When It Clicks

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.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Creative Courage

When I invited my friend Paul to contribute a post on creativity to the blog, he responded, “Just one? I can write more…” That’s one of the things I have long appreciated about Paul: he is generous. Generous in creativity, in friendship, in spirit. Paul kicked off the 2016 Create Challenge with a heartfelt post about The (Wounded) Artist, and today he continues to show us how to move forward with courage.

Create Challenge #27: Paul Quinlivan

A little over a year ago my wife and I bought our first home. It is a wonderful starter home for us with a huge yard, fireplace, functional kitchen, in a developing neighborhood and, most importantly, in our price range. In this place we will lay down some needed roots and welcome nourishment it will bring.

One of the many quirks of the house, however, is a main bathroom with a window that faces out toward the street. Normally it wouldn’t bother me too much except for the fact that said window is in our shower with the glass starting a little over waist high. The window is not entirely see-through, though it is not entirely opaque either. It’s a busy enough street. Not that big a deal for me, but my wife…well…she asked me to do something about it.

For months now I have been working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I was only diligent in my morning pages for the first few weeks and my artist dates never really took off as she intended, but the work and conversation was stimulating. Something within me came alive with the desire to create and to learn a particular craft. Often I feel so inadequate to do something artistic because I don’t know the technique, or have the specific tools, or know anyone who does. The anxiety behind the risk of being vulnerable feels so great that it’s crippling. It often leaves me stunned and powerless to move.

But this time was different. I felt like I had the courage to move, so I put the desire to create and the need in my home together and signed up for a stain glass making class. It was a birthday present really. A gift to my right brained, creative child hiding within.

I have yet to begin work on the final piece that will protect us from curious onlookers on the street, but here are the simple pieces I have crafted so far. The class as a whole is a funny experience. In my early thirties I am the youngest person in the studio by at least twenty years and the only one with ‘Y’ chromosome, but it has been fun. I now know and understand the basics to create any sort of stain glass pieces and will in all likelihood continue the craft in the future.PQ mtn 1 PQ mtn PQ sun

pq2Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer, Teacher, and Pastor are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife, almost 3-month-old son, and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist in private practice and instructor at a graduate school helping to train future prophetic therapists, pastors, and artists.

The (Wounded) Artist

Create Challenge Guest Post #1 – woo hoo!

I am so excited to devote Wednesdays on this blog to create a platform for friends wide and far, from every arena of my life, to share their perspective on and experience of creativity. And I am a big fan of today’s guest post author, Paul Quinlivan, as I’ve been cheering him on since he was in junior high. He held Teen when he was, ahem, teeny, and he was one of the first to hold newborn Tween when he arrived home from the hospital. Guy performed the ceremony in which Paul married his beloved, and these days their arms and hearts are full-up with their own beautiful boy-bundle. Paul’s one smart, thoughtful guy, and today he shares with us a vulnerable story to which I’m sure most of us will be able to relate.

Without further ado, please welcome Paul Quinlivan!

Like many young boys I was prone to doodling, you know, stick figures of our family dog, or the pretty girl who sat next to me in Mrs. Gauthier’s 2nd grade class. I filled the margins of my composition books while teachers attempted to fill my mind with the finer points of grammar or mathematics. As my imagination evolved so did my art. Sketches of soccer players transformed into beach scenes which morphed into surfers on waves. I imagine I am not the only person who has found themselves mind-surfing across the page. My drawings were by no means “good” art, as if one could put value judgments on works by an 8-year-old, but they were creations of the heart.

Super heroes consistently graced my pages. I was obsessed with the idea that characters could be blessed with powers that enabled them to step outside of the realm of possibility and wrestle with those who would threaten hope. I lived in comic books and Saturday morning cartoons.

My imagination also produced its own heroes. One character I created was a man with a square head, a combed-over Mohawk, a cape, and a giant “BM” on his chest: “Block Man,” protector of the universe (contrary to what may have been your first guess). A hero so strong and fierce and good and moral and literally block-headed, all evil fled from his presence. He was my imagination’s amalgamation of all the heroes I admired.

My father’s friend had a son who truly had an artistic gift and would often draw elaborate life-like sketches of his favorite heroes. One day as the two men talked about how this son might cultivate his talent, I looked at them with longing as I said, “I can draw, too. Look, I call him Block Man.”

With sadness on his face my father replied, “You do not have a single artistic bone in your body.”

His horrific remark raced through my body, mind and soul, wounding so deep. Did he not see my Block Man sketches? Sure, they would never end up in the Louvre or even the county fair, but were they not still art? When measured against his friend’s son I paled in comparison. I felt ruined.

When we arrived home I went straight to my room and trashed all my drawings. Out went the heroes and beach scenes. Out went the crayons, pastels, charcoal, and watercolor kit. I did not pick up an artist’s tools for years, and each time I did the wound stung as I heard the words echo, the message always the same: I could not possibly be an artist.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. I have always been an athlete, creating feats of art with my body’s movement and my teammates around me. But he most definitely wasn’t right. Let me be clear: my father meant no harm and spoke what he believed to be truth, that I would never become a professional artist. Intent, however, does not change impact.

I am not alone in having a wounded artistic child. As humans, we bear the consequences of a long-ago broken relationship that opened the door for hurt and trauma and well-intentioned words that cut to the core. Many of us feel shamed by the culture of comparison, the pressure to live up to some impossible and invisible standard. Maybe, like me, you hear the echo of words spoken by a family member, coach, teacher, pastor, friend, or bully. Each of us has our own story of betrayal and faces that go with it.

Each of us has also been created to create. In the beginning, humankind was commissioned to “be fruitful and multiply,” or to create. When we create we move closer to the One who created all, to fulfilling our purpose for being. For most of us this will require finding a way to embrace our inner artist’s woundedness. We need to share our stories of betrayal and harm with those in community who can hold our pain and help us to (re)create and to again pick up our pens, paints, cameras, or clay.

My challenge for you is to tend to your wounded artist and once again embrace the younger you who had a vibrant imagination and a longing to allow it to run wild.

Godspeed in your recovery.pq1

Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer, Teacher, and Pastor are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife, almost 3-month-old son, and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist in private practice and instructor at a graduate school helping to train future prophetic therapists, pastors, and artists.pq2