Friday Speak Out!: Staying Alive

Friday, April 13, 2018
by Carolyn Lochhead

Sometimes, I think I am dead.

It’s all Neil Gaiman’s fault.

It comes from an interview I read, in which Gaiman was asked, “How do you get your ideas?” He replied,

“Everyone has ideas. If you don’t have ideas you are dead.”

Because sometimes, I don’t. For days and sometimes months at a time, not a single notion pops into my head. It makes me feel flat. Empty. Disconnected. Quite possibly, dead.

It usually happens when I’m in a groove. Going to work, looking after the children, doing things I know, broadly speaking, how to do. Not encouraging the creative side of my brain to wake up, poke its head out and take a look around.

But last week, I had a day off work. And it was a revelation.


- Went to a modern art gallery

- Read the music section of the paper

- Wrote in a cosy basement library

- Attended a lunchtime performance of Mendhellson.

In the morning, a couple of ideas came to me, and I noted them on my phone. During the concert I thought of several more. By late afternoon, I was whipping out my phone every few minutes. In the six weeks preceding my day off, I’d come up with maybe two or three prompts for writing. On that one day, I wrote down fifteen.

Although my activities that day were enjoyable, they weren’t novel. I had been to the library, the gallery and the concert hall before. So what was different? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because I don’t want my newfound creativity to disappear.

The answer is, I stopped. I existed in the moment, not projecting my brain forward to my next task, appointment or intention. I noticed what was going on and let my mind chew it over, whether it appeared significant or not. And because my mind was less agitated, there was space for curiousity. Without an endless marching band of tasks crashing through my brain, it dared to turn its attention to minor details, to conjecture, fancy and just a little bit of nonsense.

So how to maintain this pleasing productivity? I can’t take every day off work, and I can’t - and wouldn’t want to - put the kids into nursery at the weekend. But I’m trying to build in peaceful moments. My youngest daughter is almost three: old enough to be left to her own devices for moments at a time: moments when I could notice the birds in the back garden, instead of snatching up a broom and sweeping the floor. And my husband is a perfectly competent parent, so there is no reason why me and my iPad can’t nip to our local coffee shop for an hour on a Sunday - as, indeed, I have done to write this blog.

Everyday life is not going anywhere. But if I make a few moments for myself in amongst the tasks and the duties, my mind may blossom still further. And at the very least, I will know I am not dead.

* * *
Carolyn Lochhead’s writing credits include Mothers Always Write, Mamalode and Hippocampus. She recently published her first essay collection, Three Toothbrushes And Other Essays on Motherhood, Mindfulness and Making Sense of it All. She lives in Scotland and works in mental health. Follow her @theshooglypeg and read her blog on Medium.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Beautiful essay Carolyn. Yes,it is so important that in the midst of our busy lives and constant doing we carve out some time for ourselves to write, think, go to an art gallery, etc.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Carolyn--Taking advantage of those occasional moments is the key, when you have a young one at home

No, you're not dead. And thanks to your post, I will think of Neil Gaiman when I think the well is dry, and I'll remember: I am not dead. I DO have ideas.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Gorgeous post, Carolyn! I think it's important to switch things up when we get stuck in a rut, dead or undead. Zombies are not creative. Immersing yourself in the arts is the best way to do that. And yes, stopping! That's so true. Thanks for this! :)

Margo Dill said...

WOW! That Neil Gaiman is opinionated! I'm very glad to hear that you are not dead, and that you started coming up with ideas. It is so important to make time for yourself. It is always a great to be reminded of that. Thanks!

KAlan said...

I'm in awe of how much you can fit into a day off...

Anonymous said...

glad you were able to find a moment and learn the sacred art on living in the present--an art I struggled for years before discovering. Congrats

Renee Roberson said...

I think this is why Julia Cameron put "artist dates" in her Artist's Way program--they are essential to our creativity and getting re-energized! My kids are tweens/teens now and I have so much more time to write but I remember when every waking moment was spent taking care of their every need. On the days I did take time for myself I came away so refreshed and inspired. Kudos to Neil for the nudge!

Carolyn said...

Thank you all very much for the comments, I so appreciate it. I’m tucked away in a coffee shop while my husband watches the kids - squeezing in some writing time!


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