Elizabeth Gilbert asked in one of her recent Big Magic podcasts, for anyone who is interested to write yourself two letters. One letter from Creativity, assigning it an animal embodiment, and telling you what it wants from you. Another letter from Fear, again as an animal, telling you what IT wants from you. Then, you’re supposed to write a letter back to the both of them together with your response. I love assignments, so I did it. Here it is:
My name is Creativity, and I am a monkey living deep in the jungles of Africa. I am curious and playful and inquisitive. I leap and swing and jump my way across the trees, never looking down to see how far I could fall. I am always looking higher and further and forward to the next branch, the next vine, the next anything to grasp to propel me on this exhilarating journey. I can see everything from up here. It is so beautiful. All the muck and mire of day-to-day life is diminished. It’s so much smaller and less significant. And when the vines and branches line up just right, and I get into that rhythm- don’t get me wrong, my muscles burn and my heart feels like it will explode with the effort- I fly. I am so free. I want that for you too. Come join me.
My name is Fear, and I am a sloth in the middle of the Amazon jungle. I move slowly and I stay low to the ground where all the danger lies. Spiders and snakes and traps and poisonous plants. And darkness. I am very careful with each step I take. My heart beats fast too, but in preparation for retreat at the first hint of danger. I am always looking over my shoulder and all around me to see what everyone else is doing. I know I could be gobbled up by a jaguar or a cougar or a mountain lion at any moment. So I make no noise and I try to be inconspicuous. I don’t want to alert anyone to my presence or make anyone else uncomfortable. I am tense all the time. Every little thing makes me jump. I want you down here with me in the muck and the mire, just barely surviving. We will protect each other. Come join me.
Dear Creativity and Fear,
Thank you for taking the time to write to me and to be so clear as to your intentions for my life. My name is Birdie, and my whole life I have been both of you. Back and forth and back and forth. Flying high above the trees and digging in the dirt for nourishment.
Creativity, the way I feel when we work together is incredible. Time stands still, I lose the feeling of my body, and anything seems possible. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The tradeoff for me is guilt- that I’m not being productive, not contributing in a real way to my family, community, or society as a whole. I love you, but I can’t marry you. We have to get shit done. But I like the time we spend together, and I love the end results of our collaborations. They make life worth living and give me the energy and the strength to tackle life’s many challenges.
Fear, when you and I are together, I feel like I’m living in a cave so deep that I can’t see the bright light of the world. I know that sometimes it’s necessary to do the responsible thing- job, laundry, cleaning, paying bills- to help my husband and my family, but it’s not where my joy lies. But you help me make smart, balanced choices. You help me budget my money and not go off the deep end with my creative endeavors. You help my marriage stay strong, because my husband needs me to be that structured, disciplined, dependable other half sometimes as well. You help me to stay practical and in the real world. I will never let you run my life, but you will always help protect me and help me make good decisions. I will listen to your counsel. But you’ve got to let go of me sometimes and let me go fly in the high tree tops with the monkey of Creativity. That’s where my soul lives and where I feel alive.
Thank you both for what you bring to my life. Freedom and caution. Expression and productivity. Balance does not mean an absence of stress. What it actually is is tension between two opposing forces. Balance takes effort and concentration. The tension between the two of you gives my life balance. Thank you.