Creative Ebb, Creative Flow

A few years ago, a good friend of mine gifted me my first Moleskine notebook on New Year’s Eve. Since then, I’ve always kept one close at hand, no matter where I go. As someone who constantly consumes information, my brain is oftentimes an unreliable palette on which to store information. These tiny notebooks have come to the rescue many times over, helping me preserve otherwise ethereal ideas.

That first year, I found myself constantly jotting down song lyrics in my notebook. (In fact, almost all of Daydream at Midnight was borne of my first Moleskine’s pages!) At the time, I’d jumped headfirst into the world of poetry, so the words of Dickens, Auden, Frost, and Whitman looped in my head as if they were songs themselves. My own song lyrics flowed as freely on paper as these authors’ lines of poetry did in my head. It’s times like these, when the flow has been reduced to a sputter, that I look back on that first year with considerable envy. My notebooks, once a diving board from which I leapt into my most creative projects, now feel more like a wade pool of scribbles, sketches, quotations, excerpts, tallies, and trivia.

Within the course of any creative life, one confronts (perhaps multiple times) the paranoia of having run dry. My habit of notebook toting persists, yet I’m not producing at the same rate that I used to. Ideas for songs, radio stories, letters, and blog posts lay in dormant lackadaisy. It’s enough to drive me into creative hypochondria–checking my creative pulse every so often to see if it’s still ticking. And if it is, I ask, where’s the creative beef, yo? (Or eggplants, for creative vegetarians.) In large part, I think this blog survives because when all other outlets are blocked, I can always, always, always write.

I have to remind myself, however, that I’ve gone through these motions before. My creative atmosphere always conjures the inverse of the proverbial “calm before the storm.” For me, I’m first disoriented by a whirlwind of ideas and information before inspiration comes to parts the clouds. Only time will tell when or whether I’ll find my answers. Meanwhile, these are two TED Talks that never fail to reassure me that another burst of inspiration is always within reach.

David Kelley on Creative Confidence:

“[Dr. Albert Bandura] called that confidence ‘self-efficacy,’ the sense that you can change the world and that you can attain what you set out to do.”

Elizabeth Gilbert on the Creative Process:

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed,…then “Ole!” And if not, do your dance anyhow and “Ole!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it. “Ole!” to you… just for having the sheer…stubbornness to keep showing up.”

Perhaps creative frustration is a sign that you’re on the right track. Sometimes, the simple desire — the need, even — to create is the initial state of being one needs to achieve before something great happens. Why else would Monet continue to paint despite being practically blind? Perhaps the same reason why Beethoven never stopped composing despite his loss of hearing and Proust never stopped writing even when tragically ill. They simply couldn’t help it. The need to express the inner self is inherent in any conscious being, a kind of twitch that can’t even be mitigated by physical handicap or a life-threatening malady. In a very dark yet essential way, that’s comforting.

I have to remind myself that my best work still lies ahead of me and that creativity will ebb and flow. For now, it’s a matter of showing up. “Ole!” There’s still work to be done yet.