The world is a noisy place, full of car horns, ambulance sirens, voicemails, and endless chatter. Some people thrive on the chatter; for me, too much information makes my brain hurt. I cultivate places of stillness in my life where walls of silence keep the chatter at bay. Without those walls, the creative parts of me suffer.
I freely admit to being a creative soul who gets lost in this world of noise. Some of that noise is useful. It teaches me to manage my finances, cook healthier meals, or improve my marriage. It teaches me to be a better writer, a better thinker, a better person. And some of that noise is just blah blah blah—a stream of negativity or useless gibber-gabber meant to make us buy something, vote for someone, or so on. Sometimes even those feminist listserv emails full of dire warnings about the relentless war on women’s rights exhaust me. Not that I don’t want to stand up for people’s rights. But that I need to get away long enough to have some fight in me.
In other words, I’m learning to take a hike and get a life. Over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly goal driven. Grade these papers. Write this article. Edit this copy. Meet today’s word-count goal. I didn’t just have information overload. I had goal overload. Too many goals; not enough time. My brain hurt. In order to nurture my creative self, I stepped back. My body hurt. I took time to listen to it and take care of my physical health—the antidote to my previous “sleep when you’re dead” mentality.
The creative self isn’t the list-maker, the left-brained editor. She doesn’t care what’s been done before, what’s forbidden, what’s in the rulebook, what’s not. She explores uncharted territory. She has the key to the forbidden room. She unlocks the door. She, as one poet wrote, plants “posies on the hob stones of hell.” The creative self is interested in potential, the unexplained, the ineffable. So for her sake, I took a hike.
Literally. In pursuit of a stunning waterfall, a trek five-six miles roundtrip. Not exactly a walk around the block, but nothing that involved scrambling over boulders or climbing up the sides of mountains.
At first, left brain reminded me of all the rules: You’ve been sick. Take it easy. Don’t push yourself too hard. Are you sure you should be doing this? I’m not sure you can do this. Maybe you should go home and take a nap. Yes, a nap.
But cool water charged down the mountain in the creek that runs parallel to the trail. The weather wasn’t too hot or too cold, but just right. My husband, who’s been dabbling for years in 3-D graphics and game design, studied the trees with the methodical eye of an artist. As he told me how he would create a forest in the 3-D world of game design, he made me think about my own stories, how I’d sort of left them hanging, how I wasn’t sure where to go next. Secretly, I’d been afraid that the muses weren’t ever going to return my calls. I’d reached a crossroads and then fog made the paths unclear.
We hiked past the main waterfall, where people slip and slide across the rocks, tiptoe on fallen logs lying across the creek, and swim in deep pools of icy water. Further along the trail, we looked down on another falls and across the water into the forest beyond. It reminded me of faerie country, the sort of place where faeries emerge to beguile or make deals with wandering mortals. It was the sort of place where stories are born, and I could feel the creative self buzzing with possibilities.
So I took a hike and learned to cultivate quiet in my life. I’m learning that I need to step out to that place every day, to the edge of the forest, past the place crowded with hikers to where the stories dwell.
Because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the stories sleep, curled up like a dozing faerie child against the roots of a giant tree.
What about you? How do you cultivate places for creativity in this busy world?