Sunday, February 22, 2009

Demons and Resistance

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

How appropriate that after my whining and moaning a couple of days ago, I finally got around to watching Zack Arias’ video that he posted as guest blogger at Scott Kelby's Photoshop Insider. The introduction is silly. That’s fine and fun, at first, but it goes on a bit too long—to the point that I almost gave up. I’m glad I stuck with it. There is so much in the video that resonates with me.

For one thing, I typically struggle with deep and protracted funks in winter. To compound matters, this winter has been a long one for me. I don’t mean just in terms of this funk, but simply far more winter weather than I am accustomed to. Day after day of cold weather (cold to thin-blooded me, at least); too many days with gray, leaden skies; and, dull landscapes untouched by sunlight. We won’t even go into the infernal, inescapable wind. (Note to self: Learn, someday, about this irrational aversion to the wind. Why does it stir in me some mysterious sense of dread, some feeling of disconnected-ness? Why do I identify so much with the trees and the bushes that may manage to remain standing, but look so battered, as they bend and writhe from the incessant flogging? Okay, so I exaggerate for the drama, but we have a great deal more wind here than what I have ever experienced, and it’s not my favorite feature of nature.)

This year’s funk is compounded by the fact that I am still adjusting to not being who I was such a short time ago. I am no longer the passionate teacher who guided and nurtured actors while they engaged the gods of creativity. I no longer enjoy the deep satisfaction that comes from watching actors blossom as they smash through old blocks and soar into new territory. That’s not to say that I didn’t fight my own demons of creativity, as I worked hard to be a more effective teacher. But, I had grown accustomed to those demons. I had wrestled with them for thirty years by the time I retired. We had a decent relationship. They persisted in torturing me, and I never stopped punching back. I even came to know and respect the demons as my allies. They kept me sharp, and never let me even flirt with complacency. Still, every day when I opened my eyes, I knew exactly who I was, and why I was still here.

Now, I have a new collection of demons. I’m not the teacher. I am the student. Certainly, some of these little devils are from the same family as the aforementioned pack, and it’s not as if these fiends are strangers to me. Before I taught full time in Los Angeles, I had faced these critters as an actor. I am familiar with the battle plan. Furthermore, I am an old hand at identity crises. Going from being a strong, healthy, hyper-independent female to one severely limited and needing far more help than I was comfortable asking for—that was an identity crisis. But, that brings me back to another element of Zach’s video that hits a nerve. (Are you following? I know that I am zigging and zagging a lot here.) Way back then as a struggling actor—even after I took that tumble that changed my life, I was younger and stronger and life stretched ahead of me with no discernible end. I wallowed in the false comfort and certainty of unending opportunity to “get it right”. I had not yet begun to face my mortality. Now, there is a demon that will get your attention. This funk is a mean one, and it is attended by a horde of nasty and persistent questions.

Before I wrap up this will-it-ever-end post, I want to clarify that while I am writing about these questions from the perspective of someone engaging in the creative process, I firmly believe that many of these are life questions, human being questions, not just artist issues. I have no doubt that I would be agonizing over similar matters, regardless of how I spent my time. Many of my questions are given urgency for me because I am also going through the all too common dual identity crises of retiring and aging. I have compounded the questions by reengaging in the creative process from an old perspective, but one with which I had, over the years, lost some familiarity. Along with the spring in my step, I’m just plain missing a step or two when it comes to this still new to me dance.

While I am in this questioning phase, I have benefitted greatly by being part of a generous community, and I'm grateful for that. Paul Lester, for example, posted some wise and extremely helpful words on doing the work that attracted several more insightful comments. Gordon may get credit for reigniting this issue with a recent post. Paul was also thoughtful enough to leave some invaluable reminders in comments on my last post. He reminded me of an important lesson that I sometimes “forget to remember”. This battle against Resistance has reliable rules of engagement. As much as we aspire to finally wrestling the gods of creativity into submission, we will never succeed. For me that means that each time we confront the creative process, we find ourselves—consciously or unconsciously—grappling with ourselves and the questions inside us. Too often, the answers don't come easily. More significantly, the answers aren’t always ones that we like. I believe it was Jay Maisel who was asked by a young photographer how he could make his photos more interesting, and Jay responded, “Become a more interesting person.” Ouch. That one gets my attention.

Because we reveal ourselves in every act of creation—there is no place to hide—this is part of the risk, the struggle to create is about so much more than striving to meet technical standards. It’s about facing who we are, what we value, what we are doing, or have so far done with our lives, what we have seen and learned, what we have to say, and for some of us what we have to say, after being around this long. As the years go by, facing those questions shakes your branches and tests your roots with just a bit more fury.

Hmmm. It’s the wind thing again, isn’t it? I seem to have stumbled upon at least part of the answer to one of my questions.


  1. Or we all could stop whining and just got on with it? (directed more at myself than at your post)

    The Jay Maisel quote picks up on something I went back and forth with for a while - what to photograph. But the flip side of his statement is the truth that everyone is already inherently interesting, their life is unique, even if they don't yet realise it.

    Maybe as a former teacher of creativity, struggling with the transition, you need to find a new group of people struggling to learn how to be more creative - I wonder where you might find them?

    btw - were you in an A-team episode? Now that would be interesting...

  2. You are still the same person you were before only better today.

    You probably are like most of us which includes me, and we are always in a state of learning and therefore are still students.

    For me, sometimes a poor student.

    Please remember that with society and the media, at least with our culture, has a way of telling you that your only a success if you are on the front covers of Life or whatever magazine.

    This is just plain false and over a period of time will only erode your self confidence.

    Try and find time to do the things you really love and the creativity will just flow naturally.

    I always enjoy your words and images.

    Niels Henriksen

  3. Gordon - Wow. There's enough in your comment to chew on for quite some time. Thanks for being there.

    The beauty of buckling down and writing about these things is that it always clears the mess in my head—at least temporarily. Shortly after posting my whine, I was ready to get back to work. It seems that sometimes I just need to identify what's stirring around in me, before I can move forward.

    I like your response to Maisel's quote and that gets to the heart of all this, doesn't it?

    As for the A-Team, was it a good performance? If so, it was me. If not, I never heard of that show. Why interesting? I'm intrigued.

  4. Niels - Thank you for your kind words and encouragement.

    Heavens, if I were to set my sights on getting satisfaction as a photographer by earning accolades from others, I would be in for a long, unhappy rest-of-life. While I often regret not having taken up photography years ago (it would be lovely to have already worked out a lot of the technical things that I'm still working on), I am not looking for another career. Truth is, I love the learning process. If I had the energy at this stage of life, no telling what else I would be trying to learn.

    I always enjoy your "lessons". I don't know if you think of your posts as such, but I learn a great deal and appreciate the time that you invest and the knowledge that you share. Thanks.

  5. on the buckling down and dumping all the thoughts on to a blog /page - that's very much in keeping with the morning pages thing I wrote about at the weekend. Some days my scribblings in my notebook are all self-indulgent 'why me', 'poor little me' ramblings. Once I get that out of my head, onto a page, I often find something more interesting stirring behind it. If I hadn't written it down, I'd still be spinning my mental heels.

  6. Gordon - Exactly. This on-line journal works better for me than morning pages did. That's just my experience. I know many people for whom the morning pages have been effective. Writing for this jounal somehow forces me to be more specific, since i can't write just for me. I have to try to be specific enough to communicate the thoughts and feelings to a reader. Frequently, I write posts that never go on-line and often, after I post one of my "see how I suffer" posts, I wonder if it should have been one of the ones left in my personal files.

    I love your phrase "spinning my mental heels". That says it perfectly. Sometimes dumping stops the spinning for me and I get a glimmer of what's behind it. And then, sometimes the dump accelerates the spin and that can end up being positive as well. It's a heck of a ride, isn't it?

    What? You're giving up on the A Team so easily?

  7. These guys are a hard act to follow, so I really have nothing to say! Well, except, that I agree with them. :-) I need to get here sooner so that I can have something worthwhile to say.

  8. Any idea what is behind "the winter funk". It seems to affect most everyone myself included.

    I suspect it has something to do with not being as active outside. Maybe we need better indoor activities, giving us something to look forward to every day.

  9. Anita, I'd like to add a few thoughts on resistance that I have wrestled with that might be common to other people. As a youngster I think there was never any resistance to something that was new. There sure was resistance to things that I knew I didn't like.

    Pretty much any activity has aspects that are not likable and I think with age and experience these nastys come to be associated with parts of life and lead to a kind of participation resistance. It's as if the negatives start to impact the positives in our minds if not in reality.

    I have this theory that I have not been able to definitively corroborate. If you can indulge in an activity where the positives far out weigh the negatives then you will always enjoy it.

    An adjunct to this theory, is that almost any activity will at some point become tiring. To counter this effect we must always quit at a point where we still want to continue. Quit while the going is good and we will always want to come back.

  10. Paul-I think a thumbs up on good advice is worth saying. But, just remember: in the future,we will be noticing how early you check in.

  11. Bob-Shoot. Another blog I need to visit regularly. When confronted with posts bearing titles like "Drinkin with My Deer" I begin to think I had better keep up.

    I've always partially blamed my funks on the shorter days and less light, but I think your idea is a good one. It makes sense that reduced physical activity could be signigicant. I do know that I'm not the only one who fights it most years.

    And, you have me mulling over this "quit while the going is good" idea. I know that I tend to work in a rather obsessive manner, failing to take breaks. I think this takes me back to something I threw in one of these recent posts. I forget, too often, to seek balance. Can't get around it.


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