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Space to create

Elisabeth Pike

In a busy world, it can be hard to find room for the often slow blossoming of our God-given creativity. Mother and aspiring writer Elisabeth Pike issues a manifesto for real-world dreamers determined to sink deep roots.


It is rare to have the hush of an empty house all to myself. But right now all I can hear is the hum of the computer screen, the creak of a door, the footsteps of the cat coming in and going out. My heart rate slows.

All morning my husband and I have been cooped up with the children, in our tiny house in the June rain. I do not understand why sometimes it is harder when we are both here, why my son makes that awful noise as soon as we try to have a conversation together. And so at the peak of another dispute, I slammed down the lid of the biscuit tin, and marched off with my half- eaten cookie. I was too tired to cry. Instead, I got into bed and waited until my husband came up and said that he would take the kids out. Then I heard the back door slam and the silence in the house descend. I now feel guilty and immensely thankful at once. Some days I wonder if I will go insane.



As a writer and a mother, I crave time, but not just any old time. Out with my youngest in the pushchair, I have time of a sort, the buzz of normal life around me. And if I don't feel too exhausted in the evenings, I will attempt to get on with writing. But in reality, I often sit there with a blank screen and a blank mind.

What I want is the daytime. To be sitting at a desk in a room with a cup of tea and the sunlight streaming in. I want to have all the books that I love lined up in front of me, my heroes to cheer me on to the finish line. I want the willpower to not google things at the drop of a hat but to make a list and do it later. I want time that is set aside, precious and protected even though I might not achieve anything.

Time is a luxury I took for granted before I became a parent. It will be a long time before I am able to sit as I dream of doing, at a table, with a window, in the daytime. And to think that I did it all those years ago and didn't realise my good fortune.

Yet I feel that I became more of myself when I became a mother. More, and at the same time less. And that is what so defines me and that is what I berate myself for. That there is no choice but to give up everything to go to them in the night time. But also that I have become stronger, have realised that I can cope and keep going, and inventing games, and feeding. There have been times, sitting on the carpet playing Duplo, when a poem has flitted through the room like a butterfly. I have heard a brief line of it before it has flown out of the window; gone before I had the time to snatch and it and write it down. For a while I thought: fine, let them go. But now I am ready to wait for them again.



I have heard it said that writing is as much about staring at the empty page as it is about writing. I love that. It takes the pressure off; it gives permission to dream. As Nabokov said in Lectures on Literature, the words will arrive when they are ready: 'the pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamouring to become visible.'1 Our job as writers is to listen and wait for the story, a bit like the new baby in my womb, announcing quietly that he was there through my sudden distaste for tea.

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf writes:

By hook or by crook, I hope that you will do whatever it takes to possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.'2

To idle! Did you hear that? There is always beauty to be found, whether we are at home looking after toddlers, or paying the rent with a day job. The poet Fred Voss finds inspiration on the shop floor of a metal workshop:

'I wish the machinists around me in this shop could feel the joy I feel Each morning as I wait for the poems to come to me... I cannot wait to open my toolbox each morning and look for poems… While these machinists around me drag their feet like they are dead'3

The beauty is always there, he seems to say - you just have to take the time, open your eyes and perceive it. Similarly, as Raymond Carver puts it in his essay 'On Writing':

A writer sometimes needs to be able to stand and gape at this or that thing - a sunset or an old shoe - in absolute and simple amazement.4

How wonderful is our mission statement as creatives! To live, to see, to idle, to communicate wonder! Carver knew the exhaustion and relentlessness of bringing up small children and trying to make ends meet: 'My children are it. Theirs is the main influence. They were the prime movers and shapers of my life and my writing.'5



Two months ago we sold our house, and rented another. We have bought six months of not having to worry about the rent and a bit of breathing space for our creativity. I am so thankful that for this season, there is space.

As a Celtic liturgy puts it:

This world has become a world of broken dreams where dreamers are hard to find. Lord be the gatherer of our dreams. You set the countless stars in place, and found room for each of them to shine. You listen for us in your heaven-bright hall.6

How beautiful that God is a dreamer too.

And so I will wait for my poems with my butterfly net, watching for them, ready and poised as they come.



1 Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature, 1980.

2 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, Penguin (1945 [1928]), p 126.

3 Fred Voss, 'Poetry Jackpot'

4 Raymond Carver, 'On Writing', Fires, Vintage, (2009 [1981]), p.23.

5 Raymond Carver, 'Fires', Fires, Vintage, (2009 [1982).

6 The Northumbria Community, 'In Declaration of a Dream', Celtic Daily Prayer, Harper Collins, 2000, p. 205.