The headline for this post is a quote from Toni Morrison’s “The Song of Solomon” – a quote I find myself coming back to time and time again…
This is, to a degree, a personal post. Or rather an “I understand, see and hear you”-post, because so often, people come to me because they feel overwhelmed by their creativity, under pressure to make money with it or to create “output” for the world to see or hear. And creating output is always something that has to be scrutinised and perfected until they feel it has no semblance to the thing they originally set out to do.
Creativity Has No Schedule
It doesn’t care if you want it present or not, or if you like what it has to say. It doesn’t come when you try to coax it, and it doesn’t go because you need to do something else. To be honest, I still experience this to this very day. The only difference might be that I have stopped judging myself for it, and that the quantity and quality of my output are not yardsticks for my ”success” anymore.
I had written my first novel by the time I was 14, and my first (sort of) screenplay when I was in my early 20s. I was always a writer at heart, and many of my teachers encouraged me to go down that path. But there was also music, and not just one instrument, but several, of which only voice and piano have “survived” (I was actually a better violin player than a singer in my teens, or at least that’s what I’d like to think, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do if she needs to create [brain] space).
There was also my interest in the human psyche. My love for performance and my dread of it. My love for acting until it felt too close to home or not close enough, often in quick succession. My love for composing/sketching film music ideas but nowhere to go with them. My love for diving into the depths of pedagogy and developing and shaping new ideas, only to end up enmeshed in all the other things I have already described, and then starting all over again.
It feels like a brain that is constantly working (so much so that I sometimes can’t sleep), a heart that beats strongly for many things and a soul that never truly settles anywhere. It is at times exhilarating, at times painful and frequently exhausting. It takes me out of myself and gets me locked in myself. It connects me and dissociates me. It makes me feel close to people and distances me from them (which I know can sometimes be hard for the people closest to me). It makes me feel alone, but never lonely. It is a place of darkness, but also a source of the brightest light.
In short: It is me, and I have stopped fighting it a while ago.
Something Inherently Calming Can Be Found in Self-Surrender
There is also something really calming about starting to feel in your bones, eventually, that the creative process is an act of surrender, and not one of control (Julia Cameron wrote this, but I agree; I just didn’t always lean into it when I was younger).
The older I get, the more I can appreciate the vulnerability, and at the same time strength, that lies in searching, and completely surrendering to the search without resistance.
I don’t need to arrive. I don’t need to turn my creative urges into “something worthwhile” (they already are), or something that is a source of income. I don’t need to publish, let other people hear, see or otherwise experience whatever I create – although I often do. But I am selective about the “whats” and “whens”, because I came to believe that certain things I do, and coincidentally the ones that entangle me most and make me forget time and space, are mainly for me, and sometimes for myself only.
If I wanted to be Jungian about it, I would say that everything I create is part of my individuation process (no shit, Sherlock!), but that some of it is deeply connected to my unconscious and brings it to the surface. Summoning our unconscious into our conscious can be hilarious, but also terrifying. Sometimes, the timing is good, sometimes it is bad (and if it’s bad, it tends to be REALLY bad). Sometimes, it happens naturally; sometimes you invite it in and see what shows up.
If you have ever heard about shadow work, you might have an inkling of what I mean:
The times when we descend into our shadow can feel shameful, precarious and painful. At times, we get lost in it – sometimes without noticing.
The times when we begin to integrate our shadow instead of running away from it (or losing ourselves in it) are always time for growth: Awareness isn’t identification.
And for me, that awareness has always been linked to the writing process. It connects the dots without consciously setting out to do so. It has no ego or persona (some of my other creative and work-related endeavours do, and I am good with admitting it). It brings together my body and mind; while that might sound strange to some because writing is such a cognitive process, it is absolutely true for me. It connects my feminine and masculine side, and many other dualities I have experienced, and still experience, throughout my life.
I encourage you to surrender to the air, and to trust the process. Hold your creativity lightly – it is your life force, not something that can be forced into making a living.
(This post was inspired by many conversations with clients, colleagues and friends, but I would like to mention three of them very specifically: Izzie Baumann, Alison Jane Taylor and Cate Frazier-Neely; wonderful colleagues and strong women whom I count myself lucky to know, even if we still haven’t met in person).