What worked for you on Tuesday will work on Thursday, a claim that cannot always be made when what you hold in your hand is a paintbrush or a camera or a pen. What was exactly right for your last painting will be completely wrong for this one. Creative people love to claim they know what works, but in reality all they know is what worked. Fortunes are lost and hearts broken in that shift of tense.
That’s a quote from the essay “Getting Good” by the American novelist Richard Russo’s book The Destiny Thief.
I’m John Fanning and this is the Create with John Fanning podcast.
How’s it goin out there. Hope all is well.
This is Episode 26 of my series of episodes on the Imagination, based around my book Create.
Last time I spoke about Awareness, Sacredness and Distractions, but today I want to talk about Acceptance and Change. And this one will not be as long as recent ones either because there’s a simplicity and a humility that I want to get at today, because I’m not sure these two things of Acceptance and Change are addressed very often in reference to the Imagination, not because they’re so ineffable as say what I talked about in the last episode, awareness, but because they’re so blatant, so in front of us all the time, every day, that often it’s hard to see what’s right in front of us, much like the elephant in the room, where we can see parts of changes in our lives, the trunk one time, the legs another, the tail another, but never enough humility to understand, to see the whole animal, the animal as a whole, to see change as a whole and the necessary presence, or need of the presence of acceptance in our lives to deal with change, and to transition from change into acceptance and from there transition into creativity.
Years ago there was an established poet at La Muse. For any of you coming to this podcast for the first time La Muse is a writers and artists retreat I co-founded with my wife in the south of France almost twenty years ago. Anyway, I was talking to this established poet and another writer about setting up a creative writing program in Ireland, because at the time there were none and I thought that should be encourage to change. I suggested approaching universities or colleges not associated with the arts, as they would probably be more receptive to do something new. The writer became excited about the idea. Seeing his excitement, I said I would be happy to help, such as giving a lecture on retreats, the people I’ve met, maybe something about how to create.
He got very enthusiastic and was about to say something when the established poet said, “And what would you talk about, John, cleaning toilets and making beds?” He then laughed out loud. This is the kind of humor that made Joyce call Ireland a sow that eats its own farrow, in that the harsh cliché is that one must always be bringing someone else down to size, what they call slagging in Ireland, and what I learned later from Australians is called tall poppy syndrome there. Basically it’s really demeaning someone a lot of the time because of one’s own insecurities.
Anyway, the other writer, an American, went red, and after an uncomfortable silence asked me to help him move the desk in his room. In his room, I went to lift his desk. He stopped me and said he had only asked me to help him so that he could apologize for the rudeness of the Irish poet. I told him it was ok, that it wasn’t the first time someone “established” treated me like a receptionist, chauffeur, cleaner, etc.
“How do you put up with that kind of treatment?” he said.
“I don’t. I just accept them the way they are. Years ago it used to make me very angry, but now, what are you going to do? They have their set idea of who I am, who you are, who they are themselves, their worldview, and I can’t change that.”
People might define me, you, as one thing, but I think that’s ridiculous, because all people are vast. They have many different parts. Yes, I can do a little electricity now. I repair old windows, put tiles onto roofs. I even cut down trees for wood, build old stone walls, optimize websites. If you’d told me I would be able to do any of those things twenty years ago in New York I would have laughed at you. Why? Because I used to think the same way as that poet. That a person is one dimensional. I thought, I’m a writer. Everything else is secondary. But it’s not. Being a husband is not secondary. A father can’t be secondary. We are many things. We are vast. When we accept that, we create a life, not play a role. We create ourselves.
An even better personal example: we couldn’t find a place to go create, to meet other writers and artists. So, we transformed the drudge of working the nine to five and having no time to create, into something. It took a while, but La Muse was created nearly twenty years ago. It wasn’t easy, but it was created, in the beginning out of anger that space was not available to us, but then, out of acceptance. We accepted the reality and then went out to change it, like the oft quoted phrase of Gandhi: Be the change you want to see in the world.
I’ll never be a Mozart, a Shakespeare. I don’t care. Why? I’m happy being me. I can only be me. Life gets easier with acceptance. Ask yourself a question the next time you’re worrying about all those creators better than you: Do you really want to be better than them, their equal? Isn’t it enough to just be you? Isn’t it enough to create what you love, because if you deny what you love, are you not denying your life?
There’s a Latin phrase Marcus Aurelius uses a lot, “Amor fati”, which basically means accept, or love your fate. If you accept your fate, what life has given you, then you can create something from it. You can use your discontentment and loss as a positive, to create. You can transform it, move it into form. Then you can trans-form pain into something profound.
The facts of your life can also give you the very reason for your life. The events, the situations you’ve found yourself in, happened irrespective of your choices most of the time. So, why not accept them, so you can use them?
Yes, you can’t change what happened but you can accept change. If you accept it, you can simply use what has happened to you to transform it into something beautiful, to create from that place, which will make you joyful at the same time.
Acceptance is easier when you can accept change. When you create, you change, as does the creation. That’s the process.
Yes, we have no time. Or so we’re consistently told. But why not accept that idea and you know what then we do have time, even if we are being made to work more and more. We can change our lives for the better, even though change is stressful.
In 1974, William Bridges, an American literature lecturer, did just that. He left his job, set up group workshops about change, or more specifically what he calls transitions, in our society. Out of these workshops grew his book “Transitions,” which to date has sold over half a million copies.
Bridges writes how dealing with transitions in life: marriage, divorce, birth, death, moving, career changes, retirement, is difficult, but that it can be made easier if we stop and see where and how we are processing the change in our life. He saw each individual experiencing change in three stages: first as an ending, then a stage of confusion and suffering, followed by a new beginning. Because Western culture gives us hardly any rituals to represent these stages, people just try to skip from an ending to a new beginning.
Another important point Bridges makes is the distinction between change and transition, transition being “the personal side of change.” He says society often confuses them making us think that transition is just another word for change when actually a change is “situational” and a transition is “psychological”. Examples of a change are moving to a different city, getting a new boss, your mother dying, your son being born. They are external changes in your life. Transitions are how you deal with those changes inside.
The creative process can help facilitate transitions. It can help keep the energy moving in body, mind and spirit. By creating we can give both expression and reflection to what we are experiencing, whatever transitions they are.
Creation will not come immediately. It takes time. You have to “transition” into it, not change everything immediately, give up your job, leave your family. To become a creator you start by accepting that change is difficult, that there are stages, that it is situational and psychological, and with awareness and acceptance you will create what you need to create, with patience and time.
So thanks for listening. I started with a quote from an American writer, but as always I’m going to end this episode with an Irish proverb. And I’m giving you this one because I think it’s a great one to remind us to be humble, to have humility in the face of the difficulties of what we’re so often presented with, and that to accept, to really accept change, we often need to bow our head in humility to it in order to not resist life’s suffering. Literally, this one means:
The heaviest ear of grain bends its head the lowest.
Is í an dias is troime is ísle a chromas a cheann
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Slán libh agus go n-éirí an bóthar libh.