Creative Purgatory

I’m not sure I can take credit for this term, but I like to joke that I lived in Creative Purgatory for most of my adult life. This is what was modeled for me by the creative adults around me: You must have a “real” job, then you can pursue your creative endeavors in your free time. This is safe, this responsible. This was reinforced by everyone I knew with the exception of one person, and society certainly has a messed up way of assigning value to art as well.

There’s a dark underbelly to this that I didn’t understand the consequences of until fairly recently. When you de-value your art, it never ever, comes first. Even when you need it most. Art is a practice. It needs to be nurtured, not picked up every 2 to 3 weeks with a sense of guilt, frustration, or failure. This was my life- a series of stops and starts and deep, deep, emotional exhaustion.

I could rattle off a list of excuses about why I didn’t have time for my music, but they don’t really cut to the truth: I never met my true potential because I didn’t prioritize my music. By the time I got home from my exhausting full-time job, I could barely speak a full sentence, let alone get up and sing 2 sets of music. I gigged about once a month because it was all I could mentally muster. I got awards for making music and had amazing opportunities given to me, but I never followed up consistently because I was so strapped for time and energy. But this didn’t stop me from beating myself up with the “I shoulds”: I should gig more, I should practice more, I should write more…

I never stopped, but I never felt like I got started. It was all going to start for me some time in the future when I had more time… This is creative purgatory.

When you have the tools to be creative but some outside element keeps you from fully immersing yourself in the process, this is Creative Purgatory. This can be a job, your thin walls/cranky neighbors or housemates, your kids, or maybe just your self-esteem and perceived role of what an artist can be. For reasons only you can discern, art has to come second. If it was a child, someone would have called DHS on you. If it was a plant or a fish, it would be long gone.

The thing with creative purgatory (or so I think) is that it’s a choice. You have to believe that there’s no room for your art. You have to believe that your full-time gig, however miserable, is more important. You have to believe that your beautiful child needs you every moment of the day. We put ourselves in the purgatory. It’s not good or bad, it just is. The consequence is that our art starts and stalls. It has no chance to be really bad or really good because it never really moves anywhere.

From what I have come to understand, there is a way to find your path to peace. It might be messy and imperfect and it might be deeply uncomfortable, but it starts with a commitment to yourself. It’s an acceptance of mediocrity, an acceptance of just ok. It’s putting a project down right when it’s getting good because your time is up for the day, but instead of resentment, you feel anticipation because you know you have time carved out for it in the near future. It’s a different way of thinking about your life and creativity, and it’s a new commitment to stop torturing yourself for being a half-way artist. It’s consistency and trust.

This summer I started The Artist’s Way. I had put it off for years because I’m already an avid journaler and I felt good about my relationship with my art, but there is always room for improvement. If you need a nudge or a full on shove out of your own purgatory, this is your guide.

Stephen King’s “On Writing” is another one I keep close. His honesty is generous and firm.

It’s on you to find your way out of creative purgatory, and I suppose the real first step is to realize you are in it.