At a New Year’s Eve get-together, some creative friends were enjoying the early evening hanging-around-the-kitchen-with-wine hour. Our host shared some stories about her and my former workplace, and before you click away, let me assure you it was creative gossip about two famous, influential writers. They had both revealed to my friend something about how their creative minds worked in the daily world, and since I’m pondering that, no identities. But go ahead and guess, O fiction fans.
The organization we worked for provided short courses for adults in everything from languages to cooking to rollerblading, and it also hosted writers for appearances and workshop weekends. My friend’s job description put much of the logistics of these events on her shoulders. Let’s call the two visiting artists Creative Mind 1 and Creative Mind 2.
Full disclosure for blog justice: CM1 broke their contract without warning halfway through the weekend, and I am aware of later events in our fair city where CM1 made large, gratuitous difficulties for those who invited them. CM1 seems to have been nestled into a rarefied life by academia, where they operate undisturbed on strict routines that others of us might find monastic or stifling. The daily life seems designed to serve the Art. As the saying goes, you do you; I’m sure many artists work this way for successful results, and CM1 sure has those. (I only judge CM1 for how miserable they made my friend that weekend, as if their needs were the only ones of value. I settle for using the silly nickname we have called CM1 since then.)
CM1 told my friend that, flight delayed, they stood a long time in a long airport line. So they pulled out writing supplies and began notes for a new work. In the full experience of CM1 that weekend, my friend found this choice insular, as if they wrapped a layer of writing around themselves like plastic wrap in that unfortunate situation. That limbo moment was a chance to disengage from the world. That is how some artists get it done.
Again, disclosure: CM2 was friendly and obliging, and that counts for a lot when you’re coordinating a big event and are surrounded by responsibilities and drooling groupies.
CM2 was waiting to speak to an audience where our organization was then housed, a Gilded Age mansion in Boston, donated in the early 20th for that purpose. (I mean, it had a ballroom.) CM2 was waiting in a small, beautifully paneled room that had been the Gentleman’s study. They looked around and eagerly called my friend’s attention to the old wires bordering the glass inside the window frames. Recognizing it as a Gilded Age burglar alarm, CM2 was excited and exclaimed that it must be one of the earliest alarm systems, and how utterly cool. They were fascinated, and in this limbo moment, wholly engaged with a new thing to offer their attention. That’s how some artists get it done.
I would prefer a creative mind like CM2’s. I can be easily, even too, curious in any given moment and easily, even too, enthusiastic about new things to explore. I like CM2’s relationship with the world, although it can present challenges. Overload and scattering of attention does not always serve the work you want to do.
I’m also aware that I was doing exactly what CM1 did at the airport when I was drafting this piece, in the middle of an unpleasant, stressful period of waiting limbo of my own. Was I upholding my practice or retreating into it? When is being driven either inward or outward healthy and when not? What is the balance? How does objective success in one’s art, and one’s behavior to others, affect how we judge creative habits and what it means to have a Creative Mind?
There’s no conclusion here. I still find CM2’s mode richer, more appealing, and more natural to me. But I’m asking myself many questions about different forms of discipline, practice, routine, openness to the world as it comes, balance, and how best to support my well-being and creativity. Conversation welcome!