In 2006 I took a creativity workshop at my local recreation centre. I did not want to take this class but did so because I had a credit at the centre that was about to expire. It was either take a course before year end or lose the money. I signed up for the course simply because it fit my schedule. I came to the first session with a bad attitude. I was annoyed since I really didn’t want to be there and wished the centre policy allowed for a cash refund. I am ashamed to say I took my frustration out on the instructor, a lovely woman with a bright smile who announced we’d be decorating masks that day. I told her I did not want to paint a mask. She offered me other activities to do while the rest of the students worked on their projects. I declined them all, sat with a frown on my face and my arms crossed, then left class early.
As I walked into my home, guilt hit me. I acted like a jerk towards the instructor (who stayed wonderful and positive despite me being less than polite). I told myself that next week I was going to apologize and do better. Determined that I would act like I was brought up properly, I participated in the subsequent lessons and worked on the projects without complaint. I still thought the exercises were silly but I did them anyway. Then a funny thing happened around day 4. In the middle of one of the projects I realized something in me shifted. My mind was not thinking of my to do list, there was no anxiety in my being. I was just present in that classroom, content, totally in the zone, and at that very moment did not want to be anywhere else.
Curious about my discovery, I finished the 8 week course then stayed in contact with the instructor and took more of her classes. I also started taking other creative classes from other instructors at the rec centre: a painting workshop, improv, a photography course, creative writing, voice lessons, etc. Taking these lessons were a way for me to come back to that presence of being and state of peace. And that state of peace and flow for me was reached while in the midst of a creative endeavour and space.
As I continued participating in these workshops, I started to recall similar moments of creative flow in my childhood. In gradeschool I would hold my lunch hour storytelling club where I would tell a story I made up (usually a horror story) to a small group of classmates. I drew comics (usually about child superheroes wearing kimonos and skipping school to fight bad guys). I spent many blissful moments bringing my imaginings to life on paper. Through my creative practice and a bit of talent, I won art contests with prizes like furniture and luxury hotel stays, and got a newspaper feature at 10 years old. I even secured a guest spot on a TV show for my drawing ability. And then things changed and I did a 180 turnabout at the age of eleven.
At 11 my beloved grandfather died. My parents separated. My dad gambled away the family’s money, including my money from my art. He left the country because the loan sharks were after him. Our house was taken away to pay back his debt. Homeless, what was left of my family moved into a small room that was used for storage in my grandmother’s basement. I was uprooted from my school, classmates and buddies. There was no desk, no more paper and art materials, and no space to draw or to be comfortable and process my thoughts and feelings. Devastated and betrayed, I sent my friend, creativity, away. And without my friend, a void came to stay instead, and where there used to be joy, a numbness engulfed me for many years. I am not sure why I didn’t pick up my art materials once my life stabilized. Perhaps I thought I had to strive toward a path that was guaranteed to be secure rather than one that was not deemed “safe” such as a creative career in art?
After I moved to Canada 12 years later, it was a new start and so my old friend creativity resurfaced again and came for a visit, convincing me things will be different this time ‘round. I picked up my pencil and created a new comic strip that was featured in a couple ethnic papers and magazine. But being young, new to the country and naive, I was taken advantage of. Editors and supervisors did not pay me the money I was owed and did not publish the comic in sequence. Not yet having developed much confidence and self-worth, I turned my back on art once more. I was angry creativity showed itself again to shake things up. I returned to earning my living with “normal” jobs like retail and office work for a long time.
But the thing is that if you are an artist you cannot escape creativity. It hunts you. It calls out to you, seeks you out across the ocean and over mountains, it arranges circumstances until you can’t ignore it anymore. You have no choice but to acknowledge it, and before long the spark that ignites the flame to create is inside you once more. You cannot deny creativity. For you are its conduit and for you to deny it is to deny who you are. At least that is how it is for me.
It took creativity many attempts, many gentle nudges to win me over once more. It schemed and sneaked about until it found me at the rec centre course, it shadowed me through other workshops, it steered me towards the art store, whispered to me in the night of experiments I might do with paints and fabric and clay.
The journey creativity set forth for me was long and often exhausting. It took me through an obstacle course where my heart got stomped on and my soul scraped raw. But the challenges creativity put forth helped me get stronger, develop spirit and grow thick skin. And the whole while it was there right by me helping me figure things out, guiding me towards solutions and pushing me towards a future I actually cared about and was excited for. With creativity’s help I was able to move on from office work and explore different careers, acquire new hobbies, learn new and scary skills. I baked, photographed, cooked, composed, crafted, sculpted, drew, painted, sang, wrote, stitched, strummed, and slowly that void and numbness left and I found my way back to joy. Because I let it back in, creativity healed me and saved me from becoming a person I did not admire.
After many years, I can finally call myself an artist without cringing. I still have nightmares that the money I earn from my art could disappear, but that’s also true for money earned in other ways. I still worry about being betrayed. I still have anxiety over work and my business, but doesn’t everyone? I still have my fears, but now I know that if difficulties happen I’ll be OK, I can recover and keep going because I have my friend in my corner looking out for me. I have come so far and yet ended up in the same place somehow, with the same companion that I started with. The friend and guide that never gave up on me, and the one that I have learned to be so grateful for that’s with me always.