A New Year’s Story: Embracing Creativity

Reading Lisa Call’s blog entry on completion and finally finishing her studio space reminds me of my own studio metaphor. Studios are not about spending a lot of money- they are about creating even just a tabletop as a designated thinking zone. My workspace has always had a major influence on the scope and size of my work. But first, some background.

My husband John was diagnosed with advanced, aggressive prostate cancer in 2005. We knew from that first doctors’ visit that the outcome would not be good, and in September 2008, he passed away. (Don’t let anyone ever convince you that prostate cancer is not serious; the aggressive forms are debilitating and lethal.)

A few months later, in January 2009, I found myself having posture problems when doing my computer marketing work for Iowa Artisans Gallery, and I decided that John’s desk/table would be the solution to my needs. His desk area was in our bedroom. This was not as simple as switching out a chair or adding a cushion. Adopting his desk was essentially about tackling his most intimate corner, the place where he went to write, to dream, to wrestle with his demons and to organize his day. It was filled with small mementos of the children, of his previous life in California, and of many projects unfulfilled. Not to mention, dust and clutter.

Was this really necessary, now? I asked myself, feeling the intense emotional difficulty of this task. There was no doubt that I needed to be more comfortable doing my paid work, and funds for new purchases were limited. It would need doing soon anyway. So, I plunged ahead. I placed a hand-scrawled note by my telephone with the words “removing impediments,” the first of several. We’d always left messages there, —I’d see it multiple times a day.

I went through everything, throwing anything too difficult into the old leather briefcase that had 40 years of correspondence, and stashed it upstairs for another day. I took photos of the small vignettes- little found scrap metal sculptures, pictures of the kids tacked on the Navajo rugs of his childhood. I adopted his great little work table, which we had found and cleaned up at a local farm auction many years ago. I took down the window shade and had a surprise- this room has much more light than I thought! I cleaned out and moved my filing cabinets to a new space. I gave away the other library table that was too tall; my good friend would use it for photographing her sculptural work. And lastly, I took pictures to show the coziness of this new space. I was done.

Or was I? Suddenly, I realized that one of the benefits of forced change is embracing new options. This room was once my weaving studio, with pin-board “design walls” I made nearly 30 years earlier. We changed that when the family expanded to three kids. I’d worked all over my house and have a wet workspace in the basement for dyeing and painting. Why not re-adopt it as a studio? Why not move my bedroom upstairs? I couldn’t let go of this idea. I knew it would jumpstart my creativity.

Out came the cleaning tools, the storage boxes, the garbage bags once again. But first I had to clear out a space in the three small bedrooms upstairs. Over the past few years, three kids had deposited their stuff there while traveling the world, and John’s university office boxes were there as well. I gave myself a deadline of ASAP and went to work weeding through, saving, donating and discarding. It was January cold winter work. Removing impediments. Finally, I grabbed a couple of friends to help me dismantle my bed and move it upstairs, after first moving the other upstairs beds to new locations.

Or so I thought. In our 1918 home with a narrow stairway that does not meet code, the queen mattress would not fit. Parked the old one on the pool table until disposal (which John had always wanted to play pool and purchased when he learned of his cancer). Bought a new flexible mattress and had it delivered during a snowstorm. Moved the futon into the studio.

Suddenly, open air. Wood floor, new curtains, small area rug. This new studio setup jump-started my creativity at a particularly difficult time. It is wonderful, light-filled, room where I can contemplate pieces in progress, see colors, stash my teaching books. Change my clothes and house my family when needed. Allow the subconscious to process works in progress. Most importantly, it gave credence to a creative side that needs expression even in difficult times. It is simple, but empowering. “Removing Impediments” worked. I’m not going to post a picture of this studio of mine. Remember, it’s all about the physical location that encompasses the more-important psychological space.

And now the task at hand: giving myself permission to choose creative work over the obsession with paid work. Yes, I do that too, but I try not to let it rule my life as it once did. John left this world with several regrets. He did not get to write his novel. I am learning from this. Happy New Year!