From Doc Martens and Dreadlocks

Monday, July 20, 2020

From Doc Martens and Dreadlocks

In this lengthier blog I am telling a tale laced with lessons, mistakes, laughter and misery. A must-read for creative hearts or those hiding themselves to try and "fit in". This is one to snuggle down with for a few minutes. Come take a walk beside me through memory. 

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A Saga of Creativity Identity

Up until recently I didn’t count myself as a creative. I was the brains. The academic. The straight A student. The top 10%. The overachiever. So I viewed my creativity through that lens as well, and didn’t consider it good enough to earn me the title.

Yet looking back I’ve always been creating. I formed a band in primary school (with very little musical talent!). I made my own clothes. I wrote poetry. I planned school events. I studied drama. My Friday nights were spent in the studio audience of an Australian satirical TV show. I devoured Shakespeare. I worshiped music. I made short films. I fire-danced. I modelled. I dreadlocked my own hair. I majored in film theory and art history. I got tattoos. I wrote more poetry.

Yep, I was creative. I just decided it didn’t count because I didn’t paint or sing for others.  Guilty?

Then both you and I have measured ourselves by only one half of the creative equation. On one side there’s output, but more importantly on the other, is the act of expressing ourselves. And sometimes expression isn’t so tangible. It’s the goosebumps when watching a play. Choking up at a particular song. A clear vision during meditation. It’s all the same energy coursing through our veins.

As a teenager, that creative side of me was labelled by others as obsession. Sometimes I allowed this label to seep in. I’d convince myself that I was somehow pathetic and juvenile, and go through phases trying to hide it, in order to be taken seriously as the young woman I was so desperate to hurry up and become. It’s the emptiness that came with the hiding which proves to me now that it wasn’t obsession. It was self-expression. And she would always come back. I look back at all the chapters of my life and I can see the rich thread of expression woven through everything. It was the act of feeling seen and understood that hit me in the heart, not necessarily the final output. 

So here we are. My belief that self-expression is one of the most powerful and vital self development concepts to our healing and our joy as human beings. I encourage you to give yourself the permission now to accept self-expression and creativity in whatever form it takes in you. Then rejoice in it. We are effervescent magicians in our ability to create such profound feeling in the world, simply by letting our hearts sing. Or yodel. Or warble. Or crackle off key. 

It’s. All. Epic

Teenage Bravado

Back to Kris circa 1999. It was the age of Austin Powers, Britney Spears and Harry Potter. All of which I happily consumed with my peers. Though I was also discovering glam rockers Placebo, crystal shops full of fabrics and trinkets from India, melodramatic films such as Girl Interrupted, and spending weekends with my Dad reading Shakespeare and listening to old Bob Dylan records. There was a deeply romantic, sensitive, and reverent voice within me. During this time I idolised my Aunt Donna and Uncle Andy. They were grungy, hippy, and incredibly creative. They were musicians and free spirits, who oozed artistic whimsy and deep, deep self-expression. I now realise that through them I saw my first glimpse of spiritual expression, emotional vulnerability, and the idea of life deviating from the dream of the white-picket-fence. I felt enamoured and captivated by them, and whilst I held them on the naively lofty pedestal of a pre-teen, I felt so genuinely seen around them. Donna used to make me tops out of coloured lace and velvet. I’d feel so expressive wearing them around my friends. I’d feel as free as the fabric caught in the wind as my flared sleeves belled out. Donna is a painter and I remember receiving small cards in the mail for no occasion other than “just because”, each card bearing a new character from her hand. Each pair of eyes told a story of joys and pains, though of course  I was not then old enough to recognise them. Andy was a musician who played the double bass. He had a grin that almost broke the bounds of his face so the air around him electrified with life. Being his age now, I can see that I followed him around like a doting puppy, probably annoying the hell out of him, but he only ever met me with that smile. I remember the two of them always smelled of sweet spicy sandalwood. That scent still carries me into a daydream of some exotic place, not physical but spiritual, and where joy prevails. A grounded, reverent, and sovereign joy, not the manic, over-excited joy of our material existence. That’s the type of joy I feel in self-expression now. I only knew Andy for four years before he passed away. Donna and I shared evenings in grief together. For her I guess they were “a dark night of the soul”, while for me they were the vigil of a young teenager trying to navigate the death of something so vibrant. I still have a letter from Donna in which she wrote “love must overcome any trauma or pain, it’s the natural law”. Those words stuck with me, I’ve been able to recite them by heart ever since, and with each life experience I begin to understand and embody them even deeper. Self-expression IS that love. It may come from a place of pain and despair but in it’s release, it transmutes to love and joy. That is its superpower. 

In my final year of high school I was the school captain. My election speech began “Everybody is someone else’s weirdo. Let me be your weirdo.” That pretty much sums me up at the age of 17! I was the school captain who wore Doc Marten boots (or "boffer boots" as my British Granny called them!) with her school uniform. The girl who dated the musicians (no surprises there!). The one who was told she wouldn’t get a University entrance score without studying science or math. I didn’t budge and I nailed every single one of my arts and humanities subjects from the pure love of them. My major projects included a social paper staunchly defending Marilyn Manson and the claim that he caused violence in teens, a risque drama performance as a sassy Little Red Riding Hood seduced by the Big Bad Wolf, and a collection of poetry on the Seven Deadly Sins. Bold and creative me was expressing herself every chance she got. The tug of my inner spark was stronger than the fear of what the world told me I “should” be doing, what was possible, or what path was paved for me. However truth be told, it was easy to believe that within the relatively safe confines of high school. My four years of Uni that followed somehow convinced me that my self-expression was dangerous and I needed to shut up, stop dreaming, and “do the right thing.”

A Super Power Turned Sin

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t start bad. I studied Media, Film and Art History. I did internships with radio stations and theatres. I dabbled in little film projects, wrote reviews of a local band, modelled, and had fluro hair extensions. My first career dream was to become a music video producer. I wanted to create entertainment, expression and escape for people. I remember working at an Interpol concert, standing beside the stage looking out at the crowd and feeling such a rush you’d think I was the musician! It was that out of body, transmuting, effervescent superpower of self-expression. However on the inside, my expressive self was no saint. The creative heart in its yearning to be understood and expressed can be overexposed. My Doc Martens and love for Marilyn Manson naturally found solace in the local goth scene, and with people who shared the deep and fervent connection to music that I had. We’d go clubbing every Friday night and sing along like a choir of souls just yearning to be seen. That girl was so desperate to fit in as she came nearer to being flung out into the world to make something of herself. She acted out, sought attention, counselled others, made mistakes, took on burdens she did not need to bear (nor was equipped to), explored her womanhood and sexuality, toxified her body, and developed fleeting, fabulous but often fraught relationships. She hurt people and people hurt her, and I now know that I blamed her unapologetic and potent self-expression for causing more harm than good.

Shape-Shifting Through Shame

For a long time after, I was ashamed of her. Laughed at her. Cast her off as a mistake. Blamed her, and pitied her as so irrelevant to my life now. Yet ironically the longer I ignored her the more disconnected I felt from my current self. The more pent up, burnt out, misunderstood, and incomplete I felt. Once I began to speak to her, understand her, SEE her, and forgive her, she taught me a lot. Most importantly, she allowed me to reclaim those parts of her that are still aflame within me now. We change as human beings over time, yet we cannot cast off a previous version of ourselves as “wrong” or “wasted time”. Don’t be ashamed of them just because that flavour is different to the taste you most identify with now. We are fluid beings. No one ever said we have to be one thing our whole life, have one interest, one look, one job, one hobby, one workout, or one opinion. Every expression has a time, a place, a role to play, and a piece of the spark to ignite. It’s an incredible, bizarre, and beautiful shape-shifting. A fluid dance between the refracting colours of our human prism. Through my 20-year old self I’ve learnt to let my shadows be just as illuminating as the sparks. To be curious about the dark parts, the past loves, the jobs hated, and the short lived dreams. Through that girl with the Doc Martens and dreadlocks I’ve discovered beliefs, patterns, and stories that needed to be let go. For example, my pattern of being with men that I thought needed "saving", and blaming myself when I was inevitably not up to the task. Or my Imposter Syndrome after being labelled a "fraud" when I left those friends and that scene. 

Selling Out to Shame

As I shape-shifted once again, I fell into my career in digital advertising. Ironically online media was the one thing I was not at all interested in while studying at Uni. I don’t view it as a poor decision because it did actually bring me a lot of joy in the beginning. It taught me a lot, I made friends for live, and it introduced me to the man who is now my husband. However it was certainly a career decision made to try and redeem myself for what I’d labelled as my wild, irrational and irresponsible dreams of creative whimsy. It was time to buck-up and get a good job, steady paycheck, save your dollars, and rise the ranks to create an impressive CV of reliability. I didn’t notice it then but my inner creative was sitting beside me the whole time, nudging and tapping, or occasionally just grabbing the steering wheel. Essentially my job was creating ad campaigns to tell people what they needed to have to be better humans. Those were my least favourite projects to work on. I would jump at the clients such as bands, events, and tattoo artists. I soon became disillusioned with the sell. The material. The everyday not-enoughness. Consume. More. Now. Working to impossible deadlines. Money hungry clients. Arguing over budgets and who gets credit for what. Burnout. Stress. Long Hours. My creativity choked. I quit. I sold everything I owned. I went travelling. 

Not the Happy-Ending

How many times have you heard the story in which a grand adventure of wanderlust delivers the epiphany of human enlightenment? The “aha” moment of all “aha” moments. The pilgrimage on which a person “finds themself”? Not for me. I certainly got a wake up call and an “aha” moment that slapped me in the face like a wet fish, but the only version of me I met was the one who hated me. I developed an eating disorder which looked like tracking how many calories I could go without eating, and simultaneously how many calories I could sweat out. I was fuelled with that same obsessive energy of a teenager. The difference was my inner critic. This time my inner bitch was telling me to change myself, whereas as back then my inner creative was simply asking me to express myself. Music, art and expression never judged. Now I was a physical embodiment of judgement and deficit. I experienced moments in the most technicolour of places just as dull hues to my eyes. I shed kilos but I also shed spark. My creativity was squashed even further down beneath a desperate quest for an ideal body. There’s little room for joy in such serious business. When I got home I had no spark in me to make a change while I tried to repair my body and mind. So I shackled myself back into the advertising industry and continued to swap self-expression in blind service of achieving the perfect career, perfect income, and perfect future, only to feel perfectly disconnected. Without joy, all these milestones we seek to bring us happiness are empty when we arrive.

I’ll be honest and admit that even my first few years of self development didn’t provide the relief I sought. I know now that it was because I was coming at it all as the “broken” person that needed fixing. As soon as I let my creative, playful, edgy, quirky, nutcase out of the cage she’d been rattling for so long, it all began to change. Even now, when I feel disconnected, stuck or weighed down by my practices, it’s because I’ve forgotten to enjoy the very act of expressing myself through them, without expectation.

Meet the Magic

Through all my learning, growth, therapy, coaching, and some big leaps to leave what I thought I "should" be doing in my corporate career, I now consider self-expression as a need not a luxury. It brings us both a connection to ourselves and others, and an outlet for what needs to be purged. Like a two-way valve, this joy and catharsis in a moment of creative energy is medicine for healing and happiness. It’s not what we get once we are “fixed”. It IS the fix. It leaves us wide open to receive whatever deeper knowledge we need to grow. So my commitment is to always invite those feelings in whatever shape they choose to show up.

This is the reminder I wish I had. Bookmark it. Print it out. Carry it in your notebook worn, creased, and tattered. 

This is the reminder to give yourself permission to value your self-expression as sacred and so so necessary.

Which loves that you choke up at that song. 

That you spontaneously break into dance. 

That you can’t help but rhyme as you speak. 

That you make all your gifts by hand. 

That you wear clashing colours, or pair sweatpants with sequins. 

That honours your creativity and self-expression as the healer that it is. 

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