All this week I’m guest blogging at To Be Shouted, a creative blog started by James Wilson and his family. Each month, they choose a topic and each family member plus one guest blogger gets a week to do whatever they want with the topic. Posts on previous topics (bread, Sundays, home, maps) have included meditations on the topics, essays, paintings, photo essays, stories, just about anything you can think of as a way to conceptualize the topic in a creative way. This month’s topic is ‘river,’ and I’ve been immersed (pardon the pun) in the subject for the past couple of weeks preparing for my To Be Shouted debut.
I’ve been having a good time with the topic, but what’s been really interesting is watching my creative arc as the project developed.
My first step in developing something interesting was to brainstorm. What did I know about rivers? What rivers did I know? What did I think about them? What came to mind when I thought about the word ‘river.’ I wrote down everything I could think of and tacked the list on the cork board over my desk so I could see it each day.
As I got closer to my deadline, I began researching the topic on the Internet. What was a river? What came up on the first page when I Googled the term ‘river?’ That search led me a recording of Joni Mitchell’s “River” on YouTube which got me thinking about the number of river-related songs I knew. So I started searching on YouTube for videos of songs about rivers, which, in turn, led to the post I put up today. But it also started me thinking about the symbolic use of rivers in music, literature and art.
I also thought a lot about mythology and river gods, the words associated with rivers and the effects rivers have on the landscape. I wrote a couple of things about those topics, but I also wanted to do something creative.
The next step in my process was the jump into interpretation of rivers, leaving the physical reality of rivers behind and moving into the metaphysical and symbolic. I’ve written a poem, have a piece of flash fiction/short short in the works, and am working on a couple of visual pieces – all of which will start hitting the blog in the next couple of days.
What’s been nice about this is watching the creative work evolve. So often, when I’m faced with a grant proposal or a residency application, I have a difficult time coming up with what I want to do, a difficult time describing the kind of work I want to create. I now realize, that’s mostly because I’m trying to jump to the last stage of this process without doing any of the previous stages, without any of the brainstorming or processing of information. The work I propose always feels flat. So the guest blogging on To Be Shouted has been a valuable microcosm of my creative process and a really good learning experience for me.