It’s been one of those weeks. The kind you might be tempted not to talk about in a forum like this, because who wants to read about the downsides of life when you could read about good stuff instead? Well, the thing is…the downsides come to all of us sooner or later, and denying that means that we deny our own realities. So here’s mine.
I missed out on an opportunity this past week that I was really, really hoping for. I can’t go into the details here for confidentiality reasons, but let’s just say it would have been a chance to do some really interesting work, and I had no idea how attached I’d become to the idea until it was no longer a possibility. Then it felt like someone had died. I realized how much I could see it, taste it, feel it…but not anymore. That reality was gone.
Now, I’m the one who is on the quest to create joy this year, so finding myself spending half of my weekend wishing I could cry is not really what I had in mind. Nonetheless, that’s where I was. (The crying never happened, alas.) I did spend some time feeling like a cross between a hypocrite and a failure—no joy for me!
I’ll bet every single one of you reading this looked at that last line and thought something like, “Are you crazy? Just because you’re looking for joy doesn’t mean the crap doesn’t happen!” You’re so, so right, and yet we all see ourselves through this very warped lens when bad stuff happens, don’t we? I’ll bet you’ve had a moment much like mine and said something similar even though it’s obvious how ridiculous it is when someone else says it. (We humans are strange creatures, aren’t we?)
In the middle of all the internal chaos, I had a rehearsal and a recording session for a 16-year-old local composer who’s submitting a piece to a composition contest. I didn’t want to go out Friday night in the snow to learn it, but since there was no other way (I don’t have a piano, and even if I did, I can pick out a few notes, but not a whole piece), and since a friend mercifully offered to drive in the muck, I went.
And then on Sunday, we recorded. It was a marathon session, and I didn’t feel good mentally or physically before I got there, so I was not really in shape for what we did. The piece is very physically demanding, so it took a lot out of me, and there wasn’t a lot there in the first place. I’ll be honest; I wished this recording had been scheduled for another weekend. Almost any other weekend. But I had committed to do it, to honor and aid the creativity of a very promising young man. And despite it all, I did want to do it (the spirit was willing, and all that), so I went. This was the result (seriously, give it a listen). I decided it’s my new theme song, pulling out the most stirring lines to repeat to myself as necessary.
So what does this have to do with joy and creativity, the categories for this post? A lot. Creative focus is a path out of despair. It distracts you long enough to find yourself again under all the muck and loss and general unpleasantess. It’s a path to joy. Conversely, finding joy loosens up your creative self and allows you to be free and silly, which is when you start making wild, even bizarre, connections that lead to exciting new ideas. The two build on each other just as surely as their absence builds into sadness and depression. Throw in a dose of doing something to help someone else, of enjoying someone else’s creative work, and you’re really starting to work with something incredibly powerful. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to come back from a loss or disappointment—not at all—but there are things that do help in the quest to feel human again.
It’s also worth remembering that you can’t know joy if you haven’t known sorrow. Like light and dark, the one can’t exist without the other.
As the saying reminds us, “Shit happens.” When it does, it’s okay to take some time to really feel that and process it (in fact, it may be dangerous not to), but after that, it can be really reassuring to remember this:
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
And so are you.