The Wide-Open Spaces of Creativity

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

The other night I watched a documentary on the Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki. You might know his films “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” and “Castle in the Sky.” He’s the owner of Ghibli Studios and a wildly creative man who refuses to work within other’s confines. There’s a scene where he talks with his producer about how NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting service) is limiting the topics addressed in films. Miyazaki is known for addressing environmental issues, war, and feminism. The documentary mostly followed him around Ghibli Studios, but also his home. Miyazaki keeps a work schedule from 9 am to 11pm, “on the dot,” he says. In the scenes shot around his home, the camera follows as he returns from work and walks through his two-story house closing the drapes. There must have been 20 windows, and closing all of the drapes was all part of his routine.


I felt good knowing that creatives can, and maybe should, have routines. I crave routines: I write in the day, read at night. Pretty simple. But within those routines I need the wide stretches of nothing to fill with ideas and experiences—the sloping hills of Discovery Park, blank pages in a journal, empty word documents, the rice fields of Miyazaki’s films. The wonder of it all. Maybe this is why my hobbies are less about following steps (cooking, baking, brewing beer) but about openness (running, writing, reading, yoga, meditating). Stepping into something and just letting it flow.


My senior thesis was on the themes of entrapment and enclosure in three short stories by Japanese women writers of the late 20th century. It leapt across the canon of literary criticism from Alice in Wonderland and Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment to The Yellow Wallpaper and the poetry of Erica Jong. Outside of running a marathon, it was the most fun I’ve ever had. Maybe in a way I was becoming wild while moving through my own small spaces: the red-walled, womb-like university library and the room at the Alpha Delta Pi house I shared with two wonderful women. By delving into the corners of literature while existing in small spaces, I was preparing my own path for the wide-open spaces of life after college.


For the past year I’ve written about the wildest, furthest corners of the globe from a small gray cubicle. I begin with stark word documents and try to create these places based on research and visions. And while I’d like to travel to the wild places more, it’s wondrous what the mind can dream up.


I also spent the last year living in a space that I felt was too crowded. Crowded not only with stuff—my plants and candles and his collection of stuffed animals and figurines—but emotions. I’d tried to move through the emotions by stepping across the wide landscape from “me” to “him.” Many times I tried to draw out or hold his emotions, because that’s what women are taught to do. But it didn’t feel open. I felt confined, because my instinct was to hear his emotions before my own. I tried to find a balance of being a present, good listener and nurturing his experience while also expressing myself. But that balance wasn’t achieved. I’m working on sitting in the wide openness and addressing all the feelings that can make us feel crowded. I’m working on saying what I want to say, right out into the open air. The wide openness is where I’ve always wanted to be anyway.


I felt so happy watching the Miyazaki documentary. I felt I could breathe, stretch, and create. I felt permission to do so because many other creatives are doing it. I want a life with people who are excited about openness, creativity, flexibility, and adaptability. I want a life that feels wide-open, even if I live in a small space.


If you haven’t already, I recommend you watch “My Neighbor Totoro.” I hope you can feel what I feel. The child-like freedom of running across a field or through a forest. The unfathomability of loving a creature you didn’t think existed. The supreme wonder of the unknown, all within the safety of complete acceptance. Creativity and love should make us feel safe. They should make us feel that—even though we have to work at it—we can be exactly who we are.

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