Getting your ducks in a row

Every Wednesday I choose a topic for the Basilique Chat Salon. About a dozen people gather to discuss it over 2 hours. This week’s subject was Creativity – where does it come from, and where does it go, when it seems unavailable? This is the third part of that conversation. In case you’re hopelessly lost, here is the first and second.

It was now Kay’s turn to share her thoughts on creativity:

On craftspeople and artists

“So… let’s see…” she began, “I suppose I have two main trains of thought on this topic. First, I have a hard time with the concept of creativity, because I always feel as if I have none…

“I feel like a craftsperson, not an artist. There are bursts of inspiration, but most of the time, I shape and reshape and rewrite and edit and discard and delete and restart…

“If I am in the middle of a creative project and I look at others in the same genre, I have a crisis of confidence. My work looks like a steel penny amidst diamonds…

“So, for me, ‘creativity’ often comes down to work that isn’t fun. Outlining, structuring, researching, and then hoping for inspiration to make it shine. ….

“I’m currently working on a novel, however, and I’m stuck as stuck can be. So, I hope some of the great ideas here will help push that train too. ….

“I’m going down a spiral of research because it has a historical setting, and I think I’ll earn a doctorate in mid-20th century history before I ever finish. I have the story, I know my characters, but for some reason, I don’t feel ready. Hmmph. Ideas welcome!

Josh was the first to answer: “Kay, when you say you ‘shape and reshape and rewrite and edit and discard and delete and restart….’ – that’s exactly what some of the great poets did – they were craftsmen.”

“I find it interesting that you don’t believe yourself to have creativity,” added Juliette. “When you consider that creativity’s base word is “create,” which you do. The process is different for you, but it’s no less creative?”

Kay acknowledged both Josh’s and Juliette’s points, then turning to Juliette, replied: “Let me try to explain a bit. One of the things I do is sing. I have a very nice voice, but I couldn’t improvise, create harmony, or write music. I can just sing. For that reason, I don’t feel artistic.

Josh gasped.

“When I write,” continued Kay, “I have this suspicion that others out there have a much different, more ‘artistic’ experience than I do. But I could very well be wrong.

“Kay!!!” Josh couldn’t contain himself any longer.

Kay tilted her head replying “Yes?”

“But singing is artistic” he said.

“It sounds a little like you’re letting other people’s different talents make you feel like your duck isn’t good enough,” said Juliette, alluding to Josh’s earlier story about his drawing of the duck that his teacher criticised. Josh noticed, and there was a smile between the two of them.

“Perhaps I’m seeing their swans and comparing them to my duck,” replied Kay.

I thought about this for a moment and asked: “Is a duck any less than a swan? Is it not another one of nature’s beautifully intricate, amazingly-complex living creatures?”

Kay smiled and answered: “I actually prefer ducks. Hmm. Let me see if I can find a clearer point in my ramble.”

Josh picked up on my comment and put a mirror up to me: “So Becky, would a small, ’boutique’ kind of show not be as worthy as Paradise Lost, if that’s what you came up with now? It’s all part of your life work.”

I grinned at him, such a smarty-pants, and said: “Yes, but I have my duck on the go (Romeo + Juliet), and that’s my side-show… I need a main event.”

Kay smiled as I directed my comments to her: “First off, what you’re going through Kay, that tunnel of research… wow, does it ever resonate.”

“It never ends!” she agreed.

“And yes, it can feel that you doing more analysis than synthesis, most of the time,” I added.

“A great way to say it,” she agreed.

“It’s a tough one,” I said, “because big things like novels require research, especially if they’re historically based… but, not to overdo the analogy, might you be trying to hard to ‘get your ducks in a row’?

Kay laughed vowing to have Peking duck this weekend….

“Yes. Yes indeed,” she agreed. “My latest thought to kick myself out of the research is to write my novel as a screenplay first. Less description, more dialogue and action, then see if I can work backwards from there.”

“Ooh, that’s a good idea.” I said.

“It’s a nice shortcut to reference stock footage of WWII armament factories than to describe them in depth. It might help. Fingers crossed.”

It was now Juliette’s turn to share her views, which incidentally acted as a concise summary of what we had discussed to that point.

Be aware

“Well, I feel as though I need a disclaimer,” she began. “It’s my first time here, though I’ve read the transcripts on your blog. But I can offer my thoughts in general, just not as someone who writes for more than my own (and sometimes, my friends’) enjoyment.

“Hearing everyone’s description and conceptualizations of creativity is interesting, because we all have different ideas. I don’t see it as an outside thing, a monster to be lured. I see my creativity as part of my personality.

“It goes beyond the creation of the tangible to the intangible. For instance, a creative resolution to a problem, or an insightful way of looking at any given situation.

“It doesn’t ‘go away’, but at the same time, it isn’t on the surface, or manifesting itself how we would like it to.

“When you say that when you don’t write, you cook, then it’s still there.. because it’s still a part of you, it’s just choosing a different outlet.

“And the idea that it’s an obsession is similar to how I think, though I’ve always used the term passion. Passion can be good, or bad. It can be indescribable joy, or pain, or anger. All things can evoke that passion, and inspire us, like the Requiem did for you.

“I feel as though I’ll never create a character as amazing as one in my past, but these days, when I go back and read some of the stories I wrote about her, I realize that she was someone I needed to write about at that time in my life. I’m not that person anymore.

“So as far as pulling that passion out, getting past writers block, or creative constipation, I don’t really have an answer other than to find something that evokes it.

“But at the same time, you don’t want to force it. Just enjoy life, and be aware when you encounter something that really lights your fire. :)”

Stealing the fire

As I reflected on Juliette’s words, I considered how we often “There is a reason why I like the idea of borrowing the creativity, and it was put forward by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love – surely you’re familiar with that title?

“I am,” Juliette responded, “but I haven’t read it. I’ve not had a lot of time for reading for pleasure lately.”

“It was a phenomenal success – massive… and because she had it so early – this amazing success – she has looked at things objectively. And she’s concluded that in all likelihood her best work is behind her. She’s 40, and has 40 years left, as a writer.

“Well,” I continued, “she says that by ‘owning’ the creativity, it being  a part of you. It might be the main reason artists live such tortured lives, and why so many end up ruining themselves because they are too close to it. And it becomes a part of themselves, so much that their work, or lack of it, the shittyiness or genius in it, is who they are. And that can be awfully harsh.”

“Can I give you a 4 line poem by William Blake?” asked Josh, “I copied it for someone the other day, so I have it.”

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

“Yeah…” I said, “that’s it, on the knocker. It’s a tough one I know, to consider the idea of borrowing it, or stealing it for a while but in a way I think it might be a safer, if less reliable one.

“Well yes,” said Caitlin, “it would prevent you from ruining your life as it were”

“There is a notion that suggests that all great artists steal anyway. This was my reference to Prometheus by the way…”

“Good artists copy, great ones steal,” agreed Mona. “Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give it to the mortals. And this got Zeus’ thong in a twist.”

I nodded and added: “And that’s how I see artists, in a way. We never “own” it – like we don’t, can’t, own fire. We can only hold it for a while.”

“So Becky,” asked Caitlin, “is that your worry basically… that the borrowed time is up and you have to return your books to the library?”

I laughed in agreement, “hmm, yeah, kind of.”

“Go to a new library then.”

I smiled at Caitlin. “You set that up pretty well there Caity… and I waltzed right into it.”

“I can be evil at times,” she said with a grin.

Part 4 follows on Sunday.

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