After a period of years where I couldn’t find creativity with two hands, a magnifying glass and giant neon signs to point the way, suddenly, there it was again.
I was walking home and the sun was shining. The wind was blowing yellow leaves. They were swirling in this pattern, like a really lovely peaceful tornado of golden leaves, right in the middle of a gray street and gray buildings. I stood in the center of that swirl for a few seconds. And that’s when these ideas hit me, ideas fully formed and exciting and urgent. I picked up the pace, walking faster, and then faster, and then almost running, so I could get home and get it down on paper before I lost them.
It felt beautiful and encouraging and tenuous in my mind, swirling round and round just like those yellow leaves. And it had been years, literally years, since that happened to me.
I don’t know where the ideas came from (although I suspect I do, thanks God).
I don’t know what happened in those few seconds, but it was like someone turned on a fire hydrant of inspiration and I was running home as fast as I could, trying to drink from it. After years of living in a drought, I had not one, not two, but three separate story ideas.
And man, has it ever been a drought. Mostly, all the failures in my life combined into something I couldn’t crawl out from underneath. I could list them. I could go into detail about all of it. But I won’t.
What I will say, is that my biggest mistake was looking to others for approval. I had a person in my life who I always turned to with what I’d written. I would email my latest project to them, and hold my breath. They were my go-to person.
Usually I was met with silence until I followed up days later and asked what they thought, and then all I got was, “It was good.” No embellishments. No excitement. No discussion. No real approval. Nothing. AND YET I kept returning to this person, hoping they would see how important this was to me. Hoping that one day they would read something enthusiastically, and see me.
Talk about masochist. That was me. Front row, purple shirt, Kleenex in hand.
I internalized this subtle rejection. I let it convince me that maybe I wasn’t really that good at what I loved. I let it convince me that their disinterest was somehow a reflection on me, as a person. And it crushed me. I let it. I allowed that.
But we do this all the time, right?
“I will never be able to cook like him.” And we quit.
“My professor said my art was uninspired.” And we quit.
“She got a book deal and I didn’t.” And we quit.
What is UP with that? What does any of that have to do with the price of beans? Why does it matter what someone else thinks, or does, or accomplishes? Why don’t we fight harder for what we love?
With some distance and clarity and peace I’ve come to realize that that person’s reaction to me wasn’t about me at all. Maybe it was about their own dissatisfaction with their own life. Maybe it was about their own insecurities. Maybe it was about the fact that deep down, they probably didn’t give two shakes of a rat’s tail about me in the first place.
This is not a sob story. The bottom line is, I should never have been looking to another person to approve and give me a pat on the back. I should never have allowed that. That’s on me.
I should never have put conditions on my writing.
“One day I’ll be able to do this full time and make a living.”
Talk about a ridiculous amount of pressure.
I should never have depended on someone’s opinion.
That’s too terribly subjective.
I should have just done what I loved.
Because I love writing. Sometimes I do it well. Sometimes I stink up the joint. But I love it.
Since my encounter with the yellow leaf vortex, I’ve had some revelations. I’ve remembered what it feels like to be inspired, and unable to type fast enough. I’ve accepted that writing is a joyful thing, not a means to a paycheck. I’ve accepted that it doesn’t matter if I’m supported or approved of, I’m going to write anyway.
I’ve decided that in this world where there are so many hard things (divorce, sickness, job loss, mental health issues, crime, smog, traffic, misunderstanding), there are also these beautiful silver linings. Writing. Art. Decorating. Good movies. Baking pies. Making jewelry, music, teaching, speaking, constructing. These things don’t need approval or a green light. These things weren’t put in our lives so we could draw a paycheck. These things were given to us so we could find joy. That’s it.
Anything else that comes of it? That’s called icing.
So I made a solemn vow to myself. I won’t let this happen again. I’m sure I”ll have periods of zilchy inspiration. I’ll have moments of self doubt. But you won’t catch me going years without writing again. You won’t catch me looking to another person for validation that what I’m doing is good or okay or… anything. Because I’m never happier, or more joyful, than when I’m stringing words together.
And because I just really feel like I have to ask, because I’m nosy that way, where do you find your joy?
If you know, and you’re doing it, hold tight. Make a vow you won’t stop or let go.
If misery has sucked the will to create right out of you, fight it. Misery and joy and creativity have total irreconcilable differences and they’ll never live in the same house together.
If you’ve lost it, go find it again. Fight for it. You need it.
God gave it to you.
He didn’t give it to you so you could get accolades, or make money, or receive approval.
He gave it to you because it’s yours, and it makes you happy.
So go be happy.
Preaching to the choir much?
And that’s me, in the front row.
Purple shirt, zero Kleenex in sight, singing my heart out.