Your creativity doesn’t care what you feed it

I had a boyfriend who was a talented musician. He was from a loving upper-middle class family, which is to say that his life had been pretty rosy and so, as a counterweight I think, he romanticized the life of the brooding tortured artist. Kurt Cobain. Elliott Smith. Layne Staley. These were his heroes. He bought in to the idea that creativity germinates in pain and that you must steep yourself in it if you were going to make anything worthwhile. This struck me as a dangerous position to take for someone seeking to live a long creative life.

In reaction, and because my life had been pretty rosy too, I went the other way. I decided that happiness would be my creative fuel. Nothing worthwhile, to my mind, was going to come from misery–or at least nothing I was interested in cultivating. My writing practice became so dependent on my good humor that I couldn’t write if I was having a bad day. This suited me just fine; I simply didn’t work during my blue moods, which were always unremarkable and transient.

Last year, I had a mood so blue it turned black. And I couldn’t wait it out because it wouldn’t go away. I assumed that my creativity, as it had always done at such times, would abandon me. But in what turned out to be the greatest surprise of my creative life, it stuck around.

I was down to about 85 or 90 pounds then, having not slept or eaten much, and my health was beginning to give me trouble, my anxiety and grief literally consuming me. My doctor ordered blood work and we joked grimly about what to expect. When I went in for the follow up, I said, “So, how bad is it?” She looked at me and said, “These are the best results I have ever seen.”

That same week, I went in for a craniosacral/acupuncture appointment. I was lying prone on the table while my acupuncturist performed energy work on me. I remember feeling as fragile as glass. She said, “your core energy is really strong.” I told her I didn’t understand how that was possible since I felt like I might dissolve into particles at any moment. “It’s your creativity,” she replied. “It’s keeping you vital. You’re lucky you have it.”

I’ve realized something in all of this mess: when your creativity is assigned to you, it becomes an inalienable part of who you are. Your creativity is given to you and you alone; your life is the only food it requires. It doesn’t care if you are having a good day or a bad day. It just wants to flow through you like a river through a dry ravine.

Your creativity can feed on anything–pain, pleasure, mirth, sorrow, defeat, rage, awe–it doesn’t matter. Just give it whatever’s inside of you and it will give you back to yourself.

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