Does Happiness Kill Creativity?

I used to crank out jewelry like a machine. I’d come home from a stressful day at work, and I’d sit down and lose myself in the process of cutting, shaping, hammering, and wrapping wire into pleasing forms. It wasn’t uncommon for me to make a half dozen pairs of earrings in a single sitting, and designs seemed to flow effortlessly from an image in my mind to the wire in my hand. That process seemed so automatic at times that I wouldn’t fully realize all I’d accomplished until I lined everything up on my workbench to determine how many batches I’d need to tumble polish overnight.

And then I got married. My life is so very different now. I no longer have a stressful job. I no longer work in an office full of snarky coworkers continually looking for ways to get under each other’s skin. I’m no longer responsible for keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars steadily flowing into the company’s coffers each month. I’m no longer fighting an up-hill battle against a CEO who can look me in the eye and (with a straight face, mind you) say, “I’m not a manager. I’m a nurse.”

Work was just part of the pre-marriage stress in my life, though. Some of the other stressors I left behind when I got married are my alcoholic father; a small, backwards town that is essentially owned and operated by some of the most corrupt people I’ve ever had the misfortune to know; and struggling to make ends meet on a diminished salary because I was underemployed when my husband and I started dating. Making jewelry back then was a welcome escape from an unpleasant and seemingly hopeless reality.

Today I am living a very different reality—one from which I have neither the need nor the desire to escape. I can’t recall another time in my life when I felt so content and carefree. I have an amazing husband who is my partner in every aspect of the word. I have a bright and beautiful daughter who fills our home with music and laughter. For the first time in my adult life, I have the luxury of not needing to work for a living. That’s big. Prior to marrying my husband in 2013, I’d worked full-time and lived solely on my personal income for nearly twenty-five years.

Sometimes I worry that I’m going to turn into a bored housewife, but I’m never bored. I’m never lacking for something to do, so boredom is perhaps the least of my concerns. What does concern me, though, is that I seem to have lost both my ability and my desire to create jewelry. I still have plenty of ideas in mind, but translating those ideas to wire no longer flows effortlessly. Rather than making finished jewelry ready to be antiqued and polished, I find myself making large piles of scrap wire and walking away feeling annoyed and frustrated. I’ve even tried new media recently with the hope that learning new techniques and working with new materials might reignite my creative spark. It hasn’t worked. Yet.

When I agreed to quit my job and move to Denver so my husband could advance his career, I imagined myself turning my jewelry hobby into a home business. I was excited about the prospect of working from home and finally having the time and energy to focus completely on something I love. And now that I have an abundance of time and energy to focus on making jewelry, I no longer have the urge to create.

There’s a reason the image of the tortured artist is so pervasive. Art, I suspect, is something akin to gemstones in that a certain degree of pressure is necessary for its creation. So I find myself wondering, is it possible to create art without stress?

Does happiness kill creativity?


Whose Reality Is It Anyway?

I had a fascinating and cathartic conversation with an old friend this morning. Joni and I met in Seward, Alaska many years ago. I’d just moved there to be with my (then) fiancé, and she was the first girlfriend I made in Alaska. We formed an instant bond because we’re both Italian girls, we’re both Leos, and (at the time) we both cared deeply for the guy I intended to marry. He and Joni had been friends for years, and I believed I was in love with him.

As it turned out, it wasn’t love. Karl and I disengaged about three months after I moved to Alaska, and my life spun off on a strange and wondrous Alaskan adventure that lasted eleven years. Joni was along for the scariest and most dangerous part of that ride—the shock of learning that the man I intended to marry was cheating on me with another woman and the immediate aftermath of the explosive breakup that followed. I had a hard time letting go because I was convinced that I loved him. An even bigger delusion, I believed he loved me.

In the years that followed, I gradually realized that I was simply afraid to let go because I didn’t believe I could survive on my own. I never learned his side of the story, and I’ve long since stopped caring to hear it. Now that I’m happily married (but dealing with a dreadful ex-wife), I am just tremendously grateful that we didn’t get married and have children. That relationship would never have worked, so had we gotten that far, my husband and I would likely be dealing with two dreadful exes today rather than one. Or worse, I may never have met my husband at all because I would have been bound to Alaska by children, just as Matt and I are bound to Colorado today. Had that relationship not ended so quickly, I might not have returned to my hometown in Colorado, which is where I met the only man I was ever truly meant to marry.

Life is funny. We make a million choices (most of them seemingly inconsequential), and we often don’t realize until many years later how those choices affected us or our friends and family. Sometimes we never really know the consequences of our choices, but today Joni and I had the opportunity to see the impact we had on one another. She remembered certain events that I’d forgotten, and I had the opportunity to view those tumultuous years from her perspective and see them in an entirely new light. It was at once painful and heartwarming. We both cried. We both shared secrets from our past that shed more light on certain events and our respective reactions to them. Most importantly, we came away from that conversation with a renewed appreciation for one another and a stronger friendship.

We all talk about reality as if it’s a singular thing. As if there’s only one reality that we share collectively. The truth, though, is that no two people can possibly share the same reality because our individual perceptions are shaped by past experiences, our family and cultural backgrounds, and our own unique personalities. No two people share the exact same past or the same upbringing—not even siblings raised in the same household. Although cultural influence and personality types can be categorized to some degree, no two of those are exactly alike either. So, whose reality are we ever really talking about anyway? It’s a wonder we humans manage to communicate at all, given how wide the gulf can be between your reality and mine.

The lesson I came away with today is that sometimes the only way to fully understand our own past is to review it from the unique perspectives of those who were there to witness it.

Thank you, Joni. I’m so glad we had that talk, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your friendship—both then and now.