Whenever one of my students is in a creative bind and they feel stuck and blocked and like they don’t know what to do next I often ask them the question “So what would you NOT want to paint?”
This usually gets me a.) an incredibly dirty look b.) the dawning realization that there IS something lurking back there in the shadows of their psyche c.) a momentary light bulb moment of A-HA followed by a d.) horrified sinking feeling of “Oh No…not that.”
And then another increasingly dirty look.
The truth of it is we are filled to overflowing with more creative words and images and songs and photos than we could possibly ever begin to express if we had a HUNDRED lifetimes.
So when we’re blocked, it’s not because there’s nothing there. That is what our inner critic wants us to believe. It’s a convenient fiction that our scaredy cat judging mind wants us to wholeheartedly buy into.
Because if we really believe that it is possible for us to run out of ideas or words or colors to paint we won’t make the effort to peek behind that door that has temporarily closed us off from our amazingly rich inner creativity-palooza.
These two sections really are connected…. I promise.
I regularly hold three day Painting From The Wild Heart retreats at my studio in Oakland California, and I just facilitated one last weekend. Each one of these workshops generates it’s own energy and it’s own “themes” based on the particular community that comes together .
Even though men are more than welcome to attend my painting workshops, the truth of it is, the majority of my students are women. So this past weekend (which was attended by 11 women) the theme (coined by a lovely wordsmith gal named Isabel Gaddis) was “A Safe House Filled With Dangerous Women.”
The safe house was my studio, which is actually IN a house. And the safety came from the open hearted community we created which supported creativity through compassion, permission and radical self acceptance.
Each woman was encouraged to express herself without fear of judgment. They flourished in an atmosphere where things like comparison and competition were not valued or fed. The expectation was that each person would create in her own way.
The environment fostered the freedom to explore and experiment. To make mistakes and try things that they never thought they could do before. To make a mess, paint ugly, go big…. and I mean REALLY big… to risk being a beginner and to leave the fear of being shamed and humiliated ( which leads to the need to control the outcome) at the studio door.
They created a sisterhood of the brush. A community of paint splattered explorers learning what it really means to experience radical trust in the creative process. Where entering the studio meant stepping into a sacred space that engendered profound beauty, exquisite ugliness, tears, laughter, tenderness, love and wild hearted creative expression.
As one of my participants said the energy in the studio was electric…. palpable… there was a humming aliveness that filled the house from the basement to the attic crawlspace.
Now I know why people hate this question so much.
I was incredibly blocked and stuck when I sat down to write this piece. So I followed my own advice and asked the question. “What do you NOT want to write about?” And of course the answer came like a flash, loud and clear and unmistakable.
“Write about how being creative is a deeply selfish act.”
Which of course got the requisite groan from me. Talking about being selfish…. and going anywhere near ADMITTING being selfish is something that is totally taboo.
Selfishness is one of those no-good, nasty qualities that you never, ever want to have associated with you. Especially as a woman.
So much of our self worth is based on our ability to give, often selflessly, to other people. We learn early on that a “good” woman is someone who always thinks of others and puts their needs before her own.
So what’s a creative girl to do???
The Safe Creative House Actually CREATES Dangerous Women.
As we went around the circle introducing ourselves on the first day of the workshop, I heard story after story of exhausted women. Burnt out women. Women who are in caretaking roles with loved ones who are ill or struggling. Or just garden variety feeding and herding and listening to and caring for and just plain being there for other people. Mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, friends, responsible employees.
Giving and giving and giving. Until there’s no more left. And then giving some more. All crying out for the need to rejuvenate and renew themselves. To fill that well again. To feel their own juicy aliveness. To do something that is totally and completely for them alone.
Each women who attended the retreat was shyly or boldly or apologetically but clearly…. there for herself.
In other words they were choosing to be selfish.
I think selfishness is definitely one of those words that needs to be reclaimed as a word of power and magic, especially for women. It’s one of those qualities that we need to engender if we want to be healthy and happy and whole.
If selfishness is too hard for you to swallow, you could try “self full”, or full of yourself or the lovely word that my friend Hiro Boga likes to use which is sovereignty.
But I like the boldness of selfish. I enjoy the emotional shock value of redeeming a perfectly good yet taboo word and making it our own again.
The actual definition of selfish is this: the condition of habitually putting one’s own interests before those of others.
And my favorite: Holding one’s self-interest as the standard for decision making.
The real question is this. Why wouldn’t we choose to “hold our self interest as the standard of decision making”? Why is that considered to be such a bad and evil thing?
And of course the real answer to that and the reason why selfishness is considered to be dangerous is that it means we can’t be controlled. That we live our lives on our own terms. That we make choices based on what is best for us.
This always reminds me of being on an airplane and being advised to put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on anyone else if the plane starts to go down.
But why do we have to wait until we are in a plane crash to consider thinking of our own needs first?
So here is my creativity manifesto. My song of praise and tribute to wildly, deliciously, totally alive, dangerous creative women everywhere. And a reminder that “charity begins at home” and allowing ourselves to be oriented to the care of our wild and precious selves is good and holy work.
A creative woman is a selfish woman.
And a selfish woman is a dangerous woman because she is willing and able to feel her own feelings. To own what it is that she wants . And she is willing to try and get it.
A creative woman is an empowered woman. She is able to set boundaries and say NO to what she doesn’t want. And a big fat YES to what feeds her and pleases her and nurtures her.
A creative woman, a selfish woman, an empowered woman cannot be controlled. She is the queen of her own life, her own time, her own body.
A creative woman is a passionate woman. She is on fire with being alive. She is hungry for color and adventure and boldness and being swept away by the energy of her creative desires.
A creative woman is an honest woman. She knows how to see clearly, to tell the truth and to no longer lie to herself about what she needs and what truly works for her to be happy.
A creative woman knows how to shine with her own life, to be big and take up space in the world. To be seen and heard and visible.
A creative woman, a selfish woman, a woman full of her self, paradoxically is actually capable of tremendous generosity because she has a lot to give. She is full of energy and is overflowing with her many creative gifts because she is tapped into her own creative source.
But she gives only when she chooses to do so. A dangerous, creative, empowered, selfish woman understands that she can only do so much. And is not willing to damage her own body and psyche and heart by giving more than is good for HER!
So I leave you with this question. How are YOU allowing yourself to be a dangerously creative, deliciously selfish woman (or man) as of today?
If you are ready for some dangerous creativity there is still room on my upcoming ARTSOUNDYOU! Intuitive Painting, Sacred Sound and Drumming retreat that I am co-leading with my friend Fabeku Fatunmise outside of Portland in May.
And if you still need some convincing to decide to sign up for this fabulous affair here’s a testimonial from the biggest, bad ass, dangerous guy of them all Mr. Darth Vader, who is now happily creating again!
Great post! Thank you so much for your ability to impart permission to be selfish to all of us. I love your creativity manifesto. I am printing it out and putting by my work area for creating, writing, studying…pretty much most things that I sometimes feel stuck in. This was exactly what I needed to read today! Blessings to you!
One of my biggest fears….to be thought selfish…and guess what that? That is what I needed to be more than anything! It is so interesting how we struggle to find our passion in life and then when we discover it we timidly shy away from claiming it as our own because we may be known as selfish. And this, THIS is what we are here to do, what we are meant to do…So to deny this is, well unnatural!
Thought provoking. This culture we live in sometimes is very poisonous to any woman who isn’t happy giving and giving and giving, until, as you say, nothing is left. (Then they keep giving. And when they reach some arbitrary age, they become very very bitter – the “nasty old woman” whose tongue is feared.)
Our first step to liberating ourselves can be simple self-ishness. When the word is hyphenated like that, it suddenly makes sense that to be one’s self, one’s very own self and no one else’s, is a dangerous act of creativity all by its lonesome. Add in the balancing act that mothers and wives must do, and life is suddenly very complicated.
Going to dwell a bit on the poison of the culture: it might help us all to keep in mind that, as women, we are swimmers in a medium that wants to use us up, and if we allow it, will give us nothing in return.
Don’t let it do that. Find what nourishes you, and earn it, make it, take it.
Thank you for an outstanding post.
well this made big drippy tears
selfish is a word i have been scared of, poked by, run from and now i am trying to embrace (it is a prickly sucker though) i have figured that it is always levelled at me when i am not meeting someone else’s needs HULLO??? If everyone met their own needs, lovingly,tenderly and then reached out to others the whole planet’s atmosphere would be cleaner…
i wish you lived on the same continent as me :-)
My beautiful Chris, this was an incredible post. You know I’m all about being selfish, as wonderfully defined by you, but this post really put it out there. A dangerous woman. Wow, there is such incredible power to that description. I’m going to embrace it. Look out, world, I am a dangerous woman :-) And I love your question for when we are blocked creatively. I am definitely going to keep that in my unblocking tool kit.
A wonderful post, Chris, spot-on. One of the best things in my life was when I got the age I felt able to state that I hated parties and had the intention to never go to one again. I love get-togethers with friends, but the superficiality of parties drove me nutso. And yes, I am quite happy to be very selfish when I’m writing or painting. I think maybe I need to change my moniker to Dangerous Davies, you’ve inspired me!
Chris, this is an incredible post…and one I so needed to read. Thank you for reminding me of the delicious danger awaiting in my most creative succulence.
A beautiful, dangerous and very very empowering manifesto. I’m printing it out and framing it up so that I’ll be looking at it and reminding myself that I am this empowered woman. Thank you for sharing it with us!
Yes yes yes Chris! Thank you for writing this empowering piece! Im sharing this in hopes that more and more women and men get it!!! :)
excellent post, so true about the need to be selfish, I am in this sense pretty selfish but then it’s easy as i don’t have children or other caring responsibilities. That might change things. I also think your advice about creative block is so true, it works for me every time to write about whatever it is I don’t want to write about…
I have been so inspired by Connie Hozvicka, the video she did and the paintings she came away
with that I am figuring out how I can work your magic into my schedule. I am inspired by just
what little I have read and seen thus far. You are one cool chica!!!!!