The Creativity Blockers

April 6, 2012

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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Picking Up the Pieces

January 24, 2010

When I was young, going back to school after an extended period of absence was always painfully difficult.  You were behind in your classes – fractions, what are they?  Resuming relationships with teachers and peers was tricky.  And the confinement of the classroom was never as comfortable as the freedom of home.

Picking up your creative work – or any work – after a long period away is just as hard.  If you were in the middle of something, it’s hard to remember how you got there and where you meant to go next.  If you were just about to start something new, any ideas you had about it have probably lost their freshness and zing.  It’s hard to sit down at the desk, the computer, the easel, your musical instrument – it’s hard to fit yourself back into the tools of your trade.  Nothing feels quite right.  It’s as if while you were away, you turned into someone else – someone who doesn’t know how to do what you were quite comfortable doing a few weeks or months before.

The funny thing is, it’s probably true.  You’re not exactly who you were before whatever it was (and it can be so many things, from health, to an intense work situation, to being a caregiver for others, and on, and on).  The experience has probably changed you, and you may not be able to pick up exactly where you left off.  Your project, your dream, may not take the exact shape you had planned for it before the interruption.  The trick, I’m finding, as I try and fit myself back into my own creative projects, is to take some time and not expect anything to look the same three months later.  I’m different, and so my work has become different, too.  Maybe it’s an accelerated version of what happens when you pick up a story you wrote ten years ago – or look at a photograph you took twenty years ago.  It was a substantially different person who wrote that story, who peered through that lens.  You, always you, but not quite the same you.  Maybe you write a little differently now.  Maybe you want to pick a new key, or another palette.  Instead of tensing yourself up and pushing through to finish, it might be a moment to relax a little and allow some experimentation.  Your work waited this long, it can wait a little longer, and reap whatever benefit can come from the unanticipated interruption, and being forced to look at things in a new way.