I have never thought of myself as an artist. I can't draw particularly well, my handwriting isn't even that fantastic. I was never into choir or drama, and I do not scrapbook. I repeat: I do not scrapbook.
My Grandma 2 (that's seriously what I called her) was totally an artist. She did hair. She designed things. She kept a notepad in her bedside table so that she could draw the scenes from her dreams mid-night. She painted one of those scenes in all white brush strokes on the red wall of her bedroom. I wish I would have found a way to take that wall with the Japanese garden scene before her house sold. It was amazing.
That's an artist.
I can't draw a pillow.
I recently started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Big Magic, about creativity and have started thinking about myself and my work in an entirely different way.
What is creativity according to Liz? "The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration."
Through most of the first chapter I thought, "Errrr....I don't think this book is for me....I'm not an artist." But the more she talked about and described creativity.... and specifically inspiration as if it's its own entity... the more I realized all of this sounded really familiar.
She talks about how inspiration comes and goes. How ideas are here one minute and gone the next. How it can keep you up in the middle of the night and how sometimes it feels like it's whizzing by you and you have to grab it by the tail and hold on for dear life....and so much more.
Yes. I get all of that. I've had ideas regarding my work that just won't leave me alone. Ideas for blog posts, videos, and programs...ideas for clients, couples, and my kids. Some linger...some whiz out as quickly as they whiz in and if I don't do something with them right then and there I get this overwhelming sense that they might whiz away forever.
Better start keeping a legal pad next to my bed like Grandma.
While listening to Elizabeth Gilbert describe, in the most eloquent detail, her relationship with inspiration, I realized I too have this same relationship....it's just that I've NEVER thought of what I'm doing as particularly creative or artsy...or that it's something I was in relationship with.
I get it now.
I even realized, in a really clear way, I am a TOTAL improv artist...EVERYDAY. Everyday I re-write people's stories on the spot. I massage the lives and relationships that people have sculpted into something more magical. I have a strange ability to take a wide-angle view and see exactly what needs to change or shift in the architecture of another person's mindset so that she can feel more free.
Like a photographer styling a photo shoot who can tell you to tilt your chin a certain way or position everything within the photo so that the sun's rays beam in just right...therapists, like artists, have the ability to see things others just don't see.
Huh. I just never saw the similarities until now.
Recently I worked with a family; a single Mom and her kids. Dad lives out of state. He didn't say a word when during the split Mom took the then tiny kids states away to live with her parents, and according to his oldest, "Doesn't make any effort." He'll go months without speaking to his children and when asked what that's about in a vulnerable and hard text from his daughter he responds, "The phone works both ways."
In the over a decade that they haven't lived together he's never seen where they live or where they go to school or been to a dance recital. For his nearly adult daughter the amount of monetary success he's had makes this all easier to take personally because she feels like he could be more involved, but just chooses not to.
So much anger was spewing out through her tone and body language as she talked about her Dad, but the simultaneous tear puddles in her eyes were a dead give away that an immense amount of hurt and "maybe I'm not enough"-ness pounded just under the surface.
She remembered her relationship with her dad "not really hurting" until she was a part of a divorced kids group at school and heard that other kids' dads were around every other weekend ...or regularly attended their soccer games. "Wait, why isn't my Dad at my stuff?"
I think it's really easy for that question to turn into the deep dark fear, "Maybe I'm not really lovable."
I knew I had to totally and completely reframe this for her and Dad was making this really easy. As I listened to her I could feel their relationship. From her perspective it didn't feel like a father-daughter relationship. I asked what she would want in a Dad for her kids someday. She had a REALLY clear list. Getting a lot of what she didn't want in a Dad seemed to have made her exquisitely clear about what she did want. All of the things she listed were things she wasn't getting from her own dad.
I said, "It doesn't sound like you feel he's been much of a Dad to you?"
She angrily said, "He HASN'T!"....I'm pretty sure there was a teenaged guffaw here, too.
I said, "Then why are we giving him so much power? Let's change his status and see what that does here."
I took a real life example of her dad forgetting to pick her up from the airport and changed the story. For the sake of confidentiality let's say Dad's name is Steve. I said, "What if Steve was your crazy cousin? Crazy cousin Steve. Now, you're going to visit crazy cousin Steve and he forgets what day you're coming and leaves you waiting at the airport."
The whole family is laughing in my office at this point, some through tears... but with all seriousness I said, "And do you feel how much lighter it is when crazy cousin Steve leaves you waiting at the airport than your DAD not remembering the date of your visit?"
With a laugh and an eye roll for flair the teenager said, "Geez, crazy cousin Steve."
It felt like the word Dad came with a lot of expectations for her, and I wasn't sure I wanted to change that. Maybe she should keep those expectations around the role of Dad? They seemed like reasonable expectations. Mostly she wanted quality time from him and for him to be interested in her. But if Steve has consistently shown her over time that he cannot meet these expectations, then maybe we should call his role something more consistent with her perception of his behavior....at least for her sake.
When crazy cousin Steve doesn't pick you up from the airport you don't start wondering about your own worth and value. The thought, "If I were enough he would have remembered," never crosses your mind, but when it's your DAD it's so much easier to sink down into heartbreak, disappointment, and shame because Dad's aren't supposed to forget their children.
Just because someone has a title, a status, is of a certain age, or makes a certain amount of money doesn't mean they're emotionally mature and I think it's really easy for us to think any of these things has anything to do with the other.
We don't expect 6-month-olds to walk and we don't expect dogs to meow. If we did we'd be really disappointed and frustrated. When people show us who they are consistently and over time we have to learn to trust them.
And sometimes this means we have to give up the hope that he'll ever be the Dad we want and need him to be...or the Mom, the spouse, the boss, the sister, fill-in-the-blank here.
Another person's inability to have a kind, respectful, and meaningful relationship with you has nothing to do with you if you're a CHILD. ZIP. ZILCH. NADA.
The truth is the word "Dad" can mean a whole lot of different things to different people. I'll bet no two Dads dad the same. It's when we put our own ideas about what other's roles in our life SHOULD be up against what's really happening and then decide the deficit is positively correlated with our own worth and value that this can become destructive, damaging, and a fertile ground for shame.
It makes it hard to love yourself, and then that makes it hard to love others, and then the whole cycle continues. Yippeeeeee. Not.
The ONLY way external circumstances hurt is if you decide they mean anything about you.
The wonderful thing is that YOU get to decide what meaning you attach to anything.
THIS session is when it clicked for me that I was an artist. It still feels weird to call myself that.
Teenager and I continue to rework the story of her and her Dad's relationship. It's a long one... and I'm guessing she'll be editing and tweaking it for the rest of her life.
Now it's your turn to be the artist (pronouncing it with a French accent now). SERIOUSLY take out that pad of paper and write out a piece of your life that bugs you. Uncensored. No one is reading this. Now read it. Is the story serving you? Notice if your heart goes up or down when you read it. Notice the words you use. Where the fear, anger, and hurt are lurking. Examine it and REWRITE what all the tragedy, loss, disappointment, and failures mean about you.
BUT YOU HAVE TO BE CRAFTY AT THIS. You can't simply go from "My life sucks," to "My life is AWESOMESAUCE!!" You have to go from A to B. If you go from A to Z you'll just feel worse. I could not have said to teenager, "Your DAD IS AMAZING!!!!"
Consider this blog to be your permission slip to take the creative reins on your story and rescript it in a way that works for you.
Create away, fellow artists. No one can hold you back more than yourself. xoxo
.....and don't forget to read Big Magic :) THANKS LIZ!! MUAH!