Some people have those exhilarating dreams where they lift their arms away from their body and discover, to their amazement, that they can fly. They hover inches off the ground - or soar gloriously from a hilltop - and psychologists would tell us that this is a dream that speaks of power. In that deep psychic moment, the dreamer is reveling in their own strength, wondering at their new skill, fully accepting of the gift of flight. It seems the subconscious recognizes power even if the superego does not. I don’t have those kinds of dreams anymore.
My dreams are frustrating and elusive. I’m met with literal closed doors and faceless people slipping around corners before I can discover their identity. Lately, I find myself waking up with a melody fragment evaporating as I struggle toward consciousness. In my dreams, the melody I’ve created is always the most heartbreakingly beautiful motif ever heard. If I could only remember it when I wake up, the earth would shake, empires would crumble. But more often than not, as I scrabble to find a pencil in the dark, what is revealed is either mundane or already gone. Or worse, my id has dreamed up a song written and recorded 40 years ago. So what’s an artist to do when it appears as though inspiration has gone out for a pack of cigarettes and there’s no telling when or if it’ll return?
I’ve always been fascinated by process. What are the ways in which we create? What are the rituals we ascribe for ourselves to bring about some special voodoo that will lead us to that divine inspiration? For some, it’s a carefully planned work space complete with specific tools or “inspiration” boards. Others follow a strict schedule of writing each day at a specific time, with planned coffee and email breaks. I’ve always been more of a “seat of your pants” kind of girl. With one exception;
Back when I first began writing I did what many creative people were doing in the early 90s; I journaled my Morning Pages, slogging through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I didn’t find too much that was helpful in that book. After working my way past crippling perfectionism, weeding out the “crazy makers” in my life, and taking myself out on cheap dates, I was left to plumb the depths of my own lackluster creativity all alone. Like any artist eventually learns they must do. And I devised my own secret ritual.
I sit at the piano bench, belly button centered on middle C. My eyes are closed, head bowed low, and I will myself to relax. I picture a crystal clear river, swiftly flowing and icy cold. In the river are all the notes ever written, every chord ever imagined, every rhythmic possibility. They’re all swimming there like silvery trout, just waiting to be scooped up. Nothing could be easier. The melody I want is already written - it’s just there floating by- and all I have to do is reach into the water and take it out. But just like my dreams, the notes keep escaping my grasp. The net I’ve envisioned is full of holes and won’t hold anything. If I can’t take to the air and I can’t take to the water, where else do I go to reclaim my magic power? And then I remind myself; the river holds all I need and it is bountiful and limitless. And this is a ritual of my own making, after all, so I repair my net and wait until the next wave comes by. With a deep breath, I plunge into the glacial river up to my shoulder and hope the frigid waters don’t wake me up too soon.