Illness as a driver in creativity

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Sometimes I’m asked if I’ve always considered myself a writer. I giggle to myself when I hear that question. Writing used to make my stomach hurt. I did, in fact, do plenty of writing. I wrote essays,  reports, and even a Masters’ thesis. It wasn’t until I got sick, however, that I began to view writing as a friend; as a support; and as an expression of my experience.

When I was in the hospital having my stem-cell transplant  an idea for a children’s story came to me one night and begged to be written.  It was about a pig who was asked to go on a quest. He didn’t really want to go, but the quest asked for him and he had to rise to the occasion. This  story proved to be a useful framework for my experience.  It wasn’t a literary masterpiece, but it was a helpful companion that allowed me to construct my experience in a way that gave me energy and hope.

Sometimes I think that the creative bug bit because I finally had something to write about; I had ‘worthwhile’ subject matter. But then in my travels today, I came across a paper about textile artists with long-term health problems discussing the creative process. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but one sentence caught my eye in the summary.

…several participants reported that illness did not only inspire artwork through distress and loss, but through sharpening perceptions, heightening emotional sensitivity and confronting them with the deeper issues of life.

These words leapt out at me as they resonated with my experience perfectly. When I was really sick, I started noticing things more; noticing  and then wanting to capture them. I was seeing differently. I was also asking different questions than before, and wrangled with those questions in my writing.

I couldn’t really talk directly about how I was feeling at the time because I believed, unconsciously, that to do so might unravel me completely. But the writing allowed these emotions to express themselves in a back door manner.

It feels as if my illness turned on a switch that was just waiting to be activated. Perhaps all of us have a creative switch waiting to be activated under just the right circumstances. For some it will be illness, trauma or loss for others it will be love or joy or just simply change. I like to think that every one of us has this potential for creativity of some sort that is lying in wait.

What’s your switch?


One thought on “Illness as a driver in creativity

  1. A-Ling says:

    Sam, your artistic writing provides a great sense of openness, very generous to share the boundless universal subject matters for others to digest like a piece of conceptual art. The illness as a “driver”, then your messages are powerful and moving to invite readers to the heart of your creativity. Your writing helps me and many.

    My switch is to pay attention “in the moment”, taking very opportunity to learn about life. My path is working on …. to improve myself, living with less fear and worries “with squared shoulders and a straight spine”. I accept and understand my switching takes time.

    Sending peace and warmest thoughts to New Town, Connecticut.

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