Creativity is a coping mechanism. At least it is for me. Life happens against the background roar of popular culture—spinners, donuts, cleanses, testimony, lies, oligarchs, perspective, nepotism, Alexa, Snapchat, podcasts (again), streaming, Milennials, glitter in ketchup—the list goes on and on. Social media and popular culture suck up attention span like mop on a watery spill in aisle 666.
Some weeks ago, I accused my creativity of going out for cigarettes and not returning. With no creativity, I could concentrate more on social media, which was not helping me. (Lots of reasons for a future blog post.) One morning I walked across the spray painted word FAR and thought, aimlessly, that if it had an E, it would read FEAR. Or FARE, permission to ride after paying. And then came the follow-up thought, “I fear that my creativity is no longer relevant.” And there is was. The excuse my anxiety was dressing up in.
This was a step in asking a lot more questions. There is so much happening in the world—politics, music, art, resistance, anger, community, climate change, poverty, sharing. It’s enough to tilt your emotional level sharply and have your ideas and projects slide off your mental creative table.
In the face of such physical and mental instability, here is what I did:
Establish regular habits. When your life feels like a tilt-a-whirl, putting one foot on an unmoving floor feels like help. I forced myself to walk every morning again. Walking meditation, out in nature. It has saved my life often in the past, and it will work again. Even though it is already hot in the morning. Even though it takes effort to get dressed and get out. Still, I need to do it. For me.
No over-expecting. There is a lot I cannot influence, and I left that to others. I’m cranky that my local grocery has two aisles dedicated to gluten-free food and nothing for diabetics (beyond the bags of sugar-alcohols). Cranky that a salad at a fast-food place costs $7.00 and a cheeseburger costs $1.25. Diabetes is a far bigger threat on one-third of the population in the U.S. and . . . stop. This is not my battle for right now.
Be nice to people you don’t want to be nice to. The lady at the grocery store with two items, right behind me, fuming how she was so late and all these older, retired people with nothing else to do were holding her up. I let her in line ahead of me. When she was short by $0.56 for her two items, I paid it for her. I did not explain I was also in a hurry, I simply smiled. She thanked me. Nothing else. No big life-changing moment, no dramatic interaction. I felt that I had, somehow, won something.
Accepting reality amid the noise. Creativity doesn’t leave. It may shrink or expand to fill the space I give it, but it doesn’t leave. Someone pointed out that these blog posts prove some sort of creativity. (My first reaction was to dismiss that. I felt more righteous without any creativity than accepting what was in front of me.) My creativity had changed, shifted, and I did not want to adjust with it. I wanted what I had before. That was not going to happen.
Stop comparing–to what I had, what I could do if I tried harder, what others are doing or have. Understandable. I am competitive. Yes, I want the waistline I had when I was 27, the memory capacity I had at 30, and the fearless approach to creative work I had . . . last year. But none of those are going to happen. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (who thought I’d ever do that?), we don’t go into life with the creativity we want, we go with the creativity we have. Of course I’m anxious. That just shows I’m sane. OK, now that I know that, move along with the creativity I have.
Stop making excuses and get to work. I was afraid I’d fail. Not do anything I liked. The Neocolor experiment was fine, but I wanted more. (Follow that instinct!) Fearfully, I went back to alcohol inks. I made three of them, each pictured here. Each with “big” mistakes. And each with an amazing (to me) secret message.
In each of the alcohol inks I made, there were errors (I saw and forced myself to note and move on), and, to my surprise, a message I found. (I’ve included it in the cutline under each image, above). No, it was not a divine message, it was not magic. It was me, making and finding meaning again. I hadn’t heard or felt my meaning-making because it was drowned out by the background noise of the world today.
Here’s a quote my sister-in-law posted. It opened a door in my head: “Sometimes you can’t get rid of the fear, so you do it afraid.” Because no one promised me fear-less creativity. But overcoming fear is a great feeling.
—Quinn McDonald is working with the creativity she has, rather than the creativity she wants. Because she is pretty sure it will turn out to be enough.