Etiquette and the Agony of Creative Births
There is a point where creative work must come out into the world. In my experience there is a rawness inherent in this, sometimes an agony. My creative life has been marked by occasion after occasion where I tried to bring work into the world, asked for help, and the process turned out to be painful.
I tell people beforehand “This part is hard. I will be vulnerable. I cannot explain things the way I usually do.” The people who want to help tell me they understand and then when things get raw, they look and say “This is not a tidy process. It must be going wrong. I think you do not know how to do this. There is something wrong with you.” These have been the most hurtful experiences for me.
I believe the best creative work happens when you are working beyond what you can consciously control, when you are drawing on your full capacity and beyond. To help with this requires holding space and allowing.
I have been present at two childbirths. When my niece was born, she came quickly. I drove my sister to the midwife’s office and I did it wrong. My sister kindly made her complaints into jokes but she was mostly annoyed with me. I thought she would want be to drive carefully, but she wanted me to accelerate wildly through yellow lights. Everything I did annoyed her because she was in labour and it hurt.
My sister was not a good host when when she was having her baby, but nobody expected her to be. I believe this is true when we are bringing our deepest truest creative work into the world as well.
Creative work is not like a baby in that a baby must come out. You can’t say “this is not the ideal way to complete this birth” and decide to try again in a few weeks. Once labour begins, the baby must be born. However, you can walk away from a bad creative experience and put your almost finished screenplay in a box for four years or more.
Many times, as I have tried to bring my work into the world, I have been told I am too messy, not doing it right, failing because someone else can’t see the process. After actual decades, I’ve decided to make it easy: If you can’t handle birth, don’t come. Meet the child later.
Perhaps attending creative births, like childbirths is not for everyone. It demands we have enough comfort with watching a person in agony that we can spare comfort to give them. It demands that we let people do the painful work without judging the process.
You do not show up at someone else’s sacred agony and tell them you find it a bit much for you. You wouldn’t look down at the open birth canal and say, this is too messy, clearly you have failed at childbearing. And you wouldn’t say that the mother screaming from labour pains is a bad mother.
You do not go to a birth and say “you seem stressed, what is wrong with you?”
You do not go to a birth and say “you don’t seem to be handling this well, maybe you aren’t really a mother.”
You do not go to a birth and say “have you thought about getting a puppy instead?”
You do not go to a birth and say “I think if you were any good you be in less pain.”
And you do not go to a birth and say “I don’t see the baby yet so it’s probably not real.”
But artists doing the hard work of trying to make something exist get told equivalent things constantly. The creative world is full of people who think they have something to contribute to the birth of creative work and yet also think that it is the role of the artist to make that process nice for them. They promise support and understanding but then don’t know how to deliver.
But this is also a lesson for me and the rest of us who bring work into the world. Don’t invite everyone. Let the world meet your work when the work is ready to be met.