The first time

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Do you remember what it’s like to experience the world for the first time?  As writers and artists, it’s our job to help people to see the world in a different way.  At our best, we throw light on a part of experience that wows someone, gives them a moment of epiphany, encourages them to appreciate the beauty (or sometimes the ugliness) of the world in a way they’ve never experienced it.  We seek ways to describe things as they have never been described before.  We pay attention to the look, feel, taste and sound of things in a way that others don’t.  But as we go about our daily lives, how often do we view the world as though it’s our first time?

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Recently, my one-year-old dog met a horse for the first time.  I can only imagine what he thought as this enormous, strange-looking creature walked towards him.  As they first made contact, they sniffed one another gently, as though there was nothing curious about the situation.  Perhaps my dog thought it was just another kind of canine that he’d never come across before.  Or maybe there was something in the smell of the horse that made him realise this was something else altogether.  How would you describe a horse if it was something you never knew existed before you met one?  Would you explore it, as my dog did, with sight, smell, touch, until you had a concept of the animal in your mind?  How would you then put your experience into words, or describe it on canvas?

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Recently, my dog paddled in the sea for the first time.  He walked reluctantly into the water, lifting his legs awkwardly as he experienced the soft sand beneath his feet and the gentle pull of the tide.  He stood very still, not quite sure what to do now he was in the water and, despite encouragement, he certainly didn’t want to go any deeper.  Water has always been part of his life, but usually contained within a drinking bowl.  I wonder what he made of this water that went on as far as he could see and strangely, tasted nothing like the water he was used to drinking.  What would you do if you walked into the sea for the first time, never knowing it existed before you were in it?  Would you stand still, as my dog did, surveying the scene and exploring it by smell and taste until you could begin to understand what it might be?

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Recently, my dog travelled on a bus for the first time.  He climbed onto this odd-looking vehicle, that perhaps seemed just like a big room loaded with people, and it began to move.  When he climbed off, he was in a completely different place to where he’d begun, despite not walking anywhere.  How would you describe travelling on a bus, a metro, in a car, having never experienced it before?  How would you begin to understand the concept that it’s possible to travel from one place to another with no effort?

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Recently, my dog experienced thunder for the first time.  A huge storm rolled in, with mammoth claps of thunder immediately over the house.  He was unbothered by it, took it in his stride.  But I wonder what he must have been thinking about this enormous noise coming out of nowhere.  What if you didn’t know that thunder existed?  What stories would you invent to account for the phenomenon?  Would you be afraid, transfixed, awed?

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We forget what it’s like to experience things for the first time.  Life goes on and despite the odd chink of beauty, it’s easy to forget how mysterious and wonderful the world is.  To experience the power of a thunderstorm and not know what it is.  To meet a new creature for the first time.  To experience the limitless water of the sea, which is so different to the tamed water that comes out of the tap.  To start in one place and end up in another, without using your feet.  The world must be a baffling, astonishing place for my dog.  And if we want to be truly great at writing, at art, we must hold onto that sense of mystery, that feeling of awe.  Whether we’re describing the world around us, or describing a character in a certain situation, it can only help us to imagine that we’re seeing it for the first time.   To step back and forget that this is something we’ve seen before, done before and attempt to describe it as though it’s something we don’t know or understand.

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Living with a puppy has made me appreciate the world anew and consider how I begin to look at the way I create, literally, with fresh eyes.  How do you make sure you remember the mystery and wonder of the world as though you were seeing it for the first time?

Ages of creativity

I recently celebrated a birthday and it prompted me to consider how creativity changes as we age.  Many witches use the idea of the triple goddess to represent the phases of the moon and the different stages in women’s lives.   The ‘maiden’ aspect is youth, independence, freedom, adventure, wildness and new beginnings.  The ‘crone’ is old age, wisdom, knowledge, experience and compassion.  Currently, I’m in the middle, or ‘mother’ phase of my life.  I’m not a mother in the traditional sense, but the meaning of the ‘mother’ goddess is about much more than having children.  It’s a time of full maturity, fertility and creativity, of shaping ideas into action and nourishing them to fruition.  The ‘mother’ goddess is emotionally, spiritually and physically powerful and fulfilled.

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When I was in the ‘maiden’ phase of my life, I had an abundance of ideas, endless inspiration and spent large periods of time creating things.  My ideas were undoubtedly quite narrow and lacking in depth, but what I did have was time and space in my head to create.  I had limited responsibilities, lots of time outside school and university and fewer worries to occupy my thoughts.  There was time for exploration and experimentation, but I didn’t have the life experience or breadth of vision to really take advantage of that.

Although we explore as young people, our exploration is often limited.  In trying to find out who we are, we can become fixated on being part of this or that group, only listening to ‘cool’ music or subscribing to inflexible ideas.  We can also become trapped by the labels we’re given, by what our parents and our peers think we should be.  It’s a brave young person who can truly explore without limits.  Youth often lacks confidence and this was certainly true of me.  Though I recognised I was good at art and I suspected I might be good at writing, I had little sense of confidence in myself, let alone in what I created.

SAMSUNG CSCI’m amazed by the sheer brash confidence many of the teenagers I watch on talent shows these days have: they ‘know’ they have talent and they ‘know’ that they deserve to get a break.  I wonder how much time I wasted not having that confidence and how my life would be different if I’d had it.  Would I now be the successful writer / artist I want to be?  But then, without the life experiences that I can now draw on in my work, my creativity would be something different, and perhaps something shallower, than it is.

Knowing what I know now, if I could give advice to my ‘maiden’ self, I would say take full advantage of the time and freedom you have to explore in your creative life.  Try not to be limited by labels or by what you think you should create.  It doesn’t matter if you fail in what you’re trying to produce, because you have time to begin again and again.

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In the ‘mother’ phase of my life, I have many responsibilities and much less time.  It can sometimes feel as though the time for exploration is over, that I will never have the same freedom for adventure that I once had.  But I have so many life experiences to harvest.  I’ve been exposed to the inspiration of so many other people’s creativity.  The number and range of ideas I have (or can have) is just as abundant – the difference is that, I don’t always have the time and head space to incubate them.  But my ideas now have more depth.  I can consider other points of view without worrying about fitting in.  I don’t think ageing always increases confidence – experience can just as easily grind it down.  But I now have much more confidence in myself as a person than I did when I was young and I definitely have more confidence in my creativity.

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I’ve found that the ‘mother’ phase can be a difficult one, filled with hard work and not always a clear reward.  It’s the point in our lives when, if we’re fortunate, we’re building a career, a family, a home.  We’re preparing the groundwork for the security we hope to enjoy in later life, but we can become so wrapped up in building, that we forget to carry on creating.  It’s the time when we often forget to do all of the things that make us feel most fulfilled.  So, while in theory we should be at our most creative and most alive, in my experience it can often be one of the least productive phases of our creative lives.

For me, these have been the difficult lessons of the ‘mother’ phase. But I know now what the important things in my life should be.  I may forget them sometimes, and I may still get bogged down in day to day responsibilities, but I’ve realised that it’s not too late to explore.  While I’d still like the freedom and the time to experiment more, I’ve never been more creative than I am now.  I hope to spend the remaining years of my ‘motherhood’ on a new creative adventure, forging a strong verbal and visual voice to carry with me well into the wisdom of crone-hood.

Which creative phase of your life are you in?  How has your creativity changed as you’ve got older?