Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Creativity of Being Stuck

I've been home sick for the last two days, pacing through the house and it's only brought an increased feeling of being stuck. What is it about being stuck in the same place that pulls at us?

It's universal, this confusing feeling that there is something more going on in another part of the world. That outside of our closed and locked door, things are better somewhere else. An alternate you, in another state or city would party all night, or would pursue a doctoral degree, or would meet and marry the soul mate of your dreams. Anything seems possible across the horizon or across map lines. Possibility makes our heart beat faster, makes us drag out the travel guides, seeing adventure etched on every page.

How true.

A good friend of mine lives in San Francisco and, until recently, seldom went out to explore what I see as possibly the greatest city in the world. Green Apple Books, people. Six floors of books - come on! Chinatown. The Castro. I'm guilty of the same thing, though. I live in Florida and I have seldom explored it the way I want to. And to a degree, I'm tied to the place by virtue of my home.

A lot of other writers have been tied in similar way, most of them admittedly tied to home (as I was) by virtue of parental obligation or responsibility (as are most of us). Not many of us are able to just up and move to England or San Francisco at the drop of a hat. So we stay where we are and where we've been planted, at least for a time, hoping for more. Curious about new ways that we can flower in old soil.

I started thinking about the way writers have made the most of their surroundings. Emily Dickinson was imprisoned by her phobia of the outside world and often wrote poems only to hide them in her room. All three Bronte sisters - Emily, Anne, and Charlotte - used their desolate parsonage on the moors to fuel their most intense fictional landscapes. What would Emily's Wuthering Heights have become without the influence of her own world? When writing Jane Eyre, Charlotte didn't have to look any further than her own life - like Jane, Charlotte struggled with issues of independence in a 19th century world that just didn't see that women weren't property. Like Jane, Charlotte also thrived on intense walks and found daily meaning in the limited and somewhat lonely world. She used her imagination to stretch the boundaries of her world and create Jane Eyre.

Recently, I read the novel Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler. In it, Charlotte Bronte begins to write Jane Eyre while in her ill father's bedroom, watching over him after surgery. She's bored, stuck and coming off her first novel's rejection. She has nothing to lose because nothing in her life seems to be moving. And so she starts writing Jane Eyre, brings bits of herself to life in the strong, independent, plain heroine. Through her book, she opens her heart and finds the courage to write about her deepest longings, her most honest hopes for society and for women - and for herself. The "night is darkest before the dawn" is just another cliche, but I feel there's a really simple truth to scenarios like that.

I've begun the daily task of renovating a house. It's a house I lived in with my dead parents and I am in a place with it that I have never been since their deaths, four years ago. For the first time in my adult life, I am selling small things that I don't need. In this way, 2011 is hurtling forward at warp speed and also crawling along - but one thing it is not doing is remaining stationary. It's moving, boy. I have actively determined that I am going to - come hell or high water - have a clutter free house, because I am curious about what a life lived like that would mean. Do I really need my mother's tennis dress from 1974? And what of paperwork from 1982? Is it really important to me to keep dolls from my childhood? Couldn't someone else love them?

While the inner five year old is terrified and throwing a tantrum at things changing, my adult self is curious about life lived on the other side of this mountain of memories and clutter. In that way, I'm grappling with change and chance - what will my creative life be like after this? Who will I be, if I am not defined by the endless junk in my house? It's another role to be thrown on the fire. It's a old face, but it's one I've worn for the last several years. And without it, something else will happen. Something else of me will show up.

In that place, who knows what will be born?

How often do we, like Charlotte on the cusp of creating her masterpiece, feel that we've hit the end of our creative rope, only to have another rope appear out of the blue?

We find that rope by looking within. The truth is that while moving to another place may bring us to new experiences and new and amazingly awesome adventures, we're packing ourselves with us when we go. If we follow the rope down into all that's confusing, all that we don't understand, all the darkness, and question it again and again, I believe that's the start of coming to light - and that's also the start of creation. It's born there.

 I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way - and that gives me faith that, even in this place of individual freeze out, there is something new and sustainable to be created and found. It's a matter of looking below the mundane.

We have to dig up our daily path in order to find inspiration. Everything we have felt or known offers us some kind of difference or beauty or understanding about our own connection. In that connection and self-expression lies our ability to create - and to feel ourselves fully in flower, at least in that moment. What happens when we move the "mountain" (of clutter, of thoughts, of worry) aside? What happens when we see ourselves in a new place? Maybe we grow even deeper into who we are, even if we can't see the turn in the road.

A friend recently wrote something about writing her own prayers. So often we pray to what we're told.

Here's mine.

May I breathe through my nose and out through my mouth. 
May I do it slowly and give my body time to stretch, to trust, to treasure. 
May I feel the mystery of trust and may I hold its hand for just a moment. 
May I hold the hand of trust for longer, if my hand will allow it. 
May I feel my own trust and allow it to be mine.
 May I share it with ____ (God, the Universe). 
May I hold the hand of my own humanity first and never let it go.

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