Wellsprings.

One of the things I love is to pick the brains of creative people. Nerdy, yes – but I long ago decided that nerdy is cool.

I was talking to my oldest friend who is one of the most incredible people I know: she’s a talented artist, and creativity flows out of her like light; her intuition and spirituality naturally shine out of her. She’s an inspiration, creatively and spiritually and intellectually and simply in who she is, and amazingly, she’s my friend.

Anyway, we were talking about creativity, and I asked her where she feels that her ideas come from. Her answer: there’s a wellspring within each of us, something we can all access. It all comes from the same Source.

And here’s an interesting thing: as I’ve been learning about prayer and meditation, and delving, even slightly, into spirituality and meditation, I’ve discovered the very beginning of learning to delve down into the depths of my self, below thought. I have no idea what it’s like under the sea while a storm’s going on, but I imagine that there’s a sense of stillness beneath the tumult (I’m prepared to be proven wrong on this; it would be very interesting, and I am a nerd, after all). It’s that stillness, beneath the tempest of my daily thoughts, that I seek.

I’m learning – haltingly, stumblingly – to move beneath the chatter of the everyday, and dwell and be within my self. I’m learning that it’s within the depths of my self that Spirit dwells, and from where Spirit reaches out to Itself in what becomes prayer. It’s within my innermost being that I discover Spirit, the Source of my being, the genesis of my Creation, and, apparently, the origin of my creativity.

It’s why, despite the difficulties, I need to continue – hesitant, stumbling – on this journey of learning to meditate, of learning to pray. I need to learn – or re-learn – to be safe within my spirituality. To be cradled within the love of the Creator of compassion, the Source of love. I have to trust that my self holds not only the wellspring of creativity, but the wellspring of the Creator. I have to trust my self, and I have to trust the Creator.

It’ll make me a better writer, and it’ll make me a better person, but more than that – it will make me a whole person.

I’m not going back to being half a person.

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A strange visitation but I’m not crazy.

My earliest memory is of my parents reading me a story: narrative is my first conscious memory of the world. It’s something I treasure, and I’ve been writing stories since I could write, and telling myself stories since even before that.

About five years ago, one of these stories got serious. I was regularly catching the bus to work at the time – about a ninety-minute bus-ride either way – and I’d spend each of those one hundred and eighty minutes frantically typing away on the small blue Toshiba laptop with the conversations of suburban school children ringing over my head, creating a world, and events within it, and the characters – one in particular – who peopled it. For three hours every day, I’d inhabit that different world, a world taking shape under my fingertips and in the small universe contained by my computer.

Then everything changed. I moved, with my ex, and suddenly didn’t have a wonderfully long commute to work. Writing was something my ex begrudged me – he, not I, was the writer in the family – and it became impossible for me to write in a war-zone. Suddenly, far from having seemingly unlimited time to put into my writing, it became sneakily snatched in small, furtive moments. Attempts to prioritise my writing led to things I still don’t want to think about; the final argument about it led to my computer being smashed and hard copies of my writing torn up, right there in front of me. I put it aside, and resigned myself to the unmourned death of my writer self.

In the two years since Emancipation Day, I’ve occasionally wondered what happened to the main character, the gutsy, strong stranger I’d birthed from within my own mind. I thought about her in the past tense – like an old friend who I’d once known well, but with whom I’d lost contact, and with whom there was no chance of reconnecting. I thought of her with regret, but resignation.

And then, all of a sudden – and travelling seems to be the common denominator here – driving home from work, I found myself thinking of her, not with regretful past tense, but in the present tense. In my mind, she was out in the rain for a run, something she’d always enjoyed, found peace in. In the present tense. Then and there. Suddenly, in the weirdness of my creativity, she was alive again.

I’ve only had that one glance, and I’m a little apprehensive about the process of regaining connection with her – what if that fleeting glimpse, that fragment, is all I’ll get? But if nothing else, her sudden presence in my mind is a reminder of the indomitable nature of my creativity: yet another thing, precious and stalwart, which couldn’t be beaten out of me.

I’m grateful. And, strangely, I’m looking forward to re-acquainting myself with a person who doesn’t actually exist.

Half or whole.

A long time ago, someone fairly brutal but also brutally honest called me half a person. It was done with the best of intentions, and it was pretty accurate, I thought, but it stung a little. She followed it up with the words “You’re all head and no heart. That’s not how you were created”.

Ouch.

Here is what I’ve realised: I’m not half a person. I’m a whole person. It’s just that, for the longest time, I’ve not particularly been in touch with half of myself. The feeling part. The intuition. The spirit, and the spirituality, of my self.

I’m probably not fully in touch with it yet. I still struggle with emotions, and I’d still prefer the dry, safe rationality which comes with being a thinking, not feeling, being. For me, the primary means of engaging the world is still the mind: I live in my head, and I always will. I value my intellect; I value my capacity to think clearly and to analyse and interpret the world around me, and my own responses to it. I value the fact that I can retreat into my head when things get tough: it’s a skill that got me through some hellish situations – beatings and assaults – and it’s a skill I know I can rely on again if I need to.

It’s not enough, though, and that’s what I’m realising. Writing the book, learning to rely on my creativity and intuition, has taught me that. The realisation that I relied on my intuition to escape my marriage has taught me that. The experiences I’ve had on my haltering forays into the realm of spiritual practice have taught me that.

I don’t like feeling. I struggle with it. I struggle with the fact that I am starting to have to sit with what was done to me, and the fear and shame and grief and anger around that. I struggle with the fact that, in the quiet of my spiritual practice, I have to sit with being what I am: a soul, nothing more or less, not hidden behind research and rationality and competence, and I have to let that be enough.

Thinking is easy, and comforting. Feeling is not. Feeling is painful, and scary, and even exuberance can bring trepidation and the shame that comes with abandoning myself to a sense of happiness that I still struggle to see that I might deserve.

But whether I like it or not, I’m a whole person, not half a person; and to be honest, life as a half-being doesn’t actually have all that much to recommend it.

It’s slightly more convenient though.

Intuition as a new extra.

Part of the process of re-discovering my creativity, and writing a whole book, is that I’ve had to learn a lot about how all this happens. Not just the practicalities of book publishing, I mean – although that’s been fascinating. But I have had to learn how a book forms itself into an entity, and I’ve watched my own creativity at work.

I went from the quiet terror of oh-shit-I-have-six-months-to-get-fifty-odd-poems-to-publication-standard-what-on-earth-have-I-got-myself-into? to the utter incredulity of how-on-earth-did-this-happen?, standing in front of a bunch of people at my own book launch. And while I’d like to say I know exactly how it happened, how this written entity was formed, I don’t. I watched its theme and structure form itself in my head. Each poem created itself on the page, right there in front of me. I was in charge of the words, of the language and the choice of metaphor and simile, and it wasn’t as though I didn’t work hard, but even as my mind was occupied by technical details, the poems themselves took on their own form and structure as I watched, almost passively. The poems knew what they wanted to be: all they needed was for me to provide them with the paper and the ink.

And it struck me that this is intuition at work. If there’s one thing I learned from writing the book, it’s the strength of my creative intuition. That capacity beyond rational thinking, that I can’t quite put my finger on, which allowed me to hear what the poem wanted to become. Which helped me to know when to wrestle with the poem to pin tit down, and when to let it mull itself over and form itself in its own time. Which enabled me to trust the poem in front of me, to let it find its own being.

It’s my intuition, too, that saved me: my actions on Emancipation Day, that day of flight and freedom from the danger of my marriage, were unplanned and based entirely on gut instinct. Without reasoning, without rationality, I knew I had to leave, and that I had to leave that very day. I knew without thinking about it what I needed to do; just as the poems formed themselves on the page, just as the book’s structure grew into its own reality without conscious effort from me, my escape plan formed itself in front of me, and it was that – my sudden unthinking realisation of the path out of darkness – to which I owe the book, and to which I owe my life.

I have intuition. I’m more than just rationality. I feel like I’ve gained a whole extra half of a person.

Maybe that particular half will make me taller.

Blood flow and why you can’t be creative in a war zone.

This is why you can’t be creative in a war zone: in a war zone, you simply don’t have enough blood flow. It sounds odd, but it’s true. When there are bombs raining down around your head, you spend most of your existence in fight-or-flight mode. Blood flows from non-essential parts of your body to where its needed most; and while creativity is not a physicality within the human body, its inherent enough a part of who I am and how I’m made up for me to use the metaphor almost literally. Not that there were ever bombs raining down around me – by sheer accident of birth I don’t live in Baghdad, or Gaza, or Damascus. But for ten years, I lived in the war zone created between two people. I lived with the constant volatility of unpredictable and at times dangerous violence; I lived with the constant drip-drip of undermining, of words and insults used against me as weapons, of the capricious handing out of affection or abuse. I lived in an environment where safety was not a given, not an automatic right, not something to blithely take for granted. In fact, it was the opposite: violence and hatefulness was what I learned to take for granted – and it was drummed into me (to such an extent that I still half-believe it) that this was exactly what I deserved. So I went into survival mode. Endurance mode. I stopped paying attention to what was going on, what was being said. There was enough self-preservation, enough self-worth, for me to finally tear myself out of that precarious situation – but for the most part, I put my head down and simply kept putting one foot in front of the other. And that’s the problem with endurance mode: you switch off all those things that make you who you are. You shut down all those gentle, fragile parts of yourself which can make you vulnerable, and you bury them deep for their own protection. Not that you realise you’re doing that – with no sense of future, no sense of hope, what’s the point of trying to protect an insubstantial treasure for a time ahead you don’t have? It’s more a loss than a deliberate act of preservation: you simply forget about those parts of yourself that make you who you are, and you cease to feel them, in the same way a body part devoid of blood flow becomes numb and essentially dead. And like a body part devoid of blood flow, the rebirth is excruciating. A big part of coming out of survival mode – literally years after my Emancipation Day, that ill-thought-out, precipitous pre-dawn escape from an increasingly perilous marriage – has been watching and feeling the blood beginning to flow to that stagnant, dead-seeming phenomenon that was, and now is, my creativity. And the Universe – or Spirit – unfolded in such a way that I ended up writing a book, one of the more interesting experiences of this time of healing. And now the world contains one more book, and the fragile creature that once was my battered creativity is a little bit like me – scarred, sadder and wiser for the experience, but very much a survivor. Kind of cool, really.

Lost and found.

I wrote the other day about the joy of playing with words, the re-capturing of the knowledge that, in fact, I am a writer. That I can choose to take delight in words, in the way they come together, in the images and feelings I can create with them, the taste of them and the colour of them in my mouth.

This morning, I found the notebook entry I’d made on that day, some of the sentences and fragments of poetry that had come together on that beautiful country drive. And, as usual, it’s been so busy that I couldn’t actually remember what I’d written – I came to it fresh, objective, with new eyes, and I actually found myself thinking: “That’s not bad!”.

It’s a good feeling.

I never used to question my identity as a writer. I was confident in it. I was confident in my capacity to work with words, in my respect for them, in their capacity and their beauty. Then I spent the better part of ten years being convinced I had no value. How could someone so stupid be a writer? How could someone so boring ever have anything worthwhile to say, let alone write for people to read? What value could anything that came from my mind possibly have? Or, how could I be so selfish to spend time writing rubbishy stories and poems? I wasn’t in high school anymore, I was married and had responsibilities for a husband and a house, and writing didn’t meet anyone’s needs but my own. And things happened: notebooks went missing. My computer was damaged beyond repair, with all my writing irretrievable. A framed certificate for a prize in a writing competition was smashed. A box containing hard copies of my poetry was drenched in beer.

It happened so insidiously that I didn’t notice it – and at the same time, writing at home became impossible: the demands of living with a person who tried to undermine my creativity in whatever way possible simply took precedence. And then things got more fraught, more volatile, more dangerous – and it’s a rare and very special person who can keep their creativity alive when they’re trying to survive a war zone. I don’t have that strength, that determination, that single-mindedness. Creativity needs to be respected, and nourished, to thrive.

I’m re-learning about myself as a writer. I’m re-learning how my own creativity works. I’m re-learning how to take joy in my writing, in my creativity and sense of whimsy and adventure. I’m re-learning how to play with my art.

One day I might find myself voicing the words “I’m a writer” without even thinking about it, in the same way I’d say “I’m a social worker” or “I’m right-handed”. I might even find myself saying the words with pride in my voice.

But for the moment, I’ve spent the last two years regaining something precious that I thought I’d lost for good. And, incredulously, I can start to whisper those words: Actually, despite it all, I am a writer.

A forty-kilometre drive and being a poet.

I had to go to Sydney for a meeting today, and part of that involved driving forty-odd kilometres to what is now my most convenient railway station to catch the train with colleagues. I like driving – it’s good thinking time – and I like long drives, so I wasn’t averse to the drive, but I hadn’t anticipated how beautiful it would be. I was driving through mist-laden, rain-soaked farmland, and then into state forest. I was surrounded by trees and grass and fields of peacefully-grazing cattle, and by moist tree-ferns and what I guess would be classified as rainforest, overlooked all the while by the wildness of Mount Sugarloaf. Countryside like that – half the reason I moved to the rural outskirts of Newcastle – makes my soul sing.

And I found myself wondering, why is it that I’ve been so long without doing much writing at all? Especially poetry – I’ve just written a book of the stuff, and yet I’ve barely set pen to paper since I finished the edits. What’s going on?

Obviously, I’ve been busy, and distracted, and the day-to-day realities of running a busy human life (and getting sick) have got in the way. And that’s got to be ok, because the alternative is that it’s not ok, and then I start to feel judgemental and grumpy with myself. But there’s also a sense in which I need to regain my mind’s capacity to make poetry out of what it sees.

So I decided, simply, to do that. I looked, properly (within the realms of safe driving), and I allowed my mind the space to play with words. I held the words gently, and I tasted them, and I relished in them, delighted in them. I allowed myself to be elaborate, to use words as more than tools for drawing up a mental to-do list; I played with words in the same way my artist friend plays with colours and paints, with nothing to lose and only beauty to gain. I painted the view, and the feelings, with sentences, metaphors, descriptives, and I remembered what it is to play with words, to have fun with them. To delight in them. I became a poet again. I became, again, what I’m increasingly convinced I’m created to be.

I was driving, of course, and perhaps part of the pleasure of that drive this morning was that there was no capacity to capture my word-sculptures. They probably wouldn’t have been much good for a full poem anyway – what was important about that drive this morning was that it reminded me that I am in fact a person of words. A poet. It’s what I am, and I was reminded this morning of the joy I take in that, and the importance of claiming that for myself.

Although, it also made me think: I must buy a dictaphone.