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04/17/2006 Archived Entry: "Risky baby steps for creativity (and freedom)"

PERHAPS THERE SHOULD BE A BOOK CALLED THE FREEDOM WAY. I ran into this page-long passage in The Artist's Way. Fellow hermits here at the Desert Hermitage agreed that with just a few word changes it described most of the self-proclaimed freedom advocates we know. And perhaps describes most of us, at one time or another.

Indulging ourselves in a frantic fantasy of what our life would lookk like if we were real artists [if we were free], we fail to see the many small creative changes that we could make at this very moment. This kind of look-at-the-big-picture thinking ignores the fact that a creative life [or a free one] is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.

Rather than take a scary baby step toward our dreams, we rush to the edge of the cliff and then stand there, quaking, saying, "I can't leap. I can't. I can't ..."

No one is asking you to leap. That's just drama, and, for the purposes of a creative recovery, drama belongs on the page or the canvas or in the clay or in the acting class or in the act of creativity [or freedom-seeking], however small.

Creativity [freedom seeking] requires activity, and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible, and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something in order to feel better?

Yes. And most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something else instead. One of our favorite things to do -- instead of our art [or making freedom] -- is to contemplate the odds.

In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask. "What's the use?" instead of "What next?"

As a rule of thumb, the odds are what we use to procrastinate about doing what comes next. This is our addiction to anxiety in lieu of action. Once you catch on to this, the jig is up. Watch yourself for a week and notice the way you will pick up an anxious thought, almost like a joing, to blow off -- or at least delay -- your next creative action.

All of us have some dream or hope that we fear to pursue for some reason. Even the most dynamic among us have periods when we'd rather bitch than try and make our lives better.

But I'm astonished over and over again by people who say they love freedom (and often know absolutely, in great detail what society and their own lives would look like if the Great Blue JuJu in the Sky or the Next American Revolution suddenly made us all free again) but who are absolutely unwilling to take any personal risks, here and now, to become more free.

Freedom is risk. If we don't accept risk, then we might rightly say we value prosperity or property rights or being left alone or license to indulge in our pleasures or vices or some of the other bi-products of a free society. But anyone who is so chronically risk-averse that they constantly talk about freedom but never act to increase the level of autonomy and independence in their lives is not just risk-averse but also freedom-averse.

They're the first ones who, if the Great Juju really did do his thing, would be crying for others to "do something!" about every tiny inconvenience freedom brought them. Or they'd fail to enjoy the overwhelming bounty of freedom because they'd discover some institution, somewhere, that didn't meet their standards of perfection. And they'd spend their entire lives in Libertopia passively grousing about it instead of saying, "Hot damn, look how much more opportunity I have."

But the wonderful thing -- about both creativity and freedom -- is that no matter how far we drift from where we want to be, it's never too late to take those "scary baby steps" that can gradually lead to big, satisfying things.

Posted by Claire @ 10:46 AM CST

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