Facing the Fear of Creating

God is all over my next book. How could I write about creativity without talking about The Creator? But more than just writing about God, I’ve begun each and every writing and editing session with prayer, asking for discernment, inspiration, and the words He wants me to share. I’ve been in awe of the ways he has showed up. Recently, however, he asked me to do something I wasn’t sure I was capable of.

I interviewed a dozen “Creative Sparks” for this book; real people doing real things to incorporate creativity into their very real (and busy) lives. Among those creatives: a yoga instructor, two professors from my alma mater, a woman who’d waited nearly fifty years to submit her beautiful poetry, my brother who picked up woodworking tools he’d inherited from our mother to begin carving in midlife, and a nephew who always knew what he wanted to be and never gave up the pursuit of it, not even through grueling cancer treatment.

As I worked on final edits a month ago, it became clear to me that there was to be one more “creative spark,” an artist whose work I was personally drawn to. Not only that, I was to actually create the type of art this person practiced. My publisher didn’t tell me to do this, nor did the editor request it.  We were so close to completing the first edits, they wouldn’t have dared. We’d moved things around, deleted over-used words and phrases, and heavily edited entire sections of the manuscript.  No one insisted I face my own fear of failure by attempting an art form I’d never done before. In fact, the editor gave me an easy “out” when I mentioned my uneasiness about taking on an art project so close to deadline. She insisted it wasn’t necessary for me to create anything more than an additional creative spark profile.

But the prompting from the Holy Spirit was as real as the fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure. What if I messed up or destroyed precious pieces of memorabilia by undertaking an art form I knew nothing about?

It dawned on me then— that is exactly what I ask readers of my book to do—open up their minds to creative possibilities, try new things, and allow for the possibility of failure, all in the name of discovering their true nature, their God-given potential, the creative self within them. How dare I suggest something I was not willing to do myself? I knew that I must do it.  I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and create a mixed media piece.

Perhaps it’s the former dumpster-diving coupon queen in me that accounts for my attraction to mixed media art, with tiny bits and pieces of “trash” incorporated into a work of art. Maybe it is because I have lost so many pieces of my own life through the deaths of mother, husband and grandson in the space of three years. Whatever the reason, I considered the art form I’d seen displayed on the walls of Upcycle Dubuque, a unique and innovative creative reuse store that displays the work of local artisans.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Allison Poster’s art. I’d seen it displayed at Inspire Café two years before. Fitting, considering I was there to speak about the legacy of creativity, my mother’s art, and the creativity that resides within each one of us.  When I noticed the beautiful art on the walls, I moved closer to study the mixed media pieces, something deep within me resonating with the images of butterflies, angels, trees, and hummingbirds on old mirrors and windows, and a framed image of a hauntingly sad girl in a birdcage. I was fascinated by the artist’s use of broken and crushed glass, bits and pieces of old jewelry, and repurposed old frames. I snapped a photo, shared it with my daughter, picked up a business card, and messaged the artist to tell her how beautiful I found her art. We agreed to meet in person someday. That someday had come.

Not only did Allison agree to be my final “Creative Spark,” she offered to help me with the creation that was fast taking shape in my mind, a piece directly correlated with the theme of the book, in memory of my creative mother. I’d use small things of Mom’s that were hidden away in drawers, where I never saw them. I sorted through a box of her holy medals and discovered a broken rosary with a blue cross that represented her deep Catholic faith. I’d add newspaper clippings about Mom, pieces of a pillowcase she’d embroidered, and the last chalk pastel drawing that remained on her easel after her death. Then there was the yellow rose painting I’d done at age 16, the same age my youngest daughter is now. I’d sat next to Mom in her workroom as I’d painted it. What better way to immortalize the “magic pencil” I’d found in my mother’s empty house than to include it? I’d ordered hundreds of similar pencils on eBay to give away when I did presentations on creativity, but remained fearful of losing the original. Everything included in the final product had meaning for me, including the words I chose from a vintage poetry book about mothers, the small wooden oval with crosses created by my brother, and the tiny glass owl my son Michael created in the very workroom where Mom and I had sat working in companionable silence forty-five years prior.

mixed media

I smile every time I look at my mixed media memory canvas, which is often. It hangs on the wall near my writing chair. No longer fearful, I’m looking forward to creating a similar piece in honor of my husband.

Not long after I finished this piece, I met with a new friend who’d lost his wife the year before. I realized as he talked how often he used the word “can’t” or the phrase “never” in our conversation. I suddenly realized there was more to my creation than I’d imagined. I asked him if he’d seen the photo of the art piece I created to represent my book’s theme. What I said next was as much for myself as it was for him, and readers of my book who have lost someone important to them:

“That’s what our life is like; little bits and broken pieces. Everything we went through and experienced up until the moment our beloved took their last breath. There are ugly moments we’d rather not remember and beautiful ones. There are precious memories. There is a pattern to our life that has made us who we are. Your life is a mixed media collage. Whatever you add to the collage from this point forward is up to you. You can keep moving those broken parts around. You can add similar pieces. That is your comfort zone, and there is nothing wrong with that. But God might have something more for you. God’s plans for you are so much bigger than you can imagine. He can use you in so many ways if you let him. You can grow in him and share in the masterpiece he wants to make of your life’s collage.”

mixed media close-up

 

 

 

Tribal Art

“Think back to your childhood. What did you enjoy doing? What were you naturally drawn to? When you were a little girl what made you happy?”

“Take your time. Dig down into the deep recesses of your mind.” I continue, noting a few furrowed brows in the room full of women.

“Some of us will have to dig deeper than others,” I add with a smile, and good-natured laughter erupts from the corner of the room where two women in their seventies sit.
Did you spend hours outside poking anthills with sticks? Follow your mother around as she cleaned house, begging to dust the furniture? Love working with your grandmother in the garden? Were you a voracious reader, devouring books like the chips in a Pringles can?

A younger woman looks up from the sheet of paper in front of her. “I’d almost forgotten! I used to spend hours making Barbie doll clothes! They weren’t very good; just quilt scraps my mom gave me that I cut holes in for the arms.”

A single woman in her thirties, the Barbie clothing designer sports spikes black hair, a ring in her nose, and arms covered with colorful tattoos. She looks the part of a creativity group member, but the truth is, all of the women belong; something about creativity appealing to a restless stirring inside them.

Thirteen women attended the inaugural meeting of the inelegantly dubbed “Lifelong Learner’s Creativity Group” I began at the library where I was employed in 2017. Forming the group made sense for a librarian. A 2015 Pew Research study revealed that adults who use libraries are more likely to consider themselves to be lifelong learners, actively pursuing learning opportunities. The group was consistent with a library’s mission to engage learners and inspire thinkers, but organizing it was not simply a job-related, altruistic move. It had been months since I’d experienced the kind of creative energy that ignites in a room full of people interested in the same thing. I’d seen it happen in writing classes I’d taught and at writing conferences I’d attended. I missed the passionate exchanges about writing and the rush of adrenaline that came with speaking and practicing one’s passion, the camaraderie of being in a room full of people that shared that passion. Those women needed what the creativity group could offer.

So did I.

As we took turns introducing ourselves, it soon became apparent we all had one thing in common; we wanted to add creativity into our lives and suspected that doing so would make us happier.

We were correct in that assumption. Scientific research demonstrates that practicing creative pursuits results in a happier, healthier life. The activity can be as simple as journaling, playing an instrument, or spring gardening, so long as it has meaning for the individual.

I didn’t make friends easily for most of my adult life. I was too busy raising eight children. That changed in 2011, when I attended my first writer’s conference, connecting with women and men interested in writing and publication.

writers conference 002
Cedar Falls Christian Writers workshop 2011

A year later, I’d discover the value of friendship when my husband unexpectedly died and some of those writers attended his funeral, becoming a support system of sorts. I made additional friends outside of that writer’s circle through a workplace setting, classes I taught, involvement in grief ministry, and by forming both a Bible study and the creativity group.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said. The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death found that the groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. If you want a stronger faith, become part of a faith community. If you want to be more interesting, spend time with interesting people. To be more creative, hang out with creative individuals. Find your tribe.

It wasn’t long after I traded in that library job for one as a Program Coordinator at a Spirituality Center that I began a similar group there, aptly named “Artisan Souls.”

Something extraordinary happens when I facilitate groups and conduct workshops. I’m so exhilarated by the energy in the room, I’m hardly aware of the passing of time, and I leave those meetings deliriously happy, a soaring feeling that can last for hours, even days. Researchers call this joyful state “Flow,” the loss of time and self-consciousness that happens when we’re completely absorbed in an activity, whether it’s intellectual, professional, or physical. Flow can be achieved through activities such as running a race, playing the violin, or writing a book, as long as the activity is voluntary, intrinsically motivating, requiring skill, and challenging in some way. A growing body of scientific research proves that flow is positively correlated with happiness, and that people who experience a lot of flow also develop increased concentration, performance, and a higher self-esteem.

I enter the state of flow when I write or conduct workshops, but I’m open to experiencing it through other avenues, which explains one of the tenets of our creativity groups; to try new things. In these two groups I’ve painted on canvas, designed Vision Boards, practiced hand lettering, and made jewelry.

painting
painting with James Kennedy Public library Lifelong Learners

One month, a member of our Dyersville library group brought ukuleles for everyone, insisting we’d be playing a tune by the end of the evening. As my fingers fumbled clumsily with fret and chords, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. I wondered why I wasn’t catching on when the women on either side of me made it look easy. Then I happened to glance up. A woman across the room was having just as much trouble as I was. Our eyes met, and we both laughed. I didn’t have to worry about failure or looking foolish. I was there to have fun, not to become a musician.

uklele

I’d found my tribe.