“Pick up the pen.”
No response, I wait, hold my breath. Tell myself again, “pick up the pen.” Still, nothing happens. With a sigh – is that disappointment, or is it relief? – I reluctantly curl back into my ball of misery, resolving myself to self-pity. I am unhappy because I am not writing, and I am not writing because I am unhappy. Herein lies the crux of my life.
I am a writer; I write. And part of the reason I keep writing is because of the times when I have stopped doing so has seen my well-being crumble in on itself, like a house of cards on fire. I turn from a fine functioning human being into a miserable mess in mere days. That’s all that it takes – clearly this creativity thing is not to be messed with.
“Unused creativity is not benign–it metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame. We are creative beings. We are by nature creative.”
– Brené Brown
A generation ago, we were told to ‘find what makes you happy.’ A generation later, the internet has given us the search button, and the world has flung open its doors asking to be traversed and explored. Finding what makes you happy has never become easier, but what if the question being asked has become too simple – what if simply finding what makes you happy is not enough, but in fact, you have to act on it, too?
We are all creative beings, harboring all different types of creativity within us. When you connect to that which propels you forward, gives you energy and flow – you will know. Because it will ask to come out – beg to come out – and if you let it and work with it, then life will feel full and filled with capacity. But be careful, this energy is not a one way street. If, on the other hand, creativity is stifled or restrained, its captivity will then turn around and suffocate you, haunt you, leave you with an eternal longing inside that you just can’t reach. Creativity does not leave you alone, or leave you unchanged; one way or another it will draw your attention to it, mark you with it, whether this be from joy or from suffering.
“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”
– Steven Pressfield
This may make creativity seem like a threat, invoking images of the Muse as a gangster, holding a gun to your head forcing you to finish your screenplay, make a demo tape, create a start-up before I count to ten! If that were so, maybe there might actually be more happy people in this world, tough love and all that. Unfortunately, we haven’t learned to react to our internal instincts by embracing our creativity; instead we choose to struggle to be good at ignoring our own sufferings. Tequila, anybody?
But there is another answer to this question of untapped creativity, one that does not involve a killer hangover. As a certain bald-headed sage in The Matrix once revealed to a confused Neo:
“Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.” “What truth?” “There is no spoon. It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
Creativity, after all, is but a tool, it needs an outlet in order to be expressed. We, as those outlets, control the output of creativity into the world and we control what we want to release. If you choose to hold your creativity back, then you choose to be unhappy. By that same token, if you choose to release it, then you can choose your own peace. Spoon Boy is right; you are the key, you are your own reality.
Holding that power, the ability to choose, is both frightening and liberating. At the end of the day, it ultimately means that you are the master over creativity, and therefore over whatever consequences will arise from its existence within you. When I am writing, I am in tune and I’m happy. It doesn’t make a difference if what I am outputting is good enough or not – that can always be changed – but the fact of just writing itself is what gives me satisfaction, appeases my sanity.
However, choosing to partner with creativity is not the end of the story. Like all partnerships, there are fights, misunderstandings, maybe even some (ie. lots of) tears. Just like I am happy when I am writing, I can just as easily fall into the opposite, get caught up in the quicksand of making excuses, not writing one day turning into three, then four, then four weeks. Resistance catches up to me and with it resentment builds. Creativity, like a river blocked, starts pushing at my dams, and the longer I hold out against it the more powerful the misery grows. It is a force – one that I do not want to reckon with – so I try to go on ignoring it, filling my life with other things. But there is no running from yourself; sooner or later the jig is always up.
But here I am now; this blog is not writing itself. When turning against creativity it can eat you alive, but it is you who is feeding yourself to it piece by piece. Yet at any time you have had enough, you can simply stop, reach out your hand and call a truce. You can choose to take back those pieces, bit by bit, as you reclaim the parts of you that were lost. And you can always dive back into your art, remind yourself of who you are. Creativity is not maleficent, but it is also not benign. Use it, or it will use you. But remember, in this life you are the piece of art, and you are its creator, too. It is up to you to make you!