Creating Through the Dark Times in Your Life

I like to think artists are all about making beauty, but they aren’t really. They’re about seeing. Creating through the dark times requires a willingness to face what you see and to give voice and shape to it. This flies in the face of being likable, popular and inspiring, although capturing felt experience so your audience feels it and relates to it as if their own is its own kind of beauty. And closing the distance between you and your audience, creating intimacy with your work, being vulnerable and fearless–These are inspiring acts.

Therefore, it would do us well to embrace the dark times.

Embracing the dark times brings to bear all the discipline, fortitude, trust and courage we’ve honed in our daily practice of creating something every day, no matter what. The sheer stubbornness that’s carried us through times of no time and no space and no ideas and cardboard-flat experience shows up as the commitment we need to face the empty page, canvas, room or camera and tell it like it is, now.

It pays to hone the skill of being the last one standing, or the one to whom it all comes down, the keeper of the stopped buck, passed from hand to hand of well-mean-ers and not-quite-readies. And to then plant that thing right in the ground, knowing it will bear fruit. Willing it to bear fruit, even as we surrender to the timing, the form and all the particulars.

There is a word for the intersection of discipline, fortitude, trust and courage: Grit. Sandpaper has grit. Its roughness makes it king to anything it rubs against, except, perhaps, steel or air. We become masters of the dark times and show our audience the way through by being the grit that rubs the darkness smooth.

One way I stay on the creativity train is by writing something down just before I turn out the light at night. It’s often a poem or a prayer. It’s my last-ditch effort to connect with what’s in my heart before surrendering to sleep, the place where the alchemy of dreams can have its chance at healing my anguish. There’s something about that moment before sleep when I always have the impulse to tell it like it is in a way that I might not in mid-afternoon or first thing in the morning. It’s as if I’m writing to a wiser part of myself and saying, “Yes, I’m aware of this, I can finally own it. Let’s see what you can do with this.” And with just a hint of, “Please.”

Here is a poem that I wrote before bed while still reeling from the shock of a close friend’s diagnosis.


I am waiting for mortality
To shear me of my denial
And lead me to an edge
I have been dancing toward
But have not seen,
To startle me with candor
As cold as finality and
As hot as shame at having been
Complacent and in denial.
I am petitioning mortality
To take from me everything fake
And true, so that I can
Finally be here, unashamed 
And bare, blazing with a passion
Of which I am sure.
I am waiting for mortality to bring
Me certainty before it’s too late,
Because I feel mortality’s slap, 
My whole being a reddened cheek
That hopes to fade before
Someone sees, yet desperately
Feels this may be the one chance
To face the refiner’s fire, 
And be forged into something 
Lasting and strong.
I am waiting for mortality
To shear me of my denial
And wondering why
I can’t offer it up
As a matter of course, 
A daily practice,
Until mortality takes me.
And I wonder if we aren’t still infinite beings,
But that we need mortality
To take us that last leg of our becoming
Or we might be tempted to
Remain unfinished,
To avoid the acute discomfort
Of having left behind 
Every tiny familiar thing
We carefully crafted to confirm
And celebrate our misguided story
Of who we are.

Another creative act in dark personal times is to faithfully record our dreams. This means being faithful to things we avoid in waking life: illogic, loose ends, irrational alliances, walking around naked and pooping in public, being in dark places, flying.


I am thinking if I were in the army I’d keep my partial plate at the barracks so it wouldn’t get broken in combat.

I am walking along thinking this and around a bend I am on a familiar grey shore where long dark oblongs bob in the water. Ebony whales, logs, piano keys bob in grey water, while the tan cliffs rise up before me, and circling a little closer with each hesitation, black panther-like, uneasy animals pace underneath the cliff head. 

I have climbed up before but now I can’t get a foothold and you have shimmied up before me, you and another, and I want to call for you to come back and stick your hand down for me, but I don’t want the circling, sniffing beasts to see I am stranded down below with them.

It crosses my mind they might be friendly. I wake with a start.

3:37 a.m. Your side of the bed is empty. Some time later I heave myself out of bed and slip on my crocs and head to the guest room to make sure you are there.

The door is closed. I’m sure you are sleeping. I go back to bed and shoulder my way tensely back into sleep.

At 7:30 it’s daylight. I have a dream to tell.

When we create fearlessly and simply from what we are witness to, perhaps the most powerful thing we model is not knowing. Presenting the truth without tying it up in a neat package, drawing handy conclusions and useful how-to’s takes courage, but also gives courage. Our audience knows when we are full of it and needs us to be the ones to not flinch when the darkness comes to be written down, danced, or sung.

Finally, I leave you with a song, the darkest love song I’ve ever written. I can’t tell you what it’s about, really, except it was my truth at the time. And the lyrics kept running in my head the whole time I was working on today’s edition. It’s not a studio recording, but it will do. I wrote it back in 1996 and recorded it today, head cold and all. I hope you enjoy it.

Greeting Things (poem)

leo-fosdal-114217 photograph roadside


Rolling the 300-plus miles south from Arlington, Massachusetts
To Franklinville, New Jersey, I noticed more than anything
The places beside the road that were green or greening
And wondered about the roadside weeds, imagined collecting samples
To identify later, then remembered a quote that said
That until our scientists stop trying to learn about things
By killing them, we will not understand life. And I remembered
A time when there were too many stars in the night sky to possibly
Identify constellations, and how, lying on my back on the gently rolling
Dock at the end of the ramp where we tied our motor boat
In the ocean, I understood that naming things is not the
Power I thought it was and started reaching out in greeting
Instead. I stopped calling in the directions by telling them
Their names. I greet them as you would anyone
and thank them for creating the circle of our physicality,
Then tell them my intention and ask for their help. And
Now I see I can do that with the weeds and the stars,
Join with them, their myriads, and feel at once my own
Multiplicity as each cell in my body and all the force
Of consciousness I possess begin to dance in recognition
And communion with my brothers, the many, the choruses,
The infinite beings of life. And I see there is nothing to be known
But only to be experienced, and as much as I can
Hold it, to be alive with each of these, and in each moment to be alive.
My intention is to know you. Please help me be alive.


aaron-burden-88770 dandelion

What’s Your Why

Artist Talismans

I’ll admit that for the past few weeks, I’ve been binge-watching Kyle Cease. I go through these things where I latch onto a wise person, a transformational leader of some sort, and I consume everything they’ve put out there. So, it’s Kyle now.

In one of the clips, Cease says that when you’re in the “how” of something–How do I get the word out? How do I do this? How do I show people how valuable this is? How do I develop a program? How do I create what’s in my head to create?–it’s one obstacle after another, because the answer is always…“I don’t know.”

Otherwise, we wouldn’t be asking how.

But when you switch and get into your “why,” –your purpose, what your heart is urging you to do, then all of the hows show up. A million different ways reveal themselves.

Taking a deep breath and trusting Kyle on this, I dropped that pebble of a question –What is my Big Why? – and followed it down, down, down, in search of the answer to something I was  been stuck on while crafting a portion of my program, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.  Since I was totally stuck in “how” and not getting any stellar insights or movement on this, I knew I had nothing to lose.

The whys came in layers. The first layer contained all the usual suspects in answer to the question, Why help stuck creatives connect with their creativity?

  1. It’s fun.
  2. I love seeing people happy and self confident and powerful.
  3. I’m curious to see what people are going to invent when they’re empowered.
  4. I love art.
  5. I love beauty.
  6. I believe the answers to life lie within each of us, and the answers for humanity depend on many, many people accessing their inner answers.
  7. God made it so we have everything we need, and if part of what we need is locked inside us in the broken places where we can’t reach, people like me come along and help other people reach those pieces so they can have access to everything they need. Once enough of us have access to everything we need, we can stop hurting collectively and start healing. In fact, we already are. I want to be part of healing.
  8. I want to be famous and have people like me.

I was delighted when that last one came up, because that has been my motivation for doing so many things–To prove I can do it, to get respect from people, to redeem myself, to be something.

Then came the deeper layer of why.

Why help creative people connect with their creativity?

  1. When you’re a creative artist yearning to express yourself there’s almost nothing as painful and debilitating to the spirit as not making your art.
  2. And a spirit in pain is not whole and is not able to soar.
  3. And a spirit that can’t soar is not fulfilling its purpose.
  4. And what is more noble and worthy than helping someone else find their big why so their spirit can soar and they can fulfill their purpose?

And that’s when I realized that finding my Big Why was essential to leading my people to connecting with their own creative purpose.

When I started thinking in terms of why, I noticed I’d been playing in the space of How do I make this work and strategizing to find the right and clever answer and developing the best, most foolproof set of exercises. I’d been playing at the level of  “What’s the least damage I can do?” instead of “How much can I give to the world from my heart right this minute?” I’d been coming more from How can I make myself worth the trust my people have placed in me than the space of “I have to do this, it’s what’s inside me, it’s who I am, and there’s no other thing I’d rather be doing.”

“How” is a much smaller game than “why.”  So why do we get stuck there?

I found myself daydreaming about my struggle with performance. On the one hand I believe I should want to perform my music for people. But on the other hand, I don’t really want to. I don’t enjoy being on stage with lights in my eyes, having a weird auditory experience just when I should be able to hear really well, and being super self-conscious. Not a fun time for me.  But back to the first hand, what if I’m stopping myself from doing something that would complete the circle, and people would enjoy it? In fact, I already know that they do, because I used to perform. Until, back to the other hand, I realized I hated it and gave myself permission to stop making myself do it.

And that’s where my pebble stopped dropping. I was back in “how.” I knew I that whole conflict was a “how” conflict, because of its polarity and circularity. That kind of bone is irresistable for our dog-minds. We can’t leave it alone. It’s what our minds were made for.

And that was a good-enough understanding for a night’s work. Because it was time to go to bed, I did. (I’m really good with going to bed, unlike how I was as a kid, but that’s a different story….)

The next morning, I’m driving to work, and I realized all at once that the reason I create is because I love. Life. And that’s how I express it. I love singing, I love words, I love concepts, I love creating a mood and a feeling, and it’s love. Creating is my love letter to life. All I have to do is keep expressing my love.  My expression is mine. All mine.

And all I want for my people is that they get to the place where their creativity is theirs, and it’s their expression of love to the world. It’s so natural to create from that place. Because who doesn’t want to make love in a way that’s easy and natural? In a way that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing, you don’t have to think about technique, you don’t have to think Is it okay, am I saying it right? You just do it. Because it’s what’s in your heart.

Ultimately the love is bigger than all of the other concerns. It’s bigger than the inner struggle.–I want to create, but I can’t and I don’t know how, and I don’t have time, and I don’t have space, and I should get gigs, but I don’t want to, and nobody will hire me, blah, blah, blah–The love, when you feel it and connect with it, is bigger than all of that.

And that’s what art does. It helps you get into the bigger place, the place that contains the struggle. And from there, the struggle loses its power. Because who cares about the struggle with so much beauty and reality-altering art around?

What to do from here? Heck, I think I’ll just hang out here for a while. It’s so big and spacious. And I think I’ll invite my people into here, too, and invite them to step into the love that fuels their Big Why. And invite them to consider what they want to create from there.

My big why is love. Love of my people, love of expression, love of expressions of love, love of love letters, love of life, and love of the beauty-making, sensitive people who are daring and crazy enough to want to make art, because they have to.

Till next time, go make something!



p.s. You can preorder Kyle Cease’s new book, “I Hope I Screw This Up” here.

To Nurture Your Creativity, Stop Focusing On Output

Focusing solely on creative output leads to burnout. You will run out of ideas as your flow becomes stagnant. Your inner gremlins will gain a foothold, and it will be difficult to push them back. Worse, you will forget who you are and instead run on who you used to be, and then wonder why it all seems so repetitive and uninspiring.

If this is you, it’s time to focus instead on feeding, nurturing and rediscovering your creative soul. You can think about this in terms of diet. What are you feeding your creative self? Do you even know what inspires and nurtures that part of yourself? Sometimes it’s a throwback or a constant and other times, it’ll be something brand new and surprising.

Continue reading To Nurture Your Creativity, Stop Focusing On Output

On Secrets, Vulnerability, and Untidy things

Hola lovelies,

You know how sometimes you find yourself doing things that seem to be vestiges of a prior set of priorities or a life you had but has now passed – except for this one thing? Maybe it’s a friendship you keep up that’s damned unlikely and doesn’t fit your narrative, or a habit you’ve clung to, or, in my case a couple hours a week of a job that I keep saying I’m done with!

Continue reading On Secrets, Vulnerability, and Untidy things

When It All Comes Together: Creative Homecomings

Hey there lovely people,

Well, it’s Sunday blog post time, and I think it’s high time I share with you the finished song that I started a couple of weeks ago. I posted about it here, where I talked about my process.

The big hang-up with this one was that after I’d gotten all the juicy data about various kinds of cells’ lifespans, I didn’t know how to elevate the whole thing to the level of something of a metaphor about life.  That’s my favorite kind of lyric, a combination of literal and metaphorical. This is how I see life, and it tickles my word nerd and philosophical sensibilities.

Continue reading When It All Comes Together: Creative Homecomings

Creativity Impasse: Things To Do While Waiting for Prayers to be Answered

Oh dear. Creativity Breakthrough Day 9, and I am kind of stuck. Have you been there?

You have this idea. You love the idea. You’re working on it. You’re in love. There’s never been a truer love. It’s for-evah, you can tell.

But you just. can’t. get. it. to. come. together.

What to do?

Continue reading Creativity Impasse: Things To Do While Waiting for Prayers to be Answered

How to Get Ideas for a Song

Haha, see what I did there? Yeah, ideas to write a song. And ideas that cost a song. In other words, they’re free, kids. All you have to do is

Keep a running list of random oblique inspiration-generating ideas to get you from where you are to someplace else.

In today’s post (Welcome back!), I give you another peek into my creative process. In this case, I use my own random inspiration generator to help me get started with lyrics for a song. I explain the whole thing in the vid. But what I forgot to say was that the building blocks for this are to make it a habit to create something every day. Every single day. Each and every single day.

Continue reading How to Get Ideas for a Song

Why Create? Art + What.

Hello dear reader,

Today’s blog entry is a video I made for you, sharing my creative process on Days 1 and 2 of my personal 30 Day Creativity Breakthrough, which I’m doing to prepare for Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a program I’m putting together to help gifted but struggling creative people reconnect with their creativity, so they enjoy it any way they desire to.

Continue reading Why Create? Art + What.