The Price of Creativity

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

Joseph Campbell

I was reminded of that quote recently as I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Big Magic,” which had become my Big Nudge to write A Book. That can happen if your creative spirit is on the search even if you don’t know it. Gilbert carries a lot of weight with me, so when she quotes someone else, it has staying power.

This recent nudge to write some kind of memoir is still strong and exciting and terrifying and sometimes overwhelming. I think I have my feet securely on the floor. My mind is full of memories. Can you imagine 80 years worth? Sometimes, I’m not so much, “feet on the floor” as “head in the stratosphere.”

This new adventure, at age 80, is the stuff of wonder and confusion, some amazement and downright hard work. Thankfully, I don’t have to do it alone.

I have spent hours this past week with memoir writing luminaries like Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron, and Mary Karr, all giants in the medium. I’ve spent further hours with Alison Wearing, whose course on Memoir Writing is in its second of twelve weeks. She has provided interviews with successful writers who have had so much to teach and inspire me.

And I have been writing – and writing – and writing. A lot of it is embarrassingly mediocre. Some, amazingly insightful. Sometimes I’m exhausted; sometimes, elated. (“Wow! I wrote that???”)

Each attempt has given me courage to forge ahead as long as I don’t get caught up in cringing at the disappointing ones. They have each shown me what a daunting task this is, and yet how powerfully magical it can be.

How many times in all these years of life have I had to rewrite the script of my life? Any of us can tell that by how many times we’ve bumped up against another turning point, where life was no longer going to be the same. The death of someone we loved. The traumatic experiences that damaged us seemingly beyond repair. The poor decisions we made that led to disaster or defeat. But also, marriage, moving, having children, a new career; they don’t all have to be bad.

All of my experts agree that doing a memoir is making a deep journey toward transformation and redemption. It’s the work of looking at the past with new eyes and with a fierce intention to find truth there. As much truth as we can.

Finding truth is often painful. It can hurt like hell. Sometimes, it’s excruciating. Who wants pain anyway?

But finding truth can also set us free. Free to forgive – ourselves and others. Free to find kindness and understanding for ourselves and others. Free to discover that even the deepest kinds of pain can be turned to an impossible grace that makes of life a gift we never knew was there. Free to sit quietly in awe with how far we have come.

We don’t have to write a novel-length memoir to find all of that. A short story can hold enormous truth.

We humans have so much more in common that we realize. We all hurt. We all know joy. We all fall short. We all can overcome so magnificently.

So for the time being, I’ll be a student who sometimes works too hard at this new adventure. Sometimes I’ll be a piker who just hums around the edges, being afraid to jump into the middle. But being a student has always come easily to me. It’s been a lifelong gift that keeps leading me on unexpected journeys that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

I’m so relieved that deeply meaningful life really doesn’t end at 80. There is still so much yet to uncover; so much of that “life that is still waiting” ahead. I’m so grateful that there is still wonder to discover. And truth that sets me free.

And that’s very okay with me!

12 thoughts on “The Price of Creativity

  1. You’re right, we’re never too old to have a meaningful life or to embark on something new. I loved this whole post, but my favorite line was the one about how much we humans have in common. It seems to me that we tend to focus so much on what divides us these days that we’ve forgotten how alike we really are. And that’s sad, because it’s our common ground that unites us and breaks down the divisions, I think.

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  2. I am excited to think I may be reading your memoir…in the not too distant future! It sounds like you are making wonderful progress. Several years ago I read a book called, ‘The Journal Keeper, A Memoir’, by Phyllis Theroux. It is not a comprehensive memoir of her whole life. I believe it covered about six years. I think you would enjoy reading it…very conversational style. i like some of the quotes in her book. “In my experience you can have ability without leisure, but ability only, and not creativeness. Real ideas come to me while relaxed and brooding, meditative,, passive. Then the unexpected happens. An illumination, a combination of words, a revelation for which I had made no conscious preparation” Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight So, have fun writing, and make room for some relaxing moments too!

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  3. Congratulations on starting this exciting project! I am a memoir writer myself (my memoir comes out October 2022) and I can attest that it;s a hard but very rewarding journey.

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  4. I like that you feel like a student. 🙂 Indeed, if we pay attention, life doesn’t cease to teach us lessons, show us the wonders of the world, allow us to see with different eyes all the beauty that surrounds us. There’s always more to learn. And you have an inquisitive mind. No wonder you notice all these and they bring you joy.

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    1. I am the daughter of a college chemistry professor, so inquisitiveness and finding answers has been born into me, I think. I’m reaping the benefits of all that more and more, I think, in the latter years. It certainly keeps me busy! And grateful. Yes, ever the student, as are you!

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  5. Glad to hear “that deeply meaningful life really doesn’t end at 80,” but I never really doubted it–at least not about you, Martha! I’m making similar discoveries about memoir-ing, and can really relate to what you’re saying here.

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    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Mitch! This memoir business is a multi-faceted challenge, and I already get caught by the “will there be enough time…” question. Then I remember that it will be what it will be as long as I stay with it with my best intentions. Blessings on your memoir-ing. You are already so good at it. I hope to find as genuine a “voice” as you have achieved!

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  6. I’m sitting here grinning because I’m so excited that you’re writing your memoir! I hope you will keep us apprised of your progress: the ups, the downs, the questions, the surprises.

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    1. I grin sometimes, Liz, but I sure do also have a frown on my face more often than I’d like. This is not only a writing challenge, but as you know, a spiritual and psychological one! Writing those 3 Morning Pages per Julia Cameron is keeping me in balance from day to day, thank goodness. The process is as much of a willow-the-wisp as the actual words that come out on a page. But you know all that. So keep grinning for me…I am enjoying having a challenge, and what a doozy it is!!

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  7. That quote has been stuck in my head all week. And here you are sharing it, along with all your wisdom and experience and lightness of being. What a gift it is to read your words each week, or two weeks, or three weeks, or whenever you choose. It’s all gold!

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    1. I’ve just finished Mary Karr’s book and am sitting here slurping on my clementine and trying to be okay with the reality that even if I have some gift for writing, there will never be enough time to become what I might have become had I started earlier. And that is just how convoluted my thinking can become in this new ethereal world of “the writer.” But it’s all grace, right? Thank you, dear friend, for your always gracious words! They mean the world.

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