Just under five years ago, my father died, after a very long and difficult illness. For over fifteen years his body had been gradually giving up organ by organ, until the final surgery was one battle too many for him to survive.
He told us, before going in that last time, he wouldn’t fight any more.
The morning of his death I had planned to experiment with a personal writing marathon of six hours. It was to be the longest time by far I’d just sat down, me and the words, and write without distraction for 360 minutes.
The marathon was due to start at 7 am. At about a quarter to six I had a call to say my father had had complications in the operating theatre and passed away in the early hours of the morning.
I decided to write anyway, because I wanted to honour my promise to undertake the marathon, and because I didn’t know what else to do.
And so I sat and outpoured thousands of words over the next six hours, and completed my writing challenge.
Reading this so far, you might assume that my thousands of words would be about my dad, and all the good times I remember while growing up.
But they weren’t at all.
I wrote a large chunk of a novel in progress that needed such a focused session to make a breakthrough with the story and some of the characters.
That writing session helped me no end to channel my emotion and accept my father’s death. It didn’t need to be about him. It didn’t need to be about me. I just needed to show up to the keys and write what came.
I just needed to set free what was waiting to be heard, in whatever form it took.
Our creativity is a constant friend. It’s always there.
Yes, we might not create in the same ways and the same amount each day.
But we can always create at a moment’s notice. Even if it’s just taking a pencil and making marks on a scrap of paper.
The marks themselves aren’t so important. Sometimes it’s simply about us getting our hands moving, and providing that channel, that outlet for our creativity to flow through. Then, if we trust in it, if we keep moving, everything else falls into place. We say exactly what we need to.
It feels sometimes like our creativity is a life raft in a torrid river.
Whatever rapids we come across, as long as we stay in our little yellow life raft, we’ll get through ok. But we do need to stay in the life raft. We need to keep creating, to keep showing up and offering what we have, giving ourselves permission to express, to flow.
You’ve most likely had loss, tragedy and bereavement in your own life. Maybe you used your creativity to help you through it too.
You don’t have to create some masterwork to honour the life of the loved one lost. Although you might, soon after, six months after, six years after.
But in the immediate aftermath, and every day beyond, you just need to let your creative mind (and your creative hands) have the space and the opportunity to move, to express the emotions.
An even greater bereavement would be to lose your creativity too, to not give it a chance, to see it shrivel up and decay inside you.
When you keep creating through whatever your life brings – the most glorious joys and the darkest sorrows – you then start to realise that maybe your creativity is more than that little yellow life raft bobbing up and down in the tumultuous river.
Your creativity is the river, with all its tumbling turns and ebbs and flows.
Whether the water is crashing and raging, or the surface looks almost perfectly still, whether it’s as narrow as your wrist or wider than your eyes can see, that river – your creativity – must always flow.
The only way to make this happen is to always be ready. Ready not to create incredible work every single time necessarily, but ready to give your creativity – to give yourself – the freedom and the opportunity to flow, to channel all you have.
To keep your evolving. To keep you afloat.
In its simplest form, all this means is showing up regularly with your imagination, a pencil and a sketchbook. Draw, write, scratch, carve, trickle and pour what comes. It will always come, in some form or other.
Find the river. Become the flow.
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