Today I want to take a little trip in the way-back machine, back to the year I turned 23.
I was teaching at a nursery school in the Berkeley hills that year. I had recently graduated from college, and was flailing about, really unsure what I wanted to do with my life.
I’d been a serious dancer, auditioned and got into Juilliard when I was 19, but then developed a vicious case of tendinitis in my ankles, which forced me to quit dancing right around the time I turned 20.
This was an indescribably huge loss. Not only was dance my passion, but it was my only big creative outlet.
In fact, at that time of my life, I truly believed that I was not creative.
I’d quit making art at age thirteen, because other people were so much better at drawing than I was, so I wove a story that they were the artists, and I wasn’t.
The same thing happened with music a couple of years later.
In my twenties, I remember my best friend, Amy, would send me greeting cards in the mail, and she’d draw little stars and hearts and spirals on the envelopes and next to her signature, and I can clearly remember thinking to myself, “Wow, Amy is so creative!” It didn’t even occur to me that I could doodle on envelopes, too, and that it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
I was so locked in this story that I was not creative, that such a thing simply did not seem possible!
Or, if it did, I discounted it as “copying.” So this entire genre of creative expression, I just cut it out of the realm of possibility, because that was Amy’s thing, not my thing.
I mean, ridiculous, right?
But my stuckness was real, and painful. Steven Pressfield, who wrote The War of Art (aff), writes that when you give into Resistance and don’t do your art, your creative thing, you end up living a life of low-grade misery.
That was my life.
So much of what now gives me joy, and what had previously given me joy as a child — painting, singing, playing instruments, writing, basically creative expression in general — felt completely cut off from me.
Now I know, with the benefit of hindsight, that it wasn’t ever truly cut off; I just bought into a story that said that I wasn’t creative, and that meant I didn’t get to do those things.
This went on from age 13 to age 28, when I finally started mucking about with arts and crafts, and a dam burst, and my poor, malnourished creative spirit was finally freed from the closet I’d locked her in.
But back at age 23, I was still five years away from that.
So what did I do? From what I remember, I did a lot of shopping. That was how I tried to fill the void left when I locked my creative spirit up in a closet.
Now, this didn’t always mean buying things; in fact, much of the time I didn’t buy anything at all. Remember, I was living on a nursery school teacher’s wages. And a part-time nursery school teacher’s wages, at that!
I didn’t have the disposable income to buy a lot of the things I spent my time shopping for, but I still did a lot of shopping, especially when I felt down or depressed.
I’d go to Nordstrom, or Macy’s, or Neiman Marcus, straight to the evening wear department, and I’d try on evening gowns.
Realize, I had no place to wear an evening gown. I had no occasion to wear an evening gown. It was pure escapism.
I also went to a lot of antique stores, on a rather obsessive quest to find a framed stained glass window.
I lived in a rented room in someone else’s house at that time in my life. I had no place to hang a framed stained glass window.
Why was I on any obsessive quest for a framed stained glass window? Someone I knew (I can’t for the life of me remember who) owned a stained glass window that hung in front of a window in their home, and I remember being so impressed with it, and with the person’s creative aesthetic to hang such a thing in their home. Their home was a charming craftsman cottage, not the Bauhaus 1970s-style room with aluminum frame windows that I lived in.
I think that window represented something I desperately wanted: a home of my own. An aesthetic sense that felt good to me.
The person (whom I can’t remember) who had that stained glass window had the kind of life that I wanted to have: a creative life.
And since I didn’t think that I was a creative person, the closest I could come to inhabiting a creative life was to purchase the outward trappings of one. If that makes sense.
So I shopped a lot. And that gave me a momentary escape… but also only highlighted the low-grade misery that was my life.
Now, the good news is that I finally did come back to my creative birthright around age 28. I dove into art and crafts, took a creative writing class, took classes in painting, ceramics, calligraphy, you name it!
Life very quickly went from black, white and grey to blazing, rich, full color.
And I’d love to be able to tell you that I lived happily ever after… but it wouldn’t be the truth.
The sad truth is that after rediscovering my inborn creativity and entitlement to create, I lost it again. I followed my passion and started a little business selling my art — mostly private commissions involving calligraphy, and a lot of ketubot, or Jewish marriage contracts — and the pressure of having to wring every last penny from my creative expression, and the pressure of high expectations for my artistic “potential,” choked me right up.
Can you say “perfectionist paralysis”? I was the poster child.
I was able to create on demand for clients, but I stopped making art for me. I locked my creative spirit up in a closet once again.
And it really wasn’t until 2010/2011 that I finally broke the lock on that closet for good.
Finally, I had the maturity and experience to understand that all of my self-doubt, my fears, my comparisonitis — all of it was not ever going to fully go away, so my job was to learn to manage it!
And I had the wisdom to know that everything would go a lot better if I didn’t have to do it all alone.
Creative community has been essential.
Without it, it would be nearly impossible to single-handedly fend off all the cultural messages — the cultural lies — about creative expression and play:
That it’s self-indulgent and frivolous. That it’s only for the elite few. That if you’re not making money from it, it’s a waste of time. That artists are flaky, suicidal, crazy people. And all the rest.
That’s why in the programs that I run now, as a creativity instigator, always have a community element.
And that’s why I decided to create an ongoing community, my Creative Sandbox community.
Which I just opened to annual members for 2016!
I started it as a pilot program back in August, because I wanted to test out:
A) whether it would be something my audience, my customers, my Right People would really want, and
B) whether an ongoing community would nourish me… or suck me dry!
The experiment has been a wonderful success, and I’ve got all sorts of things planned for 2016:
- Art project tutorials every month (sort of “art for non-artists (and for artists, too!)”
- Monthly ArtShare gatherings, to show & tell and get helpful feedback on your work.
- Live conversations with guest teachers and leaders.
- Monthly studio work days, where we meet up in real time to get stuff done together.
- Round-robin projects, where groups of people collaborate to make a real artists’ book or other art project together.
Plus live calls with me twice a month, an archive of recorded interviews with creatives of all stripes, weekly creative prompts in your inbox, and more!
Oh, and perhaps the most important piece of all: our private Facebook group, where we share our wins and challenges, give each other feedback, and cheer each other on.
Just today I held one of the twice-monthly rally calls for Creative Sandbox members, and people were saying how grateful they are to have this group.
When things get crazy and hard — deaths in the family, home repairs out of control, and just regular day-to-day craziness — the Creative Sandbox is a sanctuary.
We model creative play, we model courage, and we model compassion and kindness. And that spreads.
So if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, just click here to read more and join now.
The first 20 annual members to join in 2015 get a very special price, and the first 10 annual members also get a fast-action bonus: a one-on-one consulting session with me!
So head over to creativesandboxcommunity.com right now, and I look forward to seeing you inside the sandbox!
Thanks for Listening!
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Now go get creating!
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