I have long felt as if each day holds a particular gift, something out of the ordinary and surprising if I’m alert enough to recognize it. A few days ago, it was the first egret of the season, one lone white exclamation in a small swampy pond beside the roadway. Recently it was something I learned in Tai Chi practice that was a complete and unwelcome revelation. Always before I have thought that the more proficient you became at this endeavor, the quicker your movements. This seemed to be born out by the fact that my body felt less burdened by a more rapid pace and there were fewer interruptions in the transition from one position to the next. When a fellow practitioner told me that as you advance in this ancient discipline, the slower your movements should become, I didn’t want to hear it. Slowing down would challenge my balance; slowing down would disturb the supple gesturing I’d learned over time and become accustomed to; slowing down might prove to be painful for joints that seem to possess more strength when in swift continuous motion. I wasn’t about to accept this new notion without a great deal of thought.
It was in fact days before I realized that my gift from that particular day was the very idea that I’d resisted and that I have now come to see it as a metaphor for how to continue to lead a creative life as we age. Seen in this light, slowing down need not be a liability. It may indeed yield a more satisfying process and encourage a mature and deeper perspective on the work we do. It may foster the mindfulness we need to bring us to that state of flow that’s the goal and sanctuary of those who practice tai chi as well as any art form. Slowing down may indeed be a blessing.
For me there is always an element of excitement, a sweet kernel of possibility in a dark day. The fact that rain cheers me like almost nothing else is rooted in a time when, growing up in Southern California, there was no such thing as a snow day. With even a sprinkle on the horizon, however, we were treated to “rainy day session” and dismissed early to confound our mother’s schedules and make us feel uniquely privileged. Rain, on what was essentially an irrigated desert landscape, was my ally, my infrequent friend, something to give variety to a long stretch of sunny days and to draw me into myself and those places in my mind where imagination churned. Rain on our tile roof lulled me to sleep and cushioned my dreams.
We all have associations that stimulate our creative lives, and they are added to over time. The smell of oil paint and the sight of new brushes anchor me; I have a visceral reaction to the beauty of rock formations; I sometimes come home from a long walk with a fully formed poem prompted not only by the wonders of nature but also by an increase of oxygen to the brain.
Though I have long been aware of these prompts, how I respond to them at this time of my life is more considered and less spontaneous. For a while I tried to scale down my visual art so that it would be easier to frame and handle. After some stabs at that, however, I have returned to a larger format that feels more natural to me. If I work on one piece at a time instead of indulging my former habit of having a number of paintings in process at once, it now seems doable. In my literary life, I thought short stories might be the way to go. There, too, I have found that the longer form of the novel is still more appealing.
When I ask my interviewees the question “Are your energy and creativity linked?” I am really looking for an answer for myself. Can I be as creative on the limited scale that my present energy and space allow? Can the work be as fulfilling and the product as exciting. It will be different for each one of us, it may change from day to day, but solving these challenges is now part of the process.