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QUINTESSENCE

Unexpected Gifts

Dressmaker's shop in Berne, Switzerland

One line came like a gift. It flowed out. I drew back and said "thank you" to the room.
- Joni Mitchell

More than once a perfect sentence or scene concept has come to me, ready made as it were, while I was in the midst of other work. I used to believe that it wasn't possible to effectively multitask large creative projects, to dip from a novel to a short story, back into another novel. To spend time, as needed, on concurrent works of art. I believed one needed commitment, immersion, deep focus, in order to work solidly and productively on a creative idea. Too many irons in the fire and nothing gets hot, as the saying goes. But a few years ago, in the plodding midst of a novel in final pre-galley revision, the unexpected ignition of another project occurred. As Joni Mitchell has acknowledged of singular moments in her songwriting career, the line came as a gift. I suddenly possessed a complete and spectacular opening sentence; knew intimately the character whose story I would tell. I stopped that afternoon, wrote down all that was flooding my mind about this new project and then returned the next day to the novel revisions.

Albert Camus once said, "Every authentic work of art is a gift offered to the future." The faith expressed in ourselves and in the creative process when we act on moments of inspiration pushes open that door. Takes us from here, to there. Creative gifts come wrapped in intuitive recognition of spark: and from inviting in what beckons, allowing an idea to grow into form and being. Pay attention to the strange and unfamiliar. Invention flowers when we dig our hands into the earth of creativity.

Eric Maisel, in his little chapbook, Affirmations for Artists, writes that "Creativity is the gift that keeps on giving. As an artist nurtures her creativity, supporting it and fearlessly producing, she receives from herself ideas, images, guidance, and inspirations... pay attention to the knocking when gifts come calling." Powerful verbs: nurture, support, produce. A diversity of sources flow in and through. It makes sense why I am drawn to sketch in my notebooks when I travel. I am in some way teaching myself to reflect, to reproduce in my hand and mind bits of framed imagery. The habit of close-looking will make it easier to write detailed scene. This cross-pollination between all our senses and creative expression might be the unexpected grace note. A gift only a deeply nourished imagination could yield.

I invite you to go outside and play. Listen to new music at your desk. Walk out the solution. Paint a theme and tap out melody. Speak out loud the undefined thing that keeps you procrastinating. And when you have your answer, say "thank you" to the room.
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