The busy underside of a creative life or leaf

Photo of the underside of a long thin leaf on concrete spattered with lichen
Lichen and the underside of a leaf: a few of the manifold glories of Planet Earth

Your scribbles and first drafts and thin melodies and rough sketches are the underside of a creative life.

Today I found a notebook labeled “words words 2020” with half-written lyrics for a few songs. Tunes in my head and all. I had forgotten about them. That’s par for the course for me. Here’s one, “Dear Planet Earth.”

Dear Planet Earth

Dear Planet Earth
thank you for having me
dear Planet Earth
you have been good to me
dear Planet Earth
what can I do for you?
can we start over again?

I'm so sorry I'm so sorry
for the mess we've made of you
we lost our way we lost our selves
we've been greying out
your green and blue
and now we're losing you

I know you could do 
without us
but how can we do
without you?

~ rachel mcalpine 2020 ~

Why share a half-written poem?

I seem to be sharing
the hidden side
the underside 
of my life as a veteran writer. 

A half written poem. 
Ideas floating out 
from yesterday
just out of reach.

Sounds that mean something to me.
Perhaps they mean something to you.
Maybe you hear a tune in your head
then sing! go ahead!

What happens on the underside of a writer’s mind?

Well, heaps. As a parallel, a great deal of action happens on the underside of a leaf:

Leaves contain chlorophyll and are the sites of photosynthesis in plants. Their broad, flattened surfaces gather energy from sunlight while apertures on the their undersides bring in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The cells of a leaf are sandwiched in between two layers of epidermal cells, which provide the leaf with a waxy, nearly impermeable cuticle that protects against water loss. The only way for gases to diffuse in and out of the leaf is though small openings on the underside of the leaf, the stomata. These stomata can open and close according to the plant’s needs. The tissues of the leaf in between the epidermal cells, into which gases diffuse from the stomata, are called mesophyll.

You might hypothesise that the upper side of a creative mind burnishes and displays the works seen or heard or otherwise experienced by an audience. These works need sunlight, they need to be published and received by an audience. Otherwise they don’t happen.

By contrast, the underside of a creative mind is continuously pumping, breathing in and out, opening up to new combinations, shutting the doors to cliches, trying things, starting things, making things that may or may not see the light of day. In a perfect world, the two sides work in harmony and balance.

I’m happy to share a half-written poem or thought now that I’m in my 80s. My home has always been strewn with scribbles: that in itself is not a feature of my aging brain. I would scribble, start editing, get excited. Then pretty soon I would either finish the work and pop it up to my shiny green public side, or lose it.

I still do that. But now I know people are interested in the workaday functions of a creative life. So I share.

My wish for your creative life

My hope is that you too will consider your unfinished, rough-edged creations as precious. Precious for clues about what you’ve been thinking and discovering, and precious in themselves.

Maybe you do not regard yourselves as creative. Maybe you are frustrated by your failure to finish and publish, play or display your work to the public.

Please take heart! All your rough drafts and thin tunes and wonky sketches keep you going, keep you alive, keep you pumping, keep you breathing like a leaf. Enjoy them, explore them. They are precious tokens of your cognitive and emotional and subliminal activity. They are not the downside, not the backside but the underside of your creative life or leaf.

And what’s more they should be fun. Fun to chop and change and develop. Fun to play with, no matter how grave the subject matter. Like the embryo of a song: Dear Planet Earth.

Agree? Go for it.

Photo of a black notebook with a roughly scribbled label: "words words 2020"
Words and scribbles and jingles: the busy underside of a creative life
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19 thoughts on “The busy underside of a creative life or leaf

  1. Rachel, I found some poems on my phone under ‘notes’… while I was searching for an address to post an overseas parcel. I’d totally forgotten I’d written them. Must have been last year, riding the bus home from work or to work… I like your underside of the leaf metaphor. You trill with ideas like the tuis in our trees!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What a find. Do they still feel right to you?

      1. Yes, one in particular, that i could have included in ‘Formica’…forgot I’d written it… but hey… a reminder that a bus ride is a good time for thinking.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Bring on buses for poets!

  2. Prue says:


  3. srbottch says:

    Rachel, excellent post. Over the years, I’ve thought of rhymes, or story titles that would make s good finished product. With cell phones, I’d open my phone with, ‘take a note… The phone would respond, what do you want to say… New story: and I’d dictate the title. Or, a silly rhyme. Later, I’d come across them and think, what was that supposed to be. Very funny process. So, you’re not alone in your ‘words’. Have a great day!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Those are moments of delight, don’t you agree? If all our ideas bore fruit we would die of the opposite of rickets.

      1. srbottch says:

        Y’know, I must agree. It’s like finding an old picture of your young self. 👍

  4. Beth A Rubin says:

    Rachel: It’s 5:30 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep so decided to come in and work on a drawing that I’d started. After spending some time with it, I turned on my computer and came on your post. Like a message across the ether as I try to reconnect with my creative self that I so often shove down. I have started essays, drawings, even a painting. I hope by the time I’m 80, I have the courage to let all that out. I love your voice.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hello Beth. That’s all good. You already are brave! Meantime how terrific is that, an alternative to insomnia!

  5. Alan Ralph says:

    I don’t have poems, but I’ve kept most of my old photos from the 2000s when I got my first digital camera. (Back in the days when you didn’t use your phone to do that.) I’ve also been going through digital artwork that I made around that time, and archiving those for posterity. Some I put online on my old DeviantArt account, but others were work-in-progress that never completed or just practicing and trying out ideas. I think I’ll be restarting that habit this year, along with taking more photos. 🙂

  6. What an inspiring post Rachel. You prompted a ponder on a poem which I shall link to later!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Cool, can’t wait.

  7. alison41 says:

    Inspiring. I have a couple of notebooks containing fragments, ideas, words …. you have reminded me to take another look at them and use some of the material. Thank you.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Lovely. See where they take you…

  8. CG says:

    Ah what can I say? I love the words! Chris

  9. Just what I needed to read today, Rachel. Thank you.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Precious feedback. Thank you.

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