The Blessed Unrest


There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

– Martha Graham

If you didn’t feel the power, the sheer intensity, of those words, read them again. Read them until you feel it in your skin, hear it ringing through your bones, and when that thrilling surge of hope and motivation rises in you, don’t you dare listen to the little gremlin whispering in your ear, telling you doubt it all. It’s the curse of the artist, I think, to always have the questions: am I good enough? is this good enough? can I even decide that?

That’s where Martha Graham comes in.

No you can’t decide that. Don’t decide that. Take away the measuring stick, erase the line, drop the harness, run away from the world that you know, because the one in which you must write is boundless, incomprehensible, and free. This path you’re attempting to tread is not burdened with any measuring tools, any demarcation of “good” and “bad”.

Does it scare you, this world without rules? I understand: we grew up in systems of learning in which the sole measure of progress was a grade scale. How can I know whether I’m doing better than I did before without a gold star, an A on that paper, a smile of approval? How do I know that the way this sentence has fallen onto paper is right? It must feel like the ground has shifted, like you’re floating in some expanse of space where even the strictest rules of grammar are allowed to collapse in order to shape your expression, to fuel your creation. It’s like living on Earth without gravity: our most fundamental understanding of how the world works simply don’t exist.

So, what the hell do you do?

When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. THIS IS GREAT. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible.You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.

– Neil Gaiman

Just write. Embrace all that you cannot know, and understand that you do not need to know it. There will always be that little gremlin. At the very least, it will keep us humble; if we’re not careful, yes, those questions will consume and debilitate us. I doubt that we can ever overcome it, but I also don’t think we ever should. Where would we be without it? The minute we think we have achieved, the minute that we are no longer pushed or pulled to keep writing, the minute our insides do not burn to put those words on paper, is the minute we can no longer write. What keeps you going, if not the fact that there is a story inside you that must be told?

We can never be good enough, not in our own eyes. But being perfect in our eyes isn’t the point. Don’t forget: “There is only one of you in all of time, [and your] expression is unique…if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.’

In dimming your own light, you are being selfish. You are withholding vitality. Instead, embrace that unsettling sublimity, the blessed unrest that drives us. Don’t push away the pen, crumple the paper, slam the keyboard.

Keep the channel open.


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