The Work of Creative Living
We made a road trip to Austin, TX a few weeks ago and the timing was exquisite if not unsettling.
I was quite the crabby, wrapped-around-the-axel companion for the trip down. Sixteen hours straight driving is a sure fire way to make space for the underlying stuff that bugs you to rise up. It wasn’t until a decent sleep, pancakes, migas, and coffee at Magnolia Cafe that I started seeing clear enough to name the bugs. A few weeks before, my work downshifted gears and I had time to ask, “Do I really want to keep doing what I have done or is there somewhere else to focus my creative energy and be generative?”
My regrets are merely cracks in the glass shining the light at a different angle.
Being in my forties it would be easy to say it’s the song of the mid-life crisis. The trick is, most mid-life crises arise from youthful unanswered questions, unfulfilled pursuits or dreams, and regrets that speak louder than wisdom. Many of my youthful questions found answers and the abundance of questions I have now only beg for deeper explorations. The dreams of my youth were pursued and achieved for the most part. My regrets are merely cracks in the glass shining the light at a different angle.
The source of my crabby-ness was a quiet self-berating from a misperceived failure to go do what I feel I am “supposed” to do, to create and write and not be held down by worry, to take chances instead of calculations. Ryan Adams’ “Go Easy,” was the background music in my head to this moment of insight: “I will always love you, so go easy on yourself.” I was reminded of this during marriage counseling, earlier in the summer. As I talked about any fear of letting my wife down by not becoming the best human I have it in me to be this was made clear: I am loved. My wife loves me not on condition. So go easy on myself.
This subtle insight came as I sipped coffee in our friends’ – Erin Ivey and Cam “Mixer” Rogers – upstairs den surrounded by guitars, amps, percussions, mixer-boards, a piano, and two walls papered with promotional posters from their performances over the years. Two creative lives making a go at marriage and music in Austin, and doing it well.
A day after my graceful epiphany we picked up a weary Erin and Cam from the airport returning from a week on a Grammy Cruise – Erin performing among the likes of Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Heart, and other amazing female singer/songwriters. We raced from the airport to the Paramount Theater as Erin was among the 16 musicians performing at the Black Fret Ball. She, also, was one of the nominees for a grant from Black Fret, a non-profit whose mission is “focused solely on funding the creation and performance of new music by the fine musicians who play the clubs and coffee shops of our amazing city…built upon a simple principle… that local music, like the symphony or the opera, is worthy of public support.”
“This right here...this is real.”
Erin won her grant and we got to see her play among some of the best the Austin music scene has to offer – Gina Chavez(buy her album “Up.Rooted.”), Elizabeth McQueen, Quiet Company, to name a few. Talking with her over breakfast tacos, she mentioned how one-sided or fabricated so much of what we are presented can be, whether it’s digitally, on social media, or tv. “This right here,” referring to us four sitting around the kitchen table, waking up over tea and coffee and stories the next morning, “this is real.”
"The soul can live without answers but it cannot live without meaning."
The next day I had a short window to go for a run and swing by Once Over Coffee to grab a few minutes with author, screenwriter, comedian and, now, filmmaker Owen Egerton. His film had been pushed back a few months, so he was busy writing his next book on the back deck of one the best espresso shots in town.
We sat on a concrete stoop for a few minutes and talked about our lives. I mentioned I was living in that tension between doing the creative work I am compelled to do and putting dollars in the bank to make ends meet. He was finishing writing another book and living in a similar tension as he waited for filming to begin. I talked about the questions that not so much haunt me as they nudge me the way a good running partner can: “Am I working mercenary - selling my creative gifts to the highest bidder?” “What does living creatively and generatively look like in mid-life and beyond?”
Owen pointed out that the questions are the right ones to ask and to keep asking them with less concern for the answers. They may just be the questions creatives in our generation will continue to ask in light of growing up and older through numerous economic upheavals and a dismantled American Dream. Richard Rohr observes,"The coherent world in which things used to fit together and make sense has been shattered. The soul can live without answers but it cannot live without meaning."
Learn to say “no” more times than you expect, so you can say “yes” to the few things that will matter in the end.
The gift our friends gave there in Austin is a reminder that creative living is good work and requires focus, saying “no” more times than you expect so you can say “yes” to the few things that will matter in the end. Being married to a woman who is bursting with all kinds of creative energy, and the experience and wisdom to move into it with a focused intention, continues to raise the bar for me and what I know is possible. Experiencing the road together, there and back again, seems to clear the space between us to see and be seen, and remind me her love asks to go easy on myself as we asks, “What’s next?”
Filmmaker Wim Wenders, when asked what advice he would have for young artists, responds succinctly, “Whatever you do…nobody else can do that better than you and you have to find what you can do better than anybody else.…Don’t do anything that you know deep in your heart somebody else can do better. But do what nobody else can do except for you.”
He isn’t speaking to passion – that which is merely a spark and catalysts, turned into a shallow pool by our self-absorbed culture. He is speaking to something deeper that passion may reveal but never was meant to sustain. It is a work that compels and like all good things that last, it may take a lifetime of labor.