I’m hesitant to write this post because I don’t want to be a dream killer. For anyone who is still waking up full of creative energy and possibility, who skips over to the page or the canvas full of ideas and fascination, thrilled to spend hours playing with your new visions, this post is not for you. That’s how it all starts—this artist path. At least that’s how it started for me. Hours of writing and painting just because I had an idea. Just because it felt good. Well, spoiler alert, this all changed.
Like parenting, life is not static, therefore neither is an artist’s relationship to artmaking. Humans have this special way of deciding if something is good for them, it should feel good (like exercising and eating right, ha). If making art is the dream, we feel like we should be able to make it easily in great amounts and the art we make should be instantly masterful. A huge part of me becoming an adult is learning that the experience of something rarely feels like the fantasy of it. Everything takes effort. So often we take that effort as proof that we aren’t good at something. This mindset creates a dissonance that leads to internal unrest. It doesn’t help us grow, learn, and produce art, either.
Just because making art is your dream, it doesn’t mean making the art will actually feel like a dream. When there is an ease and play to artmaking, it is a deeply intoxicating and satisfying experience, but that magic doesn’t last forever. So what do you do? What do you do when the magic runs out?
When my magic ran out, I tried to give art back to God. I really did. I went through so many existential contortions. If the artist does not make art, are they still an artist? If I’m not writing, why does the desire to write still plague me? God, if you take away this desire to write, I promise I’ll be happy living a regular life. Ha. But the desire to write and paint didn’t disappear. Even after I was plagued with lack of productivity and no motivation for years, the need to make art kept hounding me, pushing me, sometimes whispering, sometimes yelling, that I wasn’t attending to my creativity.
It felt like life was telling me to grow up. Oh, it’s not fun anymore? You don’t have that magic? Tough titties (as we used to say when I was growing up). Deal with it. And there it was. Unadorned by glitter and fantasy, stripped of magic and glow, the need to write stripped down and laid bare. So I decided to figure it out.
As I tried approach after approach after approach, I realized I had been asking the wrong questions. I had been asking where the magic went? I had been asking why didn’t I feel like writing? I had been asking why haven’t I done more, why wasn’t I doing more? But all of that was my situation based on the current conditions of work and parenting and shifts in my community. By focusing on loss and circling the drain on what I couldn’t do anymore and how I didn’t feel, I was privileging the past. The writer I used to be. I was focusing on my condition and on my feelings about my condition. As I tried to work my way back to writing, I realized that all those years I had applied none of my brain power to creating a solution.
It is always good to reflect on the situations you find yourself in and there are certain conditions that require a deep dive into the source of the problem. However at some point, you—as the steerer of the ship—have to decide what to privilege in your daily life. Am I going to privilege this problem? Or am I going to privilege the solution?
I had spent so long asking why, what I needed to be asking was how. So you have this new life condition, you have this set of circumstances that makes it harder to write. How will you write under these conditions? What strategies can get you productive? How can you embrace being a writer with your life and your self just as they are today? So I dove in. I tried different strategies, I wrote about my struggles, I tested out writing in different places, at different times. I collected my stories into a collection, I wrote new stories. And that’s how I dug myself out, but guess what? I still haven’t made it back to that excited artist who wrote like a maniac every time an idea struck her; who painted for hours at all hours covering canvas after canvas. That’s because the barriers in my life haven’t changed. Making art still feels like effort. It still IS an effort, but I have so much more to show for it.
Life conditions don’t go away. Dissatisfaction doesn’t dissolve on your word. Rather than fight with my fluctuating conditions, I acknowledge them and work around them to meet my goals. As written in the Freedom Puzzle, the daily choices I make and each of my actions are an answer to the question “How do I get to where I want to be?” It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Let’s say all your complaints are valid. Can you have them and still do the thing that you most want to do? Can you decide that your goals are more important than your complaints? That’s what walking the path is—it’s privileging the solution over the condition. It’s a question that we have to answer every single day. In my life, what am I privileging? What am I giving in to? Between my complaints, my goals, and desires, which is the most important urge? Which urges do you follow up on? Lack of energy is just an urge to rest. Procrastination is just an urge to avoid. Confusion is just an urge to not see. None of those urges ever disappear or fade into the sunset. Their role in your life is determined by how you relate to them. Do they stop you from doing what you want to do? Or do you pack them up, take them with you, and carry on?
Be well. Be love[d].