This week I’ve been thinking about the creative process, reflecting on Jonah Lehrer’s lecture, reading the blogs and thinking about my own work which has been slightly bogged down to my mind. I challenged myself to try and post every day to this blog during the month of April (yes, a weekend vacation with spotty internet derailed this goal), in part because I have had trouble posting even once a week. For me, this is a symptom of the writing and visual work overall getting pushed to the side for job, home, family and other commitments.
Janice Hardy’s terrific blog, The Other Side of the Story posted an interview with author Nancy Raines Day this past week in which she talks about what I call sideways thinking – the act of thinking about a creative project without grappling with it directly. A concept, a vague idea, a desire can lay in wait, sitting on the back of the creative stove until it comes together and you are off to the races. Nancy Raines Day says in the interview,
“You have to tell the universe what you’re looking before and be ready to receive it when it lobs back an answer. I try to keep myself in a creative frame of mind. “
This was true for me when I created the Negro Leagues suite of prints for my first gallery show in Seattle, over twenty years ago. I was much further along in the process; I had done all the research for a suite of prints about the Negro Leagues, knew I would include text and had a way to get the printing done (the estimable printmaker Barbara Roberts would edition the images, while I would print the letterpress text in my garage); but I still hadn’t chosen the players. I wanted to tell the story of the Negro Leagues through the words of the players, gleaned from interviews, done by several authors, with Negro Leaguers who were elderly or had passed and been remembered. I was overwhelmed, and solved the problem by going to the studio every day and rereading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series. I lied about my progress as the deadline to begin production approached, knowing that when the time came I would have my lineup and know what I must do.
“It’s going great,” I’d say at the end of the day as Vic picked me up at the studio. And then one day I finished a novel and, imbued with the spirit of adventure and friendship and the sun and water that those books provided me, I went into the studio and made my decisions: who would be portrayed, the size of the paper and the edition, what text I would use. I was ready and could now simply do the work.
This experience is how I know that floating in the mineral pool at Indian Springs and driving the back roads with my husband, taking pictures of the various ways grapes are trellised, will allow me to resolve my plot issues, my production issues and my me issues. Practice is about showing up every day and doing the work, but sometimes the work is a kind of sideways thinking, a figuring-out that happens while the well is being refreshed so that the next time you lower down the bucket it will come up filled with the clear, sustaining stuff of life.