The Ups and Downs of Committing to a Creative Project
When the coffee's on, I know it's almost ready when its thick, earthy smell fills the kitchen. There's been a lot of prep to get to that moment. It's been grown in fields, harvested, dried, roasted, ground, packaged, distributed, purchased, and scooped into a filter. But that moment when I'm sitting across the kitchen and the scent wafts over, and I know it's ready, that's a sweet moment. I know the day is about to begin.
For most of us, coffee isn't the end. It's the beginning. All of that growing and prepping and scooping and brewing was to get to the beginning.
Art is like that. Maybe everything in life is like that. There's a moment when the project, path, or idea that's been simmering away for years has finished brewing, and it fills the space of my brain, and suddenly everything about it is clear. I am ready to sit down with it. I am ready to commit to bringing it into the world.
It's a beautiful, shining moment of hope. And so I commit. I take my first sip.
And then the world dumps all over me.
In the past month, I've committed to two major projects - one in my writing, and one with my art (you're reading the result of that one now). With the prodding of a writer friend, I realized that a novel I'd left on the shelf for some time is one layer away from being ready to shop to agents. And, after some wonderful trial runs with Percolator Paint Nights, I decided to make them a regular, recurring event.
The day after I committed to getting my novel ready for Pitch Wars, a biennial contest that pairs writers with mentors, one of my dearest friends had a crisis. This is someone who has dropped everything for me - I stayed in her home during my divorce, she came to the doctor's with me when I was facing a daunting diagnosis. This is someone I will always drop everything for as well. So we sat and talked and cried and had cups of coffee. And when we had nothing to say, but she wanted someone nearby, I wrote while she fell asleep. That week, my car needed expensive repairs, my daughter needed rides across town for band camp, and the list goes on.
In the moments I could steal away, I wrote.
Then, a couple weeks later, when it was time to start building this website to give presence to the Paint Nights, there were concerns with my parents as my stepdad's dementia continued to progress. There was the beginning of my daughter's school year, and ramping up for this Fall's round of auditions. Again, people and events too important to push aside. And so, again, I found ways to create in the spaces in between.
Over time, what I've learned, is that this is part of the process. In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron's fantastic book on creativity, Cameron talks about synchronicity: the way God and the universe will align to support our launching creative endeavors. But she also talks about how, the moment we have the courage to say Yes to this help, we can expect to be challenged by everything from crazy circumstances to what look like reasonable excuses for not putting in the work to people who fear facing their own creativity bringing doubt into our lives.
Here's the thing: I know myself well enough to know if I turned away my friend, ignored my parents, and refused to schlep my daughter and her tuba to the various lessons, musical clinics, and events that feed her, I will start becoming a person I don't like very much. But, I also know that if I say I'm submitting my novel to Pitch Wars, and then I don't do it because I let life get in the way, I will hate myself for that, too.
Some projects have soft deadlines, and I can flex them around life, as long as I don't ignore them completely. Other projects, like writing contests, have strict deadlines, and then I have to weigh whether it's worth it, whether that clear path, that fully brewed cup of coffee, was just to get me started on the journey, or whether it was to get me to the particular destination I have in mind. Either way, I have to honor the art for my soul to be full. Otherwise, I resent everything and everyone that I perceive as standing in the way.
Some coffee dates and movie nights and minor dramas can wait. But some relationships are too important to put off without damaging myself and others. These tend to come to a boil at exactly the same time as the coffee. And that's OK, and here's why:
If the dust of the universe that has lay still and dormant for years suddenly kicks up right when a project is ready to launch, there's always a lesson I need to learn that is essential for the path I've chosen.
The two may look unrelated at first glance. What does my friend's crisis have to do with my novel? On the surface, nothing. But in the stuff of who I am, everything. The novel is about overcoming fear and denial in order to experience authentic relationships and community. And this friend is the first person I ever did that with in my own life.
Some of the challenges that rose at home as I started preparing Percolator Paint Nights had to do with letting go as a parent. Meanwhile, this endeavor is what I am growing for myself as my daughter moves away from childhood and toward independence.
The challenges that rise when we say Yes are just as much part of the path as the the commitment to walk it. The journey is full of perks, and also full of the daily grind. Both are necessary.
P.S. Although this post is about process, not results, I realize that you may be wondering how Pitch Wars went. The mentor I approached received around 200 submissions. She selected 10 finalists. I was one of them. Ultimately, she chose to mentor someone else.
Solar Eclipse Crescents. Todd Petit. August 21, 2017. CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Black & white filter added to the original.
Today, something spectacular happened. It filled me with wonder.
It was not the eclipse.
But it was a result of the eclipse.
Last week was busy for me, and I didn't have time to get hold of eclipse glasses until everyone had sold out. I thought I'd go to a viewing party and score some there, but it didn't come together for me. So I pulled up one of the many videos I'd found on safe viewing.
When I saw the clip about creating a camera obscura, I was fascinated. I had no idea you could turn a whole room into a camera. I'd heard of pinhole cameras before, and had even done a couple photography self studies in college, but I'd never used (or understood) the mechanism of the camera obscura. It so happens that my studio window faces the direction that the sun would be at the peak viewing time in Orlando, so I thought, why not?
I got to work taping and nailing cardboard, black paper, and a heavy poncho across my studio window. I filled in the gaps with tin foil and made five different pinholes in hopes that at least one of them would catch the moon as it gobbled up the sun. I created flaps over them so I could use one or more at a time.
My 15-year-old got home just as I was finishing this motley collage. As often happens, she pronounced me crazy. But then - and I am pleased to say this happens almost as often - she joined me in the craze.
We opened the first pinhole. The trees, the street, the sky, shot onto the walls and vaulted ceiling like dark, upside down ghosts. We moved huge empty painting canvases around the room, trying to catch the patch of sky where the sun and moon would meet. We crawled under my writing desk to avoid casting shadows over the delicate projections of the outside world.
Cars drove by, and we could see them like an old film - their color, their features - these weren't just silhouettes. They were cars on camera, in real time. And people. People walked upside down across the ceiling, slanting toward the wall.
The room was dim and quiet and full of my fascination (and my daughter's amusement).
We never did catch the sun. We saw the crescents, like the ones Todd Petit has captured in the photo above, scattered like celestial lace across our porch in the spaces between the shadows of jasmine leaves. I briefly used a pinhole in a piece of cardboard to watch it on the sidewalk.
But after a few moments of this, I went back up to the studio. The eclipse held gifts for everyone who took the time to appreciate it, but for me, that gift was sitting inside a magical, upside down world of ghost images. I can't quite bring myself to take down the blackout collage across my window yet. I keep thinking about projecting the world onto a canvas and painting it as it goes by. I suspect I'll be spending a good deal of time inside the camera in the next few months.
My makeshift camera obscure blackout window - also known as my daughter's evidence of my mental instability.
I was so fascinated by watching cars and people glide across my ceiling that I didn't think to film or photograph it - will do that another day when the light is right again. But here's a great representation of turning a room into a camera obscura by photographer Shuets Udono, CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License
Thanks for visiting The Percolator's blog. I'm a big believer in using art to make a positive impact on our communities. Check back often for ideas, articles, and more about art, writing, and creativity in general. ~Bethany