My grandfather once confided in me that he still felt like a boy. He was in his eighties at the time:
‘I don’t mean physically,’ he scoffed, ‘I mean in here.’ He jabbed at his chest. Addressed as it was to a teenager, this statement seemed absurd, especially from a man I’d never seen without shoes. It took more than a decade for his words to make sense.
As adults we rarely admit that there is a childish part which resides within us. My grandfather’s admission seemed irresponsible, decadent even. We’re not allowed to be young forever. Growing up is supposed to involve a surrender. In it’s most essential form, however, creativity is childish. The creative self is adventurous, courageous and unconcerned with authenticity. It has to be. It needs to display an ambivalence towards the perils of the outside world and of the future, otherwise it is easily imprisoned in the jaws of writer’s block. Like a child, creativity also requires the freedom of a safe space to thrive.
As with many introverted children, I was master of the art of hiding. The security of small spaces allowed my imagination to thrive. The world can be an alarming place for the introverted child, as it still can be for the introverted writer. Like many writers, I crave silence and seclusion in which to create. In many ways I was born in the wrong century. I detest the insistent sound of a telephone ringing. I write with paper and pen. Not to make some moral point about the modern world but because I fear distraction. I fear over-stimulation. The thing our world does best is over-stimulation.
I used to think that writing had to take place in a grownup place: like at a carrel or in a cafe. These were writerly places to write. They never suited me: I ached from sitting at a desk, found myself drawn into or resenting the hushed conversation at the next table and obsessively hid my notepad from curious eyes. I’ve always been jealous of writers who could write in public. I needed silence. Public is rarely silent.
A few years ago my (brilliant) husband, a designer, built me a nook in our bedroom. There was an unused space above our staircase which was crying out for development, yet it had taken us some time to realise it. He cut out a comfortable seat from an old foam mattress, put up curtains to create a barricade and built a set of stairs so I could safely crawl into my new space. For the first time since I was a child I had a place in which to follow the whims of my inner creative: the right lighting (a mixture of fairy and candle), the right collection of obscure objects, an abundance of pens (black) and paper (narrow lined). I used to fight the ludicrous demands of the petulant inner artist child, convinced they were an excuse for procrastination, but the result was only stand-off.
Over time the nook has evolved and remains in constant flux, rarely the same month to month. But one thing remains the same: only by accepting and embracing the whims of the artist child can I write comfortably and productively. My artist self likes to acquire objects and guard them like a magpie. She is equally capable of rejecting objects from her space based on instinct. Pictures, notes and mementoes are constantly rearranged on impulse, often mid sentence. This is now the only way I know how to create: as a child, away from the world, the leer of the future and the mire of failure.
I hope that when I am eighty I will turn to my grandchild and lean in as my grandfather did to me:
‘I still feel like a child,’ I’ll say proudly, ‘in here.’ I’ll point, both to my chest and to the blanket fort I’ve just emerged from.