TED Talks is an inspiring website. I hadn't looked at it in about a year since I left the advertising industry as I felt that arrogant ad people kind of took ownership of TED, which is complete bullshit, and decided that since, in their not humble opinion, advertising was the most innovative and creative world that clearly TED Talks was speaking directly to them, for them, and by them. Of course, this is all in my head but a big reason I escaped that world.
Anyhow, a friend urged me to watch Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love" speak on TED Talks, and am I ever grateful that she did. It is, for me in the place in my life currently, utterly inspiring, and I think part of the reason I've been having such flashes of inspiration and writing jags for the last two days. I'm starting a script with a new writing partner! and I came up with some other writing projects that I'm really excited about.
Gilbert talks about how, since the Renaissance, society thinks of artists as tortured and mentally unstable, and why that is, and how we can change, together, this idea which hurts our creative processes and keeps us in a fearful position unable to move forward with our art (at least in my case). She talks about fear and how yes she is scared of failure (or, at least, was scared until Julia Roberts started playing her in a movie based on her damn book). Creativity and suffering do not have to be such intimate bedfellows.
She talks about how she moves past her anxiety in order to create. Here she starts discussing the ancient Greeks and Romans - I love these guys. Here is what she says (hey, it's early in the morning, words not stringing together so well at the moment. She's much more succinct than I)
"And that search has led me to ancient Greece and ancient Rome. So stay with me, because it does circle around and back. But, ancient Greece and ancient Rome -- people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, OK? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity "daemons." Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar. The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist's studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work."
Anyways, I love the idea that creating something doesn't have to be a burden that the artist carries all on her own. It's a collaboration - something I've been craving for a very long time - between the artist and her creative spirit, something to help her, or perhaps hurt her, but at least something else to take on the responsibility for making something move forward and to help knock down the road blocks which sometimes seem to come at you from every angle.
I keep thinking about myself as a little girl, how much I used to do and think and make. I did sculpture, played piano, acted in plays, read, sang, stole sweets and ate them hidden under the bed. Unhindered, unfettered creativity and mischief flowed through me. I was happy; I was funny. I wanted to be an actress on Broadway - I wanted to be Meghan Follows who played Anne of Green Gables. I wanted to dance and I would spend afternoon upon afternoon in the backyard or in the living room dancing to some music in my head, or on the stereo, and I'd choreograph brilliant ballets. I knew how to do this because my sister was a dancer and I'd watch her dance performances at her school, the older girls in their beautiful costumes dancing their own dances to songs by The Cure or the Theme from Twin Peaks. The other day I listened to "American Tune" by Paul Simon which was the song I used to create dances too all the time, and I'd sing along with the bridge which always brought up some kind of emotion in me, and still does. The other song I'd love to dance to was "Surfin' Safari" by the Beach Boys.
Anxiety is a difficult mountain to traverse, and there are craggy crags at every step. But, it sometimes seems, that there is a meadow just on side and a crevasse just on the other side. Sometimes there is one craggy step which doesn't allow for anymore climbing, just for falling. Sometimes, in the midst of the spiral of thoughts, the whirlwind of the mind, a sunbeam shines through and the meadow is visible beyond the rocks. This is a practice and also a daily, an hourly, test and eventually the climber gets to a point where she sees many paths in front of her and doesn't know which one to take. They all seem treacherous and difficult so she continues on the path she is most comfortable with -the craggy, dusty, rocky path. Not because she likes the feeling of sharp stones in her shoes but because this is what she knows. But perhaps that grassy meadow path just keeps following her and waiting for her to take that step into the soft moss, feel the spring of the greens and the moist soil, see the giant sculptures that lie ahead and the sun hidden behind a veil of clouds (it is fall, after all).
PS> If you ever make it up to Storm King, which I do recommend especially in the late fal (the season has now ended), there is a BBQ joint just up the road called Brothers BBQ. It was pretty good, Texas-style with the white bread and sauce on the side, mac n cheese a bit rubbery however, and don't bother with the salad (obviously. what is a green vegetable doing in a BBQ joint anyhow?) Anyhow, a word of caution - don't go when you are starving because you might eat too fast.
Lately my thoughts have been turning in my head like soil in one of those soil turning machines- except it has a rock stuck in the works and it keeps tilling the same plot of soil over and over, crushing the little earth worms and seedlings repeatedly, into rich mush. I have been out of work, permanent, full-time work, since the beginning of the summer, and I'm trying not to panic. I'm trying to remember the happy times-what did I once enjoy doing? Where do my dreams lay?
My thoughts stray to the sunny, verdant days of college at UC Santa Cruz and my favorite class there- The History of Comedy taught by Classics professor, Mary Kay Gamel. I had studied in Italy the year before, in Venice, and suddenly switched my major from Music to Literature. This was one of the last courses I took, and I didn't know what to do. The class was wonderful- studying Greek comedies by Plautus and simultaneously looking at films to see how their structures, the characters, and plots reflected the paradigms laid down by the Greeks. We read Euripides's"The Bacchae," we watched "The Lady Eve" and "Shampoo." We performed scenes in front of the class, and that was my favorite aspect of the class. I remember I was up one day with a classmate of mine and being told to perform the scene one way, and then doing it again in a completely different fashion. One style dramatic, one comedic. I remember being able to see how I was going to speak each line and get a laugh here, a pause here - I even hit (stage hit) my scene partner. But the class loved it. I remember applause. I remember my professor being impressed, and meeting with me after the class. This was a high moment for me. Realizing my love of theater, classics, comedy, all in one time.
Remembering this now, while I'm struggling in New York City not knowing which way to go, what job to try for, which crazy overworked person to contact for guidance or employment, makes me slow down and smile. Makes me dream again, for something more pure and more beautiful than any thought I've had in the last six months. This is the direction I think I need to go in.