March 18, 2009: Fearless Creativity

I am too hard on myself. I think it’s right and proper to demand the best from yourself, but that best is always situational — the best I have to give when crushed by a migraine is not the same the thing as the best I have to give when I’m well-rested and pain-free. My problem is that while I know that with my head, I do not get it with my heart when it comes to writing.

In the last week or so, I’ve become aware of how different my attitude is about writing than cooking. Even when you’re following a recipe, cooking is a creative act, and it’s especially creative when you’re not following a written recipe, when you’re either messing around with a recipe you already have, making a change here and there, or when you’re making something up because you thought, “If I do this and this and this, I wonder how that’ll taste…” When I cook, I’m mostly fearless; when I goof up, I either fix it or I throw out the resulting mess, and I move on without thinking about it much. (Well, except to figure out where I went wrong so I won’t do it aaain the next time.) Whatever happens, I never freeze up, paralyzed by the enormity of the task in front of me. My attitude to cooking can best be summed up as, “Ahhh, wing it, see what happens.”

I’m not sure why I’m so relaxed about cooking when I’m so tense about the rest of my creative activities. I know it’s partly that I’m only thinking of satisfying myself when I cook — even though I cook for the beloved as well as myself, pleasing myself is my first priority. I also suspect that confidence plays a part in my calm. I know how to cook, and things usually turn out well (no matter how crazy and out-of-control the process sometimes feels). When things don’t go well, I can often fix the problem, and if I can’t, I toss the resulting mess and start over, trying to figure out where I went awry the first time. (The first muffins I ever made from scratch were lethal weapons.)

I want to bring that “Aahhh, wing it, see what happens,” attitude to my writing. Fortunately, I have a very vivid memory of fixing a cheese sauce disaster Sunday night; I was relaxed, curious to see if my solution would work, not at all worried or stressed out about what would happen if it failed. It was the essence of winging it to see what would happen. If I can draw on that memory when I consider my writing, when I’m starting to write, maybe I’ll short out my anxiety before it starts. I think if I do that often enough, I’ll learn not to fret. Or at least I’ll develop a habit of relaxation that’s as strong as the habit of anxiety, and I’ll get a little bit more out of my own way.

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