Creative Block

I’ve spent years battling creative block. When I cannot create, I think back to times when I could and how creativity would flow from me like water. I spent years not really creating (unless you count epic birthday parties for my kids, papier mâché creatures for their teachers or awesome halloween costumes for anyone who asked). I was hard on myself because that is my normal operative functionality. My self-esteem is always low, so not creating was simply proof that I am not the creative person I hoped to be.

In my career, none of my jobs have been in the creative industry. My deep belief that I could not earn a living being creative kept me from pursuing jobs that I would have loved and always made me feel as an outsider in the jobs I had. I could not help myself from thinking through an idea from all angles, from providing constructive criticism and from voicing my ‘alternative’ ideas. Sometimes it worked, but often it didn’t, adding to my insecurities and often ruffling feathers of bosses and co-workers.

It wasn’t until I started working with old folks on a demonstration project (to provide independently housed seniors more wellness opportunities as a means of keeping them healthy and independent longer) that I felt that I was able to use my creativity. I ‘led’ an art club. I was terrified of calling it an art class. The participants had an average age of 86, they had various mobility, vision and cognitive issues but many came each week to create art. I facilitated rather than taught. I was terrified of trying to teach when I hadn’t picked up a brush in many years. Over nearly four years, I saw many artists come and go and our core group continue to work as best they could. It forced me to sit back and just think about art and the things that I responded to. I started a Pinterest board of art that I liked. I just looked, without self-judgement or criticism. I looked up artists, I read their stories. I even went through my BFA grad class to see who was still painting (not many were). I spent time filling my mind with beautiful work.

I decided to start painting again when I learned of my sister-in-law’s cancer diagnosis. Sandra Alfoldy was an inspirational woman. She was a art history professor who studied the fine-craft movement. She gave a TED Talk on the use of the word ‘artisanal’ in marketing. She was a loving mother and a beloved friend. Her whole world was as perfect as I could imagine, but then she got a terminal diagnosis. I looked at my life and felt angry that I was hiding from the things I wanted to do. I used to tell people that I was a ‘lapsed artist’ like it was something cute, but really I was an unhappy, lonely, unfulfilled middle-aged woman who once had an interesting life ahead. I made steps to change that.

My first paintings were tough. I had in mind where I wanted to be and I knew that I had to work hard and get better. This past 18 months I have pushed myself and learned a lot, but I still know that there is a long journey ahead.

Today, I was listening to Q on CBC Radio. Tom Power was interviewing Peter Frampton. I normally roll my eyes at aging classic rockers, but I was deeply drawn in and moved by his words. Frampton has a degenerative disease that will one day take away the use of his hands. He is working hard to get as much new music out as he can. He says that he wants to go to sleep each night having learnt something new. He also quoted Bob Dylan, who also suffered from creative block. He said that Bob realized that at times, there is only ‘input’ but no ‘output’. During the input phase, you listen, you look, you read, you learn. Output comes when there is no more room to add ideas, when it arrives, it flows like water.

Be kind to yourselves!

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