It is not easy to localise the inner origins of creativity, or even to define if it is a sort of innate quality or just the way we chose to look at things inside and outside ourselves. What is intuitively undeniable is that it has an intrinsic bond with the inner spaces of our minds and souls. This bound, which by its very nature is deeply stratified, had been historically romanticised in literature and popular culture, resulting in the ubiquitous myth and stereotype of the Tortured Artist. But even if it is a self-evident truth that most of the great art we recognise and appreciate comes from pain and sorrow, can creativity actually work when used for the personal and subjective need of overcoming emotional stress and traumas? And also, considering that each creative content brings the marks and scars of its creator, how is the content going to affect its creator back?
My personal, and therefore debatable, belief is that art and creativity, in general, are only really effective when intended as a manifestation of life and human sentiments so, from this perspective, it makes sense to consider it as a vehicle to elaborate and stabilise whatever meaning we are willing to attribute to it.
Many studies have been focusing on the alleged benefits of channeling overpowering feelings and emotions through creative processes, in order to find some sort of relief and significance in the cryptic and chaotic universe of the mind.
Expressive writing, for example, can be considered one of the most addressed and suggested creative activity to heal our inner selves and to recover from grief and emotional shock. This type of writing is usually free from any kind of fixed structure and literary conventions, as an expansive stream of consciousness and emotions which spreads out from the core. Supposedly, there is a connection between expressive writing and emotional wellness, but often the whole process can also create unexpected and turbulent developments.
When I first approached creative writing in this sense, I was surely too young to fully understand why I was feeling the urgency of grabbing a pen and fill pages and pages on my notebooks with apparently disconnected but extremely well-detailed descriptions of my current state of mind in relation to some events of my life. Nonetheless, the written words on an otherwise blank paper sheet just seemed to make much more sense than real life itself. The writing was helpful as it was giving some kind of order and, finally, a meaning to something that I was before struggling to fully comprehend. Also, it gave me a subtle feeling of power, as I was finding myself free to give my own perceptions and interpretations: I had the power to shape and create something out of the blurred disorder in which my mind was stuck. Moreover, in the inexorable flow of life events, I was finding comfort in the durable and static writing universe, where words would stay still in their natural symmetry. I was setting all my anguish and frustrations on my writings and, in return, my writings were giving me liberation, or at least a break from them.
Growing up usually makes life harder and not easier (sorry about that), and even this consoling structure had started to crumble when facing more thoughtful situations. Firstly, when emotional distress is at its worse, one of its most disturbing consequences is that it makes hard, if not impossible, to think straight and clear or to focus mental energies on anything else than the discomfort itself: pain is disrupting, isolating and paralysing, at times. Instead, Creative writing or creativity more in general, requires to take action and practically produce something. Also, writing usually implies preparing the mind to embrace the flow of thoughts and reflections necessary to discuss the matter. This process, which is essential in the healing process, can be painful and utterly overwhelming, as it forces you to re-think and therefore re-live the strain and all its outcomes. As a result, in the most exhausting circumstances, grief does not match creativity as much as the myth of the tortured artist made us used to believe. Instead, it can be self-defeating, in a way. Most probably, inspiration does not stand at the edges of human emotions, but in the nebulous space between them.
However, every mental and emotional state has a different way to manifest itself as well as every person has a strictly subjective approach when dealing with it, but what really seem to be determinant are time and timing. This means that one needs to feel ready to face and elaborate the discomfort before practically start trying to get over it, or it might bring on just as much damage as the damage itself. Unfortunately, pain does not have an expiry date and it is not possible to predict how much time is needed to recover from it, or even to determine how much time is needed to be ready to recover and which coping mechanism will truly help to cicatrise the open wound. From time to time, we only know what we are looking for when we find it, but the time we spend chasing surely is not wasted. It is just life happening.