I’m So Sorry: The Grief and Invisible Loss of the Artist + Creator
Photo: Wolfskull Cretive
If you are an artist or a writer/creative, I AM SO SORRY. As I was re-skimming The Artist’s Way for the bajillionth time this week, it hit me deep that doing creative work is both life giving and also full of losses. Big ones. Julia Cameron sums it up here:
“If artistic creations are our brainchildren, artistic losses are our miscarriages. Women often suffer terribly, and privately, from losing a child who doesn’t come to term. And as artists we suffer terrible losses when the book doesn’t sell, the film doesn’t get picked up, the juried show doesn’t take our paintings, the best pot shatters, the poems are not accepted, the ankle injury sidelines us for an entire dance season.
We must remember that our artist is a child and that what we can handle intellectually far outstrips what we can handle emotionally. We must be alert to flag and mourn our losses.”
~Julia Cameron, The” Artist’s Way”
I had never thought of these sorts of losses like they were miscarriages, but gosh that resonates. Maybe you’ve never experienced a miscarriage but you’ve had another sort of “invisible” loss. Maybe a partner cheated (and shame wouldn’t let you speak about it), you incurred a big financial loss, or you experienced some other loss you believed you had to suffer in isolation…in silence?
I have had several miscarriages and much grief…mostly experienced alone….because I felt flawed (?Not womanly enough to actually get pregnant and stay pregnant? said my inner critic) and didn’t want to be a “downer” around other moms/friends and maybe because it felt so damn vulnerable to say how much it hurt out loud?
I believe that the INVISIBLE losses of creativity are no less painful than miscarriages (and other invisible losses). We all experience them. Like with most miscarriages, there is no “body to bury”, and they mostly go unacknowledged by our families and communities.
– The “jello brigade” isn’t coming to your house with a pot of chicken soup when your book is rejected by the 10th agent.
– Nobody sends flowers when the poetry reading that you worked so hard on is attended by a handful of people who seem more interested in their phones.
– Your BFF doesn’t text to see how you are after a stranger on the internet makes a snarky comments about the art work you posted, “…who made this? A child?? Your painting looks ridiculous” and you begin to doubt yourself.
-Nobody texts you to say they are coming over with ice cream and spoons when that vulnerable blog post that you sweated over for weeks was finally proudly posted on Instagram and got *CRICKETS*.
-Your mom doesn’t send you a “feel better” card when you receive your brutal review at Amazon for your book (that you were just starting to allow yourself to feel elated about publishing).
Today, I continue try to create like I’m going to “burn it all” without any attachment, but I find it nearly impossible. I am a human being.
There are so many of these losses in my own creative journey..here are just a few:
1. My novel that I worked for 4 years that has not yet picked up speed in the world. I think 30 people have read it thus far, which I am so grateful for, AND…. I had dreamed it would resonate with a few more.
2. Being told, by a powerful editor, after she read my draft of my first non-fiction book, “You’re not ready to write a book yet and won’t be for at least three years”.
4. Any of my “1 star” reviews at Amazon (see below for one from 2017 for Born to FREAK)
Too much with the “freak!You know those kids in high school who wanted so badly to stand out that they differentiated themselves by some outward appearance modification to give the impression of being just super weird and, like, DIFFERENT but, actually, they were quite unremarkable? This is what the book reads like. I wanted to like it so kept pushing myself to get further and further but it just got more and more cringe-worthy. I only made it halfway through before I needed to stop being a part of the incessant self-congratulation. It’s the left-brained person all of a sudden coming into their own creatively and claiming “I am such a freak!” “I’m so creative!” when, actually, there’s nothing remarkable about that. It’s the potential of every human on this planet. Sarah is not a freak. And, yes, I’m using that word in the same “crazy fun!” way that she’s using it. She’s just a regular human who seems to have come to that point in her life where she’s found a greater balance. It would be nice to read a book more on how that balance was achieved and less on “Zomg it is so freaky the way I’m FREAKING!!” Calm down. Also, her sister is a famous comedian and she references this in the book. It came across as riding on the laurels of and I found it to be tacky. Leave your celebrity connections out of your own work. I’m happy for the author and other readers that there are so many 5-star ratings but I found it to just be a masturbatory, self-indulgent material that’s better suited for a personal diary than something published for the general public
I have written before about how to recover from creative rejection and if it has happened to you, I AM SO SORRY. It hurts so much. I see you. And please don’t let this stop you from sharing all the WONDER inside of you.
Each loss, if we can grieve it and use the experience to grow, will take us deeper into ourselves.
I want to point out that being creative has ALSO helped me have beautiful experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Just yesterday, I was painting on a canvas and sobbing (quietly, so as not to concern the family!) in ecstasy thinking about my mom and dad in heaven and all that they gave me while they were alive. What other activity could make me sob in ecstasy?? Writing! Painting! (Or, experiencing the writing, singing, dancing or painting of another person.)
I know that you also have such powerful moments with yourself while you create.
By catalouging, speaking out loud or otherwise acknowledging our greatest artistic/creative losses, we can give ourselves permission to honor + feel them.
For me, writing abut them lessens the shame. I am not bad and my art is not bad. My feelings of rejection/failure feel bad…but I am OK. My art is OK too. It’s just my self-expression. Whether others understand it or enjoy it/celebrate it is a separate issue.
Julia Cameron says,
“In order to move through loss and beyond it, we must acknowledge it and share it. Because artistic losses are seldom openly acknowledged or mourned, they become artistic scar tissue that blocks artistic growth…..The unmourned disappointment becomes the barrier that separates us from future dreams.”
So, I hope you find a friend or, better yet a whole community, and you speak about your creative losses, write about them, paint or dance about them…to promote fresh and healthy growth of your artistic work.
You and your work are badly needed right now.
P.S. In SHINE, we create the safe space to be able to speak about it all- our losses and our wins and everything in between.
Art below: REST IN YOUR HEART by Sarah Seidelmann