On the phone recently my former studio parter, the highly creative and visionary craft practitioner Pauline Tran, had a question for me and this blog.
"Have you written about flow?"
She meant creative flow, that term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a key proponent of the positive psychology movement (if that doesn't mean anything to to you he is one of the USA based academic fraternity studying the pursuit of happiness, or pursuing happiness, or both).
It isn't a subject I've tackled, though it's something I think about often and describe tangentially when I'm reflecting on creative projects and collaborations. Of course, we were both thinking about how fricken' hard it is to achieve this state while you are in that highly tactile stage of mothering small children – or children with disabilities – enmeshmed in their emotional and physical needs.
What does it take, to find the space to create the conditions for creativity? I know that a sense of safety and solitude are important, or at the very least uninterrupted time – enough of it – to allow for energies to quieten and thoughts to sharpen. There has to be time for false starts and true procrastination.
Time, on its own, however, is not enough though.
Finding a way of transitioning from the one thousand and one demands of the here and into the realm of imagination, art making or laying words down requires passing over an uncomfortable threshold.
Changing roles without resorting to crazy-making compartmentalising (the kind that causes internal schisms) requires self awareness and discipline. But creativity makes additional demands. It asks its subjects to be vulnerable, receptive, and curious.
I'm often gripped by agitation anticipating getting down to work.
Every person engaged in creative work has their own way of smoothing the passage but utilising a "third space" to shift gear and decompress is critical.
Driving – moving from home to studio setting – can be enough, so long as it takes time. Mindlessly gazing into the fridge and foraging around the pantry can be a good tactic. But my go-to is walking. Walking is the ticket.
Of course once you're in, absorbed in the work, joys abound. I love the feeling of discovery, things coming together, exercising capability and skill. Facing and overcoming technical and other issues, no drama. It's in this state that I often have a rush of self recognition: as in I am communing with some essential part of myself and I'm least self conscious.
The capacity to find and inhabit this space is always a huge relief. Though I am able to find my way there, when I visualise creativity it is always in my mind's eye a beautiful, wild stallion: majestic, untamed and afraid. I'm aware that I have to approach it with utmost care and be very, very still in order to gain its trust. When I think about this metaphor – which is always vivid – I know that it's telling me in simple terms that that the horse might bolt but it also reminds me that creativity is unpredictable and in some regards a dangerous undertaking.