I haven't written a blog post for almost eighteen months. Like people often do, I might say 'life got in the way' but I've come to realise something: That phrase is nonsense. Life's always there, rolling on. Sometimes it happily weaves around you, seeming to give you space to get that painting finished or long-overdue editing started. Sometimes it seems to swamp you, snuffing out sparks of creativity. But not every spark - or not for me, anyway. And this is why life hasn't got in the way. It just seems to have selected which sparks are burning.
I first noticed this happening while I was at university. Just as the third and final year of my degree in Visual Communication was about to begin, my dad was suddenly dying. He smoked a pipe and the only exercise he undertook was a stroll around Sainsbury's three times a week. So it wasn't a surprise but it was still a shock. I was on course to get a high 2:1, if not a First, and had overall thought myself capable of being a Graphic Designer when I graduated. But then this gulf of grief swallowed me up. It felt like life took over, real life. A couple of clear memories stand out of that time and they all involve me crying. The course leader gave me a choice: To battle on through and finish the year or take a break and come back the following year. There was no choice for me. I battled on.
I said it was what my dad wanted and then, after he died three months on from diagnosis, I said it's what he would have wanted. But that's not entirely true. I knew I wouldn't go back. I suddenly hated Graphic Design. I hated Art. My final year projects were a torture. My marks slumped. I had to attend a meeting to decide whether my extenuating circumstances meant my now slovenly, snivelling 2:2 could be bolstered up to a 2:1. I'll never forget the pitying disappointment in my tutor's eyes.
Degree finished, life persisted in rolling on. Before my dad's got ill, my boyfriend and I had booked our wedding. I said we should still do it, that it's what he would have wanted. But unlike with my degree, I knew with absolute clarity I loved my boyfriend. So we pressed on and we got married. And in the meantime, I didn't paint. I didn't design. I didn't write a jot. I didn't do any of the things I'd spent my life doing. But I did start volunteering at a primary school. I did run art projects with them. I did apply to do teacher training. I did, in short, remain creative. I was like a half-pumped balloon, squeeze it and it bulges with air in a different direction.
So, as for the past eighteen months, life has squeezed me and pushed creativity to different places. I can sketch like a sprinter (something I'm normally not that fussed to do) but painting has been an agonising marathon. I can write a whole novel, but anything short - like a blog or short story (something I've loved before now) - has eluded me. But I've learned to go with the flow, that there's little point in fighting life. I trust my brain to spark where it feels it can and not to punish it when it's too damp and squibbly for even an ember.
Life doesn't get in the way. It only shifts perspectives, desires, interests. It can zoom lens priorities and crystallise what's really important. Yes, it can put a dampener on parts of yourself for a time but it always allows other unexpected parts of yourself to fire up and burn brightly.
* As a side note, I did attend various drawing classes five years following my dad's death and I painted my first proper painting five years after that. And it took me twelve years to write a story. Some creative sparks can take a long time to reignite. I like to think they always do.