I was playing around with lighting and props for a shoot I have coming up, and took these test photos, and…I don’t know, I just thought they came out well, so I wanted to show them to you. Sometimes it’s nice to just look at a pretty photograph of flowers and pom poms.
On my drive down to LA, I started listening to a podcast – Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons, in which she discusses the process of exploring (and hopefully unleashing) your creativity. (I’m aware that this does not appear to have anything at all to do with the aforementioned flowers and hats, but bear with me, because I do have a point here.)
In the final episode of the podcast Gilbert talks about vulnerability; how terrifying it is to put anything that you’ve created – a book, a painting, a performance on a stage – out into the world. It really is like putting a little piece of your soul on a plate and setting it down in front of total strangers, and then hoping that they’ll be kind to it. Everyone, Gilbert says, is “a creative person” – it’s just that so many of us have wounds dating back decades (a grandparent who told us we couldn’t sing, a classmate who laughed at our drawing); wounds that have left us too scared to put the creative parts of ourselves out into the world, and so we shut them down. And to shut down your creativity, Gilbert argues, is not only a loss – it makes you sick.
You have to create. Anything. Any way you can. It is the one absolutely unique gift that we can give to this world: our own creativity. Our voice, however we choose to express it.
People ask me a lot whether I get nervous putting my words and thoughts out there on the Internet every day. And the answer is that god, is the Internet ever a terrifying place to operate in, but still: I love what I do. The anxiety that comes along with handing over the most intimate parts of myself to total strangers feels – honestly? – like a small price to pay for the opportunity to be heard. I spent years and years and years wanting so badly to have a voice, and feeling like I didn’t – acting jobs that I could never quite book, stories that I wrote half of and then tucked away in a drawer, abandoned sketchbooks and paintings and plans for the things I wanted to make and do and be. It made me sick; it did. Not because I’m this huge talent whose work must! be! seen!; because I wanted to write, and I was scared to do it. And so the fact that I do write every day now for a living – it’s not just a “cool job,” it’s a gift. I mean that. It’s a gift that I’m grateful for every day; one that I know has quite literally saved me, healing me over and over throughout the years.
But then there’s this:
Towards the end of the podcast, Gilbert asked her guest – a fellow writer – what kinds of personal stories she felt comfortable sharing with the public, and her friend’s response (and I’m paraphrasing here) was “I only share my personal stories when I don’t care how they are received.” In other words, she will only share the deepest parts of herself when the resolution that she’s achieved with regards to that story is strong enough that someone can scream in her ear all they like about her choices and how wrong they were…and she’ll still be okay.
You have to be brave, but you also have to protect yourself. You have to be smart about when and how and why you share.
The truth is, I don’t feel great right now. I feel…kind of bad, actually. I miss my mom and dad; I’m having trouble communicating with my husband; I want to do nothing but hold my children. I’m spending more time than makes sense thinking about things like time passing and what I’m doing in this world and how it’s not nearly enough. I know that these moods pass – whether because they’re cyclical or because you work through them and make the necessary changes – but they present an interesting challenge when you do what I do, which is write about the inside of your head.
But here’s the final thing that I learned from the podcast (can you tell I thought it was a good one?): Sometimes you have to be gentle with yourself. There are days when what you put out into the world falls short of your expectations – whether you spent less time with your kids than you wanted to, or wrote 200 not-so-great words rather than the 500 brilliant ones you intended, or cooked a shitty meal, whatever – and when that happens? You have to respond to yourself the way you’d respond to a friend who came to you saying that they felt that they’d failed: with compassion, and with love. Gently.
Be gentle with yourself.
It shouldn’t be a hard thing to remember, but it is.
Sometimes the internet can feel like a massive room full of people all yelling and yelling and nobody listening. I guess I just feel like sitting in silence for a second, and taking photographs of pretty flowers. I think that’s okay. Today, it has to be.