“Dive on in, in everything dive in, and don’t be afraid of drowning because you can breathe water.”
How hard is it to return to your creativity after a long absence? It can be as hard as getting yourself back in the gym after a long period of being sedentary, or returning to eating healthy after weeks of sinful eating.
I learned the challenges of returning to creativity during my cross-country U.S. road trip interviewing creatives.
Being creative can be so enjoyable, it seems we’d never want to drift from it. Why compare it to dieting? I like pleasurable things. I’m more likely to be seduced by a Suzy-Q than tofu.
But singer/songwriter Rochelle Smith offered some insights on the subject when I interviewed her at her radio station in Boise, Idaho. (A short video interview with her is below.) Rochelle knows that we may get a burst of pleasure from a sugary sweet, but the creative high is more like the satisfaction of a rigorous workout. Both require significant investment of labor combined with regular application of that labor.
Rochelle is a talented and skilled musician, someone who writes haunting songs made more haunting with her ethereal voice. She has a large network of creative friends, and consistently encourages them to stay true to their creativity.
But Rochelle abandoned her creativity for about five years. She had became highly self-critical. “I thought, who am I to think I could create something someone else would want to listen to?”
Rochelle eventually found her way back to her music, when a friend told her she had a “duty” to share her gift. But she works diligently to make sure her professional life doesn’t push aside her own creativity. At her radio station she is not only a DJ but supervises recording sessions with big-name musicians as they pass through town. Yet she’s careful not to let let that exciting work occupy all of her creative energy, saving enough to, say, write an original song for a production of “The Vagina Monologues.”
She doesn’t share her musical life with her coworkers, despite the seemingly obvious promotional advantage of a musician working at a radio station. I visited her at the station on an early Labor Day morning, when the place was almost completely silent and empty. Prerecorded voices went from digital soundboards to listeners’ radios, a station manned by ghosts. I thought coming in to the station would be an inconvenience for her, but she liked being able to talk about her music without worrying about curious coworkers, wondering who the guy with the camera was.
As Rochelle shared her story of drifting away from an art-committed life and then returning to it, I was reminded once again of how years earlier I had drifted away from that path. Like Rochelle, I was finding ways to be creative in my job (i.e., the road trip videos), but my personal artistic pursuits had for years been shelved (literally, in the form of an unsubmitted novel stuck in the back of a laundry room cabinet).
By the time I met Rochelle I had driven through more than thirty states and had conducted nearly forty interviews. My own need to return to an art-committed path had become pretty clear. So I took a risk. After our interview, while packing up my camera and microphone, I shared with this woman I had never met before this morning my own desire to return to creativity.
Rochelle was effusively supportive, sharing many words of encouragement. She then handed me a copy of her self-produced CD, and said, simply, “You should listen to this.”
A few days later the six-week trip was finally complete, and I was flying back home to Washington, D.C. My MP3 player had died weeks earlier in South Carolina, but I was desperate for music, and remembered Rochelle’s CD. Sitting in the back of a crowded plane, exhausted beyond any exhaustion I had ever felt, I slipped her CD into my MacBook and soon a woman’s speaking voice filled my headphones.
It was a dear friend of Rochelle’s, Vicki Stagi. Rochelle had recorded some conversations with Vicki shortly before Vicki died of cancer. Vicki shares a dream in which she dives into water and is assimilated, breathing like a mermaid, although she says she didn’t imagine herself a literal mermaid because “they’re so prissy.” Vicki’s message, which forms the theme of a moving Rochelle Smith tribute song, “Blue Water,” is the quote I opened this post with: “Dive on in, in everything dive in, and don’t be afraid of drowning because you can breathe water.”
I did dive in, Rochelle, and so far I’m breathing just fine. Thank you, to you and to Vicki, for the inspiration.