I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately. (Obviously.) And pandemics. (Again, obvs.) And… something finally clicked. The reason I – and so many others have struggled with our creative work these days.
The price of admission.
Everything has one. If you go to the movies, the price of admission is the cost of the ticket, plus your time. If the movie sucks, your’e out both – but ultimately that was the trade you were willing to make. If you fall in love, the price is your vulnerability. Your open heart. If you don’t fully pay the price, you’ll never fully experience the rewards. And if the relationship goes sour, you don’t get a refund.
With creative work there are many costs. There’s the cost of your materials and your time, but also your tender self – the part that stings like an open wound when someone says something hurtful or stupid. Or, the cost of trying your hardest and having it simply not work. And a hundred other pinpricks you may feel along the way.
The real price of admission is showing up, even when you can’t be sure you’ll be emotionally or financially safe. It’s doing the work, even when you don’t know whether or not people will like it. It’s putting it out there, even if someone might steal, reject, or belittle it. Or, perhaps say nothing at all.
The real price of admission is fearlessness.
The fearlessness to stand at your work table not knowing if anything will come of it. The fearlessness to take an emotional risk. The fearlessness to make that first cut, paint that first stroke, or write that first sentence. The fearlessness to look like an idiot long enough to become competent.
But, it’s hard to stay fearless during a pandemic.
In a pandemic, the danger is real, and unseen. You must keep up your guard against an invisible enemy. You must wash your hands and cover your face at every opportunity. The price of a pandemic is vigilance.
But how do you remain both vigilant and fearless? How do you hold them both in your hand? Never let either drop? That’s the struggle. When your mind tries to hold two conflicting ideas together, it toggles back and forth, changing rapidly between them. Like a light switch. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. Indefinitely.
It’s not weakness – we miss the point when we insist we must be doing more or feeling stronger. It’s literally, physiologically exhausting.
So what’s the answer? To stop creating until the world is sunny again? To only make things when the creative winds are blowing our way?
No, the answer is perhaps to do what we’ve done – or perhaps should have been doing – all along. To simply show up. To stand at our work tables not knowing if anything will come of it. To treat ourselves with grace when we walk away empty-handed. To make the first cut, paint the first stroke, or write the first sentence – and forgive ourselves if that’s all we can muster. Or rather, to recognize it isn’t a sin in the first place.