Monthly Archives: December 2014

dot 32: ebb[and]flow

There is a recognizable ebb and flow to the process of recovering our creative selves.

– Julia Cameron –

Since starting this blog I have noticed a cyclical existence to my creativity, a coming and going of energy, attention and focus. Initially not paying much attention to it, the increase and decrease of creative force is becoming more apparent to me, perhaps as the time spent with myself in my studio increases.

ebb[and]flow is a well-documented phenomena amongst creatives perhaps especially highlighted in the work of the creative writer Henry Miller (1891-1980). Currently reading Black Spring Miller’s writing style itself is one that breaks along the shore line of both reason and imagination, not unlike oceanic ebb and flow. His is a cyclical way of making sense of a non-sensical, linear world in which he mingles a vast array of wonder, imagination, cynicism, critique, humour and individual wisdom. In all of this flux, however, Miller travels from his own position of personal acceptance, remaining the witness to the surrounding turbulence of life.

In Miller’s Wisdom of the Heart this somewhat distanced, witnessing position is one again well illustrated. Using terminology such as ‘metamorphosis’ ‘transformation’ and ‘flow’ has echoes of scientific thinking, an element which can benefit the creative process. According to Miller it is in accepting the flow and ebb of life that creativity exists:

The art of living is based on rhythm — on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, ‘the dance of life,’metamorphosis. One can dance to sorrow or to joy; one can even dance abstractly. … But the point is that, by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed; the dance is an end in itself, just like life. The acceptance of the situation, any situation, brings about a flow, a rhythmic impulse towards self-expression.

Miller’s writing style reflects this forward and backward dance, seemingly writing whatever he is thinking of, in whatever way he might prefer, at any given time. What I find central in observing Miller’s  dance is the continual sense of presence (himself) and the performance in present time. There is an ‘easiness’ in the fluidity of expression that I am envious of … an oxymoron for me at present.

I have been wondering whether someone is born this way, becomes this way or chooses to be this way? According to Miller, it is none of the above but rather a surrendering to being who you are, wherever you are, doing whatever you are doing. In  The Angel Is My Watermark! a somewhat humourous chapter in Black Spring, Miller dedicates 19 pages to describing a painting he is attempting on canvas. His thoughts are utterly fascinating as he documents this wave of creativity, filled with wit, satire, humour, innovation and – above all – the ability to relax in this somewhat (recognisable) creative disaster he is witnessing. And yet he is experiencing wonder and joy which is the product of Miller’s surrendering:

 To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. It is also the first thing a patient has to learn when he confronts the analyst. It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender.

It is enough to say: ‘I am.’

…………..

  • Henry Miller:
  • Black Spring (1993) Harper Collins Publishers / ISBN: 0 586 03991 0
  • The Wisdom Of The Heart (1960)  New Directions Publishing / ISBN: 978-0811201162
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dot 31: confusion

Nothing is confused except the mind.

– Rene Magritte –

My personal interest in mind, brain & behavior runs like a red thread throughout my life. As a 23-year-old I worked as a trainee psychiatric nurse in a large psychiatric hospital for a year. In a way, I feel that this experience altered both my own psyche as well as my general outlook on life. I continue to carry this unique experience inside me as it allows me to filter the dynamics of human behavior; something I am deeply grateful for. Yet, in spite of this great asset, I am unable to understand myself. For the last few days I have felt nothing but deep confusion regarding my art making, and no amount of thinking, reflection or analysis has assisted me in any way. I am not despondent, but confused about my own confusion.

I am currently reading  Musicophilia by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, a book that intersects music, neuroscience and the distortions of mind & brain.  A passage that Sacks quotes from Berlioz’s Memoirs has jolted me: it tells of Berlioz having woken one morning with a potential symphony in his head and his disturbed thought processes in the situation that he finds himself. Experiencing emotional and financial distress related to his sickly wife, the famous composer acts in an almost non-sensible way, indicating his confusion: ” … I was going to my desk to begin writing it down, when I suddenly thought:

If I do, I shall be led on to compose the rest. My ideas always tend to expand nowadays, this symphony could well be an enormous scale. I shall spend perhaps three or four months on the work … . When the symphony is written I shall be weak enough to let myself be persuaded by my copyist to have it copied …. Once the parts exist, I shall be plagued  by the temptation to have the work performed.

Berlioz’s mind – his thinking – is clearly confused here. His anxiety does not evolve round his – clear capability – of composing but rather his seemingly chaotic thinking. Sadly, if one reads on, Berlioz writes that on waking the very next morning he experiences the same clarity of composition where he is ‘on the point of getting up’, but that his ‘previous thoughts recurred’ thereby  holding him ‘fast’.

The sense of thoughts ‘holding’ one, is the closest to how I am able to describe what I am currently experiencing. It is a confinement of sorts – a cage – that I desperately want to escape from. Unlike Berlioz who remains inside ‘steeling myself … clinging to the hope that I would forget’ about his potential symphony (should he actually write it down), I am desperate to create and connect with what appears to elude me. What Berlioz and share, however, is creative confusion.

The singer and painter, Joni Mitchell, has this to say about creatives and confusion:

Everyone has confusion … Simply by confronting paradoxes or difficulties within your life, designating a time to confront then several times a week, they seem to be not so important as they do when they’re weighing on your mind in the middle of the night ..

Or, in the morning, as it was for Berlioz. The point is that I am perhaps paying the price for not writing my morning pages for the last while.

This is the place – the only place really – where I confront my anxieties, fears and confusions. Best I do it.

…………………….

  • Oliver Sacks:
  • Musicophilia (2007) Picador Publishing / ISBN: 978-0-330-44436-1
  • Joni Mitchell:
  • In Her Own Words (2014) by Malka Marom / ECW Press