I am writing this blog, computer on my lap, in a near-empty apartment. For the third time in three years, we’re on the move again. This time, thankfully, it’s just across town. My desk is gone, the chairs are gone, and I can’t even find a pen.
Last year, during another major move, friends and family volunteered to help me clear out my house, jammed with 16 years of possessions. I know it was frustrating to them when I dropped everything to focus on my blog. Would anyone even miss it if it didn’t appear for that one week?
Now again, it’s tempting to skip my blog during this very busy time. But I’ve learned an important lesson over the course of my life. Creativity is not something that lies waiting to be discovered when we have time for it. It’s a muscle we must exercise, day in and day out.
I began writing when my daughter was two, under very challenging conditions. There I was, frantically trying to meet a deadline, a squirmy little girl on my lap saying, “Let me type too, Mummy. Let me type too.” A few years later when I moved to a real office, it got no easier. My desk was in a hallway, right beside a bathroom door that was opening and closing all day long. I learned to ignore everything and sink into the world I was creating on my computer screen.
People spend their whole lives dreaming about the book they’ll write, the paintings they’ll create, or the plays they’ll perform. They wait until they’re a little less busy or a little more prosperous.
Some even postpone the most creative act of all. My husband and I had our kids under challenging conditions and struggled to raise them. Many times, we had to rely on the help of other people. But had we waited to have enough money or enough time, we wouldn’t have those children today. Of all our blessings, they are the greatest.
Besides, when it comes to creativity, stress is a good thing. One of my favourite activities is whipping up a meal when the fridge is empty. My proudest moment came when all I had were a few scallions, a little milk and cheese, and some frozen squid. It was a dish to die for. It’s the same with art. Challenge yourself to do something great with the limited resources at hand.
Why should creativity be just for people with time and money anyhow? It is true that celebrities seem to have cornered the market on art these days.They act and write children’s books and design clothing and narrate documentaries. (Sean Penn even delved into investigative journalism, with disastrous results.) Is it because they have more opportunities than we do or because they pursue art more ardently than the rest of us? I don’t know the answer to that one. I do know that if we relinquish the field to them, something is lost in our lives and in our world.
Think of all the great singers who are pouring out their voices in church choirs, the inspired actors whose only stage is a community theatre, and the visual artists who run cooperative galleries. They will never know the world’s adulation. Yet they continue to offer up their art to the few who will receive it. And we are all richer for it.
What if the key to happiness is not genius and inspiration, but grit? “My family may not value my art. The world certainly doesn’t value my art. But darn it, I’m just going to keep on producing it. Because being a singer, a writer, or a sculptor is just who I am.”
Creativity, after all, is not something that other people have. The people who do these things are simply those who make them a priority. We must allow ourselves the freedom and the time to begin. In doing so, we give others the right to do the same.
What is it that you’re longing to do? Stop waiting for the stars to align, the children to grow up, or the retirement cheque to arrive. Maybe you haven’t even discovered your passion yet. In that case, start experimenting. Take a class, join a group. Tell your family you’re off to try wind surfing. They’ll thank you for it later, when their own time comes to throw off constraints and feel the wind in their hair.
When I began writing last night, I didn’t know if there was a blog post in my head or not. All I knew was, there have been 48 others that also came out of nowhere. Trust the process, trust the process, trust the process. It’s all we can do in these years of living backwards.
Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.
“As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou—my first novel—I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.“