Go climb a tree
I'm sorry to ask this, as it's an awfully personal kind of question, but have you ever been constipated? If you have experienced it, then you know it's very uncomfortable and even a little painful. They say not to strain, not to push, to relax and it will come when it's ready, but it's just too unsettling to wait so you end up straining and pushing anyway. That gets you nowhere you want to be, and fast.
Creative constipation is a lot like that too.
You may or may not have noticed, but in the last six months I haven't posted any blog updates. That's because I haven't written anything. In all fairness to myself though, in the last six months we have moved to another state (during a pandemic no less), had all of our cats require medical intervention (2 of them emergencies), introduced a new cat into our home (kitty number 4!), and had personal and family matters come up. So I've really been trying not to beat myself up about it.
However, the thing about people like me (I would argue most people) is that when I'm not creative, I lose touch with my core self. I get lost in the weeds and have to try to find myself again. Enter creative constipation.
Eric, my other half, is also a creative and his devotion to his art is fierce. His creative energy goes into video game design and development. He loves video games, and I rather enjoy them myself as well. So, when he asked me to write a story for a video game he wanted to make, I jumped on it.
"This is exactly what I need to get my creative fires burning. I'll have to work on writing, because I'll be needed." I told myself. To a natural caregiver like me, being needed is almost like a drug. My ears are always perked up at the chance to help others and be carried away from own cares. It's always been easier to create for others than to create to meet my own needs. Creating for the sake of being creative, or because I know I need it always felt selfish and self-indulgent. I need to create, and I need to be needed to create (that's a lot of need haha), so I thought of this as a win-win kind of deal. You can see where this is headed already.
Well, it wasn't long before I found myself angry and frustrated. Writing for a video game was proving to be much more challenging than I was fully prepared for, and I wasn't happy with what I was writing. I strained, and I pushed, and you guessed it, I got nowhere I wanted to be, and fast. Why wasn't I happy? Why wasn't this fun for me like it was for everyone else working on it? What was so wrong with me that I couldn't do this? Weeks went by, half grateful to have a reason to write and half miserable to have to write it. The pressure to perform and produce rose.
People were counting on me to create something great.
Now, let me say that this was self-inflicted. Despite his attempts to reassure me that it was okay to walk away from it if it wasn't bringing me joy, and that no one was counting on me to write a story, his (requested) sage advice would only partially get through to me. I would vent my frustrations to Eric saying "We're not on the same page about things, and I don't want to put all this work into something that I end up loving and caring about just for it to be wiped away when the game goes in a different direction. It's too much work." So after a few moments of inspiration and some failed attempts to translate it into a story for a video game, I took a break. Until this past Sunday.
It had been a week or so since I wrote anything for the game, and by Goddess I would be damned if this story wasn't gonna come out of me. So I set myself to bringing together all of the components to get in the creative mindset, and once I was comfortable and ready to go, I opened my laptop and finally began writing again. It was a matter of minutes before I hit a roadblock. I had the option to skip past the section of the story that was my roadblock, and come back to it later. It would have been fine.
I did want to write after all, didn't I?
Nope. I couldn't get past it. I couldn't let it go. I was convinced the whole story fell apart without this section (not true by the way). My frustration quickly reared its head again and I was angry that I was frustrated. I once again found myself venting my frustrations to Eric. His (requested) sage advice again did not totally get through to me, but this time he followed it with some prodding questions. What do you like to do for fun? What do you really want to do? Why aren't you doing that?
Something cracked open inside of me and I fell apart. The revelation that truly no one needed me to write this game landed like a ton of bricks. No one was counting on me to write this game, I had chosen to continue putting this pressure on myself because I needed to feel needed. But I wasn't needed. No one needed me.
If no one needed me to create, then I had to look at why I couldn't create for myself. A deep well of sorrow began to fill me, hot tears ran down face, and my chest became so heavy I could barely breathe as I looked out the window. Why?
Why is it so hard to create to take care of me?
As I stared out the window in a haze, I noticed the trees in the front yard. I was struck by how the sunlight shone through them, illuminating their leaves, and they danced as the wind moved through them. They were so .... effortless. One tree in particular seemed to beckon to me, waving in the sunlight for me to join them.
I so badly wanted, needed, to be a tree. So off I went, heeding the sirens call of this cherry blossom tree.
Before I knew it, I stood beneath her, my chest still desperately heavy, tears still in my eyes. I greeted her with my hand on her trunk, and a hint of peace teased me. The heaviness in my chest lifted a bit. She greeted me with the song of the wind moving through her boughs and branches. I looked up, and could see the bright blueness of the sky in contrast to her strong, dark limbs. Her arms were open, welcoming me in.
In that moment, I knew she wanted to give me a hug.
Very few times in my life have I ever been so sure of anything as I was of that. I promptly resolved to climb into her waiting arms and let her hold me. Doubts quickly began to creep in, "Surely your forty-year-old knees won't appreciate this.""What if you fall?""What if the neighbors see you?""What if you look foolish?" But my resolve was absolute, so I swatted away the flies of doubt, found my footing, and lifted myself into her embrace.
The moment I nestled into her branches, the heaviness in my chest dissipated and I could breathe again. I sucked in a huge breath of fresh spring air. Whatever sorrow had been there was replaced by a stillness and we began to commune.
She did not speak to me with words, so to try to put our conversation into words would only betray the magic of our communion. But I will say this, it was beautifully medicinal.
She held me, and I sank into her like a child in a mother's arms.
I sat there for a while, I'm not sure for how long, but something shifted in me and my soul was fed. It was magic in the truest sense of the word.
It was also pretty fun when some neighbors walked by and nearly got the daylights scared out of them when I said "Hello!" and they thought a tree was talking to them.
She did talk to me though, just not with words. She soothed me, and taught me that words often defeat their purpose, and when we find ourselves lost in the weeds, sometimes we just need to go climb a tree.
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