What We Call and What Calls Us.

I often contemplate the process and the steps involved with creative expression. It has always felt to me that creativity is nurtured when we make a specific time and a space for it to happen.  But that clearing looks different for each of us.

Creativity is a funny thing. It does not really adhere to our rules or ideas of structure, how things “should” look, or any particular timetable. So even the idea of “scheduling creative time” feels like an oxymoron to me.

Yet as Twyla Tharp says in her book The Creative Habit, “In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.”* So in essence, we can prepare to let creativity happen – we can call it in with ritual and structure – but what happens after that is anyone guess.

I have loved creating things – drawings, songs, photographs, poetry, rooms  – since I was a child. Guess that’s human nature. Play itself is creativity, and we all somehow know how to do this as kids.

As a child I might “prepare” for play by arranging all my dolls in a circle and then see what happened. Maybe I’d stick some tea cups in the middle of the circle. With childhood friends, I might “prepare” for a dance together by putting on my Indian princess costume. Start with a leather choker and a feather on my head. See what happens next.

As a teenager, preparation took place as my friends and I planned adventures. Cut school and walk down the hill to the Cleveland Art Museum. Act like we were on a “school trip”, but really wander on our own, looking for Picassos. (I admit that this particular adventure may have involved some other “preparation” as well, but let’s not go there!)  And see what happens next.

As a young adult I had the good sense to be an Fine Arts Photography major in undergraduate school. The rituals with photography were extensive, with special films, tripods, light meters and more. Set up the camera with everything in place. Throw some dancing scarves before the camera. See what happens. It was especially delightful to watch a mysterious image unveil itself in the darkroom developing tray.

In midlife I discovered chanting and toning and new traditions of singing freely: a whole new world of creative self expression. Stand in a circle. Ground yourself. Call in nature and guides. Breathe deep. Let a sound emerge.

See what happens next.

“Preparation,” whether forming a circle of dolls or a circle of women, is in essence the act of calling. We get our gear together, walk a distance from our everyday lives, find a spot to stand on, and yell into the canyon. “Yoo-hoo! Anyone there?”

Then we listen. Listening is what happens next.

Listen. Without the ankle bracelet of domestic chores, or the layers of roadside noises. Without the crowded hallways of rules, or the stack of insistent envelopes.

Listen to what calls us. Perhaps we will hear an echo in that canyon, a mirror image of our own leaping voice. And then if we listen some more, perhaps we will hear a dog, or a child laughing. After that, water bubbling and whistling. Wind sliding through cracks. And more. A cloud dance. An invention of birdsong.

After that, undone words, and smiling sprites. A color wheel of stones. And a beckoning:  to your pen, your paper, your voice, your cray-pas, your feet.

Then we listen again.

And see what happens next.



*Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003.