Finding the specific driving forces behind your art can be a powerful tool for your career.
When I was a little kid, my mom, aunt, and grandma used to drag me to political conventions. They were all active members of this community, and I found myself grumpy, pouty, and tremendously bored as the only child present in a sea of adults who discussed topics far removed from Nickelodeon shows, soccer, or the latest Spice Girls song.
I also grew up in the desert. I lived in a city surrounded by high mountains, endless mesa vistas and a Spanish heritage that leaves your tongue prickling in delicious pain. The desert is a mysterious landscape, an untamed and wild beast that, like my grandma’s spicy food, keeps you begging for more.
The more I analyze the circumstances of my childhood, the more I understand what drives me as an artist today. The women in my family were true pioneers—a Rosie the Riveter, teachers with Masters degrees, and advocates for social justice. Little did I know that as I sipped watered-down lemonade and dragged my feet down carpeted convention hallways, I was also witnessing women actively take control of their own lives.
Even though I didn’t pursue their same careers, I still carry with me those political triggers to improve the lives of the marginalized. When I started directing theatre in college, I made it a point to direct plays showcasing the lives of women. I put in extra effort to find plays for women and by women—and when this became a frustrating task, I also began writing and producing plays independent of our theatre department.
My career in film is no different. I make a conscious effort to write and direct stories for women and people of color, and hire as many women behind the camera as possible. But lately I’ve discovered that there’s another powerful force guiding me and my work.
One morning, after a short and sweet meditation, a simple word sprang into my mind: “Magic.” And it was as if a key had been turned in my brain and clicked several gears into motion. This was another element that had influenced my weird stories I wrote in grade school, my obsession of books about science fiction and magical realism, my fascination with that which we cannot see but still feel deep in our guts. And I attribute so much of that to growing up in New Mexico: burning away gloom at the lighting of Zozobra, witnessing hundreds of balloons glide into the autumn air, and walking amongst the two thousand year-old ruins of long-lost tribes.
The minute I was able to pin-point these two forces—Politics and Magic—I became much more confident in my work. It felt like a whisper in my ear, a gift of purpose and power, as though naming what drove me simultaneously gave birth to it.
This gift offers protection when you encounter resistance. Often times as creators we are asked to make compromises for our art, to shift and re-build our ideas in order to fit into a box to package and sell. While this is undoubtedly the nature of the business, it never hurts to take a step back and ask yourself, “Does this align with the forces that drive me?…If not, am I okay with that?” Regardless of the answer, that knowledge can be a necessary component in your tool belt.
So I encourage you to come up with your own Words of Power. Whether it’s through mediation, a hike in the mountains, or even while sitting in the middle of your car on the freeway, ask yourself:
- What brings me joy?
- What was I attracted to as a child?
- What is a common theme or motif in my work?
- How do I want to contribute to society?
- What images come to mind when I think of the kind of work I want to create?
There is absolutely no right or wrong answer. You can have one word, or five, six, even seven (The last being a magical number, after all!). And explore these words—their history, their placement in your vocabulary, when you started using them, and how you feel about them now versus many years ago. For me, the word “Magic” carries such a different connotation today than it did when I was ten. The word “Politics” has a lot of negative baggage that I acknowledge and embrace.
Allow your Power Words to be fluid. They are just as organic as the being who spoke them into existence, and just as impermanent. They will change as your life experiences grow, and commit to finding that which lights your fire, sprouts your wings, and encourages you to fly off into a luminous desert sunset.