This morning when I dropped Wobbles off at daycare, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Wobbles has not been to daycare in over two weeks and in that time, she has received a great deal of very individual attention. So much so that she’s grown quite accustomed to this trove of attention that she alone commands. When it became apparent she was going to spend the day not at home with Grandma or mom or dad, all hell broke loose. When I left, I could hear the tears practically hitting the floor from the hallway.
Yet I know that within five minutes, she was happily playing with toys and her teacher, the momentary discomfort of being away from me completely forgotten. She is at a stage where she is uncomfortable with change or the unknown but within a short time, forgets this discomfort and goes on about doing fun things. As long as you don’t leave her sitting in a Pack-n-Play with nothing to do, she will even find away to entertain herself fairly quickly. The moment of fear is exactly that, momentary, and then life goes on.
Will Smith recently roared through social media with a description of what it is like to impulsively decide to go skydiving. and the resulting fear that consumes you. Constant worry and anxiety. Will I die? Should I back out? This was a ridiculous thing to have done. All words expressed by the internal critic. Then you step out of the plane and fear disappears. The actual event causes no fear, only the expectation of that event and the narrative story built in your head about all the terrible things that could happen along the way. That narrative and the internal critic that writes it, they are the genesis of fear.
It is the same with writing or coding or any number of other creative activities. It is the same with any activity we do that is outside our comfort zone. The fear exists before the event, created by an overactive critic with an unjustifiably loud voice. But the moment the activity starts, or worst case a few moments later, the fear is gone. If focus remains, if concentration can stay stable, there are no thoughts of “what if this doesn’t work out?” or “What if this is terrible?” The only thing that remains is text and the characters and where they lead us.
Often I am overwhelmed by the thought of the scope of a project. But in the moment of writing or coding or digging a flower bed, there is no thought of the scope. The current moment is all that matters. Through a continual parade of those current moments, the scope is harnessed and contained. Even creating for five minutes is worth more than worrying for those five minutes about how much work is left.
There is a picture on the wall of my kitchen of what looks like a Dust Bowl farm. There are buildings, a road, a barn, little else. It is the picture of my grandparents farm shortly after they moved in, an empty, barren landscape, shot from a helicopter, of their chunk of the Oklahoma Panhandle. It is a symbol of a beginning, of what a blank page looks like. It shows hope and possibility. It also shows fear and emptiness. Once upon a time, there was a corresponding photo, taken 17 years later of a lush, green vista with large trees, an overflowing garden. The work and effort of two human beings, not young and full of energy but old and retired, shows the effects of daily work over a long period of time. Growth does not happen without the combination of time and effort contrary to the desires of our overstimulated attention monster. But something great can be created with small amounts of work, applied regularly to a single problem over the course of time. The important part is not to think of the end goal. You don’t even know the end goal. My grandparents had no idea what that farm would look like in 1998 after 17 years of living and working there. They only knew that each day gave them the opportunity to create something. What it was became emergent through their efforts and dedication. Creativity is no different.
A way that my generation’s lives have changed from our that of our grandparents is in the amount of choice we have on a daily basis of how we spend our time. We are overwhelmed by opportunity of activity, most of which is meaningless and even disquieting. Our attention is divided among too many things, even on the best days and with the best intentions. My grandparents never went and picked up their phone to see if someone was on it. They were too busy doing actual work. A 2014 study added fuel to the fire that the mere presence of our cell phones during a complicated task led to decreased performance. Even if the cell phone is turned over or out of reach, our monkey brains wonder if something important has happened on it. This distracts us from our task at hand. Distraction is easier to come by in our ever connected world and distraction will always necessarily be easier than concentration. Yet it is concentration and focus that results in the creation of things that are important to us whether it’s a work of art, a coding project or a relationship. Often that ease of distraction prevents us from even beginning something.
The hardest part of creating is the actual part about starting. Worry and fear can keep you from ever beginning, not only IN the beginning, but at every moment along the path. Fear keeps you from producing by telling stories about “30 minutes isn’t enough time to bother” or “There’s always tomorrow.” These stories become self-fulfilling as you allow them to become the narrative of your creative life. If every time that Wobbles screamed bloody murder when I walked away, I turned around and comforted her, neither one of us would ever grow. So it is with creating. The critic screams bloody murder every time you try to drop him off at daycare. He doesn’t want to be left alone. He doesn’t want to play by himself. Yet, when you refuse to listen to him and begin to create, he will slowly become more silent over time. He my never become completely silent. But he will be a more mature, supportive being that encourages your creativity. You just have to ignore the screaming part for a little while. It’s too important not to.