I’m a passenger on my creative journey, not the driver. I think I always knew that, but it struck me yesterday as we sped eastward along the 401 after spending a couple of hours at the Aberfoyle Flea Market. With my gaze fixed on the rolling landscape, I thought about where I’ve been, where I am and where I still hope to go. It also had me thinking about how it all began.
My first “contact,” if you will, with the arts came through music. At age six I started piano lessons, and shortly thereafter I was performing in church and in the spotlight from which I tried desperately to escape. In my early twenties, I turned away from music. Perhaps it was a way for me to affirm who I was. My parents saw it as an “act of rebellion” but I just had other ideas about my life. I didn’t see myself as a church organist, nor did I have any desire for a professional music career. Perhaps, too, I was just scared and that I had bought into the belief — preached at me by my family — that a life in music, and the arts in general, was a dead end that would only lead to a life of alcoholism and drug addictions. Did I really want to end up like that? My mother prayed that I wouldn’t!
But by the time I finished my undergraduate degree in French literature, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I poured my heart and soul into writing, and good things finally happened. My short stories, poems and essays were published. And then, after a lot of hard work and weathering the flood of rejection letters, my first novel was published. Writing began to bear fruit.
When I moved to Ottawa in 1999, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have regular access to a piano. The only times I played were when I returned to Halifax to visit family. As I pursued my writing, I felt that something was still missing. I wasn’t sure at the time what that something missing was. After a long absence, I had returned to painting yet, still, I couldn’t shake that feeling of something missing.
A week after I’d started a new job in 2004, providence moved. One of my colleagues mentioned that the person whose position I had taken was looking to sell her baby grand piano to make room for the incoming grand. Without batting an eyelash, I swooped in and bought the piano. That feeling of something missing had ebbed. I was making music again.
From 2005 to 2013, I bounced creatively between music, painting and writing. Some days I ended up completely lost in my writing, and that was all that I can do. Any other creative projects ground to a halt. Other days, I scrambled between my office and my painting studio to work on a new series. Then I found myself showing up at the piano not just to practice but to compose. And the music rained down on me in hard pounding sheets, and I struggled to take it all down, to let “God” or the “Universe” work through me in a new way.
I’ve faced many turns on my creative path, and as a passenger, I wasn’t always certain where I’d end up. When I took a new job in early 2013, I didn’t foresee how things would change. I’ve been focused singly on my writing (my piano and painting supplies remain in storage). But something feels different. I don’t feel like I’m “missing” something. I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’ve been called to do.
I am trying to make the most of this life and to follow my heart’s true desire. As Laura Vanderkam encouraged in her TED Talk, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time: “When we focus on what matters, we build the lives we want, in the time we have.”
I don’t mind being a passenger. The journey is pretty sweet.
Are you on a journey, creative or otherwise? Do you see yourself as a passenger or a driver? Let me know in the comments section below.
Bridgett Kendall says
Like you, Marcus, I learnt the piano, from the age of five. I composed (no encouragement from school music lessons back then!) as well as played, and studied music in London.
During a hectic personal life in my twenties, and raising one son on my own – scandalous in the sixties – I built up a piano teaching practice, but I needed more security, and more money! I started school music teaching and stayed with that, ending my career with pre-university work, a large part of which involved composition teaching.
During all this time I wrote the odd poem, (bad), composed and arranged music for students, did an Open University degree in a cross-section of the arts, and continued playing.
I also got married and raised two more boys. And creative writing was definitely in my schedule – one of these days!
Being rather impulsive by nature, and having married a like-minded person, we retired and moved immediately to Burgundy in France. We run a holiday gîte here and tend a large garden.
At last I stopped procrastinating and began to write, poetry at first, and then I delved into short stories. I understood the need for compression, and devoloping themes and ideas, from having taught composing.
The internet has also been a treasure trove of information. Entering competitions gives me much-needed deadlines and so far I’ve been short-listed four times and long-listed once. My ambition is to win something before I pop my clogs!
As you must have understood, my creative journey has been lifelong, with many twists and turns affecting its progress, most of which have been unplanned!
I play the piano very little now, as my spine is arthritic, a condition not conducive to sitting comfortably for long periods on a pian stool. Music still plays a large chunk of life, mostly listening and still discovering gems. I suppose the one consistent thing has been reading, since I was pre-school, fiction and non-fiction.
There’s still not enough time to do it all, though I feel much more in the driving seat now.
Sorry for the ramble!
Marcus, I wish you many years of literary success.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences. Your creative journey is impressive, and reminds me – reminds us all – that it is, in fact, a lifelong journey. As you continue to write, keeping your goal to win a competition at the forefront, I’m confident it will happen. When we believe in ourselves and our abilities, and persevere, that’s when providence moves.
You’re right. There’s not enough time to do it all, but we do what matters most to us with the time that we have. For me, that means taking it day by day. While I’m focused on my writing and working to achieve some literary success, I know that one day I’ll also go back to the piano. Being able to just sit down and play, especially when I’ve felt stuck in my writing, has often been a great release. I think that’s what I sometimes miss right now.
I wish you much success as you move forward, and thanks again for sharing. It inspires me to keep on keeping on.
Gregory Josephs says
Ah Marcus, unsurprisingly, I love this! Do you know that I double-majored in music composition and French? Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) some of the real-life events that inspired my novel derailed my studies and I didn’t finish either. I suppose I lean toward fortunately, particularly with the music bit. . .
On my own creative journey I’ve spent most of my life waffling between music and writing. I played flute, piccolo, and oboe, and am clumsily self-taught with the piano. I think I’ll always write music, but I’m glad the written word seems to have won out!
I deeply appreciate your support and the sharing of your experiences. We all write in a vacuum to some extent, and so it’s nice to know even in our solitude there are others out there on similar paths with similar experiences.
I’ll keep on keeping on, and I know you’ll do the same! Be well! I can’t wait to watch where your creative journey leads you next.
I’ve come to realize that artists are usually multi-talented, and you are proof of that. I don’t think that music is something that ever leaves us, that we ever abandon. Like yourself, I’m happy that the written word has won out, but music will always be a part of my life. (And now I’m really intrigued and can’t wait to read your book.) When we leave ourselves open, things move in and through us. As artists, our journeys will never be linear. That’s what I love about the creative journey.
Yes, we’ll both keep on keeping on. And I expect we might surprise each other, and ourselves, as to where our creative journeys lead us next.