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Sweating It Out Past the Doubt

09-24-2010

ianandsherrygatsby

Simply Celebrate September Newsletter 2010
By Sherry Richert Belul

I’m trying to write about creativity and am having a meta moment. You see, I want to believe that we simply invite creativity in, as if it were like sending out a whimsical invitation, setting the outdoor wooden table with polka dot linens and luscious red dahlias, and welcoming our friend (kiss-kiss) with open arms. But what is happening as I try to write is that the page is a blinding snowstorm and all I want to do is curl beneath a heavy quilt to sleep. If creativity is knocking at the door, I can’t hear a thing.

So this is where I am. It’s not where I had hoped to be. Nor where I want to be. I feel alone, without a muse.  I feel stuck and uncertain.

But this is what I deserve. And I don’t mean that in a mean-spirited way. It is perfect. Absolutely perfect. I get the chance to experience exactly what I wanted to write about: what it takes to step into creativity when we feel as if our mind is blank and the creative cupboards are bare.

Here’s what I am going to do. One, I am going to commit to staying with this process for at least thirty minutes, even though it is unbearably uncomfortable.  Two, I am going to get myself a cup of roobios tea with half a teaspoon of honey. Three, I am going to put on my black beaded hat that makes me feel a twenties flapper. Four, I am going to listen to something by Cab Calloway.

(Don’t leave. I’ll be back in five minutes.)

I hope you didn’t go anywhere because something really cool just happened and I want to tell you about it. Something shifted. While the tea was heating up, I put on my flappery hat. Then I did a search on “Cab Calloway” in iTunes. I scanned the titles of the songs that came up and was tickled when I saw, A Chicken ain’t nothing but a bird. My mind instantly connected the title of the song with my state of mind. I was feeling afraid. Like a “chicken! “ (No offense to the real chickens, I’m speaking of the common cliché now: being chicken.) Tickled at the theme, I started listening to the song and my feet started doing the Charleston. There I am, in my office, wearing my boyfriend’s baggy green wool sweater, yoga pants, and my beaded flapper hat, dancing to Cab Calloway.

When I sat back in my rocker, laptop in hand (er, lap), and took a sip of tea, I realized that the muse had slipped in the back door while I wasn’t looking. Because, you see, originally I wanted to tell you a story about creativity that had to do with the Gatsby Afternoon Picnic. And while I hadn’t consciously thought flapper hat + Charleston = mood-for-writing-about-Gatsby-picnic, that is what emerged from the fog. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor. I know we were in a snow storm … but emerged from the fog sounds so much better, doesn’t it?)

Anyway, what I really want to say to you is that last month I was extended an invitation to attend the Art Deco Society’s “Gatsby Afternoon Picnic.” I was thrilled. And immediately invited my beau. We put it on our calendars. And a couple weeks before the event, we visited the Art Deco Society website to get some tips on what to wear. There were tips all right! Many tips. What we hadn’t realized was that the event was a very authentic. This kind of shoe. That kind of hair style. This kind of skirt. This kind of picnic accoutrements.   Eek. Ian and I looked at each other in dismay. We didn’t have the right clothes or accessories or picnic items. We thought it was just gonna be a fun costume party. This was too much. They’d sneer at us. Maybe they wouldn’t let us in? Maybe we shouldn’t go?

That “Maybe we shouldn’t go” was such a relief. We wouldn’t have to worry about not fitting in. We wouldn’t have to search for vintage-looking attire, jewelry, blankets, and linens. We wouldn’t have to spend any time worrying about it all. We just wouldn’t go.  (Can you hear the sound of us wiping our hands free of it?)

Fortunately, something whispered to me and I heard it: “Do you really want to pass up the chance to step into something this unusual and potentially fun?” I cocked an ear (well, actually, my heart) and listened for more. And what I heard was this marvelous advice: “You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to fit in. What if you and Ian decided that the most important thing was to have a great time thrifting and putting together outfits and then see what happens.  If nothing else, you could go to the event just play badminton if it was all snooty and snobby and everyone sneers at you. If nothing else, you can see Dunsmuir Estate, have a picnic, and swat the birdie around, enjoying each other’s company and the 1920s music. It can be simple. It can be fun.

Okay.

So you can probably guess what happened. We had a blast going to thrift stores and finding treasures. For $4 I nabbed a pale pink drop-waist skirt. He got tweed pants and a crisp white shirt for less than $10. At another store he got material for a bow tie and I dove waist deep into the scarf bin till I hooked a chiffon scarf that perfectly matched my skirt. Ian passed by a garage sale and — lo-and-behold— there were some peacock feathers. I found the perfect woven picnic basket, a vintage blanket of my grandmother’s, gloves, and a cream lace shirt in my storage closet. And hats, well, no problem.

The event was enchanting. Truly like stepping back in time. For five hours I didn’t see one cell phone, laptop, or iPod! No one sneered at us. No one scorned us. We toured the Dunsmuir Mansion, gawked at vintage cars, danced a little Charleston, and admired the gorgeous clothes and deco decanters and phonograph players and glass vases with roses. We lapped it up and throughout the afternoon turned to one another in wonder and said, “This is fabulous. I can’t believe we nearly didn’t come.”

But sitting here writing to you, I can believe it. Because it seems to me that a big part of the creative process is a hellish dark force that wants to throw a heavy cloak over us and hold us down till we go unconscious. It sneaks in, sometimes when we have just a sliver of an idea that lights us up, and it steals our juice. It steals our confidence. It convinces us that we belong in front of the television, blurry-eyed and unalive.

Don’t believe it. Don’t buy into it. Persevere. Listen to that small voice inside that is crying out for more color and art and surprise and magic markers and spontaneity and artful conversation. It’s worth it. I tell you from my own experience. There is something key in sweating it out past that deep dark moment of doubt. Chicken ain’t nothing but a bird.

***

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