{ On Creative Courage }

October 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

How do you balance bravery with practicality? When is the right time to lean toward the first? This is something I’ve been seriously processing lately.

On the bravery side, I’ve been absorbing Fast Company (this month’s issue: “Find Your Mission”) and The Intentional, and looking at art from Hi-Fructose, and all of it makes me crazy with ambition. I want to tell beautiful stories. I want to support all my closest friends’ creative and heartfelt endeavors. Someday, I want to put everything I’ve learned and everything I’m passionate about together in a super cool magazine that everyone in the country will read. I want all my friends who want in on it to help breed compassionate culture, investigate ways people interact with the environment and each other, make readers more proud of where they’re from, and give Midwest thinkers a platform to publish their writing and art and stories.

On the practical side, I currently hold a non-related halftime job. Doing data entry. At a state agency. It’s really pretty prime. It pays better than any journalism position I’ve been offered, it’s related to the river work I do, it includes a view of bridge over the Missouri River, and I’m among good people who care about the environment (“my people” and sometimes, “future sources”). I like to say it’s a “great gig” because I can listen to podcasts, the schedule is flexible, and it’s a five-minute bike ride from my home.

So. Getting a predictable paycheck keeps me from feeling desperate. But you know what? I’m actually totally okay. I don’t live a super luxe life. My frivolous spending goes toward new music, $9 wine, Kickstarter campaigns and magazine subscriptions. My rent is ridiculously cheap, my bills aren’t unreasonable, my car is paid off (currently crumpled, but paid off) and I am one of the tiny percentage of Americans who graduated college without debt.

So if anyone’s going to take this advice on creative courage, it should be me, right? Because even though my job has a lot of perks, I find myself hope-joking that I’ll leave it soon. Recounting my frustrations would be totes unprofesh, so suffice to say that 20 hours a week is a lot to give up. That’s 20 more hours every week where I could be my own boss and therefore act as supportive and positive and enthusiastic toward myself as I can handle. I could be starting a magazine, helping run a nonprofit, or writing more stories. Longer stories! Better stories!

Taking a creative risk … requires bravery. It demands embracing risk, and fighting the good fight to face your fears of financial doom without bailing at the first sign of discomfort. The discomfort is just a test. It’s a test of your commitment and enthusiasm—a test of your endurance and how much you want it. – “You Can Have An Easy Life or An Awesome One. Choose Wisely.” by James Victore

But I’m a textbook Capricorn. We scale our mountains carefully with the intention of actually reaching the peak. So I’m spending a tremendous amount of time building foundational social networks, building knowledge, observing others, and keeping a watchful eye on funding trends and possibilities. I want to be creative, but I also want to run a good business. I want my Big Picture plans to last. I want to sustain myself in the short term so big changes can come sooner. But I also know myself, and trust myself, and trust in the universe to take care of me when I feel like it’s telling me to leap.

One thing’s for sure: reading others’ stories and words of encouragement make me feel braver. I started this blog when The Great Discontent opened its Kickstarter, and just last week I finally got around to opening the digital book they produced (thanks, iPad). For those unfamiliar with TGD, it’s a magazine of interviews on beginnings, creativity, and risk. Dangerous stuff, that TGD.

Words are powerful, and I am generously susceptible to their charm. But the people in my personal life are even more powerful. They live out creative courage every day. They’re real to me. I witness their their joys as well as their struggles. Here are a few of them:

  • Madeline, one of my very best friends, keeps a full time job and still shoots beautiful weddings and engagements, schedules models just to practice her art, and photographs her fiancee’s bands like she works for Rolling Stone or something. I’m so glad we talk almost every day, celebrating each others’ accomplishments, talking through new opportunities, keeping each other accountable to our freelance projects, and just simply getting each other. I am so glad the narrow halls of Mark Twain pushed us together six years ago and that the bond of our spirits has kept us close.
  • Madeline’s fiancee, Alec, is more than a tremendous bonus friend. He’s an inspiration in his own right. On his best days, he fronts the metal band Creaturezoid and a new, visionary project called Old Scratch. He, too, is cobbling cash together to feed his artistic desires and is doing awesome at it. I am incredibly, indescribably thrilled that he’s marrying Madeline. They’re already such a powerful couple, the fact they’re committing to making each other better every day forever is extra exciting.
  • Duncan, my romantic partner and closest confidante, masters everything he tries, and then tries something new: forestry, carpentry, running a restaurant, hanging drywall, making potatoes taste like chorizo, welding, repairing vintage motorcycles, teaching yoga, oh my gosh, so many things. Never one to criticize and always encouraging, he knows that I’m secretly plotting to take over the world and lets me do it in my own necessary isolation sometimes. Other times he speaks directly to my soul with just the dose of bravery I need to recharge.
  • Becky, who follows her spirit wherever it leads her, including researching sea turtles, working at an orphanage in Lesotho, and now studying in London. The woman works tirelessly. While she performs best in a routine, she stays open to what life presents and always makes time for her friends while she’s at it. Nothing but the highest for this lady.
  • Kelsey, my friend who left a great job at Martha Stewart to start a company supporting the Maker Movement. I don’t get to talk to Kelsey nearly as much as I used to, but I definitely admire her from afar.
  • Mallory. I remember sitting in Mallory’s tiny apartment in Columbia plotting how to inject our society with more justice and positivity. Those discussions maybe didn’t manifest in tangible action at the time, but they certainly filled my soul with courage. After working for NPR, she’s now on the clock for National Geographic and does lots of photography on the side. We recently started emailing again, and it’s so nice to think back on our revolutionary days and know that we’re both pursuing those visions in our own ways.
  • Jeanie and Bob, who have been like parents to me for almost half my life, both held pretty traditional positions in teaching and school administration, but that was never enough for them. Jeanie was one of the most creative teachers I ever had and always gave her students both practical experience and plenty of room to expand their minds. She poured countless hours into running a robotics team, doing chess club, and making sure weird kids like me had some grounding in reality while supporting our fantasies. She did this for decades, and rarely without a smile on her face. Bob started soccer programs, alternative schools, and is the biggest sweetheart I know even though he carries himself like a bulldog. Together, they’re my definition of a perfect couple that loves and supports each other every second of every day.
  • Chris, Missouri’s Teacher of the Year, who I met at the Missouri Scholars Academy this year. It was the last day of MSA, in fact, when we had our first real conversation and I realized I’d met someone very special. Later in the summer he came to visit in Jefferson City and poured out his plans for a super cool journalism program for teens, kind of like the super cool spring break program he did on the Mexico border this year, but bigger. Everything he’s done and everything he wants to do is firmly grounded in a pure teaching vision, yet it’s just crazy enough to make risks worth it. Chris, whenever you need a bus driver, I’m there.

I could go on, and probably will another time. For now, I simply want to express gratitude to everyone who lives with courage, from my closest friends to the people I only know through writing. I’m so grateful for every interaction I have that shows me there’s a better way to live. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You give me so much joy.

"Perched Precariously" by flickr user Serena Epstein

“Perched Precariously” by flickr user Serena Epstein

{ Also }

Lincoln Steffens: a biography by Justin Kaplan

Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues by Bonnie Prince Billy (one of his best yet)
All the cool-weather playlists I can play on Songza before my phone battery dies

Acorns and Osage oranges


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