Tennessee Williams: No Refuge But Writing

February is all about Mardi Gras on Book And A View and there is no one I would rather sip a sazerac on a Bourbon St balcony with than the King of Southern Gothic, Tennessee Williams.

My life changed when my English teacher handed us a copy of his collected works in the sixth year and I met Laura, Blanche and Maggie the Cat. It was one of those rare moments when you feel like the vibrations of the world all magically align and play beautiful music. I was obsessed. Here was a playwright that, on the surface, I had nothing in common with and yet what he wrote resonated deeply with me. My love affair with Williams’ plays has endured far beyond any other. I know that I will love them until my dying day.

Tennessee Williams Writing

Williams was born in 1911 and produced some of the world’s most acclaimed drama in the 40s and 50s, pioneering a new, poetic style of theatre. A homosexual with alcohol and drug dependency issues, Williams poured his unhappiness, loneliness and response to a dysfunctional, violent early family life into his writing.

Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life

– Elia Kazan

His close relationship with his sister Rose, who was the inspiration behind The Glass Menagerie‘s Laura, further fuelled his tendency towards depression, especially when Rose’s life long battle with schizophrenia culminated in a frontal lobotomy. It is no coincidence that his characters are often tortured by their struggles with mental health issues and the sensitivity and poignancy with which he addresses these issues makes his writing as relevant today as it was groundbreaking when it was first published.

gentleman-caller-signature

His plays deal with loneliness, ageing, the desperation to connect, sex and addiction. All things that he struggled with himself and that no one else was writing about. The poetry of his writing gives these difficult themes a fragile, decaying beauty – much like the Southern settings his characters inhabit.

I try to work every day because you have no refuge but writing.

– Tennessee Williams

Starting this month, New York’s Morgan Library has a new Williams exhibition – No Refuge But Writing, exploring Williams’ writing process and offering unprecedented access to his drafts, notebooks and letters. They are also showing several of the many film adaptations of his work including A Streetcar Named Desire, the Elia Kazan directed film that launched the stars of Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh into the stratosphere, and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The exhibition runs through until 13th May.

And whilst I’m in New Orleans later this month, I will be sure to raise a glass to my favourite playwright, after all, as Williams said…

“America has three cities – New York, San Francisco and New Orleans… Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

 

 

Photo credits: LIFE magazine and The Morgan Library.

 

 

 

Taking Control Of Your Creative Clutter

Every three months or so I find myself overtaken by an almost uncontrollable sense of claustrophobia and clutter rage. I’m naturally quite a messy person and whilst I definitely find creativity in the organised chaos of my house, there is a tipping point where suddenly all I can think about is pulling out all of my books, reorganising my shelves and cupboards and having a good old throw out.

Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?

– Marie Kondō

But is my seasonal desire to clean up and make many piles of things really helping me to hone my creative focus or is it just another (relatively productive) form of procrastination?

Princeton University have recently published some research through their neuroscience department that suggests that physical clutter does in fact affect your ability to focus on tasks, to process information and be effective. Essentially, too much visual stimuli will begin to distract you. It can, therefore, be argued that taking the time to clear your workspace and organise yourself is a worthwhile use of your time.

workspace

But what about all those people who believe that a bit of creative clutter is what they need to spark that next great idea?

As well as needing a clear workspace, I’m also a big believer in being able to access things that I will suddenly, randomly need – an obscure textbook that I haven’t picked up since university, that old set of glasses inherited from Grandma that will be awesome in an bookstagram shoot… How do I reconcile these two seemingly opposite needs without having some form of Room of Requirement that pops up whenever I need to get a hold of something?

To make matters worse, a study by Yale University confirms what I could already have told you from witnessing my mother trying to throw out some of our old baby things that she had hoarded for 30 years, that we form strong emotional attachments to objects. So much so that it is actually painful to let them go – the same area of the brain is activated when we’re about to chuck that old teddy bear or journal as lights up as when smokers who are trying to quit crave a cigarette.

tidy desk

So why do it? Why put ourselves through all this unnecessary pain and suffering for the sake of a tidy desk or a few minutes avoiding the real task at hand?

Well clutter can become paralysing. Not only are you able to clear an actual physical space to do your writing or reading or crafting but the sense of accomplishment that comes with neatening everything up can actually motivate you to keep going with the next task. It also gives you thinking time. So much of developing creativity happens when we’re not actually ‘being creative’. Having time and space to ponder that difficult narrative problem or paragraph that’s been bugging you is a good thing. I often find that I’ve been mulling over a problem with my writing without really realising it and then when I come to sit down in the evening and thrash the words out, they start to flow much better.

creative mess

However, before you get carried away spending hours lining up your pens, it’s also important to remember that merely organising your space will not automatically bring about creative genius, but it will set you up to succeed if you follow through with the actual work…

5 THINGS THAT WORK FOR ME TO KEEP MY CREATIVE CLUTTER UNDER CONTROL

  1. Write a list and prioritise – I’ve been using my Passion Planner to help me do this and to help me focus on what will enable me to reach my goals most effectively. I can schedule in my chores and prep time but make sure they don’t take over my day.
  2. Set a timer – This can be either on my phone as a physical countdown or something like the duration of a particular podcast. I’ve been loving this one by Sara Tasker of Me and Orla, she’s a creative coach with plenty of brilliant advice.
  3. Set social media limits – Time spent and the number of people that I follow / interact with. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed by what can seem to be a never ending task…
  4. Limit storage space and schedule a clear out at the start of each season – This forces me to think about what I really need and what can go in the bin or to charity. If I’m unsure I will box stuff and put it up out of the way in an inaccessible cupboard and if I don’t use it for the rest of year then it goes.
  5. Meditate – I’m a firm believer in uncluttering your life as well as your workspace. Apps such as Headspace are a quick and effective way to bring a bit of calm into a busy day. Trying to do too much all the time leads to difficulties with filtering information, switching quickly between tasks, poor working memory and an inability to effectively prioritise.

 

How do you like to organise (or not..) your workspace? Have you got any tips for keeping creative clutter under control?