Creativity is a state of mind no matter where you live

the face off: Katy the dog vs. the pot-bellied pig

I remember clearly the summer day my friend and co-worker Becky came back to the office after vacation and announced that she and her husband had bought a 40-acre property in Missouri and they would be moving. In 30 days. Everyone in our small marketing agency—all 12 of us—were understandably shocked.

Becky and her husband lived in Oak Park, an urban suburb of Chicago. She was hip, cool, a former art director at a big Chicago agency who now did freelance graphic design and made pottery. She and her husband had the “perfect life” right here—a beautiful Victorian home that they had rebuilt themselves, a wonderful marriage, a cool life. Becky explained that she and her husband had been planning this for a long time, and that every time they traveled, they kept their eyes open for their next home, preferably in a rural area.

It made sense. Becky had always loved nature; she found her design inspiration in wide-open spaces. And now she was going to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning a large piece of property, where she would work on pottery, garden, do some freelance graphic design, but mostly enjoy the outdoors and a slower pace of life. It seemed like such a romantic, creative thing to do. She was fulfilling her dream for a creative life. Many people wish they could make a life change like this, but how many actually follow through on it? I both envied and admired her. I dreamed of living a life devoted to creative pursuits, a slower version of my hectic life–which became even more hectic as the years went on, jobs changed and little people showed up.

Flash forward 12 years. My husband and I, the kids and both dogs are on vacation in the Ozarks; on our last night in town, we visit Becky, her husband and their 6-year-old daughter on their 40-acre property. It was just as beautiful and slow-paced and quiet as I envisioned it would be, out in the middle of seemingly nowhere.

When we turned off the gravel road into their gravel driveway, Becky and her husband came out of the house looking much the same, but leaner, tougher—life in rural areas makes you more practical, sensible in a way that I could never grasp because I’m…spoiled? In love with urban life? Their beautiful daughter bounded out of the house, hugged my 7-year-old daughter and presented her with a lovely necklace that she had made for her, although they had never met. My daughter was reserved as she always is around strangers, but soon enough, the girls and my 9-year-old son were running around the yard, conspiring to catch a frog and taking it inside to give it a bath in the doll house upstairs–until it hopped away and disappeared somewhere in the house. Becky laughed it off, thankfully.

When the kids finally settled down, the grown-ups had a chance to sit outside in the back yard drinking ice-cold beers in the heat, watching our dogs roam the property free of leashes and fences, barking at the horses and pot-bellied pigs who looked like stubby black-haired lions despite the fact that they feared my 18-pound cockapoo Katy.

We laughed and talked until late that night. Both Becky and her husband talked about the joys of their life here–the open space, being so immersed in nature–as well as the downsides, including how unprepared they were for some of the harsh realities of living in a rural area. I realized that while I had been romanticizing their life, they had been living it, for better and worse.

We got back to our cabin around midnight and tucked in our tired kids, who smelled like grass and trees and frogs and happiness. Husband and I meandered out to the dock to enjoy our last night on the lake. I had always envied Becky’s brave, bold move; when things got tough, I often thought of moving to a simpler, slower pace of life; I thought that if only we lived in a different place, our lives would be different. I would be different. I would be more creative, more happy, more fulfilled. More something.

But at that moment, I knew Becky’s life wasn’t the life for me. The dogs had fun, but both had ticks, as we discovered the next day. And I liked Starbucks and paved roads and being around people–I would shrivel up and die if I had to go days without seeing or talking to people. Husband had never warmed up to the idea of moving and seemed relieved that I was finally letting go of my fantasy.

Waves lapped against the dock. The sky was bursting with stars. All this time, I thought I envied Becky’s life in Missouri. But what I really envied, admired, desired was her commitment to living a creative life, deeply rooted in nature and everything she believed in. She belonged on that land and she walked, talked and smiled like she felt it deep in her heart. I wanted that, too. But for the first time in a long time, I understood that I didn’t need to move to a new state to achieve it. The change could happen within, but only I had the power to control that.

The next day, as we were packing to leave, I was uncharacteristically excited to getting back on the road, making my way back home, wondering if things would look different when I got there.

Get Creative: What beliefs do you have about what it takes to live a creative life, the life that you want? How long have you had those beliefs? What’s true about your beliefs? What’s false? Lastly, what is one small step you can take today to get closer to the creative life you want?

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