In the early 1980s when I studied choreography with Dr. Alma Hawkins at Santa Monica Community College, The Courage to Create by Rollo May was on the reading list for the class. You may wonder: Why would there be a reading list for a dance class? Dr. Hawkins was interested in how the creative and imaginative processes work in order to support the choreographic process she had developed. When I read the words The Courage to Create, the title jumped out at me. That day, I found a copy in the library, checked it out, and read the book in a couple of sittings. I felt as if someone finally understood me, or maybe I finally understood myself.
One sentence in the book leaped out and grabbed my psyche and has stayed with me since. The following is my interpretation of what has carried me through the years: Trust that I have within me the ability to create what lives beneath the surface of every day’s reality, and in spite of, and because of the chaos and tension existing in the creative act, as long as I continue moving toward the vision, the image, the concept I am struggling to birth into this reality, I will not get lost in the great unknown, but bring forth what I am creating, and make meaning in the process.
Recently, I was the team leader on a collaborative project. Some of the people criticized my creative process and doubted that my method would produce a worthy and meaningful end result. Doubt is insidious and contagious. Beginning to doubt myself, I felt the need to read the book again. I yearned to reconnect with the solace I experienced when I first encountered May’s understanding of what it means to be an artist. I yearned to understand on an even deeper level my relationship to the imagination and the creative process. I purchased the book; I wanted it to be within easy reach so that I could refer to it during this challenging time. As I read the first chapter, I felt as if May was speaking directly to me—just like I felt when I first read The Courage to Create. But this time his words, his understanding, and his insights of what it means to create—what it means to be one who creates—resonated even more profoundly within me.
I read and I read. I admit I did not understand many passages of the book. May was a brilliant existential psychologist, and sometimes he speaks in a language that is beyond my understanding. I would read those passages two or three times, and then move on. When I arrived at the final pages and ready to abandon all hope that I would find what I was searching for, there it was:
Imagination is casting off mooring ropes, taking one’s chances that there will be new mooring posts in the vastness ahead.
The courage to create, the courage to sustain the work of creating, the courage to make meaning out of chaos and from the unknown is the artist’s journey and for each one of us who lives on this earth. Rollo May has given us a gift in this one-hundred-forty-page book. His wisdom and compassion and knowing shines a light on the path of the imagination and creativity. The Courage to Create is the kind of book we can turn to when we need assurance, or encouragement so we may continue our journey as creative people, as artists. It is the kind of book that soothes the disappointments of rejection by publishers or society. For the artist, The Courage to Create validates our existence and helps us understand who and what we are. I believe it took May courage to write this book. It takes courage to read this book.
Can you define “self-edit”? It’s an interesting phrase and I’d like to know what you mean. And that’s a great quote from Beckett. There is something profoundly meaningful in that we must go on.
We who are artists and authors and poets and love the written and spoken word know what it feels like to have our creative process questioned and your essay gives us the courage to create.
Thank you for you encouraging comment. I admire how you wove the title of the book into the ending. To me this shows that you are a poet.
The courage to self-edit is another step in the creative process. You say Rollo May was an existential psychologist. To me that means we only learn by doing and sometimes failing, but not quitting. If we don’t try, we won’t know. Beckett’s “I can’t go on, I must.”
Thanks for the encouraging words, Ken. You know, I thought of you as I was writing about the courage to create. Not that you are one of the people I mention in the essay, but in how you stepped into the role of writer, even when you questioned whether you could be one or not. I’m so glad that you are going to write Caela and Kendar. I’ve always liked them. I have marveled at the richness of your imagination. Yes, please read the book. I sense it will resonate with you.
Great review, makes me want to get the book. I just got my library card today, so I’ll see if I can look it up but I may well buy it. Sounds like something that would be of benefit to me, as our past collaborations were.
I’m getting to the writing part now of the Caela and Kendar saga. No time limits. I’m just going to see where the writing takes me, and I am very curious not only about their story, but about this book that you have reviewed so well. It will definitely be on my list.