When I was at film school, we studied a book called The Artist’s Way. I can’t remember all the details, but the gist of it was to do with unlocking your inner artist and living in such a way that supports optimum creativity. At the time, I mostly thought it was a lot of fuss over nothing.
This was mostly because being creative is something that’s always come easily to me.
As a small child, my dolls each had distinct characters and backstories and long running storylines. I’d get furious when my sister casually decided that the brunette Barbie would marry Ken because she would never do that after what he did to her.
Just a few years ago I stumbled across the detailed log book I kept for the imaginary stables I ran the summer I was ten. I had pages of notes on each horse’s personality and dietary requirements (why?!), and had methodically registered each rider, class and show. There were imperious owners and dedicated trainee jockeys; rivalries, betrayals, romances. I had a sleepless night when I decided that the chestnut Arab broke free of her paddock during a storm.
When I was bullied at school in the States, I created essentially a soap opera in my head (it bore a more than a little resemblance to Beverly Hills 90210 if the truth be told) and daydreamed my way through Kick Me signs and solo lunches. I wasn’t in it, to be clear, this isn’t me coming out as dissociative. It was entertainment. I would essentially fire up my mental Netflix and lose myself in a story that was way more interesting than anything school had to offer.
I once burst into tears during homeroom and my teacher, assuming it was to do with the bullying (a fair assumption, to be fair) and lectured the cool kids on kindness. I never admitted that in fact my heartthrob (who bore more than a little resemblance to Jason Donovan, if the truth be told) had gone missing and the police had just found a body.
It wasn’t his, in case you’re wondering. I’d just learned to play with my audience’s emotions early on.
One day about ten years ago, I was bored out my bonkers working as a temp Legal PA in London between film jobs (few and far between in those days!) and reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my lunch breaks. One afternoon, a public schooled newly qualified barrister (pastel coloured trousers, whacky tie, referred to his girlfriend as his filly) took it upon himself to explain the alphabet to me whilst ordering me to do some filing.
Something in me snapped.
I went into the gigantic, walk-in filing cabinet (law firms have a LOT of paper), sat down on the floor, and —
Actually, now I think about it, I probably proved him right that I didn’t understand the alphabet by refusing to do the filing, but oh well.
— I imagined living in Sweden. Skiing to work. Eating open sandwiches in cosy candlelit coffee shops. Dressing in sophisticated black and racing from outdoor saunas naked to leap into the freezing Baltic Sea.
I went back to my desk and booked a one way ticket to Stockholm and for six years, did all those things. Except for dressing in black. You’ll prise my ridiculous colours out of my cold, dead, hands, Sweden.
So making up stories comes as naturally to me as breathing. People often remark on just how many projects I’ve got on the go at any one time, and the fact is, there’s normally way more buzzing about my head that I haven’t had a moment to write down. A few years ago when I threw a tantrum and jacked in the film industry to go off and teach preschool, I lasted a week and a half before launching the blog that became my first novel.
Then 2020 happened.
And I discovered that even though in some ways my story worlds are about retreating from reality, they are fired by an active reality. They need to be fed. If there is nothing to retreat from, there is nothing to retreat to.
It’s not that I didn’t write at all. I did write. In fact, probably the best screenplay I’ve ever written came from the screaming void of Lockdown 1.
But for the first time in my life, it felt like work. A trudge. An uphill battle. I had to force myself to open up the laptop each morning, whereas normally I’m just as excited as anyone to find out what happens next.
So I found myself thinking about The Artists Way.
As I said, most of the details escape me now, but I do remember the concept of replenishing your inner artist. Twenty years ago, as a fresh-faced twenty-something at film school in Vancouver, climbing mountains and drinking Cosmopolitans because that’s what we did in those days and at least once finding myself entirely accidentally at a 50 Shades-esque S&M party, I didn’t need to consciously replenish my inner artist. She was happily gorging herself on all that life naturally had to offer.
But in 2020 I did. Sometime around November, when I realised that the creativity tank was spluttering on fumes and I had the second season of The Stranger to turn in by the end of the year, I set out to replenish.
I stopped, over Christmas. In some ways it seems counter productive, dealing with having nothing to do by doing nothing, but instead of fighting it, wishing I was getting on a plane or into an evening dress, I made my peace with nothing. I pottered.
I bought a slackline and set out on a metre high tour of Glasgow’s parks.
I made myself read and watch great drama when what I really felt like was searching the internet for the real story on Chrishell and Justin Hartley.
I painted my house.
I journaled and meditated and sketched. Walked so much I’m certain the ghost of 2020 me will haunt Glasgow forever more. Crocheted a scarf.
It’s been hit and miss. Nothing fully replaces travel and friends and adventures, but the reserve tank is kicking in, I think.
It is what it is 🤷♀️