We’re not talking about the kind of recovery that involves a rehab, a car wreck or DUI, internet mugshots, paparazzi, a judge, or any kind of intervention. Creative recovery is a special survival mechanism that allows us to delve into the darkness of complete uncertainty day after day and come out again able to relate to the real world. And it is every bit as dramatic as it sounds—except we get used to it.
I’ve been harping of late (or is it carping?) about our natural inclination to move center and play safe in our art.
It’s very hard not to because you can’t survive as an artist when you’re perpetually exposed. There has to be a safe place to go where you can continue working, even if it’s not on the most inspired piece you ever did. A large part of art is keeping the mechanism going, continuing to build new skills and explore new ideas that don’t always pan out. In other words, preparation is the warm fireplace of the artist’s world. It’s not just a necessary activity, it’s a state of mind, a place even, within the consciousness of the artist, one that allows the creative mind to relax and recover. A big word, that, because RECOVERY is what allows us to step out again to tackle the next challenge.
Preparation and recovery are the yin and yang of artistic creation. I know fine artists who spend weeks, even months preparing the space they are going to paint in, and one who spent months redecorating and painting the actual room she planned to use. For writers, preparation is a different process. What many call “Writer’s Block,” I think is really a misnomer. It’s not a block at all, but a mind in motion. You can’t create something when you’re not ready, and because writing doesn’t involve much in the way of tools, it looks very much like doing nothing, when you’re actually preparing the mental space for the story to play out. So if a writer stares blankly at you when you talk to them, they’re most likely hard at work.
Preparation for me, especially when I write fiction, usually involves doing mundane things—particularly things I don’t like to do, like cleaning the bathtub. The sheer boredom of cleaning makes me turn my consciousness to something more entertaining—and what could be more entertaining than a story I tell myself? I have my own private movie theatre in my head, any time I want it. The price of admission is generally housework.
If this looks like left/right brain shifting, it is, but it is also something larger that goes beyond the immediate moment. It involves creating a mental space that creativity comes to play, not just today, but every day. Creation can be scary. You don’t know what’s in there. The mind is a big, dark, vast place, as open as the universe, and all kinds of things we’re not aware of may be lurking within. Will our rationale mind be able to face them? Tame them? Drag them onto a canvas or computer screen? Preparation is what calms the terror. Samurai prepare for a battle. Mothers prepare for childbirth. Children prepare for the first day of school. Everything comes in its own time, and preparation does very little to move it along or stop it in its tracks….it just makes us feel….well, prepared. Comes the day you don’t need it, you’ll head off straight into the darkness and readily find something waiting for you to bring it out into the light.
Meanwhile, it helps to make a space in your mind, your home, and in your life to let your creative self prepare for the next big wind of inspiration that’s getting ready to blow–because it may just knock you into a whole new universe!
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