This made me cry. Thank you, Dad, for sending me something so beautiful.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Do yourself a favor and read this article by Austin Kleon — essential advice for artists of all types.
There are no words to describe how beautiful this is:
If you are a creative person, you really owe it to yourself to take twenty minutes to watch this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity.
Elizabeth Gilbert — the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” who I have had an intellectual crush on for awhile now — discusses the tendency for very creative people to get consumed or psychologically overwhelmed by the very act of doing what they feel they were put on this Earth to do — create art. Her solution? We should consider the notion that instead of people BEING geniuses, perhaps we are just here to provide a channel for genius to flow through. She says:
You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.
This talk blew my mind.
I completely agree. Completely. We have a hard enough time as a species with all of the problems and worry that we try to reassign to ourselves from others, and that alone is psychologically crippling. In this culture, we’re supposed to navigate through our own worry, doubt, and insecurity while also juggling our kids’, parents’, coworkers’, and others’ feelings and issues. Now think about if, on top of all that, that the thing that owned a large portion of your mind and soul — your art — if that thing you felt called to do above all others suddenly became a giant litmus test to judge your self-worth against. “I created genius once, so I can do it again — but better.”
It’s a lot of pressure.
One of my recent posts dealt with this same issue. I had written,
God, after getting so excited about this new piece, I suffered the most severe bout of ego-death I’ve ever experienced. For the first time EVER in my life, I questioned whether I was meant to be a dancer. What purpose does it serve? I had a moment where I thought, ‘Maybe I’m never going to get to the point where I can create something significant, no matter how hard I try.’
It’s a pretty shitty feeling. It’s a big, big responsibility feeling like you have the ability to connect with something profound, and wondering why you can’t always access it. Gilbert said it best:
In Spain, when a performer has done something impossible and magic, “Allah, ole, ole, Allah, magnificent, bravo,” incomprehensible, there it is — a glimpse of God. Which is great, because we need that. But, the tricky bit comes the next morning, for the dancer himself, when he wakes up and discovers that it’s Tuesday at 11 a.m., and he’s no longer a glimpse of God. He’s just an aging mortal with really bad knees, and maybe he’s never going to ascend to that height again. And maybe nobody will ever chant God’s name again as he spins, and what is he then to do with the rest of his life? This is hard. This is one of the most painful reconciliations to make in a creative life.
I have never been a religious person. I was raised without any real mention of if there was a God or some greater being. And honestly, I’m not really sure I buy into the whole “supreme being” thing. In my later years, though, I have begun to sense some sort of underlying current or energy in how life marches forward, and I have absolutely no idea how to characterize it, identify it, or even talk about it.
But it doesn’t really matter, does it? Maybe this is just something outside my realm of comprehension. But what I DO understand, what I am familiar and acquainted with, is the feeling of connection something greater than myself through those rare moments of true surrender to dance. And in those moments, I feel something flow out of me that I simply can’t identify and, as a result, can’t take credit for.
When Gilbert shared Ruth Stone’s and Tom Waits’ stories on how art came to them, I felt an eerie connection.Yes, I have left a meal before to visit the restroom because I HAD to try to dance out a combination before the knowledge of it left me. Yes, when driving on long trips, portions of choreography will drift past me as I hear the music, and if you were to pass me on the highway, I would be frantically dancing in my seat.
Every artist has a very unique relationship with their art. I’m not going to assume I know how any other artist relates to his or her work, but I can tell you what it is like when I create. This talk inspired me to go through some old journals and things I’ve written. I stumbled across this journal from April that I wrote right after coming home from the dance studio:
“When I drove up, the doors to the building were wide open. It felt like a sign. It felt like a hug.
I walked into the studio. I opened my computer, didn’t bother to set up my camera like I usually do; I just put on my dance playlist and closed my eyes.
I felt the music in the very center of my bones. It curled through my toes and it prickled my scalp. I began to stretch.
And as I stretched every muscle, tendon, and ligament in my body, I loosened up. I let go. I gave my body completely to the music and just stretched. The stretching began to morph into movement, and then it melted into dance. There was no thought.
It felt so good. It felt intimate. I felt vulnerable. I felt like I was with a partner that knew every single way to make my body feel good…”
In that moment, I felt a connection and I felt like a channel for something slightly greater than myself. I go so far as to compare it to another PERSON that I’m dancing with. You can go ahead and think what I wrote was weird and creepy, but honestly, that’s what I felt. (And it’s my blog, dammit. I’ll write about what I want.)
Now, was what I danced that day pure, raw, genius that was the best thing belly dancing has ever seen and will ever hope to see? Oh, hell no. I am still training my body to be capable of expressing what I need to say. I have a lot of work to do. But Gilbert reminds me that moments like are to remind me that if I continue to work hard, if I continue to train, if I continue to put MY contribution into creating art — training and maintaining my instrument, my body — then maybe someday genius will visit me and I can really make something to share.
I’ll end with Elizabeth Gilbert again, since I’m not a writer, I’m a dancer.
And what I have to, sort of keep telling myself when I get really psyched out about that, is, don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Ole!” And if not, do your dance anyhow. And “Ole!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it. “Ole!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.
““If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’” Emile Zola
I hate New Year’s resolutions. Every year I set three or four completely unreasonable expectations for myself (“I will never eat chocolate again”; “I’m going to go to the gym every day”; “…I suppose I could limit my Taco Bell visits to once every two days?”), and each year I last three days or so before I mess up and then say, “To hell with it!” (Cut to Megan, sitting depressed on her futon, chasing a Crunchwrap Supreme with an entire box of Fannie Mae).
Furthermore, resolutions have an inherently negative nature — “What’s wrong with you THIS year? What do you want to fix?” No, thanks. I have resolved to be done with negativity (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Goals are great, I’m not knocking that — I just feel like our culture takes an inherently positive thing — self-improvement — and interprets it all wrong. Besides resolutions seeming to always have a negative flavor to them, it always seems like there’s a lot of talk, and little action. And it makes sense why SO many resolutions fail and why so many people don’t act on their resolutions. Many resolutions go against months — and sometimes years — of habitual behavior to the contrary. Getting into a daily exercise routine, for example, after two years of limited activity is a DRASTIC departure from your old habits, and therefore can be very difficult.
Please don’t walk away with the idea that I am saying, “Don’t make resolutions, because you’re going to fail.” I’m saying that maybe the problem is in HOW we set New Year’s resolutions.
So I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions this year.
Instead, I’m going to do some Old Year’s reflections. Instead of resolutions, I am going to analyze 2009 in its entirety, see what I’ve learned, and see what I want to bring into 2010 and what should just stay with 2009.
Want to try? Here’s what I’m doing:
1) CREATE A YEAR IN REVIEW
I found it enormously helpful last year to write down, month by month, what happened in my year. Old calendars, datebooks, etc. are helpful in remembering. Besides being kind of fun — I tend to forget some things I’ve done — sometimes you can spot patterns when looking at your year as a whole. Here’s my 2009:
January: Working at the Columbia Tribune, one of my favorite jobs ever. Was a flamenco dancer in the MLK breakfast in town! Found out I got the job as the Bellydance Superstars merchandiser.
February/March: Touring the US with BDSS. Completely changed my life. Drove a Penske truck across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Delware, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. THEN I had to drive the truck from Detroit to L.A.
April: Flew to California to get Level II certified in the Suhaila format — also life-changing. It was physically and emotionally one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Worked and auditioned for BDSS at Raqs LA.
May: Went to Japan and Canada with BDSS!
June: Worked Raqs America in Washington, D.C. for BDSS… decided I needed to be focusing on training, and decided to leave the merchandise post. It was a hard decision — the BDSS gang is an awesome bunch. Asharah workshop!
July: A lotta sitting around.
August: Got second place in the Pro Tribal Soloist category at the MAQAM bellydance competiton in Chicago. Started Odissi lessons!
September: Eco Art Fest in Columbia, started teaching classes in Jefferson City.
October: Burlesque show in Kirksville with Lola van Ella, St. Louis Burlesque fest, AMY SIGIL WORKSHOP! GREAT month.
November: Artica fundraiser show — Love and Loss in One Act. Went to Florida to visit my grandpa. Planned trip for January to study with AMY SIGIL!
December: Training, training, training, creating, training… preparing for Amy Sigil and 2010.
I still remember it — in December 2008, I became convinced that “2009 was going to be my year” — that something amazing would happen. And looking back… I had a heck of a year. A lot of positive growth, a lot of travel, a lot of new opportunities and new acquaintances.
I learned some hard lessons. I’ve learned living life on the road and touring is an experience that you can try to explain to someone, but it’s hard to understand how simultaneously awesome and difficult it is unless you’ve done it yourself. I learned that people sometimes represent someone they’re not. I’ve learned how it feels to be physically and emotionally drained — and how powerful you feel when you overcome it. I’ve learned that the more I connect with the universe and the more good energy I put out, the more good the universe sends my way. I’ve learned that experiences aren’t “good” or “bad”, necessarily — they are an opportunity to grow and learn. I’ve learned that the best judge of my self-worth is myself.
3) TAKE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED… AND APPLY IT.
- I’ve learned that I really love traveling. I would definitely tour again, if given the opportunity. I hope in 2010 I get more opportunities to do so — and I should pursue those opportunities.
- Through all of my adventures in 2009, I have had some really important people in my life to help me through it. I’ve learned I am very empathetic, and I absorb people’s energies. Therefore, in 2010, I want to invest time in my relationships that manifest good energy — people that care about me and people that I would do anything for. I’m done with toxic people. I’m so fortunate to have so many caring, wonderful people in my life, and I want to give my time and energy to them.
- The highlights of my 2009 are mostly centered around (surprise, surprise) dancing. I feel happiest when I am dancing. I want to earn more opportunities to pursue what I love in 2010 by training hard, nourishing my body to feel good and healthy, and by constantly focusing on creating positive energy.
4) GIVE THANKS FOR WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN.
I am so fortunate to get to do what I love so frequently. I’m grateful that I have had so many people help me through tough times — thank you. I’m grateful I got to travel and see a larger scope of the world. I’m grateful that I have been released from commitments that could have prevented me from pursuing my future. I’m grateful for a wonderful, supportive family. I’m grateful for Amy Sigil, Asharah, and everyone in BDSS, since they have changed the way I am pursuing belly dance. I’m grateful that people are reading my blog 🙂
Happy almost New Year, everyone. 2010 is going to be one hell of a year.
Thank you, Ashley Bennett!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
— Originally written by Marianne Williamson; spoken, most notably, by Nelson Mandela.
My Christmas last year was spent circling over Chicago in a plane, unable to land because of fog, and ultimately flying back directly where I came from — Memphis (Columbia Regional Airport flies to the Memphis hub).
While I was grumpily eating Burger King in the Memphis airport, I missed a very cool family moment — my sister (who managed to make it home) and my mom ended up making vision boards. Vision boards are essentially collages with visual representations — pictures of yourself where you’re healthy and happy, magazine cut-outs of places you want to visit, a snapshot of a person who possesses attributes you admire — of goals you want to accomplish and things you want to be reminded of year-round.
I was talking to my sister recently about her vision board, and she told me that most of the things she had put on her vision board had actually had come to pass. And it got me thinking:
The longer I live, the more I see that we have the power to manifest what we want in life. If we work hard, put positive energy out into the universe and trust that our lives are unfolding exactly as they should, there is no way we can be defeated, even if seemingly bad things happen to us. I don’t spend enough time appreciating the present. I have spent too much of my life brooding about the past or worrying about the future, and I refuse to do it anymore. I’ll be the first to admit it — I have played the victim card before. And it really doesn’t change anything or make me feel better. So new strategy: Anytime I want to feel sorry for myself or play victim to what is happening to me, I am now trying to see the positive in it, roll with it, and keep my eyes focused on enjoying life NOW. As a good friend said to me recently, “You could die TOMORRROW. Do you really want to spend your last days on Earth worrying?”
I can’t tell you how much happier I have been lately, just living in the present. It was incredibly hard for me to do at first — bad habits are hard to kick — but the more I try to practice this every day, the better I feel and the more natural it becomes.
I feel like a vision board might really help me not distract myself with the past or future — it will manifest positive energy while still forcing me to live in the present. Think about it– what if I created a visual representation of all that I want to accomplish, place it somewhere where I see it constantly, and every time I see it, I visualize it happening and put good energy in the universe? I see it as a very powerful tool.
So, in the next few days, I am going to create a vision board, and I am going to make sure to include elements that relate to the project I am working on. Every day I am going to remind myself what my goals are and where I want to end up… and I am going to live every day in the present, focusing on making those goals happen.
The other goal that I am starting this week and continuing through my month of creativity expands off of the idea of the vision board. This month, I am surrounding myself with inspiration. I plan on seeing as many plays, exhibits, and concerts as possible. I am going to read as many books as I can. I am finally going to put something on the walls of my house that have been empty for a year.
I’m off to a good start — I saw a Japanese dance exhibition today, and right now I’m off to see “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which is the musical that we have been designing costumes for for the past few weeks at work (I work in a costume shop at a performing arts college).
I think one of the best ways to tackle a new goal is (as others on the message board have mentioned) to set small, managable goals that you can slowly turn into positive habits. So my mini-goal is this: surround yourself with inspiration. Anyone taking part in the experiment can do the same — invest in a fruit bowl and some new cookbooks, check out some books on meditation, or buy a new piece for your altar. I challenge you to think of a way to surround yourself with positive inspiration for whatever goal you’re tackling.