Creatrix: She Who Makes is a book written and published by Lucy H. Pearce at the end of last year. I’m honoured to be one of the contributing women. Lucy had asked me to write some words about my relationship to creativity and I ended up writing the essay below, extracts of which are featured in her book, as well as the story of the synchronous and powerful creative connection between us both. Please do check out her inspiring work and continue on to read my words…
Trying to talk or write about creativity is almost impossible – I’m not sure there is a way to describe a process that is a kind of alchemy. Putting it into words is like trying to contain the uncontainable. Which, funnily enough, leads me to the paradoxical heart of why I have created up until this point; an attempt to create a container, to contain the uncontainable.
It has felt necessary and urgent to keep creating – my main form through song writing which I’ve done since I was a child. Even back then, at 9 years old I was obsessed with recording things, of documenting everything, I wanted to collate the different fragments of what I was seeing and making and have it down in some form of permanence. Many songs and demos and albums later I am still intent on doing that, and I continue to flow through different manifestations of wanting raw recordings of a moment, or working digitally to enhance the depth of something, of what it means to form a whole song, or a collection of different songs together.
It’s been a salvation for me. A fully formed song, and a recorded version of it, or a certain collection of songs together has created a container and a place to hold myself safe and given myself the space to have a voice and create some meaning and medicine. Where I have expressed and released myself, brought together fragments to make a whole, told stories, made sense of experiences, documented emotions and accessed wisdom that transmutes anything I can come to by any other means. I think a piece of art has the power to do that, pierce through to something other, on a cellular level, in the bones, in the soul, however we want to name it.
I primarily create for myself. Trying to write something I think others might want to hear has never gone well. I can only speak for myself, through the lense as I have lived it. It has to come from my own deeps, and if I can open honestly to whatever that is, in any given moment, they are often the songs that resonate most with others. Looking back, I realise I’ve often written songs that I needed to hear the wisdom of myself, but I wasn’t necessarily embodying. I knew it somewhere within me, birthed it into a form, to create the medicine that I need, a wisdom I can continue to walk into and keep becoming. That’s what I mean by creativity as alchemy. And it works in a spiral, in different ways over different times and that can be come back to at a different level or perspective. To have something in a form means a lifetime of access. And it’s why I hope I will always keep writing and recording in some way, even if no one else hears it. And, it is a whole new level, and the deepest privilege that something I create can reach out and touch another, become a medicine for another. It means so much to be able to contribute in this way. To see the way something that started as a fragment in me, can travel far and wide and get into the ears of someone I will never meet and resonate with their own soul. I love the exchange of it and I have to trust in it, because so much of what is put out, I never know where it goes – I write and sing into silence. That can be hard. Also exciting. It’s humbling and encouraging in the times when I hear where it does land and it keeps me going, keeps me mining my own depths and daring to bring something forth, to swap it all about with each other in our interconnected creative web, in the way I am resourced from other peoples art.
I think there was a great wisdom in my younger self to tap into this and I am so grateful that I did. And, as with anything, it has its gold and it has its shadow.
Essentially, I create to build a container, to contain the uncontainable, which has always felt necessary and urgent. First to collate fragments and then to transform them into a whole, a permanence. As I’ve said, a formed song, and especially a recorded version of it has given myself a place of holding, voice and expression. A process of gathering the bones and then breathing life into them. There is a certain alchemy to this. Of magic and medicine. Song writing has allowed me to access wisdom that bypasses my over-zealous brain and somehow transmutes the soul. I dive the depths and create the medicine I need, often before I really understand it or truly embody it. It’s an elixir of hope and healing. Birthing it into song form means I can continue to walk into it, to keep becoming, the medicine works deeper and deeper in a spiralling way, with new perspectives and resonance layering over time.
This lifetime of deep desire to form wholeness out of fragments is on one hand an endless gift of inspiration and energy. On the other it can also feel like endless pressure and panic. To try and capture every experience or moment and transmute it into a piece of art is overwhelming. To feel the need to say everything, all at the same time and in the most erudite way. To see a thousand tangles within and around me and a thousand stories waiting to be told. To see all the things that evoke emotion, inspire me, challenge me, all the things I want to desperately connect together. To try and weave all this, through the multiple dimensions I experience it in, into the two dimensions of words and then out again through the viscerality of music that transmutes back into multiple dimensions and senses… it can take its toll. It can create an implosion, it can create a freeze, and a sense of never being complete and there being no end to it or no point to it. The thousand fragments of writing and songs, all building up and the feeling that if I don’t grab on to it in that urgent now, then something will be lost. And that’s just the writing of the piece, before any physical recording process happens – which is a whole other story. I’m always working several projects ahead in my mind and not knowing where the resources will come to be able to achieve that.
Quite frankly, this sort of sensory overwhelm and pressure creates burn out and madness. This compulsion to weave fragments into wholeness, and to keep producing and sharing work – it’s been therapeutic, it’s been a way to manage myself and the way I experience the world, and it’s also been detrimental, urgent and all consuming. It hasn’t always felt like a choice, rather that I might die if I don’t do this, which is actually a totally unsustainable, unrealistic and unhealthy story to carry.
It stopped working for me and I needed to step back a couple of years ago – at the time when I was supposed to be promoting and touring with my crowdfunded album Meet You There – my proudest piece of work to date. I stepped back because I knew I needed to develop a new relationship with my creativity and find a more sustainable way to live both as an artist, and as a human. I cannot have my peace of mind dictated by all this or by what I produce or don’t produce. At the same time, it is vitally important to me, and I feel passionately about it and that’s part of the drive that has led me to create and I don’t want to lose that entirely. So much of the transformation process happens in the dark, so at the time of writing, it is as yet unknown what it might look like on the other side.
The question I am living is – is there a healthy space to reside in between the compulsion to create, the therapeutic nature of creative expression, the desire to share it and let it find people who will connect with it and dwelling within the music market. I’ve had times of being very public with my creative work and times of being intensely private. I am in a constant tussle with this and figuring out how to be with my own changing nature whilst sustaining a public artistic presence in the world with integrity. How to be with the permanence of putting something into form and into a public realm when I am a human being, mutating and learning all the time. How to be with the vulnerability of sharing soul work into a public realm where it can be both cherished and critiqued, met with celebration or silence. How to be with my sensitive self and navigate both my courage and my shame.
I have certainly stumbled many times with how to manage all this. For me, a red herring was believing the rhetoric of ‘if you do what you love you will manifest success/make a living from your art’ – that hasn’t been the reality and it has been an unhelpful destination to aim to and has spoilt the journey. When creativity is a life force, for me to rely on that to be my means of survival in the world has ironically ended up almost killing off the life force itself. I certainly got lost in trying to push my work ‘further out there’ into avenues and through ways that might garner more visibility but felt at odds with my intuition and boundaries. I got lost in how to value and believe in my work based on who else was valuing it or not. I got lost in the wilderness of recording studios and self promotion and social media and how exposing it was to share songs that came from my most vulnerable places.
The truth is, I believe I lack many of the components required to be a working artist! People have said to me that I need to grow a thicker skin if I am to be ‘in the music industry’ – but I know that if I did that I wouldn’t be able to write the songs I write. They come from the thin-ness of my skin, of perceiving and feeling the world in a certain way. At heart, I am simply a song-writer and then I am a recording artist. The other roles that go with it; marketing, promoting, performing are things I can do but are less natural. And I’d rather not be in ‘an industry’, an ‘industrial growth society’ with its unending need for progress and success meaning bigger and better. I’d rather stay independent and do as much as I can do within my specific circumstances and trust that my work connects to who it connects with.
I’m working on how to find a balance between creativity being a defining force in my world and it being all consuming. On achieving a balance between creating the amount of art that I feel capable of and that is flowing constantly, and how to earn a living whether it is through selling/performing or through other ways. I’m working on how to value my work and have it valued. I’m also working on how to find a balance between creating art myself and how to build more healthy models of creative community together. I’m interested in finding ways to share our creativity like we are inviting each other into our homes, our minds and souls to dwell there for a while and listen, rather than to critique or compete.
Though I am a perfectionist and anyone who has been in a studio with me knows that I have a clear vision and high standard for the product I want, more than anything, I am interested in process. Everything I do now is about trying to make it a sacred and safe one – because of the vulnerability of it, because of the thin-skin. It turns out money doesn’t buy compassion when working creatively with others and I have learnt that the hard way and will not walk those roads again. I will not see myself or others reduced during the process. I wish to create nurturing creative birth experiences, before, during and after; the composition and collation, the bringing it into form and the distribution and sharing. I am leaning more towards simplicity and rawness at present, in doing what we can with what we’ve got.
For whatever reason, this thread I follow, this creative force is in my DNA and I know will ebb and flow throughout my life. And so I work to find both a rootedness and a flexibility to be able to keep it moving. Because I don’t want to wait until the end of my life to share what I’ve made. I don’t want to live an uncreative life – I need it now and I need it to live. If I waited until I’ve arrived, I would never begin. If I waited until I’d gathered the wisdom of an elder, I would never learn. If I waited until I produced something of the perfection or wholeness I wanted, I would produce nothing. If I waited until I was thick-skinned and self-assured, I would be waiting forever. I want to see my whole life as a piece of art – that only at its end it can be viewed as complete, and likely not even then. I want to take the pressure off and view each piece of writing or song or whatever I speak or do as a one brush stroke in a greater painting. And maybe the ideas will dry up, maybe I lose the means, the space or time or desire to create, maybe it will morph into something else other than songs. I hope it will. I don’t want to stagnate.
In the meantime, it feels important to keep letting go, not being afraid of that, to not be motivated by fear and step back and not feel tied into running an endless treadmill or be another voice shouting into the cacophony of social media just for the sake of it. To devise a creative life that works for me, so that what is given out to the collective is coming from overflow not emptiness. And to let go of old paradigms. As with so much of life, it seems we have to spend it unpicking patriarchal and neoliberal narratives that we have been conditioned to see through and face the shadow of that rather than pretending it isn’t there. None of that is easy. Unpicking ingrained lessons of success or failure, of good and bad or beginnings and ends. To get away from the story that there is a right or wrong way to be creative or be an artist. Away from thinking that art is not valuable, or that its value must look a certain way. Away from individualistic thinking that we must say and do it all ourselves, or even that we must be original. No piece of art ever exists in its own orbit, nothing does: no human, nothing on this earth. We are interconnected, and woven from and into a billion other threads. Where I think we find our own unique piece, is telling our own story in some way – that is what I want to celebrate in myself and others.
It’s a privilege to have a channel for that. To write songs, make records. Like markers in the sand and windows to the soul. I love that I have contained myself at different times in every decade of my life so far and I get an insight and understanding into who I was and how I felt and what I thought in a way I could never access just through memory. Then I can learn forgiveness and compassion towards my past selves to inform the person I am now and who I want to be. The creativity is never done, just as my healing is never done. I create to keep becoming. I create because it helps me live. I create to document the process of living. I create for the healing and for what cannot be healed.
The only thing I know for sure is that life wants to grow, and creativity is life. Creativity is our birthright. It’s a way of being. Pushing up through the cracks, even in the harshest conditions. It keeps cycling round its different seasons, grows and blooms and dies and pushes up through the dirt again.
Extracts of this essay are published in ‘Creatrix: She Who Makes’ by Lucy H. Pearce. Buy it at https://shop.womancraftpublishing.com/Creatrix-p/cx.htm
Listen and buy my music here – eleanorbrown.bandcamp.com – support independent artists!