Wasting Creativity

Most of the memories of my twenties involve travel: going to a job I hated, going home from a job I hated, going to a bar, going home from a bar (when I went home). A good portion of my twenties also involved sleeping in places other than my bed; place like day-time grass in the park, parked cars, couches, floors and the beds of strangers. My twenties were my great wasteland and what was wasted (besides me) was a shit load of creative time.

I think I always knew what kind of person I wanted to be. I knew I loved reading books, writing them, making art, seeing art, playing my guitar and any other creative thing that I could get my hands, fingers, eyes and ears on. Call it self-determinism, but it’s just how I saw myself. I never doubted it. It was like I was born with the knowledge…except for one really big thing: It wasn’t who I was at all. It was a mirage. I was a drunk, a barfly and a big talker. I was a bullshit artist and my biggest con was on myself.

The only difference between an artist and everybody else is that an artist makes art. You don’t have to be good to be an artist, you just need to be dedicated. You don’t have to be liked, you just have to be unrelenting. Every writer, at one point, wrote like a third grader. Every musician spent frustrated hours looking down at their fingers, baffled by their stupidity. Every painter wished that they could paint a straighter line. Art, like every goddamn thing in life, takes work.

my drawing

I pissed away my twenties into urinals, leaning against the tiled walls of dive bar bathrooms. And I did it all out of fear. Fear of failure loomed large but nowhere near as large as the shadow of the man that I told myself I was. I stared down that dark figure and I ran like a coward. I ran back to my childhood, because I knew being that man would require effort, grit, bravery, stamina, lots of time alone and the ability to rapidly heal bones. In order to be that man I had to have an unending source of creativity. I had to be something that I thought was impossible, so the twenty year old version of me measured up the responsibility against his height mark on the door jam and then he drove straight to the nearest bar and started drinking the motivation away.

I drank in that bar for over a decade, writing nothing, drawing nothing, and reading very little. Now, I’m thirty seven years old and I’ve finally stepped out of that dark bar. I’ve finally closed my tab. (It cost more than I was willing to pay). My wallet may be empty and the years may have fallen away like cigarette ash but what I’ve found in return is a stedfast purpose. I no longer look up at the image I once invented. I no longer see that man as a goal. The guy that I see; the guy that I want to imitate is the guy who wakes up at 4am to go split bricks with a water-saw for 12 hours, the guy who runs a liquor store 7 days a week with nobody but his wife to share his shifts. I see a blue-collar work ethic. I see a goal and every step. I see a ticking clock and a todo list. I see a pencil. 

Earlier this year I started dedicated more and more of my day toward writing project ideas that I had. I pushed hard, probably driven by regret and ghost of vacant time. I pushed almost to the point of becoming empty and exhausted. The only rest that I allowed myself was reading and at that time, I began The Journals of John Cheever. They are utterly brilliant. They made me jealous; so blunt and eloquent and harshly honest. They made me want to start keeping a journal, but I couldn’t do that. What the hell would I write about? Where would I find the juice? I was already almost empty, where the hell were these ideas gonna come from? I gave up on it. I told myself to focus on one thing and fuck the rest. I wanted to build a cathedral, but John Cheever wouldn’t leave me alone. He drifted through my room like the smell of afternoon gin and I hate gin. Cheever never wore pants and he put out his cigarettes on the carpet. The ghost of John Cheever haunted my sofa until he drove me to journal. I tried it, just to get him to leave me the hell alone. My first entry was literally about how my room was too damn hot. It felt like I was just spitting out shit; like I was wasting my time, but I did it. It did it every day to keep the air clean. I did it to put John Cheever back into his grave, and three weeks in, I began to enjoy it. I began to look forward to doing it. I began to understand. The journals didn’t end up lessening my other writing at all. In fact, my writing began to improve. My creative muscle didn’t re-divide its resources, it stretched and grew in capacity.

Since that first journal experiment, I’ve taken many more stabs at my creative heart. It hasn’t split yet. I hasn’t even been cut. It just bleeds and swells and I make more and more things. I write this weekly blog that you’re reading; I write freelance for several professional clients; I do daily drawings, I write brief reviews of everything that I watch, listen to and read; and I just recently began a weekly newsletter. I’m still plugging away at the original writing projects and a few weeks ago I finished filling my third pocket journal. My mind started as a closet and It’s become an attic. I can’t wait to see what else I can make room for.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Fuck you, Chad. I’ve got a job. I’ve got a family. I don’t have time.” Well…T.S. Eliot wrote his poetry at night after working all day as a bank clerk, William Carlos Williams was a family doctor and Wallace Stevens had a long and successful career as an executive for an insurance company. We all have excuses. We all have things that truly hold us back. But, we also all have time that we’re already wasting. Want time to paint? Skip the sitcom tonight. Need time to play piano, say no to the work party. Need to write your play, get a babysitter once a month and sit in front of the computer. There’s always time to steal for better things, because the things we truly want to achieve need space to be cleared.  (I gave myself until the Dig Your Own Hole album finished playing to write this blog.) So, set a goal. Set up your desk. Set a timer.

When I was in my twenties, I was afraid of everything that is now important in my life. I feared that there was a limited amount of creativity inside of each of us; that the more you used it, the faster it would empty, like a California reservoir. But that’s utter bullshit; that’s slave mentality. Creativity is a weird thing; creativity is its own fuel. It subsists upon itself, like a fire that burns fire or a mammal that inhales and exhales oxygen, creativity breathes creativity. The more you use the more you have to use. Don’t waste a day living in fear. Don’t waste another night imagining that you were someone else. Don’t waste a decade talking about the things that you could be doing. If you want to be an artist, make art. If you wanna do something great, start fucking working.

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By C.A. Hall

Writer / Podcaster I'm a well-written sentence marred by a curse word. In another life I might have been a criminal profiler, a jazz drummer, an architect, an acrobat, an actor, or a children’s book illustrator.