I bought the dogs a new cushion. Beautiful doggy print, full of high quality beans. Comfy as. They have barely gone near it. So I adopted it to sit upon during mediation. Possibly one of the best meditation cushions I have sat on. I settled upon my new cushion; lights low, fan chopping its way through the warm evening air. And this is what I recall:
I close my eyes and pull deep breaths in and out through my nose. My head spins a little as my body lets go of the day. I focus on breath – and let the experiences of the day flutter away like leaves from a tree; spent and no longer required. The world of sound crowds in on me. In the distance a yappy dog barks, a truck thunders past, its gears changing as it chugs up a hill. Oliver Font, my Cavalier, snores on his favourite cushion. I hear Little Dog pad across the floor, her nails clacking against polished boards. I feel her nestle beside me, muscling her way in on my right. She settles and I refocus back on my breath. Seconds later I feel the presence. It’s female and sits just to my left. I know who it is. She has come before. Despite my eyes beging closed, I turn my head toward her.
“Don’t” she says, and I stop.
“I want you to feel me not see me.” I think about this for a while. I have no true idea what she looks like – just an inkling of what I imagine her to be when she is around. I begin to imagine her features; long willowy limbs, a cherub like face, strands of gossamer gold weaved through her long wavy locks.
“I asked you to stop,” she says. Her voice cuts through the darkened room. “Don’t waste your time describing me. Put it into your characters,” she offers.
“I have been,” I retort.
“You haven’t. Why do you think I am here? You are barely present. You rarely show up. You are compromising our work. We have a deal, remember?”
Her words are nettles that prickle my ill formed intentions. When the sting fades, I see it is true what she says. She sends me great lines that I never write down. She gives me stories – beginning to end but never so much as a pen scratches paper. Entire story-lines delivered at night pale in the light of the rising sun. She has offered me all this and more. Worlds full of conflict and great expectation. Poetic lines full of beauty and woe. But I shun all her gifts. Turn my back on them like a bad mother rejecting her young. Too frightened to encourage any one of them for fear of what they might finally become.
“Why am I doing this?” I ask her.
“You’re lazy,” she says, a little too soon. I know she is right.
“And you’re scared. Mostly of failing but also a little of actually succeeding.” I hadn’t considered these points.
“I am tired, too,” I go to bat for myself.
“Tired doesn’t cut it. You know what they say. If it aint on the page-it aint on the stage.”
“I know. I know all that. But some days it’s so hard. What inspires you?” I ask her. I can feel her looking at me, the corners of her mouth lifting skyward.
“That’s a ridiculous question. I am inspiration. That’s like asking the air what it breathes,” she explains.
“Oh,” I say, wanting to catch a better glimpse of her.
“I wish you would spend half as much time discovering your characters the way you attempt to discover me?” Silence edges between us. The dog shifts a little. She continues.
“Inspiration is everywhere. I offer it to you all day long. But you walk through your day barely awake, a filter over your eyes. And when you open your eyes, you pick and choose the moments you think are the best. All moments are good. But you have this agenda, these rules where you only take what suits you at the time. So much goes to waste.”
I know she is right. Inspiration is all around me. Ideas pummel me all day long. They charge through my head like shells that spray from the mag of a fast firing gun. And I am content to watch them drop to the ground, to kick them aside.
“You remember the Gilbert girl?” she asks me. She is referring to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. I had read of Elizabeth’s planned sequel to the book the other morning. Later that same morning, on Facebook, someone posted Elizabeth’s talk on creativity filmed for TED.com. That same afternoon I went to my chiropractor and she returned to me my copy of Eat Pray Love that I had given to her eight months ago.
“What do you think that was all about?” she asks me. I can’t answer her. I haven’t thought much about Elizabeth Gilbert since reading her book. But there she had been, three times in my day. I thought back over her talk. How she spoke of the fear of failure.
“You remember the bit where she talks about creativity being some divine attendant spirit. And that it came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source?” she asks me. I did remember that bit. It was part of the talk that resonated right through me. I want to look at her, get the tiniest glimpse so I can remember this moment.
“Do you think that’s true?” she asks me. I laugh at this, as I sit and consider my present situation; sitting on a doggy bean bag having a silent conversation with what I assume is my muse. But I continue.
“Do you think it’s true?” I ask her.
“You’re asking water what it drinks…” she says, tapping a foot against the floorboards. I get her drift. I cast out my answer.
“I do believe that. Yes. I do believe that there is this thing bigger than me and it graces me with its presence and fills my head and heart with knowing but I know not where it comes from…you know?”
“And what about when that thing bigger than you isn’t around. Then what?”
I’m trying to gauge where she is going with this but I haven’t a clue. I am left to trust my own gut.
“Well, it’s easier when that thing is around…” I say.
“Answer the question.” I can tell she is tetchy. I’m avoiding her question.
“Alright. OK. I think its just bloody hard work and I hate it but when I park my arse on the chair and get my head down amongst it, the feeling surpasses any I’ve known. I fold up into that great bigger thing, whatever it is and I just become part of it all. Seamless. In love. Incapable of leaving, once in its hands. So what of it?” She’s hit a nerve and we both know it.
“And you’d take laziness or possible failure over a slice of that kind of heaven?” she asks. I think about this. About how I spend my free time. The time I am meant to dedicate to my craft. I run off a list in my head:
- There is a face-book addiction that swallows whole hours and disables my characters, keeping them faceless and flat as the book they are trying to inhabit.
- There is brainless T.V. that I watch and seldom enjoy.
- The lack of a plan or schedule.
- Jumping online and filtering email first thing in the morning.
- Jumping online, period especially when I should have my head in a book (MY book)
I consider these forms of creative suicide, which is what they are for me, anyway. The tip of the iceberg that sinks the Titanic.
When I look at these hindrances through her eyes, I can see how crippling these habits become.
The room grows quiet aside from the muffled snores of Oliver Font. I finally speak.
“A needle pulling thread…” she muses but then her voice becomes serious, calmer, softer.
“So…you tell me. What are you going to do? You know, doing what you are doing is slowly killing me, don’t you? Literally.” she says. The room feels darker, colder after she says this. I try to imagine my life without her. A life without creativity. A frightening black void that is larger than life stares back at me. There is no life without it.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” I tell her. “We are in this together. We made a deal,” I say to her. Tears trickle down my face. I think of the people who trundle through life trapped in a passionless existence. I cry for those who don’t know what it feels like to have this connection, this passion for something you love. I cry because I do know and too often choose to let it lie idle.
I have options. They are quite simple. I put my brain on a diet – wean it off all the junk I am feeding it. Give it some structure to lean on. Clean out my head. Be mindful, awake and take note of the gifts that fly through the air. Make a plan to follow. Indulge myself in the craft that leads me to that same space every time. To that slice of heavenly pie that tastes and feels like nothing else on this earthly plane. Fight through the murky quagmire of resistance. That’s all I have to do. Eleven words. A new mantra.
“Turn up to the page and write. Every day. Without fail.”
“And of course you know that if I’m not around, you must start without me. At some point, I know we’ll both be on the same page. Guaranteed, ” she says.
I know this to be true.
So I make my vow;
I, Lynn Priestley, hereby solemnly pledge, (upon the Dog’s Cushion of Creativity ) that I will turn up to the page and write.
As you are my witness.
So be it.
You can see the lovely and inspirational Elizabeth here: www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html