One of the reasons I’ve declined to go back to other jobs or careers is because I need art. Indeed, I’ve come to understand through hard experience that creating art is creating yourself, and I need a space like that in my life. One thing about business is how it refuses to let you be sad if you feel sad, happy if you feel happy. You’re tenderized to always present things as ‘fine’ even if you’re bleeding inside.
Whatever they say on the surface, the reality is a depressing dystopia. Business isn’t interested in you being an interesting, fun person who’s emotionally available. Sure, if you are that person and as a result the business makes more money, great. But you’re still expected to be a tough, weathered, punching bag for your supervisors’ negativity. Yes, you should treat people with authenticity and empathy, but don’t expect to be treated that way. I was never strong enough emotionally to handle that burden. I’ve never met anyone who is.
Along with that, I’ve been doing more work to separate my personal feelings from the work. Cinderellavator is the first time I’m writing about someone else’s pain instead of my own. It takes work to get into the head space, into the skin of trauma, to write the scene in Chapter Two where Peetie the protagonist loses her mother. Not gonna lie, I’ve shed some tears over it. Painful, but necessary and therapeutic. It’s forcing me to get outside of my pain and put it into the context of other people’s experience.
How Creating Art Helps You Create Yourself
In addition, this work makes me confront emotional baggage I’ve been walking around with for decades. If I were a different person, if I had this ‘thing’* growing up, then everything would be fine. If I had the right people caring for me, everything would be different. Emotionally, you’re an amputee surrounded by people walking around as if nothing was wrong. Your scars don’t show, but you’re damaged just the same. You wish people could see it, understand it, accept it. Everything might be different, then.
Confronting those problems leads you down infinite rabbit holes as you try to get your baggage out on the table to see what it means. You feel like a homeless person out on the street; trying to find value in the possessions everyone else considers to be garbage. You could be wasting time, or you could be finding the answer. No one is there to guide the way.
Then you read more stories and personal experiences and it makes you realize that perfect childhood doesn’t equate to a perfect life. Perfect starts don’t equal perfect finishes. We’re living in a different world now. Accountability and authenticity matter. People can’t get away with being too rich to be nice, too powerful to be accountable. Even if you get the vindication you were hoping for, you can see the universe balancing things out eventually. Time heals all wounds, and wounds all heels.
There’s a bonus, too – the act of work forces you to improve your process. Practice makes perfect. Those living, learning skills you applied to others start to reflect back on you. Just as the sculptor in the picture above gets better with every project, every learning lesson makes you better at learning. Iterative improvement: Creating art, putting it out there, getting the feedback through publication, letting failure help you begin more wisely. Creating art is creating yourself, providing you’re willing to let the process change you.
Gluing the Pieces Together
In a perfect world, I’d only make happy art because I only felt happy, or at least functional. I’m not there yet. But creating art is creating myself in a way that expresses hope that I will be that person one day. I certainly won’t get there by sitting around waiting for it to happen.
Create yourself, whether that’s by creating art or whatever it is that really makes you who you are. Anything else is a waste of time and spirit.
* ‘Thing’ in a general sense – everyone has a ‘thing’ they didn’t get – something they’re missing from their lives. What was important to me might not be important to you, and vice versa.