Creative, Part 3
Does anyone else ever feel like there's an unwritten rule somewhere that says in order to be a real grownup you have to leave your creative dreams behind and get down to business? Stop living in a dreamworld, get your head out of the clouds and get to work? If you do follow your creative impulses, you should only do it behind closed doors, when the workday is done, the kids are tucked in bed, all the laundry folded and the house spotless, so that your self indulgences don't detract from your ability to perform your adult responsibilities.
This issue seems universal to creative, working women and men, stay-at-home moms and dads, virtually everyone who feels the push and pull of self-fulfillment vs. self-sacrifice. In my own experience, I am aware of an underlying logical fallacy that sets fulfillment and responsibility at odds with one another: if I find fulfillment in doing something creative, I also feel guilty for doing it because it probably comes at the expense of my family and children. If I choose to get out my fiddle or spend an evening recording or writing instead of taking my kids to the park or cleaning up the lunch dishes or waging war on the toys that have launched a full scale offensive against my living room floor and the bottoms of my feet, I feel as though I've chosen myself - my hopes and (day?)dreams and wants - over my real job.
For me, the trouble is twofold. In the first place, we live in a world that assigns value according to a very superficial, subjective critera. The world in which we live says art for art's sake is basically a self-indulgent waste of time. Artistic expression that doesn't find an audience or generate more than a couple dollars worth of income can't be that good, right? Show us the money! (Or the glowing critique or the published manuscript or whatever other form of achievement we use to define artistic success.) I have addressed this issue in Creative, Part 1 and Creative, Part 2 , exploring the notion that placing value on outcome over process is very destructive to any creative enterprise. But there is an issue that is even more basic than this one: is it true that my efforts at creative expression and fulfillment take away from my ability to perform my adult responsibilities? Does the fact that I'm a songwriter hinder my ability to show up wholeheartedly in the rest of my life? Am I a selfish mom because I continue to work on my projects, even projects that are worth a mere $2.02?
Once again, it's all backwards. I'm looking at my abilities in terms of my limitations. I'm acting as though my resources are finite and can never be replenished, as if investing creatively gives me less to offer everywhere else. I forget that artistic expression actually replenishes my resources, and infuses my daily life with a sense of hope and purpose and joy. What if...what if my creativity actually makes me better at my job? What if it makes me a better mom? What if it enriches my experience with the world, and that enrichment spills over into every area of my life? I know a very wise and wonderful preacher who says that a life of faith looks like running downhill. He says faith brings freedom, and when we are free we do whatever our hands find to do. We wake up every day and live. I don't know about you, but there's not a lot of room for self-doubt when I'm running downhill. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other, looking back with surprise and exhilaration about how far I've come. What if that's true about creativity too? What if I am really free to be myself, a songwriter with ideas and daydreams and deadlines, even in the middle of the busy grind of adult life and responsibility? And what if being my very own authentic self actually makes me a better wife, mom, friend, sister, daughter, worker, person?
So you see, when I ask if I can afford to be creative at the expense of being productive, I am asking the wrong question. If my goal is to be myself -- to occupy the unique space in the world that only I can fill -- I can't afford not to be creative.