The Human Story – How Life Feeds Creativity
Guest Post by Hiba Masood
I’m browsing different news sites from around the world reading stories about the Syrian refugees as they enter Austria and Germany. The pictures especially accompanying those stories…I can’t look at them and I can’t look away from them. I find myself looking at the people in them searchingly, trying to read their expressions for clues, for anything that will tell me their story. That frown on that face, what does it mean? Her eyes, is that sorrow or exhaustion or both? Why is he carrying both his children, where is his wife, is she alive? I wonder and I grieve as I look at them and I ponder and pray when I switch my computer off and return to my life.
But later, when I switch on my computer again, my mind is simmering like a pot of soup about to boil over. The words are floating on the surface and they flow easily. I think of that father with the drawn face and I write. I think of that mother carrying only one bag of clothes and I write. I write and I write and I write.
When you’re a creative, whether you paint or draw or sculpt or write, everything, good or bad, becomes grist for the mill. You don’t even realize it sometimes, but it’s always there, your creative self, lurking in the background, and it is taking life in. Its taking it in and forging some thing, some beauty, some meaning, from it. And it becomes such a habit this forging of meaning, such a survival skill for making it through the brutalities of life that you forget to pay homage to its constant, unfailing capacity to show you, again and again, the beauties of life.
A few years ago, I used to still believe in the notion of writer’s block. I remember sitting in the waiting area of the play center where my son and I used to go for a mommy and me art class. The class was over, my son was playing with the other kids and I had pulled out my laptop. I had been staring at the screen blankly for more than an hour and nothing was forthcoming. I have no more stories I told myself woefully. I am blocked forever and ever. There is nothing to write about anymore. I stared off in the distance, watching absentmindedly, a father and son. The toddler boy was walking at super speed around the play center, touching and exploring everything in that particular excited way that toddlers do. And the father was quietly trailing him with a box of rice, feeding his boy. What captured my interest was the quiet harmony in their interaction. The father would open the box when his son couldn’t get it open. He would cover the corner of the table when his son was crawling underneath. He would reach up for the stuffed zebra when his son stretched his arms towards it. There was no angst, no loud exclamations to “Watch out!”, “Come on eat!”. The energy was seamless. The son played. The father…well, fathered.
I watched them entranced and when I went home I wrote a short story about a father and a son. It turned out that paying attention to life was the impetus and the material. Since that day, I don’t believe in creative block. Whenever I feel stuck I tell myself I need to pay more attention to what is happening in the world and in my world. I gently remind myself: Look around you, this is the inspiration. Life is the story. It is every story ever told.
Reading and writing, witnessing and despairing, praying and inspiring, learning and teaching….it’s all connected. When we watch people live their lives as they go about the daily busy-ness of being a human with all the exhilaration and exhaustion their particular lives contain, when we bear witness to the triumphs and tragedies of other human beings, it becomes a refreshing wake up call for ourselves. As we see their lives, we are struck with a reminder what a wondrous life we live ourselves. We remember that the only way to express gratitude is to work hard to make our lives beautiful and good and positive, to make our stories worthy ones. We remember that the world is ours, all of ours, and strangers are as essential to the formation of our stories as our family and friends. And because we are creative beings, we take our stories, throw them into the pot and make art+beauty soup. That soup becomes the source of our own nourishment and, God willing, the nourishment of those suffering and their hope and encouragement to aspire towards a better life. And so it goes around and around. This is the creative being’s circle of life and where inspiration begins and ends is anybody’s guess.
When I was in university, I used to spend a lot of time sitting around campus watching life unfold. I’ve been so busy these past few years, so focused on my own reality of husband, home, children, that I’ve lost touch with the others – the characters outside my circle. I can’t remember the last time I met someone new…and I mean really met, not the cursory social interactions that one does, but met as in, sit down, pay attention, and learn about someone else’s hopes and heartaches.
But I am still privy to the stories of people from around the world because of the internet. Thank God for the internet – for it allows us creatives that are also in the business of raising little humans, to be part, in some small way, of lives beyond our own. It allows us to step outside, however temporarily, our circles and to expand and to enrich ourselves and our art. How fortunate we are to be able to be witnesses to each others’ lives and make something of what we see to better our own. Because we know, with all of our hearts, that when we better our lives, we contribute towards bettering the world.
As creatives, it is important to forge our own path, but the journey becomes far more profound when we watch others forging theirs.
May your week be inspired and inspiring, full of beauty and creativity, rich with all the stories of all the people you know and all the people you don’t, remembering, always, that there is, but, one story – the human story.
Hiba Masood is a writer, speaker and entrepreneur. You can read more of her thoughts on creativity, life and parenting on her page www.facebook.com/etdramamama.