“Woman Carrying Water,” by Leslie Frances, Innisfree, Lake County, Northern California, clay sculpture.
Column by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow
As you gaze at the highest point of the Big Top, you see the tightrope walker. She navigates the wire that’s barely visible from the bleachers below. There’s tense silence—and then a gasp as she loses her balance, swaying over the precipice. And then a sigh of relief as this mistress of the air rights herself. She regains her stability with deft use of her balancing pole.
Writers and artists require a balancing pole too. We’ve discussed in previous posts how we’re in constant creative flux. Our creative cycles move inward and outward. They can make us well centered or unstable, much like the tightrope walker, who loses her footing from time to time. Daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal, our creative rhythms require conscious balancing.
A writer’s precipice isn’t as visibly dramatic as the tightrope walker’s. It’s invisible: a holding back and restraining of our talent. But creative energy demands its turn in the spotlight. It shouts out for the freedom to perform. Not releasing all that we have to do and say and be in the world can leave us teetering.
Self-awareness allows us to hand-knot a resilient safety net. With practice and experience, we perfect using the balancing pole to correct the inevitable “wobblies.” For some, the balancing pole is physical activity, for others a spiritual practice or community volunteer work. Whatever it may be, we must seek out our personal point of balance. We don’t want to falter too close to the precipice.
In terms of our creative practice, we need to balance cycles of being out-in-the-world time with in-the-studio times.
I became aware of this creative cycle when I was in my 20s and living in West Africa. A Ghanaian man, who was growing into himself as a writer and painter, became my dear friend. He taught me how to fully engage in out-in-the-world time and then the in-the-studio time. We shopped in the outdoor markets, reveling in the red of tomatoes and the rust-colored chili. We soaked up the old men’s songs and stories drinking millet beer. We took simple
adventures—night walks or sitting on our metal roof under the stars. In short, we delved as deeply as we could into the life surrounding us.
Following all this, we returned home to rest and digest. We consciously processed all that we’d seen and learned. During these downtime days, insights about our experiences emerged. We could see how to craft our out-in-the-world time into fruitful in-the-studio time. We had followed an outward path and were now able to branch off onto the inward, art-producing path. I was incredibly fortunate to have this example early in life.
In midlife, I experienced a period I call “When the Art Came In.” Creative energy was unstoppable; it welled from every pore of my being: visual art, storytelling, composing, and writing.There was no way I could not create!
The creative strategies I’d learned in Ghana were just as effective in California. I blocked out painting days, giving myself a personal painting retreat in effect. (At this point I was painting in addition to writing.) To prepare, I cooked soups and stocked the refrigerator. I paid bills, returned phones calls, and made other practical arrangements. When I started painting, then, I could give myself fully to the sacred space of image and story. In-the-studio time was devoted solely to my art. Out-in-the-world time was transformed into tangible work.
When I have smaller chunks of time, I use the same principles so that I’m fully there. It’s how I’ve learned to handle the outward/inward cycles of creativity. It’s how I’ve crafted my balancing pole.
Your balancing pole is no doubt quite different. What it looks like, though, is immaterial. What matters is that it can guide you from the gasp of slipping to the relieved sigh of stability.
See Creative Catalyst archive at: http://storycircle.typepad.com/scn/creativity/
Become a Riehl Life Villager: www.riehlife.com.