In her poem, “The Journey,” Mary Oliver writes so beautifully of the hero’s leaving home; it is only by doing so that she can one day return home again.
I left my creative heart a long time ago – is it time to come home again?
A woman I was talking with at a party last night (yes, my second party of the weekend – and of the summer, lest you think I’m a party animal) told me she thought that creative people who are also good at business are likely to be the most successful kind of people, but (and it’s a big but) only once they learn to integrate the two. And so I once again started thinking of the paths I’ve taken through my life, from that of the creative child and teenager, to more or less leaving artistry behind once the more “serious” concerns of adult life kicked in.
I remember playing my first toy piano, a little blue box with just a few keys on it… I couldn’t have been much more than three. At some point, maybe when I turned five, I graduated to a bigger white toy piano that had a few more keys. I guess when my folks found me pounding on it a lot, they decided that I might enjoy the real thing. So when I was eight, they bought a used upright piano that went into my bedroom – how cool was that? Six years of piano lessons followed, but in the throes of adolescence, my lessons morphed into would-be therapy sessions with my teacher.
Looking back now, I think it was the normal pressures of a high school girl who was doing everything she could to be perfect (oh, is that all?), and was slowly cracking under the pressure. When it got to the point where I was spending more of my hour-long session (oops, I mean lesson) crying than playing, it was time to move on.
The same year, though, I stumbled into another outlet for my creative spirit, one that took me for a real joy ride. I landed the coveted part of Shem, the second son of Noah, in the Temple Judea production of “Rainbow,” a musical interpretation of the story of Noah and the Ark, written and directed by our junior rabbi. (I think Milton Berle got his start the same way.)
Being on stage was, as it turns out, my dream come true. In elementary school, my favorite after-school activity was to put on one of the many Original Broadway Cast albums that my parents had in their collection. “Fiddler on the Roof,” “My Fair Lady,” “Mame,” “West Side Story,” the classics went on and on – I sang my heart out along with every song, and poured over the notes on the back of the record so that I could really understand the story that the songs were telling. So for me to actually BE on stage was, well, a miracle!
Without a doubt, my strongest and best associations with my youth are tied to the time I spent deeply engaged in music and theater and, yes, musical theater. I loved it all. I had some talent that was recognized by others, and putting myself in front of the world was exhilarating.
The thing is, and I know I’m not alone here, I didn’t stick with it. I dabbled in college and afterward, always hearing a distant calling, but still listening and following the message that I’d be a fool to think I could support myself as an artist. I still hear that message whispering at me now and then, but I’m doing a better job of shushing it at the moment.
The business side of entertainment, though, was something that was “acceptable.” I could be close to creativity, but just far enough away to be safe, practical and smart. So I tried a lot of different things, and always came to the same conclusion – whatever I was doing, or heading towards, was not for me. Want to be a lawyer? Um, maybe? Oh, no. A TV producer? Definitely not. An ad exec? Nope. Any interest in moving up the ladder at a record company? Thanks, but no thanks. Produce commercials? Too much dog, not enough pony.
I was always around the creativity, but never IN it. Oh sure, now and again in the flow of production there is a creative spirit that helps you to imagine how everything can fit together in the most efficient manner. The organizing, planning, anticipating… I can do that, and there’s lots I like about it, but I’ve never really loved it.
Yet now, with this writing, I am starting to hear a faint call. I feel it in my veins, buzzing. The writing is leading to more writing. People are responding to my voice. Sometimes, my words even make people (okay, my mom) laugh (“out loud,” she said for emphasis). So at the risk of blowing my own horn, I’m feeling good about something I’m doing in front of the world again, and getting a positive reaction, which is totally reinforcing. Go figure!
Oh wait, I have permission to blow my own horn. Really? Yup, just did, and look, the world didn’t fall apart. Right on.
And then there’s this teaching gig I’m starting next week, which feels like it could lead to the most amazing opportunities I’m only beginning to imagine. The thing is, it’s in a business program AND I’m excited about it. Really?? And wait, from left field, there’s another project brewing that could allow me to use my words and pictures to help an inspirational woman tell HER story. And soon another project will reveal itself, and then another.
And so, at long last, I am witnessing the coming together of my creative spirit, the return of the pure energy of creativity that I have missed for so, so long, as it joins the part of me that my coach calls, “The One Who Tends the River” – the creative and the caretaker, the right and the left brain, the yin and the yang. The balance feels so good, so natural, so comforting. I am coming home.