Our lives are, and have always been, bombarded with self-help words and sayings. “Be yourself”, “shoot for the stars”, “confidence”, “self respect”, “positive thinking.” There’s lots of word retention, little conceptual discussion. When it comes to creative career paths, these virtuous internal qualities can be the difference between getting work done, and not–harnessing your creativity, and feeling lost or unfulfilled.
I recently had a bad case of artist block. I hated what I was working on. Everything seemed pointless, my focus was gone, and even though I felt I probably knew the source of it–too busy, too stressed– I still couldn’t seem to kick away the dripping sense of inefficacy in my brain. Pretty soon, with broken nerves and a blank stare, I had convinced myself that I’d snapped out of a bizarre artsy phase and thank god because I’m not getting any younger and it’s about time I focus and get a real job. My confidence was shot. Once that happens, where do you go? How do you create a self-assured, thriving, creative being out of nothing?
I sat like this for a while. Then, in an impromptu fit of urban-life hatred, I went on a (brief) vacation–one night in a tiny cabin in the mountains with a heater, no running water and the brittle silence of winter. I was with my boyfriend, to ease my thoughts of Deliverance, and had enough things to be comfortable, yet not distracted. No hikes, no sight-seeing, no complicated camping gear–just brief, pure relaxation.
After driving the lengthy scenic route along the Hudson River, we arrived home. I thought about where and when my mind works best, and decided to start really giving myself those moments. On my morning commute, where my eyes sink into their hammocks, swaying gently with the wobbly train, my mind clears and imagines. In the shower, meditative, efficient, and warm, I once came up with a painting looking at patterns of soap bubbles. And, unfortunately, late at night, right as I’m drifting off to sleep my brain buzzes, heart-rate goes up, and I’m wide awake with my best ideas rolling into formation.
I stretched out these moments and wrapped myself in them. My showers were longer, slower (bad conservationist), and on the train I sat with pen and paper, writing down all the ridiculous thoughts and worries that came to my head–work related, future related, science and art related, drama related–they are all valid, and they all needed to get out of my head and onto paper. At night, if my mind started racing, I got up, turned on a light and wrote it all down. List after list after list, I cleared out the backlog of information that clogged the fluidity of my mind and life. And so far, it’s working for me.
On good days, each experience we go through builds on ourselves like clay binding against a heaving, bulging sculpture. On bad days, they whittle away in unique nicks and gouges. We’re undulating beings, growing and shrinking, building and deconstructing, constantly in flux while our brains decipher situations, allot emotion, and draw lines between the past and present.
It’s hard enough to know yourself at any given moment, let alone care for yourself. And that’s where art can be a useful tool. Creativity aside, it’s a practice in self-acceptance, confidence, and humility. It might not always be easy to make, but getting to that creative place is a fascinating journey.
I wrote those last two paragraphs in the grips of my creative depression. I hated them then, but now I think they’re OK.