Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about what it means to live creatively. When I move to New England this summer, I will be hanging up my English teacher’s hat for a while and writing full time. I have two more novels coming out in the next few years and have just signed a two book deal with a YA publisher. Being a busy writer – a busy artist of any kind – is just the biggest privilege. But there’s a little warning bell going off in my head too. I have to make sure that I keep filling the well, that I keep my creativity alive, that lead a life that gives birth to the kind of fiction I want to share with my readers.
One of the writers currently mining the area of creativity is Patti Clark and her book, This Way Up, is out this month. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Patti Clark is an accomplished speaker and workshop leader dedicated to helping people through various life transitions on their journey to an extraordinary life. For more than 20 years, and over several continents, Patti has been sharing her knowledge and wisdom with others. She is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area who spends part of her time in the United States, and part of her time in New Zealand. She and her husband and their two sons live near the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Patti is planning to launch her new online workshops soon; these will be based on the 12 week journaling workbook from This Way Up: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life.
Here’s a little insight into Patti’s life and work:
Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
Optimistic, Enthusiastic, Happily motivated (I know that’s 4 words, I have a tendency to break the rules, perhaps I should add rebellious to the list?)
How would you describe your writing style?
I’m a journaller, so I tend to write in a free flowing style; my best work in this book was when I was in the flow and words just poured out. I have been told that my book reads in a very relatable, engaging way, as though I was taking through the page. This makes me very happy.
What do you love most about writing?
I love to journal and externalize the internal chatter. Sometimes my head feels so full and chaotic, that journaling and externalizing it, is the only thing that keeps me sane. I really wish I had one of those things described in Harry Potter, a Pensieve:
I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form. (Dumbledore)
What do you find hardest about writing?
When I feel like I HAVE to write; when I was on a deadline for finishing chapters for my publisher and I knew I had to keep to a schedule. I had a hard time getting into the flow and I couldn’t ‘hear’ the dialogue that I was trying to create.
Tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind This Way Up: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life.
I actually love this story, I put it in the intro of my book:
The process began at a bookstore in 2006, while I sat with my son Lukas, having coffee and leafing through a stack of self-help books. He asked why I hadn’t written my own book. He said that I had been telling him the stuff in those books for years, and that I shouldn’t be reading other people’s work, but writing my own. I knew immediately he was right. If I didn’t start writing, I felt like my own sons would doubt what I had been saying for years: “Follow your dreams! You can do it!” Not to mention it would be a kind of betrayal to myself.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about living a creative life?
That it is key! It is essential to being in touch with who a person really is; it connects a person to flow; and most importantly EVERYONE is creative in one way or another.
What kind of child were you?
What I remember is being fun, laughing a lot; being silly, talking a lot. I was short, skinny and had freckles; I was the mascot of the family
If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
Being able to fly! Hands down. I would love to fly, not like Superman, more along the lines of The Flying Nun.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet?
Jonathon Livingston Seagull (if he could talk and hang out with me – and maybe take me flying . . .)
Which book do you wish you’d written?
Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?
YES! I use far to many exclamation points! I am forever having to go back and replace them with simple periods. I just want people to know I’m excited, or raising my voice.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Well for work, I run workshops, similar tone to the book; when I’m not working, I love to walk on the beach near my house.
What are you reading at the moment?
I have about 3 books going at any given time; at the moment:
The Thriver’s Edge (by She Writes Press Sister – Dr. Donna Stoneham)
Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga (a novel by NZ Author Sarah-Kate Lynch)
Beautiful Affliction (by She Writes Press Sister – Lene Fogelberg)
And re-reading Illusions (by Richard Bach)
If you were an animal in a past life, what would it be and why?
A Dolphin – because I love the sea and I love how they take care of their young and how playful they are.
What’s your favourite word?
Enthusiastically (as an adverb, not an adjective)
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
What I focus on and think about, manifests.
“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”
-James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
Which writer do you most admire?
What song or piece of music would you choose as the theme tune to your life?
‘Love Is All You Need’ by The Beatles. (That wouldn’t be my favorite song, but it would be my theme)
Where do you write?
At home, upstairs, looking out the window, out toward the sea.
What are your top three tips on living creatively?
- Everyone is creative! So don’t be afraid to play and experiment until you find your flow.
- Take time to be creative everyday. Journal, dance, garden, cook, do something you love that you can lose yourself in.
- Have Fun being creative! Your creativity is yours, not for anyone else to judge (or even to see if you don’t want them to)
You can find out more about Patti by reading her wonderful book, This Way Up, by going to the book’s website, by going to Patti’s own website and Facebook page and by following her on twitter. She has also generously sent me the prologue of her new book so do take a sneak peak below.
This Way Up
Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and
Transforming Your Life
By Patti Clark
Most women know this feeling of being more and more invisible every day.
There I was, in my little Honda Accord, parked under a tree, thinking I was hidden from view, sobbing my eyes out. I sat up sharply when a young man rapped on my window and asked me if I was okay. I hastily wiped the tears from my eyes. Judging from the look of shock on that poor boy’s face, I knew I had smeared black mascara down half my face. I attempted a weak smile and a nod of my head to let him know I was fine—God forbid he should feel bad on my account.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope, though. My youngest son, Cody, had just kissed me good-bye as he strode eagerly into his new home—a just-built dormitory on the campus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It had been agony when my oldest son, Julian, had left three short years before, but at least I still had my baby at home: a raison d’être. Now that my baby had flown the nest, what did I have left?
How had this happened? How had I become this weak, simpering, pathetic person? Who the hell was this woman?
I used to be so robust. I used to travel around the globe, hitchhike alone, grab the world with both hands—carefree and oh so strong. It seemed like only yesterday that I had been the one wandering in and out of stately university halls, the one who was fiercely embracing the wild abandon of newfound independence.
I looked down at myself sitting in the red bucket seat of my little car. I half expected to see my body turning hazy and disappearing right before my eyes. That’s what it felt like. Like I was disappearing, diminishing. It felt like I had been tearing out small pieces of myself and then giving me away, bit by bit.
I had been a good wife. I supported my husband, Jay, while he pursued the jobs and the life he thought would be best for us. Then I had children and I became a good mother. My boys confirmed I was the best mother anyone could ever hope for. Even when Jay died suddenly, I knew I had to hold it together for the kids. I was there for them and simply threw myself more than ever into my maternal role. But eventually, I gave away so much of myself that I wasn’t sure I even existed anymore.
I glanced over at the passenger seat, where a note from my big sister, Kenya, sat. She had left for me, wishing me a safe trip as I dropped off my son to start his new life. She knew it would be a hard journey. I silently sent her a blessing. Kenya knew me so well. She and I had become a team when our mother had died very young, and we had helped raise each other, although because I was only sixteen when our mother died and because Kenya was the older sister, she had definitely taken on the lion’s share of responsibility.
Our mother, Kathryn, had been a hopeless romantic and had had a peculiar penchant for the letter K—hence our names, Kenya and Katya, which eventually became shortened to Ki and Kat. This note from my sister, however, was addressed simply to K, which had replaced Kat more and more as of late. I snorted humorlessly—even my name was diminishing. As I sat there in my car, feeling bereft, with tears streaming down my face, I wondered whether one day soon I would just be reduced to the point of nonexistence.
“Oh, hell!” I said out loud to myself. “Quit feeling sorry for yourself, or at least leave this parking lot and don’t embarrass your poor son any further.”
And, with that, I hastily backed my Honda out of its space, barely missing a young woman loaded down with pillows and boxes.
Shamefaced, I mouthed, Sorry, and drove away.
My tears welled up again as I thought of my son, so eager to join the other young people who were wandering around on campus, strutting their youth and independence. The thought of returning to my cold, empty house was just too much to bear.
The sun was shining and the leaves were just starting to change colors as I drove through town. The day seemed so bright and autumnal, so optimistic—the opposite of how I felt.
I noticed a small pub I used to frequent, the site of many late nights and raucous events with Kenya and a few other friends. I hadn’t been there in years; as a matter of fact, I hadn’t had any alcohol in years. However, at that particular moment, it seemed like the perfect place to go—dark inside, to match my mood. There was no one home who would miss me. No one would notice if I had just a bit of wine to ease the pain of saying good-bye to my baby. So I pulled into the parking area of the pub and swore I would have just one glass of wine before I went home, just to numb the pain a little bit and to postpone entering the inevitable empty house awaiting me.
I parked my car, went inside, and paused for a minute to allow my eyes to adjust to the dim interior after the bright sunlight. I went up to the bar and ordered a glass of wine. I took the glass over to a seat as far away from the window and the sunlight as possible. I savored the first sip; it went down like . . . well, like the first sip of wine after a period of abstinence. It felt great.
As I sat at the table and twirled the glass, watching the wine swirl around, I thought about motherhood, and I couldn’t help recalling my own mother, a melancholy alcoholic whose depression and alcoholism had overshadowed our family and our home all my life. Weeks could go by without the curtains being opened at all. It didn’t matter whether it was winter or summer; our house existed in a perpetual, oppressive state of gloom. Dishes didn’t get washed and laundry piled up while our mother sat at the kitchen table, listening to opera records, drinking bourbon, and crying. I hated being there.
My mother had once been an independent woman. She had gone to the University of California, Berkeley, in the ’40s, which was relatively rare for a woman back then. She used to love to tell Kenya and me about going to Cal way back when. Her sister, my aunt, also went to Cal. When they got together, they would drink and laugh and tell inside jokes. It was fun to sit and listen to them as they reminisced. Well, fun for the first hour, until they got drunk and sloppy. Their influence and stories were what inspired both Kenya and me to go to UC Berkeley, too. Sisters following sisters, in more ways than one.
My mom finished her degree and then got a good job working at the ports of San Francisco—again, a real rarity for women back then. She told stories about that time in her life with a light in her eyes. I could almost imagine what she had been like.
But she had somehow become a shadow of the woman she once was. She had lost herself. It began when she got married. She was a good Catholic girl, and she married a good Catholic boy, and so she quit her job and got pregnant. My father bought the family a nice house in the Bay Area, and my mother started her rapid descent.
I’m not sure if it was the alcohol that caused the depression in my mother or if the depression made the alcoholism worse, but either way, the combination was lethal. Everything seemed to overwhelm her, and the way she dealt with the overwhelm was to drink, which meant that nothing got done, which meant that she seemed even more overwhelmed.
As much as I hated being home, I also didn’t feel very comfortable in my own skin, so I wasn’t very happy not being home, either. Then, as a teenager, I found the magic answer. I realized that alcohol did a great job of numbing pain in a fast and efficient manner; I felt much more comfortable in my body after a few drinks.
Most of my memories of high school and college revolve around alcohol. I was usually the one who got drunk first and made a fool of herself; I was usually the one who got sick at parties and passed out. And yet I consistently convinced myself I was having fun and was the life of the party.
In retrospect, I know I was just following in my mother’s footsteps. When I was young, every Christmas, birthday, and wedding meant a lot of food but even more booze. The bar was always well stocked, so it’s not surprising that I always associated holidays, celebrations, and parties with an abundance of alcohol. I was certain that alcohol meant having a good time—and having a lot of alcohol meant having a really good time. I saw the parallels between my own drinking and the behavior I hated in my mother, but denial is a powerful thing.
I always started out thinking alcohol would help any situation. I used it as a form of self-medication, in an attempt either to feel better about myself or to slow down at the end of a day. But invariably it just exacerbated whatever I was experiencing. Yet I continued to drink a lot after college and into adulthood, never missing an opportunity for a few cocktails with friends or a TGIF drink after work, even though alcohol always left me feeling like crap.
Then I got pregnant and I knew things had to change.
I did my research; I understood my own history, I knew that alcoholism and depression are hereditary, and I learned that biology makes us more vulnerable to all sorts of mood disorders. I resolved that I would be different. I would be a good mother. I was ready to break a multigenerational pattern.
But everything seemed so hard with young children; there was so much to do that I constantly felt overextended and rushed, as if I could never catch up. I felt as if I had lost myself along the way. And losing myself was painful.
So the cycle began again, and it wasn’t long before it impacted my own family. It wasn’t just me who hated me after one too many; my boys couldn’t stand it either when I drank too much. And the sound of their voices, an echo of my own voice pleading with my mother about her drinking, was just too painful. So I made the choice to stop, and now I hadn’t had any alcohol in several years, not just because of my history but also because of my physiology, the fact that one glass of wine inevitably led to at least three, which left my middle-aged body feeling quite horrible.
But as I finished that first glass of wine at the pub, amnesia set in. I forgot all about my physiology and my history, and all I could think about was my empty house and a huge sense of loneliness. So I walked over to the bar.
As I approached with my empty glass, the bartender was already pouring a second one.
“I figured you’d want to take advantage of our two-for-one Tuesday special,” he said amicably.
I smiled at him and walked back to my table.
Well, if I’m paying for only one, it’s not really like I’m having two drinks, I told myself.
In my dark corner, I took a large sip from the second glass of wine. It was warm going down. I was feeling a bit fuzzy and relaxed. I wasn’t ready to go home yet, but I felt better now than I had when I walked in. In my mellow mood, I started thinking about Jay, and my heart softened, until tears began to roll down my cheeks once again.
Ah, Jay, the love of my life. The man who I thought would rescue me from myself.
We met in the early ’80s, when I was living in Tucson, Arizona, working with refugees. I went to a talk at the Tucson Central Library about the ongoing Cambodian humanitarian crisis, given by a man working with Doctors Without Borders. The speaker was tall and poised and passionate. He was relatively young to be a doctor but seemed knowledgeable and sure of himself. His passion was contagious, and his confidence was alluring.
I stayed after the talk to ask a few questions. I was working with quite a few Cambodians, so I felt justified in waiting to talk to him. I convinced myself it was for the good of my clients and had nothing to do with his broad shoulders or his beautiful beard. I waited until all the other people had asked their questions, and then I went up to him to ask my question. But before I could ask him anything, he said he was starving and asked if I wouldn’t mind going with him to get a burrito, and we could talk then.
He didn’t have a car, so I drove us to a popular café that specialized in massive burritos. There, I found out that Jay was originally from Wisconsin but had studied medicine in Tucson. By the time we had finished our food, I was star-struck. I had never met anyone like him. He was so good, so altruistic. I felt selfish and small with him. He made me want to be a better person.
The sight of my empty wineglass snapped me out of my reverie long enough to make me realize what a bad idea it had been to start thinking about Jay in this place. Now, feeling sadder and lonelier than ever, and feeling that warm buzz from the wine, I thought vaguely that another glass seemed like a great idea.
As I approached the bar for the third time, I pulled out my wallet.
“I’ll have one more, but let me pay for that now; I won’t be having any more after this,” I said firmly.
“Shall I give you two more? The deal’s still on,” the bartender said innocently.
“Well, why not? It would be a waste if you didn’t.” I took the two glasses back to my table.
I’d love to say that this round of wine made me feel better, but the more I drank, the more morose I became. Remembering my early days traveling with Jay made me long for the woman I used to be, and the thought of the empty days ahead left me feeling lost and sad, and then irritated that I wasn’t that woman anymore, that I had somehow lost touch with her.
After the boys were born, I was frustrated with Jay for being away so much of the time. I refused to travel with the boys to the areas of the world where he worked. They were dangerous places, and most of the diseases he was treating were infectious, and I didn’t want my sons anywhere near them.
It was getting dark when I finally left the pub. As I fumbled with my car keys to unlock the door, I dropped them and cautioned myself to drive carefully. I took a mint out of my purse to suck on, just in case, and rolled down the window so I’d have lots of fresh air on the way home.
I started driving home along the lakefront road. I gazed out the window as the sun set over the water. The view was glorious, like some big-budget Hollywood movie ending. As I watched the sun drop below the horizon, my mind wandered and I didn’t even notice the approaching tree.