American Airlines has internet, which tempted me into hours of mid-flight texting to my friends back home because I could.
We quarrelled digitally about mustard being an appropriate colour for the walls of a small apartment. I am pro but then I pride myself on internal design boldness. I offered a cogent strategy for combatting a zombie attack. Having internet access 30000 feet in the air is, I assert, a compelling case for me to be in command. I would certainly mount a better resistance than taping magazines to everyone’s arms. And I have been reprimanded by my assistant about using street language: “word” and “Swedish”. He threatened his resignation if I continued, which felt reasonable.
Even if it is nonsense, something about being on a transatlantic flight gets me writing. What is it about this particular context that ignites creativity in me? Now I am reflecting on the notion of context. How much of the relationship we have with our circumstances empowers us or constrains us? What meaning do I make of flying to or from America that gets the keys rattling?
Context makes meaning of content.
I am in New York City now and it is -11°C and snowing. I rushed over to 5th Avenue to buy a coat. As I looked for a store, there was the sound of footsteps all around me. I processed these sounds subconsciously, focusing instead on surviving hypothermia. Footsteps are an expected part of walking down a busy street. If, however, I heard footsteps outside my hotel bedroom at two in the morning, I would have a very different relationship to them.
Same content; different context; different meaning.
The context we create for our experience, determines what the experience will be. Context is not our environment; it is the relationship we form to our environment; it exists in the realm of thought. Our frames of reference are made up of rules, permissions, agreements, dualistic perception and generalisations.
Traumas and pleasures colour these frames of references. This makes the case for therapy and coaching. If we can change someone’s frame of reference, we can change their experience. Helping clients to become conscious of the beliefs and assumptions that sit behind their problems can cause some problems to disappear instantly. Conversely, indulging a client in the narrative of their issue can strengthen the pathological context seated behind the story.
In the words of Virginia Satir, “the problem is never the problem.”
So writing. Me. Instead of un-picking my surroundings, I am now curious about what meaning I habitually make of them. How can I write better in a plane than in Barnes and Noble? What meaning do I make of those places?
After a minute’s contrastive analysis, it feels like it is about choice. In a bookshop or my house, I always have the choice to get up and do something else. My brain becomes itchy with possibility. On a plane, I’m stuck for 8 hours. Something inside me decides I’d better make it worthwhile. My brain settles down to write.
Right now, I am in a coffee shop in Tribeca waiting for a friend. His last appointment ran late and I feel I have no choice but to stay here till he arrives. Writing feels easy. Personal constraint would appear to be the right condition and indeed it looks like I might finish this blog.
So I need to be trapped to write? It isn’t the most alluring vision of creativity but it resonates with me. My ideas of being a writer are pretty romantic, with visions of a panelled library, open fires, lovely views, endless hours panning out before me in which to sip tea, absorb my surroundings and produce reams of brilliance. It would now appear that this is tosh. In fact, I already knew that. I had that library. I never wrote more than a paragraph in it.
I need a deadline and a constraint. It doesn’t matter if I am trapped in a large metal cylinder for 8 hours or stuck in a tired old coffee shop on a grey February morning. As long as I have writing framed in necessity, I get the job done; as you are now able to read.
On Wednesday I fly home. There will be no internet (BA) and I’ve watched a lot of movies already this week. After my routine fantasy of narrowly escaping a zombie attack while the plane takes off, I will have nothing left to do bar write: an excellent trap for the new Neish brochure to take shape or a Linkedin post to emerge.