Saturday, March 26, 2011

Creating for creating: portable sacred space for artists on the go

"Creativity, like many things, gives back when you use it." (Molly O'Keefe)

I was in Paris when I met Roberto. He spoke five languages, introduced me to neighborhood markets and bourgeois bars, and attempted to teach me tango (although I was too faint with awe at that point to remember any steps). He was writing a lengthy research paper about impoverished neighborhoods of Paris, and told me that in order to have time to write, he brought his laptop on his hour-long train commute.

“Even if I only get one perfect sentence out of it—it's worth it,” he said.

Modern writers, artists and other creatives wonder how sacred creative space can fit within a fairly commute-oriented work life. Author Kelly L. Stone writes that when we make space for creating, it naturally becomes a safe and comfortable place for one's muse to emerge. Much like a Pavlovian response, simply going into the space will energize the creative process.

But what can we do when our lives don’t allow us to sit home all day and create?

Believe it or not, we can assemble a portable version of a sacred space in the form of supplies: bags, drawing tools, notebooks, folders. It sounds simple, but your mind will help your muse along. It’s all about ritual and repetition.

Here are some ideas for coaxing out your traveling muse:

  • designate a notebook only for your creative ideas. Don’t write to-do lists in it (that's what your planner is for) or phone numbers. Make it sacred and it will give back to you.
  • get a large purse or handbag and put all of your creative materials in that bag. Find a few things (quotes, photos, drawings) that are motivational to you and keep you on your path and throw ‘em in.
  • for days when you’re feeling uninspired, include a token of your past success. For my business partner, Heather, this is easy; she can take an actual bag. For me, I would take a writing contract or a clip of a published article I’m particularly proud of.

The important part is the power of association you’ll create almost effortlessly each time you use your traveling sacred space for its purpose. You can be anywhere; it can involve coffee or Chardonnay (like perhaps it is for me right now...). It can even be on a noisy, crowded train in Paris. If you’ve decided that this is your creation time and make it a ritual—that’s what it will be.

Note to Boulder/Denver folks: check this out. It's a free, Denver-wide, creative-space-finder (who knew?) for artists in the area.

And let me know your secrets—how do you create your sacred artistic space?

Note: I wrote the original version of this article for the local Boulder-based eco-company, English Retreads.


  1. A few years ago, I used to commute from the DTC--by bus--for about 1 1/2 each way. I took one bus a short distance to transfer to another bus. That bus was the vehicle that got me to my transfer point, which was always characterized by a mad dash that was often futile. The middle bus--the #40--was the bulk of my commute. It's an unpleasant bus, mostly, full of smelly characters--always packed. I'd get on, scoot, put on my music, and stubbornly stare out the window (in some effort to forget how much I felt like a sardine).

    I actually miss those days now that I have the luxury of a space that is mine--that has quiet and a decent view--and space to write as I want. Back then, my music and the world...and the people--the guy I still refer to as Conan (a crush)--would find their way onto little post-it notes soiled with remnants from my work as a recruiter. Poems, ideas. But, mostly, even when I didn't jot something down, I was writing in my head.

    Sometimes, the best tool for writing is your heart.

  2. @Alma - definitely.

    When you commute, you get to collect bits of life. I tend to lose a lot of mine, or else I find them years later in dusty Word documents with non-specific titles (example: today I found one titled "Story1" - how useful was that? Good job, Amy).

    Sometimes I do get to save them. When I used to commute on the D.C. metro, I remember staring intensely at the metro map and playing games with it in my head, with the colors of the lines and the intersections... and later I wrote something about the idea of structure within random travel. Not sure where it is now (sigh), but it felt good to write and feels good to recall it.

    Thanks for commenting.