Category Archives: Creativity

Some Thoughts on Confidentiality

Sometimes when I’m in a group and we’re talking about keeping things confidential, I feel myself nodding and see others nodding (yes, of course, we’ll keep confidentiality), and I wonder if we’re actually thinking about what confidentiality means and why it’s important. Or are we just agreeing to confidentiality as a condition of belonging to the group? Of course we won’t talk about what Sally wrote, or pass along what Kevin said about his writing. We are nice people. We would never do such a thing. But then you get outside the group, and something that made an impact, whether it’s something someone wrote or said, is still with you, gee, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to scratch that itch, to express your surprise or dismay or alarm or amusement. What would it hurt? Who would know?

The Writing Group as Container
To understand the importance of confidentiality, it may help to think of the writing group as a container that we co-create for our mutual safety and benefit. You yourself are a kind of container for your own writing – when you find a regular place to go to, a regular time, music that feeds your carl larssonmuse, a warm mug in the hand, a journal or a pen that just feel right – you are putting in place the elements of a reliable container in which you can feel, imagine, think, dream, and write. You know that in these conditions, chances are good that you will be able to embark on that journey that only writing makes possible.



Confidentiality as Safety Net
The container of a group can provide an even more resilient and robust space for creativity to happen. And in addition to a regular meeting space, a regular time, rituals like brownies and tea—the practice of confidentiality is one of the conditions that create and maintain a strong container for the group. Confidentiality is the condition that allows people to go further than they might allow themselves to go on their own. Knowing that our words will stay within the group, within the space in which we write, we can take risks, explore the things that have begged to be written but perhaps Trapeze_artists_1890we were too afraid to write alone. We can try on different selves, different voices, say yes to the images that don’t make sense, the words that we aren’t sure about but that call to us anyway. It is in this experimentation that we get to stretch and strengthen our creativity, where we are able to glimpse the larger mystery of who we are. Confidentiality is the net that allows us to toe our way out along the tight rope. We know it will be there if we fall.

Confidentiality Serves All of Us
It may be obvious that confidentiality serves the writer. But I believe that it also serves the listener. How? Confidentiality tells you, as the listener, that you don’t have to take anything with you. It tells you when your work is done. Picture confidentiality as a boundary encircling the group. As you leave the group, you pass beyond the boundary, and you can leave everything there, you can drop the Punishment_sisyphweight of whatever you were asked to hold. You don’t need to take it with you – and in fact, confidentiality is a gift that lets you leave it behind. We all have enough work to do without picking up work we aren’t asked to do.

I don’t want to overstate this or make people feel uptight about confidentiality. My intention here is just to probe my own understanding about why it’s important, and share these thoughts in the hopes that it might help others think more deeply and imaginatively about confidentiality. To see it as a resource, in fact, and not a simple “should” that we all agree to because we are nice people.

The Shelter of Confidentiality
In some mysterious way, I believe, that in between the times we meet, the threads of all that has been written, the beginnings, the false starts, the break throughs, the sweet conclusions, the scary shadows, all of those dwell and mingle in the quiet of that space. night_time_landscape__by_glorac-d4wkrsoAnd they grow and evolve, like bread dough rising under a tea towel on a warm stovetop. And that growth is lessened if we disturb it by talking about it outside the group.

(I’m not talking about your own writing of course. Please, please, do what you like with your own writing in between our meetings. If something got sparked, go home and fan, fan, fan those embers.)

But consider, deeply consider leaving alone, even in the quiet of your own mind, the work of others. Think of our time in the writing group as a guided beach walk, where we look under rocks to glmpse all the amazing, vibrant, creeping and crawling life going on below. On a beach walk, we leave those creatures where they are so that they can continue to thrive and live the lives they are meant to live. purple rock crabOur interference may thwart those unique lives that have their own pattern and meaning. We glimpse, we return the rock gently, and we continue on, living and letting live.

Hearing Ourselves into Being

Recently I had an experience that reminded me of what can happen when I share my creativity with someone I trust. I was gifted with a beautiful dream of walking through an old European city late at night. There were few people in the square where I found myself. Small groups of people stood waiting for the chimes of an immense, shadowy cathedral to ring 4:00 a.m. Priests and others in robes were filing into the cathedral to prepare for a mass that would begin in a few hours. I didn’t know what the dream “meant” — I still don’t, and I don’t much care to pin down an interpretation. But I did want to share the powerful images with someone, and I chose someone I know who would listen closely. As I described the narrative of the dream, my voice broke on the word “cathedral” and I was awash in a sense of great energy and potential, a feeling that my unconscious was showing me that my current path in life is taking me into immense, heretofore unknown resources of beauty, tradition, and wisdom that lie deep within. The import of the images broke through as I voiced them. My heart was able to throb its knowing, and cut through any intellectualizing or skepticism or uncertainty that easily could have obscured the dream’s gift, the gift of the creative unconscious. Being heard, knowing that I was sharing this gift with someone who has a reverence for life and its mysteries, allowed my own deep knowing to register, and for me to see and feel the bounty that life is currently bestowing.

I think something similar can happen when sharing our writing. Of course it is wonderful to hear what people liked, what stood out, what they remembered. Just as wonderful is the opportunity for us to hear ourselves, to feel the newly written words taking shape in our throats and mouths, to feel our creativity flowing through us, first in writing, then in our voices. When we have trusted people to share our writing with, we can hear ourselves and our creativity into being. We can marvel and delight in our “unique creative genius” and we can welcome that genius home.

Life Work

I have been writing in some form for most of my life, and began keeping a journal at the age of 14. Aside from a few and far between occasions, I haven’t published my work. Not that I haven’t thought about it or wanted to. But my prevailing drive has been to write for its own sake, just to follow and explore the process of writing, to observe what happens when I have a regular writing practice and what happens when I get lazy and abandon my writing and my self. (Hint: the latter does not end in prettiness.)

I don’t resist publication out of some noble purity. Rather, for most of my life, it’s just been too damn scary to put my words out there. Papers for school were terrifying to me. Routinely, I would procrastinate…for months. Routinely, I would receive the paper back with two grades: one for the paper if I’d turned it on time, one for the actual grade the paper garnered. The promise of the higher grade did nothing to overcome my fear nor cure my procrastination. (Had I been a wiser child, that might have taught me that external rewards mean little in the grand scheme of things, but that is a lesson I still study and get wrong.)

Through my early years, when I did share something I wrote, I expected/hoped for one of two extremes: a national parade or public shaming. I wanted a response and I wanted it to be big.

What I wanted, I now realize, what I yearned for from either of those responses, was a forfeit of responsibility to my writing. What I wanted was an absolute, a stamp of approval or damnation that would permanently fix my relationship to writing. A judgment that would install me in the heavens where I believed the authors of New Yorker short stories strolled and chatted.  100906_cn-tilley_p465Or a dismissal that would cure me of the itch to write. Either imaginary response held the promise of certainty. Most of all, either response took away from me the lifelong task of finding my way by trying on different forms (fiction, essay, poetry) and different jobs (editing, reporting, writing coach, writing group facilitator), finding my way through doubt, fear, ecstasy, pride, the boredom and despair of fallow times, envy, mania, depression. The drama queen in me wanted a clear message from the outside: you belong, or get out and never think of writing again. I wanted someone else to decide for me what my life’s work would be about.

Of course, no one can decide for us what our life’s work will be. The work itself decides, when it keeps coming back time after time, even after we push it away, ignore it, abuse it with excess, or try to flog it for our own aggrandizement. It keeps coming back, insisting on us, tapping us on the shoulder quietly, getting us to try again, to humble ourselves before the task that it needs us to perform. Eventually, if we’re lucky, time gives us the opportunity to get out of our own way and settle down to the task we’ve been given to do.