I know I write about the same stuff over and over again. But I can’t help it. It haunts me. I’m not alone. There are volumes written. Here’s more.
There’s this paradox in art making. The best stuff comes when you don’t care about outcome. On the other hand the best stuff requires a connection to something larger than yourself that you care about deeply. Something that calls you to inhabit it–to hang onto it.
Perhaps it’s similar to raising children. You love and care so much that it can feel like your heart is slashed open and an electric current connects directly to them. You are afraid for them always. Be safe, do right, and don’t get lost. Come home so I know you’re ok. But in order for them to thrive and grow into who they need to be, they need to be set free of your expectations and control.
A client of mine recently posted an anecdote about making paper plate turkeys for Thanksgiving with her 3.5 year old daughter. The mom is smart, well-disciplined, marvelously creative, a great baker, decorator and business woman. As she “perfectly” placed the cut out pieces of colored construction paper on her plate she then went to “help” her daughter by re-arranging her placement. Pretty soon the daughter handed her mom the paper and scissors and glue and said “You do it mommy, I don’t know how to do it right.” And we wonder where our inner voices come from. (The mom, by the way, was taking this as a big lesson for herself.)
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, describes fear and creativity as conjoined twins. She accepts the fact that as her creativity stalks uncharted territory where she may find herself naked in front of the world, fear hovers. It can be debilitating, almost smothering. She likens the creative journey to a road trip with the two of them, but says: “Fear, you ride in the back seat. You don’t get to decide anything on this journey.”
These are the reasons behind most of my goofy exercises. What may seem to be a frustrating, hard to follow exercise is designed to keep you safe distance from your creativity’s partner. It allows you to absolve yourself from the responsibility of failure and hopefully let the “exquisite portion of your life” be passed along for others.
Mary Chapin Carpenter talks about doubts and fears in her song Jubilee—“they can’t add up to much without you”. You give them life and breath so it’s hard to squelch them. But without your permission, they can’t exist. Perhaps the idea of turning over control of the process to a ‘list of directions’ can simply side-step the fear. It does work for me. It takes me down roads I did not map, but that I can navigate. Try making up your own.
Leonard Cohen on accepting an award for his songwriting said: “Poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers.”
The trick is to occupy that “place” whatever it is for you. You must reach for it with diligence and discipline, but without expectation and control. That’s a mighty trick! Trust there’s a force, a synchronicity, of which you are welcome to become a part.
Be willing to give your work roots and wings, like we give to our children. Both are of equal importance. You must care, you must connect, but you must also let go and trust.