Every weekday morning I walk up Wisconsin Avenue, where cars muscle to get downtown fastest, toward the school where hundreds of parents in suits and workout clothes are dropping off their kids. I walk past teenagers scream-running through red lights, and around the aisles of Target where I scan for a birthday present among banks of gleaming plastic.
Then I unlock my front door, eat breakfast standing up, and check messages that bubble and pop with appointments, orders, and unanswered questions that begin to burn at the edges of my mind.
It’s time to write, but when I sit down, it feels like someone has just shot a starting pistol.
How can we access imagination and creativity when we are tense? After dipping into city life, my mind observes all the people around me and then shouts: You should be doing that, or You should look like that, or You’re running out of time!
If I lived in the woods, I might not feel this background unease. But by simply walking through crowds of people, my internal critic is activated and I am convinced I must be a New York Times columnist to be anyone worth knowing. But the grasping to measure up shuts down exactly the playful state of mind that is essential to creativity.
A detox is required: some kind of separation — not just physical, but psychological.
I’ve begun to think of this space as the anteroom. It’s an intermediary place between the world of honking horns and headlines and the fantastical anything-goes realm of creative work.
Instead of plopping down to the desk and barging into the writing, which always results in self-conscious censoring, I have been giving myself permission to first get on the couch with a blanket and journal. Or into bed with a soothing book. Novelist Celeste Ng types up a favorite poem to get in the mood. Gertrude Stein used to drive around until she found cows or rocks to gaze at while writing.
Awareness of our fight-flight-freeze response is so important, because otherwise we might assume that we are the problem. When I know what hinders the creative flow, I suddenly have a lot of agency. I can now begin to find the antidote.
I recently listed things that make me feel good:
circles of friends
paper & fonts
warm things to drink
art supplies and art studios
In a gradual, semi-conscious way, my anteroom has begun to be lined with these things: circles of friends checking-in before we start writing together, kids’ markers toppling over the sides of my desk, meditating as a pre-writing ritual.
Our society has been fixated on criticism and competition as a way to success. I need a delicious vestibule where I can melt the jumpiness of our world before I enter the dreaminess of the next one.
How can you pad your creative foyer to muffle out the cantankerous world and create an atmosphere of warmth, ease, and possibility?