Cally Dow's review:
“STOKING THE CREATIVE FIRES: NINE WAYS TO REKINDLE PASSION AND IMAGINATION” by Phil Cousineau. Conari Press, 2008. 213 pages. $16.95.
Stuck! The word alone sends icey shivers down the spine of any artist. And believe me, as a writer struggling to finish a memoir, I’ve had my share of being stuck in a deep freeze. Phil Cousineau’s book “Stoking the Creative Fires: Nine Ways to Rekindle Passion and Imagination” came across my desk at the right time. Call it what you want. This was synchronicity at its finest. I found this rich and insightful book to be a tinderbox full of flints and matches to help ignite any artist’s torch.
Cousineau, often referred to as a Renaissance man of the twenty-first century, is a scholar, documentary film maker, teacher, poet and travel leader. As an expert on mythology he has authored many books, including a biography of Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on his Life and Work. So it stands to reason that he would use the image of the hero’s journey when talking about the creative process. The mythological hero has a problem. He’s stuck. And so the story unfolds as the hero struggles for the knowledge to free himself and transform his life by finding the fire in his heart.
“It’s not always an easy go of it,” says Cousineau “But I’ll be your guide and offer you ways to navigate.” And indeed he does, giving his reader-hero a road map as he describes the nine stages of the creative journey which he groups into three categories: inspiration, perspiration and realization.
The first stage is that of reverie – “trusting your waking dreams” -- the starting point for creativity As reverie is the foundation for the creative spirit, reverence for time is the building block. So you seize the moment, find time to rekindle your fire. You’re moving forward. But then maybe your fire cools, you doubt yourself, you run out of time or money. If you’re stuck again, advises Cousineau, seek some “mythic guidance,”– in a mentor, a muse, a wise elder. To get you back on track, you need to find someone who inspires you to help re-ignite your imagination.
The second part of the journey requires action – harnessing the fire of your imagination in a sacred workspace – “a place you can’t wait to get to in the morning and find it hard to leave at night. And then focus –what Cousineau calls refers to as the “stick-to-it-ness” to do the work, staying centered, following through.
And then maybe on your journey as artist-hero, another pitfall! Burn out! You’re stuck because your fire went out. Here Cousineau reminds u
s of that mythological creature of rebirth, the phoenix, the bird that bursts into flames and then rises again from its own ashes. What can you do to stir and rekindle the embers? he asks.
The last lap of the creative journey is realization – creating the work that reveals your true self and throws off sparks – then letting the work “cool down” – stepping back -- deciding what to keep and what to discard – in short, cooling it. For the final stage of the creative process, Cousineau choses the mythic image of the passing of the torch. “The fire will flicker out unless it heats new hands,” he warns. “Creativity is a responsibility to express and to pass on.”
Step one. Step Two. Step three. Simple, right? Well, yes and no.
“The good news,” says Cousineau, “is that the journey is thoroughly known; the tough news is that you still have to find your own way. I can only strike the flint. You must fan the flame.”
Ah, the existential struggle! Taking responsibility for one’s own journey! But Cousineau gives it such a noble spin – the artist as hero, whose freedom is found in the doing, stoking the fire not just for himself, but by passing the torch. Is there not something wonderful about seeing the spark in others, and thus feeling the heat again in oneself?
As a20writer myself I enjoyed discovering Cousineau the racantour as he shares stories about the agonies and ecstasies of his professional life in writing, film work and teaching, as well as stories of other artists who have struggled on their own creative journey – Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, and Joseph Campbell, for example.
In addition he includes exercises as sparks to help the artist learn how to rekindle the passion. Now I must admit, I have become a bit jaded about the myriad “how-to” books that glut the bookstores these days. But Cousineau has raised the bar on this genre. What delighted me about “Stoking the Creative Fires” is that it is so much more than a “how-to” book. It’s part memoir. It’s part glimpse into the lives of other artists. It’s part prose, part poem, part travelogue, part photojournal. It’s poignant and funny and real.
Cousineau is true to his word. He has indeed delivered a tinderbox, revealing himself at his own creative process, and giving off sparks to light the torch for others. As for my torch, let me just say, after reading this book, it’s beginning to glow again.
- Cally Dow
PHIL COUSINEAU is a writer, teacher, editor, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, and storyteller. His life-long fascination with the art, litera
ture, and history of culture has taken him on many journeys around the world. He lectures frequently on a wide range of topics--from mythology, film, and writing, to beauty, travel, sports, and creativity. He has published more than 20 non-fiction books and has more than 15 scriptwriting credits to his name.www.amazon.com/Stoking-Creative-Fires-Rekindle-Imaginatio...