“Does George Clooney wash his own socks?” As this thought crossed my mind one winter Sunday evening, I started another load of laundry and the Academy Awards got underway. “Does he know how to use a microwave?” I wondered as I warmed up leftovers for our dinner. With a mix of awe and envy, I live my middle class life, worlds away from the glamour of Hollywood.
Though I’d love a break from laundry and cooking, it isn’t the pampered lives of the famous that I envy, it’s their livelihood. In the media blitz leading up to the event, numerous directors and actors recounted their experiences in bringing their visions to the big screen. In that moment, all the tasks of daily life—like laundry and cooking—fell away and their artistic, creative sights were set on the work. I envy their focus and freedom.
Yet, there’s a danger in ceding the creative process to the megastars and denying the creative opportunities in our own lives. For most of my life, I regarded creative endeavors as something to be pursued after the “real work” of life is complete. Experience has shown that the opposite is true: I can nurture my creative life in the midst of my busy days. I am an artist, no matter my livelihood.
“Underneath the surface distinctions that make individual lives seem very different, art is a common ground we share; the work of art is a way we all do things when we are working well,” writes Eric Booth in his book, The Everyday Work of Art. Booth challenges us to see art as an expression of how we live, not just a work outside of or apart from daily life. The focused attention given to setting the table or washing the socks can bring as much richness to life as a great symphony or novel. In the kitchen Sunday evening, I was closer to an Oscar than I realized.
The artistic life does not come easily; it requires a mix of alert attention and time apart from the tasks of the day. Julia Cameron offers a simple yet powerful process in her book, The Artist’s Way: morning pages. Morning pages are written in a stream-of-consciousness fashion to clear the mind of cluttering thoughts. Like tuning in a radio signal, morning pages dial out the static and allow ideas to surface. These creative ideas enhance every aspect of our lives. In this way, the tasks of life don’t dominate and suppress inspiration; rather, they are the means by which we can more fully express ourselves. Morning pages, says Cameron, are for anyone who wishes to live life at a deeper level of creativity and purpose, not just for those we’d label as “artists.”
For those brief, shining moments on national TV, the artists of the movie industry appear to have effortlessly achieved their status. Perhaps this is true for a few of them. Like us, most of them have struggled to find meaningful work and provide for themselves and their families. “When seen from afar, like a rainbow,” writes Cary Tennis, an advice columnist, “the dream is radiant and seductive; but when you are in it, there is just a lot of steam.” In the movie business, “there are men moving scenery, huffing and puffing. It is the factory of the dream.”
George Clooney’s cavalier charm makes it look easy, but the creative life is work—thoughtful, intentional, sometimes hard, but always gratifying work. Though our lifestyles are dramatically different, Mr. Clooney and I share this artistic quest. His work, and that of other movie makers, inspires me to live creatively every aspect of my life. In this light, I wouldn’t trade the moments when my family gathers for dinner, the hum of the dryer as our soundtrack, for a turn down the red carpet.