by Hugh Gilmore
Is there some way in which you’re hoping to live a more creative life next year? Hoping to express yourself? Begin wood sculpting, or quilting, or writing a novel or memoir? Writing songs?
Are you hoping to lead an authentic life, one where you follow your personal star and not passively allow yourself to get sucked into the soft cushions of pop culture? Those ubiquitous earbuds everyone wears, the Internet they dabble with, the television they watch, are all provided by people who intend to make you passive and inexpressive.
They’re not people, actually, they’re corporations with products to sell. They hire “entertainment” companies to entice you to sit still long enough to hear their ads. The more ears and eyes they capture, the more money they make. The greatest number of eyes and ears are captured by appealing to the trite and obvious. Television is the elephant’s boneyard of received wisdom.
Production companies know more about how to capture you than you know about how to escape them. They use the same principles that the junk food companies use to trick the taste buds – if you get pleasure from eating it, it must be good for you. The money guys have learned how to exploit that principle. Look around – the pharmacy counter is surrounded by aisles of health-destroying junk foods.
You only get one life. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. When should you begin your creative life, start capturing in print or song or paint the things you’ve noticed about life on earth? Does the fact that you worked all day mean you have to swoon onto the sofa every night? Think about that: You spend half your waking life working and the other half listening to lying commercials!
When does the time come to start living our real lives? No gong is ever going to sound and no celestial finger is ever going to point and say, “You! Yes you! Get up and start your true life’s work now. The time has come.”
Life doesn’t work that way. Life creeps by, insidiously, quietly, entertainingly (if you have enough gadgets, you’ll never get bored enough to notice), until it’s all gone. It’s possible that the only way to start your creative personal life is to pick a date and start. If you pick a date and you mean it, even though it frightens you, you’ll figure out how to start.
Most people say, “I don’t have time right now.” They’ll wait till there’s a little more time, not getting it that there will never be more time.
You’ll also need to know how much daily time you’ll give the project. An hour is probably good. Two may be better, but even a half-hour will do, as long as you stay consistent. Try with all your might to make your work be daily, for the same length of time. A page a day of a novel or memoir means you’ll be done in a year.
If you feel on any given day you have nothing to say, sing, or whittle, it doesn’t matter. Go to your chair at your appointed hour and sit there the whole time. If you’re writing, just tap one key over and over. You’ll probably get bored and start typing words, or sentences. And a story, or memory, will come and you’ll write it down. And you’ll teach yourself to write that way. Read your writing back to yourself aloud (or tape it and listen). Everything you do in your chair counts toward your time.
Once you start, you’ll have many temptations to quit. You’ll have to face your own laziness, your own self-pity, your feelings of worthlessness, your negative energies and your own weariness after years of letting American commercial culture do your thinking for you. And the only way to do that is to show up every day and stay the appointed time. Before long, the mental and spiritual muscles you were born with will redevelop. If you put in your time, you’ll feel good about yourself. If you don’t, you’ll feel like a coward and an excuse-seeker.
There’s much more to finding your creative self than what’s been said here. And there’s no guarantee you’ll get to Carnegie Hall. But you’ll be able to say, “I tried.” A weary soul can find much solace in saying that.
SPECIAL NOTICE: Our Annual Roundup of Readers’ Book Choices will appear next week. Please send Hugh Gilmore a notice of your “Most Enjoyed” book this year. Remember: This is not a contest. Not a “Year’s Best” list. It is simply a chance to share your “most enjoyed” book with others. Send your name, the community you live in, the book title and a brief statement of why you chose it. “Brief” means brief. You may send more than one title. The book does not have to be recent. Older the better, in some cases. Deadline is Dec. 27.