This morning I read a brilliant blog post on creativity. The article articulated what every writer knows: Make a time and space to write and keep it. Guard that time with the fervor of a militant cleric. Then write. This, of course, is brilliant advice. There is one clause the writer omitted: You cannot have children.
Years ago, I read Stephen King’s excellent memoir on writing. I swooned with jealousy when I read that he wrote “Carrie” in a cramped apartment with two young children, a wife, and a stack of papers needing grading from his day job teaching at a public school. I felt completely inadequate for not possessing his presumed Zen powers of tuning out the world and for not requiring sleep. I nearly cried from a sense of relief when he admitted, several chapters later, to being addicted to cocaine at the time.
I live in a house of musicians. I play piano. Amy is in a handful of local bands and is constantly singing, playing her guitar, or listening to her set list on her ipod. All three boys take piano lessons. We bought my oldest son a drum set a few years ago. Amy and I learned a few things from this experience. First, Alex is quite passionate about his craft. Secondly, placing a drum set in a cinder block basement turns the foundation of your house into a giant speaker cone. True story. I cannot count the times when I have sat down to edit a chapter, only to have Amy grab her guitar and Alex his drumsticks. After about ten minutes I abandon my writing and visit Web Md. to see if hearing loss is listed as a possible symptom of coke addiction.
Alex is a teen and doesn’t fully appreciate how his drumming can be a barrier to my creative process. This is because I’ve never attempted to shove my laptop between his ears while he’s laying down a rumba beat. That’s okay. Sometimes I ask Alex to get his practice in before I get home from work. Sometimes, I’ll pack up my work and go to a coffee shop. Or I’ll set my alarm an hour earlier the next day. And sometimes, I close my laptop cover a little too hard and fantasize about kicking Stephen King in the groin.
I am becoming convinced that there is something good and beautiful about making space for the other’s creativity. All artists need some time of canvas. My canvas is silence. Alex’s canvas is, literally, all air space in our house. I could insist that there’s a basic human right to think interrupted, but that would stifle Alex’s development as an artists. So I yield someday. And when Alex can, he alters his practice time.
When this compromise doesn’t happen, an artist suffers. I have a friend from college who recently expressed some frustration over my recent post on using our spiritual gifts. She is a highly intelligent leader. She is passionate about leading. But her church’s theology doesn’t allow her any canvas to creatively exercise her God-given spiritual gift. She has a brush, but the leaders in her church are effectively hoarding the canvas she needs to serve God the way she was create to serve.
Years ago, when Shaq and Kobe were both on the Lakers and they were winning championships, Phil Jackson noted that these two superstars could co-exist on the same floor because each player was willing to give up a piece of their game to make room for the other person to shine. This is what it means to create in the context of community. We all need to take turns sharing the canvas.