What the voices told me... and how I fought back.
There was a time in my life when I thought my voice didn't deserve to be heard. I was a latecomer to music, hadn’t really started songwriting until 27. Before that, even though I showed great artistic promise in high-school, started my own clothing business and hosted a poetry open mic through my early twenties I couldn’t seem to get my mind to truly accept I could be a real-deal creative. “Artist” or “Writer" was a title I reserved for only the top tier few who deserved reverence and worship. I was too nerdy, too weak, too inexperienced…you name the excuse for me not putting myself out there and I probably had it running.
As I’ve come to know more and more creatives in my life, I can see that even the best of us struggle with believing in ourselves. It’s silly to put artists on a deity-shaped pedestal and sometimes, the people who should believe in themselves the most, those are the people who have the biggest self criticism and the hardest time overcoming it (and are evidently the least god-like). Even now, I struggle as I devote part of my day to write these thoughts…I’m fighting scripts like, “No one wants to be sold an idea.” “You aren't doing this right, your ADHD is ruining it.” “Your audience doesn't care about this.” “Who are you to tell people about creativity, stick to music, bozo.” Or my personal favorite: ”You suck, shut up.”
Despite this terribly negative self talk I press on. Why? Well…because over time I have gotten to know other writers and artists and creatives and it's just a fact that we all get to ignore that part of us. Stephen Pressfield calls it “The Resistance” (read The War of Art). Getting to know some other writers and artists and creatives might have been the best thing that I could have done for my creativity.
When I was 22 I moved my whole operation from Seattle and my Dad’s basement in Bonney Lake to the then booming art metropolis of Tacoma, Washington. I embedded myself in an arts community. I lived with artists and writers, I went to as many shows and gallery showings and coffee shops as any deadbeat starving beatnik could ever dream. I learned about dancers, costume makers, painters, poets, musicians and all kinds of off the beaten path kinda folk. Those days are gone for me in Tacoma, living in subterranean urban decay…but I learned that creativity breeds creativity and no artist or writer should be an island.
In April I’ll be heading out for my 4th round of hosting a writing and creativity workshop at a writers retreat I’ve watched grow into a community from its infancy. Write Doe Bay is a bi-annual retreat of about 30 people willing to cart themselves across bridge and sea in order to expose themselves to the mysterious thing that is a room full of creatives focusing on the act of expression.
After Motopony played their first Doe Bay Festival in 2012 I received an email asking me if I’d like to teach at a writers retreat at Doe Bay in the coming spring. To me it was kind of a silly question, despite the fact that the letter clearly stated that she (the promoter) had reached out to Galen Disston of Pickwick first and he had turned it down and I was her second choice, I tried to get my ego out of the way long enough to realize the opportunity at hand.
I've heard the phrase “Doe Bay is a magical place” enough times that it kinda makes me roll my eyes a bit nowadays…but that still doesn't make it untrue. It's hard to describe the quaint, lusciously green resort nestled on the beach and cliff waterfront of Orcas Island as anything but magical. Is it the open air/water view soaking tubs conveniently poised atop the waterfall to the beach? Is it the organically grown produce garden that feeds the cafe that feeds the hunger drummed up in their visitors crawling about in cliffside tide-pools all day? Is it the generally tame deer population with no known predators that wander about the grounds as if humans weren’t the most dangerous thing on the planet? Is there something sacred about the place itself, some ancient native prophecy foretelling the clothing-optional pan-cultural masses would come and gain a deeper respect for natural places? Who knows. But invite me to come and I’ll probably try to figure out how to make it work, if I can’t I’ll be bummed...
Offer to pay me to come and talk about creativity and the writing process and you got yourself a no-brainer...even if Pickwick used to be your favorite band. wink emoticon
Jenn (with two n’s) Furber is the woman who first framed this luxurious experience to me. Over the next few months we decided I was perfect for the job. An energetic islander herself and a mother of three, she dreamed of having her favorite authors and wordsmiths come and share the craft in an intimate setting. Since that first go-round, Jenn and I have become great friends and collaborators on everything from music videos to children's books. She has the unique ability to bring out the best in an artistic mind. To hold it up and encourage it and praise it in just the right way so that you feel like you’re special for the gift of creativity itself. Which…you are. Fuck Chuck Palahniuk, You ARE a beautiful snowflake. Deal with it.
For most of my life I have believed that we are all creative. We all have a bit of truth to offer the whole and we all deserve our chance at expression. “Bad Art” isn’t a result of the artist not deserving the title…but a consequence of an artist losing their way and short-cutting or skipping the truth for whatever reason (and believe me, the higher you go the more plentiful the “wrong reasons” present themselves). Some people stand on stage and shout it shrouded in rock and roll, some people simply post their wit on twitter. It’s all part of the co-creation of our universe as far as I’m concerned. And while we tend to glorify one gift over the other in our culture, I really do believe we need all the parts equally. Yours too…even if you’ve lost your way.
Art isn’t some elite act performed by only those touched by angels. This is exactly what I learned by living with the artists in Tacoma. When you get in there and mix it up with people attempting this thing called “creativity” you realize it's a messy, human, and suspiciously common thing to seek to express the truth, in whatever form it comes out.
Over the past few years I've seen people who had little to no trust in their own creativity or ability to express themselves come to Write Doe Bay and find a sense of belonging to a community. With a nudge from an instructor and a safe environment to share and be heard, it's amazing to see people share their true truth. It’s rare to find such a gentle and trusting environment. I think a big part of it is the level playing field. There isn’t really a stage at Write Doe Bay, that invisible divider of Artist and Audience gets really murky in a creative community like the one formed over the weekend retreat. On comfy couches and over tears and laughs, even the shyest of the attendees are eventually encouraged to open up and be a part of the “artist” side of things. More often than not, it's those readings that I remember the most and feel like need to be heard the most.
If you’ve any inkling of desire to write or expand your creative side, I’d say this retreat is just for you. I’d say it's even especially more for you if you’ve got that voice in you saying, “Nah, there's no way I’m good enough/______ enough to hang out with “real writers.” “I’m too old.” “I’m too young.” “I don’t have X.” “My mom said I can’t sing/write/draw/speak.” “Think of the last time we tried it!" That voice is the RESISTANCE! and if you got it, it's proof that you’re a creative too. Whether or not you make it to Doe Bay, what worked for me to move on with my art in spite of the voices (and man were my inner critics raging) was a cozy, easy circle of inspiration in the form of an artistic gathering. It was time to rewrite some of those scripts that said I couldn’t be a part of this great mysterious expression called creative living. I have truly found that by surrounding myself with creative people I am a far more successfully creative person. Short of moving into some artist housing in a poor neighborhood (that will soon be an overpriced yuppy neighborhood void of all previous signs of artistic life) - For a non-threatening immersion in an artistic micro community with a balance of established-artist/fledgling-creative ratio, I don’t know if a better alternative exists next to Write Doe Bay.