My creative process: An ode to BIG MAGIC

“Do you have any paint at home?” I texted at 1:52 p.m. “Wall paint, any color. I just had this uncanny desire to make an accent wall in my room..”

My mother’s response was prompt, seemingly unfazed by my latest creative declaration. “All paint is in the basement … not sure what all is down there?”

“Cool! I’ll check!” I sent back hurriedly, already scuttling off to the basement and abandoning the conversation in my wake.

So goes living with a right-brained, zany Aquarius who plucks passion projects out of the air, committing to DO before the urge to create vanishes.

 

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Snapping photos in Cambodia | photo courtesy Charlee Cobb

 

I’ve always created things. As a dancer, starting at the age of 2, I created artwork on the stage. In the third grade, I created my first short story collection; in the sixth grade, I created my first poetry piece; and in the tenth grade, I created my first video documentary.

Art and Creativity continue to pop up in my life like freckles in the sun, even if I haven’t always appreciated their guiding presence. A lot of my later adolescence was spent curbing and cutting this Creativity for fear of Rejection, Loss, and Conformity. I thought the only way I could get a good job, and therefore a good life, would be to master the art of Deadlines and Tidiness, not arabesques and slant rhymes.

Turns out, my life turned into a whole mess of mental depression and anxiety once I abandoned my creative tendencies. It took 7 years of mostly self-therapy to regain my confidence and that sense of self I so lacked at the beginning of my high school career.

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Earning back bits and pieces of my creative soul — publishing my first poetry book, taking another dance lesson, crafting ‘wanderlust’ canvas boards for friends (see above) — healed me in more ways than I could appreciate at the time. But the climax of my creative breakaway crescendoed this past summer, in the summer of serendipity.

It started with Elizabeth Gilbert, that Eat Pray Love girl. I received a copy of her latest, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, for the holiday season in 2015 but hadn’t yet had a chance to crack it open until the beginnings of the summer.

Having just returned from Cambodia at the end of spring semester 2016, I was beginning my journey of reconnection, of rediscovering the incredible healing power of the arts. I learned more about the traditional style of Cambodian dance, the wonders of ancient art and sculpture, and the history of artist persecution during the Khmer Rouge genocide there, in the streets of Siem Reap, than I ever would have in a textbook.

Cambodian Living Arts drilled a hole in my aching heart and decided to fill that hole with a love for music, art, and dance that I never knew I still had within me.

Back to Gilbert. I read her Big Magic before embarking to Berkeley, California — a voyage that, to any one of my friends knows, would ultimately set the stage for my own kind of personal happiness sweepstakes.

I wrote about her ode to creative living back in June, and its main message has remained true for me ever since: Every human being is creative, whether you call yourself an artist, or not. Creative living doesn’t have to come from years of polished experience, or thousands of dollars in tuition money; creative living begins, always and everywhere, with you and your gifts to share.

And that’s why Berkeley was so awesome. Not only did I get to create video and photo projects every day, all day, for 51 days straight, but I got to do something even better: create innovative ‘intros’ for each one of our staff teams. For once, I got to be the creative director! For once, my friends turned to me for showcasing their talents, their personalities — and I had an absolute blast with these assignments, my favorites of the summer by far.

Friends and family often ask me about my creative process, as of late. (Just take a look through my archives, my rate of producing has grown two-fold since the beginning of college.) They see me working, and slaving and sharing and creating, and they ask How? Why do you do what you love with such enthusiasm and relentless determination? My answer comes out as more of an excuse: Because I’ve realized I need to do this.

Writing has always been a way to love myself. Writing poetry, though, has always been a way to heal myself.

Poetry, the official journey, began when I read aloud my first poem in the sixth grade — a poem about the wind and how it made me feel. I got a few laughs — Why is she so serious? my classmates snickered — which made my ultra-sensitive embarrassment all the more heightened. I never forgot that experience, but I also never forgot how writing the poem ultimately made me feel.

Poetry continued off-and-on, in spurts like geysers, for the next several years. It wasn’t until the end of my high school career that I decided to take my poetry inclinations seriously.

So, like any authoress, I started writing. Writing more frequently, writing more intentionally, writing more about what I was truly thinking and feeling and saying in my head. Pen (or pencil, I’m not picky) on paper become my favorite, private source of therapy. I could be honest, for once, without unintended consequences. I could sort out what needed to be sorted out in stanzas, with reflection, and with a little bit of rhyming.

Now, I describe my poetry writing process very differently, guided by a more unintentional pursuit. I now find myself catching wisps of lines floating through my head, and reaching for a notebook to write these lines down immediately before they’re lost in the recesses of my mind. I sort out the rest of the poem later — sometimes in minutes, sometimes in days. Ironically, Gilbert describes the same kind of process for her fiction writing.

Reflecting on this creative reaction, I know some ideas have escaped me in earlier years because I didn’t write them down in the moment. I know now I can’t brainwash my poetry inclinations to the ‘right time’ or box up my writing for ‘only on Sundays’. Creativity doesn’t live according to human-constructed timelines! She comes and goes whenever she pleases! As the artist, I’ve learned to be flexible and receptive, to be open and relaxed, for whenever Creativity comes knocking.

Some ideas just come to me, like this latest project called PERMEABLE I’m working on. Other ideas I struggle with, tweaking the message and writing for what can seem like hours of interrupted flow. I don’t get it all right the first time. I have a lot of saved “drafts” and failed projects, too.

But I’ve realized something very important about my Creativity in the past year, the past few months even: She and I are in a working relationship, not a business partnership.

I tried to make writing other peoples’ words my career in journalism school. I chained up my writing to a desk and said Look here, you will write this 300-word story because you have to. Creativity whimpered and slunk in a dark corner. She didn’t like being told what to do.

And my mental health suffered, once again. I fretted and worried and became one anxious student journalist, chugging coffee and firing off emails like my writing depended on me. Because it did, for a certain extent, depend on my future career.

When I stopped writing for print and started writing for pleasure — monthly blog reflections, poetry impulses — I noticed Creativity waking up in me. I started singing and dancing again. I started experimenting again: paint on walls, digital art concoctions, video compilations. I started writing more frequently about these reflections and inclinations, no longer chaining my relationship with Creativity to the hours of 9-to-5.

Now, when I sit down to write, I feel at ease. Fingertips on keyboard is my own version of coffee catch-up time with Creativity. Alright, what do you have in store for me, today? I ask, with respect and admiration. Sometimes, she’ll deliver a few paragraphs. Other times, it’s just an idea. And I’ve learned to be patient with these ideas; instead of structuring my writing to weekly blocks, I’m letting Creativity decide when and where and how she’ll be productive today, and tomorrow.

Paint in progress 🤙🏻🌊 #ampainting #oceanescapes #calistateofmind

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Because I’m never going to run out of ideas. I’m no longer fearful of creative roadblock, because Creativity and I are in a committed relationship and we’re going to see each other through the rest of our lifetimes. Just like any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. Just like any relationship, we’ve had to learn patience and how we both respond to criticism. Just like any relationship, we’re a work in progress.

I’m just glad I don’t have to work for writing, anymore.

This was an über-long ode to my creative process. If you made it all the way through the end, thank you for reading. But mostly this was a piece I needed to write, to read with my own eyes. So thank you for sticking with me, but I’m not sorry if you didn’t. -bnb