• Sarah Ratermann Beahan

The Deep Dive Book: A Teaser

Let me tell you about what I don’t know.

I don’t know why we are compelled to make things, nor what happens to stymie that compulsion.

I don’t know why the act of telling our stories in words, music or images heals us.

I don’t know how to make creating happen, how to break through paralysis and blocks or how to coax a trickle into a deluge.

Does that make you want to put down this book?

The truth with a lower-case T is that no one really knows. We can connect some dots, but the human being is still uncharted, mysterious territory. We don’t have the capacity to understand all the systems, processes and magic that happens within us.

For years I listened to people talk about how they couldn’t even consider themselves creative, that creativity belonged to a few for the benefit of the many. I witnessed artists and creatives carefully build walls around their territory (creativity). I was so frustrated I could scream.

I did what a good writer does, I dove into text. The books on creativity tended to be dogmatic: you must do these things, discipline yourself in this particular way, show up at this time, work for this long. They were written with one particular audience in mind, it seems: a person with means, time and privilege to commit to the formula. The books were a start—but it was maddening to watch people struggle to follow through the formula, only to give up. Their inability to adhere meant they were right all along: they weren’t creative, they weren’t built for this gift and their failings illustrated this point.

The conventional way of thinking was as that Creativity was something outside of us to be mastered instead of something within us to be opened up. This particularly patriarchal, colonial way of thinking felt antithetical to what I was sure was true: that creativity was as innate as the ability to breathe or digest, and that rather than master it, we simply needed to build a relationship with it.

I stared leading writing workshops based on my gut instinct that if we embrace writing from our heart and our body, the writing will grow and strengthen. Form follows function—when we write from our hearts instead of our heads, we change. As we commit to this relationship, our writing skills improve. If we start with the story instead of the skill, we become more whole and our writing sings. This is outside the norm—my classes didn’t examine the product, we didn’t critique the form, we talked about process.

I taught these workshops in a variety of settings: arts/writing centers, yoga+ wellness studios and community centers. The writing and arts centers attracted people who identified as writers, who were asked to place themselves in a category: beginner, intermediate, advanced. They came in armed with knowledge and direction, but weren’t as open to questions and wonder. They wanted to discuss word choice, theme and point of view, but were less interested in discussing how a piece made them feel.

As I began offering creativity and writing for reflection workshops at local yoga studios and community centers, I found that attendees tended to tiptoe in as though they weren’t sure if they belonged. They’d tentatively pick up the markers and paper. As I offered my introductory spiel: we are all creative, you are in the right place and you can’t do this wrong, I could see a light in their eyes. Maybe they were in the right place.

Most people were like this second group: they weren’t sure if they were allowed to engage in their creativity publicly, they were a little sheepish, even ashamed of their work. They worried that they were wasting time—mine or theirs or both. Whether they’d been told they had no proficiency at some creative endeavor or they’d simply assumed it was frivolous, most people believe creating is only for some people, not others. They aren’t entitled to it. They don’t belong.

Before I started writing and teaching full time, I spent years working with young people to break down barriers and build accessible spaces for all. I have examined privilege, worked hard to shift the paradigm in education and other spaces to allow room for everyone, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It never occurred to me that the same gatekeeping existed in creative spaces as well.

Suddenly my antennae were attuned to elitism in the arts community. I was horrified at how prevalent it was. Artists who didn’t want to teach classes to “hobbyists.” Creatives who insisted that the only path to success in a creative endeavor was to pursue an expensive MFA. The dearth of interest in evergreening the arts community.

These were the same people with All Are Welcome Here signs in their yards, who railed on about social injustices and rigged systems. I thought maybe I could speak passionately enough, perhaps I could connect the dots in their thinking. Can you apply what you know about equity in education or policing to the arts community? Can you see how part of your responsibility is to walk the walk in your own backyard? Let’s challenge ourselves to hold the door open for those coming up behind us, rather than making it more difficult, shall we?

I often hear people say that change has to start from the top. If you want to change an organization you have to start with the leadership. The politicians are the ones who can affect real systemic change. And I gotta say, more often than not, I have found the opposite to be true.

People in power default to wanting to hold onto power. I don’t mean that as a pejorative, but that it is human nature. If you are sitting at the top it is damn near impossible to look at the system that got you there and think, hmmm, yeah, that seems faulty. Because more than likely if it shifts and changes, you might find yourself back at the starting line with everyone else. Who wants that?

Change most often happens from the ground up.

My modus operandi, both in my personal life and my professional life, is to feel first, think second. Actually, that’s not true. I feel first, act second, think third. I’m not so good at the feeling all the time, I tend to blow past it. I feel deeply and hard, but I am not always able to identify what I’ve felt until later. But I am good at taking action. I write letters, I find ways to engage, I put my foot down, my stake in the ground and stand up for whatever injustice I see occurring.

Then, I start thinking. And the thinking inevitably leads back to the feeling.

In this case, I got angry.

So, I quit the committees I was on. I stopped trying to partner with other artists. It felt like trying to push a boulder uphill with a toothpick. I decided I would try a different approach.

Fuck it, I thought. I’ll double down. I’ll start teaching all those people out there who have been told, implicitly or explicitly, that they don’t belong in these classes, spaces, workshops, projects. I will preach the gospel of Creativity for Everyone: we all belong here, we all have the ability to be creative and frankly, creativity makes us healthier, more empathetic and connected to the world. It is so good for us individually and collectively, we should all have the opportunity to engage in it.

I stopped teaching any remotely traditional writing workshops. I started gently correcting people when they’d say “I’m not a creative person.” Sure you are, I can show you. Or, when they’d say “you know, creative people like us.” You mean people who are in touch with our creativity, right? I don’t mean to be sanctimonious or self-righteous, but words matter. Let’s break the walls down, not build them up.

My indignance and conviction that creative processes are available and accessible to every single person led me here. I couldn’t trumpet my cause to enough people in workshops, there wasn’t enough of me to go around in person, so I began to do the thing I do—I began to write.

Getting comfortable with our inner creative self requires us to go inward and the journey is not linear. It isn’t even a circuitous one like the Hero’s Journey is often depicted. This journey is wilder, craftier and layered with many gears and machinations turning or freezing all at the same time. To truly embrace the wonders within and bring our true creative nature forward, we have to be willing to dive in. This book does not serve as a roadmap, because every individual trek is different. Rather, I think of this as a field guide of sorts. A kit with the tools, the processes and encouragement to take along our own individual path.

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