thoughts on things

How to create a little mental white space

How to create a little mental white space

I’ve had a life-long struggle with art.  I can’t draw; in elementary school, the little crayon-people I drew resembled stemmed triangles with heads (still do, come to think of it).  A few years ago, I sketched our black cat.  My son (9) reviewed my work and told me my werewolf was OK, but that I should keep practicing.

But drawing’s not my real struggle.  I’ve long since made peace with the list of creative areas in which I suck I’m a perpetual novice.  It’s the areas in which I have a modicum of artistic talent that give me the most trouble.  More specifically, it’s the sharing of said art that’s difficult.

Last weekend I strolled around a local art fair, in awe of the lovely pieces on display, but what really perplexed me was how the artists just stood there and let people see them and their creations.  Maybe they sold; maybe they didn’t.  Maybe they received positive criticism, maybe not.  They put themselves out there, in imminent danger of judgment and rejection.

I just… *shudder*  I can barely press the “Publish” button without breaking out in hives.

But really, what’s the point of creating art if it won’t be shared?  I often hear the whole, “I’m just doing this for me” argument.  But I call bunk.  We create because we have something to say; a message to launch into the world, whether it’s in the form of a song or clay mug or a light-and-steel installation.

In my first PR class, I learned that, “The message is the message received.”  If that’s true, then when we create art and don’t share it, we’re just talking to ourselves. Or maybe, if no one receives our message, then it doesn’t exist at all.  Whoah.


My point is that, for many of us, something within us obstructs the path between creative ideas and fruition.  In Julia Cameron’s bestselling book The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, I found a profoundly useful creative prescription I thought I’d share.

She calls them Morning Pages.  In essence, they are a three-page, long-hand, stream-of-conscious brain dump.  Sit down, open notebook and go.  Whatever floats into your mind, whether it’s the drip in the bathroom faucet, or an idea for the next Great American Novel, or how the light hits the trees outside your window, or how you’re sure you’ll never amount to anything, you fill the pages.  Why?  Cameron gives her own reasons, and they are good ones, but here are my top two:

To Create Mental White Space
By dumping the contents of my brain onto the page, I’m making room for fresh ideas.  I’m clearing out the cobwebs.  I’m literally purging my thoughts and getting the unnecessary ones out and onto the page and into the light of day where I can see them, address them if needed, and forget them.  Caveat: At first, this process can seem like an episode of Hoarders is airing in your subconscious.  I’ve heard.

To Hamstring the Censor
I can take on my inner critic – and win.  In the movie 8 Mile, Eminem’s character, aware of his rap-battle opponents plan to dig up his skeletons and use them against him, thwarts them by first rapping about them himself.  Paradoxically, by exposing his flaws, fears and failures to open air, he suffocates them, renders them powerless.  When we write down our doubts, we simultaneously silence them. It’s mental Akido and endlessly cathartic.

Meditation is great, too, but perhaps my own inner life is particularly unruly; for me, getting things down on paper feels tangible and productive.  Truly, I can’t point you to any scientific research that confirms brain-dumping enhances one’s creative life; I can only tell you that, when I commit to these daily Morning Pages, I feel…lighter, spiritually exfoliated, if you will.

Whether or not we choose to admit it, we all have hopes and dreams, pasts and scars we carry with us. Morning pages give us a private, simple (but not necessarily easy) means to begin to smooth things out.   Whatever your path, I’d encourage you to try it.  For the cost of a notebook and 15 minutes a day, what can it hurt?

Photo via Visualhunt

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