Living Creatively

In Slice of Life, Travel on January 19, 2011 by ryepdx Tagged: , , , ,

I’ve been listening to the CD I got at the Kimya Dawson concert last weekend, so I’m still in Kimya fanboy mode. As I write this, her song called Fire is playing. It’s relevant to what I’m about to talk about, so I’ll post part of the lyrics here:

It’s okay to be scared; you don’t have to act tough.
Take all that pain and turn it into love.
Take all that pain and turn it into love.
And let your emotions be fuel to your flame;
Being on fire will keep you awake.
If somebody yells out, “Hey, stop, drop, and roll!”
Say, “That might save my skin, but it won’t save my soul.
That might save my skin, but it won’t save my soul.”

I went through the usual emotional travails in high school, though you probably wouldn’t have ever guessed it then. By the time I entered college I was a mess. It took me about a year before I recovered and managed to become the master of my emotions. The terms of my depression’s surrender, however, were rather draconian: it would be two years before I let myself feel sad again.

Tonight I had coffee with a friend of mine who is going through some difficult times. I’ll call her Storme, since I don’t know if she wants all this public. Right now she’s looking for a job, the family she has been staying with is about to move out of Portland, and a bit of bad bureaucratic planning on the part of her university has left her in a catch-22 where she can’t re-enroll because of money owed, she can’t pay the money owed until her academic aid gets disbursed, and she can’t get her academic aid until she re-enrolls. (This leaves her in the bad position of being responsible for over $30k in student loans in a couple of months.)

We hadn’t talked since August of last year, so we had a lot of catching up to do. As I listened to her talk about her situation, I realized that all the trouble she’s running into has to do with pursuing her dream. Most of her troubles could go away if she gives up her dream of working in the music industry. To her eternal credit, she does not even consider that an option. However…

“The Universe hates me!” She said as we sat at a table next to the wall-sized window in the Starbucks near Music Millenium.

“The Universe doesn’t hate you. It’s just making things hard right now.” I replied. It wasn’t the most comforting thing I could have said, sure, but it was all I had just then. I sipped awkwardly from my 12oz mocha.

Just down the road, at the aforementioned Music Millenium, the Decemberists were holding an album signing for their new release, The King Is Dead. We wandered down there at around 7pm. It was packed, as I expected it would be, and it took about ten minutes to get into the store. I bought a copy of The King Is Dead once we were in, while Storme wandered off. When I found her, she was back in the $2 section, leafing through the used CDs.

“Hey look, Semisonic,” I said.

“Oh cool!” She said, plucking the CD from the bin.

“It’s been a while since I heard them.”

“My friend is actually friends with their drummer.”

She leafed through the bins a bit more, all the while talking about the musicians she had been following online and the bands she was personally friends with. She mentioned enough bands (most of which I had never heard of, being as uncultured as I am) that I’m sure most people’s heads would have turned green and exploded with jealousy. Her passion for music was undeniable, as was her propensity to befriend famous musicians and keep abreast of their emotional states. As she put it, “I love going to concerts because for me it usually means I get to see a bunch of old friends again.” At only 20 years of age, she is already well on the way to being an A&R force to be reckoned with.

Hearing her talk about her passion was like hearing Kimya telling everyone in the audience at Backspace last Saturday night to follow the things they feel passionate about. It was a reminder of what can be done when passion meets drive.

In my first year of college I learned to regulate my emotions, to consciously control them. While this allowed me to undo the damage I had done to myself in high school, it has also left me somewhat confused as to what my passions are. I have drive; I’m always pushing and trying. But toward what?

To follow one’s passions: that’s what it means to live creatively, I think. If you weren’t around in the beginning of this blog, “a period of living creatively” was the subtitle back then. That was my reason for choosing the name Cyan Years: I started this blog to document my life after I quit my job and started trying to live outside the box.

But it seems to me now that living creatively isn’t a goal or an end in itself. Now I think that perhaps living creatively is what happens naturally when we try to follow our dreams and our passions. It means that we get pushed to our limits and challenged time and time again; far more than if we let someone else make our decisions for us. Creative living, then, becomes a necessity, a way of surviving and (hopefully) flourishing.

Because the fact is that the Universe is neither kind nor malicious. It’s a combination of forces acting on each other, pushing things to and fro. In order to follow that internal compass we call our passion, or our dreams, or our conscience, or whatever else that spark which gives us joy and brings meaning to our lives might be called, we must sometimes work against those forces. Sometimes that means doing your strongest breast-stroke just to keep from being swept off-course until the currents start flowing your way again. This is, I think, where creative living enters in.

Creative living is a response to the hardships which threaten our passions. It is a way of keeping that spark alive, of feeding it until it grows into a wildfire. It is the reason Storme is living with another family. It is the reason I am freelancing as a programmer instead of taking a steady job.

But what am I passionate about? Well, that’s a very good question. Give me some time and one day I might be able to give you an answer. I have some ideas, but it’s in the living of life that all becomes clear. I won’t worry too much about it for now; I’ll just “let [my] emotions be fuel to [my] flame” and head in whatever direction the fire points.


2 Responses to “Living Creatively”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree about your views on the universe, and the fact that living creatively doesn’t mean you are trying to reach an end goal, but more like you are experiencing life in that way. As Frederico Fellini said, “There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life.”

    However, I have to disagree about your view “In order to follow that internal compass we call our passion……we must sometimes work against those forces. Sometimes that means doing your strongest breast-stroke just to keep from being swept off-course until the currents start flowing your way again”

    I believe that when the universe is pushing us of course, thought we certainly don’t have to allow ourselves to continue being swept away, but we should not push ourselves into anything that doesn’t feel like the right moment, or that causes us more strain. Instead of helping us, this energy hurts us. It makes us angry at ourselves. It creates anxiety and frustration.

    I challenge that when life makes things difficult, we take a step back to examine ourselves from within – sometimes it’s the universe’s tricky little way of making us stop pushing and start listening to ourselves. When you are ready to be creative, be pro-active, be confident….you’ll know. And you’ll be ready.

    • I agree with you about not always fighting the forces of our circumstances when it feels like they’re in opposition. “Live to fight another day,” as they say, is sometimes the best option. I also agree that sometimes we mistake our own internal friction for opposition from the universe and that sometimes that friction is an indication that we’re betraying a part of ourselves that we were previously unaware of.

      However, I most certainly don’t believe in folding when things get difficult either. “Living creatively” has somewhat of a double meaning for me. When I first used it to describe my blog, I meant simply living in pursuit of things like writing, music-making, entrepreneurship, and general creation. But, as I outline in this post, I now think it also has to do with our responses to the things that challenge our passions. If you really, truly want something (as Storme does) then I think it’s perfectly sensible to step outside of our societal norms in pursuit of that and get creative.

      Most of us will experience some internal friction along the way, but this is natural. Most of us, I think, have internal barriers to our success that we throw up for one silly reason or another. These barriers often express themselves as procrastination. Those kinds of barriers should certainly be torn down and trampled underfoot, but only after careful examination to ensure that they are not indicative of some sort of imminent self-betrayal.

      Ultimately it comes down to a personal judgment. If the facts of your situation don’t support whatever move you’re considering making in the name of pursuing your dreams, I would say don’t do it. But if all you’re challenging is other people’s picture of what your life ought to look like, or if the hurdles you face are perfectly surmountable, then I say go for it.

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