I’ve been thinking about my third tattoo for a few years now. Since I adopted the rose tattoo on my back in spring of 2011, I played around with the idea of having a few stars on the top of my foot. At first, I just thought the stars were beautiful. I loved my rose tattoo, a very traditional image but gorgeous nonetheless. But because these stars would be permanently attached to my body, in my opinion, they needed to have deeper meaning.
So what do the stars really represent?
Well, my favorite band is Stars. And lately I’ve become more intrigued with the known and unknown universe. I mean what does dark matter really encompass?
But more than that, when I was younger, and my parents were asked to pick a Disney song that represented me (the reason here is not relevant but let’s just say for fun), they chose, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from Pinocchio. Why? Because they envisioned that one day, I would follow my dreams.
So maybe they weren’t all that surprised when in 2010, I gave up my steady paycheck and close family circuit to pursue a creative writing degree 600 miles away.
But was that really my dream?
Who’s to say? I am not the same person I was when I was 23. All I knew then is that a career in program evaluation was not going to make me happy. I had lost contact with the writer voice that used to inspire me, and I thought by making writing my number one priority would fix that.
And it did… until I graduated in 2013. Reality hit. Student loan debt. Insurance to cover my diabetes. Rent. Utilities. Food. Everything that makes up survival in this world. So I compromised. I never expected to make a career out of creative writing. All I expected was to the gain the skills necessary to continue to develop my creative endeavors amidst the financial obligations of life.
But let’s be honest. We sometimes lose track of those passionate entities that once fulfilled us because life takes a turn, and we must adapt. We go with the tide. We survive. This is not a terrible attribute. But maybe we lose something along the way that leaves us empty inside?
Fast forward to 2016. I was not unhappy with my life, but I wasn’t satisfied. I did not want to pursue a career in health policy. I wanted better #lifegoals. So I hired a life coach. And I learned what was missing.
I recently finished reading, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love).
“Do you have the courage?” she writes.
Do I have the courage to do what? Be creative? I’m already maintaining this blog, devoting two hours a week to other creative writing projects, keeping up with photography here and there, dabbling in graphic design at my job, and making progress in my myriad of coloring books.
But that’s not the point. If I’m only spending 2-4 hours of my 168-hour week on creative projects, where is the rest of my time going?
|63||sleep (this is highly optimistic)|
|10||exercise (also highly optimistic)|
|40||work (the one that pays the bills)|
|15||social opportunities (or just lying on the couch watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine with my roommate)|
|5||volunteer work (the one that gives something back)|
|5||commuting (listening to podcasts/music, reading)|
|16||eating (okay I wasn’t sure where to put all that miscellaneous time so we’ll just call it “eating,” but maybe this also encompasses Buzzfeed quizzes and word games on my phone)|
So according to this table of completely accurate records, I definitely have more than 2-4 hours per week to devote to creative living.
I never wanted to be dependent on my creative writing for living, meaning I did not want to rely on its societal success to be able to eat dinner. Elizabeth Gilbert agrees.
“Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place,” writes Gilbert.
I never wanted to end up resenting the one thing in life I am most passionate about because it could not afford to buy me bread. And maybe I was smart in deciding this early on in my career? But when I made that move to Baltimore in 2010, I decided that just having my creativity in a dusty pocketbook was not good enough. I needed to make the time for it. I needed to prioritize it.
So I did, and even with insurmountable student loan debt, I have no regrets. I would not be the fearless writer I am today if I had not made that trek across the country, if I did not have the courage to be creative and let that be enough.
Except it wasn’t enough. It didn’t pay the bills. It did not offer insurance so I could manage my diabetes. It did not offer me success.
Okay, I have come to loathe that word. Why should my life be defined by society’s perception of success, by what this culture prioritizes? It shouldn’t, but that wasn’t my problem. When my life coach asked me why I thought I had failed, I told her I wasn’t doing what I thought I should be doing by now.
And what had I hoped to achieve?
Well, everything I had actually achieved. I moved to a new city far from family and friends and made it my own. I published a book. Hell, I wrote a book. I’d experienced more than one long-term relationship. I met Gizmo, the insulin pump that would save my life. I adopted a pet and 400 more square feet. And I still had the financial capability to take trips.
By my own definition of the word, I had been successful. So what was missing?
I felt empty, devoid of the everyday inspiration and joy that usually comes when one is relishing in creativity. So I started counting the days and the amount of time during those days that I actually spent doing something creative. The results were not astonishing. Those 2-4 hours easily dwindled to 30 minutes or less.
“Not expressing creativity turns people crazy,” writes Gilbert. Agreed. Even if on the outside I looked put together, on the inside I was screaming. Stop… being… a robot.
So I got a tattoo. Just kidding. Although we’ll get there.
I let go of my fear. Who cares if people reject me? It’s not the product that really matters to us creative types anyway. It’s the process, the journey of creation that inspires us. And once I realized that, it didn’t matter how many times I was rejected. What mattered is that I was writing, that I was being true to that part of myself that wants to explore and observe the world.
And that really has to do with the second part of creative living.
“Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living,” writes Gilbert.
I’ve always been curious by nature. Possibly why Norm and I get along so well. But it’s also why I moved 600 miles away from everything I’ve ever known and why I gave up security to pursue something immersed in passion and beauty.
So while last year I may have made strides to not “fail DC,” this year I have decided to focus on creative living. I do not need to live by my pen. But I need more creativity in my life to be truly fulfilled and happy.
Back to the tattoo.
I love both of my tattoos; they are not in the most visible spots. I don’t see them every day, and I can easily cover them if need be. But this tattoo needed to be different. I wanted it visible. I wanted to see it every day and admire the beauty of its existence. But fear kept me from making its dream a reality.
Like my pursuit of creative living, I decided to be fearless. I did not get that tattoo on the top of my foot. I had it sketched and burned on to my wrist. For the first few days, I felt a bit apprehensive. Oh my god, what did I do?
But over that first week, each time I turned my arm and came face to face with its existence, I fell in love. That tattoo no longer represented just the love and support of family. It was a sign of my creativity. My fearless creative spirit.
I could no longer hide from it. I could no longer avoid its presence. I could only embrace it.
Towards the end of her book, Gilbert asks her readers: What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?
Go. Do that. Be courageous.
Live your stars.