All too often we try to push, pull, outline and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. Julia Cameron
For today, all you need is the grace to begin beginning. Julia Cameron
“There are so many reasons that I can see getting on board,” my friend said during a phone call this past weekend. She was referring to the 100 Day Project — a community-wide challenge open to all of us interested in participating — that is intended to jumpstart our individual creativity by inviting us to choose a theme, create our own guidelines, and stick with a process for 100 days. “There’s the tribal element, the desire to be part of something inspiring, to know that others are playing this 100-Day Game too, at the same time. And there’s the discipline involved; to stick with something for over three months builds creative muscles. And there’s the honing of our talents and showing off of our skills and perhaps seeing something familiar with new eyes . . .” My friend began to list the possible motives that might propel a person into such an endeavor.
And I’m one of the people that has propelled herself into this endeavor. Today is Day Five and I, along with over one hundred other athletes-of-the-arts have plunged into this creative marathon. I’m not sure that I’ve plunged in, not like I used to plunge into the Y-pool in a wild cannon ball off the diving board back in my elementary school days, not with that youth-filled gusto, not on the first couple of days at least. But I’ve dipped my feet in, and the water is feeling warm and inviting and I’m thinking that sooner or later I’m going to go for it, to dive under and allow myself to get completely wet. And, as I think back to the conversation with my friend, I’m wondering about my motives for this toe-dipping into another creative project. It’s not like my creative swimming pool isn’t filled up; the waters are running freely as I write my essays and gather the quotes for yoga and plan the Joy Center schedules, so it’s not about priming my creative pump. And it’s not about discipline either. I was born under the sign of Capricorn, a goat gal who knows how to place one foot in front of another, and, step by step, make her way up those mountain paths toward whatever goal is waiting at the top. It’s easy for me to stick with the practices that nourish and sustain and ground these Capricorn feet of mine. But there’s another side to the earthy Capricorn and this might be the key to my motive for joining the 100 Day Crowd. We Capricorns are also creatures of the water; we not only climb the mountains; we also swim the seas.
Each summer, we coastal Maine kids of the 1960’s moved downriver with our families to the ramshackle cottages that lined the coves and beaches and rocky shores of our state’s rugged coastline. And we spent our days exploring the shoreline’s tide pools, splashing in the waves, diving into the high tide waters. It was a given that we knew how to swim; it was written in our sea-faring ancestry, and, in September, when the cottage windows were once again boarded up and the pipes drained, we brought this desire for water-play back inland with us to our blue-collar towns. It was the Y that provided our after-school entertainment. Sure, there were the occasional art classes offered in a small class room beside the Y’s lobby and the trampoline and tumble-mats in the spacious gym, but it was the pool that watered our ocean souls. There were swimming lessons and swim team practices and the swim meets that stretched out long on wintery Saturday afternoons. And then there was Free Swim. Every Wednesday, during my elementary school days, Sally and Maureen and Lynn and I, so many of us, the girls and the boys, would race home from school, grab our suits and towels and head downtown to the Y and the pool that was our home away from home.
It is Free Swim that I am thinking about now. I loved Free Swim. I needed Free Swim! I loved swimming lessons, too. There was something rewarding about the practice, the polishing of skills, the advancing from Pollywog to Fish to Flying Fish, the feeling in my body, the giant “yes!” when something I couldn’t do the week before became easy. And being a part of the swim team was a pleasure. The hour-long sessions of swimming laps, of kicking with paddle boards, of practicing the strokes — these things calmed my mind and were meditation for my soul. And the thrill of the races riled me up again and brought me more alive. There was a definite structure in both the lessons and the swim team that provided a groundedness in my young life and a lifelong appreciation of the power of practice. And Free Swim, it was the perfect counterpoint for all this structure, all this practice. Free Swim was just plain fun, sometimes over-the-top silly. We showed off for each other — who could be the most wacky as we strutted or slunk or raced (when the lifeguard wasn’t looking!) off the board? We pretended we were on the moon as we dunked under the water and leaped in great buoyant strides along the pool’s deep-end bottom. We splashed water at each other and laughed under water and somersaulted and floated on our backs. We played together and we played alone. And it didn’t matter if our the form of our strokes was text-book perfect. And it didn’t matter if we belly-flopped and our inner critics were playing someplace else and the Free Swims did, indeed, feel free.
So it’s the Free Swim that I’m after right now. As I listened to my friend continue her list of reasons that one might join the 100 Day Project, I found myself nodding my head up and down — yes, yes, yes!!!!! “And there will be those who just get on board because it is fun,” she said. That’s it for me. I don’t want the metaphoric swimming lessons or the competition of a race where I’m expected to create something polished and trophy-worthy. Not right now! What I want is artistic Free Swim time! I want to claim some time to play in the creative inner waters — to be outrageous if I want to be, and messy, too, and neat and tidy if that strikes my fancy, and to laugh at the bellyflops. I’ve chosen a topic, “Fashion,” and I’ve instructed myself to claim a little time each day to play — using whatever medium speaks to me in the moment. And I’ll see what happens. We coastal Maine kids didn’t have a formal plan on those Wednesday afternoons at the Y. We just got ourselves in the pool and played.