Reality is hard. There is no way around it. Especially now. Some people want to trick reality; skip the hard part and pretend it’s all okay, until reality rears its head and reminds us again just how hard it is (1). This pandemic has brought home the fact that there is no way but through, except there are also many ways through.
In my last newsletter, I spoke about being with what is as key to the creative process of healing, and my own increased capacity to not fear fear during the pause of Shelter in Place. But that kind of practice is difficult to sustain regardless of an ongoing and unfolding crisis. As the months have gone by and the economy worsens, I find myself more and more wrapped up in worrying about the future. My decision to quit my job and move across the country is now a much scarier reality, because it literally is. I can’t dismiss how unemployment will change my job prospects along with many others who face an even harsher reality of institutional oppression. That said, if this moment has exposed anything, it is that reality is always shifting and thus changeable.
I remind us of this quote from Rebecca Solnit:
No one can say what the future brings, neither good nor bad, but you can recognize that we’re on moveable ground, a space of creativity. A creative mindset looks for openings, allowing for an emergent process, paying attention to how each choice affects the outcome. It identifies the component parts and works through combinations to find the optimal solution. It isn’t afraid to edit. When I write a poem, I am continually engaged in an editing process, asking myself questions like: Is this the direction I want to go? Do I need to back up? What if I did this? Do I need to start over? Any good movie, tv show, or book has been largely shaped by the editor, and any good editor is willing to question it all and play with form. As Gary Dollner, Emmy-award winning editor of the show Fleabag said in an interview with The Fleabag Situation podcast:
To take an editor’s approach to life is to see everything as part of the creative process, mixing and matching, trying and learning as necessary steps to success. And to value that often you must break things apart to discover how you can piece them back together in new ways.
So if reality is always changing, we can engage with life as an editor, looking for possibilities to shift the tone and test out ideas. An editor understands how reality is shaped. To assume the worst version, is to contribute to that reality through inaction; to believe it is immovable and permanent, is to ignore its changing nature and thus miss opportunities for openings. Right now people are living in new ways, planting more gardens, and creating mutual aid supports. If you’re a pessimist then there is no point to trying to sustain these practices; if you’re an optimist then there’s no need to do anything different. But an editor knows reality is a creative process and sees their actions as integral to shaping alternatives. Research on how arts education influences perspective found 8 Studio Habits of Mind, disciplines such as developing craft, engaging and persevering, envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, stretching and exploring, and understanding community (4). To stretch and explore is “Learning to reach beyond one’s capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes.” (5) What makes a person creative is not talent, but a willingness to embrace uncertainty, to deeply question, and play with possibilities. Reality may be hard, but it is not solid. Let’s put on our editor’s cap and see the potential in what’s breaking apart.
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
Speaking of reality, while all great works of art go through an editing process, often with many people contributing to the final product, our Western ideals hold up the image of a lone creative genius who births a fully formed idea in a burst of inspiration (6). This intimidating false idol can hinder our creative potential, internalizing the belief that only good ideas should be expressed (when in reality, there is no way to know if an idea is good until it’s expressed). The worry of “Am I good enough?” stops many people before they start. This is where a free write comes in handy. Free writing is when you write down your stream of consciousness without editing, just whatever comes to mind for a set amount of time (I often suggest at least 8 minutes or to fill a page). Then once you’ve gotten your thoughts out on the page, you can go back and edit, looking for what resonates or is the start of a creative idea to be expanded upon. This is my own practice for writing poetry, often pulling from my free write topics and language to be incorporated into the form of a poem. Here’s one example of a free write that become a poem:
Free Write 1/26/20
What is a healthy perspective?
Some balance of short and long view
Titrating between pain points
but not manipulating
The short view is tangible, real
Where the birds are chirping
and my feet touch the earth
Joy is only in the moment
but happiness isn’t measure daily
The long view is forgiving, possible
There’s room for change and growth
For hope to carry you along
an imagined path
And see culmination of moments
as part of your larger calling
Momentum in the universe
But it’s also the realm of stories
Of sweeping generalizations
and quantifying existence
The long view can’t hold the reality of the small
The momentum of linear thinking
drops plot holes and tangents
The call for clarity is louder
than the chirping of birds
If it must, it will draw conclusions
between unrelated details
Context be damned
So then we return to the small
where we can say:
This is real, this right here
Until we need to be reminded
We are more than the sum of our parts
A Timely Ghazal
By Evelyn Thorne
The poet asks: How to not make an enemy of time?
The fool replies: The answer’s short, but alas, we haven’t the time.
The poet implores: Let us have a long view of the time at hand.
The fool boasts: I could spin a whole tale of “Remember that time…”
The poet ponders: Can the truth of the moment only be known with time?
The fool declares: All truth is relative to the time.
The poet inquires: If joy be of the moment, when is happiness measured?
The fool insists: I’ve never been happier than when lost in time.
The poet resolves: I will let time be the teacher of the moment.
The fool retorts: The student determines the quality of time.
And on they went, a conversation for the ages.
Each one, taking their sweet time.
The resulting poem was not what I was expecting when I started to translate my free write, but through the support of creative constraints and editing, I found a new way to express my ideas. Now you give it a try!
1. A mantra of mine has become “It’s hard because it is hard” to remind myself that I’m struggling because reality is hard.
2. Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, p.xiv
3. The Fleabag Situation Podcast, “Gary Dollner (Editor) Interview | February 20, 2020”, https://fleabagpodcast.com/transcript-interview-with-fleabag-editor-gary-dollner
4. Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, “Studio Thinking 2, The Real Benefits of Art Education” Project, 2013, https://pz.harvard.edu/resources/studio-thinking-2-the-real-benefits-of-visual-arts-education
5. Gettings, M. “Putting it All Together: STEAM, PBL, Scientific Method, and the Studio Habits of Mind”, Art Education, p. 11
6. Keith Sawyer, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, p.12-13
Originally published May 17, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.
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