“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.
[…] Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”
The art table is what we call it in our family, the permanent holding space for the sharpeners, colored pencils, and erasers. It was originally meant to serve as the gathering place for our meals together but instead has become the hub of all kinds of projects in our household, primarily coloring and drawing.
“Please, David, don’t toss your paper on the floor. I’ve told you so many times to just put it in the recycle.” Most days he forgets to walk the few steps from the table to the kitchen recycle bin to throw away his abandoned sketches. When he’s in drawing mode, which happens at least once every day, there is inevitably a few pieces of crumpled paper scattered around him.
Although I sometimes see the regular messes as an irritating habit, deep down I know they are the proof of a colorful, creative explosion, a burgeoning imagination, an awakening from within.
Creativity extends far beyond the paints or colored pencils or the camera lens. Creativity begins and ends with seeing our entire lives like an art table.
Every morning we have an invitation to come and play, to integrate our imaginations with our actual stories and surroundings. All the supplies we could ever need are stocked and ready to use, sitting there…waiting.
Through the years, I’ve noticed how I lose interest and stop tending to my creative spirit. I walk past my kids, enthralled with their scribbles, sketching freely from their heart, and I long to be like them. Then, I view my habits and decisions, the markings on my paper so to speak, and see how they primarily revolve around safety, security, and certainty.
I ignore the allure of an impassioned, soulful life, and I remain disembodied from the parts of me longing to wander and dream and experiment.
We sometimes assume, especially as we grow older, that creativity is a hobby we dabble in, when no one is watching, while sitting alone in our basement. But creativity is meant to be entangled with our whole life. It is a sacred flow pulsing through our bodies, triggering our senses, and stretching us out of status quo.
When you and I befriend creativity, we simultaneously participate in mending society.
Creativity is both a daring act and our human birthright. When we choose to believe our entire being is permeated with radiant light and radical love, united with the Source of Life itself, we begin to reshape our realities, perpetuating fresh, healing stories, and forging our own path through the wilderness. We conspire with that sacred inner knowing and conjure up startling ideas and pass on hope and possibility for generations to come.
I cannot afford to keep walking by my son at the art table, instead, I need to heed the challenge to join him. It will take time of course, if we are out of practice, before we are moving steadily in this childlike flow of energy and imagination once again. But the world waits for us to own our creative genius and give it space to weave itself subtly back into our daily rhythms.
Perhaps some of these simple reminders might be a starting place for you, a way to sustain your creative life, just as they have been for me.
- Take more gutsy attempts. In other words-become comfortable with tiny, regular risks.
- Commit to the cycle of making and re-making in every area of your life (your habits, values, relationships, your opinions, decisions, and dreams) this will most likely be equal parts frustrating and delightful, but keep going!
- Release your lofty and desired outcomes and instead let yourself be surprised.
- See a mess as the evidence of your courage to move, to try something different, to escape the trap of perfection. In the words of Ann Lamott, perfectionism “will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
Thankfully, by its very nature life calls forth the creative spirit within us. Life barges in and spills out all over the pages, breaking out of our tight and tidy boundaries more than we’d care to admit. It is unmanageable and out of control at times. Yet I wonder how much of my unsettled feelings towards life are simply because I have long silenced my creative self.
What if I wasn’t afraid to go through stacks of paper and make countless trips to the trash can?
What if I made having fun with life a priority, instead of being worried about fulfilling a crystal-clear purpose?
What if trying and experimenting, and expecting regular detours and messes along the way was just normal, dare I say necessary, to the bettering of our world and humanity as a whole?
How would my days look different if I paid attention to the voice inside me whispering, “create…create…create”?