Life requires more than a series of projects to keep us busy – Stephen Elliot
Monotony and sameness are a rule for most of us, rather than an exception, although I’m sure we all picture “others” who don’t have to face these things. Art seems to me a method of filling the empty spaces.
It seems maybe that I am lofty with my goals—some judge me, saying I have it easy. Maybe I have it easier than some. I am lucky to have two jobs I can tolerate, friends who support me, an apartment that, though right by the train and not the prettiest, is somewhat affordable for the area I live in. A family that encouraged me to be creative growing up. The passion for creativity above most everything else.
I am passionate about creating stuff. God forbid you get stuck in the car with me. This seems to be the place I start ranting about art. Yesterday, I was telling my friend that creation is amazing because it allows you to process things that you can never resolve, and help others with what you end up with. A few months ago I told another friend, “Some people do drugs. I create stuff.”
But really, I’ve been thinking about art and creation lately, and part of the reason I do it is because I can’t usually sit still without a pen or guitar in my hands. It’s a way to channel anxiety. I think for a lot of artists what they create fills the emptiness of not knowing anything. For me, it’s the emptiness of not knowing why I’m here and what connects me to this world or other people. And it’s often to channel boredom and loneliness, too. Since I was young, I’ve felt alone, even when I’m with people.
I don’t say we don’t know anything to be all nihilistic and apathetic (though I do suffer from permutations of those words), more to say that that’s a part and parcel of this life we’ve been given, where things are not distributed fairly and we’re left to create our own maps, just as soon as we realize nobody else has one, either.
Some people claim to know. This was common in the church I grew up in, when people would go up and bear their testimony that the church was true and god had a plan for them (and all of us, in the audience, too). I was guilty of doing the same thing when I was 17, telling everyone I knew. One of my friends always told me she didn’t, and I judged her, until I didn’t either.
Nobody knows. This is the reality I know. Once I accepted that, or decided that I didn’t know, I was free to make whatever meaning I wanted of my life, and I started focusing on the here and now instead of the next life, which nobody knows is real or not.
And there’s an urge to leave something behind me. There’s an urge to help people. There’s an urge to help my younger self, too, and I’ve heard this from a lot of artists. Dear Sugar, on The Rumpus (Cheryl Strayed) talks to her twenty-year old self. Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, writes to his teenage self.
I could write a whole blog on writing to a younger self, and probably will, but I am trying (trying I say) to stay on topic, since I tend to ramble, though my points often do connect if you keep with me.
I am learning that I can’t fill all of the empty spaces with doing. In order to create, I also need to do nothing, reflect, or just hang out with friends sometimes. It is quite possible to get caught in a grind with your art, too, if you don’t take a breather. I have weeks where I am spending every spare moment writing music and non-fiction stories and poetry, and then weeks where I am bereft of ideas and the wherewithal to edit any of it. On those weeks, I still tend to it, but I squeak by. And if I force myself to work on project after project, I start losing sight of other things that are important in life, like my husband and the dog and all of the amazing friends I have right here in the Bay Area.
Perhaps life is about more than filling the empty spaces with projects, and filling the empty spaces with projects is just my way of channeling the anxiety of not knowing and hoping to leave something behind, hoping to change the world in some small or large way, and these two things are enough fuel to keep me perpetuating creations. A third reason is that art helps me process absolutely everything. I’m sensitive, I see a lot, I take in a lot, and I get overwhelmed easily. Music and writing help me make sense of emotions and people, too.
My husband used to comment, when we both stopped drinking, etc., about “filling the empty spaces” we had filled with substances before. Art fills those gaps for me, too.
Why do you create?