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Centering Creatively

Posted by Jenny Maloney on April 5, 2013 at 9:00 AM

WARNING: Lots of personal soul-searching in this post...but I swear, there's a point.


There are people who seem to be creative no matter what -- they knit, they draw, they act, they write, they sing (in public, outside of their showers!). I feel like I'm surrounded by these talented people. Every time I turn around, one of my friends is doing something neat and cool, like baking their own wedding cake while taking artful photographs of the whole process.


I've very often wanted to be like my friends. When Deb handed me a beautiful purple blanket that she'd knitted by hand for my baby girl, I wished I could do that. When Ali posts her photos, I wished I had even been remotely focused enough to learn to take artful pictures like her. Oliver sings (and just breathes creatively).


All of this was kind of a vague "Man, I wish..." until John started getting active in the local theatre scene.


First, a brief background:


It used to be, in my long-gone high-school years, that I was doing 4-5 plays a year. Rehearsing, performing, and doing all of the fun stuff that goes along with theatre. I did nothing else throughout high school. I barely did the school work. During my quarter-life crisis (which happened a little early) I had a meltdown that took me a while to get out of, and it was acting that took a hit.


Then I discovered writing. And I've gotten pretty darn good at the writing thing, if I do say so myself. I've done a shitload of practice. I've written a ton of words. Really, I'm obsessive about the written word. I love it. For the past decade or so, I've focused entirely on writing.


Then John auditioned and landed several parts with a couple really cool local theatre companies. And, after watching his work and watching the work of the people he was with...Well, the only way to put it is: I felt like something woke up.


So I auditioned. And I got a part.


For the past few weeks, I've been in rehearsals. And I Love It. I love figuring out what my character is thinking/feeling and how I should express that. I love throwing Tennessee Williams' words around (we're doing Streetcar Named Desire). I like moving physically again -- because I really haven't in a long time. Stuff if creaky, I won't lie, but I feel awake.


Now, here is where it gets tricky. For the past few weeks I've also been struggling with writing. Which is not good and not at all what I want.


The danger for me is that acting and writing scratch the same itch. Both are creative. Both involve telling stories. Both involve words. I'm afraid I don't have enough 'in the well' for both. I've been feeling drained.


But that's not true.


I've been reacting emotionally to a bunch of other things. My daughter got sick -- she suddenly turned lactose intolerant, which is a bad thing for a kid who eats and drinks milk products with everything -- and that was stressful. I had to adjust to a new schedule, because rehearsals do take up time. I felt guilty because I love going to rehearsal but that meant leaving my husband with the burden of carting the kids to baseball practice by himself. So the writing was gonna tank anyway.


And the story I'm working on is difficult. It's by far the hardest project I've taken on. There are lots of POVs, technical details that need to be done correctly, plus all the emotional elements that need to be worked in.


With all of these separate things going on, I know I need to get myself centered. I need some solid ground. I need some focus. I think I've figured out how to do that. And if you need to center yourself too, well, here's what I've been doing and hopefully some variation will work for you too:


Step 1: Let Whatever Needs to Happen, Happen

Sometimes, you just have to let what you're feeling get felt. Happy/sad/guilt/anger. You can only bottle-up for so long.


Yesterday = breakdown. And I just let it happen. I let myself tank. There was a lot of Ugly Girl Crying. (You know what that's like, right?)


Yes, I recommend the breakdown. If you feel it coming on, get to a safe place and just let that shit happen. You will feel a lot better.


Step 2: Talk it Out/Ask for Support

Creative endeavors are always so personal, so individual, that it can be hard sometimes to ask for help...and sometimes you just don't even know what help to ask for. One day it might be that you need reassurance. Another day you might need to be left alone. But, it's good to take time to figure out what you need, and then ask for it. 


Post-breakdown, I talked to Shane. He already knew my head wasn't necessarily straight. My guilt for asking so much of him was a very large element in my meltdown. He works full time, is trying to get his own writing done, and doesn't have much down time at all. And with rehearsals, I've been asking him to haul the kids around, make dinner, and do all the stuff I should be doing...and he's been doing it without question. If you look at it from a cost-benefit standpoint, it's a really unfair situation for him.


And he told me, very sincerely, that it was okay. He was okay with me doing what I wanted to do. His very real condition was that, if I wanted to keep auditioning and doing theatre stuff, I had to write. 


Step 3: Understand that Creativity Breeds Creativity

One of my big worries was that, if I did one creative thing, the other would suffer. I assumed that the creativity would draw from the same well. But I don't think that's true anymore. Now I'm pretty sure that if you have creative activities you love to do, they feed each other.


Deb's knitting? I'm sure that allows her the space-out time to work out plot points. And the completed physical project helps feed the need for done-ness that writers crave. Because, let's face it, writing projects can take a lot of emotional toll and they take time. You've got to wallow...which doesn't bode well for completion. With that sense of satisfaction filled somewhere else, it allows the right amount of time for deep writing.


Ali's photography? Allows her to look at the world from a different angle. She likes to get so up-close that the subject of her pictures becomes something new. I've noticed something similar in her writing.


John's theatre experience? His writing has gained a lot of structural integrity. Plays, by their nature, are really fast stories with complete beginnings/middles/ends. I can see the influence of that in his stories. I'm hoping that something similar will happen with my stories.


As for me, right now I'm learning a lot about crafting dialogue. There's something interesting with Tennessee Williams: You just automatically speak in a southern accent. There's no weird spellings or anything to indicate the accent. He's just structured the sentences so that it comes out, whether you want to or not. There's a lot to pick up.


So, if you're thinking that your creative attempts are too much, just understand that they are helping.


Right now, I'm just happy I've found things I love to do.



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Reply Ali
5:15 PM on April 5, 2013 
The struggle you're talking about is one that is so relatable. That stretched thin feeling is tough. You're finding a new balance between the rhythm you're used to and this new beat. You'll figure it out ;)
Reply John Ridge
9:48 AM on April 7, 2013 
I don't completely agree.

Here's the biggest thing I learned about doing theatre stuff: I can't do theatre and write simultaneously, at least not as seriously as I would like. I feel like I've done my best work in both when every neuron in my limited brain is devoted to getting the particular project absolutely right. Put another way, I'm not a very good multitasker when it comes to creativity, the pot's only got room for one kind of stew. I do have creative endeavors beyond both of these, but these are my "just puttering around, who cares about the outcome" creative things. I respect both theatre and writing enough that it would kill me if it felt like I was half-assing them.

Having said that, being in theatre absolutely has either sharpened or developed new transferable skills. I'm glad I did it, and I hope you can get similar things out of it. Keep gut-checking your priorities, and make sure you are clear on what you can accomplish in the time you have. If you can do both, great, I envy you. If not, don't beat yourself up. If you have to take a break from one or the other, it's not like the skills will wither in the interim.

But, first and foremost, for God's sake, have fun. Both are too much work to spend in misery.
Reply Debbie Meldrum
2:39 PM on April 9, 2013 
You will find that beat. Maybe it means NaNo-style writing while you're working on a play so there's not a lot of heavy thinking about what you're putting down. Or it could be that your brain will work on stories subconsciously for you. Letting it happen is a good way to go.

You nailed it on having something to hold in my hand when the knitting's done. It's also repetitive motion so it's soothing while my brain does something else. And, to be completely honest, I can feel productive while watching television. "See I made this."

You are juggling a lot. Cut yourself a bit of slack, okay.

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