When I Have Fears

Knowing that it’s Thursday, I’ve been thinking all day about what I was going to post. I’ve had a week where I didn’t quite keep my writing regimen as strictly as I should’ve, which is something I struggle with all the time. This meant, that I had nothing written in advance of today, and no real idea about what to say.

I got home this afternoon after Thanksgiving dinner, and decided I needed a nap. When I got up, my favorite Keats poem popped into my brain, and as the first thought I had, and I figured it was time to share it with you.

WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be  
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,  
Before high pil`d books, in charact’ry,  
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;  
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,          5
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,  
And feel that I may never live to trace  
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;  
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!  
That I shall never look upon thee more,   10
Never have relish in the faery power  
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore  
  Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,  
  Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

There is so  much I love about this poem. It’s like, decades before I was born, Keats reached across time and space and looked into my brain and described it perfectly.  I probably wouldn’t have used a sonnet, but, hey, it’s his thing, and he’d already breached time and space, I’ll cut the guy some slack.

I think about this poem at odd times. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but, in the last few weeks, it’s popped into my brain on a semi-regular basis. It’s comforting to me, and I feel a little less lonely, and it calms my “teaming brain” just a touch.

Yeah, I know. Some people rub stones when they’re in need of soothing, I get “ear-wormed” by poetry.

There’s something about the familiarity of the fears haunting the edges of this poem. It’s nice to know I’m not the only person to have them, and that they are common enemies of creative people.

There is this juxtaposition of a mind full of ideas and the worry that time will slip before all the ideas can be brought to fruition. Not only is there a fear that something so wondrous as a starry sky will not be captured and admired in the form of poety or even prose, even in so much as a clumsy shadow of itself, there’s the scary notion that ideas will be left unexplored, or unharvested.

I share all this with you because maybe it’ll be soothing to someone else out there. Also, it was the only idea I had, and I’m opposed to wasting ideas, especially when I’ve got a self-imposed deadline looming.

Since it is Thanksgiving, I will bow to tradition, and express my thanks. I am feeling especially grateful for the people who are reading this. That’s right. I’m grateful for you. Thanks for spending your time with me.


Stand up to your creativity!

Lately, I have  gotten tired of people exclaiming “oh, you’re so creative!” I am not tired of the statement because I’m suffering from a bout of false modesty, so stop preparing counter arguments to try and agree with all those people who tell me this.

When I hear this phrase, I hear the speaker evicting their own creativity. The wonderful compliment feels like they’re saying I’m something they are not, and by saying I’m creative they are excusing themselves from the same “burden.” I can almost feel their self-doubt patting their egos on the head for acknowledging creativity, without taking the risk of being creative. “Good show, old man! Project Mediocrity is well on track! All sectors reporting the mission parameter: “Re-enforce non-creative paradigm” is well ahead of schedule, and secondary goals of “Avoid Risk,” “Remain undetected” and “Blend In” are nearing completion.”

I also hear echoes of that monologue from Six Degrees of Separation, where the speaker is talking about how creativity has been separated from ourselves, as if it was something other than what we are. Most the time I see Will Smith’s face and hear his delivery of the speech. And I see all the pretentious people lapping up every word like they were dying of thirst. “…all those dwarves, so creative.”

They also radiate this smug condescension of creativity. They have this look of pity mixed with horror at the idea of a trade based on something so intangible as “making things up.”

In this simple statement, there’s just a hint of “How wonderful it is to be creative,” which sounds more insincere then complimentary. And, I’ll admit, it is wonderful to have embraced creativity and acted on it.  I won’t lie, allowing myself to be creative is pretty much my favorite thing about life. But, it’s also really hard much of the time. There’s the constant battle with those forces trying to keep you from doing that work.

In “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield refers to this as “The Resistance,” and it’s fierce and bitey and seductive. It wants you to be comfortable, and sitting on the couch taking no risks.

There’s a ton of work in being creative, and there is loneliness and fear and doubt. There is failure, and trying to learn from it, and then trying it all over again. There is vulnerability. There is exhaustion, and there are times when I can’t take yet another idea popping out of my head. There are days when it feels like I can’t possibly be sane, and when the noises are so loud they are deafening and it feels like my head is going to explode.

That one little statement, “You’re so creative,” feels awkward to me in so many ways. It turns creative people into the “other,” the inexplicable, untouchable freak show. It feels patronizing and a bit like someone is saying, “Awww, look at the poor mentally ill person. Aren’t they just God’s special people?”

Frankly, we are all God’s special people, and it’s time that people stand up to their own creativity. It’s not a freakish part of yourself to be hidden so that the neighbors can’t see it. It’s your own unique genius, and it wants you to take it up on its offer of happiness, long term growth and fulfillment. Because, as tough as it is to fight “The Resistance,” one of the chief rewards is being in concert with yourself. It’s about making yourself whole, and allowing you to be greater than the sum of your parts. Stop ignoring that voice in your head wanting to get out because you feel like it’s silly and a waste of time. Take that risk.