I’m sipping a gin martini. The man on stage is my age; maybe a year or two younger. He seems comfortable being the centre of attention. He’s been doing stand-up comedy for years now (I know him through friends). His jokes are alright–enough to amuse a crowd, but to get them to burst into rambunctious laughter? No, not yet. Will he get there? Maybe.
My martini numbs the nagging feeling I have. It’s not pain nor misery.
Alcohol’s ability to swim truth up to the surface is a two-sided coin of danger and excitement. The liquor travelled from my belly all the way to my heart, and all of a sudden, I felt this comedian’s comfort with the crowd and his giddiness at being able to use words to deliver joy.
I recognize my nagging feeling. It’s explicable jealousy I did not know I had in me.
Why was I jealous of this person? I asked myself. Stand-up comedy never appealed to me. I don’t think it’s something I’m terrified of doing; it’s just not my jam.
The next time this nagging feeling surfaced was when I was reading a book by a woman whose prose I loved. Gosh, I hadn’t written in years. I enjoyed putting words on paper but never thought it was something I could do for a living. I was jealous that she wrote the book and I didn’t.
The third time was when I was watching a fellow burlesque performer, who soared from being a rookie to a semi-professional in a short span of time. I envied her confidence despite her non-stereotypical body, her ability to capture an audience with the most minuscule, unassuming flick of a finger, and her shabby yet alluring costume.
It was then I realized that these three people represented a huge part of myself I’d abandoned years, decades ago. The creative–in some cases performer– side who liked to bare her soul and expression to the world. The person who had to silence her truth because it angered those around her since it exposed truths within themselves they wanted to bury– whether it was shame or guilt. Take your pick.
Once this realization hit, I decided to get reacquainted not only with that forgotten gal, but with people I wrote off as tortured, broody, and miserable–stereotypes we place on artists. Some are, but many are certainly not. In the mainstream, we can see artists in such a negative light especially if they come up with phenomenal work to deal with their pain. But good work isn’t limited to bad times; much great work is created by happy and curious people.
Digging To Find Buried Treasure
I had to excavate. Excavate and peel the layers of assumptions I made about creative people, about myself. Excavating is a zig-zag. There’s shit, shit, shit and more shit, and on a good day, you might find a tiny nugget of gold. Then it’s shit again, for another few days, even months. But then you find two nuggets. Then it’s more shit. Excavate, clear, repeat.
At some point you get tired. This is the dip Seth Godin talks about. It’s when you want to throw in the towel and walk away. This is the part where you ask–should I quit? Is this a lost cause? Or is it the difficult part I need to suffer and bulldoze my way through to get to the other, better side? Only you would know.
Pick Your Creative Outlet
I was rusty. I wasn’t sure where to begin so I picked burlesque as a starting point. It was fun in the beginning–creative honeymoon I like to call it. Everything is new, you like your peers and you see what the end result could look like when you watch others perform.
But then you hit a bump.
For me, costumes felt hard to come up with, and when I did picture them, they seemed impossible to translate from my imagination to reality. My ideas for acts seemed promising but I couldn’t execute them well. All of this was normal, but was it a bump I was willing to go through? With further action, I determined it was a no. But I was glad I tried. Otherwise, I would have always wondered.
Writing was next. When I started, writing even the shortest essays felt like a crawl; I struggled to get to 300 words of drafting. When I showed up to the keyboard uninspired I would internally scream in anger because I couldn’t find the flow I desperately craved to vocalize my own truth…whether it be through an essay, a note or a short story. Again, normal in the early stages of starting a creative practice.
But with writing, I could get through. I just had to keep going–and the most important observation was that I wanted to. Burlesque during the dip felt like a trap, writing was more like passing through a scary, tunnel. I saw the light at the end.
It was the right creative outlet for me.
Should I Keep Going?
This is probably one of the toughest questions people ask themselves–it tests your comfort with the unknown. Creatives especially. Seth Godin usually talked about businesses, particularly in the marketing space. But this crossroad is applicable to many walks of life; whether to cut your losses in a relationship, or continue with a degree in a field you don’t want to pursue but are so close to finishing. Is it worth it to keep going just to justify the sunk costs? You will find out–but you have to keep going because action breeds clarity. You’ll know when you’ve hit a dead end. Sometimes the best option is to actually quit. Absolutely nothing is wrong with that.
I had to come up with bad acts. I had to write horrible sentences and use bad diction. I had to throw out the shitty starter watercolour paintings, and the crooked sewing for some teapot holder that was out of my depth. My creative ambitions were too high too soon.
Is this any good? How much should I have improved at this stage? Will people read this? Will they like it? These are questions many recovering creatives ask when they’re getting to know themselves, especially if it’s for the first time after denying their talents for so long. Also, don’t compare your perfect reel to your dailies.
What Happens When You Emerge From the Dark Creative Tunnel?
The anger subsides. Sure, the jealousy is still there, but it’s not toxic anymore–it just inspires you to do better. When you watch other artists, you start to see glimpses of yourself in them.
A dancer’s fluid movement makes you want to explore your own, so you can express yourself too.
Watching an actress play a scene on stage gets you thinking about the different choices you would have made if you were in her shoes delivering the dialogue, and you see a buried part of yourself you could show the world.
Hello creative friend, for the first time. Or maybe hello again, after the years, decades that we haven’t seen each other.
Some years later, I watch another comedian who is right on point with his delivery; and suddenly, I no longer feel the numbness the gin martini created (pun intended). I feel vibrations from my adrenal glands after thinking that maybe, just maybe I would feel at home on my own version of a stage too.
At what stage are you in your creative practice? Have you started one? Do you plan to? Let me know what’s on your mind.