Back home in Ohio for a week, I decide to take a walk in the woods

On the way down the hill through the dewy grass and brand-new violets I suddenly start crying. By the time I round the stand of evergreens that used to be Christmas trees, the tears are streaming down my face. Dusk is all around me, mingling with the clouds of my breath in the quickly chilling air. My parents’ love is there too, although they have stayed up in the house. I’m unemployed, suffocated by huge ambitions, terrified, and crying in the woods. I’m also overwhelmed by the beauty around me and the fact that I know deep down that this exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

Photo by Miki Johnson

I listen to the fear inside but hold the line where it threatens to overtake me. I keep repeating, “There is the most fear around the things that are true,” and I try to keep breathing. When my sobs quiet, I can hear the creek below me gurgling. It is very soft but there is almost no competition of noise here. The dog is lying quietly at my feet now, and her panting and the wind shushing the branches and the leaves settling in a pile are the only other things I hear. I’m convinced this is one of the last places in the country where you literally cannot hear anything manmade, and that knowledge and the closeness of the silence slows my heart.

When I come back to myself, the ideas are rushing too fast for me to follow them. I write a few lines of a poem, make some photos with my iPhone, Tumbl a photo of the dog, when suddenly I see a bigger picture. It is precisely the ease of these creative tools at our fingertips that allows us all to think of ourselves as creatives. Yes, it does make “everyone a photographer,” but it also makes every photographer a videographer, multimedia producer, bookmaker, retoucher, and whatever else they want to try their hand at. Here is what I jot down in a note to myself on my phone:

The ability to utilize such a wide range of storytelling tools allows us to be more creative more consistently because creativity is always there, it just expresses itself in hundreds of undefined, usually unnamed forms. When you are able to let your creativity flow through the least resistant path, instead of simply the most practiced one, it quickly becomes a steady stream.

I have been reading about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe living in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC at the end of the ’60s and beginning of the ’70s and how they are friends and collaborators with playwrights (she dated Sam Sheppard and helped write Cowboy Mouth did you know that?!?!), rock legends (she alludes to giving Janis the nickname “Pearl”), visual artists, poets, actors…everyone. For that reason, she and Robert develop in several mediums simultaneously; he making drawings, collages, clothing, photos and she, paintings, jewelry, poetry, songs.

Aside from getting me thinking about the quality of work coming out of NYC at that time and the role the tight-knit community undoubtedly played in fostering it, Just Kids has made me think about what it means to be an artist, something I’ve struggled with recently.

I used to love art but never felt I was good enough to do it professionally, and the lifestyle didn’t seem to suit me so I rejected being an “artist” as an option and focused on journalism, which still felt creative to me. At college the people around me seemed too brilliant to think about competing with, and I have natural aptitude for shaping and polishing, so I focused on editing and quickly became confident with the skill as well as respected for it by my peers.

I don’t know if it’s the years of therapy and “self-affirmations” or moving to San Francisco or being close friends with artists or simply growing into myself — but this year I’m determined to make friends with my lurking creative powers. I think the incredible array of media available to me will help, and I hope to explore it with other artists as I travel in the U.S. and Europe. But I also think it’s just about paying attention and being brave. This was the second note I made in the woods.

When you give yourself permission to do things that don’t seem to require creativity, but in the purest sense of the word are CREATIVE, you start to truly see that every human being is inherently creative — the thing that sets artists apart is simply that have nurtured that creativity and learned to listen to it with the ear of an attentive parent.

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20 thoughts on “Back home in Ohio for a week, I decide to take a walk in the woods

  1. “There is the most fear around the things that are true” ..what a great phrase, and completely true. I'm learning to purposefully go in whatever direction the fear is, in the (sort of) knowledge it's the way I'm supposed to go. It's hard though. I thought it was one battle to overcome, but I think you have to fight it every day. Great post 🙂

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    • I totally agree that it's a daily fight, Adam. All I can say is that you're not alone and I think we can all help each other a lot in facing those fears and finding the truth and passion that's behind them. Words of encouragement like these are one major way to do that. Thanks for your input 🙂

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  2. Miki, It was a real pleasure to spend time talking with you today. Reading your words, above, made me think of a couple of things. One, I have always tried to make it my personal mission to take the road most feared. Terrifying, yes, but by far the most rewarding. To me, it's like jumping off of a cliff. Sometimes one lands in a good place. Other times … well, let's just call them “learning moments.” It's all good. I read a great piece years ago about what it's like to make leaps into the unknown. It has stayed with me ever since. The author pointed out that moving from Point A to Point B can oftentimes feel like swinging from one trapeze bar to the next, but the space in between — the void — is the scariest, but best, part of the experience. Embrace it.Two, I read with interest your thoughts on creativity. Coincidentally, the book I had pitched to a publisher last year was about that very subject (more specifically, what newspaper designers have done to stoke creativity while whatever Titanic they were on was sinking). I love what you say about “making friends with with my lurking creative powers.” I look forward to reading about how this process evolves during your upcoming journey.Julie

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    • Great to talk with you too, Julie. Knowing that I'm doing something that is also your mission makes me feel like I'm doing something right 🙂 I really do feel that everyone is inherently creative, and if my own fumblings in the dark toward it help illuminate anyone else's way, I'll be happy.

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  3. This is so beautifully written Miki! Your thoughts on creativity, being an artist and the fear you are feeling really resonate with me. It is hard to take the path you've chosen. Finding purpose is something we all struggle with, but something few do anything about. You are a courageous woman. Thanks for sharing this.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your beautiful walk in the woods! Fear of the unknown can be overwhelming but it also heightens our sense of awareness. You already know what I'm talking about. Trust your instincts and remember that we're all cheering for you! “We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success. “~ Henry David Thoreau

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  5. Big steps are so exciting…. and terrifying. Enjoy the journey. I've have taken a few big steps in my life and never did i live to regret any of them.

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