Creative Agency and the Miracle Move

Hey There Dear Readers! 

Astute subscribers to this blog may have noticed a rather extended period of radio silence on my end.  Maybe you've even wondered "Hey, where is my Saltee Goodness? Did I miss something?"  Well, yes and no.  You know how I love to talk about creating in life as in art?  Well I've been on a bit of an unexpected journey, one that put all my highfalutin ideas about creative response right to the test.  Here's what happened...

The Backstory

 The road to our old new house

The road to our old new house

Ten months ago, in August of 2017, my dear family of three moved to a new home.  After ten years as tenants in our prior house, the owner had declared his intention to sell and so we launched into the grueling process of house hunting and packing and ridding ourselves of 10 years of accumulated stuff that traced my daughter's life-history from 5 to 16.  It was hard.  It was hot.  There were an uncountable number of trips to the dump, a garage sale, an intractable 20-ton treadmill that we couldn't pay anyone to take, a mountain of tools, a crawl space from hell...  And a local rental market that had been rendered non-existent by the invention of the vrbo, the airbnb, and the rising market for sales.  With much help from family and friends, we hunted and packed and drove to the dump again and hunted some more.

Finally, at the 11th hour, we found a house.  A frankly ugly, shit-brown house, with a "front door" that opened directly into the world's smallest kitchen, brillo-pad grey carpets in some rooms, aged mustard shag in others, hollow doors that hung inches above the floors, and a different low-end lighting fixture for every room.  

This ugly duckling, however, was situated in a heavenly spot.  At the top of a hill, set way back from a quiet country road, surrounded by acres of open fields and trees, it looked out on a gobsmackingly beautiful view.  I know there are many lovely vistas in the world, but I would put that view up against just about any of them.  We had 180 degree views of Puget Sound, with sailboats and fishing boats and the ferry gliding serenely back and forth under dramatically shifting clouds and light.   At night, the lights of Everett twinkled at us from across the water, and in the farther distance, the snowy Cascade mountain peaks came in and out of view.

In the foreground, we looked out over two cute-as-buttons turn-of-the-last-century farmhouses, one with a tidy greenhouse, well-tended fruit-trees and flowers and an expansive strawberry garden.  Deer came daily in groups of 2 or 3 or 4 to graze on the grasses around the house.  Birds sang.  A coyote occasionally wandered by and she and her brethren could be heard often at night wildly announcing a kill somewhere down in the ravine where the little creek ran past.  My daughter and I dubbed the view "ferry mountains majesty" and all of us appreciated the wealth of it every single day.  We had a sense that there was something special about this spot on the earth.  It was a deeply supportive place and we put down roots quickly.

Nine months on Anderson Road

The Call of Doom

And then, on the morning of Wednesday April 18th, our property manager called.  I answered cheerfully, expecting that he was going to confirm that our first lease renewal was underway.  But he said, instead, that the property, for complex but unavoidable reasons, needed to be sold and the owner was giving us 6 weeks - until the end of May - to leave.   

We were devestated.  There were tears, and a great deal of cursing. We said horrible, hateful things about our landlord, only some of them deserved.  My husband and I sat together and waited solemnly for my daughter to get home and when she came in and saw our stricken faces had to rush to reassure her that no one had died. 

And in these first hours, my overwhelming initial reaction was just "no." I can't.  Moving twice in one year is more than I can bear.  There's nowhere to go.  It's impossible.

Sara Takes a Decision

And then I decided to try something.  (And here's where the creativity bit comes in).  Just the week before the Call of Doom came, I'd been working on a piece of writing about the notion of creative agency.  I'd been exploring the idea that creators express personal power in a way that is very different from the high-control "force of will" version of agency that many of us are raised to revere.  I was arguing that creators exert a particular form of agency that is neither that high-control version, nor the "no control" version that sometimes feels like our only possible stance when things get tough. 

I was trying to say that creative agency is something all together different - a way of engaging with life that exists outside of the "in control" vs "out of control" dichotomy. Because, however much creators are aware of ourselves as not fully being in control of our creations, our version of "not in control" is something quite different from the "Jesus Take the Wheel" total surrender of agency. 

Here's a little piece of what I wrote the week before the Call of Doom,

In the space of creating, we learn that the opposite of certainty does not have to be doubt.  
The opposite of certainty can be an openness to discovery that brings a kind of thrilling tension.  The opposite of certainty can be excitement to see what will be revealed next and delight when what happens is a genuine surprise.  The opposite of certainty can be a feeling of deep trust in one’s ability to meet the moment as it arises and deep knowing that the moment will undoubtedly unfold in surprising and generative ways.
Creators know that the opposite of certainty can sound like: “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but won’t it be so fascinating to find out?”
Similarly, in the space of creating, we learn that the opposite of control does not have to be chaos or victimhood.  In the space of creating, we experience a form of agency that is uncoupled from a sense of control; a form of agency that is defined by our capacity to both boldly instigate and sensitively respond.  As creators, we experience the opposite of control not as “out of control” but as relationship, exchange, interplay - even communion - with the people, ideas, and even the objects with whom we are working.  
Creators know that the opposite of control can sound like a conversation: “I thought we’d head over this way, what do you think?”  “That’s certainly an option, but what if it looks a little more like this?”
Creative agency is a living dance that requires attunement to your own creative impulses AND to the needs and callings of the living universe of which you are a part.  Surely this ability to act with awareness of interdependency - this capacity to meet the moment with grace - is a form of agency worth celebrating?  Isn’t this version of agency worth holding up as something truly golden?
 Our packing swarm left us with a wall of boxes.  And there's that grey carpet!  Love that "Deep Work" is in the foreground.

Our packing swarm left us with a wall of boxes.  And there's that grey carpet!  Love that "Deep Work" is in the foreground.

You Can See How Screwed I Was, Right?

In the numb, panicked days following the Call of Doom, I gradually began to catch on to the fact that the "living universe" was handing me a huge steaming pile of an opportunity to walk my talk.  Ha ha universe.  LOL - but not.

Here was the living universe calling us to something new at a time not at all of our choosing.  By my own reckoning, I could choose to approach the situation as a creator, which meant to try to meet the moment with some semblance of trust and grace.  

What if I didn't try to control this move or make it happen, but didn't "turn it over" either?  What if I entered the dance of inciting and allowing - setting a direction and then inviting the emerging future to make itself?  

The Miracle Move

Thus commenced what I soon dubbed the "miracle move."  Within three weeks from the Call of Doom we had located a house, packed up, moved in, and cleaned out.  Three weeks!  There's no way I could have made that happen.  But I focused on this vision of interdependency, interplay, and trust, and it did happen. 

Help arrived in more forms than I can count.  I put out a heartfelt plea for assistance and within hours a connection of my sister's responded with the information that the not-yet-listed rental house next door to her was just a week away from being back on the market.  Boxes appeared from every direction, friends sent funny and encouraging texts, a small intergenerational swarm of packers came to help fill them, sturdy young men stepped forward for the heavy lifting on move day and a team of teens made trip after trip from house to house in cars and then hauled stuff up and down the stairs with astonishing vigor and fortitute.  (Turns out "Tri-Level" is code for "F*&k-load of stairs"). 

 THE 'OLD HOUSE' VIEW on moving day.  We'll never know what June and July look like from that deck - but August 2017 through May 2018 were pretty darn lovely.

THE 'OLD HOUSE' VIEW on moving day.  We'll never know what June and July look like from that deck - but August 2017 through May 2018 were pretty darn lovely.

The Web of Connections

Of course I was by no means an angel of peace through these weeks.  I did my share of alternating devolutions into victim-y collapse and "I have to handle it all!" control fantasies.  But I kept returning to my secret weapon - this quote from Ursula La Guin, in which she describes the felt experience of occupying a fully subjective, living universe:

"Relationship among all things appears to be complex and reciprocal — always at least two-way, back-and-forth. It seems that nothing is single in this universe, and nothing goes one way. 
In this view, we humans appear as particularly lively, intense, aware nodes of relation in an infinite network of connections, simple or complicated, direct or hidden, strong or delicate, temporary or very long-lasting. A web of connections, infinite but locally fragile, with and among everything — all beings — including what we generally class as things, objects."

I held this image in my mind's eye - me as a 'node of relation' held in an infinite web of connections, some visible but many hidden.  I did my best to do my part - to stay aware and present and alive to what was needed in the moment.  And I did my best to allow the whole web of relations to do it's part too.  And darn if it didn't shift the entire experience for me and for the others who participated in some astonishing ways.

And Now We're Here

The settling-in process is still very much underway here on Chipshot Way, a suburban-ish street in a newish development that wraps itself around a long, skinny, twisting golf course.  Our ears are adjusting to the sounds of close human neighbors.  We're still hearing birds, but unfortunately a large number of them seem to be living just under our roof. There are lots of lively kids around, golfers instead of coyotes wander through our back yard, and we miss the ferries, the mountains, and the majesty of our newly "old house."  But we're OK.   We still have the great privilege of living on Whidbey Island.  Our spirits are still catching up with our bodies, but if we're patient I know we'll all be fully living here soon.

Getting Started Again

 Morning light through the kitchen window of Chipshot Way house.

Morning light through the kitchen window of Chipshot Way house.

My deep hope now is to not forget this crash course in the experience of creative agency applied not only in my studio, but in my life.  As I gradually resume the rythms of my work, I want to remember better that it is neither my job to make anything happen, nor will it serve me to go limp and passive.  I can incite and then allow.  I can respond without assuming control.  I can spark and invite.  Speak and listen.  Focus less on "getting it right" and more on the quality of the conversation.  Stay in intimate, aware relationship to that web of connections that I was never not a part of, after all.

And as I gather myself to re-start again, I leave you for now with my favorite Seamus Heaney quote:

...The ability to start out upon your own impulse is fundamental to the gift of keeping going upon your own terms, not to mention the further and more fulfilling gift of getting started all over again - never resting upon the oars of success or in the doldrums of disappointment...  Getting started, keeping going, getting started again - in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm.

Thank you, dear readers, for being part of my web of connections.  Some of you are so lovely about making yourselves visible - piping up when something I write connects with you, letting me know that you are out there - and others are more hidden from view, but I trust you are out there drawing the occasional bit or bob of a Saltee post into your orbit.  Let's keep going and see what's around the next corner, shall we?


Sara Saltee is a creativity coach working at the juicy intersection of art and life.  She helps writers, visual artists, and other creators discover their creative identities, orchestrate lives that support the kinds of creators they are, and sustain momentum on the works of their heart.  She's also an assemblage artist who builds harmonious little worlds in shrines and shadow-boxes.  To recieve Sara's blog posts by email, subscribe to the Saltee Goodness Newsletter at www.sarasaltee.com.  To contact Sara email: sara@sarasaltee.com