“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” -Arlo Guthrie
Do you remember when you discovered critical thought? When your world ceased to be perfect? Do you remember the first time after that that you felt genuinely hopeful? Doesn’t count if you were drunk. Or high. Neither does that blissed-out natural high you get after running or yoga (seriously, you people are obnoxious, stop!) I’m talking about a sentient, “fully aware of how shitty the world seems right now, and yet still hopeful” state of mind. I can, mostly because it didn’t happen until pretty recently.
I was at a meditation retreat, a grueling painful, miserable meditation retreat, and needless to say, I wasn’t having much “success” with the practice. I was pissed off with everyone: the nuns, my fellow participants, the Buddha himself. My husband for agreeing that this was a good idea. His mother for driving me there. Whatever. Around day five or six, for whatever reason, my consciousness stopped fighting me, and I had a moment. A true, pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel moment, which I suppose was actual meditation and not the noob flailing I’d been doing up to that point. I felt happy. Not only that, i felt like I deserved to be happy. Then I got excited and screwed it up, and the moment was gone. But I had that little glimpse.
I’m not trying to push meditation on you (yes I am!) because it was only part (a big part!) of the fairly intensive regime that pulled me out of my hole. This regime also included therapy, supplements, and a diet and exercise plan that bordered on obsessive, Then I left my spouse, learned to live below the poverty line, and started my career as a writer. So I’m not saying there’s an easy fix. There isn’t. But, you do deserve to be happy. So go get it.
Okay, there’s my motivational speech on optimism. If it sounded like a bunch of crap to you, you’re just not ready yet, and that’s fine. A lot of artists believe their creative edge actually comes from their cynicism. That’s certainly the stereotype-angry artist at a cafe with a ciggie in one hand and a gun pointed at their head in the other- and I bought into it. I was totally one of the multitudes who confused extreme cynicism with a particularly intelligent or astute view of society. I don’t regret those years, but I sure as hell didn’t get much quality writing done until I allowed a tiny bit of hope into that world view. Suddenly there was a reason to write, a reason to improve my skills, and a desire to actually connect with people through my writing, rather than just shove my apocalyptic opinions down their throats. The latter approach had won me a like-minded audience, for sure, but few of us were making a career of it.We were just sitting around at cafés with guns pointed at our heads.
Here’s a quote a friend shared with me this morning about optimism and creativity:
“Blockage can occur if you decide, at a conscious or unconscious level, that the world is too sick, difficult, unresponsive, alienating, stupid, or bourgeois a place in which to do art. In a manner of speaking, you judge the world a fraud or a failure. This judgement is often tied to your feeling unrecognized, unrewarded, rejected, and embattled. But the judgement may arise independent of your personal frustrations, independent of the cattle-call auditions you endure or the embarrassing smallness of the roles you win. It may come upon you simply because you chanced to watch the news. It is easy to grow cynical or misanthropic, but it is harder to realise that such cynicism can become a source of blockage. The artist, angered or saddened by the world, may not understand that his blockage is more accurately his refusal to bring art products into a world that he does not love.”
– Eric Maisel
I don’t love the world. I don’t even like it most of the time. I don’t watch mainstream news, follow politics, or subscribe to a religion. Pretty sure that as a society we are totally going to hell in a handbasket. I love my cynicism, it built my creative voice and it keeps me real. My characters are usually flawed and dispossessed, and they don’t live in a perfect world. Won’t be joining the “life is pure bliss” crowd any time soon. But after I began my little crusade to always be just a teeny bit hopeful, my writing transitioned from angsty journal entries to actual stories, with plot and narrative, and most importantly, perspective. That also took training, and a shitload of practice. Again, no easy fix. But I had to see some purpose for all of this, some reason to create. Still not really sure I know what I’m hopeful about. But I’m thankful it’s there.