College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…
re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan
There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.
At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.
I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.
Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.
I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.
For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.