Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pain and Creativity

A friend of mine, knowing how much I enjoy writing, innocently asked me in an email: “Getting any writing done [this summer]?” It was a fair question. He had run into me other summers at local coffee shops pounding feverishly away at my keyboard, working on another writing project. And indeed, I had recently completed a manuscript that will be published in September. I had two published articles in a peer-reviewed journal within the past six months, and two articles published in The Mennonite, the magazine for the Mennonite Church (MCUSA), and completed chapters to be included in two other books. My friend was also aware of my participation in a writers’ retreat/workshop at our university for the past number of years; usually held in the month of May.

But this summer has been different. Because of arthritis-riddled knees, I submitted myself to the skill of an orthopedic surgeon for total knee replacement in both knees. I am now nearly five weeks removed from that surgery, and it has been quite the journey. I’ve already written a little about it in a blog post titled “Pain and Prayer”. These past five weeks have been more filled with pain than creativity.

Pain really saps one’s strength and energy. In my earlier blog post, I wrote about ten hours that were nearly unbearable, but since then my pain has been manageable even if constant. In spite of the pain being manageable, I am constantly tired. I take two to three naps a day. At first it was mostly because of my pain medication. It is also because I can’t sleep as deeply at night. Being in a continual state of tiredness does not foster an environment for creativity.
Where I need to spend more time when the pain abates.

There is another factor. Before surgery, I would spend 20 to 30 minutes every morning sitting on our patio in silence and contemplation. These times alone were filled with inspirational moments, whether reflecting on something I’d read, a podcast or music I’d heard, or simply sitting in silence. The pain and the lack of mobility resulting from the surgery has altered this inspiring time. During my rehabilitation, I have tried doing this indoors, in my den, but there are too many distractions, none of the least of which is the pain.

Another possible reason for lack of creativity is that it has been over two years since my wife and I have lead a cross-cultural group to Guatemala and Mexico. I usually come back from these trips with loads of stories that need to be told. Indirectly, it was the pain in my knees that prevented us from leading such a group this past semester. Where shall I go to find new stories?

There is another problem that is related to the above paragraph. I currently do not have any particular writing project on the front burner. I have several ideas for future topics, but none is making my creative juices flow. I do believe, however, if I were not dealing with the pain factor, and if I were back to my routine of patio sitting, and if I were independent enough to drive to the local coffee shops, I would be feverishly pounding away on my keyboard like in years past. New projects and new ideas would feed the old ones and I would be working on several stories at the same time.

Pain is all-consuming and because it saps so much energy, it inhibits creativity. At least this has been my experience. I’m wondering if anyone has had a different experience. 

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