I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, even though it often takes hindsight to recognise, and I tend to look at life’s lessons as building blocks upon which to create our next chapter.
We have reached the time of year I affectionately refer to as silly season – the hectic run of Jewish Festivals which make the month concertina in on itself. Coinciding with a different window in the Gregorian calendar each year and ensuring a run of consecutive broken weeks, it is a little disruptive and a lot disorientating.
That said, it is a period I cherish for so many reasons, its cultural building blocks forming such a key part of the foundations of my identity. It offers a return to tradition, family time in abundance, spiritual interludes and far too much food. This year, the family time seems much more precious than ever before and the togetherness needs to be held that little bit tighter.
Something I have only really come to appreciate about the festivals as I have got older, is that they force me to press the underused pause button, making time for quiet reflection.
Being a deep thinker, it is not that I need an excuse to dwell on things or get lost in contemplation. At calendar landmarks, though, I ponder even more intensely. I can’t help but evaluate everything and often find myself creating mental checklists to compare with previous milestones of the same name. Have I achieved the goals I set myself this time last year? Did I do better? Am I happier? Are my aspirations more within reach?
I could go on…
Musings of old
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be reading one of my old blog posts – The Dreaded Block – from September 2017. As the title suggests, I was emerging from a particularly rampant bout of writer’s block when I wrote the post. So much so, that I had felt entirely creatively blocked for the whole summer.
Forcing myself to sit and write about the experience of feeling stuck proved to be a cathartic process for me. I was able to identify several causes, all of which seemed perfectly justifiable, therefore validating the reasons for my static interlude, so eventually enabling me to move on.
As you may have noticed, for me, validation is often essential. Yet not in the way you might expect.
I don’t seek approval from others. I am perfectly fine with people taking a dislike to work I produce or performances I showcase. Criticism is part and parcel of working creatively and I learnt to swallow all feedback – constructive or otherwise – with grace at a very young age.
When it comes to myself and my inherent flaws, however, I have far less readiness to accept. If I am on a go-slow as I call it, I become immediately impatient, berating myself for not being faster or more on the ball. When I struggle to focus because of medication fog or the haze of fatigue, I get frustrated in a second, calling myself all manner of unmentionable names. Should I ever have a day when the drugs don’t work (to quote an anthem from my youth) and the pain won’t subside, do you imagine I ever permit myself to curl up on the sofa with the wheat bag?
I think we all know the answer to that one.
Looking back over the thoughts I penned four years ago was interesting for me. I wrote about showing myself some understanding, thus supporting my reasons for being blocked, then allowing myself to pause until I was ready to knock the dreaded block out of my path altogether.
I would love to say I have carried those lessons forward and continued working on this path of self-improvement, but I promised my blog would always be honest.
That is not to say that all my past musings were in vain; there is a lot to be learned from my reflections of years gone by.
Reflecting on the old post highlighted for me how I used to translate bad days as feeling blocked. I used to use these blockages to fuel negative thought and switch off my inspiration – entering a closed mind state. Of course it became a self-fulfilling prophecy where I would tell myself I was unable to do anything, make anything, write anything, create anything until the block passed.
I pondered what constituted creative block, questioning its existence as a tangible thing. I wondered whether it might be something which manifests only as a reflection of my own mental state, feeding on the fear and anticipation of its presence and born from an anxiety that it might occur.
In this way, it is easy to see how quickly we can spiral. Simply thinking about being blocked used to be a sure-fire route to diagnosing terminal creative block…
Within minutes, I could once upon a time have convinced myself to hang up my hat and retire.
Others’ building blocks
I shared this last time, and it is no less brilliant (or relevant) now, so I will share it again. Some years ago, John Cleese gave a talk on Creativity in Management, during which he explicitly stated his belief that creativity comes down to the way we approach life – with a closed mind or an open mind.
Last year, Cleese put all his pearls of creative wisdom into a book titled Creativity – A Short And Cheerful Guide, which will certainly be going on my Chanukah present hint list this year. (Miles, are you reading this?)
In it, amongst anecdotes from his impressive career, he gives handy hints on how to approach life more creatively, even offering his own tried and tested remedies for when he hits the metaphorical brick wall I’ve been wittering about.
My own thoughts
Following his principal of creativity as a way of being rather than a skill, while Cleese insists that it is something people can learn to be, I take it to mean my creativity is not something I could ever lose. We don’t suddenly become something different. Talents and skills may diminish, but who we are remains the same.
By my own logic, I am a creative individual and I always will be, unless I enter a closed mind state, sabotage myself completely and choose to shut myself off to the possibility of creative magic occurring.
In other words, surely I am in control of any creative blocks I may once have feared. I can think them out of existence just as rapidly as I manufacture them.
These days, I find it easier to trust the inspiration. I trust my creativity to make something of it. I make myself do what Cleese advocates and play with it, even when my creative channels aren’t running as freely as I’d like. In that way, I seem to be able to do exactly what I thought I couldn’t do four years ago – I avoid the block. Or maybe I see it and simply choose to sidestep it.
I have come to the understanding that one blocked channel does not a blocked artist make. If I am struggling to see progress on one project because I am on a go-slow or swamped by brain fog, or perhaps for some reason I can’t identify, I no longer diagnose total creative block. Instead, I just pin that project for another day and move swiftly onto something else.
The beauty of constantly having lots of irons in the fire means there is always something else I can tackle, thus sidestepping the block. I know I will return to the original channel tomorrow and see if the signal is stronger and the static fuzz clears. And, if it doesn’t, these days, I’m okay with saying I feel sure that next week it will.
Maybe that’s it. Creative block will always exist, even if it is only in the mind. Maybe I will never really be able to dodge the block; perhaps nobody can. In which case, I might as well accept that it exists without worrying that it will take over and define every day to come. I could even try to add it to the other building blocks in my toy box.
And suddenly it sounds a lot like my attitude to Crohn’s Disease – I accept it, I acknowledge its impact, I recognise the limitations it imposes but still I never let it define me. See, I told you there were lessons to be learnt.