In a scene from the movie Forrest Gump, there’s a famous line Forrest says after he stops running:
I’m in one of those reflective moods (again). Every now and then, the modern world gets to me (read: incessant noise) and I must remove myself from the droning, deafening sounds of our modern, so-called civilized society. I crave quietude and solitude so I can hear myself think. And see the stars in the night sky – I found Polaris tonight, twinkling a dull blue in a misty indigo sky.
In these reflective moments, as I meandered the “mean streets” of Midtown Sacramento (and quieter as I strolled in a direction opposite the interstate that cuts it in half), words visited then filled out my thoughts, such as: what are words but one’s daydreams put on paper?
As fellow writers, surely you can identify.
I once again find myself craving something different, to move (read: run screaming) away from the status quo (who decided this was so great to begin with?) to find my place, my unique place, in this writing/creative world, a place which belongs only to me (and I to it). It’s a desire to grab that brass ring, the one that’s been just beyond my reach for as long as I can remember. It’s a signal to me that my life is out of balance and I’m still working on how to put it right. Writing helps.
Does this make sense to you? I ask you, how can I/we freely write/create when held in place by burdensome responsibilities so much of the time? Held by the chokehold of corporate America – the dangling of the corporate carrot (climbing the “ladder of success” only to find out someone’s removed the top rungs), learning how to lie with a smile on your face, learning that people are expendable, replaceable (so much for being unique and valued) … the corporate mantras memorized, recited, regurgitated … leading to feeling institutionalized.
How do I/we break free?
My guess is, to write, as a writer must.
How many of you dream of the freedom that comes with being a writer/thinker/dreamer-in-residence? I’ve had to redefine the word freedom multiple times, as it can have different meanings in different stages of one’s life. That stream of thought brought me to this:
If we dream, we must write.
If we write, we must imagine.
If we imagine, we must create.
If we create, we must give a bit
of the best of ourselves to the world.
Dream. Write. Imagine.
We must not forget; it’s who we are, not just what we do. We can’t deny it, avoid it, or squirrel it away for a rainy day. We must go out there, into the world, with pen (or computer) in hand and blaze our own trails.
Institutions be damned.
I recently finished (with much sadness, it was such a wonderful read) Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic (she wrote the delightful book Eat, Pray, Love). Basically it’s about the magic of inspiration, the freedom to create without another’s permission, and the magic of living a creative life. I devoured each chapter, dog-earing so many pages it looks more like an accordion than a book!
Somewhere along the way, like she writes in the book, I got it all wrong. I believed, wholeheartedly, that I needed the RIGHT desk/workspace/ideas/inspiration/subject, etc. to go ahead and begin creating. That I needed someone to tell me that what I was doing – actually, creating – was okay. I needed permission to create.
Turns out I’ve been creating all my life. I still have sketches from grade and high school (but I stupidly got rid of my oil and acrylic paintings because I thought they weren’t good enough to show anyone) and a few poems I wrote. I re-discovered them while cleaning out a box during one of my many moves to another new place a few years back. (And I still keep them tucked away, out of sight, for some unknown reason.)
Don’t Be Afraid
Then I reached the “You’re Afraid” chapter and found many of the same excuses I’ve used over the years to not create. Let’s see if you find yourself in any of these (there were many more but I think you’ll get the gist):
- You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or – worst of all – ignored.
- You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
- You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
- You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. (You know, you’re not original enough…)
- You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
- You’re afraid you don’t have the ‘right’ [quotes added] kind of work space, or financial freedom or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. (This was and has always been one of my lamest excuses for not creating something. That I was always so sensitive to my artistic environment; that the ‘wrong’ time or place or direction I faced with my desk would surely ruin any chances of creating something GREAT that would be enjoyed by ALL; that without all of the ‘right’ things necessary to SUCCEED I would, after all, definitely FAIL.)
- You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. (It must be my fault – since I couldn’t get the setting ‘just right’ and now I’m doomed to never create again. Hurrumph.)
- You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.
- You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.
And so on….
You Don’t Need Permission, After All
But here’s the BEST part, the REVELATION that so many of us (especially me) need to hear (more than once,obviously):
“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life. Maybe your parents were rule-followers or too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations toward creativity. Maybe they weren’t makers…maybe just pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching TV and waiting for stuff to happen to them.”
This was my childhood: mom and dad plunked in front of the TV at the end of exhausting days of housework [mom] and construction [dad], smoking cigarettes and barely speaking to each other (or us) while watching variety shows or sitcoms. Art was what hung on someone else’s walls (our living room was decorated with my parents bowling trophies, including the back end of a donkey for my dad’s team coming in last place); I certainly wasn’t encouraged to follow that road. Go to college. Get a job. Those were my parents’ mantras all through school. How on earth could I escape that fate? I’m still struggling to make room for creativity, to give myself PERMISSION to create WHATEVER I want to create, regardless of what you or whoever thinks about it. My sister was even more talented than me and she, too, was forced to become a square peg in a round hole, to abandon all artistic dreams for a future where putting bread on the table was the most important (and only) thing one could do with one’s life. It was the sensible thing to do, after all, right? (sneer)
“You want to write a book? Make a song? Learn a dance? Draw a penis on your wall? Do it. Who cares? Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you.”
In other words, stop worrying what others will think; you don’t need their permission or approval; just create, damn it! And damn anyone who believes differently! Because, in the end, it’s all just creativity. So it really doesn’t matter all that much. Get it?
Entitlement (the right kind)
That said, you need to understand the concept of entitlement – not the narcissistic American ‘I-deserve-everything-I-want‘ kind of entitlement but the kind of entitlement that lets you live freely with your creativity intact:
“… in order to live this way – free to create, free to explore – you must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement… Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here and that – merely by being here – you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”
A Final Word
These are two of my favorites from the book – because they’re true, no matter what anyone says:
“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable (food, shelter, medicine, rule of law, social order, familial responsibility, death, taxes, etc.). Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting… a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”
This is a woman deeply in love with her creativity. This is a woman who knows she is FREE to create without boundaries, permissions, critiques, etc. This is the kind of person I aspire to become and after reading her book, I know I am several steps closer to the clarity that I am FREE TO CREATE simply because I MUST CREATE. Because it’s who I AM.
“You can live a long life, making and doing really cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.”
So get out there, folks, and create SOMETHING.
I dare you.