In the days after I killed my vocation, I felt at a loss.
My newly dead vocation – as an independent performing artist – had demanded intense amounts of time, energy, focus, and resilience. Vampire-like, it sucked these things out of me but gave very little back in terms of satisfaction, endorsement, or viable income. So, it had to die – my mental health was failing, and it was either me or it – and when I killed it I experienced intense grief, as I had loved it all my life, loved it even when it had turned into something wicked and mean and dangerous.
This grief manifested as a feeling of incredible lightness and relief alongside the sort of sorrow that makes your bones ache. When I say ‘grief’ I must emphasise that at this point of this story I didn’t know I was in a state of grief; it was not a word I ascribed to the mercy killing of a vocation.
The lightness came from the laying down of a burden of having to care about an impossible dream. The reclamation of energy felt so marked, so profound, that it was disorientating. I had lived up till that point of my life as someone who was constantly and frantically busy, and busy with the complex work of making art using my mind, body, heart, and soul. After I killed my vocation, I suddenly had access to time and energy in ways I had never experienced. I was at a loss as to what to do with it all.
Stumbling through my days – relieved and disordered – I thought that I might do some volunteer work in order to explore other sectors and other types of jobs. One day at some event that I have now forgotten the name of, I bumped into a woman who ran a charity that provided support to palliative care patients. She mentioned that she might have volunteer roles available. She seemed nice and I thought ‘why not?’ It sounded like a good cause. I decided to think it over.
I knew nothing about palliative care, only that it involved slowly dying people, which sounded serious and weighty to me. So, I thought that, in order to make this decision with the gravitas it deserved, I should do some research about palliative care to see if I were a good match for the cause.
Down to the public library at Northcote I went, and started borrowing books about palliative care, and dying more generally. They interested my mind and moved my heart. Through them I learnt about grief and realised that my new happy-sad and calm-angry and grounded-discombobulated raw state of reacting to my newly dead vocation was a form of grief. This made sense to me. The idea pleased me. I reasoned that even though my vocation had to die, and even though I was the one who had murdered it, the presence of grief still made sense because I had loved it, even when I hated it, for all those years. My feelings of grief went nowhere, but my feelings about having those feelings were set aright. The ground steadied under my feet somewhat.
One day I was checking out a few more books about dying – this was in the days before the check out process in libraries was automated – when the librarian doing this noticed my borrowing record.
“You seem to have borrowed out quite a few books about death recently,” he said gently. “Are you alright? Do you need to talk to someone?”
It took a moment for me to understand what he meant, and then I was able to reassure him by telling him about my upcoming decision about doing volunteer work with palliative care patients.
He grinned, and his shoulders sagged with relief. “Bless you,” I thought, “for even thinking of trying to reach out.”
I decided not to do the volunteer work, after all. But I have treasured the memory of that little intellectual and emotional journey I undertook in Northcote public library. In the midst of life we are in death, the old hymn tells us. And in the midst of death we are in life, say I. The death of my mother from cancer a couple of years ago showed me that, physically, when your number’s up, it’s up. But in the ordering our own inner lives we can choose to take life from some parts to reclaim it for other parts of ourselves. And even though we do this in our own individual and unique ways, the wisdom available to me in books and the encounter with the observant kindly librarian showed me that we don’t have to do it unsupported and wholly alone.
Back in those days, I thought that it was my actual creativity that had died, so exhausted and unresponsive that side of my nature had become after years of grind. But it came back – with time and the resurgence of energy it snuck back in new and delightfully surprising ways. This was my other lesson from this time: our creativity is innate. It cannot die. We just need the right conditions to nurture it and to let it live.
Making creative work can be tough, asking us to be vulnerable, take risks, maybe even fail. If you are struggling with your sense of creative identity or have hit a rough patch in your creative process, then maybe my mentoring sessions can support you? Contact me to organise a brief chat (either on the phone or face to face or on Zoom) about what you’re up to, where you want to go and how I can help?