I read an article today that posited that financial blocks are indicative of creative blocks. So, I thought it probably wouldn’t hurt to try to write a bit—maybe suddenly money will arrive if I put my creative mind to some creative writing.
But moments later, I realized that where my creative blocks are might not be here on this page. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more aptly expressed) has never been hard for me. I’m pretty sure that I wanted to be a writer from around 2nd grade. I didn’t fully know that writing was my passion just a few years after, and it took me about 35 more years to get back to that passion, but I did want it at a young age. I won’t go into the upsetting details about why I lost that focus, because even I am tired of hearing about the wounds of my history. What I will say, is that at some point in my development—or maybe many small, important moments in my development—I had that passion pushed out of my mind. I lost that knowing.
Understand that some of that loss was due to trauma. You forget who you were before the trauma, they say. I suppose I believe them. I formed very little of my personality before I forgot it, so I didn’t have all that much to grasp at and hold onto. But I know that I loved to do things that were artistic and creative.
I remember dancing. Always dancing. I remember singing. Always singing. I remember writing stories and poems and making picture books. I remember sitting in the art room during recess on any occasion I was allowed to do so, and working on a painting or some clay dish.
Unfortunately, I also remember being judged. And I remember coming up short.
Competition is a thing I hate. Ask my brother-in-law, the lover of board games, and he will tell you that I am no fun because I never want to play. That isn’t entirely true. There are cooperative games that I really like to play, and there are particular groups of people with whom I like to play such games. What I don’t like, is the measuring stick and the terms “winner” and “loser”. There are a lot of people who won’t understand that I hate these things. They might say I am a sore loser, or that I am just not as good a player, or that I identify too closely with the millennials who all get trophies and don’t know how to lose.
None of those are true.
I don’t like the way that certain people judge others, and I don’t like the way the worst comes out in people when competition is put into play. Hehe. Pun.
I remember not having the best picture book in whatever grade that competition took place. I remember not having the best art piece on any of the occasions. I remember that my words weren’t honored and placed on walls with gold stars or blue ribbons. And it isn’t that I am upset that I didn’t win—although as a child that may have been partly the case. What bothers me about this system of measurement that was constantly reinforced, is that I was really, exceptionally gifted in all sorts of creative arts, but I never won the contests, so I thought that I was bad at what I loved most in life—to paint, and to sing, and to dance, and to write.
Around my junior and senior year of high school, I finally started to understand that the games and the contests weren’t the true measure of skill. And at that point, I wanted to invest my time and my energy into learning to hone those skills that I somehow, inherently, had in the creative arts. I said that I wanted to take a photography course, but I wasn’t allowed, because I hadn’t taken Art I and Art II and whatever other requisite courses one needed to pursue an art course. But I didn’t want to paint fruit on platters, or learn how to shade well in my pencil sketches. I wanted to take photos. I wanted to be a photographer. I found beauty in spaces where many could not, and I feel that I would have been skilled at photographing that beauty, and showing it to the world. I wasn’t allowed.
I started to dance when I made the dance team in my first year of college. I don’t know why I believed during this period that I could do things I was never allowed the chance to do when I was younger. But I tried out, and I made it. I was ecstatic, and it was amazing. But the following year, the team that danced at half-time wasn’t a thing, and instead there would be a series of showcases. The ballet jumps and the spotting during turns wasn’t something that anyone ever taught me. I never had access to lessons. I fell in front of all the people trying out, and I felt like the previous year—when I did an amazing job dancing my heart out in front of people—didn’t even exist anymore. I wasn’t a real dancer. I didn’t make the cut.
All of these moments—these competitive moments, when I was meant to prove my salt and come out on top—instead turned into a huge lie and a core belief that I held for many, many years. I wasn’t an artist. I wasn’t good enough to be on stage acting. I didn’t even make the annual theater performance program when my own father directed the show. He said he couldn’t cast both his children, or it would seem like favoritism, and it was The Music Man, so he needed my brother more than me in the cast—boys who love to dance and sing on stage weren’t quite so popular and accepted thirty years ago in small-town, rural America, I suppose. But, even if he did wish to cast me, he didn’t. Which made me feel like all those other girls were the talented and pretty and deserving girls. Which meant that I was not.
I don’t know why competition is a thing. I don’t know where it started. I don’t think it ever ends. But I do know that constantly falling just short of the cut, and not winning the praise and validation, made me stop working in the fields that I loved. I stopped singing. I stopped dancing. I stopped playing the piano. I stopped drawing. I stopped painting.
Or, at least, I stopped doing them in public, or anywhere that other people got to judge my work and my skill in any way. I couldn’t stop doing them altogether. They are part of who I was meant to be. I was always, as my little girl self felt, a writer. I was always an artist.
And shame on each and every person who made me believe that couldn’t be true. I had a love of the arts. That alone was enough to qualify me and to give me permission to pursue a life and a career in the arts.
The blocks—the places where my creative energy doesn’t flow—are the doors that I closed on the dancer, the painter, the photographer, the writer, the poet. The blocks come each time I feel like dancing, but don’t. The blocks come when I am passionately pounding out a deep and layered piece on the piano, and I hear the garage door next to the music room open, so I quickly stop, put things in order, and rush upstairs so that nobody will know that I was playing—usually weeping as I do, because the piano has a language that can express my despair, my pain, my joy, and there is no other language I know that can do the same. The blocks come when I look at something I have created, and deem it unsatisfactory, honing in on every possible perceived flaw, even while others are gushing awe and praise for that creation.
The blocks are there because I stopped believing I could be an artist, somewhere between the 2nd grade and today.
I don’t know if letting my creative expression flow will make my bank account attract the funds to pay the electric bill and get me some groceries. But I do know that letting it flow will do other things that are good and necessary for me now. I need to trust in my abilities. I need to believe that what I love matters. I need to know that no matter what anyone else thinks of my expression, it is valid, and it deserves to have a space in my life and in the world. My creative side isn’t here to make certain I have scrapbooking group opportunities where I can find respite from caring for the kids. (Though that is totally a worthy cause, people! Scrapbook away! No judgment. I suck at scrapbooking. Which is kinda ironic, since most of my art is collage work of some sort, so I should be awesome at layering paper.) I digress. The point is that we love things because we need them and they need us. My creative side is here to flow—to pour out upon the earth and to exist there. And maybe your creativity is in the solving of difficult equations or positing really awesome stuff to prove and disprove using science or setting an amazing buffet before a crowd of people. It doesn’t need to mean “the arts” for all of us. But it should be recognized and validated and praised for all of us.
It is hard to put your heart out into the world and have people step on it. And I don’t think that needs to happen. Maybe everybody doesn’t get a trophy every time, so the kids still learn that life has ups and downs, and we don’t always get what we want. But maybe everybody can be recognized, encouraged, and praised for showing up and trying, or for improving, or even for quitting! When my daughter quit basketball or piano or French class or school, I praised her for knowing what she loved and what she didn’t love, and I praised her for trying, even if it wasn’t the right fit and the thing she wanted to continue to pursue. And I helped her find the right fit, whenever possible. (I still owe her a violin, by the way, because that was the right fit, but I couldn’t afford that fit and promised she would get one “someday”.)
I think that letting what naturally flows out from our hearts is usually beautiful. Even when it is messy and complicated and not perfect, I still think what flows naturally is beautiful. I’m in the minority with this view, I know. Most of the people I know consider humanity flawed or cursed or sinful, and we just keep striving to be not that or better than that for a lifetime. I don’t see it that way. I think that humanity is stifled and broken and cut off from the beauty that naturally flows by competitions and bigotries and selfish motives that we learn over time.
Think about what you wanted to be when you were a child. A fireman? Superman? A doctor? A mom? Not many of us would have said “a ruthless investment banker who works himself or herself to death”. But some of us turn out to be just that.
So, what if our earliest notions of self are actually the purest, but society convinces us that they are not, by pitting us against one another, and telling us that some of us win and some of us lose?
That thinking is very evident in recent weeks. I’ve literally had people say to me that I am the loser in the game of healthcare. And what I lose is my health and possibly my life. (Can I at least get a fucking participation trophy before I die, asshole?!) The idea that some of us win and some of us lose, and that we don’t need to change that because it is the natural order, is one that devastates many, and allows us to harm others without conscience. That is a terrible idea to foster and encourage!
So why can’t we do that opposite?
What is the worst that could happen, if we encouraged all the kids to dance? What is the worst that could happen if the world had 80 million firefighters? What is the worst that could happen if all the 2nd graders were acknowledged for something they loved?
Today, I’m thinking that we should all just let our creativity flow—whatever that means for us. I would love to see rivers of creating in the streets, and not rivers of blood caused by all sorts of violence. I would also love money to be attracted to me, and have cash flow mimic that creative flow, but that is a secondary goal.
So, tonight, despite my aching joints and without having the results of my lumbar spine MRI to diagnose a reason not to, I am going to dance. And should a piano find a way up my stairs, I might pound on that passionately, even if my family members could hear. And I will likely put my newly cleaned studio to use one day soon and layer some non-scrapbook related paper together to create some art.
Because writing this has definitely helped—even if my bank balance stays the same. It has helped me to see and understand those blocks, and to begin on a path that removes them. It has helped me to once again claim the title. I am an artist!