Creativity/Serendipity Tag

Living creatively is an invitation to walk through the world with eyes open to wonder. There is a quality of presence, of being in the moment, which ushers in a way of looking, unhindered by too much thinking. Whenever I travel to somewhere new, I put on this way of seeing like invisible glasses. But I also try to remain open to looking with my ‘travelling eyes’ in my every day places.

The serendipity of light, weather, season, and other chance encounters give endless variations to my daily walking route, and the kaleidoscope of natural patterns. To see like this is a commitment to curiosity. I urge myself to notice and follow the energy that is alive for me in everything. ‘Where is the juice in this subject, this conversation, or in the dance between us?’

I find a leaf, an insect, a feather, a puddle, examine the details with ‘mouse view’. Here sit droplets of water on a pigeon feather. Vast elements encapsulated in feather, grass, rain and light – air, earth, water and fire. Here lies beauty and simplicity.

Advertising plays on Mimetic Theory, (the impulse and consequences of envy), to tap into our desire for what someone else has. We are sold images and ideals of perfection that are unrealistic. Our role models: family members, media images, cultural leaders, TV heroes, teachers, and friends on social media in-still standards to aspire to, that we internalise.

“In the absence of adequate rites of passage, ad-men become the high priests of an initiation into the addictions of consumerism”, Marion Woodman warns in ‘The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation.’ Failing to measure up to these ideals causes shame and erodes our sense of self-worth.

Until I was 29, I sucked up magazine images, fed my fantasy life, was a ghost in the world. I developed a longing to become as wise as the Dalai Lama, while mining my creative potential like Frida Kahlo. In fact, I have had to lower my standards and to be content with being my ordinary self.

Letting go of my grandiose expectations of myself is painful, over and over again. I make mistakes, get things wrong, and despite my longing to be perfect, I never am. Like the Japanese art of ‘Kintsugi’, I am learning to celebrate my cracks, to make their scars visible, rather than hidden. My experience comes from this process of break and repair.

Embracing incompetency in creative work makes it more relatable. “The good thing about incompetency is it makes other people feel less shame”, says Tony Gammidge. Tony encourages my journey of making images that includes mistakes and the serendipity of accident. I notice that welcoming the probability of getting things wrong makes space for collaboration, and opens up possibilities. Increasingly surrounded by slick digital images, I yearn for the rustic simplicity of hand-made objects, with all their imperfections, made by real people, full of flaws.

My summer usually includes working and playing at several festivals. Long weekends under canvas bring me happiness. The effort of gathering all the paraphernalia for comfortable, dry nights includes digging wellies out of the cellar, rummaging at the bottom of my wardrobe for sequin hot-pants, fishing tents out of the attic, and then playing packing ‘Tetris’.

My reward is sitting on a sheepskin, kettle on the boil, looking out at trees in a field of tents. This is a pre-requisite for shaking off my city shell. Festivals mean diving into an environment where creativity is celebrated; including music, dancing, and having fun with people. But this is 2020, during a pandemic, and things are different.

At the Medicine Festival, it feels special to be able to gather. ‘HELLO’ this bright orange tent announces, welcoming us back into some semblance of festival culture. There are canopies, beautiful installations, shamanic drums, onesies, but no hugs in sight. Dancing happens in my individual portion of field. My extrovert stays at home, while my introvert tries to navigate the socially distanced crowd. Seeing friends and familiar faces at arms length is both a joy, and an impediment. Instead of becoming wild and feral, I use hand sanitizer at regular intervals.

The programme, despite holes, (a consequence of indigenous participants remaining in other places), is still full. We follow a random trajectory through ceremony with some of the ‘Wisdom Keepers’, talks, performances, and workshops, via skinny-dipping in the lake. We connect with the very alive woodland, shared intentions, live music and each-other in hands off ways.

We admire the clouds in Victoria Park. They are worthy of John Constable’s paintbrush. With my ‘Romanticist’ eye, I see Tony and Monique, standing heroic against the tumultuous sky. We three share a love of words.

“Most of my students use too many adjectives,” says Monique. I wonder how to find the words that might describe this bold scene with pithy nouns and verbs. Writers stand in sunlight. Wordsmiths walk under a dark cloud. Friends look for change.

From our different perspectives, we search for words that expand our conversation, avoid those that close down communication. We discuss the tensions, which spring up from assumptions, judgements, and lack of information or imagination. How do we find the right words, use skilful speech, embrace complexity, debate with nuance? Can we encourage ways to reflect our experiences to increase our ability to understand one another?

“Everyone is broadcasting. I’m seeing what comes when I listen,” Julie says, in one of our characteristically candid conversations. I like to think of my time, energy and expression in terms of ‘input’ and ‘output’. I try to find a balance. There are times to speak out, to be heard, and there are times to receive. However, what I heard in Julie’s words is a more provocative enquiry. What happens when I listen more deeply? How can I sit with what’s uncomfortable in me enough to hear the other fully? How can I tune in to the voice of the unheard? What happens when I make space to listen to the unknown? At home I listen to a muffled city scape of footsteps, distant shouts, rumbles of passing cars, and fragments of electronic beats. Out on the marshes, I listen to birdsong, weather and the rustle of leaves. I open my ears to inspiration that blows in on the wind, and the energies of the land.

‘Norton Grim and Me 2019’ is a short, animated film about Tony Gammidge’s experience of being sent to boarding school. The film portrays strong emotional content with visceral images. It is also beautiful. Stark shadow puppets, plasticine figures, haunting photographs and quirky drawings weave together to illuminate his dark tale. He is one of the people who adds their perspective in ‘Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears’ by Suzanne Zeedyk. Tony Gammidge invites us to find our own stories, to use creative expression as a way into healing. He brings his own grief, and trauma as raw materials to be transmuted. Inspired by Thomas Ogden’s work, Tony says, “To make art works from these events is not just about making sense of something, though this is important but also compensating for the loss, making something worthwhile and beautiful that in part makes up for it.” By watching the film, we bear witness to both his grief and its processing. “The film that charts his journey is not, then, just a re-telling of his childhood. It is a re-making of that childhood.”  With Tony’s encouragement I am fashioning my own characters to animate, out of wire armature and plasticine.
‘Norton Grim and Me’ by Tony Gammidge.

As an only child, I struggled to learn the rules of play. My games were often solitary imaginings of ‘house’, dolls being ‘mothered’ my way. Eventually I developed impulses to create – ‘Spirogyro’ patterns, badly spelled poems and an illustrated story about ‘My Aunt’. Dexter has always been more hands on. He introduced me to his games of make-believe, where he imagined, dressed up, and we acted out his devisings with him. “You be the shark, and now you fight me…” From an early age, he would suggest costume ideas, “fun-fur patchwork hoody?”, which I would procure. His eyes blazed then, as they do now, with fierce intensity as he conjured up worlds to escape into. He taught me to play, helped me to bring forth some of my reticence to get involved. We are still playing together. “It’s going to be a story, where I get messier and messier. I’ll wear my pink fluffy jacket. Can you find me a table cloth?” Each of us has a part to play. We all revel with delight, in the creative process, and it’s fun. I source the yoghurt.

I am curious about this time of review, re-evaluate, retreat. It seems that for those whose work is absolutely necessary, there is a new respect. For many others, normal activity has been suspended and something different is taking place. At odds with the surge of growth that is happening outside, I am held back from the usual outpourings of social energy, of being out in the world. Instead, I am tending to new seeds. For me, this darkness is the compost for creative ideas to germinate. I am feeding my soil with the conditions for learning. I am taking in good food, wise words, sunshine and water. Alongside, I watch Dexter growing into a DJ. Named for this expression of rhythm and joy, he becomes more self-assured as he plays. He takes particular pleasure in sourcing tunes that will make us wiggle. We dance as he streams music out into the ether. What are you incubating?

We gathered, the damp and determined, in an upstairs room at the Roebuck in SE1 on a rainy Wednesday night. It was not so long ago, in a different era. We went to hear Emma Purshouse and Steve Pottinger. Also known as two out of three ‘Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists’. Love and loss are currency for the grist of poets. They notice the small changes and gestures that show love like Pottinger’s ‘Impulse’, or Purshouse’s love letter, ‘Wolverhampton – a Winning City’. They both speak passionately about change. Be heartened by Pottinger’s letter to Café Nero. Emma Purshouse brings her irreverent eyes to the back waters and cul-de-sacs of town. She stands to read, as though recently uncrumpled from the sofa. She is astute, wrapped in humility plus woolly hat. I want to hug her. Her wit is sharp enough to hide in the spaces between words. Her voice lingers, leaving a sigh after her dead-pan face has left the room. If you need cheering up, or fancy a trip to the everyday life of the Black Country, there’s stuff to read, watch, and some silliness on-line.

At the (not mentioned in our Lonely Planet) temple, we find heaven and hell. Ten kilometres or so outside the city of Da Lat is a fabulous Buddhist temple complex. It takes the ancient traditional art form of mosaic making, and uses it artfully to decorate the concrete structure. (Breton is the Vietnamese word for concrete, borrowed from French. It is used liberally in every context from city to farm, as the nation expands and grows upwards.) The curved surfaces of broken china – often with delicate roses or tableware – are tessellated into patterns to form brightly coloured three-dimensional dragons, demons, clouds and birds. It is a wonderful visual feast. Buddhas are halloed by neon mandorlas. There are giant bells to ring and plastic welcome mats. In typical Vietnamese fashion, there are street food sellers, shops selling elaborate Tolkein-esque furniture, huge marble statues, communist party posters and corners for mops and detritus. Under the giant Buddha covered in dried flowers there is a gift shop selling marble knick-knacks where an unexpected opening leads to a visual representation of the ‘hell realms’. I am not a Buddhist scholar, so my understanding is limited, but these realms represent metaphorical states of mind created by ordinary human suffering. In turn, the causes of suffering are generally covered by hatred, greed or ignorance/delusion. In this context I get the impression this is a more literal hellish representation of the torture that follows vices of the flesh. Theology aside, the display is a ghoulish romp through the underworld. Demons torture souls, skeletons eyes bulge with red lights. It is a spooky feast of horrific delights that is designed to make even the virtuous squeal.