By now, you’ve seen the primary image on my website many times, the picture above with the pier, the hut, and the ocean. You might have been wondering, what is this picture? Why is it here and what does it have to do with writing, art, or creativity?
Actually, it has everything to do with writing and creativity, because this is my current writing talisman. I’ve had a writing talisman since just after college, but I hadn’t thought through or named this phenomenon until right now, when I wanted to share it. I looked up several words to make sure I got it right, and it seems “talisman” is the right one.
Traditionally a talisman is an object considered to have special powers or to bring luck, but I also found a definition that read, “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.” I like this second definition a lot, because it takes out the magical element, and opens the concept up to things that aren’t specifically objects.
Basically, just as people keep photographs of loved ones in their wallet to keep them close to their heart, I have kept an object or, more recently, an image, at hand that keeps me close to my writing. I just take one look at it, and I remember myself as a writer, and recenter.
My first writing talisman was a tiny empty picture frame, which I sought out after reading Annie Lamott’s great writing inspiration book, Bird by Bird. In that work, she wrote, “I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
That was a great reminder for me, since I can feel overwhelmed by big projects, and once I found the frame, I kept that on my desk long after I forgot the concept behind why I had chosen it. Because it came to represent my writing itself to me, it continued to pull my mind back to center whenever I caught sight of it at my desk.
Some years after that, I was selected as an artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California, and I was so moved that someone thought my creative efforts were worthwhile that I’ve kept that location in my heart as a symbol of my creative worth ever since. I have a big postcard of that location and that became my second writing talisman, and my first talisman image. For years I’ve kept it posted near my desk as a way to return my mind to that place as an encouragement to keep working whenever I felt down.
This was the image I kept up until about a year ago when I spent several months in Indonesia for work.
I left the United States for Indonesia in November and didn’t come back to this side of the world until February. On our Christmas hiatus from work, I found myself alone on the next island where we would be working, and I was pretty badly injured and really couldn’t do much besides sit around, and even that was painful. Over the course of the days I was there by myself, empty of work obligations, empty of social connections, and without transportation, my mind quieted down and retreated from the stress of my job, and in fact, from everything in the world outside of where I was, until I picked up a pen and began to write.
Every day, I limped out onto my balcony and sat with pen in hand, looking out over the South China Sea. During the couple of weeks that I had nothing to do except write, the view I looked out on became emblazoned in my mind in its association with my writing. Now, when I look at images of that place, I see not the place where I went to work (because once work started again, I left the hotel every day before dawn and returned after dark and barely saw this view again), but the place where I worked at my writing every day with single minded focus.
So the photo you see at the top of this website is my current centering image for me as a writer. I chose this particular picture because of its hint of mystery and the infinite, but there are lots of images of this place that give me the same centering feeling, and here are a few other close contenders (both of which also feature this magical jetty, which came to figure prominently in the story I wrote while I was there):
So this is my special place for writing in my mind, held firm by my talisman image. (By the way, you can click on any image for more info.)
Do you have an object or a memory, a place or an image that brings you back to your work?
Let me know in the comments if you do, or if you choose one after reading this, I’d love to hear about it.