My creativity is magic, not a brand.
Where creativity dances in the unknown, brands are committed towards fixed and concrete existence.
Good morning <3
Please feel free to take a digital snack as we get settled in: 🍇🧃🍓🍪🍎🥞🍒🍡🥭.
All set? Cool, we’re gonna go down *points* this path today.
What colors have been calling to you lately?
For me it’s the gradient of tangerine being gifted by the poppies blooming across Berkeley. I’m tucked away in the Bay Area of California for the next six weeks as I write my next book (more on that later). This area isn’t unfamiliar to me. My family has lived across the Bay Area for generations and I was born in Palo Alto, a city in the southern stretches of the region. But I’ve grown up alongside the area in interludes. I moved to the suburbs of Sacramento when I was seven before eventually settling in Portland, Oregon, and I return to the Bay to visit family a few times a year. This is a home I call by heart but not by time.
When you’re someone that’s moved around a lot, you know the strangeness of perpetual guesthood. It’s a peculiar feeling to grow up alongside a place that you’ve largely only been in relationship with as a visitor. At the same time, that strangeness is held with warmth. To be a guest is another way of inhibiting space, and every time I return to the Bay I feel a familiar summoning of softness. I have so many generational roots in the area that when I walk around I feel my steps being greeted by ancestors welcoming me back home.
As I’ve been held in another homecoming, I’ve been thinking about what it means to come home to myself. In particular, to see my creativity as a home I can return to. And how I can make that home a sanctuary through active care. On my first day of my residency I wrote down the intentions I want to hold while here. At the top of the list was practicing being in loving relationship with my creativity.
Years of navigating cycles of depression and manicness alongside beginning a career where I monetize my creativity has placed me at a point of tension. Y’all, I’m tired of feeling like shit about my creative practice. Wait, let’s pause. Maybe feeling like shit actually isn’t the right phrase. It’s moreso feeling like shit that I can’t get my creativity under control. Under a particular control that’s guided by deadlines and digestibility and fragmentation of self for an outside audience. The home of my creativity is filled with ghosts telling my that my art isn’t important, or that I’m not producing enough, or that what is being produced is not “good”.
Lately I’ve been thinking of creativity as a relationship I’m in because by definition, a relationship acknowledges two separate entities coming together.
I believe that my creativity is both a part of me, and sometimes acts on its own accord. For example: I constantly shift through mediums. One week I’ll be deep into writing poems and the next I’ll be consumed with dreams of video. I consciously can’t tell you where that shift in attention comes from. I believe in those moments my creativity is pulling my consciousness by its own hand, playfully saying: “I want to try this now.” In a capitalism driven society, the shifting nature of my creativity is often seen as a weakness. When job searching years ago recruiters would often say to me, “We just don’t know where to place you. What’s your focus?” The ask of capitalism is to shape ourselves into a story that we can deliver with exactitude and certainty.
Yet one of the most powerful aspects of creativity loves mystery. Creativity finds wonder in ambiguity. In a world bent towards patriarchy and white supremacy, where the most powerful that control the paradigms of how the world run are rich men, specifically white rich men, that insist they know everything, to insist on mystery holds the potential for resistance.
I want to talk with you about how I understand creativity as magic.
I’ve danced around it in the past, but I’ve never really written about it with specificity. To talk about magic, I need to talk about spirit. What I call spirit you may relate to as God, mystery, nature, energy, the divine, the web, love, chi, your heart, an ineffable entity or any of the other infinite names. You may not relate to this, that’s ok too. As I offer my own self definition, I welcome you to adapt what I may offer to your own learning garden. I also want to name that endless others across time have named creativity as a form of magic. In that sense, you’re witnessing an entry to both my personal archive and a thread to the wider web of beings using art to reach towards meanings beyond ourselves.
I believe creativity is a practice of magic. I understand magic as the act of alchemizing spirit into a new form. To alchemize is to transform. Spirit is the language I turn to describe a web of energy that connects all across (non-linear) time and (evershifting) space, including ancestors, spirits, guides of nature, and other entities. If magic is an act of alchemizing spirit into something new, creativity then is also a form of magic.
The entomology of “creativity” comes from Latin creatus, meaning: to bring into being. Creativity insists on the act of becoming. The becoming can shift form like water. On any given day, my creativity may arrive as a new poem, or the way my heart swells when I hear a particular song, or the rhythm I cut a slice of fruit by. Creativity may not arrive in a form that I recognize. As magic, creativity can be found in the most seemingly ordinary of moments.
Then comes my responsibility. I am the conduit from which magic flows. To be a conduit means to be a channel, you are both a route and wall of protection. How am I protecting my magic? Am I only giving my magic a route when it arrives in a language that supremacy can articulate? What is my gaze focused on? What is being amplified? What is obscured?
My creativity is a spiritual practice, and I believe I have a responsibility to care for it as such. Part of my care practice has been a deepening relationship with boundaries. A boundary I’ve been holding closely lately is that my creativity is magic, not a brand.
I went into my definition of creativity, so let’s dive a little more deeply into the definition of a brand. A brand is a “name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that distinguishes one seller's good or service from those of other sellers.” A brand’s mission is to distill the many parts of itself into a summarized statement with the goal of increasing profit. Brands are rooted in rigid commitment to digestibility, schedule, and production to please an outside audience. Brands are rooted in delivering a clear message that can compete in a capitalism run economy that’s driven by capturing our limited attention.
The U.S. is an attention economy, meaning that in our increasingly digital age, our attention is highly valuable and companies spend a lotta time and money revolving around how to capture it (see the work of Jenny Odell, Tim Wu, Nick Seaver, and Mandy Harris Williams for more learning on this). Where care encourages active and interdependent growth, attention is driven by passivity and transition. Economics impacts culture and vice versa. When living in a capitalism-run system, if that system prioritizes catching attention as a strategy, it impacts the way we see ourselves and each-other. We can be moved to optimize our identities by smoothing the multi-dimensions of ourselves into something that is consumable for an outside audience. And we can be moved to demand the same optimization of others.
For me the tensions of the attention economy have shown up in being depressed with myself when my creativity does not act as a brand does: when I cannot distill it down into one message, when it slips deadlines and linearity. I often talk with friends about how hard we have to fight the urge to monetize every one of the ways that our creativity can show up. To look at my creativity as a brand is to attempt to condense its ever shifting waters it into an aesthetic to entertain an outside observer.
For so many of us we have to participate in capitalism to survive. Artists gotta eat too. I’m spiraling about if and where refusal is possible. I believe there is a possibility to build relationship with our creativity that is not so fully enmeshed with the demands of an outside audience or the capital-driven systems we live in. What is possible when we communally refuse capitalisms paradigm of creativity as aesthetic and alienation? Toni Cade Bambara noted that writing was means by which she participated in transformation. In what ways can we unlock creativity as a point of individual and communal transformation? Where can you pause with mystery today?
As I spend time writing for the next weeks, I am calling in that my time with my creativity will be full of play and rest. I am calling in that my relationship with my creativity will be soft. Soft as in: held with malleable grace, or insistence that another way that is devoid of brutality is possible, or internal compass pointed towards abundance, or loving self through mystery always.
What is the contour of your creativity today?
How do you wish to be in relationship with it?
*looks ahead* Oop, seems we’ve reached a crossroads in the path. Ima head out. As I head down the direction of my day and you head towards yours, I offer you the affirmations I’ve been holding close to my heart.
I am a source through which the infinite expresses.
My creativity shatters all dimensions. My creativity may arrive as a magic I do not even recognize. Through the mystery, I find power in the uncertainty. I hold myself with love through the unknowing.
My creativity is a loving home I can always return to. I offer our home the care, connections, and gratitude we need to thrive.
My creativity loves me as I am. Even in moments when I feel doubt, when I feel lost, I trust that my creativity never abandons me. My creativity is holding me through all of my emotions, dimensions and shifts.
I dance with the mystery of my creativity. My creativity tells me that another way is always possible. My creativity tells me that every moment is a new space to begin again. The path we may take this time is one we’ve never taken before. I trust myself as I travel through unknown portals.
I tend to my creativity with slowness, softness, and boundaries.
My creativity takes on shapes like water.
With many young leaves,
Sending you much love 🕊.Drink a glass of water after reading this email
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I appreciate this so much. You put into words so many thoughts and feelings I resonate with. The connection to mystery, unknown, resisting commodification and reduction to aesthetic. "to sit with mystery and unknowing becomes its own container of resistance" love this so much. thank you. i needed this today
This piece tells so many NECESSARY truths and realities. In it, you have verbalized what I've felt–the struggles between creating and thriving, and wanting my creativity to be enough on which to thrive without commodifying it or turning myself into some kind of machine. Ah! So so so much beauty here! Thank you!