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.