“Encompassed by a world of tangible, visible things – animals, plants, and stars – mankind has from time immemorial perceived that deep within these beings and things dwells something powerful, yet indescribable, that gives them life.”
Cosmic view of the Fulani people of West Africa
I took this photo last spring, in March when we were plunged into a sudden and unexpected winter. In seemed that the tulips were burning their way through the snow – biological imperative incarnate: come hell or high water, these tulips will BECOME.
In some ways, though, I find the image disturbing, especially the bud just breaking through the snow, and the dark little shadow at the centre top where another seems to be welling just beneath the surface like a bruise. Is the earth bleeding?
Of course, in no time my mind flies to that wintery scene with the good queen, Snow White’s mother. There she sits with her embroidery at the castle window. There she pricks her finger as she sews, the blood drops falling on the snowy whiteness. And there she makes the pledge that calls into being a beautiful child, but in the process brings about her own end.
The queen pricks her finger. Snow White illustrated by Charles Santore 1997
And so by degrees I start thinking of the creative process, that is to say, my creative process or seeming lack of same. And while I am sure that many creative people (which is all of us) will be facing the New Year with renewed vigour and hopefulness at the journey ahead, there are others of us who remain intent on endlessly hunting round the same old circles that take us nowhere. We are of course woozle hunting and A.A. Milne sums up the entire predicament perfectly.
‘One fine winter’s day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something else, and when Piglet called to him, he just went on walking.
“Hallo!” said Piglet, “what are you doing?”
“Hunting,” said Pooh.
“Tracking something,” said Winnie-the-Pooh very mysteriously.
“Tracking what?” said Piglet, coming closer
“That’s just what I ask myself. I ask myself, What?”
“What do you think you’ll answer?”
“I shall have to wait until I catch up with it,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Winnie-the-Pooh 1926, A A Milne, illustrated by E H Shepard
Next then comes the question of how, creatively speaking, does one get off the treadmill of woozle hunting (which can of course become perversely absorbing despite the fruitlessness of the quest) and lift off into the stratosphere with the high-octane thrust of tulips breaking bounds?
Perhaps to begin to answer this, it is first important to know that human creativity has its cycles in much the same way as the natural world, or indeed tulips. In her audio compilation The Creative Fire, poet, storyteller and Jungian psycho-analyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés puts it this way:
“Creativity goes through many different cycles: of birth, rising energy, reaching a zenith, declining, further entropy, death, incubation, quickening, rebirth…”
She then elaborates on this process by retelling two versions of the Persephone story , the Greek myth that, among other things, explains the origins of winter and spring.
In other words, a period of dying down, gathering in resources, dormancy, are all essential before strong new growth can occur. The tulips, after all, had some nine months of dying down and re-growing their bulbs.
CPE has other words of wisdom too:
“The main struggle that people have with creativity is that they stop themselves from doing what comes naturally.”
“We all cover miles and miles of territory looking for the starting line when it’s inside of our minds the entire time.”
She also deals with the deep-rooted fear that most of us have: that our creative impulse/spirit/inspiration has died or deserted us. She likens it to la chispa, the hearth ember that seems quite dead until you breathe upon it, fanning the flames so that once more it bursts into a blazing fire. If we feel stifled and blocked she suggests that the causes are probably fear, the lies that people have told us about our creativity, and the fact that we have paid way too much attention to our internal critic.
“The creative function,” she concludes, “ is the centre of the soul and the psyche; it can never be destroyed.”
So there we have it. Less woozle hunting, and more blowing on dead wood. Also listen to your internal wisdom, then make like a tulip. Who knows what it will lead it.
Or as the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said:
“Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”
There are no rules and regulations on the number of times that we must re-do a piece of work before we have made it to our liking. The only rule is to give yourself a break, then go to it.
Wishing you all a happy and floriferous 2014
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© 2014 Tish Farrell