On my writing desk is an orchid that has been in bloom an unusually long time. It’s crisp white blossoms have greeted me every morning for over half a year. As I sit here writing this, it’s just now starting to fade. I have other orchids that have gone into bloom, but none have lasted as long as this one.
When an orchid sheds its flowers, it goes dormant. Usually the green leaves remain, but sometimes it goes so dormant it makes you wonder if it’s even still alive. I’ve mistaken several for dead and right as I was thinking I should clean out the pot, a bright green blade of a leaf appears, and then a stalk, and a new set of blossoms emerges.
I keep the orchid on my writing desk partly because it’s lovely, and partly because it acts as a gentle reminder that nothing can be in bloom all the time. Even creative energy. Especially creative energy. Life, and creativity, need periods of rest and regeneration.
I used the word “dormant” above, but I want to replace it with a new term: fallow. They’re similar, but there’s a subtle and important difference between them. Dormant simply means a period of rest. But fallow is regenerative. It’s a practice used in agriculture where the land is planted with cover crops that are turned under instead of being harvested in order to add nutrients back into the soil.
In other words, dormant is rest; fallow is restorative.
Doing nothing every so often is important. Our bodies, minds, and creative spirits need time to rest. Doing something restorative is important, too. But there’s a huge caveat embedded within the concept of fallow. It’s not the same as gathering inspiration for Round Two. It’s just about restoring what was lost. Seeds are not planted to harvest; they’re planted to replenish the soil – to make it ready for the important work to come.
Now, I love both of these concepts.
In practice, I’m terrible at them.
With a bit of effort, I’ve gotten better at guilt-free rest. Alan changed my perspective on this when he called February my “new summer break”, alluding to my former teaching days. I’m starting to lean in to the quiet, letting myself slow down and let go of productive expectations.
But while I’m slowly getting better at rest, I’m much worse at being fallow. Last week during a particularly cold and cranky January day, my friend challenged me to go outside and take pictures, to find beauty in the snowy world. I did, and it did wonders for my attitude and perspective.
But then I immediately started thinking about what I should do with them. Should I turn them into artwork? Should I etch them into metal?? Should I print them as photographs???
Or should I do… nothing?
What if, instead of working toward an end product, I just play? What if I completely remove the burden of expectation? What if I simply let it replenish my creative spirit so that when I go back to my studio I’m bursting at the seams with new ideas?
What if I don’t say yes to an idea until it shakes me so strongly by the shoulders that I can’t say no?
I think that’s what creative fallow looks like. I think it’s about laying the groundwork so that when the creativity happens it bursts into life like a seed planted in fertile soil. It exists simply because it can’t not.