Legend has it that violinist Itzhak Perlman was performing a concert in the mid-nineties when one of the strings on his violin snapped and broke. Instead of bowing out right then and there, he simply noticed what happened and said to the audience, "It is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left." He kept playing the rest of the concert, one string down, but not deterred in the least.
Is it a true story? I don't know, but I love it. I really appreciate the idea that as a creative soul, my job is not to try to keep things in life from breaking or falling apart, but to take whatever pieces remain and see what I might make of them. One of those jobs feels like setting yourself up to fail, no matter how hard you try, and the other task sounds just a bit more like an adventure. Or at least an experiment that promises to be interesting.
For years, I told myself that I needed to quit my day job or find a different day job, the "right" day job. before I could focus on acting. At the end of a work day, I would come home from my day job, my mind whirring in overdrive, and spend hours browsing and applying for other day jobs in hopes of finding The One that would give me the permission to rehearse, take an acting class, or audition. I would spend even more time, usually around 3 AM, beating myself up about the fact that I could just find a way to save enough money so that I didn't even need a day job, then my problems would be solved. Then, and only then, could I learn a new monologue, go to an audition, or start writing my own play.
Sound a little crazy to anyone? Wait--there's more.
Day jobs aside, I was also convinced that I needed to not have any dirty dishes or laundry or old sneakers or a head cold or any of the everyday annoyances we all have in order to write something. I put off my creative callings for so long because I didn't think that the circumstances were "right". I was stubborn; I wasn't going to play without my instrument fully in tune all the strings intact. Worn out shoes? I needed brand spanking new sparkling shoes if I was to walk into a writer's group. Habit of keeping my desk cluttered? I needed to get rid of those papers and notes to self before I could be a Real Artist.
Spoiler alert: the "right" time never arrived and The One job never showed. I felt stood up by life and cheated out of my creativity. This wasn't fair, I fumed to myself. How can they do this to me?
Hold up. Who was "they", and what exactly were "they" doing to me? It took me a long time, but I begrudgingly realized that the mythical people or forces bent on preventing me from playing and creating weren't real. I made them up in my mind; they didn't exist. The only thing that was real was my own refusal to take any steps forward until my life was organized the way I thought it needed to be in order to be creative.
Let's be honest here. Would it be ideal to not have to work full time and to not have any dirty dishes to wash? Of course. Would I take this version of life if it showed up on my door today? In a heartbeat. And? Is is absolutely necessary for exercising your creativity and imagination? Not at all. To this day, I tell myself my own fable about not being able to really get down to creative business until I no longer need to work full time and my house is clean, but I have the day jobs, illnesses, anxieties, and all the things I made during the messy times as evidence to the contrary.
There's a Buddhist concept of the Two Arrows. The first arrow is something that causes us to suffer, and that comes from outside ourselves; it's not within our control. You get sick, you lose your job, you trip and fall into a mud puddle on the way to an interview. It sucks. No one is here to argue with that.
But the second arrow is when we cause ourselves to suffer. Right on the heels of the event you can't control, say, losing your job, we heap more suffering upon ourselves by telling ourselves "Of course I got laid off. I'm a terrible worker and I can't learn anything new." Do you see? We all do this. Even once we become aware that we do this, we still do this. It's a brand new (to me) idea that has blown the cover on my habit of making my own suffering more painful than it needs to be.
if we look at this in the context of my creativity dilemma, it is true that my first arrow might be that I need to work full-time and thus cannot spend 8 hours a day acting or writing. Enter the second, self-induced arrow. I have an incredible amount of time mourning these circumstances, and on top of that, I have spent even more time mourning all the time that I spent mourning for the time that I wish I had to devote to more creative projects. It's a wormhole and once you dive head first into it, it's hard to pull yourself out.
In order to disrupt the cycle, we must accept how much time we spent mourning our less than perfect circumstances and let it go. We must recognize when we find ourselves in our own version of Emotional Inception and do something different. We got angry about how we wishes things were, we mourned what we don't have, and then we have the choice to accept ourselves and our lives as they are at this moment. This doesn't mean that we lose hope of anything changing or becoming easier, but it does mean that we can move forward without this guarantee. It means that we agree to work with what we have in this very moment.
What if we released ourselves from the impossible task of "getting it together" or keeping everything in perfectly working order?
What if we didn't put pressure on ourselves to have all the time in the world, all the talent in the world, in order to make something?
What if we let ourselves be ourselves, with our worries and fears and faults and flaws and play anyway?
What if the Good Stuff is actually born out of everything that went wrong, or at the very least, differently than we thought or hoped?
What would we make? What would we dream of? What would be give ourselves permission to dream of doing? Who would we be?
Creativity takes place in the present moment. Art is in the act of doing something, not in the planning or ruminating.
A creative life is not about airbrushing, sweeping things under the rug, being ashamed of all the ways that you feel that you and your life are not "together" or picture perfect. A true creative soul doesn't need things to be squeaky clean before she starts working her magic. No way. The hallmark of an authentic creative soul is the willingness to wade into the shit, head straight into the middle of the mess, whether it's your kitchen sink or the deep dark recesses of your own heart, discover what is there and claim it all as yours. It's about being able to stop chasing your life as you want it to be and start bear hugging the hell out of wherever you are right now. It's about not just be ok using what you've got to work with, but learning to celebrate the wacky, burned-out, rusted, motley crew of emotions and thoughts and cells and life stuff that is YOU. These are the raw materials that you will use to make your masterpiece.
Get sifting through that emotional junkyard, My Friends, and I promise you that you will find things that you wouldn't trade for all the gold in the world. The point is not to judge or shame yourself for what you find, but to become intimately familiar with every item that you carry with you right now. Each piece you find, whether you decide to put it on display on the mantel of your heart or to chuck it in the trash pile, is invaluable. These bits and bobs are the good stuff that you can and will use to make something that lasts.
Creativity can be clarifying. Art is action. Take a deep breath, dive inward, claim it all, and let us know what you find--it might be in the form of a poem, a song, or a dance step. No matter. It's all going to knock us right off of our feet. And we need more of that in the world.