The Conundrum of Creativity (Or, Sometimes They May See You Sweat)

One fall day in my junior year of college, I met with my academic advisor, a bearded, gray-haired man in his early sixties who also happened to teach two of my Writing courses that semester.  It was late in the afternoon, his office overlooking the campus’s back parking lot.  Mellow October sunshine filtered in through the open window, the breeze ruffling the ungraded papers on his desk.

ungradedessays

 

We were talking about career choices.  What did I want to do with my life when I graduated?  I loved writing, of course.  I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’d known that since the second grade.  Maybe I’d need to acquire a “day” job to pay the bills, but the nights, the weekends–they would belong to my flights of fancy.

flightsoffancy

 

My advisor smiled.  “If you love it,” he said.  “If you feel called to do it, then it’s right for you.  That’s the way I feel about teaching.”

I nodded, but perhaps sensing I thought he was just issuing a standard company line or that I wasn’t grasping the heart of his message, he went on: “You know, I’ve been teaching here for over thirty years.  I’ve probably forgotten more about writing and literature than most people will ever know.”  He laughed, shook his head, thumbed the thick glasses he wore up the bridge of his nose.  I sensed that, for a moment, his mind was peering back through the decades, wondering at the swiftness of it all, the transitory nature of life.

literature

 

“But I’ll tell you this,” he said.  “Before I walk into that classroom, I still feel butterflies.  I know there are students in there, my students, and maybe some of them even want to go on to become journalists or poets or novelists–just like you.  I have to be able to teach you something worthwhile.  Others? They’re probably taking my course because it’s required.  They don’t want to be there.  But maybe I can light a spark, you see.  Maybe I can inspire them to read something great long after they’ve forgotten all about me.”

butterflies

 

“You get nervous?” I asked.  Somehow the rest of his message had got lost.  After all, in class he never seemed nervous.  And why should he be?  He was one of my favorite professors–always engaging and interesting.  Teaching appeared to come so effortlessly, so naturally to him.

He smiled again.  “Just before class starts, my heart beats a little faster.  I do a quick mental checklist on the lesson.  Yeah.  I get nervous.  But that’s a good thing.”  He paused for effect. “It means I still care.  I still love what I do.  When the day comes that I don’t feel those butterflies before class, I’ll know it’s time to retire.”

retirement

 

********************

On July 3, 1950, New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio got word that he was slated to start the next game at first base.  Upon hearing the news, he wondered if it might be some sort of practical joke.  Him play first base?  He was the center fielder, he’d been the Yankees center fielder since his rookie season, fourteen years earlier.  He hadn’t played first base since his days in the minor leagues.

dimaggio

 

But manager Casey Stengel was serious.

stengel

 

The team was in a funk, and Stengel wanted to inject some youth into the outfield.  Inwardly, DiMaggio seethed.  Stengel had just joined the team as manager the previous season, whereas Joltin’ Joe, the Yankee Clipper, had been the star of the franchise for a decade and a half.  But he did not openly dispute his manager.  He readied himself to play first base.

Prior to the start of the game, DiMaggio fielded practice ball after practice ball, trying to acclimate himself to this new, foreign defensive position.  Before the first pitch was even thrown, his uniform was soaked with sweat.  Feeling like the proverbial fish out of water, DiMaggio had never been so nervous.

fishoutofwater

 

During the game, he made no errors, but clearly looked out of sorts.  It was the longest game of his life.

The next day, DiMaggio was back in center field.  He never played first base again.

Later, he was asked why he felt so much pressure.  He was Joe DiMaggio, after all.  What did he have left to prove?  He had already cemented himself as one of the all-time greats, a sure first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.  Hadn’t he earned the right to relax?  Wasn’t his legacy assured?

dimaggioautographs

 

“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time,” the Yankee Clipper responded.  “I owe him my best.”

****************

It is one of the tenets of writing, of any form of creative expression–we must first and foremost do what we love, express what matters to us, write about the relationships, ideas, concepts, themes, passions that resonate within, in some deep, secret chamber of the heart.  Whether we are singing opera or crafting poetry or writing blogs–it is imperative that we do what we want to do, what we are called to do.  As soon as we begin creating solely based on what others are doing or expecting, as soon as we force ourselves into a certain genre or form we don’t love, the results will suffer.

writewhatyoulove

 

And yet, and yet . . .

When the time arrives, and we decide to take the plunge and share our work with someone else, be it one person, a hundred, or thousands upon thousands, we no longer are creating in a vacuum.

Our work is now “out there.”  It has become a part of a larger whole, a single grain of sand on an artistic shore that expands, shifts, and evolves every day, every moment.

beach

 

****************

Every time I publish a blog post, every time I share a story with someone, anyone, every time I see a new review of The Eye-Dancers posted on the Web, I feel those same butterflies my old English professor felt before the start of each class.

butterfly

 

Sometimes I berate myself.  Why should I care so much what others think of my work?  Don’t I write for myself, first and foremost?  Isn’t that enough?

And you know, the honest answer is–no.  It’s not enough.  If it were enough, I never would have released The Eye-Dancers, never would submit a short story to a literary magazine, never would publish a single blog post.  My words would simply sit there on the page, locked inside the hard drive of my computer or the folders inside my drawer.

harddrive

 

But that’s not why we create art.  We sing and dance and draw and write to share a piece of ourselves with others.  We write about a personal experience and then, when someone else, someone we don’t even know, reads it and says, “Yes!  I know what he’s saying, I’ve felt that way, too,” a special kind of magic takes place.

magic

 

It is that magic, that sharing, that bridging of the gap between us that makes writing and creating so worthwhile.

So yes.  As I hit that Publish button right now, I do feel a little bit nervous.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

publish

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

40 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Silvia Writes
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 17:54:57

    Being nervous gives us the necessary adrenaline rush. And fear not, you hit the publishing button on a very good article.

    Reply

  2. ptero9
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 17:58:55

    Absolutely Mike! Love this post!

    Sharing your writing is like sending a child out in the world. For the love of the work we do when writing and out of respect for our readers, we must care about all aspects of the writing.

    Great post (again)!
    Debra

    Reply

  3. jjspina
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 18:30:11

    You are so articulate, Mike. What a sheer pleasure it is to read your lovely words! Your professor unlocked your creativity. How wonderful to have such an outstanding teacher.

    Reply

  4. cocoblaq
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 20:30:29

    You’re right! “We sing and dance and draw and write to share a piece of ourselves with others”. Anyone who thinks otherwise is better off just keeping a journal. Great post

    Reply

  5. Parlor of Horror
    Jun 20, 2014 @ 23:27:21

    ok, how many of you clicked on the Publish Button, just to see what would happen? Inspiring post, thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply

  6. Constantly Reading Momma
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 01:26:32

    Wonderful post. Nervous does mean you care. Anything I’ve ever cared about it this world, I’ve been nervous about sharing.

    Reply

  7. Imelda
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 01:55:56

    I enjoyed this post and the insights it shares. Thanks.

    Reply

  8. araneus1
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 04:05:35

    me either……. thank you
    Terry

    Reply

  9. Bruce Thiesen
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 17:41:13

    A wonderful post, Mike.

    Reply

  10. teagan geneviene
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 19:52:44

    Absolutely beautifully presented, Mike. But I’d expect no less. 🙂

    Reply

  11. Andrea Stephenson
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 21:35:48

    Great post, I love the way you link how we feel when we send our work into the world with the stories of your professor and Joe DiMaggio.

    Reply

  12. Blossom Brouillard
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 21:42:14

    Truly inspired! I’ve been rather nervous to write about something for awhile now, but a bit nervous about the repercussions to myself personally. I just may make the leap. Thank you. 🙂

    Reply

  13. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 02:36:52

    I’d have to say “ditto” to this one! Nice post!

    Reply

  14. Ste J
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 17:38:35

    The day that there are no nerves is the day when we hang up the keyboard…which will be a challenge in itself.

    Reply

  15. laurie27wsmith
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:12:34

    Ah, there’s nothing like a wiggly, quivering stomach to get one going in a new venture Mike.
    Cheers
    Laurie.

    Reply

  16. Sherri
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 15:37:31

    Oh Mike, you are right on, this is the core of writing and why we write. Every single time we hit that publish button or submit a story, a poem, an article, it is nerve-wracking yet it is what we do and what keeps us keeping on. Writing what we are called to write and not feel pressured to change is so important to remember. Thank you for this post because you have no idea how much you’ve encouraged me today 🙂

    Reply

  17. evelyneholingue
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 02:01:11

    “Every time I publish a blog post, every time I share a story with someone, anyone, every time I see a new review of The Eye-Dancers posted on the Web, I feel those same butterflies my old English professor felt before the start of each class.”
    I am so glad to read that I’m not alone to think that way, Mike!
    Your post, as always, is well written and filled with emotions that will echo with all artists. Thank you.

    Reply

  18. stockdalewolfe
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 16:05:16

    This is such a good post. I read it through awhile ago and wanted to comment and didn’t have time and then it slipped through the cracks of the tons of posts that appear in my email– a little too many. In any case, it is wonderful to know that we all get butterflies. I am so afraid to push the publish button so many times. And still do not talk much about my book. I am so sorry to be tardy in commenting on this post. Wanted to thank you so much for sharing your fears with all of us shivering in our respective boots.

    Reply

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