Friday, November 21, 2014

Inner Butterfly

21st November 2014

Yesterday I was in the dentist's chair. I only have to walk through the door of a dentist's office, breathe in that clove smell, see the people waiting in chairs next to a rack of magazines, and my shoulders go up around my ears. Don't get me wrong - on a daily basis I thank god for dentists. A recurring anxiety of mine is that if our world fell apart for whatever reason, if we ended up walking among the ashes of our civilisation like on a Mad Max set, what would happen if my tooth began to ache? I want to say to the dentists of the earth, long may you live (especially in my neighbourhood and especially if there is a holocaust!) That said, the dentist's chair is only one of the few places in the western world where we succumb to ritual torture (ritual only because we are wiling accomplices); and to delusion  - for the few seconds between me spying that six inch needle lurking at the back of my dentist's thigh, I really really believe that it's not an instrument of torture and is not going to hurt at all! Just like they say.
I think too often we get into a space like this with our writing, where walking into our office brings on a bout of tension, where trying to pull an astounding array of words out of ourselves feels like lying back in the dentist's chair and steeling ourselves for pain.

It is advisable, of course, to have a routine with your writing. Turning up each morning or at whatever appointed time you have set, not waiting until the spirit or the muse moves us, is just good writing habit. Still, I often find myself neurotically bound to that habit. There's a magazine on the table with an article I'm dying to read, but I feel too guilty to just go ahead and read it. I have an appointment with my creative self, and so the inner dialogue kicks in insisting that I show up. I actually catch myself shaming myself.
One thing people often congratulate me on is my persistence. I keep writing. I never give up. Every morning sees me in my office, and no invitation will distract me away from it.  I don't go on hikes until after my work is done. I don't go out for coffee and chat. Well and good. But it's a fine line. Your creative space is not going to be productive if your rules become jailers.
What you are aiming for is freedom. But the best kind of freedom is not the kind that has no structure at all. The demise of many young artist in the sixties and seventies is proof of that. But freedom cannot thrive either if your creative life becomes restrictive.
I am going away in a few days. The novel I have been working hard on these past months is about 100 pages from being finished. But I am distracted right now. I have been standing myself up these mornings. And I have to let it go. I wouldn't make a habit of this, but for now it is okay. I'm giving myself a little space. I'm doing what I want, which is to fuss about for now doing things that need to get done before I go. And sometimes, I should just let myself read that magazine article. Sometimes I do. What we are aiming at is what feeds the creative soul. Attendance at the desk is one thing, letting your imagination flit around where it wants is another.

So you decide where this line is. It's such a tiny little border between discipline and creativity. I don't know how to put my finger on it to show you where it lies - I only know that it is somewhere. Perhaps you can find it. And if you do, then let me know. And then let your inner butterfly soar.


  1. I have been putting off my writing. When you compared that to putting off a dentist appointment, it put some conviction on me. I have let a tooth go so long I ended up having to get a root canal when it could have been a simple drill and fill. When I put off a novel I have been working on, it's just as painful.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Marco. I hope you get back to working on your novel, and that that will feel more satisfying than avoiding it. As the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tsu said, "A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step." Keep showing up at your desk, and the journey will be accomplished. Good luck. Claire

  3. It is funny that you write about the stresses of going through the rituals of habit. I suffer from the same feelings, unable to get anything else done as I feel I need to constantly work at these pre-arranged times. I never thought to compare it with a visit to the dentist office, however. That is very creative!

  4. Thanks, Lola. I suppose the image of a dentist's office comes so easily, because I am a Scot, and we Scots have on-going torturous relationships with our dentists. We do like our sweets! But I should say that being creative is far better than going to the dentist. It gives us a voice for our pain, instead of just a palliative. Best of luck with your creative work!