Fear and Creativity

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.

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