A nice little lunch conversation the other day led me to an epic self-discovery moment. One that wasn’t so epically awesome.
All you need to know about the conversation that led to the instant when time stopped to open its jaws and suck me into a gravityless atmosphere of a WTF void is this line, said by me: “Oh, so you have a nanny so you can paint during the day, when you are at your best creative self?”
(((cue loss of grip on reality, which included a fork in a Greek salad, and commence spinning off into the void)))
Whaaat? Are you serious? Back in the day when my kids were young I sacrificed my best creative self on the altar of motherhood. I had no choice. I had to. I didn’t have a nanny, housekeeper, personal trainer, cheerleaders who told me to go ahead, follow your dream; we’ll help you take care of the rest. Back in the day my best creative self was stuffed, kicking and screaming, into a vault and locked, not to be set free until the grown up responsibilities of important life allowed it. Back in the day … Actually, forget back in the day: I STILL sacrifice my best creative self on the altar of things I have to do. By the time I actually get around to closing the door to the outside and jimmying the lock on the window to my creativeside, I’ve got nothing left to give!
You can all now join your virtual hands and together send me a collective, “Oh, poor, poor you. Poor, poor your best creative self. You are such a hero for your sacrifices.”
Or, you can do what I did. (Well, what I did after I resumed cognizance and managed to impale a sliced tomato onto the prongs of my fork and guide it to my mouth all the while nodding and smiling and chewing as if I hadn’t just briefly left the conversation to take a quick spin in my internal abyss of despair. And even once I’d emerged and had eaten the remaining cucumbers and olives, there were quite a few hours of “Oh, poor, poor me”-ing before I came to the moment of my epic self-discovery.)
And this was my epic discovery (feel free in joining my acknowledgment of it):
What an epic #creativefail I’ve been.
By that I don’t mean I’ve been failing creatively. I mean I’ve been failing my creativity. I haven’t been loyal to her. I haven’t elevated her to a high enough priority. I haven’t given her enough respect. I’ve made excuses for neglecting her; made justifications; used scapegoats; minimized her importance. I’ve done it in the past, and I still do it now. But it makes me a hero to no one: Not to my employer for whom I often work overtime, not to my family that wants me physically and emotionally present and clambers for my attention. Because, really? This is how it goes: The less I acknowledge and support my creativity, the less I write. The less I write, the more insecure I get about starting up again. The more insecure I get about starting up again, the less I feel like writing. The less I feel like writing, the more depressed I get. The more depressed I get the less I give to other people.
It’s not a cliché for artists to say making art is like breathing; to say they make art because they have to. It’s true. Artists must create. It’s part of our psyche. Part of what helps us process life; live life; enjoy life. It’s part of what keeps us healthy and happy. And it needs to have a place of priority.*
The trick is giving it its proper place.
And proper attention.
This is where I’ve failed most epically: in not paying heed to the significant detail that creativity doesn’t just happen during the act of putting paint to canvas, pencil to paper, fingers to keyboard. The process of creativity, for me, must start way before that: It begins in figuring out HOW and WHEN. Instead of complaining that I don’t have the kind of time and energy I want to dedicate to writing, it’s figuring out what I’m going to start sacrificing on the altar of my best creative self, instead of the other way around.
For my lunch friend it’s a sacrifice of cash to hire a nanny so she can paint during the day, not when she’s exhausted at night after the kids are in bed. For me, maybe it’s sacrificing some sleep time, lunch breaks, facebook sessions, blog post writing, coffee money to save up for a writing retreat. I don’t know. All I know is that I have to stop making excuses, and stop letting those excuses thwart my creativity. “I’m exhausted,” “I need downtime,” and “If only I could write full-time,” are getting old and just aren’t cutting it anymore. There are a lot of things that I can’t change, but there are some that I can. It’s time to take the little pockets of time in my days that I do have control over and start redefining their purpose to serve the empowerment of my best creative self.
I think I’m going to make little signs and post them on my alarm clock, in my lunch bag, above my computer, in my wallet. They’re going to say: FOR MY BEST CREATIVE SELF. Maybe I’ll make a t-shirt, too.
N.B. That paragraph-long rant starting with “Whaaat?” and ending with “I’ve got nothing left to give”? Yeah, I didn’t say any of that out loud. That was me spinning in the void. In case you’re wondering.
*Of course placing too much priority on your creative self can be just as damaging. The name escapes me, but there’s an author who didn’t even attend his own son’s funeral because it interfered with his writing schedule. There are countless artists whose entire identities are/were consumed by their creative selves. And just as many who have been destroyed by it; led down even darker roads of depression, despair, and isolation. They are examples of epic #fails, too, but of a whole other kind.