Thursday, February 12, 2009


Sometimes the non-creative types have difficulty understanding why we do what we do. They call creative endeavors "that little hobby of yours" or scoff at what may seem like useless daydreaming or consider writing not a meaningful endeavor but "that thing you do in your spare time."

The thing is, I don't consider this is my "spare time." This is real time. Writing doesn't feel like a choice, the way it leaks and pours and spills out.

Sometimes people wonder why we write, paint, photograph, sing when we could be using that energy for making more money or doing a better job keeping up with laundry or being more "productive." They wonder why we fling off our blouses when the sun kisses the back of our necks, why we have this overwhelming urge to slip around nude amongst the ferns and branches. Why we pull over on the side of the highway to write down that thought bubble that nearly caused an aneurysm while rushing to work on the Interstate.

I spotted an answer for those people today, one that stopped me in my tracks because it's true, so true. True for me, but even more so for people who truly are limited in their ability to be expressive due to their repressive and sometimes dangerous cultural surroundings. Those are the truly brave and I am in awe of them.

“I did art because I didn’t want to die."
--Egyptian-born artist Ghada Amer

I saw this quote in an article about a documentary, "Our City Dreams, a lyrical documentary about the intersection of location and imagination." 

If anyone asks, or scoffs or laughs or questions it, I now know what to say, if I need to say anything at all, about why I just dropped everything to sketch a bird that landed on my feeder or why I'm out in the woods recording the sound of ice falling from branches or why I use my precious "spare time" to transcribe imagination onto the page. 

"Because I want to live."


Neve Black said...

Oooooh, so nicely said, Kirsten.

Don't stop doing what feeds your soul, girl. :-)

Erobintica said...

Cue "Twilight Zone" theme. Kirsten, you and I must be in the same state of mind today. I just finished posting something and then I went to check who else had new posts up and I saw this.

“I did art because I didn’t want to die."
--Egyptian-born artist Ghada Amer

umm, I just got shivers and prickles. Thank you Kirsten - wow - gonna send this quote to a bunch of my "artist" friends.

BadAssKona said...

Precisely why I paint, sing, write, photograph, model and make snow's how I breathe. Beautifully written Kirsten!

Cyn said...

"The thing is, I don't consider this is my "spare time." This is real time."

I love how you put that. Spare time makes it seem like we're switching off when infact it's the opposite.

I feel that when I'm doing art I come alive. The inspiration flowing from yourself to whatever your media is, paint, pen, keyboard.

Stuff like this can only happen in "real time." :)

Donna said...

There are so many ways people belittle art and creativity. And yet, if you dig a little deeper, how many of them want to write a novel (or more likely a screenplay, lol) or be a singer/songwriter or express their souls in some way that connects them with others?

Then there are the variations, the contempt for artists who aren't making money at it or aren't "famous." Or who sink into the pit of pornography.

Gawd, I've struggled with this a lot. Our society's message that anything that involves money, a lot of that is sleazy stuff to be honest, is good. Anything that involves love and joy, and that includes art, is expendable. I think it's all part of a reasonably effective system of control to keep us scared and silent.

Still, it's always a good idea to have the perfect come-back when the occasion arises ;-).

EllaRegina said...

The thing is, I don't consider this is my "spare time." This is real time.

Exactly how I feel. When I am writing something, creating a little world of my own imagination, that's when I feel I am really being myself; doing anything else just seems like work avoidance unless it's "research."

I was in a really bad mood the other day, got some awful news, the kind that makes you just stare into space wondering about the meaning of life, or at least the meaning of your life, and when I went to bed I turned on the TV. It was on the Independent Film Channel and I landed in the middle of a short film that was so beautiful it made me cry and I thought "Yes, that's why we create, and that's what is important (at least to me)" -- to make something that's beautiful or memorable, a piece of writing, a painting, a movie, whatever, that might touch someone, move them, contribute to their inner life, enrich them in some way.

There is so much negativity out there, so much snarkiness, not all of it necessarily putting down creativity, but certainly (imo) not contributing anything useful to the human spirit.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Maybe what I've said makes sense to somebody.

Craig Sorensen said...

Excellent post, Kirsten, and I relate to all the comments too.

I'll add that I get up early every day to write.

On very rare occasions when I get into something else and don't do any writing, I feel like I'm missing something, like something is lost.

I can't "not create." Even when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about stories, or maybe I'm doing something in another creative endeavor.

When I'm away from my nine to five job, it's pretty much out of my mind.

My creative self is always "switched on."

Emerald said...

What you said made complete sense to me, EllaRegina.

I felt the delighted, joyous, awe-filled, gratitude-filled energy I have often experienced from you in this post, Kirsten. :) Even though you may have been expressing or describing frustration, I still felt that energy.


Kirsten Monroe said...

Hi All,

Wow -- what a great discussion!!! I was expressing some personal frustration, but also happy about serendipitously coming across that quote. That simple statement seems both liberating and humbling.

Thanks Neve -- people like you feed my soul too.

Hi Robin! Shivers! Cool! Isn't it amazing how we somehow connect that way in this kind of gathering place? I'm curious what your artist friends thought of the quote.

Hi BAK -- breathing, yes! It's like breathing!

Hi Cyn, thanks for commenting. It is like switching on, I agree. Especially since inspiration often just appears out of nowhere!

Donna -- "Gawd, I've struggled with this a lot. Our society's message that anything that involves money, a lot of that is sleazy stuff to be honest, is good. Anything that involves love and joy, and that includes art, is expendable. I think it's all part of a reasonably effective system of control to keep us scared and silent."

-- gosh, I'm sorry you've struggled with it too, but it's nice to not be alone out there! I'm definitely tired of control, fear and silence!

Hi EllaRegina -- I totally understand what you are saying. These things that turn and turn (simple gifts) during what appears to be idle time can be life-changing, nourishing, inspiring, healing, strengthening.

Craig -- always on! Yes! I notice things with all of my senses all day long that contribute to writing and other creative projects.

Hello rainbow-finned Emerald!
I'm glad you could feel the gratitude and joy, because I was trying to share that as well. As I told a friend, working through these things can only make us stronger. I am in awe of the truly brave -- those who truly take risks like Ghada Amer are true heroes.

You are all amazing! Thank you, thank you!!!

Erobintica said...


One of the things that's always bothered me about my writing (not my writing but it's "worth") is that for some people (including my dear husband, journalist that he is) that if you're not getting paid for something, or only paid a pittance - that for some reason - it's not as ... legit? (and to speak in hubby's favor - he things that's not the way it should be - just the way it is).

I know some amazingly talented people - and unfortunately they also view themselves in this way. Okay, must stop typing - must go to grocery store so my son has something to eat for dinner while dad & I desert him this afternoon/evening.

Thanks so much for this post Kirsten!

Jeremy Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy Edwards said...

I remember being at a party when I was a few years out of college. I had some sort of job that didn't mean much to me beyond being a source of income, but I always had creative stuff going on outside of "workaday" hours—in those days, creative projects that were rarely shared beyond a small circle of friends (though I was always exploring ways to reach a wider audience). Anyway, I really hated the "What do you do?" cocktail-party question, which seemed to define every individual by whatever form of formal employment he or she happened to have, whether or not that was central to the person's identity, interests, priorities, or aspirations. So on this particular occasion, when some poor unsuspecting stranger asked me this dreaded question, I deliberately evaded its intention and said something like, "Well, let's see ... what do I do? I walk around and enjoy the foliage, and I read old literature, and I eat tofu, and ..." The guy was pissed off. I admit I was being a smartass with my polemical obtuseness (and I wouldn't behave quite this way now) ... but I really did—and do—resent society's equating identity with "income-earning activity." If they match up, great—but for so many people (creative people, perhaps, especially), it's not so simple.

Kirsten Monroe said...

Worth! I know! It's ridiculous!!! I have fantasy conversations about telling the frigglesniffers that I just signed a steroids & baseball sized contract for a dirty book so I can jump and dance and shake my ass and say Uh huh, oh yeah. Well hmmm....think I'll just do that anyway and offer up a toast while I'm at it, to all of you fine people. Here's to being horny in love with life, inspired to create and really fun people around the campfire!