Creativity and death – not so strange bedfellows

 

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of fellow GP and writer Leah Kaminsky’s “we’re all going to die“.

I have posted about before about the need to have conversations about death and dying in A better death and revealed some of my own journey after loved ones died in The healing power of creativity.

I’m delighted to report that Leah’s “joyful book about death” has exceeded my every expectation. My copy now has many turned page corners to mark sentences and passages that I want to come back to again.

we’re all going to die” added to the books that have most inspired me:

Favourite books for inspiration smaller kB (1024x768)

 

Far from being gloomy, the back cover of we’re all going to die says “by facing and accepting our coming death, we can all learn to live in a more vital, fearless and truthful way.”

Refreshingly honest, touchingly personal, and always with deep and respectful consideration of how difficult thinking about death and dying can be, this book has triggered lots of thoughts for me about how we can make more of our lives while not ignoring the inevitable presence of death, be it far or near, in relation to ourselves or those we love. (You can see my review here.)

In the context of my blog theme this year (what we can learn from the world around us and the characters within it, what inspires or heightens our creativity and how we can harness these influences), death and creativity might seem strange companions, and yet there are strong connections.

 

So looking at creativity through the lens of certain death in our lives, and building on we’re all going to die:

  • Being creative helps us fully experience life. A creative person who doesn’t express their creativity is not fully living.
  • Allow time for creativity. Creative results can’t be forced, but they need to be given the opportunity to materialise. What needs to be done, needs to be done – but don’t waste time on less important or unfulfilling activities.
  • Get your creativity out onto the page, canvas or preferred medium. If you die with your creative project inside, it will never see the light of day. You never know what is around the corner. Just get started and keep going.
  • Use your creativity to help you deal with death and the emotions it brings. Personal and professional experience has taught me that being creative can help us access emotions that we might otherwise struggle to face and this can help us heal as best we can, sometimes much later.
  • Use your creativity to honour the dead. This may take the form of a personal tribute or dedication, a creative ritual to help you remember your loved one or just knowing that spending time being creative can be a form of showing respect.
  • Let creativity help us to have conversations about death and dying. Leah talks about “death denialism”, pointing out that we have sanitised death. Creativity is one way we can make death real and challenge our feelings in a deeply respectful way.
  • Be kind and compassionate towards others. This was a strong take-home message from Leah’s book, and applying this to the creative theme, use kindness and compassion to foster and encourage others’ creativity. I have previously blogged about kindness in The best cuppa ever – don’t forget even the small things count.
  • Feed your creativity, and your joy in life itself, by surrounding yourself with beauty wherever you can. Things and spaces we love are important, but this extends beyond material beauty to meaningful relationships, listening to music that speaks to you or hearing the rain outside, wearing a scent you adore or a soft scarf you love the feel of, sitting in the sunshine and soaking up nature when you go for a walk – beauty in all senses. The corollary is also true – sometimes we need to cull that which means less to us.

 

Thank you to the lovely Leah Kaminsky for her frank exploration of her own confrontation with death and for inspiring this post (which can only but touch upon a few insights from Leah’s book).

Unashamed fangirl photo from the launch of “we’re all going to die (Leah is on the left):

Photo credit: Dionne Lew (dionnelew.com)

Photo credit: Dionne Lew (dionnelew.com)

If you only had a limited time left, is there something creative you would wish you had done (or done more of)? If you feel bold enough to publically share your creative dream, please feel free to comment below. If you’d rather not comment, please make a start on your creative process anyway!

Are there other synergies that you can see between creativity and death? I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments section.

 

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS), Facebook and Google+.

Disclaimer

© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith

 

The healing power of creativity

The research demonstrating the health benefits of being creative was touched upon in my last post. We could continue to talk science but for me it is very personal story.

During the mid to late 1990s, my family experienced the losses of a number of loved ones mostly due to cancer. I was lucky in lots of ways. I have a loving husband and family. I had a few years of my career as a doctor under my belt, I worked with people who were supportive and I had worked previously with a palliative care team. I was well-armed to process information about what was happening and to help my family. It did get me to wondering how people manage to navigate the health system without a health professional background but perhaps that’s a topic for another time.

wings-2-edited

Photo by Mia Holton

I ran between work, which I still found rewarding, and my role as a caring relative, always wishing I had found more time to spend with my loved one before they got sick. As each illness took its course, both difficult and precious times were shared, everybody made a significant contribution and we were brought closer as a family.

Life goes on. You pull yourself together and do the needful. Days and then weeks and months pass in a blur. But grieving is painful and I couldn’t stay numb forever. In the dark days that followed one of our losses, a dear and wise friend Dionne Lew suggested that I write and told me about “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I was surprised that she even thought of me as a writer as I had focused so completely on my career that I had not written fiction since high school. In fact I had read few novels since school as all my reading time was spent on medical journals.

I took her advice and wrote, at first tentatively, and gradually found that I got my right arm and my life back. Allowing myself to write let me process things differently, even when I was writing fiction. I strongly believe that when you write, you won’t go anywhere that you aren’t ready to go. Writing helped me to move on. I am also fascinated by how reading fiction, which is something I now do regularly, can help us to access our emotions, learn and better understand ourselves in a way that direct examination of our own lives might not allow. And the benefits don’t end with the written word. I also found that I enjoy painting and have found gardening to be another creative outlet.

Interestingly over the last decade I have noticed that when I don’t find the time for creative writing, I suffer terrifying nightmares. Not the kind of things I want to share or would ever write about even in fiction. It is like the creative urge is coiled up somewhere in my subconscious and needs to be given an opportunity to come out. I trudge back to my computer, start typing and they stop.

How has being creative helped you?

What are the consequences for you if you are not creative?

How you might make a change that promotes creativity and health?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

Disclaimer

© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)