Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Creativity and disability

Birds by vladstudio.com
I’ve been a fairly creative person most of my life. Topping the list of creative enterprises is my lifelong love of music, primarily singing. It’s the one I always return to if I stray. Songwriting and guitar were natural progressions for the type of music I sang. And I’ve always loved to write.

Over the last decade I’ve taken on some new creative challenges, including photography (samples), collage (sample), piano, song arrangement, writing blogs, and teaching music (web site).

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how being disabled and having chronic pain have affected my creativity – and vice-versa. There are the obvious physical effects – I’m limited as to where I can go to take photos; I don’t have the stamina to perform music as often as I once did; getting myself to choir is becoming more difficult to manage; and even with a raised garden box, I find gardening challenging and not as enjoyable as I once did. But there are some positive effects as well.

My most recent creative undertaking has taken me by surprise: I’ve begun baking. For some reason, this month I binge-watched The Great British Bakeoff: five seasons of very fancy baking – tarts, pastry, breads, puddings, biscuits (known in the US as cookies). Baking is not something I’ve ever spent much time doing, except my annual challah (braided egg bread) around the winter holidays and the very occasional batch of cookies. I was so inspired by the beautiful creations on the show, and it looked so satisfying to mix some ingredients together and, like magic, pull a savory pie or gorgeous dessert out of the oven or freezer. I love the science, the chemistry, and the artistry of it.

To get baking, my first task was to set up the kitchen in the cottage (studio) to make everything accessible. It’s a small space and I need to sit on a tall stool for most of my work. Almost everything is within reach now – bowls, pans, flour and sugar, utensils, appliances. It has also required purchasing quite a few toys tools. I’ve never before drooled over kitchen catalogs or cookbooks (aka baking porn). 

My first endeavors were mostly successful: fantastic focaccia, perfect pistachio shortbread, and a special order of vegan cinnamon rolls for Laurie. My cheesecake was a disappointment to me, though it got rave reviews from friends.

I have to wonder: is all this dabbling in different creative outlets a form of distraction for me? I don’t think about pain when I’m singing or arranging a song or kneading bread dough. I’m content doing something that’s fun and productive, and my mind is occupied with the task at hand and not stressing about my burning legs. A couple of times I’ve taken on a bit too much with a baking project and I get tired and sore, but I think that will get better as I get more organized and familiar with techniques and learn to pace myself.

Pure distraction for me is more about activities that don’t result in a satisfying product – things like watching TV, spending hours on Facebook, or playing games and doing puzzles on the iPad. I can get absorbed and sometimes forget about pain, but I don’t feel as satisfied at the end – sometimes, just the opposite: I feel like I’ve wasted time.

At a point in my life when I could – and sometimes do – feel rather useless, it’s good for me to dive into a project that feels purposeful, that results in something others might enjoy and that makes me feel competent and good about myself. Singing does that; taking beautiful and/or creative photos does that; and now baking something with care and love does that (though I need to search out vegan recipes for Laurie!). I’ve signed up for a 2-hour cooking workshop next weekend: 4 Desserts Every Cook Should Know (e.g. dark chocolate mousse!); we’ll see what comes of that, besides expanding waistlines.

Uh-oh, I just discovered three seasons of The Great Irish Bakeoff online. But this is research, not mindless watching! Right??

Pistachio shortbread


Connie Cohen said...

Nice Terri. Baking is also such an ancient art requiring basic tools, you dont need to be trying to continually master the latest technology, upgrading your techspeak or downloading the latest software. I think about painting that way too. Its just paper, pigments, brushes and some kind of love. The way people been doing it for a very long time. Connie

Shelly said...

to the tune of Matchmaker......Mess maker mess maker make me a mess....bake me a cake, knead me so dough. for goodness sake.....mess maker mess maker look through your book....and make me the perfect mess.

Nancy said...

And now, having the time and inclination, the Crone become curious about so many different paths! And it's so inspiring to me to see the way you navigate each one. When I come visit, "biscuits" please!

dohlink said...

This is lovely, your analysis and descriptions. Your experiences sound familial and familiar to me. I hope you're still using those toys, er, tools the next time I come north. Interested to see the Irish version.

DeEtte Beghtol Waleed said...

Terri, you are amazing. I don't know where you find the energy to take on yet another creative project. Thanks for the insight that creative projects take us out of our daily existence and put us on a higher plane.