Creativity in Suburbia

Ah, my muse…Crayola.

This month, writing took a backseat to volunteering. Family time took a backseat to exhaustion. Workouts took a backseat to elder care. Introspection took a backseat to distractions and that overused misnomer, multitasking. Depression rolled in, a predictable fog of lethargy and glass half-empty thinking.

We shrug our shoulders with banal bon mots like “Life happens” and “It is what it is” in order to acknowledge that we are giving up control, prostrate in front of the bulldozer of modern living. The minute we complain, someone snipes “first world problems” or “check your privilege”, which is sometimes just a pseudo-intellectual way of telling someone to shut up.

Resistance seems futile. You say “yes” more often than you should. You conform in a million soul-crushing ways. You follow the rules, try to be polite, try to do the right thing. I am a creative person. But after a lifetime of trying to do the right thing and following the rules, I little resemble the person that I’d imagined I’d be – socially unconventional, wildly, artistically prolific.

Choices seem obscured by responsibilities, real or imagined. Arrogance about how one is needed and what one’s value is in the eyes of others, is conflated with a sense of worthiness.

The midlife clock started ticking a couple of years ago. An acute awareness of time, the luck of making it this far, has become excruciating to avoid. I don’t want to be busy – at least not with the sort of shit that eats up our lives. I want to, to quote my favorite movie line, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

My life is not a particularly hard one by anyone’s measure. What is hardest is that I am living in rote mode – this busy, inane rushing about and trying to do a little bit of everything. It dulls the senses, discounts my good fortune and leaves me listless. This is life in suburbia – a life I appreciate intellectually, but creatively, it’s scrabbling at my throat.

I’ve started paying attention to the many, many “rules” I follow throughout the day – all the things that I try to do right. It’s mind-boggling. Bills mailed on time, flag up on the mailbox. Drive all the way up the orange cones before the kid gets out of the car at school. Put away the cart. Sign and date here and here and here. Say thank you and please. Please hold, don’t call before 10am, don’t mow after 9pm and smile, smile, smile.

It’s a snoozer. I’ve never made it past the first couple of chapters.

This is not even touching on the legal rules, like not using one’s car as a battering ram when the person ahead doesn’t use their turn signal (my vehicular fantasy). It’s all necessary, these enforced courtesy and safety rules. It keeps us from clubbing each other (for the most part).

Then there’s the Michelle rules: see the big picture, avoid people when I’m pissy, spend time outside, don’t let things pile up, communicate to the point, don’t waste time, stay active and lastly, always lastly, be creative. How much energy does one need to be creative? Apparently more than I have at the end of a day.

I’ve been trying to give myself a psychological makeover over the last few years, within the parameters of the life I have. It has worked on some levels, but when it comes to writing, I’ve been a dung beetle. Pushing the same old shit around without feeling much progress. When asked about my writing, I rattle off the same answer: working on edits on my novel, blah, blah, blahgging.

It’s just pushing dung. If I applied even half the discipline I use in other areas of my life, I imagine that I’d have a new answer.

I laugh when I think about the stereotype of middle-aged women’s fantasies. Mine are more like 50 Shades of Misanthropy. I would like to be alone writing for days on end or finally give in to violent impulses, like ramming texting drivers with my car or delivering roundhouse kicks to people who are rude to cashiers.

Are we done here? Those dishes aren't going to do themselves.
Are we done here? Those dishes aren’t going to do themselves.

I’m waging a mental battle to make room for a creative life. To always have that hunger, that niggling doubt, that sense that wherever I’m at, it’s not where I supposed to be, well, that’s been my life. I’d be the worst Buddhist ever.

The myth that good artists must suffer or live off the grid or be plagued with personal demons and volatile relationships continues to thrive. I’m an ordinary person living, like most people, an ordinary life. Finding that spark, hearing that beckoning amidst grocery lists, soccer games and laundry loads seems daunting. But it’s there, calling out in those quiet moments between errands and getting louder by the moment.

Some guides for making room for a creative writing life:

One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien

The Resaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life, A Creative and Practical Guide by Margaret Lobenstine

The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes

70 thoughts on “Creativity in Suburbia

  1. You made me think of ‘Towanda!’ ramming the car of the girls who took her parking spot. “Let’s face it girls, I’m older and I have more insurance!” Oh so many times I’ve fantasized that!! And I love the t-shirt that says something like be nice or I’ll put you in my novel and kill you. And now I’m starting to get psyched for NaNoWriMo – thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great scene! And really, Ruth, that’s a t-shirt I’d buy in an instant. The power of the pen, my friend! I’m glad you’re getting psyched for NaNoWriMo. I am excited that my schedule will finally clear up a bit and I can really sink into some writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. And I’m not sure what is so confusing about the order. Signal, then brake…Signal, then brake…
      I’ll be the first to admit I become an awful human behind the wheel, but nothing aggravates me more than the drivers who drive as if they’re the only people on the road or that the rules are just for other people.


  2. Shawshank Redemption is one I never tire of watching. My middle-aged fantasy is a vacation alone — taking as much time as I want to absorb the ambience of a place, take as many photos as I like, savor a glass of wine over a leisurely dinner with book in hand. Have told myself that maybe such a weekend once a year isn’t too selfish?? May have to try it (if I can find the time — hence, the reality of middle-aged life comes crashing through). Your post rings true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think a weekend a year might be coming in on the low side! You are absolutely right about having the time to really sink into a place. I love vacationing with my family, but I also really seek out moments to just “be” and observe on my own. Sometimes it just has to be enough.


  3. I feel your angst, girl, but I’m having a hard time pinpointing the problem. Maybe that’s exactly the point–a vague fugue of dissatisfaction and irritation. And, maybe, real depression. But maybe that’s just my mental health radar on overdrive. At the least, it sounds like “No” might be a new rule for your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote this post thinking about the cognitive dissonance between being a writer or living a creative life amidst the strictures of modern living. Less angst, more curious observer. While I acknowledge that I experience depression, this particular fog is usually a reaction to juggling too much of the mundane without creative relief. I take it as a sign post to redirect myself rather than a problem to solve. And I’m getting better at the “No”, but I’m in a transitional phase of wrapping up some obligations.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Really well done, if I may say so. I hear you through and through. “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Shawshank Redemption. One of my mantras, too. Peace and best, John

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Life IS hard for most of us and why aren’t we allowed to say it is?! Hard doesn’t have to mean “fighting for survival” it can mean barely having time to think or breathe in the struggle of everyday life… Let alone being creative. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us- you’re not alone, in any case:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Maren. It’s hard to have this high level of awareness of the experiences of other people (thank you, internet) and not feel slightly abashed when I complain. But you’re right, there’s nothing wrong with talking about our own experiences, even if they’re not traumatic or edgy. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Michelle,

    I just found your blog through Freshly Pressed — congrats on that! — and loved the post since I am a “stay-at-home poet” deepening my commitment to poetry as not only my creative, but yes, um, spiritual practice. I say the “um” as another ex-SDA planning to stay that way through whatever Time of Trouble may come! [inside joke there, for you non-ex-SDAs].



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Coco – thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. I transitioned from a full time management position to part-time work from home and in the last year, I’ve gone the fully Monty and now am a stay-at-home writer and parent. Or as I like to say it, I’m gainfully unemployed. It’s been a rough adjustment. I’m still not able to relax enough and spend long stretches of time writing. I immediately filled up the space with volunteering and caretaking. Now I’m just trying to unravel a bit and get to the reason why I’ve made so many changes in my life. Writing, writing, writing.

      As for the SDA thing, it’s been many years since I left the church – in fact, all churches. When I look back, I realize what a bizarre existence that was and I still feel echoes of it today. In the 70’s, so much was going on in the church – from their apocalyptic preparations to financial wrongdoing. And I was thoroughly traumatized by being made to watch “A Thief in the Night” at a young age (church film night). I’m grateful for the experience and the rather thorough biblical education – it helps with many literary allusions in reading and writing, but I found it quite unsettling.


  7. Interesting that the Time Management gurus of the day seem intent on allocating enough time for self and creativity, but when they start giving us their Rules for prioritizing, do those ever sit at the top of the list? Nope. Good read, Michelle. As usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I just pictured myself doing the roundhouse kick on some annoying people or smashing my car into some annoying person’s car. And you know what? It brought a smile on my face! Great post! Loved reading it and I can relate to a lot you are saying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While I consider myself a non-aggressive person, I amuse myself thinking of these things. I consider it a de-stressing and survival tool when coming up against the frequent frustrations of urban living. Glad I could put a smile on your face – that’s an even better way to de-stress!


    1. I’d love a cup of coffee and a chat. It seems the height of luxury lately. Every time I think that, I realize how much deprogramming I need to do to slow down, focus on how I’d like to spend my time and cut everything else. It seems like a Herculean task, but oh so necessary at this point!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Your piece struck so many chords having juggled work and life for so many years. I always said that I’d write the book once I could free up some time – finally turn that drawer full of ‘Chapter 1’ into actual novels. So for a year now, I’ve been living the dream: semi-retired, new home on the coast and way less day-to-day stress. Have I written the novel? No and there really aren’t any excuses but I seem to fill my time up nonetheless. I think that it’s because I’m afraid of failing so by talking about it and not writing the book, I can’t fail. But I’ve recently discovered PSTEC (, a free downloadable tapping therapy, which is certainly helping me sort out my stuff and given me the confidence to get on with it!


      1. I think I’m starting to come to terms with some of those same fears you mentioned. I wrote a novel 2 years ago and have used every excuse in the book not to finish editing it, no matter how much time I have. Over the next year, I’m shedding a lot of volunteer work and this means that I’ll really have no good excuses. That seems very scary and I have to resist not filling up the time with other projects. While I’m working up to this change, I’m reading a lot about mini-habits and ways to change how I work. That, too, is my modus operandi – researching instead of writing!


  9. I am more or less living off the grid in an attempt force creativity. And I still find myself staring at a blank screen wondering how to make inspiration happen. But your post was both lovely, inspiring and so very well written. So thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I often fantasize about a cabin in the woods, but I know the reality is that I’d likely spend all my time reading and watching birds, rather than writing. Whatever I’m capable of, I have to teach myself to do it from where I’m at – a heavy challenge with a strong dose of personal responsibility. No wonder doing everything else seems to trump writing!


    1. I see the necessity of some conformity, since it would be a tough planet to live on if there weren’t some rules and guidelines. 7 billion people doing their own thing might be a tad chaotic! I have to believe, though, if we want to create badly enough, there’s still room to breathe and find our muse.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Creativity is not as easy as it is advertised to be. It is exhausting and mind-numbing and it requires lots of emotional ups and downs. I have been both up and down in my creative career and I definitely prefer the ups, but they aren’t necessarily less painful than the valleys…I just have something to show in the end. Something that worked for me was to lower my expectations and put my “creative time” on the calendar…and make it sacrosanct. Even when it was only an hour three times a week, I did not schedule anything else then…now you can take my advice and put it on the back shelf with all the other advice… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is something I do need to do, but protected time rarely stays that way when caregiving is involved. I need to build in some flexibility and backup plans when that blocked off time gets bulldozed by a sick child or elderly relative. But I know it can be done. This next month will be a discovery process as I have to ramp up my writing time to meet the NaNoWriMo goal. It makes me realize that with enough focus and drive, I DO have time and can’t always fall back on that rationalization for not getting more done.
      I find, too, that the quality of time makes a difference in my ability to be creative and productive – between having one hour without distractions versus 3 hours of interrupted time. The advice is appreciated – a definite keeper on the shelf!


    1. I’ve often thought about famous artists, writers and musicians. So many of them lived impoverished, ignominious lives – many without families or a home to call their own. Most of us are trying to find a balance between jobs, families and creative lives. There really isn’t much of a blueprint for that except to squeeze things in when we can.


      1. Perhaps the image of the impoverished artist is true. Maybe the ‘muse’ comes forth under duress, out of the void caused by the absence of material possessions. That is why their works of art too become immortal across centuries.


  11. I feel your pain and I can totally relate to it as a suburban mother. My ability to create has been hampered by all the to do’s in my life and at the end of the day, I really don’t have much to give. However I can feel the urge of creating nagging somewhere in the back of my mind.


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