Creative Practice Dialogue between Alethea Eason & Janet Riehl
Alethea Eason commenting on the post “Building a Creative Practice is not for whimps” said:
I believe that having regular session to do creative work is essential, but it may not be practical to have this occur every day, especially with a full time job, family, etc. I used to feel I was “failing” because I couldn´t write daily. I find it´s important to also honor the fallow periods because something usually is waiting like a seed in the ground during winter. Do the hard work of sitting down with your muse, but don´t despair if you can´t. Know that you´ll find her again when time is right.
Janet Riehl responded to Alethea, saying:
I also agree with your point of view. Sometimes we just need to cut ourselves some slack. What I’ve learned is this:
–When I was working on my poetry book “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” I was taking care of my mother, who was quite frail. I took notes during the day and then in the morning wrote from the time I woke up until the time my father and mother woke and needed my help. Amazingly, a book grew out of these short spurts of effort.
I also know:
–For a long while after that I had no on-going longterm project. I stopped even journaling. Yet–I did write everyday in the form of regular posting on Riehlife.com and copious email correspondence. Now that I am back to work on a book-length memoir project “Finding My African Heart: A Village of Stories” (working title) that all that informal writing then benefits my writing now.
In whatever form it takes, writing practice counts. That was certainly a fallow period, and as we know, the incubation period is an important part of the creative cycle.
I also know from writing with you and reading your book “Hungry” that when you need it, you have discipline and the skills of your craft to draw upon.
This post is meant as a counter weight to those who have bought the position that creativity is all about play, fun, and inspiration. I’m wanting to present the view that practice, work on a regular basis, is serious fun…and one that we can put in the bank of building our craft.
For instance, I’m taking my computer with me to Ghana and I expect I’ll write a bit or somedays a lot on my memoir while I’m there.
But, as you suggest, I also know that on days when I have a full schedule of visiting and exploration planned, and cannot write in the morning, my best time, that I’ll give myself a pass until the next day comes, and I’ll try again.
I truly believe that if we are pregnant with a project and serious about carrying it to term that this will happen if we allow it continual development in small increments…and realize that inspiration and native talent will get us part of the way, but is in no way the whole story.
In part this view is shaped by my time as a musician throughout my childhood, with regular practice times and chores built in to our life in the country…and my parents’ example of integrating their creative lives, quite naturally, into practical lives filled with work of survival for their own and the extended family.
What I most want to promote is the feeling that although our creative gifts and lives are to be cherished and thankful for, they are not be be set apart as “precious” in the sense of the third meaning in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary:
“excessively refined :affected, precious manners”
set aside as something only a few have and the rest of the folks (out there, of course) are just out of luck, and that we, creatively gifted are special, set apart, and have to suffer for our art.
We have to work for our art, but as the saying goes, “suffering is optional.” Which in turn fits with your comment that it’s good to be kind to ourselves as we walk our path of the business of being alive, being a good human being, AND bringing our work out into the world bit by bit.
Having all these parts of our lives in approximate balance, enriches our lives, the lives of those around us, and ultimately, our work.
Let’s take the attitude of the Medevial crafts people who labored in workshops anonymously and belonged to Crafts Guilds. Let us take the attitude of modern day craftsmen who are building furniture and throwing pots. Let us revive the code of practical creativity.
One shouldn´t “despair” either. As a teacher, getting many kids to take creative risks is one of the hardest things to do. There is definitely the myth that creativity belongs only to the lucky, gift and possibly mad few. I believe if we could learn to tap into this, with the understanding that you have to do the work, imagine the healing that would occur on both an individual and social level.
Janet Riehl responds:
Agreed that despair needed be in the mix, at least not on a permanent basis.Otherwise, we’d be in a real fix.
Yes, children are especially effected…and damaged, by both cultural views that are conficting and at the same time both flawed:
1) everyone is creative (without effort)and every stroke they make and word they write is instantly precious;
2) only special people are creative, and you are born that way, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
When they encounter teachers such as yourself who are patient and skilled in their approach…and have their own creative practice and products, then, yes, I do believe this is healing for both the individual and society.
Europe has long held a more balanced view of artistry and the life that supports it. When I travel in Europe and say I’m an writer, artist, musician, performer…I am asked interesting and curious questions that allow us to have an intelligent conversation about my work.
In the U.S., the tendency in social conversation after this announcement is one of three stock responses:
1) Would I have read anything you wrote? (Are you known? Have you been on Oprah? Are you famous?)
2) Can you support yourself doing that? (How much money do you make? is the implied subtext here…and, if you aren’t making money, then you are merely a dilettant).
3) What are you working on now? (whatever you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter.)
…and similar items designed to probe into the results and rewards of my work. Europeans want to know about the purpose and thought behind my work and honor me for the work and effort I make, regardless of the commercial response.
The American emphasis throughout our society on what you can see and what you can get results in a coarsening of our culture and there is a great loss.