I recently visited Amsterdam and saw a quote on the wall of the van Gogh museum (from Vincent himself) that stopped me in my tracks. It read,
“More than ever I have a pent-up fury for work, and I think that this will contribute to curing me.”
Before I get into my deep-seated affection for van Gogh (another time), I have to acknowledge how impactful it was to find the word “curing” staring back at me during such a poignant moment in my life. I was celebrating my return to life post-cancer round two, and days away from launching Cured Life. Despite having an unforeseen connection to how I named this space (my sister immediately pointed and declared that I had to write about this), the quote also spoke to the powerful and undeniable feelings of creativity and inspiration that we can all experience. I have not always felt a “pent-up fury for work” (quite the opposite, actually), but soon after my last surgery this past February I was able to unhinge any block that was stifling my creativity.
When there was nothing left to entice me on Netflix or social media, I felt a growing desire to make an impression on something other than my couch. Throughout the past two years I have found myself resigned to the bed or couch quite often during recovery, but I had always resisted transferring the thoughts from my head onto a page or canvas. Despite having an art degree and years of creative expression under my belt, I hadn’t written or picked up a paintbrush or my camera in ages. What a frightening prospect for someone like me who had secrets, felt guilty and lost, had hurt people, and who had been hurt. I was ashamed, unsure, and my reality had been scrambled. For a while the appeal of sinking into hours of television, self-loathing, and depression was more attractive than facing the scary thoughts swimming around in my brain. The urge to get those thoughts and ideas out of my head, however, eventually overshadowed my fears. I don’t remember the exact day I started to create, only that I was unable to stop once I began.
I did not magically conjure up any creative fires, I merely recognized my inspiration and finally stopped ignoring it. Creativity and inspiration is constantly swirling around but we don’t always realize it or feel ready to snatch up the opportunities or relief they can bring. I was an expert at convincing myself that one day I would create again, when the environment was right and I had specific tools and circumstances on hand. But the only guaranteed day is today, so why bottle up my hopes, dreams, and ideas any longer? By embracing the domino effect of creative momentum I was able to begin a healing process I did not know was possible.
As I began to create I had the gift of retrospection on my side. I realized that having some distance from my experiences was imperative for articulating what I had gone through. By having the courage to express myself with integrity I was able to begin developing a voice and aesthetic that was authentically me. Every step in the process contributed to the genesis of this place I call Cured Life. I started by chronicling my cancer stories as a means to create an archive for myself and possibly for others afflicted with my diagnosis. Those stories were naturally interwoven with many different facets of my life so my writing expanded to highlight other experiences, lessons, and memories. Some instances were better suited for a painting, or a poem, or for a private notebook that I could tear the pages from and burn into ash. However I decided to express and document my thoughts didn’t matter – only that I granted each idea the unabashedly honest attention it deserved. In doing so I was able to stop wrestling with the demons in my mind and release them out into the ether. I felt free.
Nowadays when I have an idea, however big or small, I immediately jot it down even if it’s just a few words or a simple sketch. My eye is always searching for glimpses of inspiration no matter where I am. I snap photos constantly and have a folder on my phone labeled “inspiration” for shots that conjure up creative feelings within me. If a memory creeps up from the depths of my mind I do not ignore it, despite how painful or difficult it may be. It’s as if I’m on a mission to constantly plant seeds of creativity and to consume inspiration as fuel for the cultivation of those ideas. Indeed I finally feel a “pent-up fury for work,” and I hope it never stops.
More than ever I believe in the healing powers of creativity as a vehicle for curing what ails us. One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say they’re not creative or artistic, because the truth is that creative expression requires no prerequisite knowledge or talent. We all have stories, experiences, and ideas that knock around inside our heads, sometimes torturing us as we work to exorcise them. I cannot offer any advice on the proper avenue for exploring your own creative pursuits, only to not ignore any thoughts that persist. I believe van Gogh was right in his assumption that creating would contribute to curing. It certainly has proven true for me, and what an empowering pursuit it has become.