Art, Artist friends, Carpe Noctem, Committing to the Present, Creative Impulse, Crippling sense of expectation, Excellence vs Perfectionism, II Timothy 1:7, In Community, Joie de vivre, Katy Splane, Life Mantra, Live tonight like there's no tomorrow, On being an artist, Overcoming fears of the creative life, Stepping out of our fear-bound restrictions, Stepping out of self-imposed limits, The Artist's Way, The creative impulse, What do I need to press forward?
Today’s post comes from one of my artist friends, Katy Splane.
“Over the past year, I’ve been part of a group of women who meet on a quarterly basis under the title Carpe Noctem*: an evening once every 3 months to discuss our lives, our dreams and goals, ambitions, fears, impediments and successes. My friend Carissa Halton, a writer and consultant in Edmonton, led this brain-child with us in tow, a dozen or so of her closest connections. It’s been an eye-opening experience on a number of levels, but one of the unsolved conundrums with which I have walked away from Carpe Noctem is my inability to overcome my fears attached to the creative life.
Creativity was a repetitive and significant theme in many of our discussions, and although I found the wisdom people had to offer, and insights from their own lives, helpful, it didn’t ultimately lead me to step out of my self-imposed limits into something new and freer. Or I should say rather, there hasn’t been any kind of a breakthrough into habits or mindsets that I was hoping would start to develop over the course of the year.
What was I hoping for?
What, you may ask, was I hoping for? Some kind of magical epiphany, where I come out the other end of a dark tunnel of practicality and necessity into a space of vibrant spiritual and creative renaissance, filled with joie de vivre? Well no. Not exactly…The realistic part of my brain was obviously not expecting that. But, if I’m completely honest, I thought there might at least be a spark of it.
Tying into this journey with the group of women, I began a book this summer entitled The Artist’s Way. The author, Julia Cameron, challenges the reader to commit diligently to her program for at least three months (with the expectation that after getting through the first 3, the participant will recognize the value, and be auto-motivated to carry on with the program long into the future). I set out and began the program partway through August of this year, knowing that three months later would land me in BC, celebrating my mother‘s 74th birthday. It did, as three month portions of the year seem in the moment, feel like a very generous season to get the program under my belt, and one that would be straightforward to fulfill.
An Unimposing Question
Yet I write this, sitting in BC, the three months having come to an end, without actually having held up my end of the bargain. I did bits and pieces of it, yes (and I have the grace to recognize I moved house, had 2 of my children move schools and completed two landscaped yards in that same period. I’m not a sadist!) but I often felt myself holding the full experience at arms length. Rusty (host of More Enigma) asked me at church one day who would I be doing the program with? An unimposing question. And it caught me off guard. Isn’t the journey into creativity deeply personal, one where we seek the depths of God’s vast resources, tapping into it as an individual, a singularly creative unit directly connected to the Creator? Instantly my thoughts flitted to those with whom I would feel confident enough to share this journey; with whom would I be so vulnerable as to share my deepest insecurities, ones I wasn’t even able to bring up with Carpe Noctem (an incredibly supportive and safe space)? What if Rusty was right? What if I was actually meant to learn how to access my creativity in community?
What do I need to Press Forward?
I asked my friend John Ullyatt, a local actor and all round general creative, about his interactions with the course, trying to understand if he had felt it valuable. He said there were parts of it that he saw as helpful, but the practice of an event each week that involved seeking out some kind of creative or inspirational moment alone seemed far too woo-woo for him. As a mom of three young children, I have no issues with anyone requiring me to take a significant portion of time each week to find activities that inspire me in the creation process (key areas for me personally: music creation and performance, creative writing and fine arts). In fact, I am constantly hoping people will tell me I need to be setting aside time for such activities! So what is it that restrains me? Or rather, what do I require to press forward?
Countering a Crippling Sense of Expectation
I grew up in a household where excellence was valued. You didn’t just deliver an aria, you wowed the audience with each line. You don’t just win a match, you executed each play faultlessly. I don’t mean to synthesize my upbringing as a household of perfectionism. That would be too simplistic. It gave me a strong sense of aesthetic, a desire to achieve my potential; it allowed me to experience numerous transcendent moments. But it also left me with an at-times crippling sense of expectation. And this aspect kills creativity.
I was going over spelling words with my 10 year old recently, and one of the terms on his list was “essay”. I’m often struck by the links between French and English and how we seamlessly pass from the roots of one into the roots of the other, without even recognizing it. The word essay in French is un essai, which comes from the verb essayer, or to try (I find this almost comical, having studied in France, where if you used the excuse “Well, I tried my best” when constructing an essay in class, you’d be headed straight into a public, and very pointed, tongue lashing!). But this is exactly what Cameron calls the participants in The Artist’s Way to. To try. To step outside of our fear-bound restrictions and try:
Try writing every day. Try setting aside time every week. Try doing the things that make us uncomfortable or off-kilter, because we are ultimately creative beings, who by our very nature are image bearers of a creative Creator. We cannot escape this destiny; it is woven into our DNA.
So what comes next?
My two-step plan into deeper creative living stems from an idea that I have memorized with my children and use as a life mantra. It comes from a letter in the Bible called Second Timothy, and in it we are given insight into the Spirit that is active and present when we use all of the giftings we have been entrusted with, saying it “is not a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-discipline”. I choose this as my reality, and because I do not have a heritage of fear from my Creator, I will include others in the process. And because I am motivated by love, I will share my gifts. And I will trust that the power I need to do hard things–invite others into my vulnerability, try and try again–will sustain the creative journey I am re-committing to in the present.”
Katy Splane calls herself a “reluctant northerner, parent, partner, gardener, and erstwhile teacher.” I think she is becoming less surprised to know the term “artist” can be applied to her.
* Carpe Noctem means “seize the night” in Latin or, in other words, “live tonight like there is no tomorrow.”
We need community in many ways and for many reasons. We need community even when we don’t think we do. We need community when we feel so vulnerable that we fear community would touch the unhealed nerves of what it means to be a person. We need artist friends who can encourage and inspire us, and who will tell us the truth. We also need to ask ourselves the question Katy posed:
What do You need to press forward in the creative way?
Chances are, community will be part of your answer. And if you are in a faith community, or realize you are on a spiritual journey with the Creator of Creativity, you may recognize as Katy noted:
We are ultimately creative beings, who by our very nature are image bearers of a creative Creator. We cannot escape this destiny; it is woven into our DNA.
For more on our need for community see “Prayer: A Bridge between longing and belonging.”