The interval between events is not insignificant. I’ve come to understand this over the years. Desire is often not enough to create something beautiful or meaningful. Looking back, I see how willful I used to be. I’d toil away at making drawings of people or landscapes. I’d fill sketchbooks to the brim, trying persistently to create a photographic drawing. Persistence can be good when it creates discipline. But too much persistence restrict creativity and freedom.
The illusion of being in complete control of my life and work was, at first, very attractive. “If I just try harder” was something I repeated to myself incessantly. This was initially very good, because I lacked discipline. My life was chaotic. I did everything haphazardly. I tried to do so many things at once that I did none of them well. My workspace was in a disarray and would distract me. And then I would think of 10,000 expectations and judge my work harshly. The desire to “try harder and be better” helped me to be disciplined. Most people don’t like that word. Yet I’ve come to enjoy it very much. I’ve designated times for being productive. Keeping a clean and sparse environment allows me to focus and be creative. I’ve learned that more can be distracting. Discipline freed me up from chaos and allowed me to be more present to express myself in whatever media I choose.
But then there came a point during which my desired to try harder and be better consumed me. I’d try so hard that I lost sight of what I really wanted. If things didn’t happen within the time frame I’d created, well, it was all over. I’d push people away. I’d throw my work out. I’d burn my writing. I became so attached to the idea of achieving success – whatever that was – that all the creativity seemed to stop. I came to resent the interval between events. Why couldn’t I be creative, successful, in love, or simply “on” all the time?
Slowly, I began to notice that there was some sort of mystical ebb and flow to creativity, and all beautiful experiences. They cannot be forced. It’s something that happens on its own. After realizing this, I just stopped trying.
Now, what is important to note is that I did not give up the discipline that I had developed or the space in which I made to paint. What I gave up on was the belief of arriving at some mythical point of success that would never appear. I gave up judgement. I gave up attachment to a finish product. To be good or terrible no longer had relevance. Then, the ideas and experiences seemed to flow through me. There are durations in which I experience intense creativity. I will make 5 or 6 paintings all at once, ineffably. The paintings seem to paint themselves, and my only role is to introduce different colors and textures to each other.
Other times, I will be in a creative drought. Either I won’t want to make anything, or it requires such a tremendous amount of effort that it’s joyless to do. Instead of forcing it to come, I acknowledge the interval of time that passes.
The space and time in between being creative, being with people I love, and experiencing satisfaction isn’t insignificant. In letting go, I’ve noticed that experience always returns.