Words and photos by Alyssa Rosenheck
To travel is to move through to the other side of fear, and any journey will be filled with bumps along the way. For me, creativity is a journey, a form of prayer, and a daily practice. It is my birthright, a return home, an energy that runs through my body from the moment I wake up. Creative work is soul work, connecting me to myself and telling me the truth about the world—a place that oftentimes, and recently, seems unrecognizable. Yet, no matter how quiet, how dormant, how hidden it is, creativity is there, a constant, pulsing current, shedding light on my hidden parts, seeking to be a companion to my courage, and inviting me to connect with community.
But what happens on the other side of the creative process—when the major project is completed, after the cathartic reveal of something we have dreamt of doing for as long as we can remember? This is the part of creativity no one discusses, and I want to illuminate the concept of creative postpartum. This is in fact the darker side of creativity, and as someone who observes light for a living and the way it moves from space to space—we can't have light without darkness. Shadows give light interest, and it is this stage of the creative process that yields our next steps as innovators and truth tellers.
Writing, photographing, and releasing my first book, “The New Southern Style,” into the world was much like birthing a child. It was an invested process. It took nine months to develop the proposal. My publisher was the equivalent of the hospital, with teams in place offering support and a smooth delivery. My literary agent, editor, and attorney were my midwives. Labor is never without pain, and I labored over each word printed and image captured for three years through early mornings and many sleepless nights in the middle of a global pandemic—a period rife with lives lost, jobs disappearing, political extremes, civic unrest, cities burning, and extreme racial tensions. The pandemic would bring shipping delays, printers shutting down, and other distribution issues, complicating my effort to convey a humanizing message in the midst of relentless algorithms. But then, on a crisp autumn Tuesday during lockdown, the pages were delivered and came to life in the form of a book. It was an emotional day filled with relief, congratulations, community support, and the start of an energetic virtual press junket.
Despite all of the struggle and complications, I crossed the “finish line.”
I did not expect what happened next. I felt restless, depressed, and lost. I thought something was wrong with me. I was becoming one with our couch, and I shut down—closed for business.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was experiencing. It took reaching the other side of it—several months later—to understand. And now, in hopes of sparking more conversation around this experience that’s relevant to the laboring of any creative finale, I am sharing it with you now.
The process of writing and photographing my book had become my identity, and I was attached. I was deeply invested in the creative process. For three years, I woke up with a sense of meaning and deep purpose that fueled this project. “The New Southern Style” had wings. To see a project take on a life of its own is an extraordinary gift. So I found myself at an unfamiliar intersection of gratitude and creative grief. No one talks about this side of creativity—the shadow on the other side of a dream achieved. The restlessness and sadness that comes next.
This was my first experience with such a creative crisis, and I realized through this experience that it’s OK—healthy even.
A few months of searching, releasing, and surrendering later, I am able to recognize there is no end point to our creativity—it is a cycle. Think of creativity as a triangle with each point being: show up, produce, release. The longing I was experiencing was the loss of the “process”and not wanting to “release”—which was the attachment behind my pain. Being aware of our creative process and honoring each stage yields the nourishment and fullness we seek in this lifetime. The external opportunities conceived from our creativity are the icing on the cake, but the birthing and releasing are the guts of dreams.
Recovering from a creative crisis (or any block) requires a recommitment to our own alignment. This calls for an inward journey that involves traveling through to the other side of fear. To lift the veil of shadow from my own creative postpartum, I had to first identify my fears and recommit myself to the meaning and purpose I wanted to pursue next. Here are some actionable methods:
Recommitting to Creativity:
- Creative Stillness: In the most literal way, pause and rest. Carve out at least twenty minutes of silence each day in order to create stillness and recognize your internal dialogue. Fear may pop up, but use this as a compass for the direction you need to be pursuing, and if you are feeling uninspired, use this as a sign to rest.
- Creative Release: Sleep in and journal, write letters to friends, photograph, paint, cook, take naps, garden, practice yoga, meditate, go on walks, learn a new language, queue up some music—anything new that disrupts a daily routine is good here.
- Creative Courage: Fear illuminates the direction we need to go. Use fear as a tool to identify any insecurities surrounding your future vision. Staying focused and consistent is fundamental here. I suggest we stop pouring our love into the things that are not loving us back and start asking ourselves the important questions to keep us on track: Where in your life are you playing small and why? Do you believe in a vision greater than your current set of circumstances? What does this vision look like? Make one decision in the direction of a fear each day and critically dismantle any limiting belief that follows.
- Creative Care: Our inner creative is also our spiritual soul. Investing in a strong relationship with oneself, humanity, and our shared earth is also a tether to creativity. Daily rituals, from morning affirmations to energy management to an evening renewal practice to therapy, will allow us to continue to work through our shadows to shine our brightest light.
Creativity is not a straight line with a beginning and an end. It’s a continuous cycle, each stage of which you must travel through in order to come out stronger. Honor the crisis to make it a tool for the next creative beginning. Surrender again and again to the process. Only then your creativity will show you the way.
Alyssa Rosenheck is an author, a celebrated architectural photographer, and a cancer survivor. Alyssa has been recognized as a national business leader, one of the leading photographers in the country, and the voice of the new South in outlets such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Architectural Digest, InStyle, and People magazine. Alyssa is helping individuals tap into their creative courage and community with her book, The New Southern Style. Readers get an all-access pass into the conversations and home tours of more than 30 creative entrepreneurs. Alyssa's mission with this project is to support the reader through life pivots, inspire creative courage, and encourage us all to be our own agents of change. Alyssa is amplifying the voices of the next generation of creatives and turning messages into movements.