universe vs. creativity

The universe will try to stop you from engaging your creativity

So screw the universe, and find a way.

Do I want a house or do I want to dance?

This is the question that effectively ended Megan Rhea’s amateur dance career. Well, specifically, Megan says she had to ask herself, “Do I want a house or do I want to continue to live in my crappy neighborhood in a city I hate but still dance?”

Megan once used dance as a mental and physical break from a life that was already full of creative expression — she was practicing, rehearsing or performing some form of music at least eight hours a day as a music major in college. Now 36, Megan has had to find other creative outlets because of several barriers to her music and dance practice. Likely because of her intense music regimen, she developed severe nerve damage in her hands and arms, and she can’t justify the expense of dancing as an adult.

“When you are past 18 and you aren’t a professional, you are basically just too old,” she said. “It becomes difficult to find places that have adult classes and when you do it may not be at a skill level matching yours in addition to dance classes being incredibly expensive. A lot of dance studios will still have the adults in the recitals, which costs even more money and time (costumes, extra rehearsals, etc.).”

The costs of participating in formalized creative expression add up.

In my last essay I explored the emotional and mental barriers that keep us from calling ourselves artists. This week, I’m looking at the barriers that keep us from creating and engaging our talents after we’ve learned to embrace the label of “creative”: burnout, access, collaboration, timing, equipment, skill, others’ perceptions, etc.

The Universe is trying to keep us all from engaging our creative sides.

Take Eric Krafcheck, for example.

“Sometimes it feels like the stars need to align for me to be able to partake in certain aspects of the creative process (like recording vocals),” said Eric, a 28-year-old actuary and songwriter. Krafcheck said he likes to have privacy while recording vocals, which requires finding a time when his partner isn’t home, when the neighbors aren’t making noise, and when his voice doesn’t feel tired or strained.

Josh Boone, a 26-year-old digital marketing consultant, said he finds that the same skills that make him successful in his career are the very things making him ineffective as a creative.

“With music, I would set an hour aside to create,” he said. “You start on a track, get 20 minutes in, then hit a wall, spending the next 40 minutes figuring out how to do this one little thing. You hear it in your head so very clearly, you just do not yet possess the technical ability to capture it. For a Type A, results-driven obsessive like myself, this compounds. You feel you have barely progressed and it becomes a vicious circle. What was supposed to be an outlet of release becomes another source of stress.”

If you feel like the Universe is trying to quash your creative instincts, you’re not alone. Also, the Universe is apparently an obese jackrabbitbear.

As a teacher, Barbara Martin, 62, spends most of her days in a “windowless, cinderblock building.” This environment stifles her creativity, and her coworkers’ perception of her art — old dolls reassembled with found objects — doesn’t help either.

“With only a few exceptions, the peers I work with do not really value my artwork,” Barbara said. “I have only just recently built a website and put my work ‘out there’. That was an eye-opening and scary experience. I truly found out who my real friends are. Some people really did roll their eyes.”

Screw you, Universe, we’ll find a way.

The obstacles to engaging our creative sides come in literally every shape and size. The cool thing about hearing the stories of all of these creatives? They’re still out there creating, despite the barriers.

Megan focuses her creative energy on refinishing furniture, decorating her home, and working in her garden.

“Accomplishing projects, making the world around me more beautiful, and working with my hands really fill any creative void left by the lack of intensive music and dance training,” she said.

Eric finds ways to work songwriting into his daily routine.

“I’ll come up with ideas while driving, re-work lyrics in the shower, and improvise melodies in my head while doing the dishes,” he said. “I try to create something everyday, and because of the demands in my professional life, I’ve learned that it’s important to celebrate a creation of any size, even if it’s just one lyric.”

Like Eric, Josh had to change his expectations.

“Learning to view the art as the process, rather than just the result itself, was the key forward for me,” he said. “This more stoic perspective removes the layers of complication while honing your craft, and allows you to make progress and hopefully something you’re proud of without judging the speed…at least not too much.”

Barbara has found a group of friends who support her art, and she has created a dedicated studio space in her home.

“I went for years using a dark, carpeted room in the basement in one house to just a drafting table in a corner of another,” she said. “Now I can spread out and express my ideas and not worry so much about size constraints. Without my studio, I would not be able to express myself as often or as fully.”

Even though Megan opted for the house, and the life she wanted, instead of continuing to pursue dance, she didn’t have to abandon creativity in her life. But stories like these make me wonder: What would Megan’s life look like if dance weren’t so expensive? How much more art would Barbara have created if she’d had access to a beautiful and inspiring studio earlier in life? What if Josh and Eric could collaborate with other songwriters in a sound studio without paying an arm and a leg?

I know some of these resources are starting to become available in public libraries and community centers as public perceptions around creative expression shift.

Excuses are never in short supply.

But the other barriers — time, expectations, opportunity cost, lack of mentorship and collaboration — will always be there. If you need an excuse, you can find one.

So why don’t we stop looking and start creating?

“The only person in the way is you,” Josh said. “You set the terms.”

This article has 1 comment

  1. Gary Ellis Reply

    At a workshop I attended this week, the instructor talked about making “small bets.” The concept is simple. Whatever and however huge a project is, identify one small thing you can do tomorrow — and do it. It’s a small investment of time and (hopefully) materials and money. Evaluate the result to determine whether to abandon the project, change it in some way, or make the next small bet. Repeat until you’re sure you want to make a big investment or the project is done.

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