Once while on a writing retreat, under the canopy of a star-studded night sky, I had a spontaneous heart to heart conversation with a writer who worked by day as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She confessed: she felt guilty for leaving her partner alone with their child for a whole week while she ran away to Tuscany to write her heart out. She also confessed: she’d been desperate for it.
I knew exactly what she meant. When I first started taking myself seriously as a writer and creative, I remember having an overwhelming feeling of being constantly cramped. The more time I spent scribbling alone in solitude, the more constricted I felt in the waking world. It took me a long time but with the perspective only distance and time can bring, I now understand much more about those particular, panging aches. The practice of writing had revealed an entire universe inside me that had been there all along. Discovering my creative self was both liberating and overwhelming -- where to put it all? I didn’t yet know how (and still work hard) to straddle the living world and the writing world.
Most writers and creatives I know grapple with the same dilemmas: How to live vibrant, authentic lives that are true to who we are both on and off the page? And how do we go back and forth between the two with grace?
Space and time seem to be the best, most obvious solutions. But it isn't easy.
For the first time in nearly a decade, I finally have a physical space in which I can work. The back bedroom of our one-hundred and sixty year-old Victorian house with its quirky, odd wallpaper complete with its repeating pattern of pink birds and butterflies is dedicated solely (or almost) to my writing and creating. I have a long desk with a warm lamp on it and a bookshelf in the corner, my shrine to inspiration. There's a large window that looks out over the tops of the bushes where birds like to perch, making for great daydreaming entertainment. My writing room is almost perfect. There’s only one caveat. It's located directly underneath the attic. Which means that when we find something that’s taking up space in the house and decide it needs to be put up in the attic, where does it inevitably go? You guessed it. No matter how much I try to keep this space clear, reserved for creating only, the world and its contents have a way of creeping in.
If I’ve learned anything since committing to living a creative life, it’s that writing -- and creating in general -- requires all kinds of space. Physical space, psychic space, emotional space, and that’s just the beginning of it. For those of us who write, our stories, their characters and the lives they lead also need space. It is our responsibility as custodians of these fragile, imaginary worlds, to protect, preserve and sustain them so they can go on to lead touching lives without us one day. It’s also our responsibility to ourselves to see to it that our creative life is actually cultivated so that our work can be accomplished and executed, not stagnating as a pipe dream or forever in waiting on a virtual bucket list. If we diligently work to make space for our creative life in our regular lives, we don't have to pit our creative selves in competition with other equally important priorities in our regular life. But again, this is tricky. And, this too, is the work.
To non-creatives, a week away to reflect or write might sound like a guise, an excuse, an unnecessary frill. But as my writer/nurse friend and I stood there in the stark shadows of tall cypress trees cast in luminous moonlight, we shared a powerful knowing, a sacred understanding. There is an abundance that comes flooding forth when you make space for the creative self and all those ideas, thoughts, emotions and material. We creatives must make room for all the universes we contain. Where it's lacking or yet to exist, like everything else, it’s up to us to create it.
Interested in making space for your creative self?
Come to our Cultivating Contentment Retreat in the Alps, August 8-14. Residency and non-residency options available. Registration ends March 25th.
Join us October 11-17, Writing Tuscany. Sign up before March 31st and receive a €100 discount. Registration ends May 1, 2020.