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Be. Creative. B-E Creative

I always wished the process of creating came easier. I've always been a creative person. If there’s a problem, I can McGuyver myself and others out of it with some spur of the moment proverbial duct tape. The issue is that the ingredients for the creation are all locked tightly away in my brain, under such tight security that would make the stepmother from Rapunzel envious. The process of getting an idea out of my brain onto paper, into reality, it’s never felt good. It’s not that it feels bad, like I’m vomiting from my brain and even though there’s relief there’s also that exhaustion and discomfort. It always feels good to see my brain contents out in the world and I love the fact that I’m able in many ways to be able to create. It’s just that it doesn’t feel as flowery and beautiful as it always seems like it’s going to. I always expect it to look like this gorgeous Studio Ghibli movie where I’m painting in a field and all the colors are just right, blending perfectly, and coming out exactly like my brain had in mind. It’s gritty and uncomfortable and weird. It’s like walking around in wet socks for a little bit after you get caught in the rain and you’re looking forward to getting home and warming your feet up in a bath. It’s like when you’re making dinner and you accidentally burn something, and the pan starts smoking and you’re waiting for the room to clear out after the window is open so you can assess the damage. Creating for me hasn’t ever been a consistently joyful process. It’s not unenjoyable, or miserable, or frustrating, it’s just not palette-cleansing, relieving brain morphine every time I do something. Even this blog post, something inconsequential that has no due date or people impatiently waiting for me to create something (though, if you’re impatiently waiting for my blog posts, please tell me. I’d love the ego boost).

Some of the world’s best creatives describe creating as something they don’t want to do, but something they have to do. When I was younger, I didn’t fully get that. What do you mean you have to? Who’s making you? What force is there that’s powerful enough to transcend creation from an enjoyable act into something that has a necessity behind it? I didn’t get it until I stopped playing saxophone for a few years and realized all that creative energy had bundled up inside me and felt like it had to get out. Suddenly I found myself creating out of necessity, finding joy while doing it, rather than just dinking around trying to force myself onto a page. Whether I had my tools or not, I was going to pour out on to that surface one way or another. That’s what makes sharing art so difficult. When its art you’re prepared to create, there’s a sort of pre-approval process that goes on. You’re in a state where you’re ready to create, so you’re capable of taking the time to decide what goes into making this piece.

If your creative energy is bursting to get out, you can’t stop it. You must make the thing at hand, and while you can maybe edit it after, but you can’t always edit something into what would have been a pre-approved piece. Sometimes it’s too raw, too “you” to get rid of the finer points; when you edit out the grains of a piece and that piece is you, it’s like you’re airbrushing parts of yourself out of existence. We all wish we could airbrush those things away but that’s not reality. We all have those grains and bristles. That’s what makes art so good: It’s so deeply you. Not always in an accurate representation, but in the sense that who you are comes through a piece and speaks to the world saying “This is me. Can’t get rid of me because I’ve already made my mark here.”

I’m at a sort of crossroads with creativity. It has a different necessity now than it did when I was younger. It looks different, feels different, has more modes of expression, and I feel less need to be “good” at it. But I am also experiencing a much bigger creative block than I ever have before. There are so many more channels than there used to be that it’s like I’m frozen at a 10-way intersection knowing all routes could get me to my destination, but not sure which route I want to take. I’m constantly stuck wanting to make sure I’m doing things “Right”. Making the right art, in the right way, to say the right thing I want to say. But when the hell has that ever happened in real life? That you get everything right, in the right way, saying exactly what you want with no addendums or additions. That’s never been my life no matter how hard I try so why am I so stuck on trying to make my art that way? The truth is, it doesn’t matter if its correct. If it’s good enough. If it’s exactly what I want it to be. The fact of the matter is that it counts that I’m doing it at all. It counts that I’m doing life at all, and it counts that I’m letting my truest self show up through art and creation, whether it sees the world or not. That’s important.

Years ago, I saw a ted talk done by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love”. It’s really good, and I think of it often. She describes herself as a mule because of how laborious her creative process is. She tells an anecdote about how she was talking with Ruth Stone, an American poet.

“…and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, "run like hell." And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn't be fast enough, so she'd be running and running, and she wouldn't get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it "for another poet." And then there were these times -- this is the piece I never forgot -- she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she's running to the house and she's looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it's going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

What an insane creative process. I always felt this story so deeply. I’ve had those moments where I feel creativity moving through me but I can’t find the tools to get it out of my head and it passes. And as much as that makes me sad sometimes, it also fills me with a sense of joy that I was able to experience such a private moment of beauty. Unhindered by the concept of having to put it in the world. Experiencing a beauty in the privacy of my own head, to draw on later for something new.

Par for the course in a blog post about laboring through the creative process, I don’t have a well-thought-out ending to any of this. Truthfully I had to bribe myself with cheesecake to get myself to sit down and finally write this damn thing. Don’t let the daunting concept of perfection keep you from trying at all. Don’t be paralyzed at the 10-way stop. Pick a route. You can always loop back and try another one.

Go forth and do creative shit,



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