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For many years I have been searching for the language to talk about what it is I do. My mother, the engineer, is always challenging me to make my “poetic” explanations plain. As a writer, I wrestle with this constantly. I believe I have a responsibility to find the best words that can translate my ideas across different audiences. And then I also intuitively feel that those who naturally resonate with my process will hear me just fine, and be attracted to my work. Somewhere in the middle of these two truths is where I am trying to land.
In a diner somewhere in Brooklyn, eleven summers ago, I was having breakfast with a woman I had met only a few days before. We were both participants of Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute, and were staying across the hall from each other at the YWCA. She had quickly become one of those people you know you’ll be friends with for life, and during that brief, creatively-rich summer program, had been serving as my guide to the big, bold world of professional dance in New York City. I had just graduated from college two months earlier. But even with the High Honors I had received on my thesis, a degree in African Diaspora Studies with a Dance minor, I still felt extremely unworthy of calling myself a dancer. Every time I saw one of the Urban Bush Women company members dance, I wondered secretly, and painfully, to myself, But why am I here?
I don’t remember everything I ate at this diner, but I have a strong visual memory of loose yolks on a white plate with scattered hash browns, a half glass of orange juice growing warmer by the minute from the piercing sunbeams flooding our window booth. My medium-long locs pulled back into a ponytail at the center of my head because I always needed my hair out of my face and away from my neck. I didn’t even know then that I’d be shaving it all off a week later, and falling forever in love with my bald head.
Over our meal, my friend and I were reflecting on our experiences from the program. I’d been there almost two weeks and I think this was my last day in New York. It was almost time to catch a bus home and this scared me. I knew in many ways I’d be very alone once I returned to my life in Washington, DC. There would be no 40+ group of artists–many of them beautiful, courageous, amazingly talented black women dancers of all ages, shapes, and creative backgrounds– holding loving and nurturing space for me to find myself everyday. The work of having to really come into my own was going to be such a long, hard road. We’re still on that road. I just wanted New York, and its sense that I could possibly be greater than the mountain of doubts I carried inside, to linger a few moments more.
The reason this scene remains so vivid in my mind is because it was here that my friend, in the middle of our conversation, paused from slicing her food, looked up at me with very serious eyes and said, “You have something that can really help artists. You have something that will help them create more of what they want to create.” At the time I didn’t quite digest all she was saying. I’d never even known that was a skill one could possess, or even more, something for which one could be needed. And I really didn’t know how, after only knowing me for a little while, she could assert my potential with such certainty. But I remember feeling very good about her insights, validated in some quietly intuitive way that I couldn’t exactly name.
I tucked this bit of information into my mind, let it simmer peacefully for the better part of a decade. There was no need to reject it just because I didn’t fully understand it. I think the most rapid illumination of myself to myself spans the turbulent and majestic couple of years from my residency in Trinidad to my pregnancy with the munchkin. It was during this time that I started to feel like I could finally get what my friend had been saying with such confidence so long ago. How far I had come from the infant woman I was in that diner, an insecure virgin still cloaked in the name her parents had given her at birth.
It turned out my friend was right about my gift, and now I could see it too. There was in fact a recognizable expertise budding within me, a very strategic process of being able to identify the openings in another person’s creative practice, and then devising methods for them to access it authentically. After many colorful scribbles and scratch outs in the large, spiral-covered book that houses the glorious, unlined, white pages where I sort through all my dreams, I found a terminology that felt accurate for what I was cultivating. I called it Creative Wellness.
This awareness, like most of the language I have invented–my name included– was a slow-growing thing. Thankfully, because I keep all my journals, and doodles, and notes, and emails, I can trace the evolution of it all. I can map where a new impetus began taking shape in my work, especially whenever I was putting together movement menus for dance workshops. It became increasingly vital to me that I foster an environment of infinite wonder for my participants. I would spend days, weeks crafting the perfect sequence of questions and activities for what would become a mere one-hour workshop with people I would never see again. I couldn’t help but to keep reworking the order of events, how we entered and exited the circle, how we introduced ourselves to the process, how we went about peeling back the layers of our ideas, how we claimed the space and shared our short, but profound, creations with the group.
I would meditate on all these parts until the workshop flowed in such a way that would gently encourage each person to not only experience more of their creative side, but to become deeply invested in the reality that they really do possess an abundant source of creativity. I always wanted people to walk away from anything I facilitated with a definite and undeniable knowing: that their creative offering was essential for their own life to bloom in a meaningful way. And, that our collective actions as human beings embodying the creative spirit in our lives is what humanity really needs in order to thrive more vigorously, and more lovingly.
So many of us on this planet struggle with appreciating the truth about our inherent creativity. We feel we must rely on an external entity-a teacher, a reality show, an instructional video, a celebrity judge– to validate our right to express our ability to be creative. We waste our waking hours trying to justify why we haven’t really done what our heart is calling us to do. When I get that certification. When I can go back to school. When I get promoted. When I get accepted into this residency. For many of us it’s an endless chain of defeating thoughts. The tape plays ever loudly in our minds, a rambling list of reasons why we haven’t fully allowed our creative center to occupy its true space in our lives. And you wonder why you ain’t been feeling good?
I have come to see this epidemic of stagnation as a sort of wounded creativity. It can manifest in all sorts of ways, but for many of us it’s that sensation in the morning upon waking when we feel, with an almost guilty optimism, that maybe today will be the day. That today will be the day some beautiful epiphany shakes us free from all the fears we’ve been defending. In that moment we imagine, always a crystal clear picture emerges right before we get up off the pillow and start the old routine, that we will be able to triumphantly rise to the urgency pulsing within. We will finally feed our creative heart that is starving yet–and miraculously so– still beating. We will feel a spiritual fullness, an indestructible happiness that we’ve taken that first courageous step into the light and become what we always were, creators. My role, my work, is in helping people, and especially mothers, women, and artists, heal those things that are impending the authentic joy we feel when we are truly alive in our creative work.
So for my mother, and for me too because I am still learning to articulate this massive undertaking, Creative Wellness is the state of being in optimal alignment with the needs of your creative self so that you can feel whole about who you are and what you bring to the world. Creative wellness will look and function differently in every single person; there is no uni-prescription, no single cure-all. The remedy is a process of awakenings initiated by our own commitment to experimenting–hence the Lab–with our individual creative processes. It’s my job to stock the Lab with a healthy menu of creative explorations. In this way I am simply a joyful mad scientist researching and testing out artistic theories, concocting recipes for maximum self-discovery, listening deeply to everyone’s needs and customizing curriculum for each participant, constructing and facilitating workshops and activities that inspire us to journey deeper into the dense forests of our imagination, writing extensively about our findings and documenting the evolution of a methodology that I really think can change the world. Of course there are many art forms through which we can develop sustainable creative wellness, but our Lab focuses on mothering work, the writing process, and dance journeys.
This is the first of what will be many essays discussing the work of the Creative Wellness Lab and our methodology for actualizing these tools in everyday life. My hope is that you, whoever you are, wherever you are, feel more and more connected to your creativity with each interaction you have with the Lab. So much more is coming. Stay tuned…
The Creative Wellness Lab provides creativity coaching services and customized strategic program design for individuals, couples, families, youth, communities, and organizations. Our work centers on nurturing each client’s creative wellness in the areas of mothering work, writing, and dance. Learn more today!