Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On Scratching...

I'm going to spend some of today scratching. Nope, Miss Tallulah hasn't got fleas (the thought of it!) but it's a concept in Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, that I have done instinctively before but I like it so much better now I have a name for it.

This is how Twyla Tharp describes it: 'clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some kind of traction to keep moving onward and upward ...'

And if that doesn't tell you all you need to know, she goes on: 'A fashion designer is scratching when he visits vintage clothing stores, studies music videos, and parks himself at a sidewalk cafe to see what the pedestrians are wearing ...'

In fact I think it's exactly what Julia Cameron means when she talks about the artist date. I've always been a bit worried about these - what will I do for my artists date - and now I wonder if it's because they seemed too big. I never was very good at dating - far too neurotic even for myself.

But scratching. Yep, I can do that. In fact, I saw a perfect example of scratching yesterday. My dad and sister came to take me out for lunch and we were browsing round the tourist information office in the Pantiles. Now, my father has written books on subjects from pot pourri to starting your own business, but his current project is a cookbook for 'old farts' - his words, not mine! He's experienced himself that when you're a widower over seventy and starting cooking for yourself for the first time, then recipes saying 'whisk twenty egg whites until stiff' aren't necessarily all that helpful. While Mary and I looked at walking maps, we could see dad suddenly get that sense of purpose you can feel yourself sometimes when you get a scent of an idea. We didn't see what he had purchased until we got out of the shop, but it turned out he had been looking at those regional recipe leaflets they always have in any tourist office - home cooking from Dorset etc - and was struck by the idea that he could include recipes from different areas that the 'old farts' might remember from their childhoods.

He's not intending to steal the recipes, mind - but to adapt them so they work easily and are actually understandable to his audience. Some he might even change altogether so they will be nothing like mother made. But the idea is there. Something completely different might come out over the next few days - in fact, I bet it will - but at least he has something to start with.

As Twlya Tharp says: 'Scratching can look like borrowing or appropriating, but it's an essential part of creativity. It's primal, and very private. It's a way of saying to the gods, 'oh, don't mind me, I'll just wander around in these back hallways...' and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.'

And she gives as some of her ways to scratch:

a. Reading
b. Everyday conversations
c. People's handiwork
d. Following the footsteps of mentors and heroes
e. Nature


Jan said...

Interesting piece,this.
Dreams are probably list-able, as are TV soaps....

Sarah Salway said...

Definitely - soaps have to help on plots somehow. Desperate Housewives anyway!