Greetings, dear inklings! Today, you get the privilege of hearing a fresh, lively, lovely voice that’s not mine. ; ) Patricia Middleton has been my friend for the better part of two decades — which means I’ve benefited from her wit, her enthusiasm for life, and her creative inspiration for nearly 20 years.
That’s pretty cramazing.
Dear readers, I like you a lot. So it’s my great pleasure and honor to share Patricia’s voice with you. It just wouldn’t be meet for me to hoard her away all to myself, would it? ; )
I hope she inspires you as much as she does me.
There is a feeling that I loathe. It is the feeling that amidst everything — whether I am busy or bored — there is something important I need to do that I am forgetting.
It’s always getting under my skin, constantly nagging at the back of my mind, and I feel that time is slipping away, time that could have been, should have been used to do….what?
Perhaps it’s easiest to explain by identifying when I don’t have that feeling. They are the times when time is flying by, in the best sense possible. When I’m having fun, creating, and forgetting all worries to lose myself in the joy of creativity. I recently realized that this sense of happiness and not just well-being, but best-being, was very akin to a child at play.
“Play” for some conjures up this dread of inanity, of meaningless frivolity, of time wasted. I contend that for creative people, play is not only constructive, it is hard work…but we’re having so much fun we don’t mind much.
With that in mind, think about the things you did as a child that made you happiest. Let me share a few examples from my own childhood and draw out the patterns as an example.
What did I do creatively when I was a child? (Let me mention that as the oldest of eight kids, I never lacked for playmates.) My earliest creative memory was of playing “C.P.” with my brother. “C.P.” stood for “Cowgirl Patricia” and consisted of me drawing a map of a ranch on paper and pretending that I was the ranch owner, using my toy dogs and horses (who could talk) to make up stories. My brother played along as my ranch hand.
It’s Showtime, Y’all
Later, when more of my siblings were able to join in, I wrote “plays” for us to perform. I usually starred, not always out of vanity — but being the oldest and the author had its privileges. In one I was “Red Squirrel,” an Indian princess who was kidnapped and had to be rescued by whoever was my favorite brother at the time.
I loved “Mathnet” from the old PBS “Square One” show. I adored Detective Kate Monday, so I set up an “office,” gathering props and costumes to mimic the show. Later I discovered animated films. I was enthralled with stories that well-told and well-drawn, and found that with practice I could imitate the artwork. Not only did I constantly sketch Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, I got my youngest siblings to play “Voices”.
This was quite a process. We’d (I’d) decide which movie to re-create, then we’d (I’d) assign parts via a (rigged) lottery. We’d recite as much of the dialogue and songs from the movie as we could before we fell asleep, and often took up where we left off the next night. I constantly corrected lines or inflections to be sure they were letter-perfect. I don’t think we made it all the way through a movie very many times, but everyone loved playing.
It was so much fun making up a world, inviting my siblings to interact as characters, and spinning a story together.
Looking back on this, a few patterns emerge: I loved making/imitating fictional worlds/storylines/characters, I enjoyed being a main character, directing (willing) accomplices, and there was a major effort to accentuate the visual in each case. You can guess where I’m heading…a fabulous career in theatre!
You can imagine my delight when I started college and discovered the fabulous world of theatre! (And consequently discovered my acting “skills” needed work.) I did it all….sound, lights, costuming, makeup, props, directing, and finally…acting. Not only acting on stage in a few plays, but winning a place in my college’s touring improvisational troupe, which wrote its own material and went to dozens of summer camps and youth gatherings to perform.
The Proof in the
I loved (nearly) every minute of it. I learned that peers were much less tractable than my siblings and that not all my ideas would be accepted. After graduating with my Liberal Arts degree, I went on to work for a few months at a regional theatre.
Then the dream ended. I sent out resume after resume, but couldn’t find any theatre work. I moved back home and took a job at a bookstore. I reasoned that I loved books, and I desperately wanted to live on my own. Besides, it’d only be temporary, right?
Seven years later, I acknowledged that I was burnt out. I’d quit drawing, the retail hours made working on any show impossible, and I was writing 1 or 2 skits a year. I was constantly discontent, snappish, angry with myself, moody, you name it…I was a mess.
I quit…right before the economy dropped and jobs became scarce, doubly so in my city where the aviation industry laid off thousands. For the first month, I was pretty happy. I had time to draw, write, read, play piano…and of course I sent resumes to every theatre within a three-hour radius. The second month, that radius increased to six hours (after all, I wanted to be able to visit my family every now and then).
The third month found me broke, frantic, and desperate for ANY job, my faith in everything crumbling to bits. I was writing (thanks to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), but it was full of despair and pathos. I finally found a “temp” job as a proofreader. I was proofreading…tax forms.
It has got to be one of the most boring jobs on earth. I have been doing this for the past three years. While it’s much less stressful and offers better hours than the bookstore, I am still unable to find opportunities to volunteer my time at any theatre. It seems to be quite the close-knit community, and unless you know someone, it’s tough to break in.
I found myself spiraling downwards once more…feeling hopeless, like I’d never get to do what I wanted to, and despising myself for my lack of courage to face financial and personal hardships for my art.
Brighten Things Up a Little
There is a silver lining to my cloud. I haven’t found my happy ending yet, but I have found some happiness. This is due in part to the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which articulated for me for the first time how someone with great intelligence and a great sense of responsibility could still be true to herself, which in turn “brightened the corner” (to borrow Courtney’s catch-phrase) for herself and everyone around her.
Like many intellectuals, I have continually berated myself for not being able to “think” my way out of my funk (rut, routine, personal hell, whatever phrase you find apt). Gretchen acknowledges that we do need to spend time to think about what is going on in our lives….but that shouldn’t be the end of the matter. One needs to actively identify one’s priorities and define obstacles and act to change what you can to gain happiness.
This does not come naturally for me. Seeking opportunity, sure. Making time to be creative…I could do that with practice. Making creativity a priority even though I don’t have the perfect outlet or constant support…that’s a little harder. Setting creative goals? SO not my thing. I don’t even like to make “to do” lists. Yet I’ve found that the joy of conquering a creative goal is proportional to the challenge.
Remember not every creative activity is for you…you may want to love it, you may even be good at it, but if you have to force yourself to do it and get no joy afterwards, it’s not what you were meant to be doing.
As much as I’d love to direct theatre someday, I hate conflict, and I’m not a natural leader. As much as I admire great costuming, I don’t enjoy sewing beyond the occasional button replacement. If you’re striving to make time for your creativity, make sure you don’t waste it doing things that are creative, but not enjoyable. Remember your time is precious! Get as close to creative nirvana as you can!
Don’t replace your creativity with someone else’s. Books, television shows, and movies are great for inspiration…but wouldn’t it be better if they were yours? Sure, what you create may not be an instant hit, but it’s experience you didn’t have before.
Am I going to produce my latest script? Nope. Let someone read it? Maybe after a rewrite or three. Am I sorry I spent the time doing it? No. You can read all the scriptwriting tips and tricks in the world, but until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, theory will remain just that.
Were you concerned with rules and structure as a kid? Nope. You knew what you loved, instinctively knew what was good. You took the best parts and ignored everything else, followed your gut, did whatever put made you smile.
Have fun! Who cares what anyone else thinks? They’re just weird grown-ups, after all.