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Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Consideration of the Dark Side of Creativity

When I was in my early 20's the mother of my then wife said in a conversation about me "You know, he'd be much better off if he didn't think so much"

She might have been right. I really didn't understand my mind well enough then. But I knew enough that if I just stopped thinking about things and went with the flow of a middle class life I might have been a lot happier. Or that was my logic at the time.

I'd seen my own mother suffer with depression, suicide attempts and a loss of how to cope with the normalcy of life. Her own type of madness I have no doubt stemmed from both her creativity and her inability to express that creativity in any way that meaningfully mattered.
She tried, god knows she tried. But her extremes forced her to abandoned every creative venture she undertook for most of her life.

I swore early on that I wouldn't allow myself to fall into the kind of life my mother led. I decided that I wanted a normal life, not one filled with extremes. I tried. For thirteen years I tried to be the proper middle class husband and keep what others around me deemed to be normal. And I was miserable.

I mean no disrespect to my ex wife who is still a dear friend. The blame was never on her. It was totally my fault that I couldn't accept at the time that the true path wasn't to try and fit the norm. Instead  the true path to avoid ending up like my mother meant focusing on my creativity and establishing disciplines around it. It wasn't that my mother's creativity was to blame for her life. It was that she had never sought to understand it, or establish boundaries for how to control it instead of letting it control her.

I knew without a doubt that the first thing I needed to do after my divorce was find the path towards that creativity, not away from it. I'd spent years running from it, I would run no further. I was also clueless how to do it.

The result was a ten year journey to find myself and the parts of me that I had set aside. A few months after my divorce, I rid myself of everything I owned and with the exception of a few important items that I put in the car, I left that life behind. With nothing but my car and myself I started tracing every path I could find between the east coast and the west coast of the United States. I would stop for short times at either end through the largess of dear friends on both sides of the country who allowed me to stop occasionally. But I found that being out there without much of a support network was what I needed at the time.

In that time I tested myself. I camped on a mountain in the Sierra Nevada's alone in the dead of winter. I spent a night in Death Valley when the temps were 115 degrees in the middle of the night and the air was so hot that I could barely breath. I challenged every lost road I could find and I met a lot of people that I never would have met otherwise.

I found myself in those ten years in more ways that I can express in this article, but without a shadow of a doubt I found my creativity again and found the keys to make it work towards my happiness, not against it.

There is the secret of creativity. It is in making it work for you rather than destroying you. In the recent article "The Dark Side of Creativity" the author shared some of the bad sides of being creative. I admit he was right in many of his thoughts. Creativity can be hell if you do not understand it. It can truly destroy you.

But it is not enough to just list the pros and cons of those with extreme creativity. You must take a step deeper into understanding how it both controls the bearer and how the bearer can control it.

I have no doubt that people can learn some of the ways of being creative. There are techniques that we all share and that we can all use. But those who come by their creativity naturally will suffer from some of the things the author mentions if they don't understand how to control the gift.

I've written many articles on about creative techniques, brainstorming and how to harness it, but I rarely touch on the things that harm creatives. So I appreciate the authors insights.

One thing that I must say though is that those that learn to control their creativity and make it work for them can use it to help control other problems. In the last years of my mothers life she returned to painting. Something she did well but never was able to maintain in her younger years. But this time she used to control her depression rather than letting it create that depression. She would paint when she felt that her mental state was slipping into a bad place and it helped bring her back out of it.

This is something that I see over and over again in artists. They make the creativity work for them and raise them out of that bad place. If they can just overcome that moment where they think to themselves, "everything I do sucks" and just do it anyway, they often find the depression passing and a new awareness beginning.

But like many things in life if you know how to control it you can make it work for you. Everything can be a blessing and a curse depending on how you look at it.


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