Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stillness and Creativity

It's my favorite time of year, otherwise known as Christmas Vacation, or to be more inclusive: Winter Break. It's that long sought-after moment of reprieve that seems like a figment of the imagination in September. It's the oasis, the mirage we work towards. For so many teachers (myself included), it is a moment to catch our breath, refuel, decompress, unwind. Finally, we get to put our red pens down and step away from those essays we've been grading non-stop for fifteen weeks. We get to emerge from our classrooms and mingle with the real world. In between holidays and all they require, we get to read books, watch bad television, catch up on the lives of those we love, and sleep in.

I now have 40 days ahead of me to fill with whatever I chose. I feel incredibly blessed to have been allowed this time between semesters to reflect. Sure, there are a handful of must-do's. For one, I must finish a writing a novel that's due to my editor by the month's end. There's a pile of paperwork sitting on my kitchen table that is shouting for my attention. There are presents to buy, wrap, and ship. Christmas cards to send.

But there's also stillness.

My friend and colleague Helena Kriel.
I'm very fortunate to have many creative people in my life, mostly fellow writers. Some are colleagues and friends. Last May in a lecture hall in Louisville, Kentucky in the middle of a 10-day MFA creative writing residency at which I mentor students in playwriting, screenwriting, and writing for children and young adults, I was transformed. One of my colleagues, the brilliant Helena Kriel shared with a roomful of writers the importance of stillness and creativity - and the beautiful connection between the two.

To say my life is in a constant state of movement is an understatement. It is rare for me to take time off, go on a vacation, retreat from the world. It is often impossible to escape from the many commitments and obligations I have. My mind never shuts off. As a professional writer, I work with seven publishing companies, often on a daily basis. As a teacher, I instruct courses in writing, literature, and the arts at three (sometimes four) colleges. Add in home life, family, and friends and there's not much left in terms of time. It is not uncommon for my inbox to be filled with over a hundred emails a day. My phone beeps and buzzes from sunup to sundown. Engaging in social media is a requirement to stay relevant in an already crowded marketplace. My world spins on an axis of constant activity. Sure, there's a part of me that likes it - even thrives on it. Otherwise, I wouldn't publish my work and share it with the public. But as the years keep changing, I'm starting to feel the fatigue more and more. The fear of burning out is a real one for me. Call it the curse of the overachievers.

I was awakened by Helena's words last May. They were the reminder I needed about the importance of quiet, solitude, stillness. As she spoke, I knew she was providing me with the perfect prescription for the feeling of being overwhelmed by my own life. In order to continue to create new work at the same level and pace I have been, I know I needed to stop and breathe. I needed to refuel. Otherwise, I would end up resenting the life and careers I had worked so hard to create.

So, that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Stillness.

It might last a day. Maybe a week. Perhaps longer. I'm going to take a personal retreat - a staycation as they call it - and focus on (and enjoy) the solitude.

Tomorrow morning, I have a few business matters that require my attention. Once those are finished, I'm going to shut my virtual door and take a much-needed break.

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