creativity + fear

I have been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Creativity and fear, in particular. There are a great many things that I want to try, do, make. They burn beneath my skin. But I let fear keep them there. I would rather spontaneously combust from the collective heat of all of my undone projects and unexplored ideas than put something imperfect out into the world.

Above all else, I fear rejection. I fear being told that I am not good enough, that I am not worthy. That I do not deserve love. The idea of making art and having it not be good enough for other people, even for me, makes me nauseous with terror.

For our baby shower, I put out a giant canvas that I’ve had for several years. When I hold it in front of my body, only my head and feet show. I put it out on the island with a bunch of paint and asked people to create a communal art piece that we would then hang in our daughter’s room. A lot of people were overwhelmed by this small act of creativity (aren’t we all?). “But I’m not an artist, Jessica.” “But … what would I even do?” “But I don’t paint.” My dad practiced his birds on a scrap of paper beforehand; they were literally the M-shaped birds that we all drew as children, though my father is capable of drawing a pretty realistic tiger. My mother painted an off-kilter diamond and then waved at it vaguely, asking one of our friends, “Do something with that, maybe?” (It seems that creativity and fear go hand in hand for a great many people.)

In the end, more than half of our guests contributed and the end result was a colorful, chaotic creation that looked like it was made by a bunch of manic kindergartners. It was far from a masterpiece, but it was made with great love.

There was a lot of white space, though, and it was disjointed. Bryan said it made him feel anxious. I thought I would add to it, fill in some of the white space, balance it out somehow, while preserving what our friends and family had poured themselves into. Had overcome their fears to create.

I put it off, though. What, exactly, should I do? I was deeply afraid of ruining what had been made that day. So it sat on a table in the basement, where I never really had to see it.

I thought about it, though. A lot. It wrapped itself around my brain like some kind of strangler vine. My anxiety grew. The truth was that I didn’t like it the way it was. I liked parts of it and I liked what it represented, the idea of it, but the canvas itself? I had no desire to hang it in the nursery.

A few weeks ago, finally, I decided to do something about it. There was resistance; the effort it took to actually heave myself off the couch after I’d announced I was going to paint was monumental, even by third trimester standards.

I did a warm-up painting, which I ended up liking quite a lot. Then I turned to the big canvas. Still, I had no idea what to do. Still, my mind was a complete blank. I could not picture anything to do with it that didn’t involve painting over the whole thing and starting again from scratch.

So I decided to just…start. I squirted some purple paint onto my palette and I just…started. The more I painted, though, the more I panicked. The more I looked at it and thought, “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck, I have really messed this up.”

After about ten minutes, I stopped. I took a step back to survey the work that I had done, and my heart sank. I hadn’t loved it before, no, but now…well, now, I really hated it.

I was frustrated and angry. See? This is why I don’t take risks! This is why I don’t make things! Because they end up looking like this.

I wish there was some great moral to this story. Like, “I took a risk and it paid off in spades and now I have this amazing thing for our nursery.” But it doesn’t. It didn’t. I don’t. I don’t know yet how I am going to fix it. If I am going to fix it. It is still sitting on that table in the basement, my palette abandoned beside it, some brightly colored tissue paper next to that which I thought I might glue onto it. Just to make the whole thing look a little more disjointed and chaotic. Bryan said he would try to help. And maybe that’s the point: failure is just an opportunity to try again. And again and again and again. So answer the call to make art, even if you fuck it up, even if it makes you sick with fear, because there will always be another chance to try again. The fear is our signal that this is something important, this is something worth doing. And really, what is the alternative? Spontaneous combustion. That’s what.

creativity + fear

Book of the Month: Big Magic

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Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my idols.

I first read Eat Pray Love about six years ago and I remember thinking, Ugh, why do some many people like this book? It is so self-indulgent and overdone and who does this woman think she is? I tossed it aside, thought and talked about it with derision for years. Something about it stayed in my mind though, and a few months ago, I began to think I should reread it. Then, when I lost my baby at the end of the summer, I felt like I needed something to lose myself in. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, couldn’t seem to focus on a task or a book or a project, so I decided to try out audiobooks. (I had always thought of them with derision, too, like, Audiobooks aren’t really reading! Why have I spent so much of my time being so derisive?! What a waste!) I scrolled through the available books in the library’s digital catalogue and there it was, on the first page: Eat Pray Love. Like it was waiting for me. It was a sign. So I downloaded it. I lay there in the dark, listening to Liz Gilbert’s voice, and it felt, somehow, like she knew me. Like she had seen into the deepest parts of my soul, felt what I felt, and wrote it down on paper. I lapped up every word like a woman who has been deprived of water. At one point, as I lay listening one night and Bryan puttered around our room, he went still, listening too. Then he said, wryly, “Oh no, I don’t see why you relate to this woman at all.” 

After that, I completely revised my entire opinion of Eat Pray Love and Liz Gilbert herself.

When I heard that she had a new book out on the subject of creativity, I was intrigued. Being a writer, creativity has always fascinated me. Not just how to get more of it, but simply how it works. Why do we have it? What does it all mean? I knew that Liz Gilbert was going to have some interesting thoughts on the matter.

Boy, does she ever.

My favorite one is this: ideas are sentient little beings running around, looking for the perfect person to bring them into corporeal being. Inspiration may visit you, thinking you are the artist for them, only to be rebuffed in some way: maybe you think the idea is dumb, or you aren’t the right person for it. Inspiration may visit you, and then realize that you aren’t ready for it, or aren’t serious about it, and so it leaves you. And sometimes it inspiration visits you, and you are ready for each other, and it is a wonderful relationship that results in art.

I love this idea. I love the idea that we are receptacles for inspiration, that we are not wholly responsible for generating our art, that part of being an artist is communing with some otherworldly muse that bestows its gifts upon you, rather than dredging all your ideas up from the centre of your cells, which, after all, have to be a kind of finite supply.

Her book is full of anecdotes (the Ann Patchett one will blow your mind, seriously) and quotes and thoughts on how to live a more creative life but it is mostly this: permission to just be an artist. To just make whatever the hell you want to make, despite the fear, despite the critics, despite the outmoded and dangerous idea of the Tormented Artist. To accept the gifts that your muse is dying to give you. To live the creative life that you have always dreamed of. It is optimistic but not saccharine. It comes from a playful and light-hearted view of creativity (which is not to say that all created things should be light-hearted and playful, but that the process of making them should be enjoyable, rather than painful). There is a kind of wonderful mysticism in her ideas about creativity as well that I find glorious and inspirational.

If you are a creative person (and I truly believe that every single one of us is, in some way, a creative person) then I think you will find that many aspects of Big Magic ring true for you. Here are a few great ones for you to nibble on for now:

What is creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

Possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do – and you might not like the job it invents.

Your ego is a wonderful servant but a terrible master – because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward. Always remember this: you are not only an ego; you are also a soul.

Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. And fear hates uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.

And there are about ten thousand more where that came from.

 

Book of the Month: Big Magic

Poem: The Fall Fade

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***

Already, autumn has come to claim the year.

I’m trying to force these rhymes

to illuminate these grey-washed streets

and the ache in my chest at the death of summer.

The slow fade of the childish glee of sun-soaked

days and languid nights, of all the time in the world

to do whatever we please. Autumn heralds crisp winds,

shorter days, the contracting of time and the slowing

of my blood, preparation for a long hibernation.

I love the sparkle of fresh fallen snow, the deep, sweet

comfort of being warm indoors while frost steals over

the world outside, the crack of a fire, and the rest

for my bones, but I long to be alive, and part of me

fears the deep stillness of winter. It fears that I will never

wake up. So I walk these damp fall streets with wistfulness

and joy and not a little bit of dread.

Poem: The Fall Fade

2015 Photo Project: Portrait of the Artist’s Husband as a Young Man

This month’s theme is portraits. I have much more of an interest in this, and a subject that I love putting in front of my camera. Last week, Bryan and I took a walk through the river valley on a lovely, cloudy day (perfect light for pictures) and he allowed me to prop him in front of various things and take pictures from a thousand angles, yelling awkward directions like, “Uh, could you not hold your head like that?” and “Stand up STRAIGHT, you look like an old man!” (Yeah, my photography bedside manner could use some polishing, haha.) It was really fun and I got a few shots that I am quite happy with. I am looking forward to doing it again soon! Maybe with a different model this time? (Any volunteers? I promise I won’t yell at you!)

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I can’t believe the project is halfway done and I didn’t even realize it!

(Find the rest of the photo project here.)

2015 Photo Project: Portrait of the Artist’s Husband as a Young Man

my cure for writer’s block

I have started three different blog posts in the space of ten minutes and backspaced each one of them into oblivion. The words I want to say won’t come. I can’t seem to delve into any topic of actual substance. All I want to do is curl into a ball on my couch and watch eight straight episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, nursing my borderline-insane crush on Andy Samberg.

So … that is what I am going to do.

I’m not going to force myself to write something. Sometimes, our creative souls need a break. I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself lately; with Bryan away on business, I have had a lot of time to myself, which I feel should be full up to the brim with productivity. I even made myself a list of things to get done entitled Things to Accomplish While Bryan is Gone. I knew it was a mistake the minute I did it, but I did it anyway, because I’m a slave to the to do list.

So for tonight, I am cutting myself a break. I’m not going to sit down at this computer and force myself to bleed all over the keyboard for the sake of an essay about something deep and meaningful, because chances are that the resulting words would be anything but deep and meaningful.

For tonight, I’m going to allow myself the simple pleasure of curling up on my couch with my favorite NYPD precinct and a late dinner, and I’m not going to worry about having five blog posts written for next week, or about writing at all.

I’m going to let myself rest. Then perhaps tomorrow I will come back to the keyboard, refreshed, and ready to create once more.

my cure for writer’s block

2015 Photo Project: The Macro Challenge

What is the macro challenge, you ask? This: figure out a way to make a bunch of close-ups of random stuff look interesting. Step number one was making sure that I took photos of more than just plants. Step two was … well, I didn’t really have a step two.

Originally, the theme for May was portraits. But when May 22 rolled around and I had taken only one (blurry, badly composed, defiantly subpar) photo, I knew I needed to change things up. I’d been falling behind on this project for a while already, and I didn’t want to continue that downward spiral. So I made the executive decision to switch the themes for May and July; I’ll be doing those portraits in the summer instead. May is a fabulous time for macros anyway: spring is in full swing around me, and all I want to do is bury my nose in all the delicious details anyway.

So here are a few (if 26 can be called “a few”) from the photo walk that I took last week! It felt so great to get out of the apartment and just wander around with my camera. I forgot how creatively liberating that can be.

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Also, here is my river valley photo of my favorite bridge, from a slightly different perspective. I dig this photo pretty hard.

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ISO 100 || 28 mm at f/10 || 1/125

And two portraits of Bryan. Haven’t decided which one to officially include in the project yet.

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Check out the rest of the photo project here. I think May macros has been my favorite so far. What about you? Do you have a favorite from this series, or are you working on a year-long project of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

2015 Photo Project: The Macro Challenge

2015 Photo Project: I Didn’t Completely Fail at March

I failed a lot less than I thought, actually, so that’s nice.

I didn’t manage to get a photo of the river valley from my usual spot, so the super grainy, low quality snap I got from the other side will have to suffice for this month. I did, however, manage to get a decent portrait of Bryan, as well as 25 of the 31 photos I aimed for. Considering how uninspired I felt by this theme, and how difficult I thought it was, I ended up with a lot more photos than I thought I had. Go me.

So here are the last of March’s pictures, and good riddance to this theme. Onwards and upwards to April: architecture.

All photos for March (except Bryan’s portrait) were taken on my Samsung Galaxy S4 and edited with VSCOcam.

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ISO 400  ||  28 mm at f/5.0  ||  1/6 

Find the whole project here. Which was your favorite from this month? Share your thoughts and whatever projects you have been working on in the comments.

2015 Photo Project: I Didn’t Completely Fail at March

Short Story: On a Beach Far, Far Away

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The beach. Sundown. A cool breeze lifting my hair. A tight pain in my chest, the twisting ache of nostalgia. Worse yet, nostalgia for that which has not yet passed.

A hundred yards down the beach, firelight flickers, shadows dance, laughter echoes. It touches me, but barely, like a ghost trying to make contact through the veil. I am here, but I am removed, hugging the edges. They have all submerged themselves completely, and I just can’t. I hug my sweatshirt tighter around me, let the ocean nip, playful, at my toes. The heavy crash of distant waves is a comforting infinity, endlessly repeating itself, never tiring.

Stars scatter overhead, a goddamn cliche, but they’re so bright and close I could lick them like rock candy. In the city, you sometimes forget that they exist at all, but out here, they are the prima ballerinas, en pointe at centre stage. I suddenly don’t ever want to go home.

I have known this time was coming. It is why I’m not at the bonfire, drinking and dancing and laughing. It’s why the romantic spark between Peter and I fizzled almost immediately. It’s why I feel sick to my stomach and currently contemplating wading into the waves and allowing them to pull me away from shore, to join them in their tireless, rhythmic eternity.

Tomorrow, this all ends, and I must return to my real life.

But I am different now; I am deeper, I am more fully human, more fully me, more fully awake than I’ve been in my life, and I don’t know how that fits in back home with the soulless 9-5s and the desperate, scrabbling consumerism. The well-worn path that I am expected to trod now that I’ve “got all this out of my system” – my mother’s words, not mine. I’m petrified that I will be sucked right back in without much of a fight, and I’ll wake up twenty years from now to find that the grandest, riskiest adventure of my life amounted to nothing. Meant nothing.

The tears threaten. Strains of garbled song drift on the breeze; I curse myself for the sentimentality that is causing me to mourn for this night before it has died, to weep for it rather than embrace it. I try to drag myself out of the malaise but it is like swimming against a rip current. I stop.

A distant light glimmers on the horizon. A boat way out there, reminding the world that they are alive. I wonder how long they’ve been out there, if it’s a cruise ship or a fishing vessel. If they miss their families.

The crunch of feet on wet sand, then a shoulder brushes mine. “Deep thoughts?”

I manage to dredge up a smile from somewhere. “Deep and meaningful.”

Peter sprawls out on the sand next to me. Tall, gangly, not particularly beautiful, he carries himself with a kind of grace and good humour that immediately drew me to him. The tattoos don’t hurt, either. I’ve always been a sucker for a man with some ink.

His eyes glitter in the dark, bright with alcohol and the hint of ‘this could be our one last chance.’ Things have been cool between us since that night in Belize. Not hostile, just lacking in the warmth and security that I had grown accustomed to between us.

I open my mouth to speak several times but can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound trite and insincere, so I opt for silence. Peter’s eyes are closed, his arms folded behind his head. I think he’s fallen asleep until –

“You’re missing the party, you know.”

“I know.”

“Don’t do this to yourself.”

“What’s that?” A slight defensive edge.

He cracks one eye open. “Deny yourself the fun because its easier to inflict the pain on yourself than feel it afterwards.” He props himself up on one elbow, all earnestness now. “Seriously, April. You’re only hurting yourself. You can either enjoy a great party and be a little sad later, or you can just be sad. I’d rather have the party.”

And he is gone, brushing his hands on his shorts, casting a smile over his shoulder, retracing his footsteps across the beach.

I sit there awhile longer, arms wrapped around my knees, arguing with myself. It is the most Herculean effort of my life to pick myself up off the beach and follow him. My heart rages in my chest, but I console myself with the idea that maybe my plane will crash before I ever have to deal with all the big questions weighing on my mind.

And then I am engulfed in voices and arms and light, and I forget to think about tomorrow, or anything much at all.

*

Constructive feedback and comments are always appreciated! Leave yours in the comment section below if you’re so inclined. <3

Short Story: On a Beach Far, Far Away