Finding Your Lost Creativity: The Artist’s Way

I used to be creative. That’s what I tell myself and other people when they ask why I don’t make music anymore. Or write. Or draw.

Creativity seem to come naturally for you, they say. But I tend to focus on my creative hobbies when my mental state exceeds a certain threshold level of anxiety.

That threshold needs greater than or equal to the level of discomfort felt while partaking in said hobby and not immediately being good at it. I used to play music in a band, until college took over my life and the work of writing melodies became a task I could barely handle because I was stretched so thin.

When my cat disappeared a couple of months ago, I went out and bought jewelry making supplies. For days, when I wasn’t obsessively refreshing the found pet ads, I was head down, furrowed brow, twisting copper wire into braided hoop earrings and delicate Starfleet insignia shapes.

That place of flow and creativity was a distraction from my otherwise overwhelming pain. I didn’t feel anxiety about whether it was good enough.

With emotional distress comes a flurry of piano keys, fluid sketches emerging from drawing skills long-neglected.

But when the overpowering overwhelm of everyday life dies down, that creative place looms distant and forbidding. I hear its echoes in the fragments of song recorded on my phone, see its shadows in the longhand scrawls of verse in the notebooks gathering dust on the bookshelves.

It never sticks. Why doesn’t it stick?

When the overwhelm dies down, I turn to focusing on my career: learning things that deep down don’t fill me with joy; doing things that feel good to check off my to-do list but feel extraneous; performing tasks that don’t scratch my itch for for purposeful living.

I’ve started taking small steps toward once again embracing creativity for creativity’s sake. Because it’s healthy, right? It’s like an apple a day for your soul.

A creative act each day keeps the mental breakdown away. Or that’s what I’m hoping for, since I’ve been dealing with mood swings and crying episodes from feeling a lack of purpose.

The Artist’s Way Saves the Day

Taking advice from the book The Artist’s Way, I’m working on writing three stream-of-consciousness pages in the morning. Sometimes I write two. Sometimes I skip a day for lack of brain functioning. But I’m getting better at it, and it seems to clarify my day’s purpose and guide me toward what I want to and should be working on.

“Art allow us to live freely, even within our restlessness…”

— Julia Cameron, Walking in this World

I picked up a copy of Walking in this World, a sequel of the Artist’s Way, on my weekly trip to the library. Skimming it has felt like a cup of (mock) chicken soup for the soul.

Julia Cameron encourages actively seeking sources of inspiration to use in your creative journey, and her books are full of exercises to help guide your purpose. Her cornerstones of artistic activity include the Morning Pages, and weekly Artist Dates and Walks.

“As artists, it serves us to consciously find windows to the world of wonder — we must locate places that open the trapdoor in our imagination and allow the breath of greater worlds to enter our too-claustrophobic lives.”

— Julia Cameron, Walking in this World

The Artists Date is an expedition to a place that interests and inspires you. It can be a thrift store, a pet store, a park you’ve been wanting to visit, or even just a trip to the art supply store to geek out over pencils.

I feel like I’ve been doing these for years with my weekly solo trips to the library or thrift store. But I feel the need to branch out and find other inspiring locales, like a tea shop, or the Japanese gardens I’ve been wanting to explore, or the Buddhist temples I’ve been longing to visit. There was something otherworldly about the first and last temple I visited, with its powerful wafting incense and soul-vibrating chants, that I want to experience again.

The weekly walks are meditative and allow you synthesize and clarify your thoughts. Especially now that it’s fall and the world smells like damp soil and crisp rain, and every day feels like it’s been borne out of a Tor Lundvall painting, I find these more inspirational than ever.

Art by Tor Lundvall

Moving Forward

I hope to be able to fill this blog with doodles, writings, and other expressions of creativity as I learn to prioritize it above the day-to-day grind. Now I’m interested to know what your creative passions are, and how you manage to you manage to keep your creativity alive in spite of a demanding 9-5 work schedule. Please leave me a note in the comments!

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The Complexity of Simplicity

Have you ever picked up a book at random and been surprised when it feels like it was written just for you? And not just for you. For you at this precise moment in your life.

You can flip to any page and find a passage that speaks to your soul.

That’s how I feel about The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

I found myself at the library ten minutes before closing time on Sunday and the flashing lights signaling for patrons to pack up and check out got my adrenaline going.

I usually give myself more time, and I needed a book like a drug to take the edge off my anxiety. So I went around grabbing stacks of paper and pushing them into my tattered reusable grocery bag.

And that’s how Wendell Berry, a name I’d heard before but never experienced, made his way onto the teetering stack of books on my nightstand.

His poems touch on subjects that have been weighing heavily on me lately…
The transitory nature of life and the world. The mechanization of work and how it distances us from feeling human. Contentment and simplicity.

He paints beautiful scenes and landscapes colored by his experience working as a farmer.

This summary from the back of the book is beautiful and accurate: “…Berry’s play of sound and syntax moves in our minds like something just remembered, and remains with us like an afterimage on the eye.”

Full disclosure: I’m not usually one to skim through or read books of poetry, but there’s so much depth and beauty between these pages that I feel like it needs to be shared.

Nothing is simple,
not even simplification.
Thus, throwing away
the mail, I exchange
the complexity of duty
for the simplicity of guilt.
— Throwing Away the Mail, Wendell Berry

You can find the book on Amazon. Or, even better, request it from your local library.

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