CREATION STORIES and A Blast (or Two) From the Past

I’ve been thinking about creation stories lately. At a recent artists talk at a local gallery who carries my work, I mentioned it in my presentation.

We’ve known about “hero stories” for years. They’re a common theme many books, plays, and movies, all kinds of media, actually. A guy undertakes a task, has to overcome all kinds of obstacles (slaying dragons, fighting other knights, rescuing a princess, etc.) and finally earns the keys to the kingdom. Happy ending for all concerned! (Well, at least for the hero….)

Most of us have found a similar path to find the work of our heart. For some folks, they knew early on what that was, and pursued it all the way.

For others (like me), we knew…but then we believed it was out of reach, that we didn’t have the talent/perseverence/personality/etc. to find our way through. We walked away, thinking we simply aren’t good enough.

But then there’s the ‘”creation story”. It’s that powerful moment in our life, often after we get through something really, really hard, something emotionally painful, or frightening, or even life-threatening.

And suddenly, we realize what really matters to us in life.

That’s the hidden “beauty” of terrible times. The clarity we get, a new sense of purpose, knowing what’s worth pursuing, and what is merely what other people think we should do.

I’m not saying “Everything happens for a reason!” or “God will provide, trust in Him”, or “Things will get better, just wait!” or any of that shit.

When we hit a rock-and-a-hard-place, a deep pit of despair, a near-death experience, that approach simply sucks. There’s no making light of the terrible thing we’re going through. Staying positive is powerful, but exhausting, and others telling us what THEY think WE should do can be patronizing. (Especially if they have no personal experience with what we’re dealing with.)

But afterwards, when we’ve had time to recover, hopefully to heal, or adapt, to take a calm breath and pick up our life again…. When we can pause, and look back, and contemplate what the impact on us was….

THAT’S when we can find that turning point in our life.

I’ve always focused on the WHY in my own work. I love encouraging others to dig deep and find what really matters to them. I’ve written about that a lot. A LOT. (Here’s a list of articles about the power of “Why?”)

But I forgot to connect what gets us to that powerful place.

In my case, it happened after I gave up on following my dreams. It was too hard, I didn’t have the time, the energy, the space, no hope of making a living from it. It was time to “get real” and “grow up” and let it all go. Maybe things would change down the road, but not right now.

My breakthrough moment was the realization that what I wanted for my kids, the thing that could make them resilient, and joyful, and fierce with passion, I could want for myself. And the best way to encourage them to do the same, was to show them what that looked like.

The courage, determination, and persistence I gained in that moment, has carried me for decades.

Oh, I still get just as frustrated, set back, and sad about my lack of “fame and fortune” for my work. But I always circle back and realize that was never the inspiration to make it from the get-go.

Creation stories are the moments when we realize how powerful that decision is. That moment when we realize we have a story, a story only WE can tell. A story that not only fuels our life, but, when shared, might inspire and give hope to someone else, too.

One year, I taught workshops for the traveling Arts Business Institute years ago. My favorite one was working with people to find the “why” in their work. My fastest, clearest example was when one young woman in the workshop started with, “I had a baby, I nearly died, and everything changed….” I stopped and said, “THAT is your creation story!”

Something happened. Something that changed everything. We nearly die/fall/give up hope/surrender. If we’re lucky, we get through it. And if we’re really lucky…

We realize we can choose something different.  We recognize that we have the power of our choices.

We can own our desire to make/teach/write/sing/heal/travel/nurture/repair/etc. and be a force for good in the world. Because it’s so good for US.

Suddenly, all the wrong turns, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, (for me, for example, traveling across the country in the recession of the 1980’s desperately looking for a teaching job for years, to no avail) is no longer a sad story.

Because I finally found the right story, the powerful story that belongs to me.

All those “failures” simply added to my experience, shining a light on what I was NOT “meant to be”, but merging the skills I acquired to achieve those old goals into powerful new assets on my new journey:

Making the work of my heart, using the materials and techniques that felt “right” for me, and telling my story. Letting go of being “good enough”, because I simply wanted to do it.

Another insight? Once we know our creation story, we won’t be as likely to fall for this story about why we simply can’t do that thing: about holding onto the “facts” that hold us back.

And one last story about our conception of “luck” that can slow us down on our creative journey: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

A lot to ponder, especially with holidays, new variants, uncertainty, great changes in the world.

But that’s life, right? Finding our own way home.

P.S. FORGOT, here’s a link to the Story Center’s website (a non-profit), which now offers free and in-depth paid workshops for helping us find our powerful stories: The Story Center

LEARNING TO SEE #8: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Still my go-to happy place. Where’s yours? (Okay, confession time: It’s not nearly as neat and clean now!)

 

All we need is a good flashlight and the courage to trust ourselves.

(5 minute read)

Just so you know, I really don’t have everything in life all figured out.

Oh, I’m good at finding a way out of the woods, as long as the woods aren’t too dark. ) And the wolves aren’t after us.* (Actually, wolves don’t really hunt people.)

Years ago, I came across a quote by Anne Lamott, about being lost in the dark. She said she prayed, asking God to simply shine a light at her feet, so she could take ‘just one little step…”

She wasn’t asking for His advice. She wasn’t asking for directions. She wasn’t asking for a plan.

All she asked for was the ability to take one small step forward in the dark.

Of course, now I can’t find that quote, but here is a similar one:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

–Anne Lamott

I won’t get into all the dark stuff surrounding all of us right now. I’m sure by the time this article is published, there will be even more, calling for our attention, and our action.

I do want to talk about the light.

We tend to think of ‘light’ as a quality that allows 2D artists to truly capture an image, especially landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. Light gives depth, color, texture to a painting.

But light is crucial is so many forms of creative work. Plays, cinema, musical performances, dance. In healing, x-rays and CT scans, a totally different form of ‘light’, are ways to reveal sources of pain in our bodies. I could go on with my usual strings of metaphors, but we can accept that light is most definitely a good thing. (For creatives who live with blindness or sight issues, they simple “see” the light in other ways, filling in with their imagination and inner vision. Deafness didn’t stop Beethoven from composing his powerful music.)

Sometimes all we need is that little flashlight at our feet.

Sometimes, of course, we need something bigger. A strategy called “The Lighthouse Method” encourages us to follow a distant signal, far ahead, with no knowledge of what we will find along the way. Sometimes, we can be more like E.L. Doctorow’s headlights metaphor, where we can drive 65mph and simply follow the road in front of us.

As creative people, we may often be alone in our thoughts, our vision, our work. We find many ways to make our work, often experimenting with different media, different palettes, different subject matter, different styles and techniques. We’re used to walking a path that can sometimes seem lonely.

And sometimes, it feels like nothing we do is very satisfying. This can be caused by big life changes (and lots of small ones), illness, death. Broken relationships, loss of income, galleries closing. We’ve added a lot to this list in 2020 already, and there’s probably more to come.

But even as I write this, I can almost feel that flashlight in my hand.

I know if I can get to my studio, I’ll feel better.

Maybe I’ll make some new artifacts. Maybe (oh, yes, please!) another order to fill, or an idea for a new series. Maybe it will be a clay day, or a fiber day, or maybe I’ll just end up on the floor picking up that bowl of seed beads I dropped. Maybe I’ll page through my inspiration file, noting a new ways of connecting this with that, or a new color combo. Maybe I’ll just clear my work surfaces. Maybe just one surface. Okay, maybe I’ll just clean a corner of my desk.

All I know is this:

I will come out of my studio much, much happier than when I went in.

I’m not saying my art is more important than anything else going on in our world today.

I’m saying I’m in a better place to do that work, if I do a bit of MY work first.

So if today is a hard day, take exquisite care of yourself.

It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be confused about who or what to believe. (Although I’d start with reputable news sources, not rumors.)

It’s okay to feel small in the world today. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s part of being human.

But remember we have been given a gift, a precious gift. The gift of yearning ‘to make’, ‘to create’, to bring something into the world that is the product of our unique upbringing, our unique path in life, our skillset, our winding path, our powerful artistic vision.

Know that there are many ways to help others with our creative work. Whether we inspire others with our work or words, or whether we donate a portion of our sales to a good cause, or whether we volunteer for those causes directly, whether we stay in or march, or help those who do, or simply wear a mask, etc. it’s all a way of healing the world.

If we’ve been in the dark ourselves, that teaches us to have compassion for those who are in it now, or who live in it all the time.

Find a way to use your creativity in service of the causes you believe in. Be a force for good in the world. Share your own way of doing this in the comments. I get great ideas from readers, and I’m sure other readers will, too.

Whether it’s headlights, a lighthouse, or a little flashlight, aimed at our feet, we have been here before. And we will be here again, in this dark place.

It is always darkest just before dawn, because that is why the dark is so important. In the dark is when we realize what we really care about. In the dark is where we sleep, and dream. It can be a place of fear and immobility.

But dawn will come again.

And we cannot recognize the light if we never know the dark. The dark teaches us to trust the angels of our better nature

It’s easier for us to really see that little beam of light, in the dark.

 

 

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