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Painting by Helena Magnusson Ogburn

— Carl Gustav Jung; Psychology and Alchemy, P. 28, Par. 32

“The task is not to see what has never been seen before, but to think what has never been thought before about what you see every day.” ~ Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961)


It’s that being open — not scratching for it, not digging for it, not constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting that what you don’t know will be available to you. It is bigger than your overt consciousness or your intelligence or even your gifts; it is out there somewhere and you have to let it in…

When I taught creative writing at Princeton, [my students] had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends. Think of somebody you don’t know. What about a Mexican waitress in the Rio Grande who can barely speak English? Or what about a Grande Madame in Paris? Things way outside their camp. Imagine it, create it. Don’t record and editorialize on some event that you’ve already lived through. I was always amazed at how effective that was. They were always out of the box when they were given license to imagine something wholly outside their existence. I thought it was a good training for them. Even if they ended up just writing an autobiography, at least they could relate to themselves as strangers.

Toni Morrison

I’m a stranger. I was a stranger to my parents and a stranger to my Texas compatriots, especially the ones who were born there and never left. I don’t know why but that was always true. Living in France for forty years, I began to feel more at home there than anywhere, but life intervened, as it is wont to do. Here we are in Mexico, an enchanting, magical place if there ever was one, living the life of outsiders.

Never mind, I know how to make my way as an outsider. There are worse things to be. One is forgiven for not knowing the rules if you’re obviously a stranger. I’m used to seeming obtuse when I visit the States. It’s a little embarrassing all the same because what’s normal to me is not what everybody else is doing. I speak English without an accent so I have no excuse. I just look stupid.

Foreign climes have become my natural habitat. My obvious foreignness is my invisibility cloak. I’m not by any means an ugly American. I attract little notice, positive or negative. My real life is interior. An extroverted culture would tear me limb from limb.

In my search for a real life, I conflated two things, art and foreignness. Something about living outside my native culture stimulates my creativity. I would die from galloping ennui if I were confined to where I grew up.

So, living in a challenging context is part of my creative strategy. I go to sleep mentally in my native land. I wake up when everything is new and unexplained. As a stranger, I spend my time wondering about things. So much is mysterious, unexpected.

This path has always been full of surprises. I never expected to be a painter. I thought I’d be a wordsmith or actor. When I started painting, I expected to just paint what I saw as best I could. I didn’t know you could paint what you found inside you.

That discovery changed my life. It changed me, how I lived and created. How I write comes directly out of that discovery. Arranging my mental landscape to my liking made all the difference. I don’t struggle with creativity, because I’m not fighting my life. It’s a simple life, it’s beautiful and it’s enchanting.

Inspiration comes naturally.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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