Creativity isn’t always about making something that’s beautiful or pleasant. The creative process can lead us down dark roads and into places that aren’t necessarily good for us. Sometimes, creativity can lead us to push the boundaries of what we’re able to do. Sometimes, our muses come to us in our nightmares and moments of terror.
I recently took a trip to Chimney Rock Park in hopes of getting some photos to inspire a landscape quilt that I hope to make this winter. For those not familiar, Chimney Rock is essentially a 315-foot monolith that stands on top of a mountain. A picture showing the entire rock can be found on the Park’s website
. The top of the rock is accessible only by climbing 44 wooden steps that are essentially supported, not by rock nor mountainside, but by metal supports. This means that you have an unobstructed view down either side of the stairs to the mountainside below.
Therein lies the problem. I am acrophobic and open heights scare me in a way that nothing else does. However, I was feeling brave and determined on that particular day and managed to get as far as the first landing of the stairs. Then the wind gusted and a board creaked under my foot. Bravado lost out to primal fear. My palms began to sweat and the edges of my vision blurred. The world began to slip sideways. To the amusement of several tourists, I felt my way down the stairs with my eyes clamped tightly shut. It was not a proud moment.
In talking to a friend about this experience and sharing with him the photo I’d taken from the bottom of the stairs, he asked me if those stairs looked different to me when I was actually climbing them. Was I seeing the stairs as they look in this photograph or was my perception of them filtered through the lens of fear and stress? Would the view from the top have been different? Then he asked a question that I found really interesting: could I create a visual image of what I was seeing and feeling?
Of course my perception of the situation changed as I climbed those steps. The blue sky above me began to go hazy grey-brown as my field of vision began to narrow. The angles of the stairs no longer looked quite right and the natural beauty of the place suddenly seemed dark and sinister. Edges blurred and melted together. I’m not sure that I can do it justice with the photo editing program I have, but the image below was created in response to to his request.
Sometimes creativity really does take us – emotionally and artistically- to dark places. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. It broadens us and forces us to examine our boundaries and limitations. It gives a new vantage point from which to view those things that bother us. It gives us the opportunity to push the boundaries a little further the next time we’re confronted with the source of our angst. The next picture I take at Chimney Rock will be from the top of those stairs, looking down at both the mountain and my fears.