Friday, April 8, 2011

The Creative Mind: Restlessness

This is a shot in early spring of Winfield Farm in Randolph County, NC, near the Chatham County line.

One of the interesting things about my life is how I have responded to periods of restlessness. These rainy days make me restive, but I’ve learned how valuable such times can be. In fact, my finding creative ways to fill the time when it hangs heavy probably began when I was seven and put to bed for a year with rheumatic fever.

My mother home schooled me for the second grade. We lived across the street from my school, so she brought home the lessons. She also read to me and my younger sister every night, once we were ready for bed. She brought home many books from the library, and I read them.

But time still hung heavy, so I began to make up stories and illustrate them, and she always praised them. That set in motion my becoming a writer. By fifth grade I was writing longer stories and knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

I’ve noticed, as an adult, that, when I’m in a situation where things don’t turn out as I’d thought they would, and I suddenly have time, that I will invent things for myself to do. In 1990, when I went to the Gower Peninsula of Wales to spend three weeks with Mrs. Merrett at her bed and breakfast home, I had been there only a few days when I stumbled on a footpath about a mile from the nearest village, and sprained my ankle.

I limped back and was able to call an ambulance. They took me to Swansea Hospital and treated me free, gave me crutches, though no ice. My plan had been to ramble about the cliffs for many miles every day and find beautiful spots to sit and write poems. This had to change. I was essentially stuck in bed. Mrs. Merrett coddled me, but what was I to do?

I had some library books, and I wrote a few poems, but I still had a lot of time. I’d brought with me but not yet read Jacques Maritain’s Poetic Intuition in Art and Poetry. So I set myself to read that, a highly philosophical work, and in it I found the best articulation and understanding I had ever read of the creative process, of my own creative experience, as well as a lot of good advice for living with, and taking care of, my own "poetic intuition."

I also, at Mrs. Merrett’s suggestion, "Why don’t you write a murder?" began plotting my first mystery, The Sands of Gower, although I didn’t write it until the following summer. Toward the end of my time, I did get out to the nearby cliffs and write some new poems for my book, Lightwood Knots.

In Russia, in 1992, when I spent a month in two different Houses of Creativity for Writers, Peredelkino and Komarova, I again had time to fill. Expeditions to Moscow and St. Petersburg, to see the sights, often fell through. I made new friends at Komarova, and we had an interpreter living in the dorm with us. The writers there were more interested in us than they had generally been at Peredelkino.

By then I spoke a little Russian and could read it with the help of a dictionary, and I had one with me. I decided to translate some of the poems from books I’d been given by these new writer friends, and that made me even more itneresting to the writers there. Our young interpreter, Yelena, checked them for me. That led, too, to two women poets translating some of my poems and the book published in Russian by the Kostroma Writers Organization, Beaver Soul.

My restlessness disappeared in all those situations, and I was happily occupied.

There are days off and on in our lives when our routine breaks down, and for one reason or another, we suddenly have some free hours we don’t normally have. When that happens to me, I’ve learned to say to myself: "You can do anything you want to do." I almost always want to write.

So these last few days I’ve been restive, since I couldn’t do my usual farm chores–only a few of them. But my evenings have been free, and I knew it was an opportunity to write, so I have been writing, and I’ve had more discoveries and insights than usual.

I’ve learned to treat my feeling of my mind being empty as a sign that something in me wants to rise up and be written about. It’s clear to me now that this restlessness may also be a precursor to new creative work, to better than usual writing.

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