.journal 2001.04.27
A dilemma of the creative process.

Now listening to: Myst soundtrack
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Courtney Love: the Real Story
Now playing: NHL 2001 (Playstation 2)

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the creative process and what it means to me. There's kind of a dilemma I'm facing that has to do with that process, and it's not one that I can really share here, as much as I try to share as many of my life experiences here as is possible. But I think the concepts are important, and I wanted to write about them and try to share what I can.

And yes, this is all pretty much stuff I've experienced from my work with The Artist's Way, so let's get that link out of the way so I can get my browser off of Amazon and onto other things. If you haven't read the book yet, you need to, even if you don't view yourself as an artist. It will change your life, and change it for the better. 'Nuff said.

I think it was really L. coming back into my life last June that started my recovery for me, but she was more the fuel in the car than anything else; Julia Cameron's book/course was the road for me. And The Artist's Way isn't just about the process of "creative recovery" that I mention so much in my journal here; it also touches on the whole person, and what is needed to really enjoy life, to feel comfortable with yourself and to find your direction and your calling and to have the strength to go in that direction, the rest of the world be damned.

I was really in a low spot before L. came back, and these past ten months I've really reawakened to who it is that I am and what I want out of life. More importantly, I now have the courage to follow my heart and be true to myself, and while that's caused me a great deal of pain, that pain is nothing compared to the pain I was feeling by not being true to myself and my nature. To be sure I have my rough spots; troubles with my new friends, all the issues I have with my family, and the blocks that plague any artist that make it hard for me to express my nature and be a creative. But I've developed the patience to deal with, and the strength to cope with, the rough spots and blemishes, and in the end I always emerge from the process a stronger person.

Still, I'm aware of something of a lack of patience on my part. As Julia Cameron points out, the inner artist is like a child, and while that's ultimately a very good thing (for the sense of wonderment it can give you and its more primal nature), that child can still be somewhat temperamental. And ultimately I have to surrender to that child inside, because I really think it's that child that defines who I am. I may be twenty-whatever in years lived, but I'm always going to be going on six, if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, when the child gets irritable, and my ego escapes the cage I try to keep it in, the result is that I end up placing some pretty harsh demands on myself. I've always had a perfectionist streak in me, and it's not one of the features of myself that I'm that proud of. It does have its advantages sometimes, yes, but when it comes into play during the creative process it is toxic. And while Cameron points this out as a stumbling block in her course and I've tried to do what I can to minimize its effect on my work, there are cases where I don't have such luck keeping it in check.

I can think of no better example to point to than my trying to learn how to draw anime. I don't know how this happened; my father and sister are both tremendous artists (and Mom's pretty good too), and if you put me in front of a keyboard - musical or computer - I have damn good hands. Even at my lowest points, when I was drowning in self-doubt, I still knew that I had a real gift when it came to keyboards. But when you stick a pencil or paintbrush or whatever in my hand, all of a sudden I klutz up. My handwriting isn't very good, and my attempts at hand-drawn or painted art just aren't that good.

Truthfully this doesn't bother me so much; I seem to do well enough when I'm designing on the computer, and the visual arts weren't really something that interested me that much growing up. But I've been hooked on anime for the past few years, not enough to amass a particularly large tape collection but that's more due to finances and all my other interests than anything else. And I think it would kind of be nice if I were able to perhaps do some drawing on my own, whether to create my own characters or to take the characters in existing anime that I like so much and maybe come up with some storylines of my own.

And a couple of years ago I stumbled upon a site that was giving some good tutorials on how to draw anime; unfortunately the site has long since disappeared, but I did print out the lessons and over the past couple of years I've kind of been on-and-off trying them out, seeing what I can come up with. But I can never really create something that I'm happy with, no matter how often I practice or what I try. And the end result of that is that I've been kind of off practicing for a few months now.

One of the key tenets of The Artist's Way, though, and it's one that really comes back to my perfectionistic streak, is that the creative process is all about the journey, and not the destination. What is most important is that what you do what makes you happy, what fulfills your creative spirit the most. And if the end-product isn't perfect, or it doesn't sell a million copies, or nobody likes it, that's far less important than the fact that you enjoyed yourself in the process.

But while I do have fun in the actual drawing process, what I find is that when I am done, the finished product is a source of frustration for me. I wish I could attribute it to my perfectionist streak, but I recognize that my problem isn't that the work isn't perfect - the work really isn't good at all. Even when I keep my ego in check and I diminish my own expectations of the end-result, I'm still not satisfied with it. And this frustrates me to no end.

And this goes back to what I said earlier about The Artist's Way being as much about personal recovery as creative recovery. One of the things I've really learned about myself from the course is that there are simply too many sources of frustration in my life, and that they lead to a lot of the internal trouble I still have. Whether it be family members trying to make me feel like a heretic or an aberration, or people from my past who caused me harm and continue to try to do so, or just a whole myriad of other things, there's still too much aggravation in my life.

So I recognize that part of what I have to do in my personal recovery is to try to minimize that frustration in my life, because it really plagues me in a lot of ways that stretch throughout every aspect of my life. I'm not going to be able to totally get frustration out of my life; family members will continue to think of me as a deviant because of their strong religious beliefs and close minds, and some people will continue to poke fun at and try to hurt me simply because they need to do such things to make themselves feel good. But when it comes to the things I can control, I think that eliminating sources of frustration from my life will be key to my personal recovery and my enjoyment of life.

And that really poses a dilemma for me, because while the process of drawing anime is fun, ultimately that fun always leads to frustration. And in as much as talent is either something one is born with or something one can learn, given all the efforts I have made to learn how to draw in the past, I don't know that I will ever have the ability to create anime that I won't be frustrated with. So the question becomes, do I try to forget about the end-product entirely and focus solely on the process of creation, or do I simply move on to something else and nip the chances for frustration in the bud?

This really doesn't take every exigency into account, though. For one thing, there is the issue of how much importance one places on the particular subject. Anime drawing is nice for me, but I have several other artistic pursuits that are more important to me, and if eliminating anime drawing means I can spend more time on the more important pursuits, maybe that's for the best. I know that if these troubles had to do with my songwriting, though, I'd have to put my head down and try to bash through every problem because my songwriting is what's most important to me. And there are other things that can crop up; this dilemma I'm facing has a couple of elements to it that I can't even bring up here for fear of upsetting its prospects.

Normally when I write here I try to finish with some sort of concrete solution here, but there isn't one of those to be had in this case. These things are all too personal, and each person's perspectives, desires and needs will make each situation different. This is one case where each of us has to come up with our own answers, and I guess this is one of those cases where the answer isn't coming as quickly as I'd like it to. Again, though, that's my foolish ego talking, always wanting instant gratification.

If there is one thing I can say, though, it is that going through this process, no matter what results from it, makes us stronger and more fulfilled, both as creatives and as people. Going back to the whole road analogy I used earlier, this road I am taking certainly has its forks, and in cases like this there's so much fog in front of me that I can't even see my nose. But that doesn't mean I can't keep going forward. I have to persevere, I have to make these decisions, and even if I make the wrong decision, I will at least have grown some from making it.

So remember that it is from these little dilemmas that we all grow, and try not to be so concerned with doing the best thing -- just do what is best for you, stay true to yourself and your own desires, no matter how long it takes you to find out what those are, and all will be well. Sometimes you'll stumble, but just keep going forward. As long as you listen and live for yourself first, satisfaction will eventually come.

Be strong. And be well. I'll see you all again soon.

- Sean