The Introductory section to ‘Autumn Voices’, which I have been working on recently, contains a discussion about the nature of creativity. This passage is part of that discussion.
The French acrobat, Blondin, crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope one thousand feet long, pushing a wheelbarrow. In the analogy between Blondin’s daring feat and our creative processes, Blondin is the artist and the wheelbarrow is the work of art being pushed across the chasm which separates the idea and its realisation. The tension on the rope stands for the opposing forces which are an essential part of the creative process; and Blondin’s skill at staying on the rope represents the delicate balance required to tread the narrow line between these opposites.
For many writers it is one of the gifts of old age that we become more experienced and adept at this balancing act. We learn how to manage the loss of control, the disorder before a new order asserts itself; how to apply both discipline and freedom; we are better at walking the line between the humility to accept criticism and the arrogance required to believe we have something worth saying and to stick at it. By the time we reach later life we are more likely to have learned how to handle our co-existing contraries – believing two opposite things at once – that so often provides the ‘quarrel with ourselves,’ the creative tension. We have learned to accept ambiguity, knowing that paradox is often the only truth there is. We know how to reconcile the need to be both part of society and to step outside it as objective observers. When we are in our seventies and beyond, the tug between wanting to hide and needing to be found has become a recognisable part of creativity, rather than something confusing or frightening.