Art: The Demanding Mistress

There’s no way around it: Art is a demanding mistress. 

She’ll wake you in the middle of the night. She’ll have you falling asleep at the crack of dawn only to get you out of bed a few hours later. When Art visits, there’s nothing else you can do.

This is a lie I used to believe.

Now I know that Art, and her twin Inspiration, visit quietly. This is different than silent. There is no sneak attack of words these days, no looking over my shoulder for when an idea will slap me upside the head. I know now that she sounds like the trees rustling in the wind or the distant rumble of thunder in a summer storm. She sounds like my husband breathing in the middle of the night. She sounds like the sound of a laugh that comes from the gut, eyes wide shut in glee. 

And if I’m honest with myself, when an idea comes to me, I feel the weight of the roots internally.  Ideas do not come on a whim, they breathe and grow and learn our grooves. The succulent ones take over and make themselves known. The titillating ones — the ones meant to distract — they grow with abandon but have nothing holding them down. It’s why they tickle. There’s no substance there and they feel like a feather across your insides.

But here’s the thing: I know that if I’m not careful, I can miss Art in how she comes to me. My first clue is an erratic sleep schedule — up earlier than I should to hit the daily grind (and not to read and write) and falling asleep in the pitch black hours of night, mostly because I’ve been glued to Netflix.

I become a zombie. Get up, scroll through Facebook, get dressed, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch Netflix, fall asleep. Art keeps me alive. She fills my lungs with poetry and beauty. I never lose sight of my purpose.

When Art goes silent, I know Fear has taken her place. 

It can happen for a number of reasons: my schedules goes haywire; I’m faced with a crisis; I receive a criticism; I question my story.

Regardless of why he shoed up, there’s always one thing true: when Fear takes root he demands our attention. It’s easy to talk yourself out of creating in this moment. 

You’re too tired and want to sleep.
You want to stay up and read this book.
You need to clean the kitchen instead.

Or, you don’t even need to talk yourself out of creating. Usually, when Fear has come to stay, I am so easily distracted by social media. I wake up early to write and then scroll through Facebook until I have to leave for work. I sit down to finally write a blog post but then get caught reading every one else’s words instead of creating my own. 

Art keeps our vision straight toward the horizon. This provides movement. Fear keeps our vision peripheral. This keeps us stuck. 

If you feel stuck, if the frustration is getting higher and higher and you feel a little suffocated, ask yourself —

what is it I’m afraid of here?

Get quiet. Go still. Stay in this position until you hear the answer and resist the judgment and shame that may surface.

Every artist faces fear at some point in the career. For me, I have to face him down daily. But looking him in the eye brings the power back to you. Looking him in the eye and demanding an answer shifts the momentum and allows space for Art to breathe again. 

Remember: art is not a demanding mistress. She waits for the signal. 

So if you’re struggling because you’re not a writer….
Or if you feel the tightness in your chest because there’s just never enough time….
Or if the thoughts are pinging about you having nothing to say….

You have a story that needs to be told….and only you can tell it. 
Fear keeps our breath short and lacking….breathe deep and remember you have all the space you need.
Fear likes to grow in urgency and need….if you go still in order to find words you will not be forgotten.

Don’t let fear win.

You are a storyteller. There is time for you to breathe. And you absolutely have something to say.


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Posted on May 11, 2017 and filed under Building Your Craft.