Have You Fallen Down a Rabbit-Hole, or Could This Be Your Creative Spiral?
Photo courtesy of Stefano Montagner.

Have You Fallen Down a Rabbit-Hole, or Could This Be Your Creative Spiral?

Written by Brenda Scott

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns

You did it, and whatever your “it” is, you find yourself feeling like you are falling or have fallen down the rabbit-hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Chances are, if you are here on Puttylike, your “it” is plural, and you’ve got multiple projects going. As a result of having so many interests, you might have someone, or several someones, coming at you with the sentiment of the Queen of Hearts: “Off with your head!” – or perhaps something a little less harsh, but equally stressful, possibly along the lines of, “Why are you doing that?” “What about your other project(s)?” “When will you decide what you want to do with your life?”

And there you are, feeling a bit like Alice, having instinctively chased the white rabbit down the rabbit-hole, and feeling yourself falling a long way down, past cupboards and book-shelves, possibly with maps and pictures and an empty jar of orange marmalade.

That falling sensation, a sense of being out of control, and seeing so many options available to you can be a scary feeling, and a common one for those of us with multiple career paths, many interests, and lots of projects underway at one time. But wherever you are in your own version of the rabbit-hole scenario, now is the time to get excited; your journey has begun!

The Creative Spiral

One of the points that sticks with me from photography school is that the creative journey is not a straight path, but rather a spiral. At first when I read this in my course materials, I didn’t think much of it. (I probably muttered to myself, “Here we go again, more art school mumbo jumbo.”) However, as I learned more about the spiral, it began to make sense. The premise is that there are themes, interests, and/or obsessions in life, and that we keep circling back to these same areas, even as we move farther and farther away from our starting point and continue to grow.

As someone who grew up with diverse interests, I had not thought of my life like this, but the more I analyzed where I had been, where I was then, and where I was interested in going, it made sense. In fact, the image of a spiral helped me to make connections and identify trends in my work. Instead of feeling caught in the flow of multiple projects and interests as if in a free fall, I could see my life moving in a spiral pattern. Even as some areas had begun to seem distant from the center, I could begin to see that everything was connected.

The spiral is an ancient symbol, dating back to pre-historic times. It has been found on works of art around the world. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the spiral is one of four symbols for creation. It occurs in nature in plants and animals. One of my favorites has always been the nautilus shell, but you can see it all around, even in the patterns in which leaves grow on twigs or in the patterns of pine cones. 

“[The spiral] stands for the repetitive rhythm of life, the cyclical nature of evolution and the permanence of being beneath the flux of movement.”

– Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant in A Dictionary of Symbols

Dr. Carl Jung likens the process of combining an old order with a new creation to “an ascending spiral, which grows upward while simultaneously returning again and again to the same point” and states that “what restores the old order simultaneously involves some new element of creation” and “[in] the new order the older pattern returns on a higher level.” I love the idea of growing and yet returning to the same points again and again, but on higher levels.

How Do You Learn More about Your Own Spiral?

This is the exciting part. We go back to Alice when the Caterpillar asks her, “Who are YOU?”

This is a difficult question for many of us, I know, but here’s how the creative spiral can help. Just follow these steps:

  1. Name some themes in your own interests, projects, academic pursuits, obsessions, beliefs, and activities.
  2. If step one stumps you, go through digital and physical files of your works and start listing themes, subjects, titles, projects, and favorites. Even if you aren’t stumped by step one, this approach will probably give you some more ideas.
  3. Draw a spiral or a mind map of your results from the first two steps, or, if you prefer, write about it. At the very least, sit and think about your results. Personally, I find that the physical acts of writing and drawing help me to make connections.

If the Caterpillar were to ask you, “Who are YOU?” would you have a better idea? Try framing it like this:

“I am someone who likes ___________, who keeps returning to themes of ___________, and who is obsessed with___________.”

Further questions you might ask yourself include:

  • How will I circle back to these themes again?
  • Does what I am planning to do next relate at all to these themes?
  • How does looking at my spiral inspire me for future projects?

Adopting Alice’s Optimism

As we spiral our way through this blog entry back to Alice, I hope you can begin to adopt her optimism:

“so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.”

I hope this exercise has helped you identify and clarify your spiral of diverse interests. Remember, you are at the center of all of them. You are the common factor. When faced with people who don’t get what you do, remember Alice’s response to the Queen’s, “Off with her head!”:

“Who cares for you?” said Alice […] “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

While it might be difficult for others to pigeon-hole you in a nice neat career title, it is more important that you know about yourself and your process. The more self-knowledge you have, the easier it will be to explain to the outside world, should you choose to do so. More importantly, knowing about your own spiral will help you make connections in your own life’s works and inspire continuing growth.

Your Turn

What does your spiral look like? Where do your current interests lie on your spiral?

brenda-bioDr. Brenda Scott is a fine art photographer, writer, and cellist. Originally trained as a musician and organologist, she has worked as a curator of a small musical instrument museum and her Stagville: Black & White exhibit has been displayed at the North Carolina Museum of History and is currently on tour. She enjoys teaching and holds degrees from the University of Oxford, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Auburn University, and the Academy of Art University. View her work at brendascottarts.com or follow her on Twitter @brendascottarts.

31 Comments

  1. Gustavo de Paula says:

    Hi Brenda,

    I think your advice quite useful to help us, multipots, to “clear our minds” from prejudice and misconceptions injected in our brains by others, and by ourselves, because neither have a clear understanding of being a multipot means. Actually, most are unaware of such entity. We are just “weird” people.

    But what’s your thinking about “hacking” your advice no to list things we like to do, but FEELINGS? I guess that much of what defines a multipot has deeper roots on common traits of personality, roots that can be tracked to emotions, feelings and beliefs that are common to most multipots (of course as a spectrum, not discrete “types”).

    Following this blog I perceive much emphasis on DOING, but less on FEELINGS, except to express the typical anxiety and distress that we all know that exists and from where it comes (it’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation. This blog is unvaluable!). I think we should discuss more the GOOD feelings, those that have a heavy weight on our personal traits and that shapes us as unique persons, perhaps, even as a multipot.

    Hugs from Brazil.

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Hello, Gustavo.

      Thanks for chiming in here. It’s quite an interesting suggestion to list your feelings, and I was just listening to this, which is particularly relevant to your comment at 2:11: https://soundcloud.com/dukecareers/let-your-life-speak-cindy

      I cannot speak for any of the others here, but for me, re: addressing feelings rather than actions, I tend to focus on action steps, but I try to mention some feelings, such as the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole in this post. Otherwise, I worry that as I cannot feel what other people feel – only what I feel – I do not want to presume. Plus to me it is harder to control my feelings than it is to control my actions. Sometimes by changing my actions, I can change my feelings. It likely works the other way, but again I would not want to presume. But you make a great point, and I will keep this in mind in future posts.

      In my experience, it depends on where you are in your own journey as to how and what you are feeling. For me, the whole multipod situation feels completely positive, even though it is not always perceived as such by others. I can’t imagine life any other way. It means I have only been bored perhaps once or twice in my life. (I can only think of one instance as I write this.) I always have another project to go over in my head, another piece I am learning or writing, or another project to daydream about rather than ever facing boredom. It makes life interesting and leaves me always wanting to see what will happen next.

      Hugs from Squirrel Hill back at you in Brazil.

  2. Miriam says:

    This is totally me. Areas and interests that return in different shapes again and again in a continuous evolution. Thank you, beautiful article.

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Thank you so much, Miriam. Isn’t it exciting when something circles back around? I love that part.

  3. Beautiful post Dr. Scott!!!

    I love your use of spirals as the theme to this post… I have always been fascinated by them too… in nature, fibonacci sequences, art, etc.

    Your mentions of Alice and Wonderland resonate with me as well… I draw through my anxieties at times and have a drawing of various things slipping down into a spiral, down the rabbit hole…

    I love the ‘optimism’ of looking at the rabbit hole, not as a negative thing but as the cyclic nature of expression and moving forward.

    Much love!!! <3

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Thank you so much, Britt.

      I do really look at the spiral as a positive part of creative work – but it can feel scary at times to many people, including me. I’m so glad that this resonates with you. I’m glad I paid attention when they taught the idea of the spiral in school. I almost let it slip by me.

  4. Fernanda Cevallos says:

    I’ve just watch your ted talk about the true calling and find it very inspiring!. I’m myself have plenty of interest since I was a child, and fight several years not only trying to find/choose “the right one”, until I realized that it is about to being integrated in one. I allow myself to open up to my curiosity and explore what I forbid-ed myself to be or to do. I have a 15 years old son who is just as curios as me and see him struggling with the question “what should I become?” (see how the bias of choosing just one interest might lead us to hard questions about identity). both of us are ecuadorians, I’ll show him the talk and let you know his impresions. I’m work in human resources and will start with career counseling/coaching. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sara says:

    Thank you for writing this article; I also have so many interests and it’s always fascinating to see how some of these things return years later. There have been things that I never truly LOST interest in, but interest waned for awhile, and years later they return and I see them in new and fascinating ways.

    • Brenda Scott says:

      You’re welcome, Sara. What sorts of interests circle back for you? Music is one of mine, but my focus shifts and swings back around – organology, performance, composition, etc.

      • Sara says:

        I’m very interested in many forms of popular culture (gaming, films, costuming, music, literature etc.), and I go through several different fandoms and areas of study, but I usually find myself repeatedly returning to specific topics. Each time I return to one, I find something new, or something that maybe I need more now or can understand better. For example, I might read a book and enjoy it, and then years later I’ll return to it and gain an interest in scholarship surrounding that author’s works, which can then lead into an understanding about WHY I enjoy certain things about it and about other seemingly unrelated things.

  6. Carsten says:

    I like the idea and I think I am living this spiral of interests. But oh oh – it’s not an “ascending” spiral (contradiction in itself?) – or it’s ascending in very shallow circles. So what’s with those “scanners” who are not that “potential”?

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Hi, Carsten

      That’s a great point. The idea of the spiral and ascending vs. descending. I think it often feels like falling, but it seems circle around to higher levels of understanding.

  7. Barry says:

    Spooky, I read Emilies email and then found a link to your website before realising a while back I had discovered your Stragville project, which is great by the way. I have a series of topics, places and people who I like to revisit occasionally with regard to updating my archive. I find it an interesting exercise that has built an interesting archival document, or it would if I could get around to editing and curating it in a more methodical way.

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Hi, Barry.
      Glad you liked Stagville. That was a wonderful project to make. Now I’m on another, but it won’t appear for quite some time.

      I love your mention of curating and editing with regard to the spiral. I really enjoyed seeing your images on your site, in particular the pinhole-photograms link you gave in your other comment. I love working with digital pinhole images. Here is one of my projects: http://brendascottarts.com/border_galleries/unaccomcello/

      Please stay in touch. I enjoy your work.

  8. Barry says:

    Oops, forgot that I have an ongoing project called “squaring the spiral”. You can see it here http://www.pixelsonapage.com/pinholes-photograms

  9. Geof says:

    Even our solar system which appears only to monotonously rotate actually spirals through the Milky Way.

    Great article, I’ve found that learning to relax and enjoy the spiral makes it easier to be happy with the multipot decisions that I make. Seeds that are planted will grow with only occasional watering and there is great enjoyment to be found in the process of rediscovering past interests and growing them.

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Thanks, Geof.

      Great analogy with plants and growth. It is wonderful to rediscover ideas and interests over time and see where they go next. And you’re right about learning to relax and enjoy the process. Thanks for chiming in here.

  10. Susanna says:

    Sigh. The rabbit hole. I used to dread the rabbit hole. Still do sometimes :)
    But, I’ve actually been scheduling time to “let myself” fall down it. As you can imagine it requires quite a lot of discipline, but I really do look forward to it!!!

    By telling myself “not now. wait, and it will be even more fun!” helps me focus on the project at hand. This is extremely important to me because I’m at a point where taking a million years to get anything done is wreaking havoc on my confidence and patience.

    I am much happier. I am getting things done. And I’ve replaced some tv-watching with activities that are much better for my soul.

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Hi, Susanna.

      Great idea about scheduling time for this. That is sort of what I do, too. (http://puttylike.com/oh-look-a-squirrel-how-to-find-focus-with-an-easily-distracted-mind/) I like how you use the wait and build anticipation. It’s not always easy for me to do – this planning of the rabbit hole experience. Anyway, I’m glad you are much happier and getting things done. Sometimes I think being a multipod is an adventure in feeling forever behind on projects and pursuits, but perhaps that is part of the rabbit hole experience. Thanks for joining in here.

  11. Keith says:

    My creative spiral is more narrow and focused. You won’t catch me painting any time soon. The big focus is music though there is multiple variety there from jazz to electronic to world to metal. I do write and have blogged a lot, wrote scripts, poetry and prose and film is on my list but even with those the focus will be music. I have some music based films in the works and apart from a couple of David Sedaris style humorous books about my family, most of my writing is about music. Being an ADD poster child, I do tend to hyperfocus and get stuck on something until boredom sets in. I am getting better though. Even with multiple projects and styles, I will focus and finish before I move on.

    Keith

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Hi, Keith. Great to “meet” another musician. It’s terrific that you’ve got so much going on centering around music. Good for you for finishing everything. That’s tough to do. Perhaps it is the discipline you learned in your music studies? Best of luck with your future music projects and do please keep me posted about your work. It’s always great to follow the work of multipotentialite artist.

  12. Keith says:

    Back at you Brenda.
    I don’t usually have trouble finishing things but I will have a gazillion projects going on once so it can take a while, I actually took a course by a guy named Mike Monday called Start Now and Finish Fast that helped a lot. Mu studies help with ear training and being able to know how to translate the music in my head to paper or computer. Learning Jazz was the best thing I did. My classical training made sense after that.

    I will keep you posted. Drop me an email (djkamakaze@gmail.com) and w can stay in touch.

    Keith

    • Brenda Scott says:

      Hi again, Keith.

      That Start Now and Finish Fast course sounds wonderful. Yes – I should have studied jazz, but just never got to it or, surprisingly, acoustics. But it’s not too late, perhaps. I ended up in organology with a strong serving of art history and British literature instead, but it did not help my classical training in the same way I think that jazz would

      I’ll send you an email as well. Thanks for writing back.

      Brenda

      • Keith says:

        Hi Brenda,

        Here’s the link to the course. http://startnowfinishfast.net/. Mike has a lot of free videos on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6PYrD7Onbk. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiFty6V4mh1Ll1jCQGdN4OQ

        It is never too late. I plan on going to the USC film scoring school as soon as I can afford. I want bump up my orchestral writing skills.

        I do teach jazz theory live and virtually if you are interested.

        I look forward to talking with you more.

        Have a great weekend.

        Keith

        • Brenda Scott says:

          Thanks so much, Keith.

          Have fun at the film scoring school. That sounds like great fun and very useful.

          I’ll keep in mind your teaching and Mike’s course for when I have both funds and time. Both are great ideas. I’m glad we “met” here. I’m just back from my cello workshop and will shoot you an email.

          I’m looking forward to being in touch more.

          Brenda

          • Keith says:

            Well, still not there but will be in the near future. It will be fun. Since I was 5, I have dreamed of standing in front of an orchestra conducting something I wrote.

            K

  13. Francis Amadar says:

    Hi, really interesting. I never saw my evolution like a spiral, but now you say it, I look at how I evolved, how I développed my interests and skills. It’s like that. One point get to an another and then come back to this point but a little bit further.

    Just thinking about that it’s amaze me. I will clear some time this weekend and made this map, trying to find the great groups of what I’m compose in particular.

    Thank you :)

    • Brenda Scott says:

      You’re welcome, Francis.

      Let me know how the mapping goes. I’m glad you see this pattern. I was surprised when I first saw it in my own creative work, and knowing about it has helped me along the way.

  14. Ana Mendes says:

    Hello Brenda,

    Thank you for your post. I it’s very illustrative of what is going on in my life.
    I’m trying to find a space during this weekend, probably tonight before bedtime, to answer to your question ” who are you?” .

    Best wishes,
    Ana M.

  15. Brenda Scott says:

    You’re welcome, Ana.

    Did you find your answers? I find it is a ongoing process for me – the asking of questions and looking for answers.

    Best wishes,
    Brenda

    • Ana says:

      Hi Brenda,
      I was looking for one unifying answer, instead I get a lot of disperse answers. Trying to unify them all …

      Best wishes,
      Ana

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