Creative Community ~ Charlotte Hajer

Charlotte Hajer Charlotte Hajer is the executive director of the Sonoma Community Center.


Creativity and discomfort

Posted on September 15, 2022 by Charlotte Hajer

I’ve mostly been writing here about creativity as a positive thing. I’ve explored how making something (or being creative in other ways) can be cathartic and liberating, even therapeutic. That’s what makes creativity such an important force in our lives. But creativity also has another side – a dark side. It can be deeply uncomfortable, even painful. And I think that aspect of it might be equally important. 

We all know the trope of the suffering artist. We’ve heard the story of Vincent van Gogh, who cut off his own ear but turned his inner torment into beautiful works of art. Or the story of Sylvia Plath, who wrote stunning poetry and novels but ultimately succumbed to depression and took her own life. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I don’t want to speculate on whether it’s really true that mental illness can give rise to greater creativity. What I want to focus on instead is how creativity itself can cause difficult emotions. 

The process of creating can feel like trudging through quicksand. They don’t call it a “work” of art for nothing: even when you’re inspired, there’s hard mental labor involved with the process of manifesting an idea into something tangible. Every time I sit down to write, for example, I struggle to find the right words. I wrestle endlessly with sentences to make them flow better, and often I feel like I’m losing. It never gets easier, and it always makes me doubt myself. 

On top of the stamina required to actually produce something, the creative process can also lead you to ideas and possibilities that might be scary. Creativity is all about thinking outside the box, but heading into uncharted territory can be uncomfortable. Maybe even threatening: you might discover new sides to yourself, or viewpoints on the world that don’t match what you thought you knew. 

And finally, it’s terrifying to put your work out there. Your creative expression is a manifestation of who you are, and presenting it to the world means opening it up to scrutiny, disagreement, or even outright dismissal.

But. If you can make yourself sit with that discomfort; if you can be scared or frustrated but still keep going, that’s when creativity can lead to your best work. That’s when the possibility for real transformation emerges, and you can get to a deeper understanding of who you are in the world. 

I think there’s a lesson in this for all of us. The world around us is going through massive change, and that can be scary. Again, it’s uncharted territory. Change may mean that we lose something we care about – some level of power, a relationship, or even our self-image. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But if we can accept that, and live with it for a while, and have faith that we’ll come out the other side with new clarity, that’s when we can create space for creativity to do its job, and lead us to new possibilities.

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