the art of creative destruction
In his book THE ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE, Todd Henry introduces this great phrase: “Die empty.”
Too many of us die with our novels unwritten, our songs unsung, our talents undeveloped, our creative work left buried inside us.
Todd Henry challenges both himself and the reader to fill ourselves up with ideas and stimuli and then bring ourselves fully to our projects.
We should empty ourselves every day:
Do the work.
Do the work.
Do the work.
And it occurred to me that many women (and men) do “die empty”, but in a very different sense: we pour ourselves into our relationships and forget to keep something for ourselves, something we can nurture as our own, something that is worth taking seriously.
Very recently my ex-husband had a huge 40th birthday bash that took place in Paris and then in Venice. Since my ex and I move within an overlap of social circles, casual mentions of the festivities came back to me from multiple sources. None of it was all that interesting– except for something that went unsaid, but seemed palpable nonetheless, rising from between the lines of dialogue: a resentment on the part of some of the wives, who are starting to see themselves replaced by younger versions of themselves as the men work and party on into middle age.
I was thinking about this and leafing through a book by Harriet Rubin when I came to a line I’d underlined several years ago:
Whether through seduction or rejection, women have been made to feel small, the prey in men’s war games. Women often conspire in their own destruction.
We do this when we stake our lives on something or someone outside of ourselves, when we look to him (or her) for the kind of meaning that we need to create for ourselves. We devalue ourselves; we accomodate too much; we ask for too little and are surprised if we get it.
But ‘destruction’ can also be ‘creative destruction’: tearing down the old structures to build something new.
That’s the kind of destruction I like.
I get a lot of compliments on my vintage ring. It’s hard to miss. “It’s my bling-bling divorce ring,” I’ll sometimes say in response.
It’s in the shape of a serpent paved with diamond chips, twisting round my finger up to my knuckle, with glinting bits of emerald for eyes. I found it in the back of a little clothing boutique on South Beverly Drive, where it had been sitting in a jewelry case for so long that the owner leaped at the chance to sell it at a discount.
And depending on how much I like you, I might add, “It’s the symbol of the divine feminine.”
Back in my blondest, trophy-wife days, a friend once told me, “I love watching the expressions on people’s faces change when they start talking to you. They see you as one thing, and then they start realizing that you’re actually very intelligent, and they’re forced to re-categorize you.”
I enjoyed this, because I understood that as a female you’re initially perceived to be one or the other: the ‘feminine’ option, or the stronger smarter alternative. You can be “the hot one” or “the smart one”. You can be stylish or you can be good at math. You can be a model (or just look like one) or you can be Hilary Clinton. You can be a wife and mother or you can be an artist.
The idea that you can do and be both, if you want to (and have the abilities) never seems to present itself as an option. On some level we seem to think that if we want power we have to give up the so-called feminine, because the two cancel each other out. To contain the feminine = to be contaminated with weakness.
But Harriet Rubin makes the point that one should fight the enemy as the enemy’s worst fear.
So if the ‘enemy’ is, in this case, the culture’s preconceived notion of ‘the feminine’, then one could fight it…very much as someone who celebrates her own sense of the ‘feminine’.
Those elements of femininity that some of us used to deride – the color pink, for example — can be reinvented with whatever meaning we decide to give it.
By refusing to fit ourselves into a neat little category, we can force the categories to rearrange themselves around us. Because by devaluing the ‘feminine’, by buying into those notions of what it is and isn’t, we can’t help but devalue ourselves. Which makes it harder to declare who we are and what we need, from our relationships and also from our art.
I’m writing this from my hotel room in Venice, Italy. Today I took in three awesome exhibits at three different art galleries.
Part of my purpose for coming here was to feed my head: to disrupt my routine and introduce new sights, elements, ideas into my general scheme of things that will become reflected in my work, whether it’s the novel I’m working on now or some project in the future.
Feeding your head is a crucial part of the creative process.
And yet we go about it so haphazardly – if at all – when we should make it a weekly or daily practice.
This involves serious reflection on your overall purpose, your project, your ‘gig’. You need to orient your mind in that direction.
Then you deliberately structure the course of stimuli that you plan to take in – the books, movies, conversations, blogs, art, people, lectures – in order to build out that purpose.
You also feed your head with stuff that seems to have nothing to do with your ‘gig’. A powerful way to be creative is to find ideas in a sphere other than yours and adapt them to your own work.
All of this, of course, requires time and space away from the demands of everyday life. It’s not enough that you carve out the space to do your creative work, you also have to carve out the space for the dreaming and wandering and studying and exploring that fuels your creativity.
You have to take your art seriously, and declare that you are entitled to the time and solitude you need in order to practice it.
You make your own meaning.
Otherwise you conspire in your own destruction.
Make it a point to die empty.
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