What Happened When I Stopped Creating

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 some intense, desperate longing: click. We wandered into a mountainside lodge at dusk and cups of tea were poured in front of the just-stoked fire by a man with wool-knit, fingerless gloves: click. An elderly man walked along the road, a bamboo stick for a cane in his hand, dragging his cracked bare feet along the dirt path and boasting a pristine 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 a bustling bazaar flower 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 all 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. Assumed my entitlement to consuming someone else's daily life for my own fantastical reflection. 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 (anyone) 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. Of course I still am. Whether I'm acting intentionally or not, is it not 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. Every single conversation seems to send my inner awareness to a space of silencing. How can I say a single thing about something which I don't fully understand? And how can I fully understand any single thing at all?

But, I should point out, it's not like I've 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 has centered around the ideas of meaning and impact. And of course something can be profoundly impactful and meaningful for me, but ultimately we are not here to create things for only ourselves.

It had so much more to do with the fear that what I created would have an impact or meaning that is 'less-than'; misdirected, uninformed. 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 well-enough competent to have a positive 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 perhaps the most liberating thing we can do as creators.

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. How does this cycle help the world at all?

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.