I have been battling monsters.
Given the topic and focus of this blog, you might be assuming that I’m speaking metaphorically, and that the monsters in question are some kind of inner/psychological demons that thwart creativity or productivity and that I’ve found some devilishly clever way to keep them at bay.
Nope. I’m speaking literally, and the monsters in question are members of the plant kingdom, but they are monsters nonetheless. They are roses. Known as ‘Multiflora Roses’, ‘Baby Roses’ or ‘Rambler Roses’, Latin name Rosa Multiflora, they are native to Eastern Asia and considered, here in Nova Scotia, an aggressive invasive species.
I’m currently visiting my parents in the countryside, and their large and lovely property has been invaded by these plants in what I can only describe as a hostile takeover. I have set myself against them. It’s war. But, as always, there’s a creative lesson to be learned here…
I am no stranger to hard work, whether the physical kind or the more cerebral variety. I worked as a teenager on farms, and then as a treeplanter, on an assembly line, in warehouses, that kind of thing. I’m a fairly big and relatively strong guy, and I’ve run several marathons, so I know a little about endurance and pushing through physical barriers. But I’ve rarely worked as hard as this.
The roses, in an open field, are reasonable enough – large bushes, with enough thorns to scratch your arms up quite nicely if you try to get at the rootstock to cut through it. They are not unattractive, but they will multiply like rabbits if conditions are right, and apparently my parents’ back field is a kind of paradise for them.
But when they spring up next to a tree, things really get interesting. They send long, tendril-like climbing shoots up into the branches of the tree, and these wind around each other in a kind of tortured chaos, choking off the lower branches and eventually, if left to their devices, killing the tree.
I like trees.
So I’ve declared myself the enemy of these invaders and am trying to rid the property of them, and save the trees. It’s an uphill battle, and I will doubtless fail to eradicate them completely, time being limited and all, but I’m determined to at least deal them a significant setback while I’m here.
This involves hacking away at the roots and hauling these vicious tendrils, some 30 feet long or more, out and away from the trees. It’s rough, rugged, intense work and I’m completely exhausted after a couple of hours of it, drenched and battle-scarred, but it’s extremely satisfying to see the trees set free from their tormentors.
So, umm, where’s the lesson?
Most of the time, my work leans a lot more towards the cerebral side. I still haul some pretty heavy gear, and put in some long hours rehearsing sometimes, but for the most part I’m not physically drained to the core of my being at the end of the day. So it’s rather good to remember that feeling once in a while.
And here’s the odd thing (I’ve noticed this before, but on this trip it’s been even more apparent): solid physical work seems to open up a kind of creative flow for me. Despite the physical exhaustion, I’ve been charged up with creative energy at night, and I’ve been cranking out pieces for the Sound Fascination project. I’ve been using photographs by various members of my family as inspiration, which is a nice way of connecting with them. And I’ve been quite satisfied with the results!
Why might this be? Why does exhausting myself completely on a physical level seem to leave me charged up with creative energy?
The swing of the pendulum
It seems that for me, working the body seems to rest and recharge the mind. It gives me time to think, and with the body in motion a different kind of mental/creative flow emerges. Away from the instrument or the medium of creativity, the mind can wander down different pathways (I’ve also been composing this blog post, for what it’s worth…)
This works for running, too, and perhaps for other forms of exercise – but there’s something about physical work, with immediately visible and measurable rewards, that is different somehow.
Or maybe it’s the fact that the work I’m doing here is, for lack of a better word, destructive rather than creative (I’ve been chopping wood as well). Maybe it’s a balance thing; after tearing these monster roses limb from limb, I need to do something creative and beautiful to restore my equilibrium.
Either way, something’s working. Now I just have to find a way to keep the momentum up after I leave and get back to my ‘real life’. I won’t miss scratching my arms to ribbons, and I guess the remaining roses will breathe a collective sigh… but watch out, I’ll be back next year for the rest of you lot!
Your turn – does this resonate for you? What’s your relationship with hard physical labour? Does it enhance or inhibit your creative flow?