The Creativity Blockers

You know them. You probably live and work among them. 

If you say to one of them, “My photograph just won an award!” Or, “My poem just got published!” Or, “My film just got accepted into a festival!” they may manage a “How nice.” More likely, their eyes will glaze overand they will start telling you about what THEY did last weekend.

Did You Get Much Money for That?

Or they may say to you, (and this is my personal favorite), “Did you get much money for that?” Please notice the “much” here, because no matter what sum, from 0 to 1,000,000, that you received for your hard work, it is clear that it isn’t much at all, in the creativity blocker’s scale of things. Sometimes they offer comments like, “I don’t know why you work so hard on that (painting, blog, musical).” “How many years have you been doing that?” Or better yet, “Do people still do that?”

Are You Famous?

And of course, we’ve all heard this at parties or events: “Should I have heard of you?” “Are you famous?” Once upon a time, I thought it was all innocence and ignorance.  Maybe they really did think that people no longer wrote books, or painted pictures, or (in my case) wrote operas.  Somehow these things were generated from a Great Computer in the Sky, and descended full blown upon us.

But now I realize that it’s not that, or it’s more than that.  Many people aren’t comfortable around poets, or playwrights, or musicians, because even in this age of YouTube and America’s Got Talent, creative efforts are not perceived as something regular people do. And if you are successful at it: if you make a living, or part of a living, at it, you’re even odder.  Somehow, you’re cheating. You’re taking a step away from the way most people live their lives; you’re going into a back room, or out on the street, or even to the bar around the corner with your band, and creating something brand new in the world.  And if there’s one thing people aren’t really comfortable with, it’s change. (There does seem to be a gadget exception to this rule; everyone loves their new cars and smart phones.  I do wonder, however, how much they’d have to say to the person who designed them?)

No Point. No Time. No Good

It’s discouraging.  We’d all like a little acknowledgement for our efforts.  We’d like the people around us to be thrilled with our success, and sympathetic to the disappointments that line the road to any successful creative effort.  We try hard to get them interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes their disinterest seems like a global rejection.  We’re not just hearing “no” from the people who could open doors for us, we’re hearing it from our friends and colleagues and sometimes even our families. “No point.” “No time.” “No good.”

So what do we do?

We find other people to talk to.  We’re lucky, in 2012, that the world is open to us through the Internet. But we can also seek out other people in our communities, even in our workplaces, whose eyes actually spark with interest instead of dulling with dread when we start talking about what we love to do.

And we don’t try and interest people who we terrify with our love of what we do.  The more you succeed, the more you keep going, the less happy they will be.  The jabs and disinterest might turn to something more hostile.  Ever notice how fast people turn on performers who don’t meet their expectations?  (Just try a half hour of any celebrity reality TV show.)  Deep down, they may not feel really normal people are out there acting and singing and making movies and games.

Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends

We get pretty good at insulating ourselves within circles of friends and fellow creative people as we get older, and find ways to hold some of this at bay. But for those striving to create something in a hostile culture or community or family situation, this can a life-long problem.  And the best solution is finding the people who will support you, even if they are 8,000 miles away and can only IM you at midnight.  Creative people do their best when they can ignore (or go around) the blockers, keep working on their projects,  and get a little help from their friends.

Many thanks to Eric Ember, the Intuitive Edge Photographer in Residence, for his portrait of  Sam suspiciously eyeing Murray, the Intuitive Edge Creative Cat in Residence. And thanks also to Claudia Carlson for the idea.

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7 Responses to The Creativity Blockers

  1. Janet says:

    So, is Sam a blocker for Murray?

    • deborahatherton says:

      Yes, Sam is eyeing Murray’s clear enthusiasm with deep suspicion. Or that is my interpretation!

    • pleiadian1 says:

      Murray as a kitten was a terror which is why we nicknamed him, Osama Bin Crazycat. He has since mellowed out–a tad. Sam was and remains the head cat, and introducing a crazy kitten into the household took some adjusting for the always steady and somewhat staid, Sam. They made a truce of sorts, as you can see from the photo above, which I entitled Trust but Verify. Interestingly, we adopted Murray, as well as the rest of the litter, from a nearby Buddhist temple where folks abandon their cats with the hopes that the residents at the temple will care for them. We found homes for Murray’s brothers and sisters, most of whom reside in NYC. Anyone want a cat or 4?—there are a number of kitties at the temple for whom I’d love to find homes and they are almost as cute as Murray.

  2. Avi Wrobel says:

    Deborah,

    Loved your article. I have a sister who, after seeing my book, said, people told me to write a book, then never picked it up to look at it. Yes, there are people out there who think that any creations that does not have to do with them is irrelevant. So, thanks for your article and keep on creating,

    Avi W

  3. I absolutely love this post (and the photograph. Adorable!). It’s so true. I am so blessed to have found a group of brilliant people I can check in with for creative nourishment, and I count you among them.

    • deborahatherton says:

      Thanks, Margaret (and the photograph was just so perfect for this post, I couldn’t resist!) I count you among the nourishers, too – and we need all the help we can get!

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