"The entire creative life is a life in trial, experiment, and reaction."
Opening this page requires ritual. Three blinks, a gentle swallow, big breath through the nose. I can't look at the document directly. I keep it open in front of me to make it seem as if I'm working but I can't read any of the words. I'm afraid to bring things into focus because I know I'll have to confront whatever I've done, whatever mess I've made.
I am a writer. And, honestly, I'm ashamed to acknowledge that my writing is not this liberating fear of epiphanies, through and through. It's undergirded by immense anxiety. And by the time I'm calm enough to be proud of what I've made, the damage has been done.
I'm scared to read over what I've written. It makes me nervous so I hold my hand.
I have to put thoughts of prospective sentences out of my mind and attend to the one thing that prevents me from writing at all: anxiety.
It's a process. I can't look at the document directly - I have my eyes on it as if I'm looking but all I see is a blur. It gives me illusion of working: because the Word Doc is there I must be doing something with it.
I wonder why I bother writing, whether the point I'm trying to make is a waste. Or is it artificial, when rendered in specific tones? Do I sound sentimental? Do I sound like a self-help book? Do I sound redundant? Do I sound like a fictional pageant contest taking long pauses between words and emitting things like “peace” and “justice” just to kill 30 seconds? I wonder.
So I hold my hand and squeeze it tight.
Some people find this funny but, when I'm anxious I hold my hand. I hold my own hand to remind myself that I am there for myself. Especially in situations that, in the abled sense, do not require assistance (going outside, buying groceries, seeing friends, etc), it's important for me more than ever to reiterate to myself that I am there for myself. Because more often than not I've succumbed to the feeling of loneliness, that accompanies most things a solitary person does.
While I'm writing this article, I'm checking in with my breath. I'm seeing if the labor of my breathing is causing a tightening in my chest. I breathe through my mouth to feel not so in my head. There's something about concentrating air in the nose that also causes you to concentrate on your head -- why, I don't know. I have no medical basis for this. I know that when I allow my breathing to stymie and block up in my nose with the threat of anxiousness, I also end up not being able to see very well. Or, rather, I end up not being able to perceive very well. Everything seems much more momentous than it is, and I'm terrified of doing the slightest thing (even moving). It's tricky to think through because, if you're not using the right thoughts you'll end up hurting yourself more. If you push through anxiety to produce what you want, without care for yourself, you will meet an unhealthy sort of pressure. Many times, rather than making things on our own terms, we succumb to this. And it is the greatest disservice to ourselves. I apply this to an art that’s as necessary as it is frustrating: writing.
The concept creating is also applicable to the way I share my thoughts, trying to give shape to something that has been tacitly created, without cogent language. I am trying to communicate a feeling in hopes that it will be reciprocated by others, and inspire some reflection -- to ameliorate anxiety in the mind and work of a creative person, reinforcing that self-depreciation is not analogous to elevated work.
As someone who constantly reconciles the desire to make things with near-constant perfectionism, intrusive thought, and anxiety:
You are gifted. You can do it. The entire creative life is a life in trial, experiment, and reaction. The first fruits of your labor do not have to be ripe or mature to be good.
All things require a level of intentionality and meticulousness, no matter how small they may seem. And, truly, it's ridiculous -- and limiting-- to attest that innovation or creative activity is exclusive to canvas or instrument. Whether you realize it or not, you are always working:
We have this romantic idea of the art ethic as depleting. You have to sacrifice your life to it, essentially. You need to do it with a certain style.
For the sanctity of art and your personal health: reject this. You don’t have to convey things masterfully (with a seamless mental and artistic integrity) the first time. From what I’ve seen, creating is a commitment to a constant experiment. Safely, you make reactions happen to discern what does and does not work. And it’s okay to have many mistrials. It’s okay to give up on a project midway, and rest. You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. Whether that healing comes by abstaining from the work you want to produce, or engaging with it more fully.
If you're not sure where to start, here are some avenues to consider:
Pay attention to minute bodily tensions. Stretch your fingers.
Pick a favorite song. Play it over and over until it sounds almost like nothing.
Take a colored pencil and see how many shades you can get from one color.
Open doors, windows. Find ways to bring air.
Find a place outside to sit or stand, even just for a short time.
Try what's accessible, different, irregular, quieting. Your regimen may even find a way into your next piece.
The spirit of art is the spirit of personal health & healing.