7:30 BELLS: Let the Bells Ring Out! An Artist's New Year’s Manifesto

All artists want their creative bells to ring out—want to create stories, music, poems, art. To do that, an artist must protect the creative "sensibility" that makes art possible. In other words, you must protect the bell. So build a bell tower and built it strong—to house the bell, to allow it swing, and most importantly, to guard it.

Mary Oliver writes: “Athletes take care of their bodies. Writers must similarly take care of the sensibility that houses the possibility of poems.” (A Poetry Handbook)

Tell me, when you do creative work that requires reflection and presence of mind, do the following things shrill for your attention: The ringing phone? The beeping Facebook or Twitter update? The pinging e-mail? Other people’s urgent needs? YES.

Now tell me, when you answer that phone or respond to that Facebook update, etc, does quiet reflection interrupt and shrill for your attention? No. Quiet doesn’t clamor. Because of this, creative time requires far more protection than other parts of our lives.

So be vigilant in creating concrete structures and rituals to protect your creative sensibility. Guard it as zealously as you would a young child venturing out alone in the world.

This will be hard. It will require constant practice. Other people will chip away at your bell tower, and you will, too--at first. For we haven’t been taught to value the creative time and space that “houses the possibility” of art, that allows it to arise. We haven’t been taught to shepherd our lives to foster the ringing bell. In fact, we’ve been taught the opposite. When I shared these ideas with a writer friend, she said that quiet creative time is a luxury. That answer, from a working artist, shows how truly indoctrinated we all are.

For artists, creative space/time space where we can ring is no luxury. It’s ESSENTIAL for art. And I tell you this: You may think the ringing bell will patiently wait, but that’s not true. The ringing can die in the face of the shrilling forces ranged against it. And sometimes, if the creative force inside you is thwarted  too long, it twists your life in unpleasant ways. Like depression. Malaise. Fatigue. Rage. Illness.

Remember that scene in the Planet of the Apes where the hero discovers the top of the Statue of Liberty poking out of the sand? Don’t let your bell be buried and silenced by sand.

So this New Year, I challenge artists everywhere: Build a bell tower in your life to house your creative sensibility, to foster and guard your ringing bell. And watch in joy as your creative power rings out across the land.
Build a bell tower to
"house your creative sensibility"
and hear the bells ring out!