Returning from my morning walk in the desert with the dogs, my neighbor, William, who lives around the corner, stopped to say hello. Every morning he walks his two young children to the school bus stop, a luxury he enjoys thanks to his career as a free lance writer for the sports and entertainment industry. The bulk of his work is magazine articles and marketing for the local baseball team. During the course of our conversation, William leaned in closer to me when he asked about my Monday morning writing group. His eyes sparked as I told him about our timed writings but, when I told him we read our work out loud, he physically drew back, put his hands up as if I had thrown a punch and sputtered, “how intimidating!”
Here is a man who supports his wife and two young children through his writing; rubs elbows with professional baseball players and baseball executives; and holds his own with the movers and shakers in the movie and television industries. Yet, the thought of writing and reading out loud a 10 minute stream of consciousness piece scares the crap out of him. Isn’t that true of all who indulge in the arts? We invest more than time and effort, we invest sweeping amounts of heart and soul into our art, knowing that all who experience our work will, at least for a moment, hold our fragile life in her hands. A roll of the eyes, a single word, even the tone of voice is all it takes to crush our hearts. We know it, yet summon up our courage day after day to offer ourselves to the world. We persevere for we have no choice but to create. With his response, William immediately endeared himself to me as a fellow human being and artist. Although I’ve never knowingly read his work, my gut tells me his writing shines.
How can you tell if your latest creation is great? How can you tell if it’s worth putting out there? Does it make you nervous? Are you sucking in your gut, preparing for the blow of criticism you feel sure is coming? When you hold it in your hands do the butterflies dance a jig in your belly? When you display your latest sketch, or read your piece out loud, does it make you weep or possibly laugh? Then, rest assured you’ve engaged the heart, expressed your humanity, and created something great, even if no one else gets it.
Several years ago I stood in a long line at the Printers Book Fair simply to have author Augusten Burroughs autograph a copy of his latest book. Some folks in line stepped quietly up to him; others managed to coax a smile. A few chatted with him as if they were the best of friends. Mr. Burrough’s writing is brutally honest, at times graphic, and sprinkled with humor. I admire him tremendously and fretted throughout the wait trying to think of something witty to say when I finally stood in front of him. As I placed my newly purchased book on the table, he robotically flipped it open, pen poised in the air as he waited for me to say my name. “Thank you for writing,” popped out of my mouth. He dropped his hand, sat back and looked me straight in the eye and smiled.
If I could, I’d purchase every piece of art and every book ever written and enjoy them to the fullest. But funds are limited, so the most I can offer to all artists and writers is the same thing I offered Augusten Burroughs.
Thank you for creating.
Last summer my friend Sharon and I decided to make our own drums. We both enjoy Shamanic work and drumming is an essential part of that practice. My first drum was small: a piece of cowhide on an 11.5 inch diameter wooden base. It took us two days to complete those first drums and was only accomplished through the assistance of her artistic husband, Jim, kit instructions, and a Youtube video. As with all first attempts, we over-engineered, making it harder than it needed to be, but we were so proud of the end result, especially me! A novice drum-maker was born.
Yesterday, I added the finishing touch to my latest drum, a stylized painting of the sun. This was my sixth drum and already I am thinking of the next one. In addition, I have helped my husband make two drums making a total of eight drums scattered throughout our house. Oops, make that nine, as I neglected to count a store bought drum. I forget that one simply because my homemade drums are so much better than the decorative one.
Why do I need so many drums? Why am I so fascinated with drumming? Why has drumming been such an integral part of almost every indigenous culture since the beginning of humankind? What do Ringo Starr and every other famed drummer know that we don’t know? First, each drum has a different tone. So many things impact the resonance: the size, the type of hide, its thickness, its decoration, even the tension combine to create its song. Second, each one is alive. Hold the drum up to catch the wind and you can hear its voice. In a circle, each drum hears the beat of its neighbor and all attune until discordance becomes fluid.
Music may soothe the soul but drumming revs it up and carries it away to places mythical and magical. My heart entrains with the percussive beat; my muscles start to twitch and bounce to the music. The beat touches something deep inside, buried in the limbic brain, and unleashes a primal freedom. I am the classic definition of an introvert. Each time I had to sing alone in front of my high school choir, my knees and voice quaked so much I could barely squeak out the words. When I would sing along with the car radio, my children would yell “stop signing, Mom.” Yet at our first drumming circle in January, I led the group in a rollicking version of the Cherokee Water Song, chanting and drumming my heart out. I didn’t care if it was good or bad. It simply was. Folks told me later it was the best part of the evening. That’s the beauty of drumming and chanting: all you need is heart.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, my heart is on my mind. Notice I said “my heart” rather than “the heart” for I believe that when it comes to the heart, there is only one way to do it. You have to get personal. You have to dig in, open it up, turn it over, scour out the crud, and get ready for love to pour in. Something or someone may crack it open a bit, but only you and you alone are in charge of getting it ready, like a mother bird feathering her nest in anticipation of new life. I’m getting ready for the February Drum Circle, the circle in the month of the heart. Gathering with my friends, we’ll drum in Love, attraction, sacred union, mirroring and reflection. We’ll allow the drums to purify our hearts and get them ready for new beginnings. I don’t know for sure what that new beginning will bring, but somehow I think another drum begs for creation.
Projects, projects. I am the best at coming up with projects. The new drum I made last week sits in the corner begging for my attention. I plan to craft a design on it, lovingly adorn it with oil paint. The sewing machine gathers dust as it waits for me to settle on a new fabric to recover the chair in the living room. Three gourds, count them – not one, not two, but three! – rest on the side countertop cleaned, cut and scraped. One will be corded, a second will be painted and the third carved and stained. The garden is again full of weeds and the patio needs sweeping. Not to mention the stacks of books waiting to be read, the dogs that require walking, and the husband that needs feeding.
What do all these projects have in common? They are nothing more than distractions to keep me from sitting down to write. Honestly, it’s not the actual process of writing that is difficult. It’s the constant re-writing that sends me to the brink of despair. Not once have I met my writing expectations. When I left Chicago behind and settled myself into Aravaipa Canyon, I had the mistaken idea that I would whip out my first book in a year. In fact, I was so naïve, I actually told the owner of the ranch that I would only be there a year. One year turned into two before book one was finished. You would think I might have learned something from that experience, but no. In November 2012 I sat down to pen book number two and here I sit, one year and two months later, about to begin the third draft. Last April I whooped and hollered that I finished it until I gave it to folks to review. Their feedback sent me down the path of revision, a torturous journey through the next November. Sending it off to a professional editor was a blessing and a curse, for now I know it could be better. So much better. If I’m lucky, it will be finished by year end but I’m not going to hold my breath.
I thought I was doing it wrong. Setting myself up for failure each time I set a deadline or expectation for completion of this book, then sabotaging myself with my distraction projects. Today I realized I needed a new approach. Freedom from expectations. Everything that should be done will be done and when it is supposed to be done. Today I recognized that Creativity has no concept of time. It doesn’t care if it’s a hot, blazing summer or a soft, white winter; doesn’t care if it’s a full moon or mid-day sun. You can sit staring at your computer screen, a blank canvas or a lump of clay for hours on end without a single creative thought coming to mind. Then you’re standing in a long line at the grocery store, begging for the person in front of you to hurry up because you’ve got to find the ladies room before you burst, when wham! You catch a snippet of conversation, someone drops a carton of eggs, or two lovers quarrel the next aisle over. And you have it! Creativity doesn’t always come when you are focused and demanding. Creativity is sneaky. It appreciates a little bit of chaos, a little bit of diversity, a little bit of life, then It comes out in a rush.
The book will get finished, the drum will be painted, and the gourds adorned. I’ll throw an old blanket over the chair and carefully tuck it in for now. Don’t ask me when. The only thing that will get done today is the chair. BUT I researched designs for the drum and found one I like. The gourds are still sitting there but I pulled a few weeds and wrote over 1,000 words. The dogs are content after an hour walk and when my husband comes in and asks what’s for dinner, I’ll drop a hint or two about that new restaurant that opened last week. If he doesn’t bite, I’ll get creative.