It’s been a strange experience the last six months to write only for the Good People who pay me to do it, and not at all for me. Or for You, if you’re still out there.
To be frank, some tough stuff took up those months, too, draining body, mind, and spirit. I admire the dedication or grit or whatever it is that people have to Do Art productively while in crisis, but I just may not be that person. Or just not yet.
Know what? It’s OK. Got that? I’m telling you. If you say it’s OK to stop, to do (or not do) what you truly need to do (or not do), then it’s OK. Walk your path. There’s no other option. Disliking yourself for not doing what other people are doing? Not helpful. It’s OK to come back to your work with a beginner’s mind, not even sure what it is anymore, but curious about it and feeling love for it. If you perceive you’re less than the talents you admire, whose work habits you’re not imitating, let go of that. Be right where you are. If anyone out there is struggling with Art or Life or any combination of those, it’s really OK.
People told me that, and I’m passing it on. While my life was smushed up against the wall it hit, taking my Art with it, I tried to stay connected to Creativity. There are some wise creative folks out there, and I’m thankful they spoke up. The field that lies fallow grows fertile. Just watch over it as if it has value. I tried to.
I’ve been reading Buddhist thought that explores Creativity as acts of slowness and stillness, of body and presence. Not as a willful act of the brain, which a lot of my life has been! These are the seeds I’m going to plant in my field this year.
I also read poet Tony Hoagland’s description of reaching a creative dead end and not writing to produce poetry for two years. He only wrote down bits of “interesting lines and language” in search of his new path. He lay fallow and used the field to play in instead, and he found it. And started to write new.
In her glorious book on creativity and the Slower Life, Christian McEwen explains what she learned from another writer’s experience of looking long and slowly at a painting: “[Marion] Milner’s encounter with Cezanne…taught me to be patient, not to try too hard, taught me, above all, the power of the pause, of receptivity. Suspending one’s judgment, that was the key, learning (that tender phrase, so frequently abused) ‘to take one’s own sweet time.’”
I am happy to have found these gentle teachers when I really needed them, and that’s the view from where I’m sitting. There’s plenty of room, if you want to join me.
Thanks to these Creative People for being there:
John Daido Loori, author of The Zen of Creativity
Christian McEwen, author of World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down
Tony Hoagland in The Rag Picker’s Guide to Poetry, edited by Eleanor Wilner and Maurice Manning
Kay Larson, author of Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, and student of John Daido Loori
And even John Cage, for his footsteps.