Common creativity - Switch & Board

Common creativity

I’m notorious in my home for something that I’m sure a lot of you can relate to: starting up creative projects. Yep. Just starting them. The last time I can remember finishing one was when I had an extended period of fun-employment (that is unemployment that you try to spin to keep your spirits up). Do you think it was related to me not having a Netflix account at the time?

Quarantine is a dangerous time for someone of my tendencies. There is a lot of inspiration-porn on social media and we are being inundated by messaging that it’s the perfect time to get a new skill. It’s hard to resist that heady rush of starting a new project, but I am trying to hold firm. It may be a good time to get into something new, but for people like me, it’s also a good time to be still. If I do decide to jump into something, I want it to be sustainable. My pandemic goal is this: start a finish-able project.

A lot of this is about setting reasonable expectations. I’m seeing a lot of posts on social media about the inventions, novel business ideas, and creative pursuits that were born out of dark times. Did you know that a lot of businesses that are now mainstays of the millennial economy, like WeWork and Uber, were born out of the 2008 financial crisis? Did you know that Edison worked on his light bulb idea over the course of another recession? Did you know that Isaac Newton developed his theory of gravity while in quarantine?

That’s fantastic. Really- it’s quite remarkable. It’s remarkable that these men of privilege were able to make the most of a difficult situation. It must have been difficult for them to lose their status quo, their earnings or savings, or, in Newton’s case, their contact with the outside world. But let’s not forget that these are achievements by men of privilege.

I don’t relate to those stories. While it’s great to remember that there are positive things that can come out of hard times, I’m more interested in what creativity looks like for everyone else. The commoners. To that point, what is common creativity in difficult times? It’s probably not inventing the light bulb or building the Empire State Building (constructed during the Great Depression).

If you’re at home, cleaning, cooking, and children may occupy all of your time and your space. If not that then trying stay ahead of the financial stress of this brand new recession may be all that’s on your mind. The image of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree watching apples fall or Adam Nuemann’s pot-fueled dreams of co-working spaces is unhelpful.

Common creativity is smaller scale. It can serve to distract for a moment or it can focus one’s mind for an extended period of time. It can be a form of escapism or an overarching goal. I do a lot of the smallest type of creative pursuits:

I cooked a meal I hadn’t tired before. I tried a shirt with a pair of pants that it had never been paired with before. I rearranged the furniture in a part of my apartment. That was creative. I had to re-imagine the space for a new purpose, consider shapes and light, and figure out the purpose of a drawer full of things with no home. This is not a beautiful space. It wouldn’t look good on Instagram. There’s not a single piece of mid-century modern furniture, macrame, or monstera deliciosa to be seen, but I did it and I’m proud.

I don’t care what anyone says- these are creative pursuits. Is this the kind of creativity that will sustain me for the duration of the pandemic? Doubtful, but I think micro-creativity deserves as much respect and consideration as the big stuff. I consider them completed projects and for some people, it’s all there is. These activities provide a small sense of accomplishment and, more importantly, something to think about that’s not the infinite scream of the pandemic, the world on fire, the elections, or any of the other troubling news headlines.

These are all small projects that I am proud to have finished, but there are bigger picture activities within the realm of the common creative too. You can try keeping a journal, dusting off the instrument under your bed, or even inflating that exercise ball. If you can do it for 3 whole days in a row before the chaos takes over, that’s good. If you can do it once a week, great! Maybe it’s something that can bring you some peace of mind into this new world we’re entering.

These types of activities are safer for people like me because they don’t have finish lines. The goal is merely to exercise your creative side for a few minutes, if a good habit is formed along the way it’s just a bonus. I’ve learned that this is the way I need to fame my creative projects- not as something with a finish line, but as a creative project to ease and exercise my mind.

Writing the next great American novel, painting your abstract oil masterpiece, or creating the next great podcast docu-series involve concrete goals, but they also need to be savored on the regular for they are. They are creative pursuits that distract you from the complicated world and help you focus on your interests. My next great project will be something that I wake up and want to work on for a while almost every day. That is what a finish-able project. If it’s not something I can look forward to carving out time for, it will go the way of all the other odds and ends in my craft closet of shame.

Let us know what you’re working on in the comments below. If it’s a podcast, we can help!

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