Books are the biggest source of my solace. I am not sure if I would still be alive if not for books. The right books always seem to pop up for me at the right time. I remember reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung and it gave me tremendous comfort when I was in Europe, followed by The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell when I got back to San Francisco. A book’s value to me is expressed through the number of highlights I make; there have been times when I am practically highlighting the entire book.
I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic while waiting for a friend today. She started off with a story of Jack Gilbert:
“He went to live in Europe and stayed there for twenty years. He lived for a while in Italy, a while in Denmark, but mostly he lived in a shepherd’s hut on a mountaintop in Greece. There, he contemplated the eternal mysteries, watched the light change, and wrote his poems in private. He had his love stories, his obstacles, his victories. He was happy. He got by somehow, making a living here and there. He needed little. He allowed his name to be forgotten.”
In this world where visibility is so prided – hustle, hustle, hustle – I find it comforting that there are people throughout history who found their bliss through immense isolation and solitude. At the core of my being I am being guided by my intuition, but there have been many moments where I truly wonder about the series of decisions I have made. It is difficult, I wouldn’t lie, and I am sort of an expert on giving up things in order to search for myself – it never seems easier. Each time, the stakes get higher.
I am not really searching for the same old self. It seems like I am running in circles losing myself all the time, but I am really discarding old selves I have grown out of in order to search for my new self. It is like a snake shedding skin. It is always painful to shed something I have grown so comfortable in.
I get caught up in expectations all the time, and external measurements of value. People measure value through the tangible — money, time, metrics. I do too. I look around at my peers and I wonder about myself all the time. I miss my 50” TV and studio apartment in San Francisco, I actually do crave comfort (and sometimes expensive things) like any other human being. Right now I am exchanging financial independence for creative independence, but is it truly sustainable in this world?
“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
Some time last year I embarked on a highly ambitious project. It was an act of defiance, a project that I wanted to do because I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do it. I did it at an expense of a lot I had at that point in time. I can’t tell whether I was driven more by the defiance to prove that I could, or the innate desire to get this out of me. Perhaps a little bit of both.
When I started on it I honestly thought I was delusional (like always). I had no idea how I was going to get it done, creatively or technically. But maybe for once in my life, probably out of desperation, I had to trust the process. In the middle of it all I wondered if I was insane. I asked people if I was insane. I had to acquire a lot of new skills in a short amount of time in order to meet the deadline, and it pushed me to the brink of horrendous self-doubt and despair.
But it came together, bit by bit. It had a life of its own, and it lived through me, and I lived through it. It was one of the most symbiotic creative processes I ever had in my life. There was a moment when it was almost done, I broke down and cried. Not because that I was close to finishing it, but it was because I saw that it was alive.
At that point I had a strange feeling and certainty overcoming me. It didn’t matter what was the outcome, if people appreciated it or saw its value. I just knew I had made something so raw and so beautiful — in my own eyes. I am my worst critic, but when I saw it come together it was like I knew I had birthed something I will always be proud of, regardless what came out of it.
The process was an exercise in trust and flow. It was the most exhilarating thing I had ever worked on, because I was in some deep, transcendent conversation with it in order to make it. It didn’t feel I was making it, but I was merely a conduit to it coming alive through my fingers.
I was permanently changed by it.
Reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book reminded me of it. Her book also reminded me of the art I saw in the museums in both New York and Europe. That sometimes we make something because it has to be made:
”If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”
It doesn’t matter if the thing has a valuation, a value, a buyer or an audience. It just has to be made.
I remember the unadulterated process of working on that project, the inexplicable joy tinged with excruciating pain. At that point I didn’t understand it, but I would come to a stark realization much later – I want to make things, and it didn’t matter if people loved what I made, I just want to make them because I love making them. I had found the maker and artist in myself.
I see the dots connecting in every piece of my life. I am who I am because of the things I make, and the things I make are a result of who I am. There is no precedence over one or another, but they are intrinsically tied together.
I write because I love writing. I read because I love reading. I make because I love making. For all the things I truly love, I love them not because of the outcome that they gift to me, but the mere act of doing them.
At some unconscious moment I have probably realized, I want the same for my own existence. I want a symbiotic relationship with myself. I want to live like I am a conduit for my very own existence, that I am coming to life through the mere fact that I am living. I want to be in the same deep transcendent conversation with myself, birthing pieces of myself guided by an internal driver of trust and flow.
It doesn’t really matter what is the outcome, or if my existence is perceived to be valuable. All that matters is I am trying to become a person that wants to come alive, and that mere act of becoming makes it worth existing.
They say life imitates art, and I am beginning to understand what it really means to me.