For those who may have missed it, here’s my little piece of our show Art or Evidence?: Tea Liturgy. Our theme was on creativity and how we put together this show, one bit at a time. But my piece turned out to be a little more about what I did when I wasn’t feeling all that creative. Read on (and there’s a video of the song we wrote together at the end!).
These three people are terrific musicians and I’ve been honored to spend time in their creative world these past three or four months. As Victor said, we put this show together bit by bit, each of us contributing something of ourselves. We hit upon the topic of everyday rituals and on exploring the creative life early in our meetings. And we also toyed with showing you all bits of our creative process – pulling back the curtain to see the wings, as we might say in the theater. But I’m a theater director, not a musician. I’m the outlier in this set. So I thought I’d share with you my process with this remarkable group of people.
I came to this project eagerly. For those of you who don’t know I was the executive director of the Rogue Festival for 2017 and 2018, which is a huge undertaking. I became utterly lost in a world of “facilitating others’ creativity and subsuming my own.” If you’re a creative person who also happens to have capabilities with spreadsheets and press releases, you often find yourself doing that work for other people who don’t. And artists are notorious for not knowing how to do that work. Helping art get made is always a great gig, but for me, it took away time and energy that needed to be directed toward my own creative voice.
So for the last year, I’ve been in a transition phase, coming out of spreadsheets and back into the creative world. I was seeking small projects to guide me back to my creative voice. I had been feeling at sea, separate from my inner world and from my passion for living a creative life.
So when Victor and I met at Goldsteins to discuss my joining Art or Evidence as the “writer element” I was enthusiastic! I looked forward to writing with some purpose, to working in collaboration with new people, to get my optimism about being a creative artist jump started again.
It was after the second session, when phrases like “song writing” and “singing” and “backup vocals” starting coming in to the conversation more and more. . . a new and suspicious thought crept into my consciousness. I went home and said to my husband, “Well, babe. . . it seems I accidentally joined a band!”
In my theatrical world, “working collaboratively” with musicians means talking dramatically while some sort of “soundscape” is created in the background. I don’t know why I didn’t pick up on the fact that they’re all musicians and to musicians MUSIC is going to be a pretty central part of the deal. . . but I didn’t!
Well, at that point I just decided to roll with it. Sure, I hadn’t sung a note in public since middle school, but who cares! I hadn’t attempted anything musical in over 30 years, no problem! (We’re not counting that weird production of HAIR I directed in 2010.) I’m a smart, competent, creative person, right? . . . I ran the Rogue Festival for crying out loud! . . . Right?
So I showed up every week. I took notes and kept the “Show Bible”. I made observations, offered suggestions, I participated in the producing tasks of this show. I even sat down with a glass of wine and rhymezone.com and wrote some verses for a song.
Every Monday night meeting would come and I’d say to myself, “80% of a creative life is showing up. Showing up in the room. Being open to what challenges come your way. Doing the work, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it feels just beyond your comfort zone.”
Because it is beyond my comfort zone. I still don’t think I can carry a tune in a bucket. I have to concentrate to keep a beat when pounding two sticks of wood together. Singing ooohs and aaahhs along with that. . . I’m not there yet.
But I kept saying yes to this process and showing up.
Except where it really counted: my own piece for the show. Sometime in January I realized that I had been a little too focused at showing up for the Monday night meetings and, once again, facilitating others’ creativity. I wasn’t as focused I should have been on the one part I had been looking forward to: my own writing.
By that time, we had decided on creativity as an overriding theme. And I had copious notes and thoughts. But none of them very pithy.
I’ve done two fully separate iterations of this “homily” – beginning to end – and had read it for the group. I had important questions in it, I had challenging insights on creativity, I had discussions on Jane Austen’s writing practices, I had lots of big thoughts in it. I was doing what I could to show up. I was doing the work. But it just wasn’t sitting well. It just wasn’t quite there.
It was last Monday night (three days before we opened) when Victor was driving me home from our final rehearsal and he said something to the effect of “It needs something more personal – it’s just missing you.”
That was the point that I had to be honest with myself. I wasn’t showing up. I was avoiding the one thing I was here to do: dig a little deeper and examine my creative life. And I was frightened of it. I think I was afraid that it was no longer there. Or maybe it never had been.
So I spent three days rumbling with that spectre. Not knowing whether to keep going or turn back. How do I come to terms with a creative life that is currently lacking? In the real-life theater, at this late date you deal with what you have. “You go to Rogue with the Show You’ve Got” as we say in my house.
But this time, just this once, I decided to pull a fast-one. If this were a TV show about putting on a performance in an idealized world full of wacky hijinks and over-the-top characters, what would I do?
I’d throw it all out and start over at the eleventh hour.
And that’s what I did. Friday morning, the day of our first performance, I got up, I took a walk around the Tower District, I made a cup of tea, I Instagrammed it, and then sat down to write. This.
That is now my new ritual for when I’m not just showing up, but when I’m showing up for me.
Living a creative life may be 80% showing up but the other 20% is about being honest about what we find when we show up. And then showing up one more day.
As Anne Lamott says, in the book Victor didn’t read, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
I’d like to encourage all of you to show up for whatever it is that lights you up – whether at a laptop, a sketchbook, a sewing machine, on the stage, at the keyboard, or in the kitchen. . . it doesn’t matter. But really show up, be present for those little daily moments where your creative life lives, and do everything you can to see what’s really there for you. You might just surprise yourself.