Creatively Stifled? Have an Affair
Sometimes reaching for a goal feels like passing through a tunnel that narrows as you near the exit.
I am on a quest to become a writer, and I know there will be duress.
But instead of getting easier as things progress, it’s the opposite. Doubts, distractions, defeats … they leak onto the concrete and snicker at each step I take forward.
The Creative Affair
I wish to build a home with writing. A future place where bills are paid, beds are comfy (and consistent), and we—writing and I—are happy in the life we’ve made.
But for now, my relationship with writing is like an illicit affair. I go home early or don’t leave home at all. I seek out the next rendezvous. I carve out the time when the rest of the world sleeps. I scratch out little napkin love notes while a friend checks email at lunch.
Then, when I’m free, I escape. I’m at writing’s door. I sigh before turning the doorknob. I enter the room, and we lock eyes.
I’m having an affair with my craft. But what’s an affair’s definition, and is this one allowed? Do affairs ever even work?
Ingredients of an Affair:
The idea of an affair strikes most as negative, and with good reason. The usual? A person in a committed relationship meets someone else. A spark. A secret. The affair begins.
Whether you’ve been the cheater or the cheated (or both, you show-off!), you know that what follows makes little sense. Many affairs are better named addictions, for no matter how fulfilling a life already is, affairs affect the body like a drug flooding the system.
In fact, the brain is literally addicted. We’ve all seen the busiest person in the world suddenly carve out space for new love. It may suck, but there it is.
“While love is most often described in magical terms, the emotion of love is created and sustained through biochemical processes in the body – most notably the brain.” –The Anatomy of Love
The Acceptable Affair
Humans are susceptible to addiction, period. Zoom out and you’ll realize affair-addictions aren’t just human-on-human. There are many types of affairs—alcohol, exercise, work, objects, and more.
Yes, addicts can overcome. Drugs can be waylaid. I’m not excusing affairs here—I’m just explaining.
There are also affairs that involve no cheating. Perhaps they’re destructive, perhaps not. They’re called affairs, though, because all the ingredients are there to give an intensity stronger than just a casual relationship.
It is that feeling of need that I call upon when the tunnel of life constricts and I feel hopeless about writing. I say: “WWAHD?”What Would Affair-Haver Do? It lacks a certain ring, but it works.
When your craft is your beloved, you’re unstoppable. Treating your relationship with creativity as an affair alters your perspective, causing you to behave in accordance with your goals.
A relationship with creativity is not tangibly reciprocal, but its fruits manifest in other ways: fulfillment, income that feels right, hours that don’t feel wasted …
Desire, Passion, and Chemicals
When it comes to creative affairs, the (1) Desire/Lust and (2) Escapism ingredients come more naturally than feeling like you’re (3) Under the influence of an addiction.
In real-life affairs, the addiction is no front—there are real-life chemical reactions causing addictive behavior. Adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, etc. having a field day all up in your body.
“The reward system deep in our brains neither processes nor analyzes rational decisions and does not think in logical ways. It simply reacts to various kinds of stimulus. … During the infatuation of an affair, higher than typical levels of dopamine cause addictive reactions similar to those of a crack addict getting high.” –The Anatomy of Love
Healthy things don’t often make us act like addicts. That’s why they’re healthy. But let’s face it: sometimes you need a hit to get moving.
So the question is, how do you trigger addictive behavior in healthy pursuits?
Here’s the secret:
You can train your brain to behave as though it’s on drugs.
How? Well, there’s this other thing about being human: We’re creatures of pattern.
Creative Affairs? Easy as Riding a Bike.
You know how to ride a bike. I bet you could describe the process to just about anybody, and you wouldn’t need the bike to be there. You could explain it, imagine yourself on it, and you’d even start to get those feelings of, well, however you feel when you’re on a bike.
Humans remember patterns. Not just in our minds, but in our bodies. You don’t need macaroni and cheese in your mouth or even on the table to start salivating.
I don’t know if this makes us smart, but it definitely makes me eat a lot of macaroni and cheese.
Here’s where I’m going with this: you don’t actually need the chemicals of a love affair coursing through your veins to recall and implement its associated behaviors.
I know what I’d do if you put me on a bike, and I have a pretty darn good idea what I’d do if I fell for a guy (I wish I didn’t have such a good idea).
My mind would go something like this:
“Who cares if I need sleep, if I’m supposed to meet so-and-so for coffee, if the pile of clothes on my floor is beginning to become sentient. Right now, I will see that man.”
When I’m in love (or lust), I can make the time. It’s like the worst kind of magic.
Clearly, I can create extra time out of thin air (Facebook? Organizing the pantry? Jeff? The bar?). If I can do this for things much less important than creative pursuits, it follows that I should be able to do this for more important things.
I just have to act like I do when I’m addicted to something—follow a behavior pattern. It’s just playing pretend!
Act As If
Acting as if writing (or any creative pursuit) is a love affair enables you to to follow principles based on the hard evidence of your life: if you want to do something, you can make the time.
When you act as if you’re having an affair with your creativity, you train your brain to create a new pattern using patterns you’ve followed before.
Transfer the pattern, use the pattern, create.
Writing isn’t human. It won’t touch, kiss, or text throughout the day. It is a rather selfish lover, if looking in only from the outside.
And yet writing is the most committed one in the relationship. No false promises. If I show up, writing will be there. I can trust this relationship, and trust is priceless.
When I wake up in the morning and want to reach for my phone—no way. My lover awaits.
I reach for my journal instead.
So too for my affair I meditate and stretch. I want to be focused and fit, as dynamite as possible for our love.
After I make my coffee and sit down at the desk, I know that these are the hours I’m working to keep a love alive.
What do you do to stay motivated and persevere when life gets in the way your creative pursuits? Affairs? Oooh, buddy. Let me know what you think below …
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