Everything else

Be Your Own Muse

Milestones to watch for on your personal vision quest.

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Illustration by Eleanor.

This is a hard piece to start. I say that every time I sit down to write, but it’s always true. Creating isn’t easy! If it were, there wouldn’t be a million books written about it, and every interview with an artist wouldn’t include the question “What is your process?” But this one is particularly difficult, (a) because I’m typing it out with one hand while the other holds the three-month-old baby asleep in my lap, and (b) because it requires me to do exactly what I’m telling you not to do, which is to THINK. Because if I know anything about creative work, it’s that you can’t THINK it into being. Thinking is for homework, taxes and texting. Creating is different. It’s being possessed by a spirit of sorts. I’m talking vision, y’all, which to me means turning down the volume on your brain and listening to your GUT.

I’ve spent my whole life following my gut. It’s my head I can’t trust. My head is full of questions, self-flagellation, confusion. My gut, on the other hand, is my shaman. When I’m totally in tune with it, creation comes easily. I don’t second-guess it because it feels so darn righteous. It is the truest expression of my soul, and when it speaks to me I know it is right. There is no confusion.

I still panic every time I’m asked, “So, what do you do?” I wish I could say “I’m an actor,” “a banker,” “a chef.” I long for a tidy box to fit my life into. Here’s what I’ve got so far: I’m a artist, director, performer, writer, aerialist, activist, and mother. I’m happiest when I’m doing all of those things at once, and I see no reason not to mix everything up together: Why not express political ideas through song, dance, and glamour? Why can’t feminist statements be dreamy, beautiful, and grand? I’m obsessed with the human drama; I live to champion feelings and vulnerability. My work is usually done in collaboration with others. I like working as part of a community. I’m turned on by looking at our shared experiences through the Vaselined lens of magical realism.

In a culture that demands hard facts, clear objectives, and succinct job titles, that’s the kind of explanation that makes eyes glaze over even as they dart around the room looking for an escape route. At worst, people make me feel stupid, or like what I do isn’t important. “What do you mean?” they’ll respond. My six-year-old daughter even said to me, “You don’t have a real job, do you, Mommy?” (knife-through-the-heart, someone-kill-me-now moment). If you can’t tell someone what you do in two words or less, it seems, it doesn’t have value.

When I interviewed Lena Dunham for Lula magazine last summer, I asked that old question about her creative process. She said: “There is a specific feeling to writing when it feels good, like sliding into a very familiar sweater. I like to try and inhabit an old memory again. In that way, it works like an impossible time machine.” Yes! that is exactly what a creative vision feels like. It is the unmistakable feeling of YOU. Pay attention to this feeling. Learn how to recognize it in its early, prickle-up-the-spine stages.

You don’t have to have a very well-defined sense of WHO YOU ARE to feel it, either. No matter how much you grow and change, that “very familiar sweater” still fits. It is creativity’s best, warmest friend, because it is so specific to each one of us.

There are things you can do to conjure your personal familiar sweater when you need its warmth. First and foremost, you can target what you’re curious about and follow the path it takes you on. That path will lead you to your own personal genius. I am of the firm belief that everyone is a genius at something. Genius is not reserved for “special” people with otherworldly talent; but it is a privilege, because to access it you need the time, support, and wherewithal to dig down deep into your guts and pull out the gem of truth which is: What do you love? If you have the luxury to spend time contemplating this question, you’re on your way. Even if you don’t have the time, my gut is telling me that if you listen carefully, you will hear your gut crying out for the thing that you love. It’s the thing you can’t get out of your head. The magnet that pulls you along whether you want it to or not.

Creativity is often described as the muses whispering to us. I love this image. It’s old-time-y and romantic and dreamy. But the word muse has, historically, implied a kind of passivity. The muse doesn’t do anything; she (it’s always a she!) just is, and her very way of being is somehow inspiring to the artist (who’s always a he). She gives rise to ideas, but doesn’t necessarily have any of her own. Rarely is she seen as having any agency; her inner life tends to go ignored, as does her genius.

In the real world, there is nothing wrong with being someone’s muse, and nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else. But, speaking for myself, I know my work improved exponentially the day I realized that I was (and am) my own muse. When I am my own muse, I am empowered. I use the act of creating to know myself better, to explain myself to myself.

When I’m in creativity’s warm embrace, I can feel it, physically. My stomach flutters. My heart soars. My skin feels glowy and warm and buzzy. I feel like I’m in my body and in the moment, alert, listening, feeling. It feels like I’m vibrating at a higher-than-normal frequency. These are all signs that a truth is about to tumble out of me. Vision, truth, genius—these are physical, not mystical, experiences. They are your gut yelling at you to listen.

I remember, when I was in my teens and 20s, shrinking under the intense pressure to KNOW MYSELF. Adults were constantly nudging me to pick a label, asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, what I would study in college. It seemed like most people my age knew their calling already. I wish I knew then that there’s literally no reason to rush to conclusions about your identity. You guys are at the age where you have all the time in the world to get in the zone and find what you love. Find that thing that makes your body tingle because your truth is being pinched. Surround yourself with work that inspires you. Literally surround yourself. Sit at your desk or computer and make vision boards, pin inspirational quotes and images everywhere your eye can see. Stack books you love at arm’s reach. Underline the parts that speak to you and have them readily accessible. Drown yourself in the artists who speak your language. Play sad songs that carry the weight of the world. Sit down with all this, even for half an hour, and see what spills out. This is the muse in you whispering to artist-you. This is your intuition connecting totally random stuff and churning out truths that only you could possibly come up with. Over time, such moments of inspiration will fit together like puzzle pieces, and a clear vision of life will come together, bit by bit, in front of your eyes.

Back to genius. At the end of the day, true genius is usually that kooky, weirdo thing that everyone once questioned. Genius is the outlandish vision that we commit to following. Taking the machete to the weedy path of human experience and clearing a way for others to follow. It’s looking at the world in your own personal way and making that vision accessible to others. Genius is personal. It’s unique. It’s allowing your intuition to speak through you, until you eventually give it your own language. Go with your gut, and your genius will reveal itself to you. It will reveal you to yourself. You don’t have to wrestle it down. You don’t even have to fully understand it. Your vision is you, it’s this moment, it’s what will change those around you and will change the world. Each generation has the privilege of seeing things in a new way; your perspective, right now, is important. You see things in a way that my contemporaries don’t. You are the future! For crying out loud, get on your vision quest and shout your truths.

As I finish writing this, the baby is asleep in another room, and I’m vibing with a great snowstorm outside my window. White plumps of snow dancing in suspended gusts of unique and individual cutouts, each one hovering for a moment then rushing down to pillow the earth and delight my kids on their way home from school. Each one as individual as we are. As singular as each of our messages. Inspiration is everywhere. Surround yourself in it. ♦

Sarah Sophie Flicker is a performer with and the creative director of the avant-garde political cabaret troupe the Citizens Band. She is also a film director, a writer, an activist, a mother, and an editor-at-large for Violet Magazine. Her political/film work can be seen at Lady Parts Justice and Maximilla.com.

24 Comments

  • irregularvanilla January 30th, 2014 11:36 PM

    I really needed this encouragement. Once again, Rookie has made me self-conscious. I feel so important.

  • brontosaurus January 31st, 2014 12:03 AM

    This is so great. I’m inspired to be inspired!

  • gildedheart January 31st, 2014 12:25 AM

    Magical. This article makes me feel liberated!

  • Bex_cygnet January 31st, 2014 4:44 AM

    What a gorgeous illustration!

  • pizzaface January 31st, 2014 7:30 AM

    I like the illustration!

  • yumi January 31st, 2014 9:26 AM

    Thank you Sarah for writing such a precious article <3

  • thedaftbat January 31st, 2014 11:19 AM

    I needed this so much right now. I literally wrote last night that I felt like a light had gone off inside of me and that I was dulled to every emotion that would come after this point. I feel comforted now, I feel like I will be able to embrace the cooing warmth of creating and be able to do so without uncertainty.

    Thank you.

  • Salomeco January 31st, 2014 12:55 PM

    I really liked this, because it’s like a synthesis of some of the big-thinking I’ve been doing lately. I just wanted to say that I discovered Bergson’s philosophy this year, and notably his thoughts on ”invention” – what is it? how does it ”work”? how do you get there? – and it can be great food for thought if you related to this article. His books like Matter and Memory are great tools to feed on and think about.

  • janevtiamat January 31st, 2014 4:05 PM

    I stayed up all night last night staring at my ceiling struggling to find out why I couldn’t find something, anything, to write about. I was looking for direction. Reading this today has made my vision more clear. Thanks.

  • Stephanie January 31st, 2014 5:36 PM

    This describes the beautiful core of creativity so perfectly. And I needed the reminder to be my own muse, super empowering!

  • Mimi7 January 31st, 2014 9:00 PM

    “I feel like I’m in my body and in the moment, alert, listening, feeling. It feels like I’m vibrating at a higher-than-normal frequency.”
    Yes! Such a good description. I love this feeling! Whenever I feel this way my art improves so much because every sense is just so heightened. It feels like being superhuman :)

    http://dreaminginfashion.wordpress.com/

  • spudzine January 31st, 2014 9:42 PM

    This was really encouraging because everyday I face pressures from peers, parents, and just the world in general about what I plan on doing with my life, and I take a lot of these pressures out on myself. That is ESPECIALLY so these past couple of weeks. This is really inspiring because it shows the plain fact that not only are we still teenagers, but we’re still human. Growing, changing humans who should experience all that life has to offer with curiosity and passion. And that’s how I think it should be.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • RatioRae January 31st, 2014 10:23 PM

    I relate to this so much. <3

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com

  • elektraheart January 31st, 2014 11:42 PM

    This was so beautiful.

  • enthusiastictruckdriver February 1st, 2014 10:29 AM

    I loved reading this! The part about surrounding yourself with things you love felt especially important to me, because I’ve been obsessing over poetry/music/art for ages now and I often doubt whether or not something will come out of it. Sometimes I feel guilty because I’m taking in so much art and truth and beauty without contributing any of it to the world, but I have to remember that I will eventually and that it’s okay to just appreciate it all.

  • Erin. February 1st, 2014 12:09 PM

    I wish I wasn’t so psycho that my thoughts instantly go to negative things every time I read something that I know is actually entirely helpful and positive and relevant to my life. Oh well.

    Really great article, despite my psychoness. Everything you write is so spot-on perfect, Sarah Sophie Flicker.

  • mardy.bum February 2nd, 2014 3:39 AM

    thank you thank you thank you for this! it is extremely relevant and immensely inspiring, not to mention, very well needed!

  • Tara February 2nd, 2014 7:25 AM

    this article was so perfectly articulated and wise it makes me want to cry. I feel lucky to have just worked on your film, Sarah. you are an embodiment of beauteous creativity and passion.

    this is so, so, so necessary for teen girls all around the world to read.

  • SweetSarahO February 2nd, 2014 2:09 PM

    Ah my namesake, Sarah Sophie. Ever since the first time I saw the short films you were a part of with Maximilia Lukacs, I was so hooked. (Dreamy Wander, Lay Down Lean, and God Ain’t Gonna Put It In Your Lap are my favorite ones! Okay, and the Love Has Left the Room music video for A Camp.) My mom took me to see The Citizens Band at the Avalon in L.A. and I loved it all. The music, the lyrics, the beautiful costumes, the dancing, the hoop! She bought me the CD and I listened to it nonstop for 3 months straight and went to my first protest. I’m at university now, USC, and it’s hard to avoid that awkward moment when someone asks me what I want to do. I’m a critical studies major and I can’t pick one “thing.” Seeing you be and do different things shows me that it is possible to simply follow your heart and everything else will follow. I loved this! This puts into words what I’ve been feeling about creativity as long as I could remember. Beautiful. xo

  • mickeyf19 February 3rd, 2014 9:25 PM

    AAAAAH THIS IS BEAUTIFUL D”””:

  • Glenny February 4th, 2014 6:16 AM

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
    I love any/all articles about creation/artistry. Please keep them coming!
    This was so helpful.

  • xoxololita February 4th, 2014 7:47 AM

    First of all, wow! This is perfect on so many levels. I can relate to this on such a deep level. I try to find inspiration in everything but I am currently struggling with my “identity” and who I am and what my style as an artist is and this just validated so much for me. I have a piece in the works talking about my creative process and now I have more motivation to do so.

    Thank you for sharing such a lovely piece.
    Truly inspiring<3

    xxBianca
    http://www.xoxololita.com / http://www.wildheartelectricsoul.com

  • Neomi February 4th, 2014 9:08 AM

    Thank you!

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