“My life is like a memento mori painting from European art: there is always a grinning skull at my side to remind me of the folly of human ambition. I mock this skull. I look at it and I say, ‘You’ve got the wrong fellow. You may not believe in life, but I don’t believe in death. Move on!’ The skull snickers and moves closer, but that doesn’t surprise me.” ~ Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Nobody asked to be born.
Yet here we are.
In this sometimes beautiful valley and others, dark cave—called Life—you can switch from angels to bats in a second. We have remote controls embedded in our hearts. Search bars installed in our eyes — I think, by Google.
Our roles are mostly Pause and Play, Fast-forward or Rewind, Delete, Copy & Paste, Upload, Download, Undo, Redo. Our hearts are full of pixels.
But life, that out-in-the-woods-wild-funny-thing-with-teeth, speaks a different language. She doesn’t understand orders or shortcuts or pauses.
Life is the most terminal disease. There’s no way out. But there are more ways in.
Real life is also slow. It doesn’t dawn upon you all of a sudden, it’s not fast food you can swallow without chewing. And all good food, authentic people, actions, thoughts and feelings—every good thing or person that’s ever happened to us—imitate Life’s modus operandi.
And you can never be the same again once you have tasted Life. Art, change, love… it all has the same shape and blueprint: that of a lifetime house.
You come into this world with only one mission, one command, one duty: to build yourself a home large enough for your own soul to inhabit. And it is one of the wonders of this same life that in doing so, you automatically build safe, guest rooms for others to begin designing their own. And who knows, maybe some day, a million years from now, we’ll all be saved from our own lies of insufficiency and not-enoughness.
After food, shelter and love, Creativity is the fourth human basic need. The need to build that house—to create—is indistinguishable from our life’s purpose. It’s a one-way trip into meaning.
Yet the past century has managed to castrate this fundamental need, and replace it with Productivity and Things and Profits and other soul-killing terminology.
Julia Cameron explains where our creative identity crisis may have started:
“Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know that we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone.
Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs.
Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others’ versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else!
When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach.
Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if… If we had known who we really were.”
But can we change that fate? I ask.
Albert Einstein said that when your brain has been enlarged by a great idea, it never returns to its original size. I don’t know about that, dear Albert, I think that being flexible and organic, just as we can expand, we can also shrink. Man is a creature of habit and this goes both ways.
It is with this double fear—of my own greatness and my inevitable death—that I incubated a new (which is another way of saying old-retold) idea in my last bat cry through Gotham City.
Since life is three things: short and hard and beautiful, and yet a fourth one: mine, I’d like to author it better. Add my full signature to that birth certificate I can’t even understand.
So before my brain shrinks back to the size of a newborn virtual pea, before my willpower is forever restrained in a dark-blue mental straitjacket, and my eyes go blind from so much screen inside the neon Matrix heart, and I forget all the wonders and beauty I’ve seen—before I disappear, that is, before I go, before I turn to dust, I’d like to know, find out, as much as I can about the Me behind the me.
We are good stories waiting to be written.
In writing and most creative outlets—and art as work and work as life and life as whole—it gets worse before it gets better.
They say you have to vomit first, vomit your demons and your rage, your mediocre beasts, vomit the sinner and the saint and all duality, vomit your ego and your bruises, ’til the house gets so clean, there’s nothing, no one left—but you.
Just like we detox our body from years of malnourishment, and we agonize as all the toxins in the underworld say their goodbyes and leave our system, so it is the case not only with our minds but with the way we face our lives. Our modus operandi for anything is the same as for everything.
Life is a muscle and it is powered by habit. It’d be the end of the world as you know it if your heart skipped just a couple beats. Everything worth living for, is fueled by Life and modeled in Life’s likeness. There are no shortcuts back to You.
So dear Change, let me say it again: it gets worse before it gets better. You don’t get to create a work of art or any other project worth your while, on a first try and without any training, and if you do, it’s only by mistake.
It gets worse before it gets better. You must dig your way through layers and layers of accumulated mental and emotional toxins to tap into that subterranean river where the water is crystal-clear and then, you must bring that water out day, after day, after day.
And this is how new ways are made—by walking. It gets worse before it gets better.
Change is another kind of death. The kind you should die from first, so you survive the second fatal blow. As Yann Martel would say again,
“The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity—it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.”
So, this is what we’re going to do, you and I…
One year (365 days) of Creative Rehab.
Why so long? Because real change (like real life, food, love) is slow. Because you need to get to know yourself again, through good and crappy days, in sickness and in health, in the spring, summer, autumn, winter, until you’ve seen it all.
What am I supposed to do? One creative act a day. You can pick one or several creative outlets, if you wish to alternate. You can also go freestyle, but I don’t recommend this option unless you have the willpower of a hundred horses. It is better to stick to one type of creative activity—three at the most, if you’re the Renaissance type—and use it as your main creative therapy.
You can later add or alternate when you get hungry for more, but by choosing a default type of activity or area from the start, you’ll always have something to fall back on.
But help me, I’m confused. What have you always wanted to explore but never got a chance? Or put off until you had the time, the “perfect” circumstances to begin it? It doesn’t have to be “necessary” or “productive,” it just has to make your heart beat faster.
In my case, I’m choosing photography (and words). I’ve been infatuated with photography ever since I can remember and even though I got to take a few courses in college, I never dived into it wholeheartedly.
I spend most of my time taking pictures with my eyes, so I might as well follow with my camera. You can choose anything that runs on creativity, anything that will activate and train your creative muscles. (Certain sports also fall into the creative category).
How will I know it is “creative”? Well, other than the obvious “creating” attribute—in which the brain comes up with new ways to express old unviersal truths, through you—it has to give you joy.
I can’t remember where I read this but I’ve made it into my mantra:
“If it doesn’t give me joy, it ain’t my revolution.”
Joy doesn’t equal giggles or big white smiles on pretty, happy faces. It doesn’t oppose emotion but it runs much deeper than our mood. There is sad joy and angry joy and tired joy and lonely joy.
Joy is fueled by a deep sense of purpose—so deep that you may not even be aware of it at first or you may not entirely visualize the bigger picture of your own life’s puzzle—but joy will get you through the building process. It’s the coffee of life, the tea.
So choose your revolution. Whatever that is: painting, drawing, photographing, sculpting, knitting, yoging, singing, dancing, moon-dust collecting—you name it—and take one single step into it, every day, for 365 days.
One step is small enough not to allow any excuses. It’s also big enough to yield significant change in your operating mind and inquisitive spirit, your creative muscle, your craft, and ultimately, your life as a house.
How will I keep track? Glad you asked. Accountability is key. Otherwise, you’re likely to drop it on the first weeks or months. We all need a witness to our lives.
Here’s where the internet comes in. You turn the world (or at least your circle of influence and contacts) into your teacher. They may not want to be your teacher, but hey, this is a free-click world. You stay or leave, someone will notice.
If you don’t have a blog already or if you wish to create a special one for this project, you have a week—though later than that is better than never (so just join when you can—not when you’re ready, ’cause ready is always late.)
If you don’t know how to create a blog, you better go update yourself right now, get rid of your prehistoric garments. Even the most non-techy of you should be able to follow step-by-step instructions and create the simplest version of a blog in five minutes. This will serve as an eye, a witness to your challenge.
I’m creating a tumblr blog in which I’ll be posting a daily picture along with some kind of thought (somewhere between a haiku and a one-paragraph reflection related to the image), for the next 365 days starting next Monday, November 5th. I’ll blog about the creative process as frequently as I can, here on Rebelle Society.
There are different blog platforms, depending on the activity you choose to express yourself through. Take a tour and pick your favorite.
The point is sharing your journey. Not just talking about it, but accounting for it. The world is your teacher. And this will be your homework. And it’s okay if it sucks at first. Because it is the dust that covers the gold and it’s supposed to suck and it’s okay to be a gold-digger. Especially when that treasure is yours.
Didn’t we, as children, have to crawl before we got up on our feet? Crawling is one of life’s mandatory and most necessary homework assignments. So get over your adult lies and down on your knees. The floor is beautiful.
By the way, we’ll get a lot of help through this journey from different superheroes I’ve contacted. Vendetta is by far, my favorite for any kind of revolution. But really, anyone with deep scars, a kind heart and superpowers.
“Everybody is special. Everybody. Everybody is a hero, a lover, a fool, a villain. Everybody. Everybody has their story to tell,” says V. And I believe him.
Join me in re-creating ourselves, one day at a time, for a year? I tremble at the thought. Not sure if it’s with fear or anticipation.