stairway to play, creativity, sharing, community
This year has been a fast and furious one, with no time to do my usual workshops in “The Playpen”, the name I call our workplace where I live. Many years ago, when our fourth child was born, we created an area that we called The Playpen, where children could play and not be threatened by the wildlife here. Back then it was also used as a tennis court. Over the years we have let it go and now there is an uneven surface, turf torn, net gone, but it is perfect for playful creative practice. We erected a small stage, from the set of the play Eve, the first of my Trilogy and threw in Eve’s bathtub where she would “write the lines of shape and shadow”. We have tables and umbrellas and a fireplace for the cold evenings.
So, because I have not had my usual three day workshop this year, I decided to invite colleagues out to play. Over the years I have formed groups of women and men to engage in creative practice. One of these groups from two years ago was called “Writing My Way Forward”. We have a Facebook page and keep in touch sporadically. I contacted the writers, along with our “Women in Theatre Bridge Club”, a political group of women endeavouring to work towards gender parity in our theatre industry–you will hear more of this group in the new year–and we decided to meet at The Playpen and hold a salon, a place of sharing stories. I set up inside the house this time: the sky was threatening rain. Our living room studio is perfect for creative work, full of hundreds of books and paintings of all calibre. I set up for collage: piles of magazines, pastels, pencils, glue sticks and cartridge paper. I made brownies, cheese plate, lemon water and three different teas. People began to arrive with plates of delicious food to share, we poured our tea and began.
Far less formal than a workshop, the salon provided opportunities for the group to inform each other. We began with a sort of informal check in sharing where we were at. I love checking in, be it over a coffee with a friend or a workshop with three hundred people. It is a chance to hear where people are physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We heard about some of the changes that have happened for people, some of the dreams that still have to awaken, some of the achievements this year had allowed. All of the themes were relevant for everyone: we were all artists, most of us were mothers of varying aged children, and we all dealt with the issue of wedding our artistic life with our domestic living and at the same time earn a living. The importance of self care for the artist was emphasised, it always is when artists get together at The Playpen: we try to do too much for too many and then wonder why we feel burned out.
After about the fourth person’s check in, one of the guests opened a large box of pencils. That was interpreted by the group as permission to begin and so while we were chatting, the creative work began: drawing, doodling, tearing out words and images from tens of magazines. We continued this way for the next few hours, only stopping to refill our teacups and indulge in the treats on the table next to us.
On completion of our collages, we talked about what we could see: what images sat next to other images, shapes, size, colour, intensity, that sort of thing. Normally, if this was a workshop, I would help guide the unpacking of the collage, pointing out different things that I saw. This would then be opened up to the group, who, with careful use of language (no assumptions or interpretations are needed) tell their own story in relation to the person’s collage. Eg. “When I see that I think of…” All of these stories add data to our own understanding of what “we don’t know we know”. This way of working has been highly influenced by several approaches to understanding: MIECAT, a creative arts institution based in Melbourne, which focuses on finding meaning through art making; and COLLABORATIVE PRACTICE (Taos Institute), a postmodern way of being in the world that embraces multiplicity of self and other, multiplicity of stories and an awareness of the environment that contributes to the situation at hand. In our salon, the unfolding of meaning happened collaboratively. We all responded in our own time to what was happening in front of us: what we saw, what we felt, what we heard and what we imagined.
What emerged last evening interested me enormously and took me back to Greece last month, where I co-facilitated with Dr. Jean Houston and Jennifer Evanko. We experienced an “Aesclepion Group Dream”, where parts of one person’s dream were relevant to all. This is what happened with our collaging: we could take parts of our fellow traveller’s collage and apply it to our own lives. This expanded and enriched our own meaning.
What I love about collage is that everyone can do it. People rarely feel confronted with the task. I issued no instructions this time (usually I do) and people approached it all differently. Some started with doodling, some doodling turned into symbols. Some began drawing and then built on the drawing with images from magazines. I like to have a wide variety of magazines available and one of my favourite are the old National Geographic. But you can just as easily do it with contents from your handbag or brief case. Or your top drawer.
As I look at my collage this morning I can see it has two distinct sides to it, divided by a beautiful image of an actor standing in the centre of a floor filled with faces. The room has an ancient feel to it: a great hallway in the true tradition of the hallway, where everything happened, not so much a hallway today, a passage to somewhere else. Though as I look at this image I see that it is a passage to the imagination. This central image is the one I am ‘indwelling’, applying it to constructs inside my head, experiencing it, dreaming it. Images have power in them and if we allow time to absorb that force it can give gifts of transformation. I notice in the lower right hand corner an orange chair, a chair for storytelling, for dreaming. It is empty.
As I write this post, my friend calls from USA. And I immediately think: no, the chair was waiting. I place myself in the chair and hold my telephone (in fact it is a computer) and we begin to talk. We are creating new stories together, trips to ancient lands to rediscover the potential and possibilities of our future selves. A time to reflect and grow new ways of being in the world. We chat for a long time about different things, including what Jean Houston calls Terma: here is a link that will give you an idea of what a Terma is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terma_(religion),
An idea, a symbol that we can plant in our past and in our future so that we can to move towards a purity of action. What can I do in this world to make it a place of nurture, of wonderment for the community at large?
Everything we do can contribute to enlarging the joy and aliveness of each day. Our salon of yesterday has enriched all of us. As I move through today I have firmly inside the images that I arranged (subconsciously) onto some cartridge paper. I have images that my colleagues chose. All swimming around inside my head. And I have a phone call positioned in my orange chair in the lower right quadrant, reminding me of the dreams for 2016. Soon we will be inviting you all to be part of that dreaming.
My intention today:
May today be a day of richness. May every image that enters our consciousness enrich us in some capacity and move us forward towards an authenticity of awareness, deep attentiveness and joy: the secrets of character.