By Darka Dusty
Painting by Halyna Cisaruk
If you’re an artist, writer or musician (and if you’re in Portland, Oregon, chances are excellent that you ARE an artist, writer or musician), you have things you believe you do well, and things you believe you do really well, and things you know you could improve, and things that make you think you should hang it up and get a real estate license. And things you think you suck at. You’re probably much harder on yourself than you should be, especially if you try to live a creative life. As an artist, a writer, musician or anyone who regularly summons your muse or faces your creative demons, you are part of a very special, sensitive club. We creative types feel things deeply. We cry easier than most, and maybe this causes us to drink or smoke more than most, or find other ways to alter our perceptions. Sometimes we just need to momentarily numb ourselves from the intense majesty of life. The beauty we perceive around us can just be too goddamn much to take, making our emotional pain and passion excruciatingly unbearable.
It’s also what causes us to see things in a unique way. It is our “job” to add beauty to this world, and on some level we realize what a tall order and huge responsibility this is. And for the most part, we live with the sweet, sweet pain and suffering because, hell, it fuels our passion, which in turn, fuels our art. We simply have no choice. The glory and heartache and awesomeness of life is not lost on us. We try to find a way to express these emotions and notions through our chosen outlets of expression and through our creative gifts. Our ultimate goal is to find that moment of artistic duende where we lose ourselves within our creation. As Keith Haring said, “When it is working, you completely go into another place, you’re tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about.”
But there are those times when all of us face a creative block. When this happens we feel emotional discomfort and fear. We reactively reach for more of the mind-altering substances (yes, wine, beer or spirits, but there’s also 99% dark chocolate, triple espressos, dog food.) Panic sets in and we cower in the corner gnawing on a leather strap, sweating, in a pool of our own agony. Suddenly, out of nowhere, 1950s space music fills the room (that scary theremin sound of impending doom) or perhaps it’s the super reverb-y whistle (in the dark, empty parking garage) sound that always precedes a gruesome murder. A child cries in the distance. Yea. It’s like that.
So, what can one do to unblock one’s creative block once one’s been blocked? A lot. Here are some sexy springtime tips to jump start your creative juices, in no particular order:
- Go to a dollar store and buy one of those black and white “Mead Composition Books.” Put it by your bed and commit to filling a minimum of ten lines every morning – before you even get out of bed. Before you have coffee. Before you check your phone or email. The key is to get as much of your subconscious dream residue as possible. The moment you let the outside world in, the purity of your thoughts is ruined. Call it journaling, (or don’t, if that word annoys you, like it does me). And do NOT edit yourself. Write it all down. Make a commitment to be honest, unrestrained, unfettered. If at all possible, do it while absolutely naked. If you just had an erotic dream, write it down. (You can put crime scene police tape on the notebook or a drawing of a skull and crossbones if you live with someone from whom you want to keep your writing). The point is to have a place to write what.ever.the.fuck.your.brain.wants.to.say in whatever MeThOd you want TO SAY it … freely, first thing in the morning. Most importantly, I must reiterate: Ignore your internal editor. Ignore that critical voice. Write down nonsense words if that’s what is coming out of you. Be ready to chuckle at yourself.
- Speaking of internal editors, it’s time to pay attention to those forces that live inside of you, that criticize you, inspire you, give you brilliant ideas, or hinder them: The voices that shame you, shun you, inflate you, deflate you, jerk you off, massage you, slap you. It’s time to name your internal editor and your muse. Literally: Give them names. I call my muse Calliope, and my internal editor Vlad. Since my focus here is unblocking the blocks, I’ll focus on my internal editor. He’s the bad cop and sometimes he has to make the tough decisions. He often speaks out of turn and tries to stop my baby fresh song from coming out of me before I’ve had a chance to even finish writing it. Oh, he has a real job, one that I will use him for later, when I’m done with the initial creative outpouring … but if he opens his judge-y pie hole before I’m ready, it can be very destructive. He tells me I suck. He tells me I’m trite and derivative. He tells me I’ll never amount to anything and that I should go get a real job.
The more you can identify that voice, the more you’ll be able to visualize yourself throwing him out on his ass until you’re ready for him. He’s the force that is causing you to say, “I can’t do this.” or “I’m not good enough” That’s Vlad (for me.) Your editor may be called Helga. It doesn’t matter. You must figure out a way to ignore your editor’s judgmental energy in order to allow those potentially brilliant little seedlings to come out of you, no matter how ‘corny’ you might think they are (that’s Vlad calling them corny anyway). Now, remember, you WILL use your editor later to cut the fat out of your song / painting / poem / article. You will rely on his skills when you’re ready, but not before. All those creative nuggets need room to be planted. They need attention – you never know where they may lead, so don’t snuff them out before you really give them a chance. Let ’em rip. If you start to feel your ideas are not worthy of further consideration, that might be Vlad doing his best “This is absolute shit” routine. Shut him down before he can squelch something potentially beautiful. Imagine if Rubens listened to his internal editor prematurely when it told him that his subjects’ asses were enormous. What then?
- Ask yourself if you’re coloring within the lines, metaphorically speaking. Yes, it’s important to follow some rules, to learn the rules, but with real art it’s important to break those same rules sometimes. Ask yourself if there is some rule you’re following over and over again because you think you are supposed to. Perhaps this rule needs some strategic violating. For example. Do you always write your songs by strumming guitar chords first, and then letting the chords dictate your melodies? Try writing your next song to the sound of crickets. Or a tractor. Try sketching something upside down. Dictate a poem into your phone while hanging from a tree limb. Dig down deep and bust up whatever’s lining the walls of your rut. What once worked for you may now be a big gigantic cliché’.
- Ask yourself if you’re sleepwalking through life. Do you take the exact same route to your daily destination? When you shower, do you wash your right boob with your left hand and your left boob with your right hand, exactly the same way, over and over again? FOR YEARS? Do you have the balls to punctuate.sentences!,badly?)? Imagine what new connections your brain could form if you made a conscious decision to avoid your patterns? Test it out, and wake up. See if it jolts your art. It will. You will start noticing things more. You will have wider peripheral vision. You will feel the pull of earth’s gravity. Or you may spontaneously combust. Something dramatic will happen.
- Use ALL your senses to help you with your creative endeavor. Would smelling a blooming lilac bush outside your window affect your visual art? Would being in a room filled with mysterious blue light help you write your song? Would eating a beautiful chocolate croissant slowly with a gorgeously prepared latte help you with your article? (I speak from experience, yes, it most definitely does.) Or imagine sipping a glass of champagne with gorgeous organic raspberries on the side to help you summon the sensual words you need for your love poem? Could the sound of a rushing river or the desperate chirps of baby birds add an element of intensity to the hat you’re currently knitting (okay, maybe that’s pushing it.) What can using all of your senses offer?
- Freak yourself out. Terrify yourself. Scare the living shit out of yourself. This basically amounts to you purposely making yourself uncomfortable. If you think it’s too scary to face something, then maybe it’s time to really pay attention to that thing deliberately, and by doing so, you will release its harmful energy and simultaneously feed your art. Maybe someone did something to you – and you know the minute you start to write about it you’ll cry for 48 hours. Well, my friend, you may need to cry for 48 hours. It will be the biggest favor you can do for your heart and your art. Imagine what releasing such pain can do for you. Imagine what facing your fear can do to liberate your stuck energy. Haven’t made that phone call you’ve been avoiding for a couple years? Make it now. Have your MEAD book with you and be ready to write about the experience. Once you unleash your trapped dog of pain, it will run free. It may be a little scattered at first, but it will surely and most definitely be better off than being tied up. What are you holding back? And in return, what is that thing holding back within you? Can you torture yourself into a creating a genius piece of work?
Here are a few other creative block antidotes
- Randomize: Open a book to page 82. Close your eyes and point to a word. Start the next line of your poem or song lyric with that word. Even if that word is “urchin.” Or “boil.”
- Embrace accidents as a stroke of luck.
- Time and solitude. Walk through nature. Take your shoes off. Be barefoot. Or go one better, get naked. Get down on the ground and look at the multiverse of creation that is just under your feet. Name some ants. Eat a leaf. Sit on an ancient stump.
- Listen to big and beautiful (instrumental) music as you write or draw. Debussy, Mozart, Miles … use an aural elixir and let it do its magic.
- Switch mediums. Music at a standstill? Just write lyrics, or DRAW your lyrics on a piece of paper. With crayon. Sculpture going badly? Go do some karaoke with a wild friend. When you wake up with dry mouth, go back to your piece and see what’s changed. Even the death of a few million brain cells can have an illuminating impact.
- Spend a few hours in an art museum and stare at great works of art.
- Make a very slow and beautiful meal for someone you love. Have pen and paper nearby. When you chop your onions, that last line of your poem may fly right into your head like a hummingbird.
- Divorce yourself from toxic people.
- Look at monkeys.
- Pray to the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci (or whomever your personal art god is, maybe for you it’s Jimi Hendrix. Or Tiny Tim).
- Switch mental hemispheres. If you’re in your right brain for too long, go do your taxes for a while. You’ll run back to your art with tears of gratitude.
- Take a trip far away: Go write / paint / create somewhere else.
- Get a deadline. If you don’t have one, make one. Tell someone you have a new painting to show them on Tuesday. Invite them over a few days in advance. Now you have yourself a deadline.
- Hang around people you don’t know. Eavesdrop.
May the beautiful buds of spring remind you that just like every other living creature on earth, you have it in you to create something beautiful, personal, real. It’s the whole point of life. Your job is to open yourself up to the possibilities and not let anything get in your way, including yourself.