Marc Zegans is a California based poet and creative development advisor. In addition to developing his own writing, he works with other artists helping them get through creative blocks and managing their careers. We had a conversation about his inside/outside perspective on the creative process...
Deborah - Marc, in the time I've known you, I've experienced you as both a writer and poet as well as an advisor to others - a kind of artist whisperer... Tell me a little bit about the relationship between your own creative process and the way you work to help nurture the careers of other creatives...
Marc - One key is that people I work with know that I’m doing my own creative work on a daily basis, which means that I’m engaging continually with the same sorts of challenges they are. I was up in San Francisco performing on Monday night. That meant that I had to rehearse poems, prepare costume, feel butterflies in my stomach, open to responses after. Knowing that I have skin in the game and have had so for a long time establishes a basic trust that’s essential to nurture the work of other artists. When creative people know that you’re one of them and that you’re speaking from experience with heart, it’s different than approaching the conversation from a purely cognitive perspective.
Another, is my capacity as a poet to formulate metaphors (and to interpret metaphors in an artists’ language) that may be helpful in unpacking a difficult situation, or in offering a path through.
Deborah - What kinds of things do you typically see artists struggling with these days?
Marc - It depends on their age, their history, their preoccupations.
Deborah - Would you say there are any patterns, or is everyone just really different?
Marc - Yes, there are patterns. For example, younger artists often worry about whether they have enough talent. Artists approaching mid-life often feel the need to dive into the deep archetypal material that they’ve pushed away for many years—yet they’re terrified to go there. Most artists struggle with making work and making a living, both when their work does not fully support them and more surprisingly when it does.
Stepping back from the particulars, creative lives evolve in stages—not everyone makes it through every stage—but each stage presents a core challenge for the artist. The transitions between stages frequently come in the form of rather profound crises. The crisis arrives because the grammar and vocabulary that structured meaning and practice for an artist in his or her previous phase of life no longer serve. For an artist in the throes of transition to proceed, this individual has to discover, develop and embrace a new grammar and vocabulary, one robustly suited to the new phase. Getting there is hard, hard work, in part because the process is humbling and filled with terror. The results though are profoundly worth the effort.
Deborah - I love what you say about the power in the transitions. It seems there's no getting around that leap into the void that most of us find so terrifying, that is, if we're really interested in growing as artists and creative beings...
Marc - You’ve truly gotten to the core of the matter when you say, “if we’re really interested…”
Often we don’t know if we’re interested, if we really want that journey, if we’re willing to pay the price. There’s a natural tendency to look for short-cuts, free passes, leaps to another dimension and to try all sorts of tricks to avoid the work. Artists who achieved some degree of success by operating in a particular mode, or who’ve carved out a familiar and socially comfortable niche often feel both pressure and some desire to stay in what’s familiar and works for them in terms of name and reputation, suppressing the part inside that’s screaming to move on. These are circumstances when we as artists get tied up in knots. To your point, the real process of transition begins when we develop clarity of interest.
We don’t necessarily have to simply leap into the void though—although for some folks leaping first and looking later works best. We can choose instead to prepare for the transition, and to enter it mindfully. For me this process is equivalent in nature and form to creating and working through one’s own Tibetan Book of the Dead. Each phase of transition involves a true ego death, and we can enter this death consciously, mindfully, lovingly and and with clear intent.
Such an approach has great tenderness and beauty, a simplicity that offers an elegant through-line amidst the violence and chaos.