Can you truly create without detaching?

I was talking to my cousin Leslie yesterday about my upcoming high school reunion and how I really would like a photographer (preferably her) there to document it.

“I mean, who wants to be stopping every few minutes to take pictures?” I reasoned.

“Well, I would,” she replied.

We chatted a bit more about my rationale for not wanting to pause to take my own pictures, and I ultimately quoted one of my favorite lines in Rent, when Roger and Mark are fighting: “You pretend to create and observe when you’re really detached from being alive.”

When I first saw Rent in New York in ’99, it awed me like no other show had ever before. I wept. I laughed. And at the end of it, I walked back with my sister to her apartment and was stunned by its enormous but incredibly simple message: Live.

At any rate, Roger’s assessment of Mark really hit home for me. I mean, how many times have I opted to stand behind the lens to capture a moment? The problem with being behind that lens, though, is that you don’t get to live that moment.

I’ve gotten very good at setting up the tripod and letting my video camera do the documenting. If something isn’t properly framed, so be it, but I owe it to myself to be part of it, not just observing it.

It’s not just photography or videography that keeps me from actively participating. Writing keeps me from participating. Right now The Boy and my father-in-law are playing with an old Lego set that used to be Cute Husband’s (circa 1984), and I’m watching them as I type. They’re enjoying each other’s company, so I don’t insert myself.

But I’m also sitting back as an observer.

How often do I do this? It’s so easy for me to watch people and make up stories in my head about them without approaching and speaking to them. I observe them and, for my own purposes, file away my observations to be used creatively later.

But I’m still sitting back as an observer.

Is it possible to simultaneously create and engage? Is that why many of the greatest artists were recluses or insane (and/or committed suicide)?

I’m going to be more mindful of this and find a way to create without detaching. There has to be a way.


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