This is a description of a therapy session with Karen Collins who I saw in Montpelier for many years. I was amazed at what it reveals about my difficulty with my creativity. I had understood at one point that when Mother said “Don’t think you’re so great” it was because she was both threatened by and jealous of my intelligence, creativity, and enthusiasm. This journal piece certainly reflects that. But my recognition was long after this piece of work.
September 29, 1995
Work with Karen. We talked about the creative cycle. I said I was bummed out by the number of projects I had begun and never been able to finish. I used the seasonal quilt as an example. I had painted the design, bought the fabric, cut out pieces for one or two squares — I can’t remember if I ever started sewing. It’s all in a box labeled “quilt” that hasn’t been opened in years. I said to Karen that I hadn’t enjoyed it because I hadn’t been able to finish it, and that I saw that I’ve been able to change my attitude because the dollhouse has been different: I enjoyed every bit of time I spent working on it this year, and I still have the enjoyment, even if I never get any farther. Later, I saw that I had, in fact, enjoyed painting the design, though I couldn’t hold on to that enjoyment when I actually began to make the quilt. And I see now, writing about it, that what killed the quilt project was expectations, haste, and stinginess. I didn’t buy enough of the background blue color to just appliqué mountain and meadow pieces on to it, which would have made the job of keeping the squares flat much easier for an inexperienced quilter. I expected myself to baste it and then sew it on the machine, I have enough experience now to know that the enjoyment comes from the meditative sewing. It’s possible that I could resurrect this project, though at the moment I have no expectations. Certainly I couldn’t do it without the deep quiet of winter and perhaps some moral support in the form of a visiting friend.
I looked for, but could not find, the original painting. I saw the pictures as a particular landscape going through the seasons, the mountain, meadow and maybe a tree, I can’t remember what else was in the picture. Twelve square pieces, 3X4, to make the quilt.
I talk about “winter quiet” because this was the period when I was having such a hard time with the noise of planes.
Third cup of tea! Really, I’m very bad this morning. But I need help to go on writing about the session. OK we talked about the creative cycle. I described it by moving my hands up in front of my body, out and down in a circle. I described my failure with a motion that went up, but then fell back before it could reach the top of the cycle and move outward. I saw that I was angry at myself for my continual failures to push on through. Karen asked if I could separate out that one who was angry, or perhaps the one who she was angry at, the wimp who just couldn’t push through. I can’t remember now, it was confused, I think they both appeared together, a whiny drip complaining that I just can’t do it and someone accusing her of not caring enough. I put that one, or both of them, in the chair and then found myself shouting “That’s a lie, I do care, I do want to do those projects.” O yes, I had come up with a voice that says “you must not really want to do that” and recognized it as an introject of mother’s voice and that’s what I put in the chair. Once I got angry I wanted to throw things at her, Karen supplied me with cushions and I threw them, and finally turned the chair completely around and threw all the Kleenexes from my crying in there too.
Then as we began to explore the creative cycle again, Karen pointed out how the anxiety rises with the creativity. As I watched her repeat my gesture, I saw how, when I got to the part of the cycle where I should begin moving my hands outward toward the world, that what met me was a blast of hostility, that instead of a wimp who gives up, I was a person struggling against a very powerful current, so powerful that I am often swept backward, no matter how much I care about the inspiration or the project, no matter how much I want to share what’s in me with the world. That current of hostility is mostly introjected from mother (though it’s partly there in the world as well) and triggered by any sign of disinterest or difficulty on the part of the audience. When I saw what I was up against, when I saw the pressure and power of that hostility — of a mother who makes her four-year-old daughter wrong for singing and dancing, a father who loses his temper when she makes a mess — I saw that I was not a wimp who gives up but a child overpowered by her parents. I said “But I never did give up, I went on being creative — ” and Karen, in a swift beautiful move, went down on the floor in front of me and said “Yes! You went on being creative.” And I see that each time, as I met the force of the hostility preventing me from pushing my creative expression over the threshold to share it with the world, I would retreat back into safety and find some quieter, less threatening way to express myself — I wrote in my journal instead of writing letters or articles — but I never stopped writing. No matter how small and insignificant the outlet I never stopped finding ways to let my creativity out, like grass pushing up under asphalt.
I saw the power of mother’s hostility, what I failed to see was that it was much more powerful than my urge to be creative. It’s a wonder I produced as much as I did. I see that help from outside was what made it possible. Support from the Center for Archaic Studies helped me get The Feminine of History is Mystery into print, Journey Into Courage was created by a group, I had Dana’s support to build Neskaya.