A beautiful, complex fabric is woven through our creative, spiritual, occupational and everyday lives.
We are born with certain personality traits, talents, interests and abilities. It makes us who we naturally are. And who we are certainly influences what we choose to do.
But, as life happens, we take on responsibilities, obligations and circumstances that aren’t necessarily aligned with who we naturally are and what we’re interested in. Yet, for a complex set of reasons, we do certain things. And these choices and behaviors shape who we are.
And this leads to an identity crisis of sorts.
Are the things we do a spillover from who we are? Or do the things we do mold us into who we are?
Take me. I am a creative writer. I primarily write poetry and narrative nonfiction. Plus, I write a few other pieces (like this newsletter). But I’m also a marketing professional in the healthcare industry, where I write thought leadership articles, book chapters, eBooks, etc. I’ve even served as editor of two industry publications “on the side,” in recent years.
Am I a healthcare professional or a creative writer? For years, I felt like I was supposed choose one—the role that best defines me. And put all my energy into that.
But narrowing myself to one focus felt limiting. Not to mention, it neutered my creativity. And choosing both felt like copping out. Was I being indecisive, I wondered?
Thank God for William Carlos Williams, who remains one of my favorite poets.
William Carlos Williams is considered one of the “fathers” of modern American poetry. He was also a practicing family physician for 40 years.
How do you do it? How can you carry on an active business … and at the same time find time to write? … But they do not grasp that one occupation complements the other, that they are two parts of a whole, that it is not two jobs at all, that one rests the man when the other fatigues him.
—Autobiography of William Carlos Williams
Williams is not describing what we refer to these days as “balance”—tending equally to separate pieces. He is referring to harmony.
From a musical perspective, harmony is the co-existence of two or more notes held together by a root note. It is beauty in tension. But it applies to the co-existence of people, projects, places and all the other pieces that make up our everyday lives.
We think of tension as a bad thing—a thing to eliminate. But isn’t it just a natural ingredient in life, like a note? A note isn’t right or wrong, good or bad without the context of a song, right?
I believe we have a core thread running through our body of creative work. And, at the same time, we have threads running through other aspects of our lives too. All these threads co-exist. They create a texture (and tension) unique to us.
As for me, creative writing is my root note. It is the connective core for the other things in my life. And my work in healthcare feeds my creative work. It places me around the kinds of people, situations and stories I seek to collect and connect.
Like William Carlos Williams, if I didn’t do what I do in healthcare, my creative work would suffer. Because a key ingredient would be missing from the recipe. A note would be missing from the chord.
How can you take all the threads in your life and weave them into a unique and interesting whole?
How can you create beauty in tension?
It starts with choosing your root note.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on January 20, 2013.