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Creating is Hard

February 28, 2014
Photograph by Victoria Will
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a man of great on-screen work but he was also a man also of grave inner turmoil - something as a person and especially a movie goer I may never fully understand. Before his passing in early February 2014, I locked his quote (above) away into my personal collection of treasured pieces of advice. Because - truthfully - creating is simply hard.

Making something never arrives at a perfect result - which for many years I never knew. In school, learning seemed to come with ease. I showed up to class, took notes, and tests always landed on my desk with an A. From kindergarten until mid-way through college, I didn't realize that I spent my life as a severe perfectionist. Think Nina Sayers in Black Swan - perfectionist. An all straight A student. The type of girl who was often selected to be the responsible overseer when adults left me and classmates, me and younger kids on my street, me and friends without supervision. I always earned gold stars but I always wanted more shinier golden ones. Running blind and digging myself into the center of the Earth was more like how I earned my so-called easy achievements.

A grasp on reality forced me to crash from my completely unhealthy high of nitpicking for excellence. Homework didn't take hours of drills. Hanging out with friends didn't mean putting on a facade of who I thought they wanted me to be. (My Kindergarten report card actually reads perfectionist and people-pleaser - a soul-sucking combination if there ever was one). Every and any act of creation never had to be so damn stressful. It was okay to make mistakes.

Did the epiphany work its miraculous Create-With-Ease spell on me? Not exactly. My mind still wants me to draw like Van Gogh whenever I attempt to cartoon, write any one of book ideas without a first draft, and judges my every move when I'm running errands or going to school hoping my outside appearance looks practically perfect. For as hard as it is sometimes to muddle through erasing, deleting, and harnessing more confidence, it's good to have those reminders because many people don't. Those kinds of tools are blind to them. Being over-consumed by the prospect of failing, many don't try. Or the process takes more steps they could've ever imagined, so it feels best to back out before the going gets tougher.

I guess what I buried around the time of Hoffman's passing and where all of this is coming from is the unspeakable condemning tweets made by actor Jared Paledecki. I won't recite what he wrote because there's google for that. But to scorn and doubt the suffering someone, anyone, either a famous actor or an artist surviving from selling one block of canvas after another, enraged me more than I imagined. I don't know the suffering someone and his/her loved ones goes through with substance addiction, but an emotional / mental one is just as hard to break. For someone who suffered from perfectionism almost like an addiction, an uncontrollable harsh defense mechanism and survival tactic that demolished me mentally, emotionally and physically...Something needed to be said.

We reconcile and recognize people from what they make available to us through their artwork - irrefutably a part of their soul, heart, time, energy, mind.  We will never know the long-suffering lives artists lead behind the curtains. We may never know the pain artists cause when they are under the fog of addiction. The fear of failure, of hard work not paying off, of inner demons taking control, of being abused by your colleagues, of being guided by other artists with the worst intentions, of falling for all the wrong kinds of so-called supporters - skepticism, reluctance, that little bit of hesitation that catches on an exhale before your start anything and doesn't release until you're finished - it's all a hurdle people tackle. For different reasons, it propels many of the greats. It unfortunately eats way at many others.

Creation is persistence, hard work, imagination, innovation, process, double checking, triple checking, blood, sweat, tears, barreling through naysayers (both real and in your head), faith, passion, more persistence. Doubts, hesitation, indecision, rejection, control, perfectionism, addiction - rarely does one ever destroy someone on its own without another enemy of the mind or body tiptoeing closely behind. Creating is hard. I survive now mostly by cringing over my keyboard slamming on the backspace - because at least there's that. Barely.

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