If the brainstormed list of possible titles for this blog post are any indication of where I’m at — The Torture of an Idea, The Dark Side of Manifesting, Can You Be Too Creative?, The Curse of a Calling — then I am in the throes of the creative process of living. I just finished teaching for the foreseeable future with the intention that I will only work part-time so I can focus my energy towards my dreams. And now that I’ve made sacrifices to prioritize my creativity, I find myself full of doubt — Am I good enough? Will anyone care? What if I try and fail? Is this (i.e. am I) worth it? I know these are the same fears that arise for any artist, but — and this will sound sacrilegious as the writer of a blog on helping people realize their creativity — I have never fully committed to myself as a creative person. When I was a Freshman photography major I quickly realized I didn’t have the competitive edge or dedication to make it as an artist, and eventually found arts administration as a way to support the arts without the risk of being an artist. Looking back, I don’t regret my choices, but I do realize that an arts education would have given me hands-on training in risk taking; artists have to truly test their persistence and gumption, committing over and over again to their craft and putting their work out there with no guarantee of success. Now that is a creative practice of potential; artists know that you have to believe in your work in order to sustain your dreams. But as my myriad title ideas suggest, a commitment to creativity does come at a cost. And you have to decide how much you are willing to give.
The ultimate dream of this blog is a best selling nonfiction book on the creative process of living (best selling so I can give the ideas a big enough platform to shift consciousness, think Brené Brown or Malcolm Gladwell). I even mapped out a timeline for reaching this goal by 2030, all the strategic steps I would have to take to build my audience and expertise enough to get a book deal. But since then I’ve felt haunted. My friends often call me the “Queen of Manifesting” because I have a habit of pursuing ideas, but this also means I’m always in pursuit. And lately, I’ve been feeling the toll this takes, this in-between liminal state, never quite settled, satisfied. As my dreams got bigger, my disquiet grew, and so did my resistance. I didn’t want to dedicate my life to one dream, especially one so external, the line between success and failure outside my control. My dreams had become unwieldy, making it hard to tell the difference between the natural doubt of risk-taking and the pressure of a dream too big to fail. Which led to the question of the chosen title: What is a right-sized dream?
To parse out the answer, let us return to the enduring wisdom of adrienne maree brown in describing intentional adaptation:
“[Intentional adaptation] is the process of changing while staying in touch with our deeper purpose and longing.”
And to do this we must understand that change is fractal — “a way to speak of the patterns we see — move from the micro to the macro level….We must create patterns that cycle upwards.”(1) adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
When I center my calling from a place of longing and understand it as fractal, I start to see the path regardless of the destination. When I last made a big shift in my career from full time administrative work to teaching, I was nervous I was making the wrong decision, namely that I was going to be just as unhappy. During this transition, I attended a day-long meditation retreat on finding your calling. When we were asked to write about our calling, I didn’t write about a specific idea or ambition (even though I had those), I wrote: my calling is to find out for myself. Years later, this is still true. Listening to longing is letting yourself experience a possibility, to know how it lands in the body and informs your sense of self. And we can do this in fractal ways, small experiments that allow us to test out or practice how we want to be. This could look like volunteering at a community garden as a way of feeling into your interest of becoming a botanist. Liz Gilbert describes this as following your curiosity over your passion:
Every time I hear this I laugh at how true it is and yet, I also keep forgetting this truth. Because passion does burn hot. Whenever I have a new idea that seems viable, it comes with great urgency, wanting me to do whatever it takes to manifest it. Liz Gilbert actually refers to this as an idea looking for a human host (3), which sounds magical, except that means that ideas are like parasites, sapping your life force towards their will. I am often torn between ideas, not sure where to focus my energy and thus unable to give any idea what it needs to be fully realized. So of course the prospect of really devoting myself to an idea makes me nervous; I don’t want my ambition to define me or my way of living. So instead, I will listen to my longing or curiosity and experiment with potential. The right-sized dream is one that fits me, sustains me, but I also have to take risks worthy of my creativity. I don’t need to decide my future, but I can choose how I live into it.
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
Another thing about change is that it’s cyclical. As I was writing this blog piece, I was reminded of a poem I wrote back in 2016 with very similar themes. And I actually think it is a good example of how to experiment with potential. At the time I had realized that while I had written a lot of poetry, I had not read a lot of poetry. So I started a practice of writing a poem in response to a poem. This was a way of experimenting with form and learning from a lineage of poets; I could learn from their example, their experiments instead of inventing anew. It was a kind of ancestral practice of remembering that I am not the first to ask these questions or struggle to find my way; that wisdom comes from practice. Here is a poem I wrote in response to Jane Hirshfield’s My Life was the Size of My Life.
My Life is the Size of My Life
After Jane Hirshfield
By Evelyn Thorne
My life is the size of my life
One room to hold my furniture
One job to hold my passion
Another to keep security
Around it wraps cities
neighborhoods in transition
It breathes, forgets to breathe
learns, misinterprets, watches
other lives loom larger
pull smaller lives into their shadow
There was a time my life felt large
Times we gathered to long tables
and reached or asked for salt
So many hands gesticulating stories
Now, life feels too small
Food rotting before reaching mouths
TV humming, a disquiet in the quiet
I want to tell it “ I can be more than this”
“I was more than this”
I want to find a life that fits better
One I can show off to strangers with humble brags
attracting other lives by simply being
But then it reminds me:
Your life is the size of your life
It will grow with you
1. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, p.70, p.59.
2. “Elizabeth Gilbert: Magic, Creativity, and Fear”, CIIS Public Programs, https://www.ciispod.com/elizabeth-gilbert?rq=elizabeth%20gilbert.
3. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear, 2015.
Originally published June 13, 2021 on the Creativity in Context Blog by Evelyn Thorne.
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