When a creative isn’t creating, they won’t make eye contact

Look, no shame and no judgement about this. AND imagine being able to look people in the eye when they ask, “Hey, how’s that thing you’re working on going?”

You can tell a creative isn’t creating when they won’t make eye contact.

The auditorium was filling up and the group a few seats away slide over to make room on the aisle seats. The mid-20s woman who ended up in the seat next to me had a clear artist vibe—short, interesting hair, an earscape made up of eclectic pieces and clothes that were that were too cool to be trendy and too cool not to be.

By the time intermission rolled around, we had shared some laughs at the antics on stage and it was easy to ask the perennial question, “So, what do you do?”

She shifted in her seat and her eyes moved off of me to the now-empty stage in front of us.

“Well, I’m working in an art gallery right now…”

Turns out, she is a trained theater actor whose career was thrown by the pandemic, and she hasn’t set foot on stage since February 2020.

And as she spoke, I could hear so many fears coming out of what she wasn’t saying.

Is it still for me?
Maybe the pandemic was a good thing…making me shift to doing something else.
How would I even start down that path again?

Notice she wasn’t wondering if she still wanted to be a theater actor. It was obvious she did. But she felt distant and disconnected from it, even though the tension of wanting to do it rolled off her.

If you are a person who yearns to produce creativity, it feels like a very personal failure when you are not. Even in the midst of a global pandemic. Not outputting the art inside you suppresses the very core of who you are. It’s not just about not creating; it’s about not BEING.

We chatted some more.

Me: Is theater acting what you want to do?
Her: (shyly, a little pulled in) Yeah…
Me: (curiously) What’s keeping you from doing that?
Her: Well, the theater I was connected to closed down and now I don’t know how to get back into the community.

Ah, the ‘I don’t know’ response.

As we continued talking, she shared some tidbits about what she wanted to do and I grinned as her energy raised.

I gently probed.

Me: If you did know, what is the lowest hanging fruit, the smallest step to take?
Her: I was in an improv class that got shut down in February 2020. I wonder what the class schedule is for it now? I could look that up…

And she’s off.

I saw the tears in her eyes and encouraged her to take that step, just that small step of finding info about the class and assured her that the next thing to do would likely reveal itself as she kept moving forward to BE the creative she longed to be.

The lights went down on the audience and went up on the stage again and she asked for a hug. As I put my arms around her shoulders, I assured her she could be brave.

It takes a small amount of bravery to move forward. As author Elizabth Gilbert quotes in her book, Big Magic, about the advice her creative writing colleague. Jack Gilbert, gave to the students:

“Most of all, thought he asked his students to be brave. Without bravery, he instructed, they would ever be able to realize the vaulting scope of their capacities. Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, their lives would remain small—far smaller than they probably wanted their lives to be.”

For the creatives I have had conversations with, the angst of NOT creating is painful, but at least it is familiar. And some people go their whole lives living under the familiar unsettled tension of not actually making the thing they want to make in the world. Of not being brave.

Some of us don’t identify ourselves as ‘creative’. But all humans are—it’s part of our nature, like being bipedal with frontal vision. But even people who make a living as professional creatives have a fear of failure or a fear of success that keeps them unbrave and small and not creating.

We humans are willing to endure an awful lot of both of those fears.

And yet.

The thing won’t leave. The idea, the desire, the image of yourself DOING THE THING. MAKING the thing. TRYING the thing.

We think it’s going to be hard. Is it? Harder than squishing down the thing at the core of who you are on the daily? Is making that phone call/sending that email/looking for the information REALLY harder than that?

Sometimes we don’t take the lowest hanging, smallest step because we’re afraid of the steps after it.

Sometimes we don’t take that small step because it’s been so long since we’ve thought about the step that we feel ridiculous that it’s taken us this long to take such a small step.

Sometimes it’s we’re afraid it won’t be the right step and then we’ll have been brave for no reason.

But how long do you want to live with that internal tension? The discomfort when you pass a theater, hear an interview with a new musician, attend a book signing or see some new innovation?

It probably won’t always feel this painful to not align your life with the thing you want to create in the world. Your brain and body don’t like the tension any more than you do and they will stop sending you those pain and tension signals. You’ll probably start to notice over time that it doesn’t hurt as much when someone asks you, ‘Hey, what about that thing you were doing…?’

But wouldn’t you like to know what is possible, even if you need to be a little brave to do it? Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to look people in the eye and share what you ARE doing?

If you get trapped in the seat next to me some time, I hope I get to hear all about the small step you took and how that led to the next step and the next as your face lights up and your eyes sparkle and you tell me how it just took doing the next small step.

So, to Darcy—I am cheering you on! I can’t wait to hear how you are aligning your small steps with the person you are inside, that creative actor who wants to connect with the world through the things in her soul.

Break a leg!

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