The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you.
– Hugh MacLeod, from Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
What do we do when the pottery class we want to take is at the exact same time as the Little League practice we’re expected to attend? When there is a writers’ retreat at the beach, but spouses are not included? When we have to choose between a new lens for our camera or a new couch for the family room?
These are some examples of the conflicts that Julia describes as The Virtue Trap. Even if we are already seeing some creative output, to what extent has it become the safe, easy stuff, that doesn’t challenge the needs and demands of our families or day job?
For instance, we can crank out those necklaces with our eyes closed and without disrupting the family routine. We placate ourselves, remembering the thrill they once brought us in the early days, and telling ourselves that this proves we haven’t sold out on our artistic dreams.
But what we really long for is to set up a studio with a blowtorch and glass rods to make our own lampwork beads. What we secretly desire is to disappear into our work for hours and hours at a time, challenging ourselves, pushing our skills to the next level. But how can we do that, and still be constantly available, the rock everyone leans on, the good parent/worker/friend?
Maybe we can’t. At least not in the ways we have been.
Does the kid really need a new, upgraded iPod? We could spend that money for a new pottery wheel, a loom, or one of those new sewing machines with the embroidering gizmo. But what kind of mommy or daddy would do that? Wouldn’t that be immature and selfish of us?
Julia warns, “Many recovering creatives sabotage themselves most frequently by making nice. There is a tremendous cost to such ersatz virtue.
“Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross…
“We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world. But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.
“What’s left is a shell of our whole self. It stays because it is caught. Like a listless circus animal prodded into performing, it does its tricks. It goes through its routine. It earns its applause. But all of the hoopla falls on deaf ears. We are dead to it. Our artist is not merely out of sorts. Our artist has checked out. Our life is now an out-of-body experience. We’re gone…”
She goes on to declare this a deeply self-destructive act. Okay, honestly, I think she goes on to rant for several pages about this. Maybe it’s a bit much. But the question of what self-destructive means, especially to creatives, is a fair one, and one that we’ll explore tomorrow.