When I was a kid dreaming about being an actress and a writer I remember an adult responding to my goal by quoting John Lennon. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." As a kid, I resented this response to my dream. See, the person who said this to me didn't offer any other information beyond the quote itself, no supplementary information at all beyond the statement that their own dreams didn't work out. I have spent a couple of decades since wrestling with hard to define fears and frustrations about how I might make an artistic life for myself in the face of life itself, which in that adult's mind, would surely win the game every time.
One specific fear that I had after hearing this quote was simply the fear of making plans. After all, if life is going to happen on its own while we make other plans, then what's the point of making plans at all? Is it an impossible task to try to steer our lives in a direction that we want to go, even just a little? Maybe worse than that, is is a naive task to try to carve out a creative existence? Does that make us stupid or silly? Do we really have no control?
I'm turning 35 years old this year, a far cry from the child I was when I first heard these words. Admittedly, I spent years hating these words by John Lennon, and I am only recently starting to think about them in a new way. What if the person who shared them with me shared their own interpretation of the quote? As with anything, I needed to work out what they might mean for me, and not someone else.
Will life have its way with us, throwing obstacles in our path beyond our control? You bet. Will some of the plans we make be tossed out the window at a moment's notice? Absolutely. Should we continue to dream and make plans for the kind of life that we want to live? Without a doubt.
See, I don't think it's about not making plans. Have you ever tried to write a poem, a novel, or a blog post before? The first blank page stares back at you, blinding you with doubt. The longer you let it stare back at you, the more likely you are to be intimated to begin. You stay frozen. On the other hand, if we can scribble down a few words, maybe even a sentence or two, it's like breaking a spell. The process isn't smooth sailing, but at least, we have begun.
Making plans, or taking that first step, is necessary--not just for an artist, but for a human. Can you imagine a person sitting in a cave long ago, refusing to leave to hunt for and gather food, simply because her plan to search for something to eat might go differently than she anticipated? If you leave the cave, you're certainly going to be surprised by something (a bushel of berries or a bear), but if you refuse to leave the cave, you won't be able to survive for very long. In this case, fear to act would cost you your life.
Ok, so you consent to leave the cave, to accept the role in a play that you are feeling challenged by, or to move to that new city for graduate school. Step one, making plans--check. Now for the life part of the quote. Because, certainly life will turn out differently than we have planned, right?
It's likely life will mix with your well made plans. And yet, why does encountering the unexpected need to mean that we're doomed? Have you ever started to work on a creative project--a play, a five course dinner for guests, a short story--and had it turn out differently than you expected? Have you ever had it fall apart and go up in flames? Have you ever thanked your lucky stars that something changed shape along the way, because it turned out even better than you imagined? These outcomes may be on two different ends of the spectrum, but they both have something in common. They both, as my husband often says, give you new information. We can grieve after something is lost or blows up in our face; we need to give ourselves the space and grace to do so. We can also learn from life's plot twists. And without this learning, without discovery, what is life? Isn't this collateral damage of sorts also able to exist as collateral creativity?
I like John Lennon's quote, but I'm being so bold as to make my own when it comes to this subject.
LIFE + CURIOSITY = COLLATERAL CREATIVITY
Life is the joyful, painful, satisfying, terrifying, delicious, hopeless, messy, heartbreakingly beautiful bits all smashed together, all of the time. It's not if we are going to experience peace and pain, it's when and how. Peace may feel more pleasurable than pain, but the thing is, both feelings fall flat when we don't examine them on a deeper level. As a human being, we may be cursed with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune", but we have also been gifted with a sense of curiosity and this curiosity is what is responsible for any art that has ever been made and been meaningful.
Artists make breathtaking creations of all kinds not because their plans remain untouched by life itself, but because they get curious about their life experiences, and this curiosity turns the remnants of their scheming into collateral creativity. It's artistic alchemy.
What if we get curious about a loss we have experienced?
What is we get curious about why we feel so much joy when we are with someone special to us?
What if we get curious about a soul crushing defeat?
If we get curious about these things, what happens then? What questions can we ask? What can we learn? What can we make? How might we heal in the process, and possible even help others to do the same?
Collateral creativity might be an idea scribbled on a napkin after a lunch interview gone awry. It might be a book you decide to write, inspired directly or indirectly by struggle. Collateral creativity might be your favorite musician's darkest hours turned into an album that feels like home to you.
This blog you are reading is my own collateral creativity. It took me years of feeling frustrated with being an artist with a day job (something my ten year old self most definitely did not plan on) before I wondered what might come of getting curious about sharing my experience online with other actresses, writers, and artists that might feel the same way. I can now find gratitude that some things turned out differently than I planned, because that means I have something to respond to and to write about.
Curiosity can transform life from one challenge after another into one big creative meditation that provides a way to both make our plans and find a way to enjoy the twists and turns along the way as much as possible. When we allow life to penetrate the plans we make, we can accept and access an infinite source of wonder and inspiration.
Make plenty of plans. Prepare to stay curious about what happens. Be ready to dig deeper into all of it and believe that from the remnants, you may be able to make something magnificent.