When creativity hides, look for it in unexplored places.
“Why don’t we ruminate on good things?” I ask my husband as dawn pushes through the shutters. I am awake unusually early for me, and he is in bed unusually late for him. Beyond the closed windows, Sunset Boulevard’s morning commuter-shush rides over our neighbor’s house and our back-to-back yards, mirroring the sounds of waves that are rolling against sand a mile in the other direction.
“Maybe it’s the amygdala’s fight or flight at work.” This is the kind of answer he can wake up with. “We have to think about what dangers are out there.”
The dangers pinging around my semi-sleeping mind this morning are mild in the scheme of world problems—navigating hurt feelings and rejections, my own and my loved ones’ — yet they will occupy and squat in my mind until I kick them out.
The dog’s paws skitter up the steps, then thunder into a running leap onto the bed. This fluffy one marches straight to my head and pillow to present his curly furry chest for a morning scratch, while his sister stretches out on her pillow on the floor. The dopamine hit of my hand against his heart works its magic on both of us. Though when my scratching pauses, he lifts a paw and pokes me: No stopping now. Get up. Get going.
It is time for a walk.
The spring deluge has retreated for a few days while it gathers itself for an encore, so our walk is lit by sunshine, making vibrant greens and blues. Los Angeles is most stunning after a storm. At the park, grass grows over patches of the once-and-future muddy field, bright weed-mounds popping up without a pattern. A tree has tipped over from the soil’s saturation and the prankster wind that followed. The square of sidewalk that always has tiny shards of glass is washed clean. The mountains play dress up doing their best impression of Oregon.
The dogs explore the scents the rain has scrambled, and I think about my dormant writing practice. It has been three months since I last posted something after a two-year streak of posting almost every week. What I discovered through that weekly posting practice was that even when I had nothing I needed to say, a concrete goal boosted my creativity. (Almost as important was announcing this commitment, as accountability to keep from quitting.) This practice yielded almost one hundred new pieces. Some cringy, some I still like, including the first piece, “What Will We Remember?” about the small shiny moments amidst the rubble of the preceding twelve months, as well as the last, “Almost There.”
Last December, I allowed myself a six-week pause in my weekly posting to focus on finishing a bigger project. Now that “pause” has rolled to a full stop. I have not been able to rouse myself. I write shards here and there but I have not found words worth sharing. Of course, we all need time for renewal. For grace. For stirring the pot and letting the sauce simmer (oh god, see how these horrible metaphors take over?!) My mind tells me it is time to get back in the saddle (ack, there they go again!), but my words resist. They want to stay on the ground, burrow under, and continue hibernating. (Good lord, do you see what I’m up against?! Revolting!)
“You can’t fight it,” Judi, my writer friend advises. “It goes in cycles. You just have to ride it.”
Fine. Past the field, past the sandbox, I lead the dogs toward a place where I can let them off leash, but they have a different idea. They are pulling me toward home, so I let them guide me. Words a writing teacher once preached come to my mind: there are many ways to be creative. Use them to nourish you.
Could this walk outside have given me…the seed of an idea? A writing prompt for when I get home:
Make a list of ways to be creative.
- Plant a garden. Corn stalks and cucumber and kale, next to the tomato plant that survived the torrents and gale winds, and the green onions and the baby eggplants, survivors all. A ratatouille growing in the dirt outside your window.
2. Make a meal.
3. Create a meal plan! (Hahahaha!)
(It’s not that a meal plan is a bad idea for everyone, it is ambitious for me. Too many fancy meals (aka a meal planned and shopped for before 5 pm) can overwhelm the senses. I need a palate cleanser of, say, cereal or scrambled eggs or whatever is in the pantry at dinnertime. I need to let the dazzle of the last meal’s flavors sink in, like that rare novel your mind is still digesting days after you finish reading it and you need to let linger before you can pick up the next one.)
4. Make an album of photographs from last summer, and the flavors of Spain are brought back in the revisiting.
5. Start a photo album for my youngest child for his high school graduation. Revisit these 18 years that have felt like 18 months, all of it living in me at once — my way to prove Einstein’s theories of relativity and time-bending-over-itself. A caution: one risks getting stuck in these curving-in-on-themselves moments and overheating in a meltdown of your nuclear core. So yes, pause on the memory of him on his first birthday sucking on a corn cob in the little garden, holding it in a dimpled fist, his round eyes wide open with the new experience; then remember to see him as he is now.
6. Dig out the watercolors and oil paints from the cupboard; paint something without judging it.
7. Light a candle.
8. Let an idea take me for a ride on its airstream.
10. Go to an art museum and stare at things I do not understand.
11. Read poems.
12. Eat good food. (See #2 and possibly #3.)
13. Take new walks and see new sights.
14. Learn Italian.
15. Pull weeds.
16. Dye my T-shirts royal purple.
17. Pick up my old guitar now that I’ve worn my fingernails down to their nubs again.
18. Sing a made-up song while one dog pulls me forward and sideways as he explores every nuance and scent the rain has reallocated, and the other dog stays right next to me, sensing my need.
Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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