3 November 2015
I feel I have to keep reminding everyone that these posts are just written and not edited! That’s the one thing this project has in common with NaNoWriMo, as well as the daily discipline. The original purpose is to get things written, and then refine afterwards, so publishing as you write is not part of the intended plan, and may be a bit crazy. I do sometimes change a word as I go, but I don’t go back and rewrite anything. It’s liberating, but because I’m making it public, also a bit risky. I would love to write well-crafted prose, and above all to develop a style of writing that is engaging and distinctive, but that will have to wait! It’s good to learn to swallow your pride and just put stuff out there.
One of the things that’s hard about running the bookshop is that I don’t really like being the centre of attention. In a way, I’m not – especially now that there are lots of other people involved; but I do still do most of the organisation of events, make the important decisions, and am the most obvious face of the Tree House. (As if treehouses had faces…) On the other hand, I do like indulging my own ideas – the films we show, for example, are pretty much all my choices! Responsibility – that sense of knowing you will be judged in some way for the choices you make – is at odds with my lack of self-confidence, but it’s also a chance for me to be creative. I can’t do the more orthodox creative things – art, music, dance, acting, and those sorts of things – but I can be creative in how I decide to run and develop this venture.
I am always thinking of how to develop what we do. I am inundated with ideas from other people, and I mostly listen but it’s rare that anyone says anything I haven’t already thought of. As I said yesterday, it’s not the ideas that are lacking, it’s the energy and sometimes the know-how to put them into practice.
One area where I do wish I had more flair is in the interior design of the place. I spend a lot of time looking around at the shelves, the walls, the ceiling (I love those two big wooden beams across the ceiling!) and try to work out how I want to decorate those surfaces, to make the place more magical. I want people to come in and feel a sense of wonder. I just don’t know where to start, despite the inspiration of many other places! But I am sure I will start to work on that side of things soon, and there will inevitably be a lot of trial and error, especially as I can’t afford to pay artists and artisans so will need to do most of it myself or press-gang my noble and willing volunteers.
Creativity is not just about those more obvious things, though – there is a creativity in relationships with people, in transforming abstract ideas into things that work in reality, in creating an environment that then sets in motion its own dynamic. The latter is probably the bit that relates most to me. I get disheartened quite often, but then I sit during a live music gig or an open mic or a poetry reading, and look around at engaged, happy people interacting with each other and sharing or enjoying a particular talent, and I tell myself that all this is happening because I have created a space where it can happen. Other people do most of the rest, but that’s what keeps me going when I feel like giving up: this is here because of me, these people are here ultimately because of me, we all know each other and are developing lovely friendships because of me. Not in a hubristic way, but just as a means of acknowledging that I am actually doing something and it’s good!
As a child I often felt I didn’t exist; I was always surprised at little things that reminded me that I did – being counted with the others on a school trip, for example, being picked for a sports team (I was useless at sport so that was always a test of self-esteem), little things like that. So apart from anything else, this project is a way of proving to myself that I do exist! Or maybe none of us do, but then it doesn’t really matter. I exist as much as anyone else, that’s all I need to know.
Getting a bit philosophical, though philosophy is real! It’s about reality. At the bookshop, we have a resident philosopher, and he makes us all think. I realise I haven’t had a good philosophical discussion with him in a while, that’s something to remedy!
The bookshop is partly about making elusive things real. It’s about those things that are not of commercial value or measurable in rational ways, it’s about exploring and promoting the importance of those synapses between the areas we do understand or can put into words. Literature is about words too, of course, but it’s also about conveying something in words that goes beyond words. The symbol of creativity for me is a tiny part of the magnificent ceiling that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel five hundred years ago: that famous scene where God creates Adam, with Adam as a kind of Greek godlike human figure, and God swirling in majesty, and the whole thing surrounded by Michelangelo’s huge, muscular figures. But the symbol itself is that tiny gap, that synapse, he leaves between the flaccid finger of Adam and the turgid finger of God – that moment forever caught where the spark of life is about to be transmitted. That’s where we all live, and everything we do is about reinforcing that creative moment – I don’t mean in a religious sense at all, just that the gap between our understanding of the world, the universe, and our sense of mystery is at the heart of anything creative.
Nick Cave – one of the household gods of the Tree House (more of that in a future post!) and someone who exudes creativity from every pore and every word he speaks publicly – says it better than me, in these final scenes of the wonderful film 20,000 Days on Earth. Watch this clip to the end – his last words are truly beautiful and resonate profoundly with my own understanding of what creativity is and what life is – ‘this shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect, this is where all love and tears and joy exist, this is the place, this is where we live’.