How we go still, in order to move. Creative blocks, rehab for the mind, watercolor painting with a mini projector.
Today I talk about creative blocks as analogue to incapacity from physical injury.
I have no words to offer which may comfort the reader who is also a castaway, except that rescue may come at any time but not necessarily when you expect it; and that even if you give up hope, you must never give up trying, for, as the result of your efforts, hope may well return and with justification.
Have you ever run in a panic from something, realizing only after the shock wears off that you’re wounded? Pain rushes in, able to prioritize itself now that the immediacy of danger is past.
In mid-March after I returned from California, it had been about three months. Things were shifting into maintenance mode and, while exhausted, I remained high-functioning. In the space and stillness that arose, though, so did other things. And I began sinking into a bad place.
There are a lot of shitty byproducts of being stuck in darkness, but one is not being able to create. It’s difficult to express the terror brought on by a flight of sensory capacity, the sudden inability to articulate oneself in the ways that one is accustomed.
When mired, thinking can make things worse, amplifying what feels like spinning in place. What can pull me out of such periods is almost always a mystery, because I dutifully try everything in an attempt to “keep the muscles limber” while I “wait”—routine, motion, consumption, conversation, rest—but it’s never a set formula that prevails. Sometimes what’s needed is this, other times this and that together, still others, simply that—but in a novel environment.
I guess that makes sense, because each time I’m a different person; each time, a different darkness.
After weeks of struggling, and a quiet birthday, I packed a bag and left New York. For four days, I sat alone in front of an unfamiliar horizon, watching the ocean. At night I lay under a dome of stars. No tv, podcasts, or music. I read two books, and started a third.
That third book, by the way, is a breezily-titled book on mindfulness that I must have downloaded years ago and abandoned. This time, it felt like a gift I was ready to receive. I appreciated, in particular, the warm yet science-grounded language, as well as the straight-forward introduction of techniques and tools.
I’m leery of judging the “effects” of this short time away, but I did begin noticing shifts after returning home: from how I eat, for instance, to how I’m starting to think about my work (“healing” instead of “processing”). I feel engaged in an active kind of passivity, which might also be called, humility.
It’s been helpful to think of parallels in physical therapy as I navigate all this in the studio: today, step on the recovering limb, explore its limits, push, rest. Tomorrow, push a little more, rest a little less.
Repeat, until running is once again a pleasure.
Last week I painted, integrating something new into the practice: a mini projector.
Months ago, as I played with watercolors for an animation sequence, I struggled to make out lines through thicker paper when lit from below. This time, I painted over lines projected from above. For the first in a while, I enjoyed the work, and lost myself in it.
Until next time.
A Scottish author who lost his wife and young son, who, decades later, was stranded with his new family in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a trip gone disastrously wrong. h/t Cristiana Baik for the reference.
"There are a lot of shitty byproducts of being stuck in darkness, but one is not being able to create. It’s difficult to express the terror brought on by a flight of sensory capacity, the sudden inability to articulate oneself in the ways that one is accustomed." - this hit hard.
I was stuck in darkness recently and I am slowly finding my way out of it. Throughout this time, I found (or rather, was reminded) that pain has a deeply silencing effect on me, leaving me unable to express my thoughts and feelings the way I'm used to.
It helped me to think of this brief pause as a "soft reset button", but "rehab for the mind" probably sounds better.
Thank you for sharing.