Week Nine: Recovering a Sense of Compassion
It’s funny this whole ‘ask and you shall receive’ thing. I asked for a creatively stimulating and socially worthwhile job which would fit around my existing commitments. I also asked for some time and space to write. And, more prosaically, a better laptop to work on, since my old one is over-heating and cutting out at inopportune moments.
I am writing this on the commute back from Bradford, spending the day planning a project designed to celebrate older people as valuable and creative members of society. The commute is an hour straight, no changing, on comfortable trains. I am working on my work laptop, a couple of models later than my own, half a kilo lighter and substantially more reliable.
We had a consultant in today so the two other core staff members and I could talk through our aims and expectations for the next year’s work. Just the act of briefly describing our life journey to get us to this point was more emotional than I’d anticipated, as was realising just how perfect the role is for me, how much it will support my artistic development and how much it ties in with my own personal ethos.
We were asked to make a poster showing where the session had left us. I couldn’t find words so I made a picture.
Having laboriously climbed out of the murk and suffering behind me, with the support of many people, I come to the cliff edge. Putting my pack down, I spread my wings. I thought I’d been looking for some stability. But actually safety doesn’t necessarily feed art. So now I have to jump in order to continue the journey. And, of course, there are people to make that journey with me too.
This all ties in nicely (doesn’t it always?) with this week’s themes.
My greatest fear is that I am too lazy/undisciplined/undedicated to be a truly great artist. The first play I ever wrote was about a ballet dancer at the end of his career reflecting on whether the dedication had been worth it and trying to decide whether to take on a protégée and encourage them to make the same sacrifices. I was already grappling with the idea that dedication and obsessive focus equal success and that laziness and distraction equal failure. (Interesting to return to that idea of dedication and its cost as 15 year olds are cleaning up in the Olympics.)
‘We have wanted to create and we have been unable to create and we have called that inability laziness. This is not merely inaccurate. It is cruel. Accuracy and compassion serve us far better.
Blocked artists are not lazy. They are blocked.
Being blocked and being lazy are two different things. The blocked artist typically expends a great deal of energy – just not visibly. The blocked artist spends energy on self-hatred, on regret on grief, and on jealousy. The blocked artist spends energy on self-doubt. . .
The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist.
The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all. . .
Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear. . .
Use love for your artist to cure its fear.’ p.152
Right here is the heart of the trap I’ve lived my post-adolescent life. To be perfect requires total dedication. If there is any lapse in this perfection, then I must be a failure, mustn’t I? And at that point, is there any reason to get out of bed?
‘In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. . . The part of us that creates best is not a driven, disciplined automaton. . . Over an extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us.’ p.153.
Oh, can you imagine? Wanting, yearning to work without that self-battle? Bliss.
Those of you who are following this blog will be aware of the extent to which procrastination has been swamping me, based on the massive hiatus from Week 8’s blog to Week 9. I could blame the fact that my work-load has essentially doubled, but actually there has been time. But those moments when I could have worked on this, or gone on artist date, or done an exercise from the book, or nurtured my inner artist in some way, I have twittered away my time. The worst thing being that, rather than really enjoying whatever displacement activity I’ve been engaging in, it has been an exhausting guilt-filled self-battle. As Julia says, my non-productive time isn’t lazy, it’s exhausting.
In the case of the Artist Way; what is it I’m really afraid of? Finishing something I’ve been starting and never finishing for well over a decade? What if I get to the end of this process and it’s thrown up a load of personal issues but failed to resolve any of them? What if I’m left with all these unresolved questions but without the context and tools of this course; the thing which makes the painful self-discoveries easier is the sense that it’s part of a process which will eventually resolve. So, yes, I’m scared of finishing, of what comes next.
Of course I know that this 12 week course can’t resolve everything; life is a constant process of self-discovery and change, and with support of my friends, family, colleagues and my Buddhist practice, I will definitely continue to grow. But I hope that this course can create a momentum of change, especially as this week (or rather the month I’ve spent on it) has seen me banging up against a lot of blocks.
I’ve written before about the magical feeling I used to have when writing short stories for exams; the sense of words flowing. I’ve been working on a short(ish) story for a few weeks now. I wrote it by asking a random title generator on the interwebs to do its thing. I then wrote for one hour solid, with a timer. Unlike those times decades ago when the whole thing flowed out with a beginning, a middle and an end, I got the odd image, false starts, changes of direction, but by the end of the hour, while I didn’t have all the words, I did have both a story and the sensations I wanted it to evoke. Ever since then, I’ve been giving the odd 30 mins here and there to it, as opportunity and procrastination will allow. And it’s agony. It feels like I’m pulling each sentence out of myself with pliers with my critic providing constant running commentary from the side.
I’m reading a novel (The Night Circus) with a sense of wonder at the sheer number of words; how much effort must it take to birth a 300 page baby? My five pages are making me want an epidural.
‘Remember that art is a process. The process is supposed to be fun. For our purposes, ‘the journey is always the only arrival’ may be interpreted to mean that our creative work is actually our creativity itself at play in the field of time. At the heart of this play is the mystery of joy.’ p.154
Oh to rediscover that play. Three weeks to go.