Last week I had a long conversation call with someone who is very close to me. She is a mother of two, an accomplished designer, an entrepreneur, and not yet forty. She shared with me that she was experiencing a powerful push to express creatively, but didn’t know what to do or how to start. This surprised me a bit, knowing her background and her work. I knew her as a creative person. The question she asked me was; what do you do when you feel blocked? In general my response was to say that there is no “one way” to open up creative channels. I said sometimes we need to do something else, step away and do some other activity that’s even unassociated with what ever work we are feeling blocked on. To be stimulated by outside observations; a market, a walk somewhere new, taking some photographs. Another way, I said, is to just plunge head first into the work. If it’s a blank canvas staring you down, make a mark- any mark. If it’s an intimidating blank page, write something- anything. Just mark the surface, if it’s music, make a noise-any noise. Break the spell, disarm the preciousness.
She said she had a guitar and a piano in the house and she felt a strong compulsion to learn at least one of the instruments. She asked me which I thought would be the best to start with. I said either, although the piano has all the notes laid out, perhaps easier to pick out melodies, and to learn to read musical notations. The guitar can be a challenge at first, the physical act of contorting your hand to make the different chord structures, and getting blisters on your fingertips. She said she was leaning more towards guitar.
She asked if she should sign up and take classes or go to YouTube? I said, either one. If she scheduled lessons for the guitar she may find it could set up a discipline to practice regularly because someone will be expecting to hear what she had practiced. On the other hand, she is a busy mom and business woman, and covid restrictions, using YouTube might be more accessible to get things moving.
Then our conversation got deeper, and to the heart of her question. And because I’ve known her from childhood I had sensed she was grappling with a bigger issue in her intense desire to learn the guitar. Her father was a musician, and he played guitar. She was very close to him but lost him to cancer when she was thirteen. Over the years, and perhaps especially now watching her own little girl go to piano lessons each week, I believed she was feeling another layer of grief. She is not only still in mourning for her dad, as expected, but there is the regret of a missed opportunity to have had bonded with her dad through music. That is what is stirring her now. She said, with emotion in her voice, I never asked him to teach me to play, why didn’t I? If she had expressed a desire to play the guitar then, she felt there could have been something more shared between them, something that would link them on a profound level. But when we are so young, we don’t think of these things, there is always time. Until there isn’t.
Then she said something that I found so bittersweet and beautiful; “I’m afraid of what will come out of me if I do learn to express through music.” She has so much love; and sadness, and regret, and gratitude, and grief, and longing- all so big and deep, that there was a kind of fear that she could be overwhelmed and unprepared for how that would manifest for her. And so rather than move towards picking up the instrument and begin to learn how to play, and risk opening a seam in the tender garment that holds her grief, she holds still. She feels blocked. But she understands where it’s coming from.
I had also suggested The Artists Way book and by doing morning pages the clarity I was able to derive from doing the exercises.
This is how important a creative practice is to us. It has a place, serving us through spontaneously frivolous and joyful abandon, but also serves as the vehicle for what is abstract to us; those big, nebulous emotions and subconscious whispers, an outlet for our questions that cannot or will ever have a definitive answer; questions that will never fit into any category, but that must somehow be reckoned. It facilitates our journey. It can clarify our understanding. It can link us together through our constant search for ourselves and who we are. That’s what Creative Expression Outlets do for us.