A Writer’s Nightmare. Creation. And Why Art is Life.
In the waning moments of last night’s slumber, I had a dream.
I dreamed of a pop quiz. A vocabulary quiz.
For which I had not studied.
Okay, this dream was kind of a nightmare.
I was in school, walking through the halls with my backpack slung on one shoulder (the cool way to carry your books, man) and walked into a near full classroom to see that our teacher, a brunette woman whom I’ve never seen before but had this look of “No Bullshit” etched on her face, surprised us most unpleasantly with a pop vocab quiz.
She was writing the words on the chalk board, because this quiz demanded that you not only regurgitate the proper definition for each word — but also, unscramble the word to spell it out properly on paper.
I woke up from the dream and it was 6:00 in the morning.
My groggy mind quickly began to wonder what weird facets of my subconscious were bubbling to the forefront of my thoughts in that peculiar dream.
“Well, it’s that ‘back to school’ time of year… I musta been thinking about that… But what about spelling, grammar, tests? Negative connotations with regurgitation, memorization… Judgment, bad grades, fear of failure… ah of course! Writing!“
You see, this week, I’ve been quietly launching my new writer’s group, The Literati, and inviting more than fifty people to join in the debut class (if you’re interested, tell me, or let me know by joining the waiting list here so I can email you).
And so I’ve been asking the earliest members and just friends in general for what they’re biggest struggles have been with writing.
What their worries, concerns, hangups and difficulties are.
Where they stumble.
What mindsets hold them back.
What habits they can’t break.
And with an absolutely abundant number of writing-relating thoughts, feelings and questions on my mind, I had a writer’s nightmare.
Undo judgment, letter grades that falsely represent a kid’s intelligence and capability. The “not good enough”, “didn’t try hard enough”, “coulda done more”, “you’ll have to learn next time”
I’ve called myself a writer for a while and feel pretty comfortable within that skin, but in this dream, I was transported back to a time where I feared and loathed every little terrible taste of judgment, worry and self-doubt; that dreaded schoolyard “I’m going to fail” terror and turmoil.
When you think back to those school days, it’s little wonder why we have such a remarkably negative association with failure.
Every mistake is a mark against perfection, and anything short of perfection is shows that you are necessarily lacking. Lacking intelligence. Lacking capability. Lacking effort, will, creativity, problem-solving, test-taking, regurgitation, preparation.
Worst of the list, is “lacking potential.”
Unworthy. Won’t amount to anything. Average. Ordinary.
(…excuse me, by who’s fuckin’ standards?)
As we grow older and because we never want to fail, we preempt the possibility of failure by persistently avoiding situations in which we might fail. Or be judged. Or get criticized, fairly or unfairly. Or endeavor upon some path in the face of uncertainty, trial, fear and unknown — it just means we’re not prepared enough, don’t know enough, haven’t earned enough experience.
We rationalize that we haven’t studied enough for the quiz.
Enter, the life of the writer.
Enter, the life of the tortured artist, the struggling creative, the writer’s-blocked novelist, the “once upon a time” family man and the “nobody cares what I’ve got to say” homemaker.
What a tragedy.
Art is life!
And when you deny art or the creative endeavor in any way, you’re also denying a divine gift: a uniquely creative and totally independent means by which, with effort and practice, we each are given internalized ability to externalize more deeply attuned methods of living our lives, of experiencing it fully, and truly flourishing within ourselves.
What I’m saying is that art provides us with every ability we could every need to metabolize every intangible thought, feeling, hunch, wish, dream and desire into physical form — and that physical expression, every single one of them, whether beautiful or pieces of shit, teaches you a multitude of lessons that simply cannot be otherwise learned.
What I’m saying is that art isn’t a hobby, an outlet, or even a profession…
What I’m saying is that art really is life.
Art contains within it all aspects of what it means to live, and its specific creative form grants us the power and ability to play God. By our hand, the art we create grants us the power to see — to truly, deeply, wholly see — the ebbs and flows of birth and death, evolution and regression, even reincarnation.
Art is exploration; it teaches us how to see our world.
Art is understanding; it helps us make sense of complexities and conflicts, distractions and annoyances. Art is growth, striving, dreaming, achieving; it teaches us to respect our soulful desires, our spiritual demands, our life-long callings.
Art is sharing; it teaches us giving.
Art teaches us service. Art shows us that humility is not a choice, it’s a necessity; that true gratitude and thankfulness forever trump lusting wants of “more.”
Art is beauty. Art is heinous.
Art is inspiration; it fuels our dreams and inspires the masses, it shatters the mold of what is routine and defies everything that has ever “been done before.”
Art is a mirror.
Art reveals our true selves; it compels you to look deep into the mirror and see who is really there — not the shadow of our ego-minded selves that we’ve grown to know with labels and personality traits or astrological signs, but the true self, full of inexplicable dreams and illogical desires and the highest drive of wish and will to create, write, start, paint, dance, express, form, share, give, love.
No matter what you desire, dream, wish, demand or hope, art will help reveal it. Every wish for happiness, simple peace, contented living, balance, fulfillment, purpose.
I believe that each and every human being is in some way an artist. I believe that every human not only has the incredible capacity but some devout inner calling to create in some way, whether with numbers and charts as a CPA or with oils on canvas; whether singing on a Broadway stage or playing the sax on the street corner of East Houston and 1st.
The artist is the quiet leader of her children; the devout and dedicated supporter of his young family, the payer of the mortgage, the balancer of the check book.
Art is everywhere. And I wish for little else but to implore you to explore more of your own art — today — in whatever form it takes.
We say that. It sounds good. It feels nice.
But then we hit hang ups.
We hit snags.
We tell ourselves we’re not artists or creatives or writers because it just seems so, well, strange. Self-congratulatory and yet self-deprecating all the same. We have our priorities. We don’t have the time. It doesn’t pay the bills. And on and on the excuse list goes.
But under every excuse lies a quiet justification.
Beyond every excuse, we fear.
And that fear derails us.
That’s why I’m starting this new writer’s group. That’s why this dream came to me last night — to remind me of that feeling. To tell me once more, “This was what it was like, don’t you remember?” But all of that can change.
And I’m hell bent on making sure of it.
Fuck the tortured artist routine. Let’s stop derailing our dreams, wishes and capabilities when the very reason they should exist at all is to be made real in this world and in our lives — now, presently.
We need to begin when we’re too weak and unaware and afraid and incapable, too unknowing and uncertain. We need to begin when we haven’t studied. We need to begin here, exactly where we are. This is the only option.
Teacher isn’t watching.
And the only grade you’ll ever receive from your creative endeavor is not a letter, but a thought: a self-assessment and one you’ll realize upon your deathbed. It will either read, Fulfillment, or Regret.
I know you’ve heard that ‘schpeel a million times before.
But I also know that you’re capable of so much more than you want to admit (in a lot of ways, I’m talking to myself, too).
That’s what gets me so fired up.
I look around and I see so many brilliant, capable, amazing and beautiful people who can be so happy and grateful with such ease. They can feel so fulfilled by simple endeavors with little shifts in mindset and mentality; breaking a few shitty habits and creating a few positive ones.
It’s really not that hard.
We make it hard on ourselves.
And with this new writing group that I’m starting, I want to prove it to you:
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I want to prove it to you that writing is not just a method of communication, but a process of introspective understanding and personal learning that opens up our world in beautiful, brilliant, remarkable ways.
I want to prove it to you that the ways in which you communicate can save your relationship, make you a better parent or husband or wife, help you to be a better friend and neighbor, make you totally indispensable at your job, change your entire life, and save our world.
No… I want you to prove it to yourself.
Join me. Join The Literati.
Oh, it’s also gonna be a hell of a lot of fun, too. :)