Style Logs: Reflections on Fear and Creativity
Creativity is a complex blessing—it has a dark side, and it can be lonely.
My New Year’s Eve kind of went down like this: I sipped a beer, played some tunes at a bar, and people danced. Then l looked up and 2016 had arrived. Christmas was a solo day of whiskey and beat-making. I truly felt alone during this time, but it was my choice. Why? I knew that if I went to be with family or friends, my choice would be driven by the fear of being alone.
So about a year ago, on the brink of 2015, I made a resolution to live without fear. I’d reached a painful awareness that so many of my life choices (my job, degree, etc.) had been shaped by a fear of the unknown, and a quest for certainty. I hardly knew myself because fear had formed a comfy haze around my decision-making, letting me hide from myself.
This all changed when DJing opened my eyes to a lifestyle that embraced the uncertain, by acknowledging its freedom. It felt deviant at first, then radical, and then I realized I could make it work. Many of the moves I made in 2015 were driven by the motto of ‘no fear.’
On the cusp of 2016, I was still living by this tenet, but all too aware of its alienating social side effects. This leads me to some different reflections on the year ahead.
1. Don’t abandon fear—engage it.
Looking back at 2015, I’m proud of what I did. I made more mixes, I did my first music festival, made connections in New York and Baltimore, produced events, and went on the radio.
Looking back, however, I’m aware I used so much time trying to be fearless that I forgot how to connect with my own vulnerability. Refusing to accept my vulnerability has had some unpleasant social consequences. It’s made it difficult for me to connect with other people, reinforcing a sense of isolation. This holiday season was a case in point. I wonder, how does this affect my creativity?
This year, maybe, it’s better to engage fear, by letting our vulnerability connect us to others—enabling us to learn from them. No great idea is conceived in a vacuum.
2. Focus more on building confidence, less on fear.
So my entire holiday wasn’t a sob story. I performed at two packed shows at U-Street Music Hall with some other DJs and friends, after Christmas and on New Years Day. On New Years Day, I came home after a set around 2am, feeling so inspired that I started practicing on my turntables. Something struck me 10 minutes into that practice session. It was the realization that I’d forgotten my weeks of holiday-induced loneliness, and I felt higher than ever. At that moment, I wanted to better understand that feeling. After a few more moments, I realized that the central emotion in this moment of bliss was confidence. It was so amazingly clear, I had to write it down.
The incredible writer Julia Cameron has mentioned that creative work often takes the wind out of us. We give a lot of ourselves to the creative process, and there comes a point where we feel depleted if we don’t “fill the well,”—i.e. take time to re-energize ourselves.
Last year was a trying time for my well. When my well goes dry, so does my confidence. I give so much to my work, that I forget to love myself. Personally, fixing this problem means making time every day for activities that build my confidence—not only the things that enrich me (like practicing), but also the things that remind me I’m part of something bigger, and that other people have vulnerability too. This means taking more runs in Rock Creek Park and practicing, but also listening to other artists’ music, actually going to the shows of other DJs and bands, and traveling.
3. Don’t fear loving the little things
‘Filling the well’ also involves the little things. There are so many of them that they warrant their own space. These are the things that I write off, but are critical to my confidence. In 2015, I spent so much time focusing on the big decisions and bold fearless moves that I deprived myself of the little pleasures that feel good. Here’s another story:
Christmas Eve in DC was 70 degrees. At 2pm, the sun was out and it felt like spring again. So I decided to step out of my funk—and naturally, shave my legs. That led me to wear purple lipstick and a polka-dot sundress—something I rarely do in winter. I then decided to take the outfit for a walk. It was the best decision I’d made in a while. As I walked around town, I felt radiant and carefree even though I’d spent the past few days in the same frumpy house clothes, a zombie at my computer. As I browsed the eggnog at Safeway, somebody even asked me out. Amusing, considering this was kind of an experiment…
Now I’m not saying that if you wear a new outfit you’ll be happy, but this walk made me want to switch up my routine more this year (even when it comes to clothing). I also became aware how moody I am—it just takes a slight course correction to snap me out of a funk. Creatively, I realize I’m the same. It just takes a single moment, something random, to give me a new idea or direction for a project.
I hope to incorporate more spontaneous moves like this into my daily routine. I definitely plan to keep switching up my lipstick shades.
The Year Ahead
2015 was a year of many firsts for me. I know I should feel confident, knowing all that I have accomplished. Yet I also accept that in many ways it was an isolating and self-negating year… It took some dark moments to realize the impact of these choices on my self-esteem. As women we’re constantly told we can’t have it all. In my life this has has translated into a painful trade-off: being fearless and in touch with myself, versus, being in touch with others.
I never thought both were possible, till now… 2016 will be a quest for balance.