With Your Feet on the Air and Your Head on the Ground  – Living a sustainable creative life

With Your Feet on the Air and Your Head on the Ground – Living a sustainable creative life

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

“With your feet on the air and your head on the ground,” is the opening line to Where Is My Mind by The Pixies; seminal alt-rock band from the late 80s early 90s.

To me it’s the creative’s version of the saying: Head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

 And this is the ultimate in living a creative life.

Your head full of ideas and inspiration, while your feet are firmly planted on the ground, bringing those ideas to fruition and keeping the practicalities of life ticking.

…And then you turn that upside down and find that place you have to swim upstream and out of the box to get to.

There are countless gifted artists in the world, but the true greats are not only brilliant, they’re also grounded. Their creativity is sustainable.

Poet and rocker – Patti Smith, is a great example of this.

In her absorbing memoir, Just Kids she tells the story of her early life and first love.

It’s a compelling tale of an artist’s beginnings, a glimpse inside an unusual romance and a snapshot of New York and the 70s punk rock scene.

But what struck me most about the book was Patti herself. Specifically her ability to create and bloom as an artist, whilst sustaining not only herself, but also her eccentric lover – photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

She accomplished a head in the clouds and feet on the ground.

“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.” - Patti Smith


Living a Creative Life

The noun ‘creative’ refers not only to artists in the conventional sense of the word. A creative is anyone who uses original ideas and imagination to create something.

Living a creative life isn’t just for the painters, writers and musicians of the world. It’s for anyone who has a desire to act upon their ideas, on their own terms.

I was told growing up to get a practical, well-paying job and enjoy hobbies on weekends. I always thought there had to be more to life than that.

And as a result having my cake and eating it too has become a lifelong quest… Which makes achieving the balance of a creatively sustainable lifestyle the Holy Grail.

My quest is far from complete, but here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

1. Creativity comes first, or last.

Forever I said I wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t make it important. Instead other things, easier paths, distracted me. I made excuses, delayed, procrastinated… And got swept along by the tide of get a career and build a resume

Until eventually I raised my head and thought, Hang on, I’m going the wrong way. I quit my job and set up my own business, but even then I’d put client work first with the intention of writing in the afternoon, which rarely happened.

When I started prioritising writing: Getting up earlier so I could write before the kids woke up, saying no to morning coffee invitations and resisting the call of all the little countless other things that begged for my attention, I finally found the space and commitment to write regularly. 

2. Get busy baby.

“Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Anais Nin

Hustle is the sister of prioritisation. If you have a goal, dream or aspiration, you’ve got to hustle baby. It's comforting to believe you can paste some pretty pictures on a poster and bring it into being Law of Attraction style, but visualising is only a small part of the process. Action is essential. 

Original ideas are one thing. But ideas without action are nothing more than puffs of white cloud that get blown away by the slightest hint of breeze.

3. There is no there there.

This is a quote by writer, Gertrude Stein. I used to have a sense that life was something that would happen in the future. All the grand creative dreams I had for myself would occur by magic at some point down the road.

But then I clocked up birthday after birthday and finally figured out that actually, there is no there there, only a here and now.

4. Know yourself.

When it comes to finding the balance point between creating and sustaining, everyone has a unique set of coordinates. One of which is needs. What do you need to feel happy, fulfilled and worthy in life? I for example need freedom more than I need security. Therefore I am self-employed. But I know for others the security of a guaranteed wage is more appealing than the freedom of running your own business.

It’s important to get clear on this. It’s where the grounding comes in to achieving the balance of living a creative life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a helpful prompt for beginning to figure this out… But equally useful is simply finding a few quiet solo moments and checking in with yourself.   

5. Ask Why... A lot.

I sometimes wonder if life is a purpose built obstacle course. You want to go here, do that, then end up going somewhere else, doing something else. Navigating a creative life is a moment to moment course correction requiring constant internal enquiry and honesty.

I find it helpful to ask, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes my answer will be along the lines of, “Because I need to pay school fees.” And that’s okay. And of course other times it’ll be more like, “Because this is what I truly want to be doing with my life.” But often the answer will be, “Hrm, no f*cking clue. Oops, better reset coordinates.”

Insanity is the real sanity...

Where is my mind – the song that inspired this post was also used as the soundtrack to the final plot twist scene in Fightclub. A movie about a nameless guy who is driven insane by the humdrum of a corporate life, devoid of creativity.

Whilst questing after a creatively sustainable life can sometimes feel like madness, not doing so will eventually drive you insane!

This article was also published by Rebelle Society.

Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marcomms consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. When she's not head down with this, she's teaching yoga, creating floral artworks, running a Harvest Swap and adoring two spirited sons... Get in touch by emailfacebook orsubscribe to her weekly blog.

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