Tag Archives: Creativity

Write into the Sunrise

Lately I’ve been in the habit of spending my days fulfilling my commitments to other people – writing assignments, creativity coaching sessions, responding to correspondence, etc. It’s all good work that I enjoy, but there’s been a nagging sense of something missing – a barely perceptible existential cloud. Not serious but not great either.

So last night I made a date with myself to get up at 6:00 AM, go to my dining table (as opposed to my computer, which is associated with “real projects” – my own or someone else’s), light a candle and just write for 20 minutes – about nothing in particular. When the alarm went off this morning, it felt like an act of utter futility. But I gently urged myself out of bed, sat myself down with tea and timer, and just started writing. The phrase, “Write into the sunrise” popped into my head so I let it lead me. I wrote about the gulls and crows that seem to greet each day with the same level of noisy unnuanced enthusiasm, about the silver sheen of the water, about the glimmer of apricot light on daybreak’s indigo clouds… Nothing in particular, but I found myself paying more attention than I usually do. The morning light moves swiftly – it’s impossible to track it – but the glide of my black pen across the gleaming white page made me realize how important if not essential it is to make the attempt. It expanded my sense of possibility. It dissolved my existential cloud.

I’ve done this kind of exercise before – many times – I have the mounds of notebooks to prove it. I’ve often enjoyed it but there has always been a vague sense that it wasn’t real writing. There was no purpose. No one was going to read it. I’m beginning to think that that mode of thinking is a kind of madness – as though nothing has meaning unless it has been so decreed by some ego – whether it’s our own, someone else’s, or a cluster of unexamined socially endorsed assumptions.

We write or we make music or we make art because we can, because it’s a vital part of our humanity. We don’t need a reason. Just write into the sunrise, for heaven’s sake. Fall in love with your day.

Whatever Your Heart Desires

As a child growing up in the 1950s, the phrase, “Whatever your little heart desires” was one of my first encounters with irony. What was really being said was, “Dream away, kiddo, but dreams have no place in this world.”

The adults surrounding me were dutiful, conscientious people whose life force was devoted to fulfilling society’s expectations, which, at that time, were very clear. Man, breadwinner. Woman, housewife. Children, clean, obedient, and unheard. No questions asked.

Within that tribal construct, Heart’s Desires were what lured the lazy and the naïve into NeverNever Land and turned them into starving artists and drug addicts. If you wanted to survive in “the real world,” you didn’t dream. You didn’t ask yourself what you really wanted. You just got on with it.

While the Revolution Road scenario holds less sway now, it and other tribal configurations that offer clear-cut, unassailable rules and beliefs to live by, still hold many of us captive, to varying degrees. The abyss unmasked by the endemic breakdown of social structures, can make any externally imposed certainty seem preferable to the hard inner work of thinking and feeling for ourselves, releasing what no longer serves us, discovering what can never be destroyed, and allowing The Eternal – I would also call it Love – to shape our lives.

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Clutter and Creativity

Before incarnating, I distinctly remember requesting the life of a “Beatnik,” but some distracted functionary at Divine Shipping and Receiving apparently heard “Neatnik,” thereby ruining my life before it had begun. I’m a Neatnik. I always try to wash my dishes before eating dinner. I can’t stand a full email in-box. My office needs serious decluttering at the moment. And. it. is. BUGGING! me.

To complicate things further, I have a Beatnik within who will not be denied. Not the cartoony beatnik that says, “Daddyo” and can’t string a coherent sentence together because he’s so stoned, but The Beatnik brilliantly characterized by Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes in words that still stir my soul:

“The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way – a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in The Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America – beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.”

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Unleashing Your Creative Canine

I was out for a stroll the other day and came across a woman walking her dog – or trying to. The dog was lying on the sidewalk, refusing to budge. She tried begging, pleading, bribing with treats, etc. but the dog was having none of it. Yanking and suppressed red-faced yelling – because of course she didn’t want to make a scene but she was getting REALLY frustrated – wasn’t working either. The pooch just lay there like a plush toy that had seen one too many pajama parties. Eventually she picked up the mutt, none too gently, and without a glance at the gathering crowd of amused bystanders, marched off home.

I know that dog. That dog is the writer within who’s supposed to be devoting the first hour of every day to a memoir/exploration about my spiritual community experience in the the 1990s. (It’s my main commitment in my 28 Days of Creative Recovery. For more on that, ask me to send you my May 2010 newsletter – donaleen@donaleensaul.com.) I’ve suited up and shown up most days, I’m proud to say, but the first day I sat down to write, the writer within refused to move.

Determined to keep my commitment to The Muse, I decided I would write about my doubts, usually the ringleader in any case of writer’s block.

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Surfing the Creative Doldrums

A couple of days ago I hit a low point. Too low to write a blog. And a good thing too – it would have been no fun to read. And so, instead of burdening my readers with unassimilated angst and rampant inertia, I headed straight for my journal, my favourite safe haven, and wrote the following:

“I have a ‘should’ about moving forward with my creative work today. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do anything today except read, eat, stare out the window, make some phone calls. I don’t want to market my writing services, I don’t want to work on my book on deconstructing spiritual communities. I don’t want to move forward on my plan to make May a month of creative celebration. I do not feel inspired – at all. I feel absolutely unmotivated. I can see kitesurfers from my living room window. Perfect wind conditions. Gorgeous sunny day. It must be heavenly out there in that rollicking indigo ocean. Did they have to drag themselves out of bed, force themselves onto the highway in their Acura MDX with board strapped to the roof, fight their way into their slightly damp and clingy wet suit? Not likely. In the mood I’m in today, I would have rolled over.”

I know this state well enough to recognize it as the creative doldrums, a transitional state that happens after a time of intense busyness and focus. Once the big project is done, then what? The adrenalin is still high from the big push and with nowhere to apply it, panic sets in and the mind goes into overdrive. What if I never work again? What if I’ve got writer’s block? What if I should have gone to library school? One idiotic thought follows another.

I took three deep breaths. Then I took seven more. With sanity returning, I watched the kitesurfers soaring and looping and sailing through the air. Like them, I let go of everything – the to do list, the expectations, the shoulds – everything except the experience of being alive. Like them, I allowed myself to be carried beyond my fear. Like them, I opened up an ocean of possibility.

After a day or so of no obligations and absolute freedom to do whatever brought me joy, I was getting up with the seagulls to work on my book for a couple of hours before the beginning of my work day, I was planning my May of creative celebration. I was riding the wave.

Nothing Bad Ever Happens to a Writer

Below is an example of how an apparent misfortune for the human is a gift from the Gods for the writer.

Last evening, I worked up the courage to attend a Singles event. It had been recommended to me by a discerning friend who had also been single for many years, but who had recently met a wonderful man with whom she was falling in love. They had both been referred to this event. I took it as a sign.

The write-up on the website described it as an evening for adults over 40 “looking to share their gifts with a significant other” or “with a spiritual calling to find harmony and balance in their relationships.” The quote by Rumi – “Your Task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” – resonated with how I have tried to live my life and to deal with my confusion, emotional clamour and cynicism in the realm of love, and so I was looking forward to meeting others with a similar intention.

Having managed to find an attractive, age-appropriate yet playful outfit, make room for the confusion, emotional clamour and cynicism within, and be open to what the evening had to offer, I felt pretty relaxed as I drove for 45 minutes through the last remnants of rush hour traffic, crossed a couple of bridges, and found my way there. Doublechecking the address, I saw that yes, it was indeed the Unity Church, which I tried not to be put off by. I have nothing against the church or its adherents, some of whom are dear friends, but I confess to having judgments about it being spiritually vague, precious, New Agey, and female-dominated. What guy is going to want to come here? But I told myself to set my prejudices and raging cynicism aside and just be open and curious. I walked in the door. It was eerily quiet…like a church. A serene space with beautiful artwork on the walls, but not a lot of laughter and no male voices. A sweet young woman, well beneath the 40+ age limit for whom the event was intended, collected my $35 and gave me a self-sticking name tag.

I walked into the room and saw about 12 people, all women except for one man, sitting in a circle. One of the hosts, an attractive woman in her 50s or 60s, saw me and said, heartily, “Don’t be shy. Come and sit down.” (In that moment, the clamour of emotions didn’t include “shy.”) I filled a paper plate with salad and some pieces of sandwich, and joined the circle. The host made a comment about how the men would come in droves if they saw a picture of “all of you beautiful women here.” I look around. There weren’t too many happy faces. The lone man assured us in his nasal reedy voice, “I could take you all on!” perhaps intending to be humourous and ironic and inject some much-needed male energy.

As I choked down my spinach salad and bits of smoked salmon wrap, I tried to tune in to the conversation. The hosts, who never introduced themselves, knew some of the people – it seemed as though some (including the man) may have been therapy clients – and they were talking about things and events comprehensible only to those in the facilitators’ immediate circle. Neither of the hosts asked my name or made any attempt to include me or anyone else whom they didn’t already know. I tried to contribute something to the conversation but it was ignored. Mary, the woman sitting next to me, a Celtic storyteller, tried to interject the odd droll comment, but was also ignored. I felt like asking if she wanted to escape and go for a beer (I don’t even drink beer) but the second facilitator, who seemed stern, but was perhaps just uncomfortable that this “singles event” was such a bust, was sitting next to her.

It was 7:30, I was almost finished my salad, and was wondering how I was going to make it to 10:00. I felt as thought I was trapped at a bad dinner party to whom I had been invited by a man with whom I was in a relationship that I knew perfectly well was doomed. I went to the washroom, acknowledged to myself the obvious – I wasn’t having any fun and didn’t like the people (except for Mary) – and made an executive decision to leave, even though it would be absolutely obvious to all, and even though the pleaser within was aghast. The sweet young woman well under 40, who had collected my $35, smiled and asked me if I had had a good time. I mumbled an obvious lie about a family crisis, asked her to make my apologies to the group, and left.

I’m still puzzling over this statement on the facilitators’ handout given out that night: “Our aim is to answer the need of communication of friendship facing adult singles today.” Huh? The good news is that I didn’t stay, thereby vaulting over what I have discovered over a lifetime of experimentation to be a significant barrier to love – trying to please people who could care less. I think Rumi would have approved. Too bad he’s been dead for 736 years and probably not available.

Our Life is Our Writing Teacher

Without connecting to our truth, whatever we write has no meaning and no genuine connection with the reader. Our life is our writing teacher. Our life is the source of our true eloquence and unique voice as writers. Our life is our writing textbook.

Writing is soul work, not a mechanical process reducible to “how to’s.” It’s like making love. Knowing the mechanics of what bit goes where will not make one a better lover. The same is true of writing. It is the soul connection that is the source of our unique writer’s voice, and that is what our readers/listeners respond to. (It’s what our lover responds to as well!)

Writing is at essence an act of courage. Sometimes dark and difficult stories emerge from pen or keyboard. People are scared of pain and we live in a society that marginalizes it, but embracing our own difficult stories and attending to others’ is the source of our power and our humanity – both as writers and as people. Such stories are part of the human experience and they are universal.

We live in a wounded civilization and we inhabit a wounded planet. In the West, we are sheltered from a lot of that, but it doesn’t serve us as writers or as people to perpetuate that pattern. A large part of the writer’s role in our society is to shed light into the dark places. Sometimes we do that with humour; sometimes we do that with pathos. But whatever our means of sharing what’s true, we need to know our inner landscape to write with any real heart or authority.

Write as if No One is Reading

We’re all familiar with the fridge magnet adages – “Sing as if no one is listening,” “Dance as if no one is watching,” etc. But does that apply to writers? Does it make sense to write as if no one is reading?

Of course it doesn’t. What sane person wants to drag his or her sorry bag of bones out from under the flannel sheets at 5 AM to write a blog that no one is going to read. Well, besides you.

Well, me. Why? Good question. I don’t know why. Nobody’s going to care. Except me.

I’ve been corresponding with my writer friend, PJ Reece, the only person on the planet I envy. A financially independent expat writer living in a charming flat in Mazatland who, when he isn’t taking salsa lessons, lounging on the beach, or listening to live jazz at the nearby plazuela, is ” just trying to finish a fucking novel, which grows in size the more I work on it. It’s out of control, my dramatic thrust has vanished, a red flag that always indicates a problem at the beginning…I must sit back in astonishment at how I’ve manifested this sometimes shabby, occasionally chic, but actually very normal paradise.”

Doncha hate him? He’s also a fine writer, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve known him for 40 years (we were both in utero of course). Check out his blog and find out for yourself. You will be one of the few, as he admitted in a recent letter: “Are you reading my blog? Don’t worry. No one else is either. But here we go…that shouldn’t bother us.”

He’s right. It shouldn’t. Three days a week I get up at 5 AM to work on my upcoming book, “Where Mystics Walk.” It’s my covenant to myself. Will anyone read it? Dunno. I’ve got a bulging inbox full of projects for hire, but writing my February newsletter as well as this blog, neither of which pay, had to come first this morning. Like most wonderful things in life, writing as if no one is reading is not a rational act. It’s far more glorious than that. It’s an act of faith.

So get writing. No  one will care. But that shouldn’t bother you.

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” Don Marquis