On creative surrender and recovery

Yesterday, after waking up from my evening slumber but still snuggling in my quilt, I asked my husband to make me Maggi, please. There’s something very comforting about having hot Maggi, soup style, especially on a wintry Delhi evening. He agreed, though fiddled with his new phone a bit before he proceeded to the kitchen.

I waited contentedly for my Maggi as I heard him puttering in the kitchen. Soon, he called out that he couldn’t find the tastemaker for the Masala Maggi. Now, what? It was Tuesday but I’ve been feeling increasingly ambivalent about the no-non vegetarian on Tuesday rule, that many Hindus follow and which I had voluntarily adopted a few years ago. I asked him to make the Chicken Maggi and waited in anticipation.

Soon he brought me my Maggi. It looked a bit different. I tasted it – definitely different. I felt an irritation creeping up in me, much like a small child, who doesn’t get what she wants. “Do you like it?” he asked. I semi-smiled and nodded. After all, I wasn’t a small child. “Let me taste,” he said and took my fork, curled up the noodles around the fork, and tasted.”It’s really good,” he said, delighted. “I added a little bit of black pepper and some soy sauce.” So that was it – that’s why Maggi didn’t taste like the Maggi I had imagined. I paused. And then, decided to embrace the moment. I closed my eyes and focused on tasting the Maggi. It was tangy because of the soy, with a hint of the pepper and the spices that came from the packet. As I let go of my expectation, I began to enjoy my experience.

I thought about my husband freewheeling in the kitchen, peering into the steel masala box, that houses all the spices, thinking about what variation to cook up.  Wasn’t this exactly what chefs do when they create food? Mix and match and freewheel? This was probably exactly what Nestle would do if they needed to come out with a new variant. Here was my husband being spontaneously creative, something I’ve been struggling with recently.

Others in my creative writing class seem so much more creative. They write about meeting God on Mars, ghosts in the hills of the north east, and wardens of girls hostels who are closet lesbians. I feel an awe and a wonder and fear I can’t imagine like that.

But what I learned from my husband’s experiment in the kitchen yesterday was that I need to stop trying to be creative, and just be creative. I’ve decided not to waste my creative energies wondering if my education has ruined my imagination. I’ve also decided it’s no use comparing myself with other writers, all made up of a sum of experiences very different from my own. It’s time for me to stop thinking about writing, or fantasizing about writing, or looking for the magic spell that will make me write exotic romances, whimsical kidlit, or nuanced non-fiction, depending on how I am feeling that day. I will write. That’s all. And I hope and trust that in the process of writing my creativity will flow.

As Brenda Ueland puts it:

Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes to us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness…You should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten –happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead after another.

Happy Writing!

Would love to hear how you are doing in your own writing journey!

(Note: I wrote this post about a year ago, when I had just started my writing and creative recovery journey. It’s nice to read it now, a year later, and see that I feel more more creative than I have for years. As I walk in the park in the morning, wisps of ideas float in my mind and I capture them in my little notebook that I carry with me. I am starting to see what Brenda means when she says “Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes to us slowly and quietly and all the time.”)


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Are You Listening Too Much of the Time?

communicationAs I wrote a while back, I’ve been working on my communication skills through Ramit Sethi’s “How to Talk to Anybody,” video training course. Although communication skills are so vital, it’s amazing that they’re never really “taught” at school.

With writers, a common problem is that we’re more comfortable expressing ourselves through the written word, with its backspace button that gives us comfort that we’re expressing exactly what we want to, as well as distance which helps us say what we want, without fear of how people may react. But we’re less comfortable expressing ourselves verbally. So, more often than not, we may spend more time observing and absorbing and assimilating – i.e., listening – than we do talking. The upside is that people often choose to talk to us, confide in us, and ask us for input. The downside is that we may not be heard because we’ve spent so much time listening.

As a natural listener, and (hopefully) an empathetic one, I’ve never had trouble listening to people. But Ramit Sethi’s course opened my eyes to a big issue in my communication: the fact that I was spending much more time listening that I was talking.

What happens in such a dynamic? Well, people end up leaving the conversation understanding very little about you! As I look back at years and years of conversations, I’m amazed at how I did not see the impact of this dynamic. I often asked lots of questions and listened carefully to what people had to say, so I knew a lot about them, and hence felt closer to them, than they knew about me or felt about me.

And yet, being known and being valued for our unique strengths, stories, and talents – apart from the fact that we’re good listeners! – is something that we all want.

Ramit’s solution? For every two questions you ask, make a statement.

And so I’ve started consciously to focus more on self-disclosure; to listen, but also to talk. And slowly but surely I can see the difference its making. Not only do I understand people around me, they’re beginning to understand me.

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Writing advice from the wise and witty Brenda Ueland

I love, love, love Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write A Book about Art, If You Want to WriteIndependence and Spirit,” a MUST read for those looking to rediscover their lost creativity. Here are some of my favorite learnings  from the book.

Our innate creativity is often destroyed by the time we reach adulthood.

It (our creativity) is very tender and sensitive, and it is usually drummed out of people early in life by criticism (so-called “helpful criticism” is often the worst kind), by teasing, jeering, rules, prissy teachers, critics, and all those unloving people who forget that the letter killeth and the spirit giveth life. Sometimes I think of life as a process where everybody is discouraging and taking everybody else a peg or two.

Brenda urges us to keep this spark alive, because:

..it is life itself. It is the Spirit. In fact it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears.

So, how do we keep it alive?

By using it, by letting it out, by giving some time to it. But if we are women we think it is more important to wipe noses and carry doilies than to write or to play the piano. And men spend their lives adding and subtracting and dictating letters when they secretly long to write sonnets and play the violin and burst into tears at the sunset.

But what urges us to write, to paint, to create?

One of the intrinsic rewards for writing the sonnet was that then the nobleman knew and understood his own feelings better, and he knew more about what love was, what part of his feelings were bogus (literary) and what real, and what a beautiful thing the English or the Italian language was…

And one of the most important intrinsic rewards is the stretched understanding, the illumination…you will never know what your  husband looks like unless you try to draw him, and you will never understand him unless you try and write his story.

So, how can we release the poet hidden in us, or bring to the surface the tune that is caught in our throat? Brenda talks about the right way to work:

I learned from them that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it a kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly, and quietly, and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten–happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead after another.

In our creative endeavors, Brenda urges us to:

Be careless, reckless! Be a lion! Be a pirate! When You Write

And yet, fear often keeps us from being a lion.

It is because of the critics, the doubters (in the outer world and within ourselves) that we have such hesitance when we write…

As I write this I many times have had the chilling feeling come around my heart because of the thought: “What if it may not be true? People will say I am crazy. Where is my logic? I haven’t a Ph.D. in philosophy or psychology.”

She shares how she moved past this fear herself:

A few years ago I would not have dared say anything in this book without looking up long, corroborating passages in big books: “William James says,” etc., etc.

I believe now in speaking from myself, as I want you to do when you write. Don’t keep marshaling thoughts like “I must prove it.”

You don’t have to prove it by citing specific examples, by comparing and all. If it is true to you, it is true. Another truth may take place later. What comes truly from me is true, whether anybody believes it or not. It is my truth.

If there are so many difficulties involved in reclaiming our creativity and then moving past our fears to express ourselves, the question arises: why do we do it?

Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold, and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others.

“If you want to write” will inspire you, will support you, will nurture you as you look inside yourself and try to find the fanciful little girl who lived in you, who thought that a orange tree would grow out from her mouth if she swallowed some seeds. Or maybe the little boy who thought that once he dropped the letter in the post box it traveled through winding tunnels and it would fly out the other end, just where his grandma lived. That little boy or little girl still lives somewhere deep inside of us: they’re calling out for us to find them.

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