The Compulsion To Create
“What’s wrong, hun?” asked a lady who works in my building. It was a Monday morning and I had just parked my Prius, extracted my belongings, and was schlepping my way to a staircase that lead to my office. I know her, but I don’t really know her, which is why I didn’t offer a real answer to her kind question. “Nothing at all,” I answered with a halfway convincing smile. “Did you have a nice weekend?” As she talked, I nodded, smiled, and said all the right kinds of encouraging phrases, “Oh, really?” and “How nice.” By the time she was finished talking, she had forgotten her original question.
People like to talk about themselves, and I’m no exception. I have this somewhat self-indulgent blog, after all, where I can write at length about myself and my problems without fear of interruption or concern about anyone’s interest. Diverting conversation away from the self is an easy, tried-and-true way to circumvent unwanted attention. I know this, you know this, everyone knows this, at least subliminally. But back to the “What’s wrong?” question I effortlessly avoided.
What was wrong was that I was walking into work, into an office I inhabit 4-5 days a week, where I am paid to convince other people to donate their money. To be clear, I like my job. I like the people I work with, the mission, and the process of writing grants. I’ve been writing since I was 12, and always had grand illusions of being paid for my work, someday. And in a way, I am. I spend well over half of my workdays writing grants, letters, or reports. But the type of writing I’m compelled to complete for my job isn’t the type of writing that I can’t live without. And that was my problem, the morning I walked into work feeling blue. I hadn’t had time the prior weekend to write creatively, and that happens sometimes. Life gets in the way, and the bits that get in the way serve as a pointed and blatant reminder. I write, not because I have to, or even because I feel like I should. I write because little else makes sense. It is a form of self-expression yes, but it’s also an act of creation, and the compulsion to create is deeply embedded in the human psyche.
Every facet of modern life, from the homes we live in to the cars we drive to the gadgets we take for granted, are the direct result of creation. When I’m pulled away from my creative outlet (writing), I become anxious and easily irritated, like an infant who is kept awake too long, or anyone who consistently drives in LA traffic. Writing is more than just an act of creation for me. It’s a deeply intuitive and innate component of my being.
This isn’t to say I’m a wonderful writer, or even always a good writer. I’ve written too many terrible blogs, poems, and stories to count. My one secret to writing something good is to tap deeply into emotions. Good or bad, high or low, extreme or subtle. If I can’t feel what I’m writing about, it will never be good. Tapping into my emotional self is the first step, then I must organize the emotional self through the logical self. My brain is two sided: one side is Jekyll and the other is Hyde. My best work is the perfect marriage of the two. This process is deeply humbling, insightful, and necessary. But just as life can interfere with my writing, my writing can sometimes interfere with life.
I find time to write whenever and wherever I can. In my car, in waiting rooms, on planes, late at night when the rest of the world has fallen asleep or early in the morning when my brain is fresh and there is nothing and no one to distract me. I feel blessed to be able to find as much time as I do. Many others don’t have this luxury. But comparing my life to anyone else’s has never resulted in anything good, so for now, I will continue to write, whenever and however I can. Maybe one day, I’ll create something great, but that isn’t really the point. The satisfaction comes from creation, and we all need an outlet, a creative process, a thing to love that can help us find meaning.
Once you find your thing, you’ll know because you won’t want to do anything else. You will, like me, be frustrated when life takes you away from the thing you so deeply love, which is why my face probably looked somber last Monday morning. I don’t dislike Mondays, but I did, in that moment, wish I were walking into a coffee shop to write a blog, or edit poems. I did, in that moment, wish I were still sitting in bed, with a tall cup of coffee next to me and my computer open to my manuscript. Someday, that might be my Monday morning. Until then, I’ll keep compartmentalizing the best I can, letting my creativity pile on top of itself until I nearly burst, while I trudge through necessary work/life things.
I once thought the compulsion to create made me different from most people, but now I understand the narcissistic error of this belief. The compulsion to create doesn’t make me different from anyone, it makes me more like everyone. It’s the most human thing I could possibly do, and the mere humanity of this compulsion connects us all, in some small way. My advice to you, whoever is reading this, is not to let life get in the way of whatever form of creation makes you happy. “Life is too short to spend too much time doing things you don’t love” ~a badly botched quote by someone slightly famous.
C’est la vie, all you beautiful humans.