Last week my fiddle was being repaired while we were out of town. Those six days were the longest time I have gone (in over a year) without playing. Exploring new places, sitting on the plane, I didn’t realize it had been that long. Of course, everything is off when you travel: the bed, the sounds, the food, the cats at your feet…everything is different, so I didn’t really think about the fact that I went nearly a week without picking up my fiddle.
So coming home, re-entering my familiar patterns, it felt so wrong to not hear its sweet (and sometimes gritty) sound. Only two days at home without this and all I could think was, Something is missing. This is unusual for me; life is so distracting that I rarely get reminders like this; I wish I had such a strong voice of reminder in every creative discipline.
Making art as a child and teen was so ubiquitous and wonderful: free time, ample applause for your efforts, the freedom to just create without that self-conscious vampire of doubt and criticism. But being creative as an adult is an entirely different game. When you have a full time job, a house and a family seems like such an onerous task. Of course, people are happy to sell you books and workshops teaching you how to “work it into your life.” They say things like “Do something everyday,” “Get up early in the morning,” but it always seems to get pushed aside, and then those books and workshops just seem like con-men or jerks who have never had to work a day in their life.
However, every once in a while we are lucky. We see someone else’s creative act and feel inspired, then blessed with a pocket of time soon after, we actually make something of our own. And it’s there, in that moment, when we realize This is what I was missing! Creativity is often that lingering hole in our life, the ghost in the room: we may be aware of an absence, but not recall what it was. And if we are so lucky to be reminded how good to feels to say “I made this,” we might continue because it fills such an important void. Rediscovering it is like rediscovering a favorite t-shirt hidden at the back of the closet: the one that is threadbare but cozy and flattering. It’s also like finding love. It is the Aha! moment.
The thing about creativity is that whatever drives it (the sprit, maybe) lacks the voice to burst through the busyness of our lives to say Hi there. I need to be fed. It is quiet, and sensitive, yet so durable: it can go months, years even, without sustenance. But once you begin to feed it regularly it regains its voice – like mine did. I think we are all guilty of what I’ll call creative famine mentality: starving the creative sprit, then gorging because the next opportunity for expression may be a long time in the future. There are many excuses for doing this, but it’s an inherently misguided approach. The creative spirit needs regular nourishment. Gorging and expecting any sort of consistent quality is unrealistic. Sometimes we get lucky, and the thing that emerges is perfect and pure, as though our creativity had distilled itself into that one piece, so we go another month without creating again, because further attempts often pale in comparison. In art school teachers always used to say we need to “push though the bad drawing days; just keep working,” but they forgot to mention that it only works if you’re doing it regularly, comforted in the knowledge that another opportunity will be forthcoming in a day or so. Pushing though the bad days when you haven’t drawn for months is just masochism, and a good excuse to wait even longer next time.
So my advice to you, creative readers, and myself, is to make something. Do it just once a week, like feeding the house plants. Start small: an hour each week to make something, even if it’s utter crap. That’s okay, there’s always next week and the week after that. Once the inertia has begun you’ll strengthen the spirit, or at least be more able to hear its timid requests: Feed me. Make something: a line of poetry, a tiny sketch, a bit of melody to a song you like, and then stop. Leave perfection out of the equation, next week you can refine and start something else.
I know it’s easier to take this advice when you’re starting a new art form. As a late-blooming musician, practicing my fiddle regularly is easy; I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. The real challenge is to do this in a discipline that has been with us since childhood. That thing that you loved, but hit a plateau, and lost the drive to maintain it as little more than a parlor trick. That’s the real reason I started this blog. When I realized I’d gladly spend twenty minutes every day sawing on my fiddle, but allow months (years) to pass without writing or drawing, I knew I needed to change something. And while my fiddle voice is strong enough to remind me when I’ve gone too long, I can already feel that my drawing/writing voice is regaining its strength through this weekly maintenance.