Yesterday, I drove to Raleigh with my friend Joanna. Joanna is many things, but mostly, she is a quirky, quizzical, inspirational individual who makes art and cares about many things and many people. She’s also a fantastic passenger for someone who hadn’t driven on a highway in two years.
We had lunch at Joanna’s house, which had knickknacks of many sorts, two dogs, a cat named Cricket, and trees with stories behind them in the backyard. Mrs. Patterson served us homemade mac & cheese, homemade blueberry muffins, warm vegetables, and three kinds of Christmas cookies that we had to promise we wouldn’t tell anyone we were allowed to taste early. (This is me not telling anyone.)
It was so nice being in a home again – it’s been a while. I love exploring my friends’ families’ homes, meeting parents, petting pets, and being exposed to things I have never seen before – like egg weighing machines.
After lunch, we set off for the North Carolina Undergraduate Research Creativity Symposium – yes, it’s a mouthful, and no, the acronym is not much better. I presented my thesis at the conference in the afternoon, and it was a success!
But here’s the secret: although the purpose of our trip to Raleigh was for me to present at this conference, the best part of the day happened later on.
Joanna and I explored Raleigh in the early evening, stopping at a coffee shop and an art gallery. Inside the gallery, there was a large fort or installation of some kind. Go ahead and lie down in it, the owner said to me. Ready to kick my heels off for a little, I obliged. I crawled inside and was immediately quieted by the cozy darkness. I laid my head on one of the pillows and smiled, already feeling myself relax inside this unexpected cocoon. Overhead and outside the fort, a water heater was dripping steadily, and I imagined I was on the bottom of a rain forest, enveloped in a dark canopy.
Needless to say, I got lost in that small window of uninterrupted peace. When it was time to go, Joanna and I drove to Ornamentea, the jewelry/art/bead shop she works at when she’s home.
Inside, I found a book of solid gold. Called Creative is a Verb by Patti Digh, this lovely, colorful, collage of a book was full of quotes and bits of writing and images that I’m sure speaks to anyone who is even the slightest bit drawn to creativity and what it means to create. I plopped myself down at a little table, pulled out my Moleskin, and started getting inspired.
I have trouble calling myself a writer. And I imagine some artists have trouble calling themselves artists. It’s not because I am afraid of attaching another label to myself or afraid of any stigmas that are associated with such a title – it’s simply because I think I will always be learning how to write in certain ways, or the best that I can, or in what capacities. I am a student of writing — nothing more, nothing less. I own that title, and I own the fact that I am a creative being; in fact, we all are. We probably never even need to go so far as calling ourselves Writers or Potters or Underwater Basket Weavers or Artists. We are all, simply, frustratingly, wonderfully, Creative Beings. How about that?
Joseph Pearce said this:
When we are not sure, we are alive. But it’s hard to let go of certainties, to be messy, to aim to be confused, to get lost more often. And as someone who loves to analyze anything and everything, it’s often hard for me to separate creating from analyzing when I’m writing and realize they are, and demand to be, two different processes. And when I stop trying and I “just do to do,” sometimes good things come out of those uninhibited places. Sometimes, I’m able to forget about determining what a piece I’m writing is going to look like or what category it is going to fit in until I experience the actual writing of it. And more often than not, detaching from outcome allows for messiness and hot chaos and from that space, that rawness, comes art.
Patti’s book offered bits of wise advice: Whenever possible, eat breakfast on a lake. Never interrupt a child when a child is speaking to you. Always take the train. And her words and images reminded me that sometimes, just being passionate and curious is enough – you don’t have to be great at something for it to be good; you just have to care enough to do it in the first place.
Being patient and still is a huge part of this. I am fully convinced that, for the most part, most of us move through life at such a speed that we miss huge amounts of life happening all around us. I think it’s important to find opportunities for stillness everyday – while driving, while on a swing, while praying, while by a fire. Rushing is not conducive to patience, and impatience is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness. As Maya Angelou put it, “You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” So true. And it reminds me so much of Ghana – I see Ghana in everything these days.
Being immersed in this book and shop that nudged and screamed and begged for creative minds and openness really lit me up. I loved my conference and I am so passionate about my research, but yesterday, I was reminded why embracing my creative side is so important. It can be fun to break rules sometimes, to allow something other than calendars and cell phones and lists of things to do to direct our days and determine how, when, and where we do things.
So, today, I wanted to make something. And I did. I am writing this from a fort in the corner of my bedroom. I have draped four pieces of beautiful fabric – each the size of a sheet – from Ghana over my desk, desk chair, and side of my bed, and am curled up inside. I’ve got a comfy reading pillow, a little light, and notebooks. It’s past midnight on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I’m surrounded by places I love and places I miss, my window is open and I am reminded of just how much I have to be thankful for. Today, building a fort was my outlet. I am on the floor of my bedroom but am also so not, and this is important. This is me making something. This is creating.
Actually, this whole weekend has been about creating. On Friday night, Maggie and I hosted the 2nd annual “Create the Night” in our apartment. We sent out artistic invitations, we bought cheese and crackers and M&Ms, we brewed coffee from the shop I work at, and violá: a coffehouse/art gallery/open mic night of sharing and art and enjoyment for all.
We held this event last year with the goal of giving those who do not usually preform or display art or read poetry or give puppet shows in public a space and environment to do so. It goes back to the idea that we are all creative beings, but our creativity is so often stifled or suppressed or just not given a chance to get out there. Just like last year, this year we had a lot of folks who don’t usually do so draw a piece of art or contribute photographs or play or read. It was a magnificent night of creating.