The mugger had a firm grip on my ankles.
"NO!" I screamed, flipping onto my right hip and yanking my left leg back. I kicked back out sharply while pulling up my right leg, smashing his hand in the process. "NO!"
I flipped to my other side and repeated the process, yanking and kicking and scraping, bicycling my legs as best I could with a 180-pound man hanging onto them.
In the background, I was aware of his partner looming, even bigger than my assailant, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
I kept yanking, kicking and scraping, yelling "NO!" with each movement, but my assailant was persistent. Every time I managed to scrape off his hand, he just grabbed on again.
It felt hopeless. My fear threatened to drown me. I heard my voice go shrill and wispy, and I felt my strength drain away...
The above scenario really happened, though thankfully, I was never in actual physical danger. My assailants were not real muggers -- they were instructors for an IMPACT self-defense course -- sometimes referred to as "model mugging" -- covered head-to-toe in padded "armor," including an enormous silver duct tape-padded helmet, making them look like some sort of life-sized alien Kewpie doll.
The year was 1998. I'd taken my first model mugging class from BAMM (Bay Area Model Mugging, now IMPACT Bay Area) the previous December and it had changed my life. The 25 hours of the class had whizzed by, yet my internal transformation had been so profound, at my "graduation" two weeks after the first class it felt as if was months, even years ago, when I first screwed up my courage to walk in the door.
Now I was back for more. I was eager to acquire as many "tools" in my self-defense arsenal as I could, so as soon as BAMM offered a class on multiple assailants, I signed up.
The middle session of every BAMM course always included what we called "custom fights." Normally, the "muggers" would portray generic bad guys, but during a custom fight, each student got the opportunity to have the mugger be anyone she wanted. Some women re-enacted actual assaults from their past, and got to have them end in victory this time. Others had the muggers act out assailants in scenarios they were most afraid of.
We could also choose to have the muggers be our own "inner muggers" -- the notions or beliefs we held that were doing us no good, the inner voices that told us lies about ourselves.
At that time in my life, I was really struggling with my identity as a Creative. I had a hunger to create, and I even had a fledgling business as a calligrapher and artist, but I didn't quite believe this was... enough.
A few years before, looking for work with a nonprofit, when my mom suggested I check out a dance or art organization, I had actually sniffed at the idea. Women's rights, children's welfare, animal welfare, the environment -- these I could see working for. But an arts agency? I just didn't see it as worthy enough.
Those were the voices I now wanted to clear out of my head. I'd chosen a path as an Artist, and I wanted to own it. To fully embrace it. Until I could see the Way of the Artist as a valid and valuable one, I knew I'd stay stuck in a state of inner turmoil.
For my custom fight in my BAMM class, I requested the muggers be that voice inside my head that said "being an artist is not valuable/worthy/important." The male instructors convened in the corner to whisper their plan of attack before donning their massive silver helmets.
I stepped out onto the mat, heart pounding, mouth dry. The female instructor, going through the usual pre-fight drill, asked if I had any injuries, then turned to the muggers and called, "Melissa's ready!"
Two giant Kewpie dolls started circling, shouting "What the hell do you think you're doing with your life?" And "You should be a doctor or a lawyer!" And "Why don't you do something useful, like find the cure for cancer?"
Within seconds, I was sobbing. "Leave me alone!" I managed to spit out. "Being an artist is important! It IS valuable!"
And then one of them charged, and the fight was on.
I don't remember the cheering of my classmates, or the directives called out by the female instructor -- "Knee to the groin! Eye strike! Side thrust kick! On your side! On your SIDE!" All I remember is getting pulled to the ground, and fighting desperately to get that damn mugger off of me.
And that terrible feeling my my strength draining out of me.
Of all my BAMM fights -- including my fights against "muggers" with guns and knives and baseball bats -- that was the hardest one I ever had. Inner muggers, it turns out, are much more powerful than the external kind.
In fact, I was so distraught when the "muggers" eventually ran off, that the female instructor called one of them back for a postscript, so I could fight to a "knockout blow" and have the kinesthetic feeling of "Yes, I WON."
But I still didn't feel like I'd won.
Perception vs. Reality
Later, over a potluck meal, we got to watch a video of our fights. I fully expected to see myself fade into a limp puddle in that video. Imagine my astonishment when, just at the moment when I remember my strength ebbing away, I saw myself kicking that mugger like a m*therf-cker!
My female instructor had assured me I was fighting strong. She'd looked astonished when I told her I thought I'd "lost" the fight. "Hmm..." she said. "Just wait 'til you watch the video." It was only when I saw it on the tape that I realized I had more strength and endurance inside me than I'd known.
From Inner Mugger to Inner Transformation
I believe things began to shift from that moment on. I won't say it was an overnight transformation, but little by little I reclaimed my creative passion as not just okay, but as ESSENTIAL.
Little by little, I deprogrammed myself of the belief that following my creative passions was somehow "less than" finding the cure for cancer. Or founding an orphanage. Or anything else that might be someone else's wonderful and worthy Bliss, but not my own.
Now I know, deep to my core, that I was put on the planet to create, and to help other people with the same kind of creative hunger to liberate their own inner Creative.
Your Creative Expression Is a Divine Gift
Over a dozen years later, I'm as solid as granite on this fact: human beings are meant to express our creativity. It's part of what makes us human, despite the very confused and mixed messages we get from our society at large around creativity, art and expression.
Your creative expression is a divine gift -- a gift from the Divine.
You were born to create! And if you don't allow yourself to do what you were born to do, you starve yourself and the world. The world needs our creativity -- yours, mine, everyone else's.
It sucks that we live in a time and place with such a confused notion about creative expression and drive. But hell, it's where we are. So we've just got to join forces with other Creatives and make our own, damn revolution.
That's why I started my blog, Living A Creative Life. That's why I do the work that I do, trying to get other people past their blocks and creating.
We Creatives need to realize that we are not alone. We need the company of others like us, to remind us, as often as necessary, that yes, we get to do this. Yes, this is important. Yes, it is essential that we make time and space to pursue our creative passions. Yes. Yes. YES!
It took being mugged (albeit thankfully in the safety of a class!) for me to start to get it. What will it take for you?