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Monday, October 17, 2011

Curse Of The Creative.

There are obviously a lot of benefits that come from being a creative. Yes, there's an "a" in there. By "A Creative" I mean someone who intuitively thinks creatively and acts upon those thoughts to create physical things. We all know someone like this -- they can look at what appears to be a pile of junk and make something wonderful out of it like it's no big deal while you sit there, mouth agape, slightly baffled as to what just happened and perhaps a little jealous that you never seem to be able to pull something like that off.

Admittedly, I'm one of these people, the creatives, so I know the looks and comments and yeah, not everyone sees things the way I do and can transform them into something else (in my opinion generally better) and you know, we all have our talents. I've been this way as long as I can remember -- I'm just lucky that I had parents who encouraged (or at least tolerated) my whimsy by supplying me with craft notions and letting me take classes here and there and by always acting impressed with my latest masterpiece. If I was ever told I couldn't make something it was due to physics, potential danger, or exorbitant amounts of money, never because they didn't value that I was an artsy-fartsy kid.

And in the wake of things like Etsy and Pinterest, there is a whole lot of creativity floating around in my world, which is awesome. Once you graduate from art class and Girl Scouts or 4H or what have you, crafting/creating can fall by the wayside (especially these days, when you can buy literally anything online) because you have to pursue it, make the time for it, buy the materials, be prepared for the inevitable eff up, and often you're on a deadline.

But there's a side of creativity that no one really talks about (at least not in my life), sort of the dark underbelly that surfaces once you out yourself to your world as A Creative.

It's the expectation to create. In nearly everything you do, because you have the ability to create that you should, even if it doesn't really make sense for your situation or time frame or budget or if you really just don't want the added stress of making things.  Because making things is stressful, no one really talks about that either. It's not a bad stress always, but there is pressure to make something worthwhile, and always always always is the pressure to complete it and display it for others to admire/critique.

Because there will ALWAYS be someone who will critique it. It could be because they're more experienced than you in a particular medium, or because they know a similar yet separate method of creating the same thing, or just because they're jealous or bitter that they can't do it themselves (whether they've tried and failed or just don't want to take the time to learn how), but with every creation you open yourself up to judgement on your abilities, your tastes, your essential spirit. That's a heavy load to bear sometimes, and often creatives are sensitive people, and our wares are parts of ourselves, so you have to learn to steel yourself with every stitch or paint stroke you make.

What I'm talking about more though is both the internal and external pressure to just create something when you hit a roadblock in life. Recently I was upset that we couldn't afford Halloween costumes for the kids this year due to spending all our holiday money on having a housing code violation cleared up and I received several comments that I'm sure were meant to be encouraging, saying essentially not to worry because I'm creative and I can just make them something.

Well, yes and no.

I am capable, yes, beyond so. I grew up with a mom who made our costumes, I've made my own -- and I don't mean hot glue random things to a pair of cheap sweats, I mean I go to the fabric store and buy patterns and fabric and I sew them. I do this for some regular clothes as well. I sew. It's one of the many creative exploits I have at my continual disposal.

So yes, I can sew them costumes. But that still costs money, and is time consuming, and fosters a great deal of small problems that otherwise wouldn't plague my every day for the next two weeks. Have you ever tried to get a sensory-issued child to try on a Halloween costume? It's not pretty.

And with this there comes the guilt. It's very similar to the Mommy guilt all of us mothers are subject to. Because I can somehow means I SHOULD, even if it ends up being to the detriment of myself and those around me. There's some sort of masochistic pride that comes from saying you sacrificed X, Y, and Z in order to make something -- and this is true from small knick knacks to our large house projects -- making things is not easy. Often it's enjoyable which helps negate the difficulty, but just because it's fun doesn't change that it's work. Like with Kiedis' blanket, handmade by a friend, that's he's not-so-slowly destroying by eating (oh yes) it -- part of me feels like I SHOULD learn to knit so that I can make him a new one because I probably COULD do it if I tried to learn, but another part of me is so overwhelmed by the thought of that process that you know what, I'd really rather just have someone on Etsy who already knows how to do these things make a replica and I'll figure out how to afford it when the time comes. I shouldn't feel guilty about that, by recognizing that perhaps that task is beyond my abilities for whatever reason, but I do, especially when I talk to other people about it and they don't understand why I just don't go buy some needles and yarn because I make things, right? Ugh.

Some would argue that handmade items are more special because they're from the heart, and while I can sort of subscribe to that from my own experience, I actually believe it's the thought behind the item, whether you made it or not, that counts. If someone WANTS to spend the time making you something special, then that's awesome and should be commended appropriately. But if someone makes you something because they feel they SHOULD, doesn't that take away from it a little bit, sort of cheapen it? Something begrudgingly handmade, to me, is worse than something lovingly purchased. And it's the thought that counts in the end, not the physical item, right?

What people don't realize is that though I am supremely creative, sometimes I don't want to be. Sometimes I would like to just be able to go to the store and buy the kids Halloween costumes so I can check it off of my endless mental list and move on to the next thing. Sometimes I don't have the time or the energy or the drive to figure out how to make something from scratch or to make it work with what I already have or because you know, in the case of my wedding, enough for 150 guests of this or that is A FREAKING LOT OF THINGS while you're still, you know, ABOUT TO GET MARRIED. I'm very lucky in that my family is full of Creatives and they intervened and helped carry the load before I could even feel overwhelmed and everything worked out by showtime.

But did I feel the pressure to have my wedding be handmade by me? Absolutely. Was it a huge relief to be able to hand things off to other people and let their abilities and separate creativity shine? Absofreakinglutely.

Another thing some non-creative people don't understand is that just because I'm capable of this set of creative endeavors doesn't mean I can make ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. Even in a sewing pattern the directions will say to use a crochet needle to help you guide something through a hole or something. I don't crochet, and I have no desire to learn -- and that's not to say anything about crocheting or people who do it, I'm completely ambivalent about crochet. I just don't feel the drive to add it to my repertoire at this juncture in my life. But why would I have a random crochet needle lying around for a sewing project? It's an annoying assumption, in my opinion.

And let's be honest -- in my experience, creativity comes at a price. I've yet to meet A Creative who doesn't also deal with some sort of mental health issue. They may not even know it, but oh, the disorders and the OCD run strong in this crowd. It's my personal belief that because the chemicals in our brains force us to see the world differently, we're given the ability to translate that discrepancy through our creativity. Even these words that you're reading are a result of that effect -- some of you are even here just because you know I'm an unmedicated bipolar and you like to watch the cycling train wreck of my life. I mean, think about it, some of the greatest authors and actors and painters were stark raving mad. That's the trade off. We can create beautiful things, but it comes at the price of varying degrees of our sanity.

So by taking on making two costumes two weeks before Halloween, I'm basically taunting my anxiety disorder by purposely raising my stress level when it's already running high. Creating things isn't magic; I don't turn around and just poof things into being. I stay up late hunched over laptops and sewing machines and broken housewares and impossibly small beads. My hands cramp and gnarl from clutching paintbrushes, typing keys, gripping screwdrivers, threading needles. I have cuts and bruises unintentionally self-inflicted, battle scars from trying to take what's in my head and making it something physical for others to see. My eyes are strained, I have constant stress headaches, there isn't enough coffee in the world to help me make extra time where I have none as I sacrifice my sleep enough as it is, and I miss being able to just sit down and be with my kids or my husband or even the cats without feeling like I need to be doing something to get another project that much closer to completion, so I can move on to the next one.

I can't turn off the creative process always swirling in my brain, and it takes a lot of restraint daily to keep at it, to work through the mundanity of life and to just let things be even though there's a voice in my head yelling that I could do that, I could make that, I SHOULD do that, I SHOULD make that.

Because honestly, sometimes, I shouldn't. The time and effort would be better spent in other ways.

As for the kids' costumes, we bust open their piggy banks, I printed out a bunch of coupons and perused sales, and I went to the fabric store. Kiedis' is about 96% finished, and then I get to start Tova's -- on top of  everything else I do in the span of my days between housewifery, stay-at-home-momery, work-from-home-momery, house projects, etc. In the end, I talked with Kyle and he encouraged me to make the costumes because I've always wanted to, I just let time run out, and he's making it possible by carrying more of the childcare load while he's home so I can get as much done as possible in the time I scrape together. I feel both that I should because I can and that I want to -- I will most likely save these costumes forever, since they are the first I've handmade them -- but I wish sometimes that there wasn't so much outside pressure to create just because I've illustrated a knack for it.

I wouldn't trade my creativity for anything, as I believe it's the biggest, most consistent, and most enduring part of my personality from my entire existence. But just as anyone with any talent, I'd like to be able to take a break from it sometimes and not be judged for it. I'd like to be "normal" (whatever that means) from time to time, to make sure that when I flex my creative muscle I enjoy it instead of feel burdened by it. I don't want it to become my sole identifier, but one of many personality aspects for which I am known. The arts are every bit as much work as business or finance or medicine, just in really different ways, and I guess I just wish more people recognized that.

I will say my friends' faith in my abilities is flattering though, and I hope with these costumes to live up to their -- and everyone else's -- expectations.



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