January 17th, 2007

Creativity and the Emotional State

Recently I have come to realize something — or rather, the possibility of something. I came to realize it through a succession of indicators being brought to my attention and a subsequent curiosity about their correlation. I have noticed a number of intimations lately about the connection between creativity and the emotional state. The most pronounced and detailed has been in the book I am currently reading, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, by Tony Schwartz. Schwartz wrote this book about his journey seeking enlightenment in America, specifically through the practices and approaches used by spiritual professionals in this country. He has worked as a journalist by trade, so the book so far provides much detail about the different areas Schwartz sought to encounter and his experiences within them. It has on a few occasions seemed uncanny to me how the certain part of the book I am reading seems to correspond with something occurring in my life at that moment.

Last night I began the chapter on Betty Edwards and the field of study on the right brain and left brain hemispheres. I have not gotten very far, but I have encountered some basic ideas about the two hemispheres of the brain. My knowledge thereof before beginning the chapter was pretty limited to the cursory notions I remember learning briefly sometime in school: the left side houses the logical, analytical orientations, the right side the creative and intuitive, to put it very very broadly. It is mentioned in the book that some have proposed that it is more advantageous in general to function in one or the other, a notion I admit I discard immediately. Betty Edwards, after whom the chapter is titled, postulates that the ideal is to develop the capacity to access and utilize whichever hemisphere contains the capacity that most serves at any given moment. That resonates with me.

As the description of the two hemispheres continues, it is contended that our culture tends to nurture and encourage the functionality of the left hemisphere of the brain over the right. Consequently, it is maintained, people often find it difficult to access and operate from the right side — if the analytical tendencies and rational preconceptions of the left side are active, it literally takes up room and attention needed for the right side to utilize its capacities. I then read that sometimes, therefore, it is difficult to access the creative force within us when the left side of the brain is in control.

If this is indeed the case, it answered an almost lifelong question for me.

And that is, how can it be that this thing that I love to do more than almost anything else, this thing that captured my passion in my single digit ages and has shown no signs of letting it go since, this activity that takes me somewhere almost nothing else does and brings from me things almost nothing else has, how can this phenomenon, writing, be something I at times so steadfastly avoid?

I have been writing since I was seven. It was probably about that time, actually, that I started to label myself a “writer,” which I have referred to myself as ever since. Writing has always compelled and captivated me, and there have been times throughout my life when I find myself in a state of what it strikes me to call right now “writer-ness,” when it is truly what I am doing and I don’t know what time it is and I don’t know if I’m hungry or if I have laundry to take care of or if the phone rings or what the character I’m writing will do next, because it’s really not up to me, it’s up to that character, and I’m just here to put his or her life into physical words. At those times, I feel like I am “resurfacing” when I reorient to my practical surroundings, and the natural high that seems to ensue from those episodes can last for hours or even days.

And other times, I will think, “Maybe I should go write,” in the back of my head, and some kind of vague resistance will emerge in me, and almost without even realizing it I will instantly find something else I should be doing or that needs to be taken care of. I will write later.

Why? Why, why, why on earth would that happen? It has baffled me for years.

Given my basic understanding of the two hemispheres of the brain, I concluded a number of years ago that I have spent most of my waking life oriented through the left side. The analytical, logical side, the one that doesn’t deal with feelings and is more than happy to rationalize them away if they manage to make it through the incredible mechanism of repression so strengthened throughout many years of my life.*

So if I (or I should say if my personality) harbors a fear of feelings, which it indeed does, then it makes sense to me that venturing into the entire realm of the right side of the brain may elicit fear. Once there, who knows what I will encounter? And yes, it may be the space that holds this magical process of writing that has captivated me for more than two decades, but it also a place where unanticipated things may be presented, and control, then, may be lost.**

So I don’t write. Or even if I sit down to, I feel something in me is blocked, something is not allowing access to that place. I am restless. I look at my characters as if I am in charge of them, as if it is up to me to decide what they do and then make them do it. As if the settings in their lives are things I think of, and then describe the way I want the reader to see them. I recognize when I am in that place. And I recognize the difference in my writing. I would not characterize the result in a complimentary way.

When something in me does give in, when my state somehow shifts, that’s when it happens. That’s when I know I’m writing. That’s when it’s there, I’m just the vehicle, I am recording as if through observation the lives of the characters I am having the privilege to bring to the page. They go places that I see inside me, places I can imagine long after I’ve left the computer, as I’m driving, eating, walking, I see them. I am not telling anyone what they look like. I am sharing them as I view them, as my characters encounter them.

In order to do that, do I have to go somewhere inside me that, on some level, really scares me? Perhaps that is why, despite my unadulterated love for that which I do, which is write, sometimes, I don’t.

Love and support for all souls,
Emerald

*Ah, yes, what an easy way to deal with the messiness of feelings…and oh, my, does it have its price. Feelings cannot be gotten rid of. It simply isn’t possible, no matter how much the mind might be convinced that they may. Feelings may only be processed, and following that, they are released or transformed.

**Control is an illusion. And one worth working on eliminating the attachment to.

“The process of making art is a process of confronting oneself . . . . In some ways it is like meditation. Art involves a confrontation with oneself that can be surprisingly uncomfortable.”
Roderick MacIver

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