Recently I’ve been thinking about my life, all the twists and turns it has taken. It has opened out now into a very gentle and lovely place, in a beautiful valley near the Border Ranges, which divide New South Wales from Queensland. Dominating the valley are the remains of a 20 million year old volcano, now called Wollumbin Mount Warning. This mountain is most unusual in its shape, and in the magnetic effect it has on the district. It was called Mount Warning by Captain Cook, because it was his first sight of land as he sailed up the coast, and is said to be the first peak to catch the morning sun. Wollumbin was added to acknowledge the indigenous groups of the area, although there is controversy among them over the authenticity of this name. One story says it means Cloud Catcher, which is most apt, as it often trails clouds around it, like a woman’s fascinator. This intriguing word originally meant “a light scarf of fine knitting over the head and round the neck, [worn] instead of an opera hood when going out at night.” Another meaning for Wollumbin is “fighting chief of the mountains”. I think it has both moods, and many more.
The image above is my pastel painting of it, done early this year.
Living a creative life is difficult, as we all know, when we have to support ourselves and our families and earn a living. Few people in the creative arts are able to earn a living from their art. Most of us do all sorts of odd jobs or more permanent ones to make end meet. The downside of that is that it can take up a lot of one’s time, and may drain or suppress one’s creative energy.
Life can lead us on all sorts of byways. But more than that, the central purpose of life, for those of us who have children, is raising our children and helping them to find their feet. For women, traditionally, this has been their main occupation. As we have shifted, in developed countries, from the traditional monogamous family where the husband is the bread earner and the wife stays at home, women have had to balance child bearing and raising with working as joint income earner, or in many cases, as single parent and sole earner.
For me, this pattern has meant that I didn’t start to unfold my creative self outside of growing and loving my children and making ends meet until I was in my late 50s. When my son left school and began work, I went back to university. I decided I didn’t want a career, and it was too late anyway, I wanted to tell my story. So I wrote an autobiographical novel and theorised my life in the framework of the bourgeois family (more on that another time). Then I had a couple of years off, working in frail aged care, then went back to do a PhD. This time I combined my own life writing, interpretations of a medieval Japanese novel written by a woman and set in a polygamous aristocratic court society, and the theories of two radical French philosophers. My thesis was titled The Origami of Desire: Unfolding and Refolding the Desiring Self (f).
I have published several articles and essays from this. My next project is — finally — to publish my childhood memoir, This Place You Know, which weaves my mother’s story and mine to tell the story of how our family broke apart and we lost ‘this place’ we loved. I have been writing and revising it for 20 years! I also have written a memoir of my young adulthood, called Loss: a Memoir, which I hope to publish. The first memoir is currently being edited by a literary editor, who has given me great help in bringing it to be the best it can be.
So creativity can be a broken path. But it is very important to keep returning to it, not to lose sight of it or give up on it. Little things help, like writing this blog. I also do pastel painting, like the one of the valley above. I am in a pop-up art trail next week, and hope to sell some of my paintings so I can go on and paint some more.
What do you do to keep your creativity alive? I’d love to hear your stories.