I welcome a slow morning; the pace of Sunday as it should be. Light peels open into our bedroom, pale yellow and just a little bit warm. After a long breakfast, I let my cats out to chase the birds and chew on the fresh shoots of grass coming up from the wintered earth.
There, in my overgrown garden, is something unexpected. I throw open the door and hop across the cold ground to where it is growing. Swiss chard! And onions, chives, basil, rosemary, sage--returned again in full bounty, without my knowing. I've neglected my small piece of land ever since last summer when it got too hot to care for and I was out of town too much. But all last spring, I was there. Digging, watering, picking soil out from underneath my nails. And I was there the two spring seasons before that.
What a wilderness we live in, that life can spring up from the ground, unchaperoned.
I thought, "This is what creativity feels like."
We tend and tend and tend. Then, somewhere along the way, everything becomes overgrown, wild, confusing. We keep tending, because even though we cannot control creativity, we can be faithful to it. We work our knuckles to the bone. Leave it at the desk for a couple days. Pick it back up again. We are always present to it, but the flow changes seasonally, and this is as it should be.
We are the gardeners of our own callings, and a good gardener knows two things: Tending requires hard work, and it also requires surrender.
"The truth is that this is how to raise the best ideas: Let them grow in dark and mystery. Let them form on the roof of our consciousness. Let them hit the page in droplets. Trusting this slow and seemingly random drip, we will be startled one day by the flash of 'Oh! That's it!'"
-Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
To produce, there is much work to be done. We must show up at the page, the canvas, the guitar. We work whether we are feeling inspired or not. But there is also surrender; a rhythmic pattern that must be honored.
Sometime last week, a flash of light burst through, and I knew where my book should start. I've been stuck on this for a long time. Years, maybe. From nowhere, it came. After all of the days spent mulling at the page and hammering away at my computer, I can't even pinpoint the exact moment it fell together in my mind, but it did, and I think it's because I tended, and then I surrendered.
For some people, the tending is the hardest part. For me, it's the surrender.
Even as I write this, I'm not totally sure what it means to surrender, but I am catching on to its presence in art. And in life. (The two are always a pair.)
I think surrender is letting go of expectations; learning how to lift the pressure from ourselves, even just a little bit. I think surrender might mean that we create and live because we are compelled to create and live, regardless of whether the outcome is what we thought it would be.
I believe I am meant to produce, but I also believe my calling is about more than that. I believe it is about who I am becoming. (shoutout to my therapist for this one)
Contrary to a culture impressed by how many things we've done, how many followers we have, and how quickly we can turn around a product, I find great value in the tempo of the creative process. Not only is it a more peaceful way to live, it produces a higher quality of art (and life) to accept the natural flow of things.
You know it when you encounter it. You hear it in music; a song that has been suffered over, fought for, and hard won--compared to a cover song performed by an artist who is disconnected from it. Even if both singers are technically as talented as the other, which one will move you to tears? Which one will bring you into a full, transcendent experience?
We all know the answer. But why? Because we can sense when an artist has surrendered to the process. We know when they have invested their soul and guts into it, and we can feel it when they let time, pain, and experience grow their work to full maturity.
Surrender sounds a little like giving up, but it is not.
To give up is to stop showing up. To surrender is to keep showing up without expectation. It is to remain dedicated to the process in the face of great unknowing. It is to embrace the hair-brained muse and work diligently with her and sometimes despite her.
It is to let go of outcome in favor of becoming.