A couple of weeks ago I experienced some problems with procrastination and motivation, especially in the area of writing. It happens fairly often and tends to coincide with a random change in routine (like being out of town for a week). For inspiration, I downloaded the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short, easy read on fighting Resistance.
I’m terrible about trying to get everything done in my day before sitting down to write. I like to save the best for last. Of course I never get everything done that I want to, and writing usually pays the price. And to be honest, there are many days when I question putting so much time and effort into writing posts that are sometimes very personal and that very few people actually read. Writing takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes I question why I spend so much time doing it.
I remind myself that Vincent van Gogh never sold a painting his entire life either, except to his brother, Theo. Obviously, he wasn’t doing it for the money.
So I turned to a book to help me out of my slump.
As these things often happen, the last part of the book synchronized with a post I had recently written on being who we are, as opposed to who we are meant to be.
We’re not born with unlimited choices.
We can’t be anything we want to be.
We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.
Um, I’m not so sure about that. Mostly, I just don’t believe in a “specific, personal destiny.” I don’t believe there’s that one, true thing everyone was meant to BE, kind of like I don’t believe in that one, true soul mate. He continues:
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.
If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.
If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.
Well, maybe I do agree with that.
I have two children. Both kids came into this world with distinct personalities, interests, and talents. Each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. One is very artistic and creative, the other very logical and mechanical minded. I could not have molded them to be otherwise. They were literally born that way.
Ironically, the creative one became a geologist. Her saving grace: she makes sure there’s enough time in her life for artistic, creative endeavors after work to be happy.
Getting my other child to read anything other than maps, cross-sections, or Tin Tin–and that’s if I could coerce him away from his Legos or video games–was like pulling him from the jaws of a grizzly bear. He now builds wind turbines and couldn’t be happier. And he still doesn’t really like to read.
(Remember, I’m a teacher. Having a child who hated to read was tough.)
In twenty years of teaching, some children’s natural talents were like billboards in the classroom. I’ll never forget third grade Madai and her incredible artistic talent. She made beautiful drawings in class (she was constantly drawing), and was also emotionally mature beyond her years. When I read a picture book aloud to the class about Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics in 1960, I looked up to see tears streaming down Madai’s face. She was absolutely born to be an artist. She felt everything so deeply.
I can honestly say that if she does anything other than something artistic, it will be a terrible shame for herself and the world. She was born to create art.
Other children were fantastic athletes, eloquent speakers, and gifted mathematicians. Most students didn’t display their talents as brightly as a select, dominant few. I was often surprised–and relieved–when the music teacher would tell me one of my academically struggling students was musically gifted. I suspect many quiet students had talents they chose to keep hidden after years of testing and being forced to conform in the classroom.
For me, I’ve always loved to write. From the time of my first lock-and-key five-year diary to journals in high school, to English Lit papers in college to this blog, writing is a natural love. I suspect almost everyone feels the need to express themselves in some manner, and for me writing always met that need.
I never had enough confidence or courage to make it a career, or never made enough time after earning a living to do something with it. I don’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself, or haven’t lived up to my potential, however, because the desire to write is not going to suddenly disappear.
It’s just there, like breathing. It always was and always will be. And as long as I respect the urge to write, and keep writing–even if it’s junk–I’m being true to myself and the person I was “meant to be.”
It might not pay the bills, but it will keep me happy.
Perhaps life is nothing more than figuring out what you were born to do (which to me is the same thing as figuring out who you were meant to be), even if you never make a penny doing it. You may put in the hours at a lackluster job to pay for the groceries and that great vacation you’ve been saving for, but hopefully there’s something else, something meaningful, that makes you feel like a whole person.
Make it your job to make it happen. Life is too short not to.
In keeping with my latest goal of creating beauty, I’m finishing up a wrap I started knitting during the Christmas season. The wool was ridiculously expensive, but I couldn’t resist the colors.
Sometimes spending a lot of money on something beautiful is worth it.
I originally bought the yarn for two pillows I wanted to knit for the sofa, but I decided those colors were meant to be worn and draped around someone’s shoulders.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep the wrap for myself, sell it, or give it away. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to do with it. It’s all about creating beauty.
Have you noticed, like me, that there isn’t enough beauty in our man-made world? When I look around the city where I live, I see a lot of generic sameness. I acknowledge that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but it seems too often today that if something doesn’t have a strictly utilitarian purpose it has no value.
I disagree wholeheartedly.
I love poetry. When I’m in the right mood, I love to curl up with my favorite poems and swim in the words. Reading poetry is such a visceral, emotional experience. Certain opera arias have the same effect and can bring me to tears.
The last time I took the train I noticed that poems had been posted on the walls. I loved it, and read the poem on the wall above me over and over.
What a great way to get to work, reading a poem instead of an advertisement. I loved that someone had the idea to post the poems, something that seems so frivolous, yet beautiful.
Children understand the need to create something beautiful. There were always certain kids in my classes who couldn’t stop themselves from constantly doodling, sketching, writing, folding, and making. It wasn’t boredom. Boredom is spitballs, talking, falling asleep, and knocking your book on the floor on purpose.
This was making and doing just because you can’t help yourself.
I understand those kids because I used to be just like them, only I usually saved it for the privacy of my bedroom where no one could see me. I generally like to keep my creative projects to myself, maybe because showing them to the world is showing a little too much of yourself.
Nothing exposes you more than poetry. I used to write a lot more, but rarely showed my work to anyone. Even if it’s unclear who or what the poem is about, you can’t hide the emotion, and showing others your deepest feelings in a poem is like standing naked in a snowstorm.
Knitting something is a little less gut wrenching and transparent. For some reason, I feel almost guilty when I take time to knit during the day. I feel the same way about reading a book. Maybe it comes from all those years of teaching and feeling like I had to stay “busy” every second of the day, but knitting doesn’t feel like real work.
And perhaps that’s the whole point of creating beauty, that it shouldn’t feel like work, that there shouldn’t be any point to it, other than bringing something beautiful to life.
Last week was a “dark night of the soul” kind of week for me. I felt unmotivated, untethered, and lost. I have a great life, but suddenly it felt as if I had gone off the path and into the brambles. I had lost sight of what gave my life meaning.
We all have weeks like this, weeks where we feel as if we’ve lost our way. I think a lot of people live lives like this, never knowing in which direction they should be headed, and never expecting anything better.
Last year I quit a job I used to love. It reached a point where I felt as if I was selling my soul every time I went to work. I didn’t believe in what I was doing any longer and I walked away.
I think a lot about meaning these days. What makes our lives meaningful? Does it just happen, or can we create meaning?
I mostly believe life is what you make it, that we facilitate a meaningful life by the things we do, the relationships we build, and the experiences we create. Sometimes, though, you have to search for meaning, and it’s not always easy to find.
After a week of soul searching, I finally figured out that most of what I’ve done this past year has been solely for the purpose of making money.
We all have to eat and make our way in the world of work, but focusing mainly on how to make money completely changes everything. Whereas I used to look forward to writing, it became a chore, something that might possibly lead to a way to make a living. My writing changed, became less personal. I found ways to avoid sitting at the computer. I found excuses. Having to write took all the joy away. I started to resent the constant pressure of having to write something every day.
If I’m writing only because I hope to make a living from it, it will probably never happen. I don’t want to write because it will put food on the table; I want to write because it’s the food that will nourish my soul.
I had forgotten that without meaning, without having things we do for no other reason than we love doing them, life becomes stagnant and hollow.
What did I do? I sat down and wrote, for no other reason than I wanted to. I wrote without an agenda, without an ulterior motive, without expecting anything to come of it.
I’m going to try and write poetry again. I’m going to knit something beautiful. I’m going to grow green beans.
Your passions may be something other than mine. It could be painting, gardening, cooking, running, knitting, photography . . . the possibilities are endless. Hopefully you have more than one passion.
Whatever brings meaning to your life has to be nurtured and allowed to breathe. It has to be something you can’t live without doing, something that encapsulates your entire life into one single, small moment of creation.
Find time each day to do something creative, for no other reason than the pure act of creating something. Do something just because you love doing it. It will bring meaning back into your life.