for this blog is the best, and often the only writing I do in a day. I’m not often motivated to get out an instrument, or to learn new music. I’ve written a couple of poems in the last six months. Nothing comes. Nothing sparks. Nothing flows.

I know if I was talking to anyone else about this, I would tell them that inspiration is something we’re all entitled to, and so is creativity. I’d tell them that their creativity mattered, and was wanted and needed.

Part of the trouble is that I know that fiction and poetry are the least helpful things I can do with my time. There are so many creative people struggling right now, because the creative industries are an exploitative mess. The world has more writers than it needs, by factors of a lot. It needs more reviewers and book bloggers and readers and people who support the idea of creative culture. Doing that has become my day job, and I do it well.

Being a creative person can make you the centre of attention, make you feel important, and valued. That’s attractive, and it’s part of why so many people want to write books and so forth. Giving up on the idea that my vision (now absent) my creativity (now lacking) is important is part of the process I’m in. I think what I can make as a creative person is less useful, less needed than what I can do by spending my time and energy on blogs and social media supporting other writers and creative people.

How do I justify giving time over to writing, when I could be helping other people? And that’s without opening the can of worms that is activism and the need to change and fix so many things in the world. Fiction is the least useful thing I can do right now. I think it’s this awareness, beyond all else, that has cost me my creative inspiration. Nothing has come into my head that seemed big enough, powerful enough, intense enough, passionate enough to be more important than any of the other things I could do with my time.

Maybe, if I push the other way, I can make it more feasible for other creative people to create. I do believe that has worth, and the more I can do there, the more worth it will have.

Last autumn I thought long and hard about rededicating to the bard path, but am increasingly thinking that what I need to do is dedicate myself to other people’s bardistry instead.


Risk taking and safe spaces

All too often ‘safe’ is treated like some kind of pathetic, counterproductive retreat for the innately useless. Talent show TV programs bully and ridicule the ‘talent’ as entertainment, while people who ask for safe spaces can expect to be mocked.

What happens when you give a person a safe space? Based on experience of holding safe spaces for people, and the experience of being in places where I feel safe, the results are not what might be expected. Safety has never, in my experience, resulted in people being comfortably crap. What happens instead is that people who feel safe are empowered to take risks.

A safe space means a space where you will be treated with kindness and respect. It doesn’t mean being rewarded for messing up, but it does mean having messing up as a recognised part of being human, and striving. It’s very difficult to do anything new or groundbreaking without making mistakes. Knowing that if you try to reach high and fail, no one will kick you if you miss and fall, makes it easier to reach. People who keep reaching, achieve all kinds of things. People who are afraid to make mistakes will play it safe and will have far less scope to develop.

Recent years took a toll on my confidence. I’d largely stopped performing, I’d not MCed in ages. Getting out in public to perform and participate was not easy. If I’d been met with hostility, ridicule, or anything of that ilk, I would have stopped very quickly. Instead, I found warmth, friendship, permission and opportunity. I felt braver as a consequence. Last week I ventured to sing one of my own songs, and I’ve pushed repeatedly to do things that were outside the comfort zone. It’s been possible to face down my anxiety because I’ve been in the company of people I know are on my side.

Alongside that, I’ve watched others take risks and flourish, finding skills they hadn’t known they possessed. Safe space makes that possible.

As a culture, we’re addicted to competition, and to the humiliation of others. We’re collectively quick to pull down and stomp on those who, in reaching for something better, stumble a bit. It’s not a good way to get things done. A few laughs at each other’s expense, and that’s all the benefit to be had. When we support each other, the possible outcomes are far more exciting.


Bardic meditation

Meditating is not a single, simple practice to cover all possible needs and people. There are many ways of meditating, and your intentions should inform your method. If you meditate to support your bardic work, then simply creating inner peace and calm isn’t going to be enough on its own. Holding inner stillness may mean that you are shutting off the flows of inspiration.

For bardic meditation, opening the self to inspiration is the likely motive for doing the work. By becoming still and quiet, we can allow two things to happen – we can become more aware of what is outside us, and we can make room for things to bubble up inside us. We can use meditation time to focus on a concept, place, object, story, or person in order to engage with it and seek insight and inspiration. Or we can just let the world in, by being still and open, and see what happens.

The best creative thinking isn’t worked for, it’s allowed. When we let our dreaming, imagining minds play freely, the awen is most likely to flow. Try to force and direct it and you are more likely to get something that feels pushed and contrived. Mediation can make a space for unconscious thinking to rise gently to the surface. By letting the mind settle, space can be made for gloriously mad connections to be made, essential what-if questions to be asked and so forth. So we may start with some standard techniques for stilling and settling, but once ‘in the zone’ the last thing we want to do is notice and let go of our thoughts. Instead, we need to notice and explore what arrives. A deliberate wool gathering, daydreaming time, where we go with what happens.

The best creative work happens when we’re engaging with both the outer and the inner worlds. Too much outer work can become drab, or at the moment, demoralising. Too much inner work and we can be too far away with the faeries for anyone else to benefit from our ideas. As ever, some elements of balance are required.

When considering any meditation, it’s important to know how the practice you are working with relates to emotions. Many people offer meditation as a way of escaping from or controlling emotion, with the goal being inner peace, and emotions viewed as something to let go of. For the bard, emotions will be the driving force in our work. Effective creativity makes the audience feel something, and to achieve that, the bard must be fluent in their own emotions, and have a good idea how other people may think and feel. Creativity is more likely to come from inner passion than from inner stillness. Rather than letting go of our feelings, we need to explore them, work with them and give them room for expression.