Monday, October 15, 2007

Reinventing, Part 3—The Blessing of Inertia and Cutting Yourself Some Slack

Last time, I yammered a bit about how sometimes a paralyzing event, or series of events, can creep up on us with an intensity we don’t even recognize until a) we’re in its clutches, or (if we’re the lucky ones) b) it’s all over. I’ve experienced this, and I don’t know if I’m over it yet. But a thought or two on how I may be emerging from the fog wouldn’t be amiss. Looking back on a traumatic period of our lives from the perspective of being “through with that,” of course, is always the better place to be…if you can learn from it. But in my experience, that doesn’t always happen. Not because we don’t want to learn from it so much as because once some really dark time in our creative lives is over at last, we’re so relieved that we’re not “there” anymore that we shrink from the idea of analyzing how we got “there,” lest we inadvertently end up “there” all over again. In other words, we’re scared spitless of confronting that devil one more time, lest he re-snare us. This is a needless fear, actually. But merely because something is needless doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. Most creative people are at least a little OCD, and what may appear “needless” to a strong, silent jock may be a very realistic shadow lurking around our corners. We also don’t want to fall into the trap, much encouraged by our “victimizing” society, of wallowing: so much of what I do now isn’t my fault because it was all caused by this terrible thing I had to go through when I was eight years old—! You get the picture. But in the case of a writer who has neither celebrity to worry about nor any other particular reason to want to excuse herself, looking at “how I got in a creative mess” isn’t wallowing. It’s not attempting to rationalize bad behavior. It’s simply an attempt to understand what contributed to that spot and, if we’re smart, to learn how to be gentle enough with ourselves that we don’t inadvertently prolong the agony of being in that unproductive and frustrating place by trying either to deny it to “tough” our way out of it. We all have different lists in the back of our minds of The Things I Absolutely Can’t Deal With No Matter How Much Chocolate I Have. So why do we feel there’s something so wrong with admitting that you’re not dealing very well with something, even months or years afterward, if it’s been on that list all your life? If I knew that, I wouldn’t be writing all these essays about why I beat up on myself for not “keeping on keeping on” despite everything. (Brings to mind the old Monty Python line: “A mere flesh wound!” If you get this reference, I don’t have to explain it. If you don’t get it, ask a Python fan to go into detail.) Yes, being a creative person entails a generous helping of mental toughness. And yes, succeeding at any endeavor means you can’t roll up the sidewalks every time someone gives you a piece of bad news, makes an unkind remark, passes up your kid for the major league draft, or has the inconsideration to go and die on you…or does it? I would assert that sometimes, it does. And sometimes those sidewalks are going to be rolled up for way longer than even we think they “should” be. But I’m also here to tell you that that may be the very place where, finally, God will meet you, shake your hand, and sit you down…so He can start unwrapping presents. Like reminding you that in your heart of hearts, you always *used to be* a musician who wrote, not a writer who happened to like music. Why does that reminder free you? Because then you go back to music as being the lifeblood of your creative system, something that feeds both your spirit and your other (writing) Muse…and both sides of you are neither overcompelled nor overpressured to “perform or else.” It’s a balance I had gotten out of, and so I’m trying hard to concentrate on getting it back again. Unwrapping this present also meant that I could relax, and in the process, begin tending to both my Muses rather than just one; what this means is, being stalled out in the writing area doesn’t mean my creativity is shot to pieces permanently. Merely stepping back, doing more music and less writing for awhile, can and usually does create just enough artistic momentum that all of a sudden the writing’s no longer terrifying…just another artistic thing I do. It’s not my only career path,or even, necessarily, my true career path (or, the old “God’s perfect will for my life” notion. Talk about something that needs to die a quick death?)…at least not exclusively. And any time you can take pressure off a creative endeavor, or a creative person, it’s a blessing. In my life, freeing writing from being the be-all and end-all of my creative endeavors means that I’m no longer frantically comparing myself to the other writers out there…that I’m no longer going to beat up on myself because I’m not writing every day…that I can stop worrying about whether I’m “serious” enough about this career or not…because it doesn’t have to be the only egg in my basket. I’m still a talented musician. I will always be a talented musician, and since I started singing way before I started storytelling, I asked myself…which is actually the more important Muse? Which is the one that, without question, nurtures all the others? There’s always been one primary answer to that question, and at last I’m remembering it. And I’m attempting to re-internalize it, to re-give myself permission to call myself a musician again, in my own emotional world and in my own estimation, without having to feel like putting an asterisk beside the word or the “failed” label in front of it. Now, there’s a present. As is the new idea that God also set before me, last Friday morning, as I talked to Him in Eucharistic Adoration. An idea that, if it can run the full distance, may just blow the doors off this writer’s office, knock the socks off the next reader to encounter it, and shoot the sides out of the proverbial “box” once and for all. Stay tuned for more on all of this, if you would. In the meantime, if someone’s looking for a soprano soloist for a Messiah this Christmas season…that’s on my list of things I need to do, am determined to do, and will jump through almost any hoops necessary in order to do. So spread the word! Thoughts? Janny


Deb said...

(Courtesy of etymology site: Eucharist = "sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the Communion," c.1350, from Gk. eukharistia "thanksgiving, gratitude," later "the Lord's Supper," from eukharistos "grateful"

And it goes on from there. Thankfullness truly does lead to grace. I'm glad you got a full dose Friday morning, 'cause it sounds like just what the Great Physician ordered.

And it's okay now to stop apologizing for not being creative for a season. I read an article in the NYT opinion section about why women writers apologize too much--it's as though we're afraid to have a viewpoint, etc. He said it better than I do.

Rejoicing for you, 'cause I think you've taken some very positive steps. I look forward to the process and your description of it.

We love you, you know.

Donna Alice said...

Can certainly see the sense in this subject. I'm not a writer/musician--but I do have other creative areas of my life. I've often found that I can feel creative with my sewing, crafting or scrapbooking and NOT think, well, it doesn't count because you aren't writing. I've found that when I am creative in non-writing areas, that it frees me more as a writer. I get better ideas and it's almost as if by being creative with a needle, I find myself opening up areas of my mind that help in my writing.