This morning I ran a 14-mile trail race at Little River Regional Park in Durham. Running is one of the primary ways I connect with my body and is a huge resource for me. Trail running, though, requires an entirely different set of tactics. Sure, running is the common denominator, but you use different shoes, different muscles, a different gait, and a different mindset as you’re constantly negotiating rocks and tree roots and mud. These obstacles are often cleverly hidden under a carpet of leaves and pine needles. There are switchbacks and river crossings. You might fall. You probably will fall. You will most certainly get dirty.
Which brings me here. To how I’m feeling about creativity at this point in 2019. I’m on the trail. And I’m loving it.
When I’m running I don’t compare. I run my own race. Simply showing up and finishing is a victory. If other people ran faster or slower, that’s irrelevant to me. I’m also not comparing present-moment me with any other version of me. Am I in better or worse shape than I was last year? Irrelevant. I’m here today and I’m doing this thing. This serves as a good reminder for my creativity when I notice other people putting their work out into the world. Art is not a competition. Other people’s success is not my failure. I can cheer them on — and I can cheer myself on — without comparison.
About halfway through today’s race, the crowd had thinned so much that I couldn’t see any runners in front of me or behind me. I’m not a seasoned trail runner, and at times the path was very difficult to discern. In those moments, a voice came into my head. It said, “Slow down. Take the next obvious step.” In my creative pursuits, I often feel out of my depth with no clear path forward. Then Anxious Brain shows up and wants to skip to the inevitable embarrassing disaster at the end (not inevitable, but Anxious Brain hasn’t learned that). Today though, I was in the middle of the literal woods with absolutely no idea where I was. But I didn’t panic. I wasn’t lost. There was a path. Faint as it may have been. All it took was a moment of shifting my awareness… and I was back at it. Taking the next obvious step and the step after that and on and on until the finish line. I’ll remember that when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the task in front of me. Break it down and just focus on the next step.
Those miles spent running by myself also made me think of the solitary nature of creativity. Whether it’s writing, doing research, practicing music, or learning lines, much of my creative work is done in solitude. Even though I am often by myself, I know I’m never alone. We’re fortunate to have such a supportive creative community here in the Triangle. If I need some encouragement, it’s always close at hand. Just like the person on the trail today who emanated seemingly from nowhere to play music on a plastic recorder as a way of supporting the runners. He gave me a boost when I needed one. Bonus points for being random and delightfully weird.
A few months ago, I shared my latest battle with my creative frenemy, perfectionism. At that time, my approach to writing felt like using tweezers to build a sandcastle when I thought I should be slopping around buckets of sand. At that time, that’s what I was working with and my only way forward was to accept it and keep showing up anyway.
Today, I drove home covered in actual mud with a smile on my face. This is the energy I want to carry into my creative pursuits this year. So many things are coming up that I look forward to sharing with you over the next few months. I can honestly say I have no idea how any of it will go, but I’m embracing that. I’m on the trail.
‘Til next time!
*Mara has a website! marathomas.com
Hear Mara on Bonus Episode 002, Episode 017 and Episode 001 of the Artist Soapbox podcast.
Mara Thomas is a Durham-based playwright, actor, musician and teaching artist. Her original theatre piece, YES TO NOTHING, was commissioned by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and played to raving crowds at music venues in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham in fall 2017. Mara is working on YEAR OF THE MONKEY, a new play.
Blog posts and podcast episode about the Creative Accountability Group:
- Take your work seriously: put Creative Resistance on notice!
- Better together. A Creative Accountability Group debrief with Mara and Tamara
- Ask WHY to create opportunities for compassion
- Map your dreams
Blog posts about creativity resources:
- Cleaning house: Making space for creativity
- Nourish your creative self: Give your creative self a lift with something beautiful
- The importance of physical practice: Get out of your head and into your body
Blog posts about creative obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.
- Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
- Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it. And another one about perfectionism!
- Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
- Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.