I’ve been gathering perspectives on creative expression for some time now, mostly unintentionally. There’s the college friend who had disdain for anyone who did not feel compelled to express themselves creatively on a regular basis. He considered creative expression the indication of an inner life and an inspired soul. Those who did not have that creative energy bursting from them, who did not have to find outlets for it, were probably not worth his time. While I have always been drawn to people who have creativity oozing from their pores, I never agreed that these are the only worthwhile people. If anything I have difficulty with those who are in a constant state of expression, since they tend (in my experience) to be somewhat oblivious to the needs of those around them. I don’t actually know anyone like this anymore, probably because our personality types just don’t mesh well and we don’t get beyond the first awkward conversation.
When the subject of creative expression comes up, I often find myself referring to an interview with Sting I heard on the radio. I can’t find it online anywhere, unfortunately, but I think it may have been a rebroadcast of an edition of Fresh Air from 1996. Anyway, a caller asks Sting when fans should expect him to release a new project, and Sting replies that he finds himself fluctuating between “input” and “output” in terms of creative process, and that he is currently in an “input” stage, so he has no way to tell when his next project will come to fruition.
This perspective appeals to me in part because it reflects the cyclical nature of humanity and of the Earth. I think of garlic and other bulbs that one can plant in autumn so that they will spend the cold months building their root systems, preparing for just the right time to burst forth and show themselves to the terrestrial world. Though I’m pretty much always observing and absorbing, there are periods when I find myself focusing on this part of the process more intensely, without much need for output. There are other times when I feel that itch to express and let it all flow out. It fluctuates with the seasons and the weather and with my own internal cycles.
The key for me is balance. I like Sting’s perspective because it acknowledges that it’s perfectly acceptable to find oneself in a state of little or no creative expression. We don’t need to berate ourselves every time we sit down to a blank piece of paper and nothing comes. Sometimes the right thing to do in those circumstances is to take a break from expression, embrace the input stage, and go looking for knowledge and inspiration from others or from the natural world.
Then again, I can let myself off the hook too easily at times, and I don’t want to use “input” as an excuse to be lazy. Like I said, balance.