Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: Stoking the Creative Fires

Stoking the Creative Fires: 9 Ways to Rekindle Passion and Imagination
Phil Cousineau
Conari Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-57324-299-8

A book that begins with a fable will get my immediate attention. Phil Cousineau, author, film maker and screenwriter, introduces his work with a story from Leonardo da Vinci: a rock complains when it is struck again and again by a flint. The flint advised the rock to be patient and see the result. In time, after many attempts, beautiful fire burst forth.

Surely that is the summation of every artist's life. To try and try and try, and eventually, strike fire.

As a storyteller and a writer, I draw on many things around me for inspiration: nature, the people I meet, small surprises met along a day, and sometimes when I feel brave enough, deep emotion. Often I find what I need in my daily life. But then there are those other times.

If you write or create in any way you know what I am talking about. I am talking about those days, weeks and months where no creative, original, lyrical idea enters your mind or fingertips. Everything is rote, mundane. At these times a creative person can feel desperate because we thrive on spontaneity and inventiveness. To not be able to create is to not live fully.

I have been through those gray valleys a time or two. Once it was following a period of grieving when all I could write about was death, loss and sadness. At least I was writing, but in honesty I must say those words were mainly for myself. And I did not get that "yes!" feeling from having written them.

How then does an artist regain the spark? And how does someone who does not consider themselves creative find the inspiration for expression? Years ago I did a few workshops on this topic. My approaches were simplistic and fun. But Cousineau takes a spiritual, thoughtful approach that provides a path that fosters a deeper and probably more abiding sense of what it means to be creative, and how to feed that creativity to keep it nourished and vibrant.

The nine steps are divided into three parts: inspiration, perspiration, and realization. Bring a person who likes projects broken into manageable pieces, his approach appealed to me immediately--particularly the honesty of "perspiration." Think you'll attain you goal without work? Think again!

Simple exercises guide each chapter. For example, reverie: take a book from your book shelf, open it to any page and write down a line or two. Think about those lines for the rest of the day. While Cousineau finds this exercise a way to sink into reverie, it also encourages focus. Focusing on one small thing often leads to large philosophical ideas. In that process, the thinker wanders into old and new places, remembering and wondering. Which leads to new ideas.

Simple ideas to nurture creativity are found on almost every page. One that appealed to me with a sense of recognition was the "cabinet of wonder." What is in the cabinet? Your souvenirs, passions, things that you have collected because they speak to you in some way. My home is filled with such "cabinets"--my kitchen with its vintage tools, the box of small items found in the log cabin we moved, beads and bits that I have found in odd places in a little bag in my dresser drawer, memory boxes of letters and cards, etc. Each time I visit one of these "cabinets" I am reminded of the stories each item contains. Each item can send me into reverie, and often to writing.

For those seeking a path to inspiration, Stoking the Creative Fires might be the guide you need. For those already inspired, you will find more ways to develop your creative spirit. Cousineau provides a generous bibliography at the end of his book. Will you need those additional resources? I doubt it.



Dad gum Granny Sue. I was not going to being another book into this house - until I read your review. An excellent review -thanks for sharing how it touched you and your experience. I have enjoyed and learned from several other books by Phil Cousineau. Glad to find out about this one.

Granny Sue said...

Sorry, Ellouise!

Books like this one remind us to slow down and seek those places within that feed our imaginations and our souls. At this time of year, such reading sets the stage for the coming year, I think--we're more introspective in winter.

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