Thursday, February 24, 2011

Creative Places

Any time I have an especially chaotic week I try to take a couple hours and escape to the water. When I've had a choice of where I lived I've always picked a place within driving distance of some coast. While I prefer the Atlantic to the Pacific, I think one of the reasons I was so productive as a writer when I lived in California was half the state is just one long beach. I never had to drive more than twenty minutes to be in a creative place.

A creative place is exactly what it says: a place where you can be creative. This is not the same as a writing space, workroom or wherever you choose to practice your art. A creative place is not about the doing of the work; it's a place that inspires you and gives you the time and space to think without the demands of your life and the rest of the world intruding or distracting you.

I know why my creative places are always around water. Water seems to be my natural element, and not just because I grew up in South Florida. For some reason the sight, sound, smell and feel of water has always rejuvenated me. When I need to quickly relax, I take a shower or a bath. When my insomnia is at its worst, playing a CD with the sound of ocean waves, a rushing stream or a rainstorm is the only thing that can help me fall asleep. The only place I've ever visited that completely creeped me out on every level was the desert.

Moving away from the sea to a place where lakes are the only significant bodies of water proved to be quite an adjustment, and at first I didn't like it at all. There is no comparison between walking along the beach and hanging out by a lake where 90% of the water's edges are on private property. Also, lakes don't smell the same, there aren't any seashells to pick up and the only waves that come in are from boaters who ignore the no-wake signs.

Driving and photography helped change my mind. I found a seldom-traveled road by one of the big lakes that quickly became a favorite route when I wanted to look at the water, plants and birds without being charged with trespassing. The first time I photographed a sunset over a lake, the light and the sky and the water conspired to blow my mind. Unlike the sea, lake water is generally calm, sometimes enough to act like a mirror.

Lakes, I quickly learned, are also very quiet, private places. You can't escape the hordes of noisy, nosy tourists at most beaches, while lakes are almost always deserted. When you can find the right spot on an empty public dock or in a small lakeside park, the solitude and silence can feel welcoming, as if the lake is lonely and wants you to pause and relax and think just to keep it company.

I've grown to love lakes so much that I've had to turn in my beach snob card, but I don't mind. I needed to reconnect with the water. I'm always finding new lakeside spots and retreats to love, and over the last couple of years have amassed a nice collection of places to go when I need some time to myself. Occasionally I'll take work with me if I'm planning to be there a while, but most of the time I just got to sit and look at the water and soak up the peace. That's when I get my best ideas, when I'm away from everything that buzzes and rings and demands my attention. If there were such a thing as an ivory tower, I'd build mine next to a lake.

Finding a creative place of your own isn't that difficult; you probably already have one. It doesn't have to be an outdoors spot, either; it could be an art museum, a library, a porch, a spare bedroom, a tea room or a little coffee shop. Where and what it is doesn't matter; it's your place. All it has to provide is the room for your creative side to bloom.

Now it's your turn: where do you go when you need some creative space?


  1. Weather permitting, it's in my own back yard, sitting in a comfortable patio chair. There's a huge old willow there, with limbs that bed low on the western side and leaves that sway with the slightest breeze, magically changing from olive-green to gold as the evening progresses.
    Think I could dream under that tree for a very long time.

  2. The sidewalks of my own suburban neighborhood. My block loops around in a one-mile loop and during the day it's mostly empty. It's amazing how one or two loops around the neighborhood are both calming and energizing. Old negative thoughts go away and new, productive ones come in.

    My biggest problem is fending off friends who want to go walking with me. All of them are sweet people who I love to spend time with in other circumstances but not right now!

  3. Anonymous7:12 AM

    I'm lucky. I work in a museum. For the past 13 years, I've worked in a museum that has art, science and history, so whatever I'm in the mood for, it's there.

    Lately, it's been Asian art. There are these two stone Temple Guards. They're in one of the stories I keep meaning to go back to. One is very serious and one is grinning. I love 'em.

  4. The beach. I love the Pacific coast wilderness; even in the middle of summer at the peak of tourist season, you don't find these wild places crowded. I love Olympic National Park because it's so vast and goes from coastal to mountain with rivers, streams, waterfalls, lakes; endless variety. During the week we take local walks, but on weekends we pick all sorts of routes to hike and it's always restorative, mentally, physically, creatively.

  5. I need trees. It doesn't have to be a forest, even, a nice park is perfect, actually. Some of the suburbs around here are cookie cutter neighborhoods without any trees along their streets and it makes my skin crawl. It feels wrong.

  6. I soooo miss the ocean. When there's a vacation break, I want to go back to the coast because it energizes me until I make it the next break. But it's been too long now. I need the ocean. Lakes here in CO are very busy and crowded. No fun at all.

  7. Keita Haruka10:28 AM

    This is positively creepy. Water has exactly the same effect on me. That's one of the reasons Mozambique is one of my favourite places: it's the only place where you can still go and have an entire beach all to yourself. When at the beach, I especially love the intertidal zone. I regularly go "rock-hopping" when the tide is out, peeking into nooks and crannies. it's calming and creatively stimulating. I've never really figured out why, and I've given up trying. Being at, near or in the water just seems to dissolve certain walls inside and lets me look at things differently somehow.

  8. I found a place yesterday. My husband and I share a car, so he often 'abandons' me at a coffee shop while he works if we both have somewhere to go later.

    Yesterday, he found me at a new spot in the university hospital system, where he works. This building's ceiling opens up about five stories, and the walls are all glass, and the place is filled with (fake? real?) palm trees, flowers, plants. In the center is a waterfall, framed with benches and a bit further away, but in site of the water, tables. I took one of those and had a lovely writing time.

    Better yet, an occasional patient would wander over, sometimes dragging behind them their IV, and they'd sit on a bench and watch the water...without fail they'd leave looking a bit more hopeful, a bit more peaceful.

    I think it's my new favorite spot. And there is (cheap!!) coffee and chocolate nearby.

  9. I grew up in Colorado, so going up in the mountains or even just sitting someplace where I had a fantastic view of them without being surrounded by city sights and sounds were the first places I escaped to when I needed to be creative. But I have lived in Kansas, Boston and Chicago since then, and I have found I am pretty adaptable. I think it is more about removing myself from civilization than the actual surroundings. In Kansas, I would drive out into the rural areas and sit and stare out at the cornfields. Boston was a little harder because I didn't have a car, but I found sitting in the Boston Common helped a lot, as did taking a train out to one of the smaller quieter coast towns. In Chicago, Lake Michigan has become my creative escape. I especially love going for walks on the beach during less frequented times of the year (as long as there isn't three feet of snow on the ground!). Just the sound of the water is soothing and lets me block out the city. There are also a few secret spots I have around -- like the lily pond by the zoo or the Botanic Gardens.

  10. Foothills or mountains. There's something about being surrounded by them that is so inspiring and relaxing.

    Jess Tudor, I have the same reaction to neighbourhoods without trees. They're kind of creepy.

  11. Graveyards; I love meandering around graveyards. The older, the better; there is such history and beauty there.

  12. My creative place ins't really a place. I tend to write and think best when I am in my computer room with my ipod on. It seems to keep the destractions away (TV, the dog, the wife, ect...). My music, although not necessarily soothing, helps when I need to focus. Great post!

  13. When I can't get away, my backyard is a wonderful place. My property goes half an acre into a nature preserve so it's a perfect place to relax.

    When I can get away, it's sitting on the beach at Caseville which is at the tip of the thumb in Michigan. It smells great, it's quiet, but I have to admit, the waves on any of our Great Lakes often get big enough to body surf on, so the water isn't always mirror calm. But either way, the sound of the waves is very calming to me.

  14. I never fell more at peace than when I'm in the woods. Surrounded by trees, the grass, birds, and everything else beautiful that the woods hold. Since I live in a bigger city now, I have to drive quite a ways to get to the woods, but it's well worth it. I miss living in the country more and more everyday. There is nothing more perfect than the forest to me.


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