The Season of Being Creative

March 3, 2024

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together...  - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NRSV-CE

I grew up in a family of artists and writers. My grandfather sculpted, my father did pen and ink, my uncle painted, my mom worked as a journalist until she got married and my great uncle Howard was a feature writer and editor at a magazine called The Living Wilderness.

In light of all that, my parents were fine with the many hours I spent drawing and designing and writing short stories or poetry. But the bar was set high at home and I didn't get a lot of positive feedback on anything I created.  Which might have been why the nice things my teachers, and the occasional classmate, said about my writing and artwork had such an effect.

By the end of elementary school I'd decided that my teachers were right and that when it came time for me to go away to college I would study English or Art or both. 

My parents didn't agree. Probably because, with the exception of my great uncle Howard, everybody in my family, no matter how talented, worked a regular nine to five and did creative stuff on the side. According to my father, art was a hobby - not a career.  As part of that conversation, I was told that being the best artist or poet in the entire sixth grade didn't mean anything because by the time I got to college I would see that other people were better.

At twelve the idea of choosing a career that didn't pay the bills seemed almost irrelevant but, because being the best was a big deal in our family, I took the prediction about college to heart. My teachers and classmates still said nice things.  But by my sophomore year in high school I had stopped drawing and, aside from the occasional dark poem, there was no more writing for a very long time.

When it came time to choose a career, I chose nursing. But as an adult, just like many of my relatives, I dabbled.

I took art and craft classes. And when I was forced to take time off from my job because of a family tragedy I began to write fiction.  I wrote a couple of manuscripts and hated them.  But I learned about writing through doing it.

Finally, I went back to community college and majored in commercial art. For a time I even worked in the graphic design department of our local newspaper. But eventually I went back to nursing because I was a single mom and I needed the money.

I missed the freedom of working at the paper but there were some things I liked about nursing - like the people I got to know as a visiting nurse. Some told me stories about coal mines and the depression and growing up in other countries. Others patiently corrected my garbled attempts to learn Polish or Gaelic. A few were instrumental in my decision to convert to the Catholic faith.

But the wisdom that is most relevant here came from a retired nurse I used to visit.  In her retirement she had taken up painting. Her work featured big blown out Georgia O'Keeffe style flowers and impressionist landscapes that dripped with color.  One day after showing me her newest project, she made a prediction. And, unlike the prediction made when I was planning my college career in seventh grade, this one came true.

I remember it word for word. "You are going to love retirement, Barbara, because it will give you a chance to do all the things you've always wanted to do."

I guess that a lot of people probably think that's what will happen to them when they retire and then don't have the money or good health to actually do it.  But I am, I think, one of the lucky ones - because the things I want to do are neither expensive or strenuous.

It is not necessarily easy, however.  

I still struggle with confidence and prioritizing and feeling selfish or silly or old.  I have a love / hate relationship with my writing.  I tear it down over and over again.  But I keep coming back to it.

I finished my first paranormal vampire two weeks ago. Most of the members of my critique group hated the ending. For a while I thought about quitting, then I decided to learn about how autism impacts writing. And that was a turning point.

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