While I was neck-deep in dissertation stress, my Dad told me a tale about a man, an axe and a river. For the last, mad weeks of my Masters, the story was a lifebuoy, calmly bobbing in my mind while I summoned the courage, each morning, to face writing and editing, and to quell the rising panic that (despite my weeks of research and passionate drafting) I had nothing to say.
The story goes something like this,
In ancient times, there was a man engaged in building a temple. Breaking up stones, he swung his axe with such gusto that the heavy axehead flew from its wooden hilt, soared down the grassy hill and plopped into the fast-flowing river. He wrung his hands, tore at his hair and burst into tears. Rather a fuss for a burly stonemason to be making.
At this moment, the prophet happened to be walking by. Taken aback by the tradesman’s howling, the prophet asked him what the matter was. The man told him, between giant sobs, that the axe was the prized possession of a friend, loaned to him for the sacred purpose of temple-building, and now the axehead was gone forever, churned up in the wild water.
The prophet had a think, then told the man to pick up the wooden axe-handle, walk down the hill and wait by the water’s edge, holding the hilt out over the surface of the river. As the stonemason did so, the axehead floated into view, as if magnetically attracted to its other half. He was, naturally, very happy and continued with his work.
What I took from this is that creativity, particularly under pressure, is a flimsy, flyaway thing. If we lose it for a time, it’s best not to panic. Instead, wait at the place we last saw it. It was there all along. It we wait quietly for a little while in front of the laptop, notebook or sketchbook, inspiration, ideas, the ability to see, words, whatever it is that we’ve been missing, will gently rise to the surface of our minds. And we can get on with our work.
By the way, this vignette is adapted from the Bible, my Dad’s go-to book (2 Kings 6:1-7), but I think it’s useful for those of us with different, little, or no faith of the conventional kind.