Posted by Deborah Atherton
We talk a lot about creative blocks, the internal forces that keep us from realizing our ideas and visions. But sometimes life offers external blocks that keep us from doing what we want to do most. Sometimes we confuse one with the other.
Several writers and artists have recently mentioned to me that a bad bout of flu had kept them from doing anything but watch mindless TV for over a week. We are very intent sometimes on our schedules, our daily practice, the amount of words we get on a page or number of hours we have practiced on our instrument, and it’s hard to accept that external forces may prevent us from reaching our goals.
But life has a way of handing us obstacles on a fairly regular basis, and they may vary in severity from the loss of a job or a serious illness to a bad cold or visiting relatives. And I think sometimes we are so used to trying to catch ourselves in slacking off (and let’s face it, we creative types do have an enormous gift for slacking off) that when real things happen, even when they come with temperatures of 103 or slings or severe lack of paychecks, we dismiss the reality of the obstacle, whatever its severity, and just start reproaching ourselves for not accomplishing things.
Sometimes it’s okay not to make your five hundred words a day or not to sit down at your easel or drafting table (especially if the smell of paint is making you sick.) Once in a while, yes, there will be a deadline that can’t be missed, a curtain that is going up or a book that is coming out and you will have to make a heroic effort, whatever the obstacles, and just resolve to pay for it later. But you don’t have to be heroic every day of your life (or no more heroic than every person is when they commit to pursuing their creative dreams.) Heroism is exhausting, and depleting, and not required from us all on a regular basis.
So pick up an undemanding book or the remote control, and get through your personal flu season (or whatever the obstacle may be) as comfortably as you can. You’ll be back on the front lines soon enough, and one of these days, some heroism may well be required. But in the meantime, maybe just acknowledge that some days the blocks aren’t of your making, and the best thing you can do for yourself is go and find a nice bowl of chicken soup.
Much gratitude to Claudia Carlson for her thoughts on this issue. Check out her blog The Elephant House to follow an artist/poet/fiction writer/book designer on her adventures in and out of New York City!