Thursday, September 11, 2014

Creativity ~ Part I: Imagination

Creativity: An 8-Part Series

By Kristy McCaffrey

When I was in the final stages of completing my third book, The Sparrow, I had a strong sense of cultivation, as if I were gardening. As I strove to refine the story and add more details that would, hopefully, enliven the tale more deeply, I could literally feel the soft, sweet, moist earth fall through my fingers as I scooped it up and packed it into the world I'd created. In moments like these, the creative life fully connects with ordinary reality. It's why painters paint, sculptors sculpt, and writers write. It's why we, as humans, create. We want to bring meaning to our lives, and art—in any form—presents an outlet for us to express this yearning.

We all create, whether you label yourself an artist or not. Decorating your home, landscaping your yard, crafting long letters to friends and family—all are forms of self-expression, a deeply-rooted desire present in all of us.

Artmaking is making the invisible, visible. ~ Marcel Duchamp

Studies have shown that activities such as writing, drawing and even knitting reduce stress and increase serotonin levels. A UCLA study found that when young people engaged in artistic pursuits from a young age, they outperformed their peers in categories ranging from academics to life skills.

Cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien states that in many traditional cultures, a healer will ask an ill person four questions: When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing? When did you stop telling your story? When did you stop sitting in silence?

We need our creativity to survive. And we need to move through our creativity ourselves.
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Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. ~ Oscar Wilde

In this series on Creativity, I'll be discussing the following, each in a separate post:

I.      Imagination
II.    Domestication vs. Wildness
III.   Shape-Shifting
IV.   Forbearance
V.    Maiden/Mother/Crone
VI.   The Virgin and the Sacred Prostitute
VII.  Synchronicity
VIII. Magic

Let's get started.

I. Imagination

Imagination is when you step outside of time. I've often thought that imagination is less something we create and more something we tap into. As a fiction writer, I most definitely conjure ideas and make-believe people to fill the pages of my stories. Or do I?

I wrote my very first novel, The Wren, based on an idea that came to me when I was 15 years old. It was at that time I first became acquainted with my heroine, Molly Hart. Years later, as I drove cross-country with my mother and sister—a leaving-the-nest move from Phoenix to Pittsburgh—we pulled off at a rest stop outside of Amarillo. It was a desolate place, with wide-open sky and the endless flat expanse of the Texas Panhandle. And that's when I felt her, standing in the tall grass, watching me. It was Molly.

I was about 22 years old at the time. I didn't write Molly's story until I was 33, but in that moment it was as if she breathed her spirit into mine. For a while, I tried setting her story in Arizona, but it didn’t come together until I moved the tale back to Texas. It's been said that stories chase the right person to tell them. On that day, Molly most definitely pursued me, conveying in no uncertain terms that’s where she belonged. It was my job to pay attention. So, perhaps imagination is less an activity of making something up and more a sense of remembering.

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey

How might you trigger this remembering?

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Playing. Children know it, and animals do as well. When children play, they follow their innate talents. It simply doesn’t occur for them not to. Playing is any activity that disengages the rational mind—for some it may be sports, or sewing, or playing a musical instrument. As adults, we often encapsulate play into vacations, but it should really be present each day. How can you add more play to your day? Think about it, and then let go and just have fun.

A Labrador retriever plays through its lifetime and dies a child. ~ Dr. Stuart Brown

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey
Dreams. Whatever your personal beliefs about dreams, and why we have them, there is nothing better at shining a spotlight into your life than your dreams. The key is learning to work with the imagery. Renowned dream archaeologist Robert Moss suggests keeping a dream journal to begin understanding the messages relayed. Working with dreams isn’t a passive endeavor. Everything around us is alive with meaning; all you have to do is pay attention. For further guidance, read Moss's Active Dreaming—Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom (New World Library, 2011). If you’re still not certain that there’s something to be gained from this dreaming thing, check out his book The Secret History of Dreaming (New World Library, 2009) in which he elaborates on the dream lives of Joan of Arc, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill.

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey

In dreams begin responsibilities. ~ William Butler Yeats

      Solitude. Numerous studies tout the benefits of meditation, but even if you can’t quiet your mind enough for a deep practice, time alone can trigger a rush of ideas, from planning dinner parties to writing a book. Immersing yourself in the words of others can offer additional stimulus. Perhaps you’re inspired by perusing the latest fictional tale, or devouring Deepak Chopra, or quietly absorbing passages from the Bible. Or perhaps soothing music does the trick, or a hot bath and candles. A practice of daily solitude will fine-tune your access to imagination.

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ~ Mary Oliver

Imagination is the act of creating new ideas. The key is learning to open the floodgates within the mind that can hold it back. Playing, dreams, and solitude are three ways to allow the remembering to enter your life.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. ~ Albert Einstein

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Don’t miss Part II in the Creativity series: Domestication vs. Wildness

Until next time…


  1. Commented but don't see it so here goes again. I enjoyed this. I believe ideas, people, situation exist in another form and artists manifest them in this one. "Writer Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story about Stone's writing style and ... and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape." Eileen

    1. Eileen,
      I love that description...thunderous...and barrelling. Thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!
      My best to you...Kristy