I have spent the many years since college wasting as much time, energy, and effort on how to craft my craft as some people spend on trends in diet and exercise. I have amassed piles of books and spent hundreds on accompanying journals.
The point of any of these plans and exercises, it seems, is to trick yourself into being productive. But I was not so easily fooled, and surprise, surprise, none of these things was in fact getting my book written. It turns out that, as a grown up, and an individual, I had to figure out through pure trial and error what worked best for me. I’m still learning, because as it also turns out, I am still learning a lot about myself. Let’s hear it for adulthood!
In my continual quest for propulsion, I have decided to start asking some other creative types I know some questions about their work. This endeavor requires that I push past the deep levels of social anxiety that usually wire my jaw shut before I can start much of a conversation with anyone. Growing up. I am growing up. Sigh.
The first person I thought of was my friend Carol. Carol welcomed me to our church before we even knew if it would be our church, and hers was a face I looked forward to seeing again when it was settled we would be moving to Vermont. She has been a friend in the deepest sense of the word, praying with me, challenging me, letting me pray for her.
Carol is a painter, and the walls of her home are graced with works of her own. I asked Carol if I could talk to her about her painting sometime, and she invited me to come one Wednesday morning to talk to her and two other ladies, Patty and Arlene, that get together to paint each week.
This would require a level of bravery I usually avoid having to summon. (Strangers! At a strange house!) (Social anxiety is dumb.)
I had already put my foot in the water. No sense not jumping in now.
They paint in Patty’s kitchen, where they had classical music playing in the background, and candles lit.
Patty and Carol were roommates in their twenties, when they took an art class together for something to do. Arlene has never had a class, but heard of how the ladies meet and thought it might be something she would like to do.
For both Patty and Carol the pursuit of painting waned during their career years, and still sometimes there are obligations that can get in the way. In the summer months, they play golf together, and perhaps seek out some galleries to go to.
When I asked why they painted, they all answered with two reasons: to give gifts of their work, and for a kind of therapy. Patty and Arlene both are pleased to see their children staking claims on the paintings they have kept for themselves.
Patty is working on a painting of three owls, of which she intends to paint three paintings, for her and two other close friends that travelled together to Cape Cod and all fell in love with a similar painting of three owls.
I watched Arlene as she put down one painting and picked up a blank canvas. She asked Carol some advice on a good background color, then chose her brush, found a color, and began to paint.
Did they find inspiration in any other art forms? I asked.
They agreed that music was an inspiration, though Carol shared that when she was at home she liked to paint in silence. She finds that silence evokes a relaxation, making her able to reach her inner spirit. If she paints with music, it is for a specific purpose, like meditation, or worship.
They kept painting as we spoke, though they confessed feeling a bit shy with me there.
I am grateful to them for opening up to me. I discovered through talking with them three things that are missing from my own craft:
Have I ever imagined that the words I write could be a gift to someone? Not until I began this blog did I have the feeling I might let someone other than myself down if I didn’t write. How else could I use this gift of mine to bless others?
What of retreat, of a place to relax into myself? I have too long used my calling to write to burn a streak of guilt through me. It is where I feel most myself, though, putting down words. What level of self-neglect takes something instinctive, intrinsic, and turns it to poison?
The image of Arlene starting a new painting has stuck with me. Just picking up a blank canvas, and starting anew. I lose myself in a flurry of insecurity that takes me a good fifteen to twenty minutes to break through before I write. Each time. I expect, nearly require, atmospheric perfection, in household silence, on which I spackle a smooth layer of just the right music. I must have the right amount of time to do just what I want, or I don’t find I have good focus as I keep one eye on the clock.
It’s a dichotomy of knowing how my brain works best, and giving in to excuses for not working.
And what of joy? Even if it is hard work, any chance to create is nothing short of a shining blessing from above. I must throw off the notion that this should be anything other than the breathless but satisfying heartache of the wildest romance. There is imperfection, perhaps timidity, and even silence, but it is knowing that I am more myself here than anywhere that will call me back, and keep me here.
What have you let go of in your creative pursuit? Have you turned it into work, forsaking the joy you once found in it? How can you get the pleasure of creating back?
To Carol, Patty, and Arlene, the sweet ladies who were willing to share their special gifts with me, thank you.