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  • Writer's pictureAbby Maslin

Choosing Your Creative Life

Dear Friends,

I am in a nearly constant state of unease about the balance in my life. At any given moment, I am failing at something. This is not a new experience for me (I've been living this way for a lonnnnng time), nor do I doubt I'm alone in this feeling.

The facts for me may not be that different than the facts for you. One, I have a full-time job. Two, from the kids I teach, to my principal, to my book editor, to my spouse, I have a lot of people who depend on me - not to mention, my own two small kids. Three, I'm terrible at saying no to the extras. And four, I'm persistently, overwhelmingly tired.

I'm also unfinished.

A few years ago I made the startling discovery that I'd been actively burying a part of my soul that I needed to be my most thriving, content, and energetic self: my creative life.

It stunned me, like the discovery of a forgotten inheritance, "WAIT. I'm allowed to play?" I remember thinking. "I'm allowed to make things just for fun?" The very notion of a creative life sounded like wisdom spewed from a hippie folk singer and yet the possibility of it felt more true and more comforting than anything I'd been conditioned to believe about adulthood.

While I'm lucky to be in a profession like teaching, where no two days are the same and where my hours are spent alongside magical young people with beautiful, unpredictable minds, the institution of school is not as nurturing to creativity as one might think. Somewhere in the constant fires to put out, the constant e-mails to return, and the constant external pressures, I often lose touch with the philosophy that ought to guide every education and every human life, that creativity matters.

To quote Hamilton (because when am I not these days?), "Look around, look around! How lucky we are to be alive right now!" Yes, the world is shifting. Yes, it is messy and uncomfortable and even disheartening at times, but, goodness, we live in a world that needs creative brains more than ever.

This is the time for makers - people who can imagine a new way of doing things and then actually design the path.

This is the time for healers - people who can remind one another of our essential interconnectivity and the universal emotions that bind us all.

This is the time for artists - people who can create beauty out of nothing, who can give us words to marvel at, visions to ponder over, chords that literally recalibrate the human heartbeat.

This world needs you - and me - to do the hard work of accepting our creative lives, not sacrificing them to our established roles. We are not our jobs. We are not our responsibilities. We are imaginative beings with an inherent right to create.

Two questions...

Is it really rational to expect a single career or a single hobby to feed the entire expression of our souls?

Who are we helping when we deny ourselves the fundamental human experience of creating?

And, OK, one more...

How can we live knowing we have more to share with this world?

It would be obnoxious to pretend this work is easy, as if you'll magically find an empty hour in your day today and a can full of paintbrushes waiting nearby. Sometimes I feel so zapped of creativity, I can't even pinpoint how I'd like to be creative in my life. I do recognize, however, that the longer I neglect the need to create, the more anxiety and more staleness I have to work through as a result.

It's true. There simply aren't enough hours in the day to be everything we'd like to be. The sense of failure that follows me in my life is almost certainly a byproduct of making hard choices about how to spend my days. I haven't mastered the balance between productive and creative, responsible and soulfully fulfilled - I'm trying every day to balance that scale better. But I do know this: when we choose a creative life, we are also choosing ourselves.

And I can't think of a better example to set for this next generation.


My favorite books on creativity...

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