Failing in Action (Artist’s Way Week 8)

Creative people are dramatic, and we use negative drama to scare ourselves out of our creativity with this notion of wholesale and often destructive change. Fantasizing about pursuing our art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time–or at all. (Julia Cameron)

Raise your hand if this resonates with you. Mine practically shot up in the air Hermione Granger style when I read it. 13502589_1098146843591505_6805950920256557315_o

After a week of creative triumph complete with a dragon mask-filled pageant, I hit a slump. Maybe it was classic post-mortem depression after a creative project is finished. Maybe it was grief that I won’t get to direct this pageant for this congregation again, since we’re moving back to the US this fall. Maybe it was realizing just how much I wanted projects like that to be the norm and not the extraordinary.

It was probably a combination of all of the above. And it hit me hard.

Even though I suddenly had more flexible time on my hands now that the pageant was over, I didn’t know what to do with it besides housework and errands. And that was so depressing after the hubbub of pageant preparations.

Things spiraled from there. Even though I had a new project to look forward to (directing the school play in the new congregation we are moving to later this year), I still felt flat. Directing a play is great, but it isn’t now. And as I got more and more bogged down by not knowing what to do with my newfound time, I suddenly found myself wanting to do everything now, but didn’t have the energy to do anything at all.

I wanted my Artist Parent Theatre Lab Meet Up to be a huge success. I wanted to have a community of creative friends who I could start making some parent-friendly performance art with. I wanted to write a novel. Or even read one. I wanted to relearn to to play the piano. I wanted to learn new strumming patterns and maybe even some picking on the ukulele. I wanted to learn a second language. I wanted to be in a play again, not just direct one. I wanted this blog to be a community of give and take conversation and not just a soap box for my reflections. I wanted all of these things and with the tools I’ve gained from doing the Artist’s Way, a hopeful little voice said that I could totally start doing any or all of them if I really wanted to and if I took gentle, small steps.

20160618_152315But I had cast my fantasizing net too wide and found myself flailing and caught inside of it instead of using it to seize creative opportunities. I fell prey to negative drama. If I couldn’t have it all, I wasn’t even going to try. And instead of a week of recovering artistic strength, I got a week of half-hearted bleh.

I started listing off all of the things that I wanted to do and just as quickly generated a list of reasons why it wouldn’t work. Too expensive. Too outlandish. Too stupid to bother starting if we’re going on vacation for lots of July and we’re about to move anyway.

As soon as I would try to pull myself together and hop online and look up an American Sign Language course, I would suddenly realize that instead of genuinely looking to commit to something new and exciting, I was instead killing time daydreaming until I had to fold laundry or feed the baby or empty the dishwasher. And then I would beat myself up about it and do chores and play with my daughter and wind up watching TV after she went to bed instead of continuing a heartfelt search for something to feed my hungry artist.

Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something in order to feel better? Yes. And most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something instead. One of our favorite things to do–instead of our art–is to contemplate the odds. (Julia Cameron)

Ouch. Another part of The Artist’s Way that totally hit home for me.

It took a while to realize that things like getting on my computer and browsing for classes I can’t afford or daydreaming about being a part of a theatre community again aren’t actually actions. They are ghosts of action. They feel good for a little while, but if they aren’t done in earnest, but really as a way of passing time or trying to put a bandaid on my creative discontent, then I feel awful after doing them. Instead of moving forward, I tumble backwards. It’s obsession, not action.20160329_135438.jpg

So this past week was frustrating. No tremendous insights. No glittering silver linings. It was blah. It was grey. It was imbalanced. It had some perfectly pleasant moments, but I found myself constantly tripping on little uh-ohs and instead of getting back up, I allowed myself to wallow in the mud I had made by throwing artistic tantrums on the ground. I had zero resilience. I did some things, but skipped a lot of the actions that really mattered–like taking my artist out for a play date even if I didn’t feel like it.

But it’s a new week. Action is possible. Failing is an action, after all. It’s better than nothing. And all I can do is try to do better. Writing this post at a new-to-me coffee shop, slurping on a frozen hot chocolate is a start.

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3 thoughts on “Failing in Action (Artist’s Way Week 8)

  1. Thanks for keeping it real, Justine. Everyone’s slumps are unique to some degree, but we all have them, and it can be hard to patiently keep putting one foot in front of another walking in the valley while we wait for a return of the joy we felt on the mountaintop.

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  2. Dear Justine. I have SO been where you were last week. The time just after a big public presentation is SO tricky for me, whether it’s a dramatic performance or a show of my paintings. I’m all filled up with feedback, which is in itself an issue, me being a classic people-pleaser. I must digest each comment and worry over whether I understood the commenters real message. If there was anything not completely positive I must obsess over what I’m supposed to learn by it. And, there is just the plain truth that completing something big takes a toll. I’m just plain tired.
    Also when in transition, as you are with the move looming, it’s especially hard to invest in digging in and starting something new.
    Anyway, I wish you energy and ideas, and my unsolicited advice is “do something small”… Even if it’s just a one afternoon’s baking project.
    Loads of love to you!

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    1. Oh Caroline, what an insightful and deeply useful response. Thank you. Thank you for relating. For reading. For reaching out with your hard earned artist’s wisdom. Sending love!

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