“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
- Joseph Campbell
I've been thinking a lot this past week about creative incubation, about how one's needs evolve through time, as a writer, or creative person. Or, that our needs evolve, but also remain the same. Or, maybe our lives evolve and we become wilier at meeting the needs of creative incubation.
As our situation evolves I think the form our work takes is affected by whatever space we happen to have mentally and physically. We adapt. There have been times in my life when it has been possible to work on longer pieces, and also when it was only possible to write the shortest smallest things. I have poured myself into the tiniest vessels. I have stretched out and flowed.
The space around a work is felt by the reader. This is true for photographs, too. When you see a really great photograph, you can feel a certain weight which has to do with all the prolonged looking that went on before, perhaps hundreds of photographs taken, discarded, but which led to this particular one.
I know there are some people who can sit and write in cafes, and who are disciplined and can write in whatever sliver of time they're given, which is a great gift.
For me, I've always needed my own room, silence, and time to meditate myself into a bit of a writing trance. To do this I need some hours before I come to the page, sometimes over the course of a few days, when I read and sometimes copy out lines from work that is relevant to what I want to write, whether rhythmically, or formally, or because of the subject matter or because I feel attuned to the same frequencies as a particular author. So, the time to read, and re-read, and sit with, and stare out into space, holding a sentence or two belonging to someone else in my mouth.
Before sitting down to write, it's helpful if I've taken a long walk, and cleared my head of the voices of others. Photographing things on a walk sometimes helps with that.
It's good if you haven't for some time been in contact with anyone who depletes you or who gives you things to worry about or who makes demands on you or makes you feel lousy or who tells you everything but listens to nothing. With luck no one you love will have become ill or require hospitalization. There will be no obligatory functions. No one will write you a flaming email or have a baby or a hernia or need a drive to the airport at an early hour. No one will guilt trip you or make you feel like writing is stupid or that your writing in particular is stupid. Nothing will break down and you will not receive an unexpected bill. You will not be afflicted with insomnia. Your car will purr like a kitten and you will not be rear ended in a parking lot.
You will listen to the right music. No old friend from junior high will call you up out of the blue and want to get together for coffee to talk about their novel that they've been working on for 10 years. The traffic sounds will be minimal. The weather nice, but not too nice. Your allergies will not flare up. The weeds in the garden will not suddenly proliferate. The birds will sing, but not too loudly. You will be happy, but not too happy. There will be a good stock of wine in the pantry, but not too good.
You will be well rested. The phone will not ring. You will remember to turn off the email and block all the social network sites. You will have had enough time alone, not too much time alone. The neighbour's cat will not have disappeared and they will not be opening the door and calling its ill-conceived name plaintively. Your dog will not eat a sock or swallow whole the sandwich in the ziplock bag left at the bus stop by some teenager.
All this and I haven't even factored in the degree to which menopause or peri-menopause comes into play......If you're there, or if you have been there, or if someday you will be there, I recommend reading this piece by Mary Ruefle in Granta.
Everyone, as she says, talks about hot flashes. But it's not about that.
"You may decide to take up an insane and hopeless cause. You may decide to walk to Canada, or that it is high time you begin to collect old blue china, three thousand pieces of which will leave you bankrupt. Suddenly the solution to all problems lies in selling your grandmother’s gold watch or drinking your body weight in cider vinegar. A kind of wild forest blood runs in your veins."
If you live in Canada, you might consider walking to Montana. The experience combines desperation, insane moments, but also incredible bouts of clarity. All of this can be very good for your writing or creative endeavours at exactly the same time as it's completely devastating.
It's a wonder, really, that anyone makes it to the page at all. But, you know, once you get there, writing is easy, as has been said. You just open a vein and bleed. Or variations on the theme.
And so I'm going to leave you there today as I attempt to create some of the dearly needed space for writing.
Some more lilacs (we have several varieties in our backyard and of course I've developed an allergy to them in the last few years), the honeysuckle, also in the backyard, our little zone 3 rhododendron, and a few from early morning walks this past week.
Wishing you all the calm things.