Jean Cocteau

I quote Jean Cocteau when introducing my poem: Known Strangers (2008)

To find a beautiful biography of Jean Cocteau by The Poetry Foundation just follow the link below:

I have to admit I had never heard of Jean Cocteau before this blog, even though I had heard of Les Enfants Terribles.

What strikes me about him was his versatility – he was a poet, a novelist, a playwright, a networker, a ballet writer, a film-maker and film director, an artist. And I find it so heartening to read about people like that because so often, too often, particularly in the “modern” world, we believe that we need to try and fit our beautiful messy mixes into some very neat, very standard cookie-cutters.

We try to shrink ourselves down, squeeze out everything that is “unnecessary”, everything that is “nice-to-have-but-not-a-must”, everything that “doesn’t-pay-the-bills” (creativity is typically grouped in here somewhere), we squeeze all of that out so that we can try to fit quite awkwardly, quite uncomfortably into these unassuming, polite, “proper” categories and labels. And the awkward, uncomfortable feeling you get when you try to play these parts is the same one you get when you try to sit on one of those very artsy, very design, very expensive chairs that look very nice, very clean-cut, very minimalist but are just too rigid, too straight, too hard to actually sit on – the type of chairs that you would never choose to buy if you knew you had to sit on them every day for the rest of your life. Yet those are the types of labels, categories and roles that we seek to live up to and inhabit everyday and they are just as uncomfortable. (Nothing against minimalism by the way, some minimalist furniture is very comfortable from experience, but you get the gist.)

We try to dilute ourselves right down to a watery lemonade, totally flavourless, we may as well just have saved the lemon for another day. Or it’s as if we were like those perfectly round, perfectly red tomatoes in the supermarkets that look wonderful yet taste like absolutely nothing. We try to squeeze our essence out to be deemed by others and by ourselves as “perfect”, “have-our-shit-together”, “have-made-it”, “made-mum-and-dad-proud”, etc. rather than seek to embrace everything we are – the messiness, the beauty, the complexity, the pain, the sheer confusion, the fear, the hope, everything that is part and parcel of being a human being. And in so doing, we downsize, we deny a lot of who we are and, more importantly, a lot of what we could be.

Now some of you may have managed to silence your inner critic, the one who is typically the categories-and-labels’ biggest fan and loudest cheerleader. You know, that gnawing voice that puts you down before you’ve even gotten yourself up; the one who tells you you can’t play before you have even set foot on the field; the one that Julia Cameron calls The Censor in The Artist’s Way; the one who wants submission to fear and doubt, who spawns the spiral of the catastrophizing “what-if’s” (not the hopeful “what if’s”, of course, those are far too dangerous for The Censor to allow); those voices whose habitual criticisms fly like spears and arrows and slice you open, cut you deep.

If you have managed to get yourself over all of those hurdles and to create a safe distance between you and The Censor, I applaud you and bow before you. That is one hell of a feat, one that requires you to show up day in, day out, and I celebrate anyone who achieves that or has ever managed to achieve that, even if only once. Because that takes real courage and tenacity, and is the highest expression of self-love – in my view anyway.

Let’s assume we’ve made it this far, we’ve silenced that inner critic, we’ve abandoned those categories and cookie-cutters who were denying our creativity. We’re here, we’re on the other side, we’ve made it, right? Wrong. Because often, even once you have reached these new shores, you start doing exactly the same thing you were doing before – limiting yourself to labels. “I am a writer, not a painter.” “I am a dancer, I could never be a poet.” “I am fashion designer and painter, I could never be a photographer.” “I didn’t study film, I can’t become a film-maker, I’ll just stay a graphic designer, I know I can do that.” “I can’t do everything, I ain’t no Michelangelo, who we kidding. It’d already be a miracle if I could just be one of those things.” We start limiting our creativity the same way that we previously limited ourselves from ourselves. We are back in the loop. I know I definitely do that. In fact, that Michelangelo quote above, that is one of my Censor’s favourites.

And what is so inspiring and refreshing about people like Jean Cocteau is that they remind us that you can be anything. You can be everything you want to be and everything you don’t even yet know you want to be. You can be all that if you allow yourself to just be and get The Censor out of your way.

You are limitless. Like Cocteau, we are all limitless, if we would just allow ourselves to leave the cookie-cutters in the kitchen.

So next time The Censor comes tip-toeing or galloping at you, invite him in, show him to the uncomfortable minimalist artsy chair and leave him there whilst you go into the other room to nestle into your comfy armchair and bite into a freshly-baked cookie as you ponder on the many creations that you have in store for yourself and for the world.

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