E M P O W E R E D C H A N G E
Survival vs. Self-Expression
duty is pleasant, and pleasure is the fulfillment of duty, then
they lose their separateness and oppositeness.
evening, I was downtown visiting some art galleries and noticed
that in each one, alongside the work of professional artists, there
were paintings, sculptures and other pieces created by area high
school students. The talent that was shown by these young artists
was impressive. In fact, one of the student pieces, a computer-generated
collage, was among my favorites of the evening. Alongside each piece
of student artwork there was a brief bio of the student. One young
artist stated in her bio that art "is the reason I get up every
morning." I thought this was a wonderful statement of purpose and
passion: For this young woman, art was her life. The bio went on
to say that she planned to go to college and major in dental hygiene
with, perhaps, a minor in art.
stood before the powerful and incredibly beautiful paintings this
gifted young artist had created and wondered why, with the talent
she had and the passion she felt for her art, would she not give
herself fully to her soul's desire to create? The answer, it would
seem, is survival. Choosing a career path that offers a sense of
security while giving scant attention to our seemingly more irrational
and frivolous passion for creativity seems, to many, to be the ideal
compromise. After all, you have to eat; you have to pay the rent.
After you take care of your responsibilities then you can be creative.
I can hear her parents urging her to think logically - very few
artists actually support themselves with their art. Get a real job.
Art can always be a hobby.
to statistics, survival and self-expression seem to be conflicting
forces. Research indicates that the more affluent one's parents
are, the more one's creativity is encouraged. Less affluent parents
are more likely to foster conformity in their children. (Melvin
Kohn, 1977) From my own perspective and interpretation of this statement,
it would seem that for many, conformity is equated with a sense
of safety and security, and thus, survival. Follow the rules, we
are told, and everything will work out; you will be taken care of.
put forth in Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, there is indeed
a struggle. According to his theory, human beings cannot achieve
self-actualization until survival needs are met. At first glance
this seems to make sense - and maybe even after careful scrutiny,
it will still make sense. But what if it doesn't have to be that
way? What if, in truth, most of us have simply seen no other way
and, therefore, continue to live as if this were so.
a teen, I wanted nothing more than to create - paintings, sculptures,
poems, short stories. My secret wishes, desires, fantasies were
penned into journals stacked in a dark corner of my closet. In these
journals were recorded my dreams of exploring the world, meeting
people from various cultures, and experiencing life while writing,
painting, and artistically documenting my experiences. In high school,
my poems and sketches appeared in our school's twice-yearly publication
of art and creative writing. One of them even caused a controversy
and was officially banned from publication by the principal because
it was, as he termed it, too "dark." One of my paintings was chosen
to be in a show, held at a nearby college, featuring the artistry
of area high school students. My poetry was acknowledged by fellow
students, and my short stories were praised by the creative writing
teacher who encouraged me to keep writing. That was the only encouragement
wish I could say that, at that time, I wanted nothing more than
to pursue my dreams of becoming an artist and a writer. I wanted
that, yes, but bigger than my passion was the fear that I wouldn't
be able to take care of myself, and so, without parental support
and without the necessary financial means, my plans for school and
travel were put on hold - temporarily, just for a year, until I
could save up some money. Not once in this process did someone say
to me, "Follow your dream no matter what it takes. Don't be afraid
of failure."What I heard was, "Don't take chances, you might get
hurt. You might fail."
began working as a teller in a local bank, bought a car and very
quickly found myself in a place familiar to most Americans - in
debt. I also began to get comfortable with the idea of a weekly
paycheck. It was great to have ready cash for movies, shopping,
and dancing on the weekends with my friends. School and world travel
began to seem less and less important to me.
during that year, as I let the light of passion grow dim, I decided
to burn all of my journals, poems and short stories, as well as
my artwork. It was simply too painful to have this stuff around
to remind me of what I was missing. I watched almost all of my creative
endeavors go up in smoke, and I don't remember shedding a tear.
The large acrylic-painted canvas that had been so proudly displayed
at the student art show was now being used as a tarp on my dad's
truck. I don't blame him - if I didn't value the piece why should
he? As I look back, I wonder: why is it that no one was appalled
by what I had done? Why didn't anyone try to stop me? I turned my
back on my creative self casually and without pretense or ceremony.
No one noticed; no one mourned the loss. That day, something inside
of me that had once burned so brightly began to wither and die a
slow and painful death. It would be over 20 years before I could
feel the pain acutely enough to do anything about it.
sure my story is not unique and, sadly, it is not a story from the
past. Rather, it is repeated daily in homes, schools, and businesses
across the country. Young adults are encouraged, not to follow their
bliss, but to get the skills they will need to find and keep a job,
preferably one with "security"that pays well. Survive at all costs
is the message we send. But what about happiness? What about that
maxim given to us so eloquently centuries ago: "To thine own self
be true"? (William Shakespeare) What about that feeling of aliveness
that we get when we are doing something we love? Why does it have
to be either/or? Our children need to know how to survive. They
also need to know how to live. And so do we.
Adolescence is a time of radical change in most of our lives, but
everyone, regardless of age, experiences both dramatic as well as
subtle change during the course of our day-to-day activities. Even
if we have no desire to write or paint or "create"in the narrow
sense of that word, we are all, by our very nature as human beings,
artists of our own lives. To be true to oneself, it is necessary
to be in touch with and embracing of our passion - that creative
force that gives us life.
are many methods we can use to come to this sort of self-awareness,
but one of the most effective, I've found, for gaining clarity and
focus is "freewriting." Freewriting is a method I learned in my
college freshman composition class to jump-start the writing process.
I have found it invaluable for stirring creative energies and helping
me to get in touch with my true, authentic self.
is easy, and you don't have to be a writer to do it. It simply involves
filling a sheet of paper with thoughts as they occur - sometimes
seemingly disconnected and totally divorced from the matter at hand.
Starting at the top left hand corner of a clean sheet of paper,
begin writing and don't stop until you have reached the very bottom
of the page and can write no more. Once your pen or pencil has begun
to move, don't stop to think about what you are writing, or worry
about punctuation, spelling, or coherency. Don't be concerned that
what you are writing is worthwhile. It is. What happens is that
somewhere along the way, you will subconsciously acknowledge where
you are, who you are, and what you really want in life.
I am in the midst of, or even contemplating, a major transition
in my life, I "freewrite" daily. Often it can take time for buried
desires, interests, and ideas to make their way to the surface;
other times they seem to bubble forth immediately. Most of the time,
a page a day (minimum) is sufficient, but sometimes I find I can't
stop with one page and at those times I write until the flow stops
naturally. When that happens I may fill many sheets, and find that
the creative insights I am seeking are almost always hidden in the
words scribbled on those pages.
Linda Maree 2001