Creativity: Loneliness becomes Solitude.
In 1979 I went to take up an appointment at Melbourne University. I would be living on my own and had not long been told I had multiple sclerosis. One of my friends gave me an article to read which places toxic loneliness, the sort that drives people away at one end of a calibrated scale and at the other end was solitude. It suggested that creativity was what was needed to convert loneliness into solitude. It didn’t need to be of epic proportions; I found trying a new recipe or setting out petunia plants on my window sill tipped the balance.
All I have left is words.
As the years have passed and I have been constrained by the multiple sclerosis I have found creativity can also help against desolation and grief. The multiple sclerosis has stolen from me most of my ways of being creative: singing, dancing, playing the piano, cooking, gardening and stitching at my tapestry – but it has left me words.
All the energy of my days
is now contained in language.
I think passionately,
breathe metaphoric connections.
Creativity or Medication.
But last year it was discovered that my spine had become so compressed that it had developed a fracture. For several months the doctor and I experimented with medication but nothing seemed to reduce the resulting spasms. The nervous system seems to be a circle and if you introduce an anti-spasm or anti-epileptic drug, it doesn’t eject the problem, it merely shunts it round a bit, so that instead of 2-3 spasms within 30 minutes, with 20 minutes of relative comfort, I was sitting on the brink of a spasm of the full 30 minutes, which when it came, was enormous. For the first few months all that was left of me was pain, grief and helplessness and only very gradually creativity stirred within me like an occasional bubble rising to the surface of my mind.
The particularity of pain
takes over the mind
right to the very edges,
an amorphous sludge
which leaves no space for poetry.
A poem requires connections,
they need to move freely.
Only occasionally, a snippet
struggles to emerge.
Then for some weeks, my mind was taken over by a blankness and emptiness. A friend tried to reassure me that was a significant spiritual state, but I was wasn’t fooled.
Emptiness, an attenuated self;
that’s how it was for several months.
My sense of self had almost disappeared
and there was only emptiness.
Emptiness had filled me.
That sounds logical enough,
but a self is defined
against another self,
emptiness, like nothingness,
is without boundaries.
This works only
if seen as a metaphor.
It was if the boundaries of self
were being eliminated;
as if I were crossing a threshold.
This is the language of mysticism,
reminiscent of The cloud of unknowing,
where the image of God is without form
without co-ordinates of space and time,
and must be defined by negatives
such as not here, not there, not up, not down.
This absence of God becomes a presence
to be welcomed with wondering love,
not as was happening to me
recoiled from, resisted.
The emptiness that assailed me
was not of my choosing;
defined by negatives,
even the word ‘engulfed’
implies location, movement
and belongs to the self, not to emptiness.
Without form and void,
there was no glimmer of light
heralding the approaching Spirit.
This was not divine nor demonic,
just incurably wrong.
A drawn out hypnagogic image
of a fractured spine,
a fracture that will go with me
into the grave.
Once the poem had written itself, I understood what was the matter. I often find I only understand what is going on when I have read the poem. The emptiness was not a state of being emptied out waiting to be filled with the light of God, it was my body’s way of processing how it interpreted the fracture.
Once I understood, my creativity was released and I could write again. The burden of grief and desolation had been lightened.