The Arts and Wellbeing

The following are my notes from ‘A Creative Conversation about the Arts and Wellbeing’, primarily exploring ways that authors manage their anxiety. The main takeaway for me, was a stirring reminder that the arts are still mostly silent and invisible parts of the NZC.

Facilitated by Dr. Peter O’Connor from the Creative Thinking Project

Naomi Arnold | Hinemoana Baker | Selina Tusitala Marsh | Bonnie Etherington

Join the editor and authors of Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety for a conversation about the power and possibilities of the arts.

KQ: What is the power of the arts in our context, in our anxious world today? 

All: Rubbing hands together to warm our creativity, with a countdown, when we reach zero, place your hands where your creativity lives.

P: Where does your creativity come from?

B: Stomach, I go with my gut and my stomach leads me. Creativity is instinctual.

S: I think it all depends on the context. I’m an occasional poet. If someone needs a poem for a wedding, funeral—I’m there. Sometimes it’s my gut, sometimes my heart. [Hawaian concept of gut-heart]

H: I’m tempted to say my liver… in Māori “darling of my liver”

P: Like Coleridge’s Humours?

N: As a journalist, I listen to people and interpret their stories as safely as possible. Creativity for me always come from connecting to people.

P: This book has a good deal of gut, spleen, liver imagery… it talks a lot about how anxiety presents itself in our bodies.

P: It’s interesting to think we can warm our creativity with our hands. How else do you warm your creativity?

S: I seldom go anywhere without my notebook and pen. I have to write in order to know what I think, so I practice Julia Cameron’s Three Pages per morning.

  • Page one: who do you think you are?
  • Page two: soft wisdom, holding space: what do you have to say?

B: Quieting the hubbub… my story is often about visuals, but my filmmaker noticed that my story is also often about sound, so sometimes I need to muffle the sounds to clarify — going for a walk, working with my hands.

P: I see a lot of nodding!

H: Medication. Also, going to the gym, surrounding myself with people who understand my wellness issues, but medication is the main tool in my toolbelt to provide me with focus and clarity.

N: A daily practice, absolutely. It doesn’t really get easier. Brute force.

P: Being creative is quite hard work, it doesn’t just drop out of the sky. Part of the creative process is a process of a daily ritual: a way of being in the world, mastering what you want to say and how you want to say it.

S: It’s like meditation or flossing: it’s not easy, but it’s simple. I’ve always been a doodler. The drawn line has always been a release for me, it helps me think, relax, breathe.

P: People here are working in different creative ways. Is it reasonable to say that these practices are universal?

N: The muse isn’t very reliable! Brute force is one way to access it regularly…

P: What about making mistakes? How much of playful disciplinary mastery comes out when you’re writing?

H: You need to make the time for it, and a deadline. A regular writing group helps. Visiting school is where playfulness comes out!

B: I wish I were a playful writer… perhaps playfulness comes through in my research which is very generative for academic and creative writing—the excitement and fascination that comes from this.

P: Yeah, endless curiousity seems to sit at the heart of the creative process.

S: Publishing Mophead as a visual memoir, which started very playfully as doodles and loose storyboards, developing into hard work.

N: If I’m too creative, as a journalist, it’ll get cut. But sometimes I just write a really satisfying image or sentence, and it brings so much joy!

P: Is being involved in “joyous” creative processes a release for anxiety?

H: I’m interested in the tension between the dark at the light; putting things in different other contexts, where they don’t belong—collaging, exploring. I definitely don’t write about joy, but for the sake of it.

Audience Question: So many native cultures have singing and dancing as a part of their regular practice. This seems to me to be an engrained therapy that we’ve lost in Western culture. Do we need arts in our life to maintain our health?

H: The arts can be seen as a verb in that case…

Audience Question: How can you define creativity?

B: Anything new you make from old bits—not good or bad, but something you put together to get through the day.

N: That makes me think of compost! All your experiences thrown at it, and something grows out of it.

Audience Question: How does risk-taking influence your practice?

N: I was commissioned to write 60,000 words on NZ Astronomy (Southern Nights) and I knew nothing about astronomy when I started…

B: You’re always putting part of yourself out there, it’s always a risk.

N: Creativity also came out as an editor—I worked around some hurdles when putting these stories together… transcribing a rant, sending interview questions over facebook…

P: How do you work across forms?

H: When people ask to collaborate, choose the right person and then give them a big paddock. It’s amazing the outcome, I just need to let go of control.

B: Working with mentors who notice more than what I’m (intentionally) doing.