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Winter #11: Space to Create
On the need for both prospect and refuge.
Welcome to Winter, Issue #11 of Making Time. Each week, I share a seasonal perspective on the creative process. This month, my theme is Space to Create. If you’d like to follow along on this year-long experiment, you can subscribe for free.
This week, we’re having a new shed installed which we’re planning to retrofit into a backyard studio. It’s your typical prefab deal, but to me it’s a dream.
I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of having my own space to create, play, and be alone. When I was little, I longed for my own room so much that I dragged an old carpet remnant out of the garage and placed it in a narrow side yard against our house. I decorated my little outdoor “room” with unwanted stuff left over from a garage sale we’d had. I’d go back there to be alone and think and dream and play.
Living in the bare, sunny landscape of suburban southern California, I loved reading stories about kids who lived near the woods, or books like The Secret Garden that allowed children their own private space and discoveries. I didn’t want to be alone to retreat from the world, but to explore it in my own particular way.
It’s the same now. I live in the woods far from town, but it’s not because I don’t want to be around people. I simply need the space and time to really look at things, and to let my imagination go. There’s something about solitude that does that for me.
Our new shed sits among our douglas firs, with a window looking out over the forested cayon below us. It’s a quiet little perch.
In 1975, British geographer Jay Appleton proposed the theory of “prospect-refuge” in his book, The Experience of Landscape. He said that humans have 2 desires that inform their approach to landscapes. The first is the desire to find opportunities, through gathering new visual information and exploring. This is prospect, and it explains our attraction to sweeping vistas.
The second desire is to find safety, to have a place of protection and to hide away. This is refuge. Our ideal, as animals and predators, is to see the world without being seen ourselves.
Although prospect-refuge theory is focused on aesthetics, it seems to me to apply to human creativity as well. The creative process is an endless cycle of looking for novel ideas and connections, followed by a well-defined process of (often solitary) focused work. Perhaps we sometimes need that safety of refuge in order to find the courage to create.
I know that I am beyond lucky to have a literal, physical refuge like this. But I think that some sort of refuge, even if it’s just a moment to ourselves, is what we look for in order to fully express ourselves.
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
VIDEO: I love this idea of “soft discipline.” What a great term. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to find a middle path when it comes to productivity and daily life. (I also very much wish I’d been half as smart as Elizabeth Filips at her age. Or now, for that matter.)
How the modern world makes us mentally ill. Though I do quibble on the use of the term “romanticism” in this context, this mostly feels true to me. In particular, I see the ideals of individualism, exceptionalism, and perfectionism eating away at people.
The philosopher who believes in living things. This profile of Jane Bennett makes her sound a bit like Maude of the film Harold and Maude.
I made this enchilada bowl with spicy tofu for the millionth time this week. It’s a quick, easy, nutritious bowl of comfort.