|Banquet Room at the Hotel Del Coronado|
"If you get stuck, lower your standards and keep going."
We saw Elizabeth Gilbert at the Portland Literary Arts 30th Anniversary gathering last night. Imagine nearly 3,000 people gathering to see an author speak for 40 minutes on her creative process. Astounding and wonderful. She's not only a famous author, she is widely read. Selling over 10 million copies of just one of her books.
I'm going to paraphrase what I heard her say. Her focus was not only about the creative process it was about Will and even that ephemeral word: Calling. Stubbornness and curiosity are key to the creative in their work. Show up. Do the art that you are here to do. The ideas of following interest and being open to curiosity trump the trite advice to "Just follow your passion".
She also addressed the idea of perfectionism in one's initial output of writing or art. Perfectionism is just another word for fear. This reminds me of what William Stafford said about becoming blocked as a writer. When you just can't meet your own standards, then lower your standards. Perhaps he was talking about the process when a creation of art was being birthed.
Just get it out as you begin. The fits and starts of editing while creating are bindings that constrict the passionate, resonant voice of the artist. There is time for editing after the work is out on the paper. And there is a time of discernment in the editing when an artist says "That's good enough."
When one sits down to journey into the creative process, fear seems to come along for the ride. Ms. Gilbert spoke of writing a book as going on a cross country trip with her creative soul. And knowing that fear will be riding in the back seat the whole time. Shouting. Crying that "It's not good enough", that "People will not even care about what is created" etc. She said that before she sits down to write she will have an active dialogue with Fear. She says "I hear you're going along on the trip too. OK, let's make one thing clear. You are not making any decision on where we go and what we see."
She mentioned how the world does not owe the creative recognition, or money or even the purchase of a single book/painting etc. The clinging to those results are all the creator's issues. There comes a point when the work is really done, not perfect, but done. The knack of knowing when this occurs is a wonder of maturity.
The question I have for myself as I work on another book is to know "When is it done?" Yes, fear is there yammering. "You are still a novice poet." "You will not be recognized anyway. So why write." I answer "Yeah, I am a novice poet, a little dark, a little ephemeral, a lot sensitive. Yes, that is what I am right now in the world. AND I am going to do the art that my commitment requires of me."
If I do not complete this work, even if imperfect, I will experience a new companion that will join fear. And that new companion will be Regret. Is that who I also want in my back seat as I travel back home to my comforts?
The idea of not doing what we are here to do, even if unseen, unskillful, somewhat amateur, is akin to preparing and not arriving. Ms. Gilbert said that this is like the young man who has taken all the necessary steps to attend a great ball. He takes dance lessons, makes a beautiful costume, saves his money, gentrifies his rough sensibilities. He gets prepared, shows up to the grand entrance of the gala gathering and then turns around at the door. He returns to his old life because fear told him small truth that his fear made into a holy injunction.
Yes, most of us are amateur. Most will not be recognized like Elizabeth Gilbert. Most will write or sing to themselves and a few friends. And like me, most will periodically shy away from the grand dance, turning away on the threshold. Denying the world my costume and dance and presence.
Will I believe the little reflections of fear today? Or will I create just because that's what I do?
Perhaps creation is what it may mean to be human.
Created in the divine image...Creating in the divine image.
Ms. Gilbert said how art has been made by humanity for at least 30,000 years. In contrast, agriculture has only been around for about 10,000 years. Even "primitive" people knew that the creative life was on a par with the comforts of even the most basic of needs like eating. What will we believe about our callings and the need to put what's languishing inside out in the world?
This blog, this farm, my books, your project, our community, are all in a state of seeming imperfection. Yet things need to come out and be said, or painted or built. Imperfections and all.
Will it be Fear and Regret, or Calling and Discernment? These are themes I will contemplate today. Thank you for contemplating them with me. May your day be blessed with the creativity that only you can bring to the world.
(c) Copyright Rick Sievers, Image and Words, September 2014, All Rights Reserved