career

"I have come to realise that creativity is not a luxury, it’s a necessity."

I’m a horse trainer and I love my job but horses are terrible conversationalists. To me, they are the most beautiful animal on the planet but they care little for discussion of art or literature – or discussions on anything at all really. Horses evolved to run away from danger – which means they are always alert, always mobile, ever watchful. In some ways they’re a lot like turbo charged, furry rally cars with manic toddlers at the wheel.

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The year my third child went to school I started taking my dog for walks during my lunch break. One day I realised that, not only was I talking to him, I was also pointing out things of interest ('look at that cloud, it looks like a rabbit wearing roller skates!') and I decided that the time had come to start making some space for my own thoughts amid the chaos of family and work commitments.

I’m terrible at jigsaw puzzles, can’t stand small talk and suck at baking so I thought post graduate study would be a great way to restore a self esteem dented by my significant parenting skill defecits. As I now know, a PhD is the best way to annhiliate any shred of self confidence and ego that you might posses and is not, as I had hoped, just a handy way of being excused from some of the more boring minutiae of parenting… I pictured myself smiling serenely with six years of excuses up my sleeve, “Mummy can’t come and play dollies/zombie wars/dinosaur families right now, children, because she’s writing her thesis.”

The reality involved a great deal more chaos than serenity and a large measure of guilt.

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Several years later I have a PhD, a novel and a hard won understanding of the importance of creative thought. I still suck at baking and at jigsaw puzzles and I have missed more sports carnivals than I care to mention. But I am closer to understanding how to achieve some kind of balance between what wants to be done and what needs to be done. And I have come to realise that creativity is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Someone wise once said that art, literature and music exist because life itself is not enough. But I think that we write or paint or dance or play because life itself is too much. That one day you look into the clear night sky and realise how infinitely small you are. Or you look down at the sleeping face of your child and realise how infinitely large the feelings inside of you are. Or you listen to a piece of music and, out of nowhere it seems, there’s one note that resonates in your chest, prickling your skin and shortening your breath. Or you hold a book in your hands and the words are so big and so beautiful that you cry – not only because of the way that they make you feel but for the impossibility of ever writing anything as perfect.

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We need the distance that art offers because without it, living can be a lot like scrubbing newly sunburnt skin. I think we spend too much time worrying about what shape ball our kids are going to kick (or hit or catch) and not enough time worrying about how they’re going to find that distance if they need it.

Maybe in adulthood, we try to make that distance with material posessions – to fill the gaps between ourselves and the world with stuff in order to stop the big feelings getting in. Or we drown out the creative voice inside ourselves with a barrage of meaningless busyness and a junk food diet of social media and popular culture.

In our culture we are often made to feel guilty about pursuing creative goals because they’re seen as somehow inferior to monetary or even sporting achievements. Ask anyone under fifty to name their favourite sports star and they’ll have no problem. Their favourite poet? It's much harder to do. And yet our minds, if we’re lucky, will largely outlive the youthfulness of our bodies.

So it seems to me that finding what nurtures the mind and how we create the space we need in order to make sense of this world is a goal as worthy as any other.

Portland Jones lives in WA and is the author of Seeing the Elephant published by Margaret River Press, available here. She is currently working on her second novel.

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