When you make something, anything, the assumption is that you must always be active, that you must always be building, creating or moving forward. But what if one day you wake up and there is nothing…blank…a vacuum?
A disaster we think. A plague of despair. A block of epic proportions. I am being dramatic, but really I have actually felt all of those things when I have found myself, as we re all bound to do, dead in the water…creatively.
But sometimes, when we are at our most still, our most empty, our most bereft, magic happens.
It’s okay, even essential, to leave our work, to close our computer and walk alway and do something else. Water the plants, feed the chickens, walk the dogs, read a book, do some laundry, surf the net, clean the house, call a friend, cuddle the cat, clean out the car, shower. I have quite literally done all these things instead of work on my project and those of you who know me best can attest to that, or have even I inspired other ways not listed here to avoid the inevitable conclusion of…nothingness.
But over the years I have stopped blaming myself. I have stopped fighting it and I have allowed myself to “hover.” Like a ball tossed in the air, at that magic point between the rise and the fall, where miracles happen, the hover can be the most creative place in the universe…if you allow it.
Let me give you an example, a recent one. I’ve had a few distractions from the creative path recently. I’ve been recovering from a pretty major operation, struggling a bit with general existence, money, etc. I’ve been feeling a bit lost, unsure, regretful even and all this does not bode well for my creative font.
But lately, instead of feeling even worse because of the lull, I have begun to embrace it. I have allowed myself to languish and to lollygag even, with the understanding that my brain needs to stop sometimes. It’s like when you can’t for the life of you remember someone's name and you try and try until your eyes bug out of your head and still there is nothing. And then you stop trying, days go by and suddenly, in the middle of something totally “else,” it comes to you. ”Bob” you cry out in the middle of a play, or at the bank or at a petting zoo with your grandkids, and the peace of it floods your entirety and the awkward stares from those around you become meaningless within your bliss.
That's the creative “hover.” And I think it’s a necessary and completely brilliant part of a journey of making something. Sure you can be all amazing and just plough through your script, inventing and twisting and turning your way along, thinking how clever you are and how easy it all is. But I bet you a beer that what you end up with is a bit more disappointing than you thought it would be, a bit vapid, a bit too…you know, “great.”
Who wants great when you can have excruciating, or painful, or stubbornly wrought from your very soul? Who would settle for “great” without the grunt, the sweat and the days, weeks, months of paralyzingly, mystifying, grinding blank?
Michelangelo was once asked what he was doing after he had spent a couple of weeks standing in front of a large block of marble…just looking at it. His answer was “I’m working,” but of course he said it in Italian.
I do that, not in front of a block of marble, of course, usually it’s feeding the chickens or cleaning up after my messy family or folding laundry or yes, cuddling the cat. I use this seemingly “fallow” time to feel my way into my story, my characters and to the new world, I am creating in a slow and not particularly steady, silent stream of unconscious doodles. I imagine and project and mix away, half the time without even being conscious of it. But this has become an absolutely crucial creative state for me to be in. And when I am finished with my stupor I find that what emerges has far more vitality and vision than something I might have worked away on for weeks, writing it and editing it and cutting and spinning it around.
I suppose it all depends on how you work, but that in and of itself can vary from thing to thing anyway. I’m just saying that feeling lost and not sure and generally stuck can sometimes be exactly what you need, as long as you can let all that doubt go and just relax into it.
That hovering, between the rise and the fall, when the sunlight glints off the air around you and everything seems to be holding its breath, that is where the magic lives and you can only invite that magic in if you reach that critical point. Taking the risk of doing nothing can be an impossible ask, but if you can trust yourself the rewards can be breathtaking.
Next month I will be directing “The Women in Red,” one of three films based on Female Comic Book Heroines from the 40s, all action, smart talk and fabulous gams. So I’ll have no time for my signature “idle,” which is very exciting…