The unblocking was unexpected.
It began with The Red Shoes as retold and analyzed by Dr. Clara Pinkola Estes in her seminal study on feminine archetypes, Women Who Run With the Wolves. In particular, it began with this paragraph:
Too too many women made a terrible vow years ago before they knew any better. As young women they were starved of basic encouragement and supports, and so filled with sorrow and resignation, they put down their pens, closed up their words, turned off their singing, rolled up their artwork and vowed never to touch them ever again. A woman in such a condition has inadvertently entered into the oven along with her handmade life. Her life becomes ashes.
How is it that these words cut me so deeply, burned into my mind such that I awoke at midnight, unable to rest? It is 12:29 a.m. as I begin to put thoughts to paper.
As I contemplate the brief passage, vignettes of the past few months stream across the screen of my inner vision: crazy quilts; words on sticky notes; my 5-minute morning stretch.
I’m not even sure what the Question is yet, but my impulse is to snatch at these ideas and collage them into a neatly packaged Answer. “Make something useful of them,” says a familiar voice in my head.
This snippet of memory is nearly 40 years old now, but suddenly I am 11 years old again, standing in the front yard with tiny handmade willow baskets held out for my mother’s inspection.
They’re very nice, Tara, but why don’t you make something useful?
The truth was, I knew my baskets weren’t very “good” by any objective measure; they were just a first attempt. But I believed I was working toward skill – and perhaps even eventual mastery – until my efforts were seen and found “useless”. I never really tried making baskets again after that.
Because I am multi-passionate, however, I never fully gave up on creating. I was not part of Brene Brown’s 42.5% of survey respondents who suffered a shaming incident in school that made them abandon their creativity. (https://theofficeonline.com/2015/09/18/brene-brown-on-creativity/). It took me years to realize how deeply my mother’s words had wounded me that day.
And still, my creative wound festered, infecting much of my subsequent practice and product in the arts. Looking back over my life, I can see a thousand ways large and small that this belief in the “uselessness” of my creative efforts has played itself out in everything from unfinished projects tucked away in forgotten drawers to opting out of valuable college internship opportunities because I felt, as an art major, that my studies weren’t “useful”. Afraid to try something new and be found wanting, I have kept myself small.
Take this blog, for example. I believe individual creative potential is the greatest treasure we have, and no work is more important to me than encouraging creative expression in others. I created this blog for exactly that purpose. Yet I have allowed months to lapse between posts. Articles that seemed inspired – even necessary – when I first conceived of them lost their lustre when I couldn’t make them “useful” in some way specifically related to a professional goal or entrepreneurial task.
It is nearly one a.m., and the house around me is silent and dark, but my mind is illuminated by the realization that I have been trying to answer this question all my life.
My current project – Artist in a Cubicle – is a direct product of this concern, and attempts to answer a related, but distinct, question: “How can I make creativity useful in my professional life?”
That distinction is important. In the first framing, failure has already occurred; the unspoken context is, “You’ve made something useless. Why?” It contains an element of truth, and so it is convincing…and devastating. In the second question, I take ownership and imbue my work with the intention of making something new – something beautiful and useful. It is believable…and empowering!
And so I claim this opportunity to begin again, to make a new choice to believe in myself and my own creativity, to nurture my creative curiosity and truly give it room to grow.
To allow the the crazy quilts, sticky notes, and morning stretches to flow across my consciousness, and to follow them into unexpected places, potentials and masteries – useful or not.
What forgotten wound might be infecting your creative practice or confidence? How can you take the kernel of truth it contains and reframe it as an empowering intention for yourself?