The TED Radio Hour, a full hour of eyes-free audio, has become one of my preferred ways to feed my mind while my hands are stitching. And "The Creative Process" was one of the first I chose to listen to. It focuses on a poet, a writer of nonfiction, and a singer/songwriter and the TED talks they have given. Warning: much of what follows is a sort of talking-to-myself about some of the insights I gained from my listening, in the vain hope that they will last longer in my brain than the thirty seconds it takes me to get distracted by something else. So feel free to just click on the above link and follow your own line of distractions.
The poet is Billy Collins, a former poet laureate, whose writing I admire and, let it be known, that if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I would like to set myself up so that I would deserve to come back as someone as insightful, clever, and downright funny as Billy Collins. But this time it was from Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of Eat, Pray, Love, that I felt I learned something. She advocates taking some of the burden of creativity off the shoulders of the individual and giving it back to the genius of classical Greek and Roman times, a spirit who came to visit and bestow his gifts. Although she grants a belief in this kind of fairy godmother is a hard sell these days, she demonstrates how it can be a helpful when, on a particularly bad day in her writing process, she gives it a try. After haranguing her muse for not carrying his part of the burden and indicating that they are in this together, she says something like, "And whatever the outcome of this project, let the record show that I did my part. Wherever you may be, I showed up." And it helped; it kept her going. Of course, the story has a happy ending since the book she was working on was a runaway bestseller, but we'll ignore that part.
Now blaming somebody is often a way people deal with difficult situations, but blaming a house spirit may be much more healthy than blaming your parents or your third grade teacher or even yourself when all the creative colors have drained out of a project; it leaves you free to keep showing up.
And the second thing I want to remember from this program comes from Abigail Washburn, a folk singer and songwriter. In answer to the interviewer's question about what role discipline and practice played in her life, she indicated that she was not a trained musician and went on to say, "We're only as great as our ability to negotiate and take advantage of our limitations. I've decided my limitations are not only okay but an incredible opportunity to think about what it is I can do with what I have."
This reminded me of the fact that some poets find that a very defined form like the sonnet, instead of stifling their creativity, actually makes them more creative. The form is decided and they can concentrate on the words and images. And I know from experience that the worst thing a teacher can do in a Freshman Comp class is tell the students to write on anything they want. They may complain about the topic assigned them but it gives them a starting point. I had not thought of my own limitations as this kind of starting point, as a frame on which I can weave.
And, if you hung in there through both my discoveries, thanks for the company! And let me know if you find talking to the corner of the room helps--of course maybe you wouldn't want to admit it.