I enjoy observing, admiring and encouraging artistic creativity in others. I enjoy cultivating creativity in myself.
My particular art mediums are creative writing, songwriting, oratory, humor and talk therapy. (Yep, talk therapy is not a technique; it’s an art form.)
But the creative process is a mystery. I don’t know how it works. Only that it does. I participate in the process, but the process is bigger than me. The process is not me. I just see things, sometimes. Hear things.
Sometimes it’s the Shower Fairy, who is fond of whispering to me when the crown of my head is being pounded by water. Other times I’m unceremoniously interrupted by a message from The Boiler Room, this place deep beneath my consciousness where a group of mystical beings writes entire speeches, columns or songs while I’m loading the dishwasher.
Again, I am not the process. Only a participant. And my participation comes down to this paradox: Keep showing up, and try to stay out of the way.
You can laugh if you’d like. That’s OK. I know it sounds foolish, contradictory and irrational. That’s because it is foolish, contradictory, and, like all art forms, must take you to places irrational.
I keep showing up. That is, I endure. I keep stroking the keys of this keyboard. I keep fussing with my guitar. But, also, I try to stay out of the way. Meaning, I try my best to stop “trying.” I tell my own particular cherished menagerie of neuroses to sit down and shut up. That it doesn’t matter what my Inner Committee thinks or what anyone thinks as long as I tell the truth and never waver in my commitment to be genuine.
Genuine. In English, it means “true, sincere, authentic … free from hypocrisy or pretense.” But dig deeper with me. “Genuine” comes from the same roots as the word “genius.” “Gen” equals “to beget, to be born, kin.”
Rightly understood, no one is a genius. Rather, everyone has a particular genius. See The Oxford English Dictionary (as for me and my house, the only dictionary): “Genius — a classical pagan belief … the attending spirit allotted to every person at birth to govern fortunes and determine character.”
It’s where the idea of “genie” comes from. Like, genie in a bottle.
Creativity is not something that is “done.” It is more experienced, recognized and then released. Creativity is not wrought; it is begotten. Like a mother is not her child; rather, she is a participant. She shows up at the hospital, then stays out of the way. Voila. Babies happen.
Traditional art forms are not the only place this formula works. It works for all the great joys available in the quest to be fully human. Want a great marriage? Gotta keep showing up. Then stay out of the way. Want a mind-blowing sex life with your mate? You gotta show up, then stay out of the way. Want a rich, healthy connection to your children? Keep showing up. But don’t get in the way. Want to be wholly yourself? Keep showing up. Know yourself. Live consciously. Live intentionally. But don’t think about yourself very much. It just gets in the way.
And, as if it wasn’t already obvious, this same formula is the heartbeat of any serious spiritual path.
Speaking of genius, Donald is my friend, and I’m not one to bandy that word about. He plays guitar — acoustic, electric, all styles. He is a songwriter. A brilliant arranger. A producer. We’ve been in bands together. We’ve pushed each other. We’ve loved each other. We’ve been furious with one another. We’ve suffered together. We’ve traveled together. We’ve had too much to drink together.
More than anyone, Donald has encouraged the artist in me. He was my first producer. I was terrified, self-conscious and horrifyingly amateur. Yet he never stopped insisting I keep showing up. And he has taught me volumes about how to stay out of the way.
I’ll never pay Donald back for this. The value of his contributions to my life are beyond appraisal.
I mention him now because of a video clip he sent me last week. The clip is a 20-minute speech by writer/novelist Elizabeth Gilbert — www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html.
In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert hit the Big Time with her book “Eat, Pray, Love.” I haven’t read it. Tons of my friends and colleagues have. And most of them roll their eyes and breathe exasperated sighs when I tell them I have not.
I’ll get around to it.
But watch this clip. Listen. Stay out of the way.
I was in awe.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.