When did I stop feeling – and being – creative?
It’s mystery, really. Does creativity gradually shamble off as we get older, going into hibernation for some or other reason? Or does it just run its course – the allotted ration used up at some point, the well running dry? Research says this isn’t the case, so perhaps I just got used to doing the things I do and stopped looking around for new inspiration, ideas and alternatives? I can blame work, life, commitments, etc., but the reality is that the blank page stays blank, the art/craft workshop is tidy, the mosaic project unfinished. Why?
I’m increasingly conscious that it’ll be curtains down at some point no matter how many things remain on my to-do list. So, how do I sidestep the procrastination bandwagon that seems to have rolled into town and moved in lock, stock and all barrels loaded? How do I get back to a version of me that I recognise – one that enjoys being creative and actively seeks out opportunities to do so?
Ah yes, how indeed? Tomes have been written on this topic, from academic papers to new age self-help books and everything in-between. There are any number of tools out there for the self-confessed procrastinator to use – it’s just a matter of getting around to finding them, acquiring them and implementing them… Right.
Instead, I decided it was time for me to have (another) close look at the what-when-why-how of my specific procrastinations to find a pathway through them – hopefully back to the creative me that’s been hiding out somewhere. It turns out that this process required a teensy bit of effort. Surprise!
I started by making a list – yup, a boring old list, but a list of EVERYthing I’ve been avoiding, from mundane things like household tasks to work-related goal oriented activities, from exercise and fitness activities to keeping up with friends. That bit wasn’t too hard – it just took time to figure out all those WHATs.
The next bit was a more complicated; it involved annotating each of the things I’d listed with two WHYs: 1) why it was even on the list (it’s an allocated chore, it’s a hobby, I need to get fit, etc.), and 2) how it’ll benefit me if get to it or, better yet, complete it. This took some serious soul searching, some WTF moments and some embarrassing realisations… but I got there in the end.
Onwards to WHEN I procrastinate? I had to figure out whether it’s as I set out to do item X on the list, or before then… when I think about doing the thing. Got it in one: avoidance in all its various guises has become my go-to. There always seems to be a plausible ‘reason’ to have a Scarlett O’Hara moment – to decide to put it off and ‘think about it tomorrow.’
And we’re almost there. To close the loop and move on, I had to figure out HOW it happens. What is it I do INSTEAD of the thing I’m avoiding? Am I putting the thing off completely, i.e. replacing it with another thing to fill the gap, or actually rescheduling? Thinking about it, I realise that, more often than not, ‘rescheduling’ turns out to be just a variation on a theme of a rolling, ever-expanding avoidance. Ouch. This introspection thing can be a real downer!
Anyhow, down to the nitty-gritty now: what to do about it. Well, every week we (Himself and I) write a to-do list up on the whiteboard in the family room. It serves as a memory jogger as well as a prompt, making it more likely that the various things will be remembered and be factored into the week. The list usually goes up on Sunday and includes work, appointments (personal, pets and for others, medical and other appointment with MiL / FiL), my time at the indoor pool, his at Watch School and so forth for the week ahead. We update it as the week evolves. Sometimes appointments change, sometimes things get added or removed – but it’s all up there, a shared mini schedule.
Even so, the daemon that is procrastination regularly has its way with us: the lure of email, cat videos (!), yet another Netflix series, ‘googling up’ some or other piece of information – and disappearing down a wormhole of links. Thinking about this, I conclude that when I don’t do a thing I’ve committed to do (whether the commitment is to myself or to others) it’s simply because I don’t really WANT to do it. Figuring out WHY I don’t want to do it starts with what I’m replacing it with.
A case in point is my current (and ongoing) mosaic project. I started it 18 months ago to cover up an unsightly section wall out on the patio. It’s the bottom section of wall that we never quite got around to tidying up, about 4m long and 30cm tall. A plan and a design for a mosaic frieze gradually emerged and, with it, a distinct sense of creative accomplishment and anticipation. Step one was to get Himself in to help with filling the biggest of the ugly-wall gaps with render and smoothing it over, and to lay a row of colourful tiles along the top of the little wall. In due course I was presented with a cheerful tile pattern and mostly flat surface to work on. Success! Whiteboard updated accordingly, positive feelings all round. Yay. (Take that, Procrastination!)
In my (debatable) wisdom, I’d decided to work directly onto the wall. So the next was to transfer the design onto the surface. Some delays here, which literally included the dog eating the plan (!), but the design finally went up and work began. It was fun. Slowly but surely two geckos emerged on the wall and the piece started to really take shape. The five central dragonflies were planned on paper, and the ceramic tile pieces cut, ready to go up. Happiness factor increased.
Then, after several weeks of regular activity – once the dragonflies were up and the background (so much background!) was started, I gradually stalled out. Instead of spending an hour or so out there each evening, listening to an audio book, cutting tile pieces to shape and fixing them to wall around the critters I’d already completed, I started to binge-watch a TV series, I read a couple of books and spent more time surging the internet. I baked and made freezer meals. I went to WASO concerts and had lunches out with friends. I gardened – a lot!
After several months of this, my internal hall-monitor started asking very pointed questions about the mosaic project. Initially I blamed the weather (too hot, too cold), the wildlife (flies, mozzies, dogs!), the uneven surface (to which the tiles really don’t stick very well). But a long hard look at the what-when-why-and-how of it all has made me realise that I’ve simply been finding the physicality of the project too much. My body and mind have conspired to rebel against the idea of crouching down or sitting on the (cold, hard) ground to work on it. In addition, what I haven’t wanted to acknowledge is that, somewhere along the line, tedium has replaced the initial enthusiasm. I quite simply fell out of love with the idea of it all.
So where to from here? The project is about half done – and can’t be UNdone; nor can I simply bundle it into the back of a cupboard like a half-finished jumper… Clearly I need a plan. And a deadline with clear milestones to ensure I stay on track. I’m reluctant to say Gantt Chart, but that’s about the size of it if I’m to visualise achievable steps and navigate myself back to creativity!
Over the course of writing this, a Master Plan has emerged (without resorting to flow charts!) It’s not on the whiteboard yet, but it will be. Bottom line is that I’ve found something to goad myself into getting back into it: it hinges on FiL’s 90th birthday celebrations in mid-July, some of which will be here at #10. So now there’s a plan: Day 1 (5 June) – review progress to date, decide on completion date. Get cracking! Days 2 to 32 – shape and place no fewer than 10 pieces every day. Day 33 (8 July) – Final pieces cut and placed. Grout the entire frieze and clean up. Done!
I think I’ve worked myself up to believing I’ve got my mojo back: I’ve written a blog post – the first in over six months – AND cut and placed 10 mosaic pieces! Good outcome for all that soul-searching!
(Note to the reader: Give it go – the process does require a certain amount of soul searching and, with that, acknowledging some home truths, but it’s worth it – really.)