your limits are your freedom

One of my favorite creative strategies is to borrow a structure or container from another artist.

Borrow generously. Credit and don’t plagiarize. But go for it.

A re-purposed structure creates the necessary constraints that foster creative freedom. One of my early theater teachers often said

“Your limits are your freedom.”

choregrapher nancy spanier

This is one of the oldest and deepest truths of creative processes and making. If you can just do anything you want it can be paralyzing. Paint any painting, choreograph any dance, write any poem.

When you create an interesting limitation then the ideas come flowing in as fast as a water through an open dam.


And there are an infinite number of structures you can borrow to set limits for you in nature, the stars, the objects in your life, in all the creation of all the artists of all of time… 1957

Several years ago as a young choreographer, I was standing in an open studio trying to make a dance. I was completely paralyzed by the emptiness of the space and limitless possibilities of how to move through it. In a fit of desperation I went to my bag, searching for an object or idea to guide me. A postcard from a friend of a Rothko painting became my salvation. Drawing it from the bag and placing it on the floor I started creating a series of motions to “fill up each panel of color.” I moved with the mood and texture of the big swaths of black and maroon and very quickly a solo emerged that became a dance of breath and mortality that I performed for many years and eventually share with a beautiful elder performer Vickie Blaine in NEARING a dancefilm that was produced for PBS.

Thank you Nancy Spanier and Robert Morgan and the bees and the honey and the delightful abundance of possibilities out there.

Honey by Robert Morgan is a favorite poem. I borrowed the structure of the poem to write my own about lulling a baby to sleep. Borrowing Morgan’s structure required me to read his work very closely, to explore the use of language and learn from his skill as I attempted my own. The borrowed structure provided a skeleton on which to hang my words and the poem more or less fell out of my waiting mind, to be edited and nourished. Here is the poem I wrote using the structure of Robert Morgan’s Honey.

Sleeping Baby

Rushing baby will only prolong the wait
Any sense of urgency
desire for departure
will wake him
Approach with confidence
gently hold him as if time had no boundaries
use languid ease
tense muscles will unsettle
Coo a little, hum
Smell sweet sweaty hair, guileless milky breath
nuzzle in the softness
release all plans
all will be well
all is well
release attachment to him ever settling
then and only then
when he tastes your ease
your limitless time open and unfolding
he will make one big shuddering sigh
filling and expelling air from still-new lungs
soft arms will go deliciously limp and heavy
head lulling with its own weight
describing complete peace

What limitations, constraints or structures can you borrow? Try something today and share what you make, I’d love to read/hear/see what emerges! #livablefutures

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