My friend Liz Crain just ran a great post on the creative deep freeze, and in it she throws around a few blocks by asking the question of whether the winterlull was not in fact some different form of creativity. Her conclusion is that what can seem like a creative block is at least occasionally a formative period of gestation and incubation. The blockage, in other words, is also a building block.
The gardener opens a small hole in the dirt and shoves a seed into it. The seed blocks the hole, stops it up, and gets covered with more soil. The seed itself becomes blocked. But the blockage of the seed is itself the building block of something new and different: A plant!
Someone is hiking a trail and comes upon a fallen boulder blocking the path. The way forward is obstructed, but if the blockage is surmountable the hiker can get not just to the other side but start climbing up the hill from which the boulder came. The blockage is itself incentive to divert the course and traverse paths new.
Similarly, a damn is built that stops up the stream. Its a blockage that forms a lake, something new and different. Occasionally also that flow of water finds a new escape, a new path to descend into the valley, a different course from the well worn one that became obstructed.
Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” The block contains within it the possibility of something exquisite. The block stands in the way of that thing, the unnecessary parts must be removed, but without the block you really have nothing. The block itself is necessary because it contains the things that are essential to the way forward. No other thing does, in the same way or to the same extent.
The lesson for us creative types is that our blockages may seem like the end of progress, and sometimes they truly are, but they are also often the very building blocks of something new. The illusion is that a blockage is just an end, just an impediment. The difficulty manifests when we see our objective just as a product and not as a process. The end itself is no more than fertilizer for something else.
When that tree dies we can mark its passage. We lament the doomed product. There is a failure embodied in blockages and ends, but this is only a small part of the story. Its a shortsighted person who looks no further and fails to see the food for worms, the eventual soil it becomes, and the foundation it provides for new life and new growth.
The advantage of being creative is that we see not only the value of the way forward but the importance and necessity of obstructions turning us aside and endings that transform things. The advantage to being creative is that inside almost every blockage there is a germ of possibility. It is our privilege to see the Angel in the raw block.
In the same way not understanding a thing can be the opportunity to learn something new. Our failure is not just an impassible obstruction, and its not a signal that there is nothing to understand. If we can admit there are different things to understand and different ways of understanding we become open to the many Angels hidden withing the mute stone. We become capable of turning our ignorance into glory. A failure to understand is an opportunity to transcend ourselves. And we should accept those challenges rather than turning from them.
Its the lesson of blockages and building blocks.
Make beauty real!