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Columns : Art Life - Susan Mackay Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Summer and Tea
By Susan Moir Mackay
Sep 10, 2008 - 10:45:33 AM

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Summer: heavy humid air, searing sun, sultry ocean, creating a weight of time. Many people have left to escape the heat or to explore new places, to vacation, take a break from the familiar.

When friends start to return I am interested how alive they seem, as if the
perfume of their vacation has vivified their soul and they still wear the
fragrance.  A fresh perspective, a time out or an adventure into something new,
will create that energy.

This summer, I have not gone away.  I have stayed to work on projects and
explore the peculiar state of being a childless mother.

Without the children there is a strange liberty yet also a deep inertia. Liberty to pick up and go as I please without an hour long search for a missing shoe or toy.  Inertia, caused by the lack of a compelling schedule or  cry -“MAMA, where is my shoe?”!

I have art projects and ideas, and writing projects, all things that should be
demanding my energy, my thrusting thoughts.  However a deep lassitude has
settled over me and in me.  I wonder about it.

In a slight stupor, I go to visit my dear friend, Paula.  I love visiting Paula; she makes every visit and any time an occasion to celebrate.  She offers me some refreshment and somehow, before I have any libation, we get lost in a conversation about the rituals and culture behind tea and coffee.  To Paula, tea making and tea drinking has an exotic scent of unusual.  Whenever Paula offers me tea she does so, with an excited tone, like we are about to embark on a fantastic adventure, so unfamiliar to her background of coffee drinking.  I share my memory of my father, teaching me how to make tea properly, from warming the pot, to swirling before pouring and the milk must be poured first.   Tea in Britain is like band aids in the States.  In any social situation a cup of tea is offered – from a cure to a broken heart to the bonding of friendships and
family.  And though not every time the tea is made with such quiet ceremony of
tea pot, tea cosey and best china, the tea must always be given time to brew.

This is vital to the tea making process, even if it is just a yellow label tea bag, allowing the leaves to infuse the water with their unique flavor. This same steeping is true as a necessary part of the creative process too.

I remember when I first moved to The Bahamas so optimistic, yet unformed in my ideas for creating my own artistic life, unsure how my brand of art could fit here, I would explain to my career oriented friends back in the UK, that this was my fallow time.

In considering artistic and creative endeavor, a fallow or dormant time is strangely part of the process.  The image of artist in frenzied passion, working on a canvas, paint splattered on his smock and empty garret of a studio, is considered a typical part of the active creative process.

What is less known and less recognized is the quiet time.  The space between, a
pause and reflection.  I refuse to use the horrifying phrase ‘creative block’, rather I want to trust the ebb and flow of creativity, like the waxing and waning of the moon and all natural cycles, and assume that this heavy silence inside me will shift like the weather come November - when the humidity lifts as if turned by a   switch.  Inside me in this silence, some deep infusion is taking place that will bring forth a burst of flavor - stimulation - like the fragrant tea I drink with Paula after patiently allowing the leaves time to permeate the steaming water.

I want to trust that I will find my inspiration again, that the world and art will shimmer and speak to my heart again, want to trust that this fallow time is the mulching of all my experiences, to create a more distilled form.  But the truth is the silence is uneasy, and my deep fear is that I will fall asleep - into the deep sleep of a contemporary fairy tale - the heady seductive sleep of inanities and consumerism, gossip and television where libations are served in plastic cups filled with overly sweet carbonated pop.

This is terrifying, beyond the idea of procrastination - that all too familiar lap dog - that all creative endeavors will from time to time be distracted by petting. 

Life is filled with an unending rhythm that we seem incapable of stopping.  We are constantly bombarded by expectations of living, paying bills, conforming, existing in a social and work structure, eating, surviving.   These are the ‘things’ that dull our senses and create dissatisfaction and boredom, so fatal to a healthy creative life.  Those are poison.  Escaping those societal and self inflicted barriers are necessary to dive deep into the well of inspiration and creativity.  Books Like “The Artist’s Way’  by Julia Cameron, or even abundantly joyful books like “Eat Mangoes Naked” by SARK,
can aid in the path through those creative blocks.   Those books are wonderful excavations into the deep juice of life.  They offer pathways around, over, and through blocks:  fears, preconceived ideas, held beliefs and lack of self belief that may be holding someone back from their true path and spirit.   They also offer hope that even when we are overwhelmed by the apparent weight of living, when inspiration seems to sinks beyond our grasp; we can carve space for even 5 minutes a day, frivolity or
escape, to allow the gentle re-vivification of our artistic heart.

In the ‘Artist’s Way’, Cameron requires you to list things that you can do that make you happy that are free.... on my list: skipping, looking at nature, exercising, reading, meditating, listening to music, lighting a candle.  All these things, so simple, almost trite, yet they are positive signs that tell our artistic muse that we remember her, and as Cameron calls it, we start to ‘fill our well’ (or as I would call it, put some tea leaves in the pot!).

I bought “The Artist’s Way” 4 years before I could make the commitment to myself to do the required morning pages writing and artist’s dates.  Though at the time of working through this book, I couldn’t have said consciously that I was blocked, that book really changed my life and creative flow!

What I am experiencing this summer is not a block.  No, no, no,  NOT  a block!  Merely a place of darkness, where I pray the seed of inspiration is gestating quietly, the tea is silently brewing ....

Two weeks later: The children have returned and the quiet of the house has shifted back into happy energy of life and my inspiration has also bounded out of its slumber and I am currently happily working on 4 diverse projects!  I go to Paula’s to celebrate - we share a hot fragrant cup of tea – brewed to perfection I might add!

About the author: Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Susan Moir Mackay is a professional artist with a B.A. (Hons) in Art and Design from Edinburgh College of Art. She is an impassioned advocate of art and has a deep abiding belief that art benefits individuals and communities. Susan has travelled extensively, observing art in all its forms and has invested much of her time to art education projects, as well as developing her own art works and exhibitions.   Susan currently lives in Freeport with her two children, Fiona and Dylan. She can be reached at sozmac@hotmail.com


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