Creative Acts

Since 1990, I’ve kept up a daily writing practice, taking five or 10 minutes every morning to see what wants to be expressed through my pen. Writing has always seemed not only a creative act, but a mystical one as well. How else can I explain potent phrases and whole paragraphs appearing out of nowhere, or finding things on the page that I didn’t know I knew until I read them back to myself, amazed?

My writing experiment has sustained me through challenging times. It’s changed the workings of my mind, offered hope when I was feeling hopeless, and surprised me out of melancholy with its optimistic buoyancy. It has mattered in ways that are harder to articulate, including an increase in self-confidence and a lessening of self-judgment. Of its own accord, my writing practice morphed into poetry years ago, bringing an unexpectedly insightful voice to teach me about life.

Even as I embraced the role of writer, I was fascinated by painters and sculptors. I jumped at every chance to visit art museums and view the works of people whose artistry bowled me over. It felt as if some hidden artist deep inside me leapt to attention when I walked past a gallery window and stopped to enjoy the paintings on display. Yet I steadfastly believed that I had no facility for the visual arts and never seriously questioned that belief. I was a writer, and that was enough for me—until suddenly, it wasn’t.

Over the last few years, I’ve experienced strong urges to paint, but they were thwarted by psychological beliefs and limitations, an inner push/pull that was initially hard to understand. Eventually, a memory surfaced of being punished as a three-year-old for exuberantly adding my own wild brushstrokes to a painting my mother was working on. Painting felt dangerous, a no-no that could result in anger, slaps, shame, and the withdrawal of affection. A dour art teacher in first grade didn’t help matters. After I proudly showed her the Cubist oak leaf I’d just sketched, Miss Egan pointed her long, thin finger at my leaf and decisively decreed that I could not draw. Relegating visual arts to the “off limits” category of activities, I simply stopped trying.

Now, though, I can’t ignore the longing for color and shape. It seems impossible to stop the parade of images in my mind’s eye or dampen the yearning to express them. I would like to report that, the moment I picked up a brush, all hesitation fell away and my creative energies flowed freely into my first painting, but it hasn’t been like that. The part of my psyche that was shut down by childhood events has not been able to turn things around so quickly. I’ve suffered through a series of migraines that seem to be triggered by an inner protective mechanism aimed at keeping me from painting. My moods have fluctuated wildly. And, when I have painted, the results have been nothing like the exalted visions I see so clearly in my mind’s eye.

As comfortable as writing has become over the years, painting is like writing’s mirror image—uncomfortable in the extreme, every brush stroke threatening to unmask me as an imposter. Not easily dissuaded, I have enlisted the help of a therapist. I’m experimenting with acrylic paints on paper, cardboard, and rocks because oil and canvas are too risky. My resilience is tested every time I squeeze a tube of paint and confront the fact that I am a rank beginner with no experience in something that takes years to master.

Through it all, the desire to paint has continued unabated, and I’m working to give myself permission to be a visual artist, even if the results of my experiments are amateurish and embarrassing. I am learning about courage and persistence in the face of difficulty, that giving in to fear is singularly unfulfilling, and that there is a strength of purpose inside me that returns to painting with even more resolve after each unfulfilling attempt.

If I put away the brushes and paint for good, then fear wins. I’m determined not to let that happen. Like a bulldog with a bone, I keep gnawing away at the gristle of my old beliefs. One day, I will pick up a brush with the same nonchalance that I take up my pen to write. That undefended ease will allow something that has been waiting a very long time to flow out of me. In the meantime, nervous and unsure of myself, I keep trying.

Perhaps I will take a painting class. Maybe I will continue my experiments alone. Either way, what I know deep in my being is that creative acts matter. For me at least, trying to bring something into being that has never existed before matters. Freely and fully expressing a soul urge that has existed only in my imagination matters. Approaching each attempt with openness and the willingness to fail matters, too. I’m convinced that the only real failure lies in not trying at all.

Danna Faulds, poet, yoga practitioner, and novice painter, has published six books of poetry and a memoir, Into the Heart of Yoga: One Woman’s Journey.

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Danna Faulds, author of seven poetry books and the memoir Into the Heart of Yoga: One Woman's Journey, is a long-term Kripalu Yoga practitioner.

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