Peg wrote in her blog about her frustration with a weaving project and asked how to “Get back to work!” when frustrated. And included a link to a very interesting piece on writing by Elizabeth Gilbert, which reminds me vaguely of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet in some respects, but which I’m not going to touch on here.
I’m also not going to answer Peg’s question, sad to say. Instead I’d like to write a bit about the roots of frustration.
When I was traveling through Southeast Asia, I spent ten days at a silent meditation retreat in Thailand, learning about Buddhism through daily lectures while practicing meditation 8+ hours/day, and keeping silence 24 hours a day. It was very, very difficult, but I came out of it having learned a lot. (After 10 days of not speaking, your relationship with things changes subtly. It’s easier to just be with things, rather than having to manipulate them all the time by attaching names and language. It’s hard to explain – I never would have understood it, if I hadn’t done it.)
One of the things they taught us is that clinging lies at the core of suffering. Clinging, or attaching to a specific result, causes pain when the result doesn’t happen. The degree of pain, of course, is related to the degree of clinging. The tighter you cling to a desire, the more pain you feel when the desire does not happen.
In crafts, one of the things I learned early on, through much pain, is that while it is important to have a vision, falling in love with a specific vision is a sure formula for frustration. Because, even for a master, it is nearly impossible to implement in real materials the Grand Vision, exactly as conceived. The wood turns out to have a knot, you can’t find the right yarn, the clay shrinks in firing. The closer you cling to what you wanted, the greater the frustration.
This is one of the reasons I approach creation as a wandering journey, which starts with a fairly vague vision/destination, passes through a great deal of “I wonder what happens if?” and “Maybe I’ll try…” terrain, and finally wanders out to an end product, which hopefully satisfies me when I sit back and behold the finished piece. I do have goals, but I try to make them as broad as possible, and concentrate on the journey, rather than the end result. So I avoid frustration, because rather than to force a specific result, I work with the medium, flow with it, adapt around flaws and surprise discoveries. The end result is rarely exactly as I envisioned it, but it generally pleases me, and it satisfies my desire to learn, and to create. And by flowing around the problem, and changing the goal, I avoid frustration.
Sometimes, of course, one does have a specific vision. I’m making a wedding dress, and weaving fabric for it. I have a pattern to work from, and I have a set of samples that I think should weave up beautifully. It looks like everything’s all right. But what if disaster strikes? What if the warp starts sagging, what if the fabric turns out to be too warm, what if the house burns down and takes the finished dress with it?
Well, then I go back to the goal. The final goal, of course, is to get married, and to celebrate it with friends and family. I can do that stark naked. (Not that we want to go there. ) The secondary goal is to have a beautiful ceremony, with a wedding-dress that is appropriate to the occasion.
But does it have to be this incredible handwoven confection? No. If pressed for time, I could sew up a dress from machine-woven fabric in a day or two, or even – gasp! – buy one. (Or skip the dress entirely and get married in body paint…tempting!) So the dress is not critical. I’m not attached to the dress.
Then, of course, there’s the question of the specific vision for the dress. I have an idea for the dress, which is gradually solidifying – a pattern, some weaving drafts, and a general understanding of how it goes together – but I am not attached to that idea. If it turns out not to work, then I can turn to a different pattern without much angst, because I’m not attached to the pattern. My end goal here is something beautiful, which turns my skill as a weaver and a seamstress into a lovely finished piece appropriate to the event, but that doesn’t mean it has to be that specific pattern.
And so it evolves. I now have a clearer understanding of what I want to create, but I expect that the final dress will still not look exactly like what I’m envisioning…and that’s OK!
This is my approach to creating. I find that the less I cling to specific results, the less frustrated I become in the journey to my finished product. When I find myself becoming frustrated by my creative process, I ask myself, “What am I clinging to?” and try to ascertain if it’s truly vital, or if I’ve just gotten myself “stuck” on something. 99% of the time, it turns out to be something nonessential. I look at my stuck-ed-ness, laugh a little, and move on.
I have now beamed on about 1/4 of the warp, and hope to finish beaming over the three-day weekend. I am having some problems keeping the tension even, but am persevering – hopefully I’ll be able to work around the occasional loose spot in the warp, without having to cut off and re-tie. If not, well, it will be time to adapt again!