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There are at least two sides to every creator’s journey: the story you tell the world, and the rest of the iceberg that will never see the light of day (except for the few people allowed into your bubble).
The untold, bloody everyday, the 75% of you who’s learned to breathe underwater, enables you to live and keep the brighter 25% of you above the water. Both sides are real, both sides are necessary, both sides feed off each other.
But let me tell you, there is so much hell that goes into the hidden one, so you can actually produce a piece of heaven. Behind every breakthrough, there’s at least one breakdown that makes you even more resilient and determined to keep making (and keep breaking). How does the saying go… What doesn’t kill you makes you truer?
One common misperception about people successfully living a creative life — or at least consistently re-creating themselves and rewriting their lives time and again (my definition of success) — is that it’s “easier for them,” and that they’re “amazingly talented,” and “lucky to be doing it,” or be “so good” at this or that, or “blessed with opportunities,” and that “if only I had this or that, then I could do it too…”
I wish they removed the word “luck” from the dictionary and made you do a hundred pushups every time you say it.
Creators, artists and visionaries nourish the world with their dreams, and in doing so they save it in more than one way. In this they are a blessing.
But there’s a whole other side of this deal — the curse — that’s often overlooked: The pain behind the smile + years of hard work they have to undergo to not just speak their heart but actually walk their talk; the gut to not just trust themselves, but actually arrange their whole lives every day, according to this trust; to become the directors of their own indie movies, however imperfect or low budget, instead of just sad, secondary characters in someone else’s takes.
The ugly truth (and yet more beautiful for it):
Being a creator of your life, instead of merely a victim or a survivor, is the hardest thing you’ll ever attempt. Answering your hero’s call and embarking on the lifelong journey back to you is the most liberating, yet the most excruciating adventure you’ll ever be on.
Being the visionary, the crazy and the misfit in a world that is constantly trying to turn you into a shadow of a better time, is the most difficult decision you’ll have to make — every damn day.
Here are some of the biggest pains in a Creator’s ass life. Do not attempt, unless willing to sacrifice all that you thought you were for everything you’re willing to become.
1. It’s NOT easy. But it becomes easier.
What seems like a dance to the non-dancer, is a result of hours upon hours and hours and many many many hours of practice. So much that over time you turn into your practice, and doing it becomes much easier than not doing it, and there is no more difference then, between your gift to the world and you.
But wait, there’s more. Or did you think they’d let you practice your life’s quest in peace? Meet the dragons that will try to keep you from your call. Fight them like a gladiator. Til’ death — of You or Ego. (There is no other way.)
1.1. THE NAYSAYERS — From your own blood family, to friends you thought were friends, to strangers your respect and admire, to strangers you don’t even know or care about but whose occasional thoughtless words shoot arrows of despair into your sensitive aorta.
The too familiar “Get a real job!” on lips too swollen to believe they’re still alive, and try to drag everyone down with them…
Whoever your vampires, your prosecutors or your inquisition, you have the last word over what gets in & out: Give them your blood or don’t. But honestly, why would you take advice from anyone NOT living the life you desire?
If they were doing it themselves, they wouldn’t be talking you out it. They’d know your pain, your hope, your struggle. They’d shower you with renewed strength and compassion. They’d fetch you water on the way to Mordor instead of trying to steal the ring.
Over the years, I’ve learned (the hard way) to discern between wholehearted, cautious and intelligent advice vs. the ill and shallow kind that comes from fear or envy. Whenever I get the second, I immediately remove myself. I have no time for goblins. To each their revolution.
1.2. YOUR SELF-DOUBT — Do I have what it takes or not? (The million dollar question.) The truth? Some days you do, others you don’t… You’re a journey full of ups & downs, a book that’s being written as we speak, a dance with life, a love affair with language. You’re not a goddamn statue or a brick.
This is the part where you forget your music is not about who listens but about who sings it. It’s when you have to ink Maya Angelou’s famous words on your bathroom mirror (with permanent marker), right at the forehead area, lest you forget again, tomorrow:
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” You hear me, bird? You are the song!
A bird doesn’t ask herself if she has what it takes in order to open her tiny mouth & chirp out her story, because so many other millions are doing it, and what if she’s no good, and what else can she add?
No! She does it precisely because she’s that one bird in a million, and she can’t help but join the choir. Birds sing, humans create, that’s that.
Creating your life is your human right and your greatest duty, privilege and gift to the world. The only thing that can stop you from doing your life’s work is your own decision to be stopped.
1.3. YOUR FEAR — Some days it threatens to kill you. Others it passes as caution, safety, common sense or wisdom. Here’s a bullshit detector you can run on your fear:
If what you fear is also what you love, then your fear is acting as a foe, not as a friendly, healthy warning. Learn to differentiate between what protects your life and what steals it away.
I’m scared of more than I can openly admit.
I’m scared about every single project, every business move, every new person I let in. But over time I’ve learned to differentiate between my Gentle Fear, the friend, and Bloody Fear, the enemy. I love the first for keeping me alive and when it comes to the latter, I just hold tight & do it anyway. Watch me, I tell her, as I shake.
1.4. YOUR DARKNESS / SADNESS / UNDIGESTED LOSS — I’ve been criticized, more than once — by friends and strangers — for my inability to overcome or mask my default sadness, and furthermore, for often wearing it in public, like unironed clothes, and what I answer back is this:
I don’t create because I’ve got it all figured it out and I am now this happy clown with perfect hair and magic pills on how to make your dreams come true. I don’t even know what happiness really refers to, beyond its photoshopped white teeth and plastic smile.
I don’t believe in gurus, saints or role models. I believe in art as a way to live and as a means to heal myself, and in the process, inspire others to begin their revolution and sustain their evolution.
I create in order to deal with my excruciating pain, the losses that keep piling on top of each other like dead bodies, the darkness that threatens to swallow me whole at 3 a.m., minutes before the dawn can intervene. I create because it gives me a real reason to get out of bed each morning. It pushes me beyond survival and deep into aliveness.
I don’t create as a result of happiness. I reach my Daily Soul Highs (as I refer to my bliss) precisely BECAUSE and WHEN I create — not the other way around. Happiness doesn’t lead to creativity, but just the opposite: Creativity is my one and only happy pill. (Active Ingredients: Passion & Purpose.)
2. It’s NOT safe. But you become your home.
Creativity requires you to put your heart on the line with each investment. It makes you question every notion of what’s solid, trustworthy and true. And if you haven’t quite learned to walk the labyrinths of your intuition, you’ll make mistake after mistake, and learn your truth with blows.
It’s like a puzzle where each new failure and mistake reveal a piece of you. I think this is the only way for stubborn people.
And what is safe, do tell me… What are your guarantees? Your bank account? Your sold job, ruled by unsolid people? How do you know you’ll be alive tomorrow?
We’re all going away. Always alone and naked, back to dust. Always too soon. Always a loss, a sadness, a death that will give way to a new life. There’s nothing you can take with you but only moments of your story echoed though eternity.
The thought that I am terminally ill and that I only have a few decades left to live at the very most, makes me burn with even more passion and want to explore all the possibilities of this short human dilemma, give a voice to each of my longings, give body to my thirst, give a quest to my desire.
The only way to break through the illusion of safety, and get better at dancing in the dark is by becoming your own dancing partner — by learning there’s a home in you, a sacred place where you can rest and love & live, no matter where you are.
3. It’s NOT comfortable. But your Way will become more comforting than anything the Highway has to offer.
Creativity will keep pushing you beyond your fear and everything that’s holding you back from becoming your own revolution.
There is no evolution without a revolution, movement, change, a necessary and not pretty letting go… There is no going forward without leaving something (or someone) behind. There is no greater YES without a firm, still NO to what no longer works. No newer skin without the tearing and the shedding of the old.
It hurts to stretch your wings. But doesn’t it hurt even more to let them atrophy? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You won’t get out of here alive. So at least choose a torture that will lead you to aliveness.
Over time, I’ve relocated my office on a cliff. I now make most of my creative (and business) decisions standing over the edge of the smaller me, facing the abyss of my own death, over and over; my bird-heart always in a frenzy to become, my bluish soul in love with open skies.
So I can’t help but jump, each time. If I should fall and perish anyway, I might as well go for the better view. I might as well leap from the highest place I’m capable of climbing. My best business has come as a result of this philosophy.
Unprecedented action is the backbone of creativity. The discomfort, the stretch, the growth pains come from doing things in a way you’ve never done them before.
If it weren’t unprecedented, there’d be no newness, no change, no moving forward, you’d be repeating patterns in your old skin. There’s nothing new or revolutionary about stagnation.
So, when you answer the call to redesign your life, don’t expect to be protected by the familiar — there’s no insurance that can cover all the wonder you are capable of making — and don’t expect safety to catch you. It won’t because it can’t. You’re on your own. And that’s exactly where you should be to evolve.
You need to go out in the no-man’s-land between the Now and Not Yet, meet your higher self in the desert of what you no longer are or through the storm of what you’re trying to become, and let creativity build you a net on the way down. And trust that it will. Because, as Grandpa Emerson so wisely put it,
There’s nothing capricious in nature, and the implanting of a desire indicates that its gratification is in the constitution of the creature that feels it.
Your desires are not random. They’re the map your feet should follow. Your passion is no joke, it’s your most serious affair. Whatever the pain, a greater gain is coming. TRUST ME.
4. It’s gets lonely. But you’re never fully alone.
The older you get the more aching the loneliness. You see things that nobody else around you seems to notice (yet). I used to cherish my aloneness, loved being the unique observer of all the strange and secret things, loved chewing on my bites of wonder.
I didn’t miss, I didn’t long, I didn’t worry. But now, somehow, I do… Must be approaching old age. Must be disappearing.
The most natural feeling in the world after being found and touched by anything that takes your breath away, is to turn around and see if anyone else has felt it too. Point out the wonder. Share the beauty. We’re not meant to love alone.
I think this is one of the most lethal injections in the heart of a creator: not being able to face and survive the pain that comes with this loneliness. It’s the reason why so many of us settle for people who — however wonderful in other ways — can’t share our journey, can’t feel our pain, can’t understand our duty to the world.
And then we spend our lives trying to fit them in the bigger picture (after convincing them there is one), and thus neglecting all the art and change we could be making instead. But see, you shouldn’t have to convince anyone to love the god in you and accept the one in themselves.
The good news: There’s an in-between alternative to settling or howling alone.
There’s something deeper than blood, greater than history & thicker than bone waiting for you.
There are people more like you out there than yourself, crazy enough to believe & hope & try the things you’re too afraid to even say out loud. Look them up, don’t settle for solitary confinement & misunderstood isolation. You’re not a lonely island, you’re a bright peninsula. Creativity thrives in great company.
Seek out your equals, surround yourself with the dreamers & doers, the rebels of the status quo, the troublemakers of the ordinary, the wonder-seekers, freedom-makers, jail-breakers, the unreasonable earth-quakers & dust-shakers, the ones who believe the impossible exists only to be attempted, the crazies & creative warriors, the ones who ask why-not instead of why, the I-can’t-believe-I-fucking-did-it sort of people… and learn to dance and howl and re-create your life along with them.
You may be crazy but, dear wolf, you’re not alone.
5. It’s NOT a perfect life. But it becomes your own.
There’s no such thing as “making it” — making it where? We’ll never leave Earth, at least not in this lifetime. (Although I still have high hopes for teleportation…) It’s never over, til you are. The end of one struggle is the beginning of another. Mastery on one level means diapers on another level you have yet to master. The story must go on…
The closest thing I know to “making it” is the Pursuit of Freedom — madly, deeply, every day: freedom of thought, freedom of feeling, freedom of expression, freedom to be your own person, to choose exactly how you want to live and love, and write the truest story that you know, and have the last say over what you make of this short, beautiful human experience.
And with great freedom comes the great responsibility of being all that you can be, at any given moment.
Something is always born of excess,”Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary in June of 1945 as she contemplated the value of emotional excess, adding: “Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” And yet our compulsive pursuit of balance – take, for instance, the tyrannical notion of work/life balance – is predicated on eradicating “excess,” pitting it as a counterpoint rather than a complement to equilibrium and inner wholeness.