An Exploration of the Desire to Make: Keynote for Olds College Fibre Week 2017

My name is Diana Twiss. I live in north east Langley in a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse on the Fraser River. For the last twenty-two years, I have worked full-time in the world of adult literacy and learning. This work takes me into the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver. My commute takes an average of 3 hours a day four days a week. I knit on the bus and train as often as I can.

I started spinning in January 2000, and it saved me. That may sound dramatic, but looking back on where I was and where I was heading, it really did.

This is my story.

For as long as I can remember, I have identified with the behaviours similar to those of an artist. I draw, paint, colour, and design. I benefit from visuals and easily create them as a way to express myself.

But I never called myself an artist. In fact, I spent years calling myself a “wannabe” artist and once I fell down the rabbit hole of fibre arts, I called myself a “wannabe” fibre artist.

Leading up to the year 2000, I wasn’t well. I was working full-time teaching, mothering a crew of three dynamic children, maintaining a marriage (it’s a good marriage, but like any, needs attention), reconstructing the homestead site we lived on to reflect the heritage designation and doing nothing, absolutely nothing for myself. I didn’t have time, energy or mental space to draw or paint like I used to. My creativity leaked out in the clothes I sewed for my children, sweaters I knit and gardens we built.

I was usually a patient, loving person. Easy to laugh and optimistic. But I started feeling more negative about things, more gloom and doom, less optimistic, less patient and easy to anger. Every day was a struggle.

In my early years, I had spent hours a day doing art. I studied studio art in London, Ontario for two years before switching to the University of Guelph to complete a degree in fine art. While I loved my time in the studio, devoting myself entirely to painting or drawing, I never truly identified with the other student artists who were aiming to have studio shows and to sell their works in the Toronto galleries.  I was drawn to William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts movement, seeing how art, design, and beautiful, well-considered craftsmanship had been brought into the everyday. Functional art.  Fast forward fifteen years, a teaching career, three children, chickens, dogs and cats, and those ideas started to fade – and the sad, mad, and tired person took over.

One of my only creative outlets was knitting, and it was increasingly difficult to get natural fibre yarns at an affordable price. Reading the local newspaper (Langley Advance) I saw a small ad for the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild and a phone number. I called the number. And the following month, I attended my first meeting.

I’ll never forget that evening. In a room full of women, mostly knitting and talking about spinning and weaving, there was a business meeting. And then there was an educational program. It was a slide show featuring the work of a local painter, focussing on her design elements and colour work. WOW.

A room full of grownups. Talking about art. Talking about art like it mattered, like it was something important and valuable. Something inside of me stirred and woke up.

I wasn’t alone.

I realized that evening, that somewhere along the line I started losing myself. And the first part of myself that I had let go was the artist in me. I had somehow accepted the message that doing art was a frivolity, it was an extra, if you had time and resources, a hobby. Other things were much more important.

But that wasn’t true. It was only after I climbed out of that dark time that I realized how dark things were.

When you have a creative spirit, you must honour and feed that creative spirit or it gets sick and withers, and eventually dies. Feeding a creative spirit is not a frivolous activity any more than exercising regularly and eating well are not considered frivolous (only-do-it-if-you-have-time) activities.

It is not optional.

That is why, for so many of us, the concept of “passion”, “having a love affair”, and “falling in love”, come up in the descriptions of our fibre work. We have deep and intense connections to our crafts. The desire to create is strong. And words like obsession, addiction, enabler are all regulars in our lexicon. These are important things to pay attention to.

In my guild (the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild) there is a surprising number of young women, with young families who have recently joined. I am inspired by their work and their passion, and also reminded about that time – when I had very young children and great demands on my physical and emotional energy. I see the way they struggle to carve out time to create, and the amazing result that ensue.

They are doing it because they need to create to stay sane. To keep a balance in their lives.

When we engage in creative pursuits, are entire brains are activated in the activity. That is why it is so satisfying an experience. Three of the major networks in our brain are activated:

Source: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

The affective network – where our motivation and emotional desire to create exist and are maintained.

The recognition network – where the background knowledge, the stuff of what we are learning sits, as we add new knowledge, new experiences, this area gets activated

And the strategic network – the part of the brain that looks after the things we call “executive function”.  This is where strategic planning, designing, making decisions, setting goals exist.

You can see that for any project we embark upon, each part of our brain is fully activated. This leads to an increase in the production of wonderful mood enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

This is why the desire to create is so strong and if not maintained, we simply don’t feel right. Our dopamine and serotonin levels take a hit and we start feeling low.

So do what you need to do to keep your spirits high. And remember, feeding a creative spirit is not optional. It is not simply recreation. It is essential to keeping you mentally strong. It is a vital thing we do to honour the creative spirit that exists in all of us.

Thank you and have a wonderful week at Olds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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