Posts Tagged ‘creativity’
I can’t believe that it’s been over two months since I last posted here. A ton has happened in that time, but the impulse to write about it has been utterly gone.
The difference today is that there have been a number of bits of good news, events that have been affirming inside and out, which have served to remind me that we share our experiences not only for ourselves but also for others.
Yesterday in particular I had the great good fortune to talk to a group of students at my alma mater and current employer, Bard College. I did a presentation to a group of young curators about a zine I put out with a friend of mine d-l alvarez, in 1991. Titled Brains, The Journal of Egghead sexuality, it was a one-off item that I had a fondness for but which i wasn’t thinking much about until a student came to do a bunch of research on some other projects of mine (it already feels odd to type that phrase) and discovered the box that held the archive and the incomplete second issue. After about a year, that second issue has now been printed, and there is a beautiful new publication that is a response to the earlier material.
Going up to talk about Brains turned into a talk about the queer zine scene in San Francisco, Bears, asking for what you want, the relationships between artists and curators, and a couple of my own curatorial projects. A number of times I was challenged by excellent questions, and it was remarkable to see the ways that these really casual impulses from decades ago can spawn activity and thought from a whole range of people. On the train home I had a searching conversation with the person who had made the response volume, and he made me really think about the reasons I teach, the current place of artists, and my own queer identifications.
One of the great gifts we can give each other is the gift of regard and recognition, not is the award show sense of accolades, but in the sense of seeing and acknowledging what we see in each other. The people I sat with yesterday, who were willing to listen to me drone on, reminded me of the value of each spark we throw off, of each moment of honest play that we engage in. It’s easy to let the creative impulse get lost behind fogs of ill-considered rhetoric, to forget to play direct and to play hard, to ask for what we want with honesty. Yesterday I was reminded that that’s what I want to continue to do.
What if creativity is a place?
A place in your mind where you are contemplating different sorts of connections and the possibility for different actions, the actions that result in works of art. We talk about types of thought activating different parts of the brain. About neural pathways.
So if creativity is place in my brain, a place I reach via a path, then when I am blocked I should think about what I need to do to get on the path again. To lay out the neural route to that type of brain activity.
Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to build stronger connections between my mind and my body – becoming increasingly conscious of how to have differing sorts of bodily experiences by adjusting the thought patterns in my mind.
As I write this, my eyes are darting around my desk looking for things for me to do, distractions or branches off of the path. I’ve cleared everything from my computer screen except for the word processor. and I can’t stop reading even the few controls that are still visible on the screen. Every few moments I remember some other task I’m supposed to be engaged in someone I haven’t gotten back to something I should work on. The path in my mind is tracked over with all of my pacing and repacing.
So let’s say that to get back to that place which is my creativity, I have to first accept that I am lost, turned around. I know what that place of creativity feels like, I just need to locate the interior paths again. And those paths can be found by changing my surroundings, or rather changing the way I regard my surroundings.
Step one for becoming creative: Reduce The Possibilities. I won’t work if I have other things I could possibly do: check my email, call someone, read something, clean something, cook. I have to eliminate the possible other things I can do so that they don’t derail me from finding that place in my mind.
To go back to the spacial metaphor: creativity is a place, each piece is a site for action within that region of creativity. If I have too many possibilities, I won’t be able to sit still in that site long enough to take action on that particular piece. I’ll rush past, dance around.
I just took a minute to gaze helplessly at the stacks of files on my desk, thinking that I had better start sorting and disposing of them. My computer keyboard needs cleaning. Breathe deep, return to typing.
Three things that are good: hitting a goal, a long hot shower and depositing a paycheck.
I have to remember to send some of my old clothes on their way: I’ve been changing shape a bit lately, so I’ve picked up a bunch of new clothes, but I still have quite a few of the other outfits knocking around my closet, and I’m torn between nostalgia for them and a desire to totally rework my wardrobe.
Progress, or manic upswing? Why is it so hard to tell the difference?
The next challenge is clearly about setting some new goals for my work. I have some great opportunities coming up in the next year or so, and it’s important for me to think about what I can do to step into them with some grace.
A little bit more about my trip out west: i met with interesting students, talked with groups of people about integrating creativity into more parts of their lives, and spent some luxurious bath time with people I care about. I got to dress a play partner up and be dressed up by one. I got to forge some new connections, professional and personal and saw some good art. I had delicious lamb in Palo Alto and did some interior decorating for charity. I saw few “sights”, but I kind of was one. I got in some good walks.
I came back home to bit of chaos, and what seems to be a Mercury-retrogradeish muddle of tech failure and missed communications. Scattered mess is what some of it is. Yet these notes, which I have such a hard time writing these days, can serve to remind me to bring it back together.
A common place I see people stuck in (including myself) is the the emotional attachment to situations and problems that they have already moved past. It is more comforting to state our situations in terms that we are familiar with than to try to see them as they are. We want the problem we’re used to having. So we narrate our worlds in terms of that problem. This often happens there is a increase in pressure from without. I see it in organizations: people feel stressed, they come together to solve a problem, and the conversation can quickly turn into a restatement of previous problems. “See! This always happens here. If only those folks in that division wouldn’t do X we wouldn’t always end up like this.” or “We never communicate, everyone needs to get on the same page, that’s our problem: there’s no communication”. The second one is particularly perverse because it involves a version of everyone being on the same page: there’s usually agreement that there’s no communication.
But a closer examination may reveal that the problem has already been solved, or wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t always restated at the beginning of every discussion. There is an incredibly valuable moment where everyone doesn’t quite know what is going on, where we are striving to understand our true situation. It’s painful, because we feel powerless. So often in that moment we are propelled by that fear to reach the reassuring power of a story that we know well. There’s a certainty in saying “this is what’s happening, because it’s what always happens”. So narratives become enshrined in the mythos of a community or organization, or in the personality of an individual. They become the furniture: we don’t notice them because we use them so much. But so much could happen if we didn’t reach for that certainty right away.
I talk to a lot of people who are “thinking about going back to school”. I think about it myself some times, both in the formal way of pursuing a doctorate degree, and in the less formal way of longing for an ongoing mentor relationship with someone else. A few years ago, I was going about it in an active way, courting people that I wanted to assume that role for me. Finally one said to me, (graciously, now that I think about it) “Look. Maybe it’s just that you’re the mentor.” In other words, grow up. That desire for a teacher was the desire to have a student’s problems, to reinsert myself into a system that I knew well and had been successful in. I was pretending to be be powerless in a way because I was afraid of misusing the my actual power, of assuming the responsibility that that power implied.
Growing up almost always seems like a disappointing option. But growing up means taking responsibility for your own play, not looking to someone else to tell you it’s time to do it. It might mean recognizing that we can say we have to power to call recess, or to change direction, or make it all up over and over again until it’s a joyous and fun as we want it to be. To recognize that we may well be more than halfway there, we need to stop reaching for the security blanket of old threadbare stories of what’s wrong with us and see with refreshed eyes.
Something I never really do is cite other blogs in this blog but my weekly perusal of productivity sites brought me face to screen with this post, and it seemed to crystallize part of why I’ve been feeling so iffy lately.
In my daily life I am blessed with really, really good friends. And this forum has brought me many more. But one of my big struggles in my life is with the guilt that I feel around taking the solitude that I need to take in my life to make my work.
I’m very good at advocating that for other people, and often terrible at honestly doing it for myself.
The key word there is “honestly”. Over the years I’ve developed all sorts of dysfunctional ways of disappearing when I feel that the demands on my time are overwhelming. All that those actions engender is frustration and concern on the part of those around me, and guilt and anxiety on my part.
I have not been very honest, either with myself or with other people about what kind of time and attention it takes to do what I want to do.
(Huh – here’s something that is very hard for me to write: I believe that my attention and accessibility are viewed as the only index of how much I care for a person. And that I will be caught “not caring enough”, leaving the other person justifiably angry) I admire Stephenson’s willingness to own up to his own limitations. And even though there’s an enormous difference between our circumstances, I see the shortcomings of my own behavior reflected in what he’s trying to do.
The other thing that this dishonesty does is that it keeps me from actually cultivating necessary solitude instead of snatching it from my over committed schedule by zoning out or hiding. I think this is the deeper point of Mann’s post.
Those times I have been able to be clear about what I can commit to I’ve had no regrets. Those times where I’ve been vague or dishonest, I’ve always regretted it.