This is a 20 minute interview on ‘Creativity as a Lifeline’ on the MIND AND SOUL MATTERS podcast.
(you can also read the transcript below).

“I just listened to your interview. And I just wanted to say, I feel so blessed to be able to call you my mentor and teacher. You speak so beautifully. But more important than that - your words just resonate deeply, and I know they’ll resonate deeply with other people as well. You are such a blessing to this world. Thank you.”
- M. Marsh


Full Transcript:

Welcome to Mind and Soul Matters. I'm Farah Feeney. Through conversations with everyday people, Mind and Soul Matters aims to broaden our understanding of mental health and spirituality. And to deepen our insights into the challenges and meaning of our lives. I'm looking forward to a soulful conversation with Malini Parker, a self-confessed scientist turned artist. Malini struggled with chronic fatigue syndrome for seven years, was her daughter's carer throughout a prolonged life challenging disorder, and her husband's carer during his journey with terminal cancer. She has written a short book titled Five Ways Using Your Creativity Might Just Save Your Life. Malini writes that creativity resides inside each and every one of us. It is part of being human and creativity can, in fact, save our life.

Farah:
Malini, let's start with how you describe yourself. You describe yourself as going from a mediocre scientist to a chronically sleep-deprived mother to an overwhelmed by the adrenaline of constant performance singer. To where you are now - a contented artist. I'm struggling to say all that. But here you are and you've lived it.

Malini:
So I certainly have lived it and it is a bit of a mouthful to describe my life in that way. But that's really how it's been. It's been a very full journey and I became an artist quite late in life and it was a circuitous route. I call myself a mediocre scientist because I think I tried to accumulate as many degrees in science as possible, hoping that I would get better at it. And I never did. Then I had a child and I thought, okay, I'm going to give that a break for a bit. My husband, my late husband Greg Parker, was a musician, and we both did quite a lot of performance together. And his musical shows got bigger and involved more and more people and bigger costs and Greg was very, he was a creative genius, but he was, he couldn't remember where he left his keys most of the time. And so he relied on my organizational skills to put on those big shows. So I became a default production manager, managing big casts, and also performing at the same time. It is not a recipe for a restful or healthy life actually being so on the go all the time. Performance is very, very, adrenaline-driven. It is also not a recipe for raising a child in a restful and peaceful environment. But we did that for quite a number of years. And I think it took a toll on my health. So there came a point when I was just completely burned out and doing anything at all became very, very difficult. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and there were times when I was so ill I could barely hold a cup. I had no strength to hold a cup. So all of the things that gave my life meaning I kind of had to give them away and focus on my recovery. And that was quite a long process. But in that recovery I discovered art. I actually started studying art because I couldn't hold on to a job basically. And so I thought I'll try going to school because you know, that's just something I've been curious about. And it doesn't actually matter if I'm not any good at it. I'll just give it a shot, and I remember my first day at school, I walked in with a walking stick because I couldn't really walk unaided. And then I became the most committed student. Quite often when we have boundaries in our life and we want to do something it drives us harder. So I just became such a dedicated student. It helped that I, within the 1st week of art school, I thought, “Ah, this is why I really wasn't very good at science.”

Farah:
This is what it feels like to love what you're doing. You found your passion.

Malini:
I really did. It was like falling in love again. It was like that. It was the 1st thought every morning when I woke up. It was the last thought when I went to bed at night. That's what it felt like finding my creative outlet.

Farah:
And how did you find that? Was it something that just happened? You accidentally fell upon it?

Malini:
Yes, I was an accidental artist.

Farah:
Did you try a few other things before you got to that?

Malini:
No, I announced to Greg one day that we needed to leave Perth, which was our home where we lived, where Greg had a big choir, the New Year Baha’i Choir where he had a day job as well. He was a senior analyst programmer for Westrail and he was very happy with this life. But my life was falling apart. I. I really could do very, very little. And I said to him, we needed a sea change. We needed a complete physical change of location. Amazingly, he agreed and we left that life. He handed his choir over to his eldest daughter, Rachel, who was a trained musician. And so she was very able at conducting the choir. And we left and moved to Albany. And in Albany, there was no, the University of Western Australia didn't have a science department, which is where I used to work. I used to work for the Department of Medicine. So my qualifications was a master's in medical science and I did research for the University department of medicine for years. They didn't have a science department there. And really I wasn't well enough anyway to be paid to work if you know what I mean, because I couldn't trust my health. And so I kind of thought, well, maybe I will try studying this or that. And I kind of wandered into the Art Department of Great Southern TAFE, thinking, well maybe I'll try this and I never expected it to be life-changing. It was something to do so that I could fill my days really, with something other than coping with my health...Which was driving me nuts.

Farah:
It was your lifeline.

Malini:
It really was. It was a connection to the world. I was raising a child, rather badly, because so much of it had to be done from a sofa and, and I just needed something that would give me another outlet, I suppose. I really didn't expect it to be life-changing. So it was, I'm an accidental artist. I really am. I didn't even study art in high school, you know.

Farah:
and since then, through that journey, you've become a contented artist. How has it been your lifeline or how has it been life-changing?

Malini:
I think the term, contented artist, I must have written that when I was feeling particularly satisfied with life, because there's almost no such thing as a contented artist, in a way. The very nature of the creative process is one of tumult, and agitation, and finding meaning in things which perhaps don't have meaning to somebody else. And some of the greatest artists in history have been you know, quite dysfunctional people. I think the hard times of life do tend to stir up the creative juices. They make the most beautiful love songs. They make some of the most great paintings. Adversity does bring out the deepest parts of us I think and that has definitely been my experience. So contented, yes. Contented in the sense that I feel I have found my calling, especially because I teach and I paint and I write. So it's multifaceted and teaching is a very big part of my creative process, helping others to bring out their creativity. Adversity has been a constant companion throughout this journey. And it has both fueled my creative process and stymied it. You know it's, it's been a kind of push-pull situation, but yeah, it's a very interesting thing, the mystery of suffering and how it kind of can lead to great outpourings of creativity from humanity.

Farah:
And in the introduction I mentioned that you have been your daughter’s carer throughout her prolonged life-challenging disorder and Greg’s carer during his journey with terminal cancer. And these are difficult things to go through as a mother and a wife. So when you talk about adversity, are these some of the things that you are referring to and was it creativity that helped you through these challenges, these adversities?

Malini:
Yes. Definitely yes. Creativity and a number of other things, of course. Perhaps I can describe to you a little bit about that journey of the... I guess 3 big adversities that I had. One was my own, my own illness. And that led me to finding art. Recovering from that illness was a multifaceted process. But unlocking the creative side of myself certainly was a very big part of it, I think. But as my health stabilized, my daughter got very sick, and then there were long stints in hospital. And it was very much a case of both Greg and I almost putting a pause in our life in order to save hers. And this went on for quite some time. As her health was stabilized, Greg was diagnosed with Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma. So it was kidney cancer and it was terminal. And Greg was one of those people who really loved life. The last person on earth you would think who would die young because he seemed to be the sort of man who would kind of just go on forever just by an act of will, you know. And initially, it was thought that he might have about 6 months. He managed to kind of survive and thrive, some of it was thriving, for years. And throughout that time, he did 5 shows. So his creativity was really shining throughout that period. And I watched and participated in all of this. Learning, Again, the creative process has some kind of otherworldly mysterious quality to it because there were times when people would say to me, “Mal, do you think he's actually going to make it to the show??” And I would go, “Who knows, but this is keeping him alive. So let's just keep at it.” And he did his last show 6 weeks before he died and it was such an amazing sort of feat. He was featured on the 7.30 Report, the ABCTV 7.30 Report, because I think it was a manifestation of how creativity can... I don't know … scare cancer cells or something! That's how I interpreted it. It certainly fueled his will to survive. And during my daughter's illness is when she discovered her interest and skill in photography, she credits it as a turning point in her recovery. So I got to see multiple points of how creativity has this other little-known quality to it that can turn around life-threatening, life-challenging situations. And certainly give them a resonance that perhaps just battling the disease, (or battling the illness that you're struggling with and trying to be positive, whatever that means), can’t do.

Farah:
And I think there's some very interesting points that you bring up. There is one that I'm taking, is that creativity can mean a lot of different things. For Greg, it was singing. For your daughter Mary, it was photography. And for you it was art. Picking up the paintbrush. So there's different forms of creativity that has helped you, Greg and Mary in different ways. And the other thing that I also want to really emphasize here is that creativity was one aspect of it because what we're not trying to say is that creativity fixes all things. I know that Greg went down the medical scientific path and got every single possible treatment that was out there as well as Mary she, when she needed to be in hospital under medical care. That she was, that this creativity was, was a lifeline that was supporting the other medical things that were required, and for yourself as well. The way you describe it Malini, it sounds to me like creativity has a spiritual component.

Malini:
I believe it does. All I can say is that it is, it's like the ultimate mystery to me. Every time I create a painting, there's a blank canvas. And then after a period of time, there is a canvas with something on it. That hopefully adds to the beauty in this world. That process is a mysterious one. And to me, the process of creating something. It is divine. It is, it mirrors the creation, the ultimate process of creativity is when you look at nature and you see creativity all around you, within every leaf, within every cell of our body. The process of creativity is ultimately so magical and mysterious. And the other times that I see it is when I have a room full of students, my classes attract people who are complete beginners. That is who I love to teach. So people come in quite often with quite a high level of anxiety because, Liz Gilbert said it best, she said, “Creativity will always provoke your fear because it asks you to enter into the realm of an uncertain outcome. And fear hates that. It thinks you're going to die!”
So there's quite a high level of anxiety when people are faced with suddenly having to use their creativity and “Oh my God, what if I create something terrible?” In actual fact, it doesn't actually matter if you create something terrible. No one is going to die 🙂 But I love that whole process, where I see these anxious, vulnerable souls. And by the end of the day, they have created something where before there was nothing. And that process has fueled their spirits, has made them joyful. And every single time I feel it's a gift to me because I have absorbed that joy, some of that mystery and magic that has gone into what has made them create has touched me as well. So I see it repeatedly. And of course I see it in my own life. I was, if I might quote from Dead Poets Society... I was saying to you before this interview, my sofa is one of my favorite places and from that sofa I love engaging in every streaming thing that I can! The other day Netflix wasn't working because my Internet wasn't working. And so I thought, “Oh my God, I'm going to have to watch television as I paint!” So, the television was on and Dead Poets Society came on and I thought, “Oh my God, I haven't seen this movie since the nineties!” and Robin Williams said something absolutely extraordinary in it. He said, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the Human race, and the Human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering - These are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But Poetry, Beauty, Romance, Love - These are what we stay alive for.”

Farah:
That's beautiful.

Malini:
It is absolutely stunning. And I would put of course, visual art in there and painting, but it all comes under the same umbrella of creativity. Now that's a very circuitous answer to the question you asked me about, “What is the link between the spirit and creativity?” I'm also a member of the Baha’i Faith and in the Baha’i writings, one of my sisters actually quoted this to me: What the Baha’i Writings say about what happens when the artist picks up a paintbrush, and it's really quite beautiful. It says, “I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one's art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Farah:
That is beautiful, that is.

Malini:
And it gives me great comfort to hear that because my relationship with God is sometimes a bit of a dodgy one! My faith waxes and wanes. And when I read that, I think, every time I am creating, because I translate that to writing to teaching, to speaking, to painting, it is as if I am in prayer at the temple and that's actually what it feels like. It feels like an act of worship, for me anyway.

Farah:
Yeah, that's a beautiful way to put it, Malini. And I think not only when someone creates, they can possibly experience that. But I think when we are listening to beautiful music, like on the receiving end, watching, looking at a beautiful painting or even, you know, you described nature as well as creation. It's that feeling of being, you know, taking our breath away. That feeling, to me, that is spirituality, that is where our soul is being touched. Through creating it and through receiving it.

Malini:
Yeah, yeah. I totally agree.

Farah:
Malini, I just want to finish off by asking you how can people tap into that creative side if they haven't had the opportunity to do it yet? How do we know if that is one of our lifelines?

Malini:
Well, the first thing I think is if you want to develop your creative side. The 1st ingredient that you need is a strong interest in doing so. Now, not everybody wants to develop a creative side. But If you really want to, then pick something that is of interest to you. So if making a painting doesn’t interest you, don't go to an art class, you know. I know it sounds a little bit sort of basic, but there are lots of people who try things which clearly they're not that interested in. But they just try it to see well maybe, you know, if ... creativity is something that is a thread that runs through so many different disciplines. You use creativity when you are interviewing someone. You use creativity in your practice as a psychologist. You don't actually need to go and go to a painting class to develop your creativity. You can use it in whatever you are doing. And consciously ask the Divine, ask the Universe, ask God if that’s what makes sense to you, to help you use that thing that’s inside of you, to make you more creative in what it is that you do. So if you then want to go down a more traditional route in the creative arts, find yourself a good teacher for a start. I can’t tell you the number of people that come to me and say, “I was told in high school that I'm, you know, I should never paint ever again. Don't, that's really not going to be your thing.” It stopped Them. It shut them right down. So find a teacher that is going to nurture that in you. And then this: this is the magical bit, lower your expectations!

Farah:
That can apply to any aspect of our life. If we take one message away from today - Lower our expectations! That’s how we can be content.

Malini:
My first art class, my expectations were so high, that is, the first art class that I attended, my expectations were through the roof! So I was just disappointed with everything that I did. So, lower your expectations and be curious. Be curious about what is happening in front of you, to you, around you. And then try to detach yourself from outcomes, really. Creativity doesn't like great expectations and it doesn't like you to be attached to the outcome. It wants you to stay in the process. That's where the magic is. The outcome is almost irrelevant. The magic of creativity lies in its process. And interestingly, that’s kind of a good lesson for the whole of life, I think.

Farah:
That's exactly what I was thinking. What a beautiful place to end. Thank you so much Malini for coming onto Mind and Soul Matters and sharing your journey through life. What you've been through and how creativity has saved your life and has helped Greg and Mary through their struggles as well. It's been an absolute pleasure to have you.

Malini:
So welcome Farah, it was delightful to talk to you.

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