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Love Liz Gilbert, and so much admire what she has done creatively and personally. It’s not my path to walk in the same way as her, and probably never will be, but I admire that someone so sensitively aware of the world around her can be so free. And that freedom didn’t come naturally, she had to practise over and over. In so many respects, she has lived with a fullness, grittiness, and freedom so much above mine despite what the world decides to say about her. It cannot be easy, to be in constant conversation with yourself and your fears. But so enlightening and exquisite, to know your own heart.
Her words on creativity have inspired me to do the best I can to keep the thread of creating going as I embark on a new school year. I will struggle with tiredness, competing demands, and being a vessel for solving problems, but I would like to try and keep my authentic voice, just a tiny little flame, alive for as much as I can.
Because creativity is as much rest, repose, and a life-source as silence. As necessary as breathing. Create, and you heal some part of the stress and struggle of the day. It is the means to articulate from the soul what you cannot in plain words.
On creativity [Richard Ford]
I say that to you only because whatever you are doing right now is clearly bringing you no pleasure, only pain. Our time on earth is short and should be enjoyed. You should leave this dream behind and go find something else to do with your life.
…however, I will say this. If you happen to discover that after a few years away from your craft, that you have found nothing that takes its place in your life – nothing that fascinates you or moves you, or inspires you to the same degree that your craft did…well then, I am afraid that you will have no choice but to persevere.”
“I realised that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewellery for the inside of other people’s minds. Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. And when you come to that realisation, the creative process becomes less tortured and more free. [Tom Waits]
“See over there
A created splendour
Made by one individual
From things residual.”
It’s always the same, that stunned, irrational feeling that overwhelms me when I begin a new composition.
Now clearly, I love composing, because I keep going back for more, and I keep saying “yes” to choral commissions. And there are moments of pure synergy where I don’t even know where the notes come from, and how the words connect with their final sounds.
But the thought that reverberates in my head EVERY SINGLE TIME I start writing?
How did I ever do this?! How did I EVER write what came before this one?!
What came before seems…extraordinary. Insurmountable. Unmatchable. Unfathomable. That SO MANY PLANETS lined up all at once for the sake of that particular choral composition. And I listen to my past compositions, head propped in my arms, with my stomach doing flips at my current commissions.
And I actually LOVE the creative process. I love the uncertainty, and I love getting down on my hands and knees, up to my elbows in notes and ideas, sounds and nuances, phrases and colourful snippets of harmony…I love playing in the puzzle pieces.
But the start is torturous, even for a realistic optimist like me.
So this is how it goes. I sit at my piano, blank manuscript pad propped up on the music stand, in a fierce face-off. It’s a desolate wasteland. Nothing works. Every possible harmony or phrase I test out, I have already heard before. I’m surrounded by half chewed-up musical ideas, and metaphorical tumbleweed.
Then I play with words…sounds of words, lyrics, ideas put together in different combinations. It’s just as agonising.
Eventually, I conclude that I have just have to make a haphazard, totally rubbish start. I pull up a Word document, vomit every conceivable idea onto the page, and press save without a backward glance. I do the same with my ideas at the piano onto my phone, and the manuscript onto Sibelius.
I press save in the hope that, like good wine, it improves with time and being left alone in a dark place. Sadly, it never does. But my eyes + mind see different things, and my ears hear what I couldn’t hear previously.
A tiny snippet of an idea arrives; a shy little phrase, an errant, unexpected harmony that I fall in love with.
Suddenly, I have a little row of seedling musical ideas, then I find myself in the middle of a garden of sounds, pruning + shaping entire pages of my composition, encouraging a particular phrase one way, cutting back one to its core in the next. I am engrossed. I don’t look up, and an hour passes easily. More and more notes fall into place, and I start to embody the personality of the piece, and choir who will be singing it. Nuances are being discovered, and shaped.
Then there is the day, some time later, when I stand up, dazed from the intense work, stretch my weary arms + shoulders, and find that I have a Piece of Music, a Brand New Composition…a Living Entity.
I know every sound + word in that piece. I know its spirit.
I take a breath…because now, in all its perfect completeness, having it loved it so intimately + knowing its every colour…I have to let it go.
It’s an extraordinary process.
Last year, I wandered through 33 art galleries in Seoul, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Hungary, Munich, Milan, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon…each so different, breath-taking and thought-provoking.
So much life in each piece of artwork!
There were stories of whimsy, hums of contentment, joyful illuminations, crystalline clarity, rich old-worldliness, history, upon ache, upon time, upon suffering, upon space…every emotion was evoked as I wandered through the wonderful, enveloping calm that is an art gallery.
I can’t do this during normal teaching life! Yet here…it was so normal to wander through colour in parallel with my thoughts…and often with snippets of a composition being unconsciously inspired.
There was the gift of space and time to get to the heart of a thought or idea during these delicious wanderings…!
Hundreds and thousands of strokes and gestures, hundreds of re-paints, hundreds of changing, shimmering thoughts…heartaches and agonies I stood at the edge of and was asked to consider. Pure rage and harsh truth…all through the voice of the artist. They never once complained…all these strokes…they had just the same amount of time every day as I do right now.
What a blessing it is to have a voice, to be able to write, to compose + to shape a melody.
Each time I am afraid as to whether my idea will come to life, let me keep loving, shaping and practising my craft, as each of these artists did.
They gave voice to their most beautiful and creative selves…if I don’t have the courage to do that, I am not sharing all of my voice and all of my heart.
I haven’t been thinking as fast as I should! My imagination has been asleep and I need to DREAM again and gather those dreams and throw them into the crisp morning air – wake them up and set them free! How long has it been since I’ve taken a chance? Taken a leap of faith and done something which has made my stomach flip? With common sense comes sensibility, both of which are highly valued and neither of which are productive to dreamers and do-ers. Nothing which lends itself to LIVING! Open my eyes and fill my soul again with the beating desire of challenge – of going the extra step to give someone joy or sympathy. Don’t travel the path which looks easiest – find a new one, one full of adventure and full of unspoken, undiscovered ideas and feelings. Find a pathway which is delightful as it is daring, one which requires a certain amount of strength and imagination.
CREATE! Don’t just reflect – make something more out of the puzzle pieces of reflection. Make a whole picture – something of use and service to the world. When you’ve been given a voice, don’t just whisper – sing in a million and one harmonies, otherwise you will not have used it properly.
THINK! Always think beyond the sphere and discover what makes a person laugh or cry – what affects them. The human race is so full of passion and wonderful examples of courage, if only we could make the time and space to NOTICE them and UNDERSTAND them better. Each person has something unique to contribute and the skills to write their own chapter – write SOMETHING. There is no-one else in the world exactly like you – no-one who speaks the same words with exactly the same thought behind them – and isn’t THAT extraordinary? However more loved the rest of the world appears to be, know and trust that the world needs your graciousness and good-humour more than you’ll ever realise. Somebody is counting on you to be you, somebody need you more than you’ll ever know and somebody wants you to be happy. There will always be someone who wants to know you and love you, to touch you, to treasure you and listen to your silent tears, to set you free but be your anchor – to keep you good. For someone – and if you’re lucky, for many “someones” – YOU are the person who makes the world make sense.
What a breath-taking, marvellous responsibility!
Appreciate. Truly appreciate the inexplicable, spontaneous acts of love. Sometimes beauty is hard, like the jagged edges of the coastline rocks, mellow like the twilight, fresh like the new grass or wise like the ripe heavy clouds of Autumn. Beauty has many faces, as does love.
So go out and paint with wide brush-strokes! Cover the world with your colours. Grab every possibility and bring them to life – who knows which will flourish and grow into life-long lessons? No-one can EVER take your spark and spirit away – not without your permission. And it would be a very great tragedy if you did not allow yourself to shine completely because of fear. This is what I hope for each day – this is how I want to live my life in joy and sorrow and hardship and delight; this is what I hope for the ones I love, this is what I hope for my students. On this awesome journey of discovery, I’ll run down the corridors of LIFE, kicking up the sands of imagination and knowledge and dare to dream with all my heart because that is how I’m built and this is what I understand best. So I hope I have the courage and grace to be the sort of dreamer who wakes often enough to make new and exciting realities – simply because I can!
From The Velveteen Rabbit…How Toys Become Real, a children’s novel written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson.
Is it any wonder that kiddies understand the concepts of being authentic + loving completely far better than we do? This is beautifully written. 🙂
because I want to create a link between what I see to what I live, what I feel to what I experience…
to breathe life and colour into happenings which are ordinary and tender, wondrous and awesome, achingly beautiful…
to wanderings in life that are so intensely anguished my heart throbs with beats too big for it…
to whisperings so exquisitely, delicately melancholy I don’t know whether to let them slip away or not move at all…
I love the music of language; words are notes in which to create the harmony of understanding
…words are a palette of communication.
words resonate with such life and power; a word can soothe or sear, caress or cut
…words can flirt with decency, can stand with integrity
….can be fashioned to describe any situation.
a word can change the momentum of a moment in time…the power of a single breath…a simple voice…my single simple voice…breathe…simplicity…voice….
I write with warmth, humour and hope…
warmth, because words shiver with life, glow for a moment in time like embers…
humour…sparkle…laughter…beads of joy!
I write because I celebrate life.
I write because I celebrate understanding.
I write because I have a passion for raw beauty
a desire to bring to notice the little ordinary moments in life which, when truly examined, are so extraordinary…
I write because life is a gift, a rich, mysterious, aching, joyful gift too full of experiences to be silent about.
I write because I want to share this wonder…
11th February 2007
I am sitting at the end of the old, salt-stung jetty
The wind whispers insistently
My heart leaps and retreats
A butterfly in an open jar
I stretch my wings and they ache
Unused from winter
My cheeks are too pale, too clean
My brown eyes smart form the laughing wind
Colliding with my warm cocoon
I am at a crossroad
But a little more reticent
Deliberately older and painted wiser
My leaps of faith are made with a pencilled outline
And I hold pencil and paintbrush
I am learning to fly once again!
Words: September 2008
Photo: Barbara Bleckly, February 2015