What Happened When I Stopped Creating

November 19, 2018


I stopped taking photos. I stopped writing publicly. I deleted half of my online presence in the name of denying modern technology and its pitfalls. In the name of being "more intentional." Of being more present. Of connecting. And where did I find myself?


Less present, less connected, and sincerely out of touch with my soul's inner creativity. 


It all started in the first months of 2017, when I spent about a month in India. Camera in hand, I was exhilarated and impassioned daily by the beauty I saw. I felt more connected-- "at one"-- with all than ever. Halfway through, though, I started feeling a deep conviction every time I shot a photo of someone.


I saw a woman swathed in bursting colors and jeweled patterns, her baby swaddled around her left shoulder, both of them staring straight at me, expressionless but with deeply-felt emotion: click. We wandered into a mountainside lodge at dusk and cups of tea were poured in front of the just-stoked fire: click. An elderly man walked along the road, a bamboo stick for a cane in his hand, dragging his bare feet along the dirt path and boasting a white cotton turban on his head, a pair of young goats trodding alongside him: click. 


Sitting on the earth, staring out the window of a rickety bus, standing on the road between shacks or in the middle of the bustling center market. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing and whoever I was surrounded by, I felt a constant impulse to capture what I saw, what I felt. 


But that was just the issue: it was what I felt. What I wanted to capture. What I wanted to share. And so there were a few days when I was sickened with myself, regretful and fearful about whether I had violated people's privacy, misconstrued their culture. It took a tear-ridden  night in Hyderabad to shake me out of the overcompensation. I resumed taking photos, but cautiously, and learned how to ask for permission in Hindi and Nepali.


So there is where it started. An inner crisis about the relationship between creator and creation, about my role in capturing my own perspective and how to responsibly represent it. Yet I found that there was no way to make my perspective right for everyone else. And so, from their ethics-based roots grew a mass of guilt-ridden vines, strangling out any breath of creative freedom. I was petrified of misrepresenting or manipulating creative products for my own gain. Whether intentional or not, I believed-- and still do believe-- that it was my duty to be mindful of my own bias and the potential it held to distort truth for another.


What planted its roots there, kept growing. I wasn't just weary of photography anymore.


But, I should point out, it's not like I stopped creating altogether. No, I have tens of journals (those oh-so-hip ones that are the size of a euro bill and made of recycled paper and cost more than a tenner each but it's totally worth it because you just feel your recordings more valuable when they're recorded in such a priceless item) in which I've been recording my thoughts, sketches, and everything in between. I suppose it's not that I 'stopped' creating entirely (though I do feel like I significantly slowed in the range of what I was producing), it's just that I stopped sharing. And this, I think, is the point of it. 


I stopped sharing not because of some isolationist ideal of what creative endeavors should be for, or that they meant anything more to me when I kept them to myself (although this is probably true for personal journaling). I knew full well all along that my philosophy of art centers around the ideas of meaning and impact. And of course something can be profoundly impactful and meaningful for me, but I am not here to create things for only myself. 


It had so much more to do with the fear that what I created would have an impact or meaning that was 'less-than.' Either negative or simply irrelevant. I kept waiting for myself to be 'ready' (whatever that means) to share. For myself to have reached that elusive but seemingly palpable 'point' in which I would be competent to have an impact on others. But that point never seemed to come. There was always something I was lacking.


I speak about this in past tense, as if I'm out of the woods of perfectionism and those guilt-ridden vines. In reality, I'm not. Every time I create something, I question whether it's falling short. Whether there's unfulfilled potential--or worse: poorly-fulfilled potential.


This fear, I think, can consume all creators. And it's surely a valid one. But the truth of the matter is that we will always possess bias, some form of distorted perspective. And when it comes to creating, these biases are sure to show up. Recognizing that, being okay with it, is the most liberating thing you can do as a creator. 


What makes your work yours (a snowflake, special just like you!) is the perspective that it holds. That is a beautiful thing. Of course be responsible with your perspective, and work to overcome distorted thinking, but also value that which makes your work different from everyone else's. Responsibility does not have to paralyze you. When you stop creating, you stop sharing. When you stop sharing, you stop connecting. And when you stop connecting, you extinguish the very spark of your creativity. 


I've still only picked up my camera a handful of times in the last few years. This is only the third post that I'm sharing. Whatever. We're all figuring it out. Give yourself the space to express every bit of your indecision, your contemplation, and your 'un-readiness.' It's a beautiful thing: worth sharing. 

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