The Creative Vacuum (Mara Thomas, ASBX blog post 021)

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Last month’s dispatch had us marking a milestone, celebrating the months of build-up and work that lead to the culmination of big creative and personal endeavors. This month, well… This month I’m coming to you live from The Vacuum.

Who out there is familiar with the creative vacuum?
You’ve been rehearsing for weeks and the show finally opens and then… 

You’ve written and recorded new songs, had the album release and then…

You’ve been working furiously in the studio getting ready for the gallery show and then…

The culminating event has happened, the frenetic pace you’ve been working under no longer needs to be maintained, you suddenly have [gasp!] free time and instead of feeling relaxed and content you feel kind of… flat. Empty. Hungover. 

Welcome to The Vacuum. 

The intensity of the pace, the adrenaline of live performance, the camaraderie of a team working toward a shared goal… all of that is in the past and now you’re in the produce section staring glassy-eyed at the bananas like it never even happened. 

When I’m experiencing these bouts of produce section ennui, it’s helpful to remember that I have just poured an immense amount of my energy — and even my identity — into the project. There will necessarily be a period of time when my creative battery is in low power mode. Rather than berate my battery for its depletion, I can do what I do with my phone: Plug it in and give it some time to recharge (or even time to forget!). 

I also find it helpful to do things that are completely unrelated to the big event that just finished. Rather than dive right into the next writing project, I am taking some time to focus on music. Rather than training for another race, I am enjoying some time at the pool and playing basketball with my friends. In time, I will feel the pull of writing and running again. For now, it’s beneficial to me to shift my focus. Recalling some runner words of wisdom: “Rest is not a break from your training; it is part of your training.” Being in a period of recovery and recalibration is a necessary part of the creative life cycle.

In my experience, the Vacuum shows up whether the event was a success or whether it bombed. After a good show, I wonder if I’ll ever have an experience like that again. After a bad show, I wonder if I’ll ever want to put myself through an experience like that again. Particularly if we feel disappointed by the product — maybe no one came to the play or bought the album — the Vacuum likes to fill our heads with stories about what that means about us and our creative potential. If you find yourself caught in one of these stories, remember that our impact can be incredibly hard to gauge. We could be planting seeds without knowing it. As the Velvet Underground legend goes, not many people bought their album, but everyone who did went on to form a band. Maybe only ten people came to your show, but perhaps those ten had an experience that inspired and encouraged them. Maybe your film didn’t receive a jury prize but you learned so many things that you will apply the next time you get behind the camera. Process, process, process

How are you feeling out there, Soapboxers? Anyone else in the Vacuum? I’d love to hear how you deal with it. Please drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com. Asking for a friend… 

‘Til next time,
MT

*Mara has a website! marathomas.com

Hear Mara on Episode 076Episode 064, Bonus Episode 002Episode 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’s new play, YEAR OF THE MONKEY, recently premiered at The Tank NYC.

Blog posts and podcast episode about the Creative Accountability Group:

  1. Take your work seriously: put Creative Resistance on notice!
  2. Better together. A Creative Accountability Group debrief with Mara and Tamara
  3. Ask WHY to create opportunities for compassion
  4. Map your dreams

Blog posts about creativity resources:

  1. Cleaning house: Making space for creativity
  2. Nourish your creative self: Give your creative self a lift with something beautiful
  3. The importance of physical practice: Get out of your head and into your body (And here’s another)
  4. Community Building
  5. Preparing for a Creative Residency

Blog posts about creative obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
  2. Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it. And another one about perfectionism!
  3. Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
  4. Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.

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