I have a hard time relaxing. There is always something that I think I should be doing. I often feel guilty when I'm not doing something that could be construed as "productive" on some level. And there is never a time when the list of potentially productive things runs out. One friend told me that marathon runners don't train for a marathon all the time. Balanced training involves periods of activity and periods of inactivity. That made sense, until I started drawing lines of comparison.
Nothing in my life right now really looks like a marathon. I don't have an event for which I am aiming, I don't have a destination, an endpoint. I have several ongoing projects that are literally open-ended, on-my-own-schedule kind of affairs. I am creating various things, and I am in the enviable position of having a great deal of time to indulge those creative processes. But during the moments when I am not immersed in the creative process, I have a tendency to beat myself up a bit. I call it laziness, but it really isn't. I think part of me at some point in time got confused about the difference between busyness and meaningful activity.
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I said to a close friend, "I have a feeling that I was supposed to be more important."
My friend's reply was, "I've always had the impression that you didn't care what other people think, as long as you're happy with what you're doing."
It seemed like a kind of non sequitur, but I followed his meaning. If I don't care what other people think, then who am I expecting to be important to, aside from myself? Well, the truth of the matter is that I do care what other people think. I want to be connected to other people. I want what I do to have a positive impact. I just don't want to make decisions for my life based on what other people believe.
Over the course of a couple of days following that conversation, a few people unexpectedly sought my counsel about different issues in their lives. So, at least in some moments, I am important to some people. I felt flattered and honored in those moments, and yet it wasn't quite the answer part of me wanted. Part of me was defining "important" as "broadly impactful" or something along those lines. And I don't believe that defines my life right now. It's an issue of identity.
I've tried making meaningful contributions as a part of other organizations, places where I could have a broader impact because of an existing framework. Somehow, I've wound up not having the sort of impact I wanted. A lot of times it can be chalked up to personality clashes, but I also think that there is something more. I may be dead wrong here, but I think that many people have a difficult time visualizing what something new will be like until it's created. Once it's created, they don't have to visualize it, because it's right there in front of them. But a lot of energy gets spent trying to defend an idea to people who simply can't envision what it will look like. It's hard to have a positive impact on people who are afraid of what they can't imagine.
The direct end result for me is that people often do not see what I have to offer the way I would like them to, and I am unable to rely on participation in an organization as a means of identity. The organization does not provide a meaningful purpose for me. Honestly, I believe that some of my ideas could have profoundly positive transformative impact, but I don't enjoy the often exhausting battle of defending myself and my ideas to people who clearly are not open to those possibilities. It isn't worth it to me, no matter how "important" I think an idea could be. When I think about it in those terms, I don't really want to be "important" badly enough to define my life by the process of proving myself. But I do want a clearly-defined over-arching identity than what I've been allowing myself in the enviably nebulous existence I currently inhabit.
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I think one of the reasons I find it so easy to flagellate myself about perceived laziness is that I don't currently have an endpoint, a goal, a clear and overarching sense of purpose behind everything that I do. Individual projects may have goals and purposes, but they are nebulous or far into the future. What I have sought through my involvement in other organizations is something I can provide for myself.
In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron talks about the Creator, and she encourages placing a lot of spiritual value on being both created and creator. I don't believe in an actual Creator per se, but the poetic example of the act of creation at the very beginning of the Bible has some very valuable tidbits. Actually, a lot of creation myths do. They always involve effort on the part of the creator(s), and there is always a process by which that creation takes shape.
I am a creator. It's what I do. I create music. I create sometimes coherent prose. I use my imagination well. On a certain level, I think everyone creates, but it isn't everyone's defining characteristic. That may not make me important to a lot of people. I'm alright with that, honestly. What I was couching as a desire for importance was actually a desire for someone else to provide a meaningful identity, and when I am honest about what matters to me, I can do that for myself. I have done that for myself.
So how does fully claiming my identity as a creator keep me from beating myself up in the times when I am not actively creating? That's where the creation myths come in handy. For example, in the biblical myth, God didn't create everything in one fell swoop. He just did a bit at a time, and then he stood back and acknowledged his work. And then, as many people have pointed out, he took time to rest. There are a lot of similar lessons in creation myths from all over the world, and they amount to four basic principles I'm going to be following:
(1) Know what you're creating. If you don't know what you're making, take a step back and figure that out first.
(2) Be wildly imaginative. Don't restrain yourself with imaginary judgments and limitations.
(3) Acknowledge what you've created, even mid-process. Recognize the value of your creation.
(4) Rest. Rest is not laziness. Rest is the time when you allow something within you to start creating the things you don't consciously know about yet.
So, I have had a tendency to want to have an identity handed to me, and I have wrestled with the idea of being important. I have justified or criticized my existence based on the amount of money I was making, the amount of things I had gotten accomplished, the number of ideas that actually took root somewhere, the number of performances of my music, and on and on. Even when I've realized how ludicrous some of those conclusions are, I have kept going back to them because they are easy judgments. Now I have one more bit of truth about me, one more turn around the spiral: I am a creator. I am defined by the fact that I create.
I know this was a long one. Hopefully it kept your interest. I started this blog because I wanted what I see and learn to be able to have a positive impact on other people's lives. On some level, I wanted to be important. I assumed that I was not the only person in the process of learning more and creating more in my life, and I still believe that to be the case. In spite of the value I have gotten from a weekly commitment to write down my thoughts, this will be my last entry for awhile. I may come back to this venue at some point, in which case it will be tweeted and Facebooked and whatever else technology makes possible for me. In the meantime, thank you for being along on this leg of the journey. I hope you have learned as much about yourself as you have about me, and that we will all continue along that path of learning for as far as it carries us.
Farewell for now,
Randy Partain, creator