It was hard getting out of bed this morning. When our upstairs neighbors use their heat, the steam travels up the pipes, making a hundred little stops along its way on the sides of the old metal radiator in our bedroom. In my mind, the steam has transformed itself into little creatures with metal construction worker hats bouncing back and forth with glee, occasionally smacking their little hammers on the pipe for added affect. By 5:30 or so, Ben gave up on sleep and I sprawled out, covered my head, and wished that the birds weren’t already chirping along with the hammering creatures in the pipes. Both were conspiring against me.
Finally, my alarm went off, and I knew I couldn’t hide from the birds any longer. I sat down to write and debated if 15 minutes more in bed would save me from a day of exhaustion. I spent a sold five minutes writing about sleeping instead of writing or sleeping. I finally gave in and realized what my problem was- I’m great at finding reasons to put things off, whether the pipes were clanging all night or not. And as I usually do, I wanted to figure out why.
Things to DO lists…
For close to five years, I temped, consulted, stopped-in, freelanced, helped out, and part-timed my way through my work life. Though all my “part-time” jobs usually added up to more than a 40 hour work week, I was always temporary. Walking in and out of these offices without commitment and knowing that no one expected me to stay helped me maintain control of the feeling that I could be creative any time I wanted. I could just up and leave to go be an artist whenever the mysterious and elusive art world called my name. Choosing a dreaded full-time “permanent” job, as they’re known in the temping world (which really needs some rebranding), seemed like the end of the creative line. I thought that adopting this kind of schedule would give me a “doing” life, and not in the “get stuff done Home Depot ad” kind of way. I imagined it full of errands, schedules, distractions, and predictability. I was worried that I would look back after a year and realize in terror that I hadn’t created a thing.
And yet, here I am, at my new “permanent” job (again, terrible name) with more time and space in my mind than I did when I had one foot out the door. I am not saying that all you freelancers (and I’m sure I will join you again someday), should jump on a full-time job, I am saying that there is no perfect atmosphere or specific time to create. But there is a balance to be found. For example, for a while, I tried to only work “creative” jobs that would aid my drive to write and audition in my spare time: background work, teaching crafts classes, non-profit work. At another point, I completely distanced myself from the creative world: hedge funds, PR firms, law offices. Perhaps making more money and the starkness of the scenery would encourage me to write more. But no matter where I was, the patterns stayed the same.
Writing and auditioning came in pretty unpredictable spurts, but usually coincided with the rare moment I was not obsessing with getting my constantly changing schedule or financial situation under control. These moments were rare, since maintaining this magical flexibility was more exhausting the more it worked. If I booked a job, I had less time to try and book the next job. But if I didn’t book anything, I have to work extra hard to find something to maintain my budget. So where did creativity fit into any of this? My only choice was to focus all my energy into maintaining this work life, I had to eat, and I had to pay rent. And to be a complete musical theatre nerd and quote Cabaret, “Feet don’t waltz when the roof caves in.”
Write for your life!! Raaaah!!
The point that I’ve come back to over and over, is that I cannot live a life without creativity. When I am not working on a project, my weekly existential crises number double. Poor Ben has to give me the “you’re always an artist” pep talk more than any husband should. Even when I was a kid, my dad would tell me that I was grump when I wasn’t in a show. The “I’m bored” whine-fest as a child was met with, “Oh, you just need a show,” or if that didn’t work, “Go clean the hallway closet.”
So why is it so difficult to squeeze our creativity into this list of survival needs? Is it that no one is holding us accountable? Is it because the world will keep spinning if you ignore it? If I don’t make dinner, for example, I won’t eat, and then I will be hungry, and eventually get sick. We have to seek out food in order to eat it. But if I don’t write my play today, nothing changes. Nothing bad will happen. I will just feel blue that I ignored my play again. Is this just as important as eating? It’s great to sound poetic and say it is, and sew it on a Pinterest pillow, but really though? How do we make this need a life necessity?
“I wanted it enough”…and other BS
I’ve never liked this phrase. I’ve heard successful people say many times, “I simply wanted it badly enough.” Great, so do the rest of us. I usually find that the people who say this are either not mentioning the generous help they received along the way, OR the incredibly unhealthy unsustainable lifestyle that goes along with their career. Simply wanting something does not write a novel or put you on Broadway. Did wanting something enough make your parents buy you a Tamagotchi? Is that where this is coming from?
It can’t just be about desire. Basic needs, discipline, opportunity, education, and health play a pretty nice role as well. As artists, we may never have a constant safety net. And we can choose to focus on falling or being envious of someone else’s net. But we can also look the possibility that balancing these things can assist in keeping us up in the air. Perhaps it is about supporting each one of these puzzle pieces to weather any storm or any changing circumstance. When one puzzle piece is out of balance, you have the others. Your money is low, but you have discipline in your schedule to fall back on. Or your education is lacking, but you have the opportunity to reach out for advice from someone. You’re sick, but you have money to get yourself to the doctor or take time off.
Yes this blog post only had cat pictures…
I actually didn’t begin writing this post knowing how it would end. Writing out these thoughts got me here though. Having this blog added that tiny bit of discipline I talk about that keeps me writing, even if it’s not in the way I planned when I woke up today. There may never be the absolute ideal moment to work on your art, but you also can only get so far with the “But I want it!” mentality. Respecting how difficult it is to care for your creative energy is the only way to maintain this wild life-long journey of being an artist. So I am going to start looking at these puzzle pieces as way to balance out my brain when I find the excuse to hit the snooze button or ignore my writing. At least this is something I can put my finger on and tackle from a new perspective.
As always, feel free to share thoughts below! And thank you for reading!