The Death of Creativity / Day 39 of 365

Back in 2012, I was a creative super-machine. I finished a 365 project the year prior and had just bought my dream camera. It seemed like every week I was doing something crazy and new. I regularly dragged friends into frozen creeks, through stinging nettles, and into the wild recesses of my world. My camera lived on my shoulder and, like my mind, it was always fully charged.

I vividly remember having a late night conversation with Jake back then. He was one of the first artists that I was close to – and the one who really pushed me to create, no matter what crazy ideas I had. Our conversations usually centered around critiquing art that the other had made.

On this particular night, I was really pushing Jake to start blogging. Beyond consuming my life with photography, I had bloomed into blogging. It was almost October and I was participating in an annual ‘Blogtober’. I’ll never forget what Jake said to me that night;

“There’s so much stuff already out there already – I don’t want to contribute to the noise.”

Jake is about 5 years my senior and, unlike me, had been creating across every medium. I knew him as a photographer, a sculptor, a painter – one of the first interactions I had with him was at a church over-nighter. We went bowling and I spent the night talking with him. As we talked, he took out his sketchbook and drew a charcoal picture of me.

I think that artists typically remember their birth into art. This was the beginning for me.

When Jake said he didn’t want to contribute to the noise anymore, it was although I had woken up even though I was already awake. Suddenly I saw noise everywhere. There was too much information out in the world and I became self-conscious.

That was my death.

A weed was planted that night and I’ve spent the last 5 years pulling them up. “Is what I’m creating worth being put out there?” sprung up from the corner of my beautifully cultivated garden. Soon thereafter, “Am I really contributing or just creating junk?”. I wasn’t quick enough to pull these weeds out. I was in deep trouble when the “Am I bothering people by putting my art in front of their faces?” arrived.

Soon the weeds overtook the garden, and although I plant new flowers occasionally, they’re dwarfed by self-consciousness. At 18 years old, I didn’t have the capacity to understand this. I only saw that I was ‘making noise’. That was my creative death.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/Ifit6xW8UCY?rel=0

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Artist Block and General Anxiety

It feels horrible to hit a point where you no longer feel creative. Where no fresh ideas flow through your mind. Artist blocks are terrifying. You don’t know what to create because you don’t have substance. It’s like you have an itch and you want to scratch it but you don’t know where on your body it is. In a block, I’m just blindly clawing at myself until I find how to relieve the itch.

It’s as though I have this intense emotion inside of me and I can’t relieve it. Words can’t express it. I can’t tell you how I feel because it’s more intense than that. I have to create something that properly communicates the emotion. It’s frustrating. I claw and grapple at any way that insane itch can be extinguished.

That’s what a block feels like to me. It’s desperate, generally filled with frustration, and the bane of my artistic existence. Even writing this has been exhausting. I’m scratching at myself trying to find the right way to tell you what it feels like. If that’s not a conundrum, I don’t know what is.

Blocks feel insane because you start with nothing. In your head, you have an emotion. There is no physical equivalent of what you feel. To give birth to that emotion, you have to find what physically exists and mold it into what matches your head. For writers, it’s finding the right word; painters, it’s the right color or stroke; for photographers, it’s finding the right angle or lighting. No matter the medium, you have to find a way to make an intangible emotion into something others can see and feel.

The types of artistic blocks can vary. Sometimes it feels like you have this monstrous emotion inside of you and the only way to prevent it from consuming you is to give it birth. Other times it feels like you need to create but you don’t have anything to give. You’re ready to create, you’ve got the resources, full stocks of paint… but no emotion to cover the canvas.

Now that you understand how desperate and terrifying these blocks can feel like, I want to show you the opposite side. This was actually the reason I started writing tonight:

For the last 2 years I’ve been afraid that I’ll run out of emotion.

It sounds silly but not all feelings are intense enough to create with. Mediocre love doesn’t produce the same art that passionate love does. There isn’t room for mediocrity. Ultimately I’m afraid of being starved of that intensity. So… I’ve been hoarding the emotions.

The passionate love and intense heartbreak that I had last year, I can’t let it go. I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll starve. That I’ll run dry. I’ll have all the resources; models to shoot with, locations to work with, but no BANG of creative energy to go along with it.

Everywhere I go, I carry that heartbreak with me. I put it into a bag of emotions on my hip labelled “feelings I’d like to create with”. Attached to the side there’s a note that reads: “open cautiously, emotions may overwhelm”. Usually that’s what happens. The bag is so full that everywhere I go, it spills a little here and there.

I once read that the mind is like a cup of tea. If you want fresh tea, you have to pour the old stuff out. Otherwise, your cup will overflow and create a mess. There is no use is keeping the old tea, even if it once was delicious. Everything goes stale over time. Carrying around that extra emotion is an unnecessary burden.

I carry too many painful emotions in hopes that one day I’ll be able to create with them. Deep down, I know beautiful things can come out of horrible experiences, so I dream of transforming them. I want to change the difficult times into beautiful works of art – but it’s not necessary. Some of life is just suffering.

All in all, this is a reminder to let go. Don’t be terrified of the blocks. They come and pass naturally. I’ve carried way too many emotions far past their expiration. Empty your cup of tea so you can experience the next batch.

Creative Contradiction

Mathew Schuler wrote on his blog about a book called: “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The book discusses creativity as the writer interviews 91 different artists. The resultant idea is that creativite people are full of contradictions. One of these contradictions that Schuler discusses is:

Most creative people tend to be both introverted and extroverted. Many people tend toward one extreme or the other, but highly creative people are a balance of both simultaneously.

This resonate with me because I feel caught at these two extremes; people are wonderful to be around but I don’t always want to be with them. Visiting a coffee shop or an airport is great because I’m at that in-between state. I’m introverted because I’m not interacting but I’ve extroverted because I’m near them.

It’s difficult to explain this to a person who hasn’t felt it. There are days that I need to go out but it isn’t to interact with people. It’s simply to be around them. Energetic environments motivate me but for some reason interaction with people is draining.

Even further I’m incredibly outgoing if I’m in a group of two. Add more than four and suddenly I’m introverted. Talking with one other person is great but I don’t know what to talk about if there are more people.

These contradictions are unusual and I cannot explain why I feel them. They are a huge part of who I am but yet there are two opposites inside of me: introversion and extraversion. Why do I need people but need independence? It’s bizarre and baffling.

Mathew’s post is interesting and I suggest you check it out. It’s titled “Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense” and you can find more information about the book I linked above. Creativity is such an odd and interesting topic! What contradictions do you experience in yourself?

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P.S. Mathew B. Crawford (“Shop Class as Soul Craft“) is releasing a new book next March titled: “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction“. I can’t wait for it! If you haven’t read his first book, you need to go to the library and check it out now!

Creativity is a Habit, Cultivate it!

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Earlier this week I wrote about Twyla’s book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life“. It’s my second time reading it and I really enjoy the writing style, the content, and beauty of the book. The design is incredibly pleasing and I couldn’t help but pick it up again.

In one of the chapters, titled, “Rituals of Preparation”, Twyla explains how creativity is a habit that we form rather than a gift from the gods. People used to believe that inspiration was divine, coming from the heavens when the gods granted it. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat.Pray.Love.) has talked about this in one of her TED talks. While society no longer believes in Greek (or Roman) gods, we still linger to this idea that inspiration is external, generating from outside of us.

Twyla argues that inspiration comes from routine, and, thus, is created inside each person. She uses herself as an example, explaining that each day she wakes up at 5:30am to go to the gym. By establishing this regularity, she’s able to routinely create. Rather than waiting for a lightning-strike of ideas, she’s preparing herself to do her art. In this way, Twyla believes creativity comes from hard work rather than spontaneity.

Her book elaborates further but I’ll leave that for you to read.

To test this for myself I’ve started my routine. Working at night has altered my sleep schedule and I find myself sleeping through most of my free time. This week I’ve decided to change that and start going to bed immediately after I finish work. By going to bed a few hours earlier, I can get up at a decent hour.

When I roll out of bed in the morning, I begin the day by running 2 1/2 miles. This kick-starts my metabolism and jolts me awake. After finishing I have a big breakfast and sit down to write (much like I’m doing now). This simple routine improves the quality of blog posts, my mood throughout the day, and the amount of time I have for the activities I love. I find that I don’t feel pressured to write (like I do at 2am), and I can think clearly.

Nothing in this process directly generates inspiration or creativity, however I feel like I have an overabundance of both. It’s the accumulation of these tasks that support the artist inside. By doing the same activities daily, I wear into them. This is why writing daily, or a 365 project, works so well: you build the habits of creating each day.

When I combine the artistic task (writing) with other routines (waking up early, running), I build a system where my mind understands when to be creative. I get up, go for the run, and, internally my head goes “it’s time to create!” Then the creative juices flow and bam!, here we are.

While today is only day two of this experiment, I feel like I already agree with Twyla Tharp: creativity comes from hard work. There will be moments where you feel struck by lightning with new ideas but you can’t wait for the lightning to strike. You have to work for an environment that cultivates your creativity.

Again, I highly recommend this book. Look I’ve already linked it three times!

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Over the past few days my building has been repainted and, while doing the job, they disconnected the public WiFi. I’m updating the last three days of posts as we speak!

 

Are you polishing your creativity?

Creating can be a difficult process and finding the right words or the right way to express yourself isn’t easy. It seems like the creative juices only seem to flow when we aren’t in an artistic mood or when we lack the resources to birth our ideas. The hardest part of writing for me is the beginning. Right when my mind feels like it has something to say it’s as though the words drain out of my feet.

The creative process is different for each person but for me it’s like brushing my teeth. Sometimes the tube only puts a little toothpaste out while other times it seems to want to overload it. If I get too much I’ll try to shove some of it back into the container but I won’t use it all. If I tried to brush with too much toothpaste it would be a waste. My teeth wouldn’t be any cleaner using 2x the amount of paste.

That being said I always brush my teeth. It doesn’t matter if I’m running low on toothpaste or not, I will just use less and go through the process anyways. Even if I’m running low on time I will go brush my teeth. It may be sloppy but it gets the job done. I brush my teeth because it’s important to my health. The same holds true for the creative process.

Some days it’s like my mind continually throws out ideas. I’m flooded with images that I want to paint or topics I want to write about. There are sometimes full weeks where I can’t write all of my ideas down. Other times I’m completely dry. I pull open the “new post” tab and watch the line blink on my screen until I can write.

I write daily because it’s important for my health. There are days that I really do not feel like writing anything but I have an obligation, like brushing my teeth, to creating something new every day. I do it sometimes not because I want to but because I need it in the long run.

When I have those moments where I’m incredibly inspired I fill up whiteboards on my walls. Brooke Shaden uses notebooks. It’s all the same. When ideas fill your mind, make a point to write them down. Some people think that if an idea is big enough, it will come back – but I guarantee you won’t remember them all. Just like dreams they will fade and lose their details.

When we run low on toothpaste, we can always ask others to help. The Lion’s Life has some great articles on creativity and motivation (like “How a New Environment Can Stimulate Creativity and Trigger Motivation“. So if you’re running low, there are many resources to help. Just remember that sometimes the toothpaste flows quickly and sometimes it’s as thick as molasses.

If there’s anything this 365 project has taught me, it is that the creative process has a mind of its own. There are days where I feel like I could write for hours. Or times when I have enough paintings in my mind to fill a gallery. Some days the words aren’t clear and my mind is scattered. That’s how life is. I keep creating anyways. I’m not the best writer but I keep writing anyways.

Osho wrote in his book “The Madman’s Guide to Enlightenment”: “They move on their own… Out of one hundred times, ninety-nine times you will be saved writing. And that one time you will be really writing something valuable. Otherwise in the rubbish even the diamonds are lost.”

Find those diamonds in your life, you may have to fill your pockets with dirt first but the diamonds will come. I apologize for my lame analogies but this is just how my mind thinks. We all brush our teeth, I brush my daily. Some people brush them more and others really should buy a toothbrush. Where ever you stand on this I want you to exercise your creative muscles. When you have an idea, don’t let it get away from you. Write it down and birth it into existence. We want to see your pearly whites! The satisfaction you will feel from following your creative urges will reward you and you’ll keep your teeth for a long time!

I swear I’m done with that analogy now. Hope you are all making today a great day!

179/365

P.S. Right now I’m looking for new blogs to follow! Spam me with a link to your latest article in the comments below!

Sunburn

It’s been 156 days since I’ve seen my family. 218 days since I’ve stepped foot in my house. It’s also been 218 days since I’ve seen my cat Dufetta. Somewhere around then my other cat Abbey passed away. It’s suffice to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve been home. Days are not the only measurement that separates me from my home. Currently I live on the other side of the country. 948 miles by road or half a day’s travel by plane.

However none of this holds me from my home. It’s not a physical barrier that keeps me away. Money can pay for a plane ticket or a car ride. I’m currently 1245 days from home. 29,880 hours, 1,792,800 minutes, or 107,568,000 seconds. Whichever of these views look the shortest to you. Where distances can be overcome by money, time cannot. Time can only move as time does. It can only pass at a steady rate. 60 second for each minute.

Today my mother defied the distance and flew home after a week of visiting me. The barrier suddenly became apparent. The length could be measured by my text for her leaving the airport here to her picking up the phone inside my house.

The sorrow was the comparison of how quickly she arrived home to how long I have before I, too, can go home. It’s a math equation of the plane ride from South Carolina to Minnesota plus 3 and a half years.

Although I will never fully be able to explain it to anyone, going home temporarily is meaningless to me. It’s taunting. It’s daring. It’s ripping myself in half. It’s poison. So I choose instead to forget it. To forget that I have this time to overcome. This time to sit through. To wait. I choose to not even to go home in my mind.

I choose to forget the air that I breathed and the afghans that laid upon my bed. The cold dusty hardwood floors that held everything I owned up. The white colored walls that were like canvas screaming to contain my ideas and art one day. The messiness of my bed mid-day when the only creatures that occupied it were a cat or two. I choose to forget it. I cannot even dare to go home in my mind.

It’s like a sunburn that doesn’t heal. It’s tense to the touch. It feels like fire when something slams back into the memory. Like I’ve just laid on coal. Not even water soothes the pain. It’s something only time can heal. Something I have to avoid sitting against. Leaning against the wall to rest burns. Sitting burns. It all burns.

The only solace is in the fact that time, while not rapidly, will continue to flow. It manages to move. It doesn’t wake up one day and slow down. It doesn’t sit down and cry in the shower for an hour. It moves steadily. And one day this too shall pass. Hopefully like a fleeting memory. The sunburn, the sensitivity, the distance, the time. That will all come to pass. One day it will be 3 and a half years from now. One day it will be tomorrow.

Until them, I’ll be here. But the length has been marked. Both time and distance.

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