The positive power of the creative life

Life with MS is too short to spend it being afraid of trying new things

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by Jamie Hughes |

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I don’t know why I find it so impossible to sit still. I feel like every moment I’m not engaged in some creative pursuit, I’m somehow missing out. Or worse, I’m squandering what poet Mary Oliver calls my “one wild and precious life.” Multiple sclerosis (MS) has done little to alleviate this worry. If anything, it’s made it worse.

So I’ve learned how to make soap (and other things) to support my husband’s business. I’ve tried singing lessons and even performed for an audience. Heck, I’ve written this column years longer than I thought I could manage, and I’m still having a pretty great time doing it.

But here’s the thing: I’m a perfectionist and refuse to phone things in, especially when it comes to music and writing. With them, I know what I’m doing, so my work needs to be as close as possible to perfect. I can’t relax and enjoy the work because I have a standard to live up to.

With a job, a family, and a thousand other things fighting for space in my brain, it’s hard to find time to be creative. So when I do have a few spare minutes (or, gasp, hours), I want to make something lovely. I want to be pleased by my work and share it with others. I want to be surprised by myself.

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Go out there and try

Last weekend, I went to a local glass blowing shop and made a flower. It didn’t come out nearly as beautiful as I’d planned, but it was a fun experience. And next weekend, I’m going to learn how to turn a bowl on a lathe. I’m sure my first bowl won’t turn out any better than my first glass flower, but the time isn’t wasted. I’m on a search for my thing, for the new skill I can learn.

I also started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” It’s not a master’s treatise about creativity by any means, but it has proven to be a welcome distraction during my commute. Her words have helped me realize where I lost some of my fire and why I need to get it back. Life is too short to spend it being afraid of trying (and likely failing) at something. Life with MS is doubly so.

There are quite a few quotable moments in the book, but I’ll just share two that I think are particularly relevant to my life as an MS patient with an urge to create. In a section called “Persistence,” she writes: “Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.”

I don’t know about you, but there are days when living with MS feels like I’m hauling a 100-pound weight behind me. It’s exhausting — physically, mentally, and emotionally — and it takes everything in me to keep going.

But she’s right. There have been moments when I was lost in the creative process and forgot where I was. I’ve even forgotten who I am. I was just a conduit, a channel through which the words or music flowed, and it was truly glorious. I am, for however long the goodness keeps going, freed from “the dreadful burden” of being who I am. That experience, even when MS has ground me down, is well worth that release.

And in the final section, titled “Divinity,” Gilbert writes: “What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”

This is a necessary truth to remember (especially for lil’ old Type A me). If the things I’m trying don’t turn out perfect, that’s just fine. Perfect was never the goal. Doing the work was. Nothing I make is going to reverse climate change, bring peace to the Middle East, or help women smash the glass ceiling. Heck, I can’t even convince the powers that be that a second season of “Firefly” needs to be made.

The fact that I did it, and that I was changed somehow in the doing, that’s what matters. And the same is true for you.

So what, dear one, are you going to do with your “one wild and precious life”? I’m going to make something. And maybe, just maybe, something amazing will happen.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


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