You can’t be bad at art.

When it comes to art, even personalities that aren’t perfectionist suddenly descend into weird, nit-picky hangups.

“It doesn’t look right.” “It doesn’t look real enough.” The one who never alphabetizes her books will develop a dire need for right angles and even planes. The one who can’t keep his pantry in any semblance of order will agonize over brushstrokes that refuse his attempts at realism. “I can’t make it look the way it does in my head.”

“I can’t.”

More demoralizing, discouraging, and disheartening words probably don’t exist in the art world, whether you’re talking visual arts, writing, music, or performance. Artists in every medium and of every range of experience maintain this mental image of what their art should be — usually in comparison to someone else’s. “I can’t” — because nothing they produce ever measures up to that ideal they’ve carried around probably since childhood.

“They.” What am I talking about? This is a case of “we,” for sure, because I’m one of those artists.

Talking to Yourself

There’s this thing called the Self-Talk Cycle. Maybe you’ve heard of it; I can’t remember who first coined the term. But the Self-Talk Cycle describes:

how you talk to yourself about yourself in your head;
what emotions this engenders in you;
what actions you take based on those emotions;
what you tell yourself about yourself as a result of those actions;
and so forth.

Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about (click to embiggen!):
 

selftalk

 

So, imagine that you consistently tell yourself, “I’m bad at art. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I try this, I’m just gonna mess up. Besides, doing art isn’t productive. I shouldn’t waste my time or other people’s time.”

What we say to ourselves about ourselves always leads to feelings. How will you feel as a result of talking to yourself like this about your artist self? Your musician self? Your writer self?
Frustrated.
Overwhelmed.
Guilty for even thinking you could take the time for this.
Disappointed.
Angry with yourself.

What actions will you take as a result of these emotions?
Avoid your art projects.
Ignore your urge to create.
Dam up and wall off the impulses that lead to art, music, writing.
Block relationships with other artists, musicians, writers. Keep them at arm’s length so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. Heaven forbid they tempt you to try creating again.

What do you tell yourself about yourself as you take these unpleasant actions?
I’m alone.
I’m not as good an artist as ________, so they wouldn’t want to hang around me anyway.
I’m no good at art, music, writing. There’s no point in trying.
If I try, I’ll just waste people’s time.
I’ll just screw it up again.
I can’t.
I’m bad at art.

This circle is particularly vicious. It has teeth, and if you let it go on long enough, it will tear your spirit to shreds. (I should know.)

Don’t let that happen.

Fight that vicious, spirit-shredding monster with the Truth.

Here’s the Truth

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

Read this and let it sink in:

Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist
(@Jay_T1313)
(emphasis mine)

…and…

“When we say we are afraid to begin a project, we are actually saying something else: “I am afraid of how I will feel as I continue.” We do not want to start because we do not know that we can continue. It is not the start, it is the finish that troubles us.”

Julia Cameron

Part of the fear of beginning is the fear of being seen as a beginner…a novice or even an “inferior.” (I can’t remember where I originally came across this idea; possibly it’s more Julia Cameron.) Another part of the fear is fear of knowing ourselves. Fear is where the cycle of art-murdering Self-Talk begins. “It’ll never look right. I’ll screw up. I can’t…”

…because I’m afraid.

But you can.

Because you can’t be bad at art.

And you don’t have to let fear rule you.

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

That little subtitle there is a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament book of Joshua, Chapter 24. Some might accuse me of taking it out of context (though I really don’t believe that I am), but here’s the crux of it for this post:

You have a choice.

You can choose to be subject to fear.

You can choose to immerse yourself in the negative things you tell yourself about your art.

You can choose to obey your fear of being a beginner again.

You can choose to obey your fear of failure.

You can choose to serve your fear.

Or…

You can choose to be subject to freedom. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose life. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose to immerse yourself in speaking kindness, joy, peace, love, and beauty to yourself about your art.

You can choose the courage it takes to get to know yourself.

You can choose the courage it takes to show the world who you are.

You can choose to serve your art,

following where it leads,

even if it leads you to truths about yourself you didn’t want to know.

You can choose to serve your art,

thereby serving Truth and Life and Joy,

thereby serving Good and Light and Freedom.

Sometimes, following your creativity, following Truth and Light and Freedom, means looking into dark places. This seems a paradox, but it’s one of those universal paradoxes that crop up in our existence every so often.

Look into yourself, delve into the dark places, and find in them the Light.

“I know myself, and I will know myself further. I am brave enough to learn who I am. I am good at art. I feel free and strong in my art. And I am brave enough to show it to the world.”

You are everything you need to be, but you’re not there yet.

Become what you already are.
 

Hey. Woman of immense worth. This one’s for you.

Honey, stop comparing yourself to her. Stop looking at her and thinking about everything that’s ‘right’ with her and everything that’s ‘wrong’ with you. You are of immense worth in and of yourself. You, just as you are, right now. Your beauty is beyond compare, so hold your head high and walk tall. Chances are pretty good that she’s comparing herself to you. And if she is, she needs to hear you tell her that she is enough, too.

Your Blog Is a Big, Friendly Dog

Once upon a time, blogger Judy Dunn and I had several exchanges concerning the concept of a blog as a lab.

Here we go again…

No, no, no. As you’ll see if you click through that link above, I don’t really mean that a blog is a big, friendly (and apparently put-upon) dog. What I mean is that a blog is a laboratory where you get to make a splendid mess in an effort to see what happens when you mix a bunch of stuff together that most people wouldn’t dream of mixing together.

My Latest Blogging Dog Experiment


          
I don’t know why this idea popped into my head.

Well, that’s sort of a lie. I’m pretty sure that this idea popped into my head because I subscribe to sci-fi writer John Scalzi’s blog “Whatever”. Mr. Scalzi blogs every day. This triggered in my head the thought:

Now, the part I honestly don’t know the because for is the part where I think I might be able to do this just because I see Mr. Scalzi doing it.

I guess it’s because of reasons, yet again.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Ooh aah. I deserve bananas.

So. I shall embark upon an experimental adventure: For the month of August, I shall attempt to blog every day.

Because I obviously don’t have enough to do and I am a crazy person.

I don’t know what shall come of this, if anything. Maybe it will result in things most glorious. Maybe it will serve only to highlight my lack of an inkling of a conceptual hypothesis of reality. Maybe it will break me forever of stringing together prepositional phrases.

Zounds.

So, we’ll see. Josh has indicated that he might consider joining me in this venture, though I have yet to hear from him a definite yea or nay. On Twitter, @AstridBryce has offered me incentive as follows (click to embiggen!):

My dearest, most darlingest readers, prepare yourselves for pulchritudinous cramazingness.

Or a zombie-ish apocalypse.

Why I Believe I’m Created to Create

This is pretty much the essence of how I feel about writing:

“It feels like a gift from the universe to you. And maybe it is. …(Y)ou’re so far into the thing you’re doing that in that moment, everything else doesn’t matter. I’ve gotten this feeling from other things, but where I get it the most is when I’m writing.

“It’s a relationship with words, essentially. I have one and it manifests itself through my fingers, usually onto a computer screen but occasionally with pen and paper. It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

–John Scalzi
The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eighteen: Writing

 

Having a Little Faith

In my Twitter bio, I tell the world that I am “created to create.” If you search my blog for that phrase, you’ll find a bunch of posts in which I use it. It’s a phrase that’s near and dear to my heart lodged at the very core of my being.

“What’s the because?” you ask.

(Or maybe you use proper grammar and cock your head while stroking your chin, saying, “Courtney, dear, do please elaborate: What is the reason that this phrase resonates with you so?”)

 
At the end of this post, you will find a link to my Confessions of my creative sins. In these Confessions, I talk a lot about my faith and its effect on my life and my art. Some of this effect has been, on the surface, horribly detrimental to me as a human being and to my expression of my creativity — on the surface. Two things of great import are worth noting here:

1. The detriment was a result of my misunderstanding of “faith” in general and of the principles of my own faith in particular.

2. The detriment has proven itself superficial because I’ve learned so much and grown so much stronger as a result of the dark times. The surface was deadly…but the depths are invigorating, rich, fulfilling, and teeming with life.

I don’t often discuss my faith on this blog; I know that’s not why most of you come here. But if you’re interested in my writing and/or in me as a writer/human, I suspect that hearing the occasional tidbit about my deeper beliefs isn’t going to drive you away. Feel free, though, to correct me on this if I’m wrong. ; )

And, yet again, “What’s the because?” What’s the connection between all of this faith stuff and the Scalzi quote above?

Created to Create

Well, here’s the connection in one shelle du nut:

I believe in God.

I believe in the very first statement of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament: “In the beginning, God created….”

I believe that it’s no coincidence that God-as-Creative-Being is the first thing we learn about him.

I believe that being “created in God’s image” means, in part, that we each are created to create.

I believe that “to create” means to put something into the world that wasn’t there before. That might be a story. Or a painting. An etching in wood. Something made of construction paper.

Or it could be an encouraging conversation with a friend. It could be a hug.

A kiss.

A smile.

When I watch my cat, I see her being exactly what she’s been created to be: She plays, she stalks, she hunts, she revels in sunshine, she interacts with her humans. In every facet of her being, she Is exactly what God created her to Be. When I watch her, I marvel at how easily she expresses God’s creativity at work in her. She doesn’t think about it, doesn’t analyze it, doesn’t worry if she’s “doing it right.” She doesn’t even do. She simply Is, and that is enough.

Pippin and sunshine

Me, I have a hard time being that simple. I have a hard time simply being. But my roots are digging ever deeper, and I am growing. I understand one thing for certain: I am created to create. The cat is Cat when she’s in the sunshine, on her back, with all four feet in the air, looking about as ridiculous as a feline can.

Me, I am Human when I’m in the sunshine of creativity, exposing my belly, baring my vulnerable heart to the world, making a fool of myself by letting others read the secrets of my soul in my written words. When I am Writer, I am expressing God’s creativity at work in me.

Scalzi says, “It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

Me, I’m engaged in an ongoing love affair with my Creator. That affair, that Love, manifests itself in many ways — but one of its most significant manifestations is my Writing. When I am Writer, I am being exactly what he created me to be. This defines my Self — to myself and to others.

If you want to read more about how I came to these conclusions — if you want to see me bare the darkest times of my soul — my Creative Confessions are here.

___________

What about you, dear inklings? Any thoughts to share on faith and the writer’s relationship to the written word? Do you agree or disagree that every human is inherently creative? Whatever the roots of your own creativity — whether you call those roots spiritual or not — I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Of Figs and the 9th Circle of Hell

Sometimes, I am a nerd.

Okay, yes, most of the time. And nerdery happens on this blog pretty much all of the time. This post about Google Analytics is a good example.

I had an awfully cramazing good time with that post, and a few days ago I was tooling around in Google Analytics again, and I thought to myself, “Self, you really should write another blog post about keywords, because that was just rockin’ awesome fun,” and myself replied, “Heck YEAH.”

So. Here are a few recent keyword phrases that have led people to my blog. Some of them make sense. Some of them, in the timeless tradition of haiku about refigerators* ***, do not. But I am going to answer them anyway. Because that’s just the kind of sweet, kind, helpful person I am. Booyah.

Six Keyword Searches…

…in order of my amusement:

1. three creative sins

Not sure what we’re talkin’ about here, y’all. If it’s three sins in creativity, how’s about this?

  1. Letting other people tell you how to be creative.
  2. Telling yourself “I’m not good enough to (insert creative activity here).”
  3. Neglecting to hone your craft.

If it’s creatively-executed sins you’re looking for, this might not be the blog you’re looking for.

(Email me.) ; )

2. what is the german word for “here”

The German word for “here” is “hier.”

BANGERANG. Next question.

3. what to write on my first blog post?

Most importantly: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? Why are you blogging? Why do you care? This is pretty much The Question you should answer for yourself before you even write that first blog post. If you do that, you’ll forge a connection with your readers before you even have any. Readers, that is. I know this is very meta, but trust me, I’m an expert**.

4. why are short stories short?

Um.

Because they’re not long?
Because they’re not novels?
Because short story cat is short story?

It’s because of reasons.

Oy.

5. why grocery shopping is the 9th circle of hell

Shopping carts in parking spaces. Packed aisles. Twenty-five cash registers and only 3 checkers. Sugar cookies jumping out at you from every endcap. The woman in bunny slippers, curlers, and a see-through blouse. The guy at the meat counter who turns to you with wide, shining eyes and says, “Have you tried this ground chuck? You should try this ground chuck!

I really don’t think I need to elaborate on this.

6. writing a story about court

You’re writing a story about ME? You are fantabulous! I love you! You are my new favorite person for the next ten minutes! Do I get a superpower? Oooooh, can I be telekinetic? And have vorpal unicorn morphing powers? I wouldn’t mind a teleporting ability, too, since I’ve kind of been wanting to go to Australia lately. Thanks!

_______________________

* I misspelled “refrigerator” as I was writing this post. I happened to be writing this post while at Consortium Time. I turned to Aaron and Becca and said, “I need someone to write a sci-fi story about a device that regenerates figs. It would be called a ‘refigerator.'”

They were not amused.
Although Becca said I had her until “figs.”

** Also, I seem to be a pathological liar.

*** Jessie mentioned haiku this week, which is why Japanese poetry is so randomly present in this blog post. Gadzooks, Brain.

All I Have to Do Is Dream

 

Last week, dear inklings, I shared with you my thoughts inspired by Jennifer Brown’s post about “backseat dreaming”.

Jennifer is my Muse once more today. Her post Dreaming Life and Living Dreams reminded me of my fascination with nighttime dreams.

Imprisoned by dreams?

In Living Color

Once upon a time, when I wasn’t writing much, I dreamed in vivid detail and color — every night. My dreams were intense enough that I rarely woke up feeling refreshed. My husband told me that while he had a nice, quite, empty warehouse in his head at night, I had an IMAX theater in mine.

There is no better description.

After I finally realized that I was, indeed, created to create — i.e. after I let myself start becoming the writer I was meant to be — I stopped remembering most of my dreams.

And I started sleeping again, can I get a hallelujah?!?

*ahem*

Anyway, during my years of crazy dreaming, I kept a journal in which I recorded over 150 dreams. And today, my darlings, I’d like to share with you one of the weirder ones. I hope you enjoy. : )

Mortals Akseptans

Dream #67, recorded May 13, 2004

Last night, I dreamed that vampires were chasing me. I wasn’t myself; instead, I was a little girl, about 6 or 7 years old. I was at a truck stop of some sort, next to a lonely, deserted highway. Only a few other customers were in the truck stop. I think I was eating a meal when the vampires came in. I knew they were after me, so I ran outside.

I thought that being in sunlight would save me, but these vampires were immune to the sun. Several of them stayed inside the truck stop, hunting the other customers. Four or five vampires pursued me, and I ran into some sort of tunnel.

The walls were curved, and the whole place was made of metal, so I was running through a long, metal tube. Occasionally, there were large round openings in the ceiling. A male and a female vampire chased me through the tunnel, and the others started dropping in through the openings in the ceiling.

Finally, the vampires surrounded me. As they closed in on me, I turned frantically from side to side, looking for an escape. I caught sight of something strange written on the wall: the words “mortals akseptans” printed in the middle of a sun symbol.

When the vampires saw what I was looking at, they turned away and fled down the tunnel, as though they were afraid of the words. Knowing that they would soon recover and come after me again, I started running in the opposite direction.

I found my way out of the tunnel and ended up in a marshy area. The sun was shining bright, but water was rising all around me, as though I were in the middle of a flood. Suddenly, I realized that the vampires had caught up with me. I was trapped on a tiny little spit of land surrounded by water, and the vampires had only to grab me at their leisure.

I knelt and drew the sun symbol in the sand, then scratched the words “mortals akseptans” in the middle of the sun.

The symbol protected me for awhile, keeping the vampires at bay. But eventually, water eroded the ground and my feeble defense with it. The vampires came closer and closer, and I could see their hunger and desire in their eyes. Several of them were licking their lips, which were wet and red with blood. Then the dream ended.

_______________________

I’ve since Googled the word “akseptans” out of curiosity. Apparently, it is Turkish for “acceptance.” There’s probably something Freudian in there somewhere, but I don’t think I want to puzzle it out. ; )

If you, however, want to analyze my dreams or tell of your own, please share in the comments! I’d love to hear!

Be Honest — Was I Snoring?

 

Sweet inklings, I’ve found another bloggèd gem: Jennifer Brown’s post about owning our time and taking back the power we’ve given away. Jennifer talks about how we so often settle for “backseat driving” through life, instead of getting behind the wheel ourselves.

Instead of following our dreams, we content ourselves (however resentfully) with sitting back and watching others follow theirs.

We might tell the “dreamer,” “Hey! You’re not doing it right. You should be doing it this way.”

But actually do something about our own dreams?

Nah. Driving that car would be way too risky.

Jennifer’s post sparked the following comment from me:

Jennifer, I LOVE this metaphor! “Backseat dreaming” — I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes so much sense as a description of the mindset that keeps us from going after what we sincerely wish for!

I’m not sure I’ve been a backseat dreamer…but I have been a notorious passenger seat driver. Watching how the driver shifts gears, noting how early/late they brake, critiquing the use of turn signals.

Have I been a passenger seat dreamer?

I think so.

Not as much in recent years — but I know I’ve been guilty of watching others drive toward their dreams and, instead of driving toward my own, criticizing how others are doing it. I’m in the passenger seat: close enough to the action to seem like I’m a part of it, but not doing anything that would expose me to criticism.

No more! I’m getting vulnerable now, taking responsibility for my passions and following them.

It’s terrifying!

And liberating!

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

I Hope I Didn’t Snore

Finally, I am awake. I am following my dreams, pursuing my passions, and doing other hunter-stalker-like things in regard to what I’ve felt called to do my entire life.

Will I screw up? Sure. I’m likely to drive off the road a few times, because I am easily distractable, and I turn the steering wheel in whatever direction my eyes happen to go. (Yes, I’m one of those.)

But at least I have my hands on the wheel. I’m doing what I was created to do.

And I love this ride.
_____________________

So, dear reader.

Are you a backseat dreamer?

Are you more concerned with how others are pursuing their dreams than with pursuing your own?

Are you a passenger seat dreamer — close enough to seem like you’re in on the wild ride, but not actually making any choices that relate to your own passions?

What do you have to do to get in the driver’s seat?

Writer, Screw in the Light Bulb Already!

In last week’s post But What’s the Because?, I pondered writerly reasons for blogging or for sharing other types of writing with the world.

Apparently, ideas have turned all theme-y in my brain — because here I am, blogging about them again. This time, I’m drawing inspiration from Patrick Ross’s terrific post about Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon.

Chabon says that ideas are like bright light bulbs filling room after room. The lights entice him to distraction. His challenge is to figure out which one is worth his time and energy.

My experience with these “light bulbs” is different. Here are some of the thoughts I shared when I commented on Patrick’s post:

For me, getting ideas is like wandering from room to room in a ginormous mansion. Sometimes, there’s a bright light that draws me to a particular room. I go in and follow that one light to wherever it leads me. When I’m finished in that room, I leave it and go on to the next bright light.

Some lights are dimmer than others — so I know not to enter those rooms until later (i.e. I put those ideas aside for the time being).

Sometimes, one of the rooms lacks a light. Illumination might spill from another doorway, just barely touching the threshold of the darkened room. But there’s no light burning in that room, so I know not to enter it…

…unless I’m feeling particularly adventuresome and want to challenge whatever might be lurking in the darkness. ; )

Challenge the darkness? Do I dare?

You better believe I do.

I’ve got all the tools I need in that dark room. The skills I’ve learned and practiced. The passion in being created to create. The love for my craft. The fellow creatives God has blessed my life with.

If there’s potential for the light of idea to dispel the darkness, then it’s worth it to me to stay in that dark room and coax the light into it.

I just have to remember who I am and who I was created to be.

Sometimes, all I have to do is screw in the light bulb.
____________________________________

How do you relate to Chabon’s light bulb metaphor?

What’s your greatest challenge in following the creative light?

What is the creative darkness you fear most?

Play Cowgirl — If That’s for You

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.

Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl from Toy Story

Patricia writes:

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.

Frivolous Cowgirl?

“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 Pudding Pathos

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.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

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.

Pick Your Poison Pudding

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.

So go…play!

A Quiz on Virtue — See My Results?

(With many emoticons, for some reason.)

A Goody-Two-Shoes in Recovery

So. Last week, my darlings, we talked faux Virtue, self-sabotage, and other fun stuff like that. A very great many of you were very greatly quiet in the comments. 😉

Actually, I was hoping I’d get some negative responses, simply so I could now digress upon the *ahem* virtue of receiving critiques along with positive feedback.

But I have some Virtue Trap Quiz results to share with you, so I shan’t make you wait for those any longer. 😉

Confession Time

In The Artist’s Way, one of Julia Cameron’s exercises on the Virtue Trap is a complete-the-sentence quiz. Here is how I completed the sentences back in the summer of 2008:

Courtney’s Virtue Trap

1. The biggest lack in my life is … intimacy.
2. The greatest joy in my life is … writing and relationships.
3. My largest time commitment is … writing and The Artist’s Way, currently! 😉
4. As I play more, I work … harder and better.
5. I feel guilty that I am … taking time for me when others aren’t taking time for them.
6. I worry that … my creativity will never generate financial income.
7. If my dreams come true, my family will … be supportive but perplexed.
8. I sabotage myself so people will … think I’m as stressed as they are and accept me more readily.
9. If I let myself feel it, I’m angry that I … sold out to stronger personalities.
10. One reason I get sad sometimes is … I can’t be “like everybody else.”

Looking back nearly three years later, I see that 1 and 10 are directly related. But the most telling numbers to me are 4, 5, 8, and 9 — and I have learned from them.

This Is The Truth

TRUTH on #4
I don’t just want time to myself for artistic play (which looks like “doing nothing”) — I need time for artistic play, which looks like doing nothing! It’s when I’m “doing nothing” that my soul rests and my creative brain taps into the Source of its strength. My creative play infuses me with energy and motivates me to work beyond what I thought were my limits.

TRUTH on #5
I am not responsible for anyone’s choices but my own. If others don’t take time for themselves, that is not my fault. My guilt resulted from an overblown sense of self-important responsibility. (Let’s talk about that in the comments!) I refuse to feel guilty when I take care of my needs.

TRUTH on #8
I sabotaged myself by not getting enough sleep. When others complained about being tired, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

I sabotaged myself by not eating healthy or exercising. When others complained about being sick and out-of-shape, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

Yay, we’re all ridiculously exhausted, out-of-shape, and unaccomplished together!

What the…?!?

TRUTH on #9
I was angry when I wrote that list. I am still angry about this part of it. I haven’t yet forgiven myself for selling out. I suspect that’s going to take a long time. So thanks for listening to this part of it, dear readers — telling you about it is part of my therapy!

Foolish — With Enthusiasm!

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

–Colette

Sharing this list on the Internet — making myself this vulnerable — is incredibly foolish. I’m opening myself up to attack from all sides, and it’s scary. But I’m doing it with enthusiasm! Because this is what’s behind the Virtuous shell. This is what’s behind the Acquiescent Good Girl persona.

This is the source of the fear. And I refuse to be subject to it anymore.

Last week, I told you the story of my foolish parents, who pursued a creative dream to the other side of the world. They did it with enthusiasm!

The world told me that its brand of Virtue was wise. But true wisdom — discarding false Virtue in favor of Truth — appears foolish to the world. I’ve read about that concept in the Bible my whole life. Finally, I’m starting to understand what that means.

Finally, I’m starting to live by it. And with enthusiasm!

_____________________

I know you’re out there. I can hear you breathing. 😉

How do you sabotage your creative self?

How have you sold out? What does your Virtue Trap look like?

Do these thoughts make you angry? Why?