Monday, May 12, 2014

Creativity and Risk

I haven't written for what feels like long centuries. It's actually been a few weeks, interspersed with a visit by family from India and going out of town for my anniversary celebration. 

And I have been itching to come back and write again. But when I've sat down to form words, my mind feels clamped shut. Today, my hands are heavy on the keyboard and I want to get away. Writing feels painful.

Writing also brings clarity, it brings all this stuff that we've stuffed down bobbing up to the surface. I want to push it away, make a ball of it and throw it out of the window but it keeps bouncing right back. Writing calls out. Are you willing to feel? Do you want to? Or not?

Many times, I don't. I don't want to deal with this scum rising to the top.

Before I went on my holiday, I'd been reading Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception. I pick it up again, and shuffle through the pages to find my place. What Godin has been saying made sense. 

Among other things, he talks about how it's no longer safe to just play safe in today's world. How clinging to the safety of what we've always known will destroy us because the rules are already changing. 

And since he talks about the shift to a connection economy that rewards risk-takers, he also talks about the supreme risk-taker of all – the artist. And the artist is not just the painter or the musician, but anyone doing anything new and risky and bringing it out into the world.

What he says is true. As we all know, many walls have been falling for the last couple of decades. Today, if you want to be a musician or an entrepreneur or a writer, you don't have to wait for the traditional gatekeepers to give you permission. You can start. 

You can begin where you are and get your work out there in the world. But, as Godin quotes Adrienne Rich, “The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.” Beyond that door, lies our opportunity to connect, our possibilities. But nothing is guaranteed.

We will have to dig deeper into our work, and come up with something that will be of value to the world. Then, we will offer it. And if we haven't been able to create something worthwhile, we will have to go back and dig deeper and make something better. 

Godin calls this emotional labor. I understand what he means, as I am sure does any artist who is working on bringing forth their ideas into the world. It takes courage to step through a door that has been opened to us. It takes emotional work. 

We don't know the rules because it's a new world. We have to turn inside to negotiate the twists and turns. We've not been taught how to risk, and we learn only by doing it.

When I started this blog last year, I was scared of even sharing it on Facebook. What would people say? What would they think of what I'd written? And yet, I knew that I needed to start sharing it in some way if I didn't want my words to just float in the ether, crumbling because they couldn't reach anyone.

The kind of questions I wrestled with included egoistic ones like: Wasn't blogging a form of bastardized writing? Was it the correct, valid way? 

And then I fortunately thought, holding on to the belief that I needed to present myself in a certain way as a writer was what had held me back from being one all this time. Is my audience not an audience because it is not reading my book ? Is it a lesser audience? 

I don't think so.

This blog has been the beginning of several things for me. It started me on my real writing journey. Because of it, I have sent out other work into the world. And some of that work has started finding a home. I have connected with so many people, and found so many voices saying “Me too.”

And what has happened through this claiming, through this saying “I write” out loud to the world, through sharing my voice is that what I believe is out. It is solidified in my writing. 

It's a little risk my heart took, and it's a little risk that has paid off. Sharing my work instead of keeping it in helped it grow, so other people could see it as well. And that helped solidify my identity as a writer. If you are an artiste of any kind, you have probably asked yourself: Am I really a painter? Am I really an actor? There is no easy answer because who can say that but yourself? There's no way to quantify it. 

And so, we can get lost in these murky questions of identity without ever taking a concrete step. The truth is that I let go of waiting for permission and I started giving myself permission to go out into the world. When I did that and gave form to my ideas, other people saw that and acknowledged it. 

They saw me as a writer, and their seeing me as one, in turn, nourished that identity. If nothing else, that is one practical reason to start sharing what you make.

In his book, Godin says that art is personal, untested and intended to connect. He also says that art is “an interaction with a recipient, a gift given and a gift received.” If it doesn't ship, he says, it's not art. 

That's an interesting point to consider. Why do we make art ? Isn't it to expand who we are, to attempt something that nudges us to become bigger? As artists, we have to keep asking: Do I have the courage to share what I believe? Art is, in the end, a statement. Of who we are, of where we are going. If we keep our work in, we are stopping short of making that statement. 

We are not risking, and so, we are not becoming artistes.

If you are someone who writes or paints or sings, maybe it is time to share what you think with the world. Take that risk, and claim your art.  

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