Time spent hanging out with family and friends can sometimes backfire when I don’t balance it with time alone to imagine and create.

18 August 2018

I was recently scolded (in a well-meaning way) for complaining about not having time to compose. This person invited me to turn my frustration into thankfulness for the time I’ve spent with family and loved ones (which has prevented me from composing much of anything this summer). My father and I have spent the past couple of months helping my mother through the dying process, and also helping her family and friends (as well as ourselves) work through grief and sorrow. I am far from bitter about the time and energy spent in this way, in fact I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the moments to embrace and lift up one another. Yet, I am experiencing some residual difficulty with concentrating on the semester ahead of me. I believe I am struggling because I haven’t had time to create (as I usually do) during the summer.

Creativity isn’t just something one can shut down indefinitely. It happens, whether we have time for it or not. I think this is the most misunderstood aspect of creativity. I’ve read several articles and books on the creative brain in an effort to understand myself better. What I’ve found is that “creatives” are often mis-labeled as disorganized, anti-social, tunnel-visioned, and lazy. What I’ve learned about myself is:

  • while my desk and household may appear cluttered and chaotic, my mind is not.
  • while I may seem to be an extrovert because I’m generally a happy, jolly person, I honestly treasure my “alone” time.
  • Like many musicians, I have a very high sensitivity to sound, so there are times when social settings feel like an assault on my ears. Many times when I find myself feeling irritated (though nothing specifically bad has happened), I suddenly realize that I’m in a setting that is too noisy.
  • “Tunnel-visioned” is a pretty accurate label. Yes, I definitely get “in the zone” when I’m creating and this causes me to ignore phone calls, e-mails, children, pets, my spouse, my friends, and sometimes even my own needs. You’d never know it from looking at me, but I forget to eat all the time.
  • I keep weird hours. Most creative types do. I’ve learned not to schedule classes before 10 a.m. I just don’t function at my best before then. I’m usually awake by 6:30 because I have to get kids on the bus, but my brain doesn’t kick into high gear until much later in the day. Many studies have proven that the creative mind takes longer to “fire up.” Once my mind does get going, I have a hard time shutting it down. This causes me to work late into the night, so it stings a little when people tease me about going back to bed after I put the last kid on the morning bus. Never mind that I stayed up until 4 or 5 a.m. the night before because I was working while all the “normal people” in the world were asleep.  If you know a creative person who keeps odd hours, please try to be sensitive about this issue. Even if they laugh about it themselves (as I often do), be aware that the humor is probably a self-deprecating smoke screen.

I typically put my creative ideas on hold during the academic year so that I can focus on my “day job” as a professor. When summer comes, I open the floodgates and let my creative self out of the cage. This summer, I have not had time to do that. It’s just a fact. I’m not bitter about it, that would be irrational. Frustrated? Yes. All this creative energy is currently bogging me down. My sponge is full and there’s no time or space to wring it out — so it’s just sitting there in my brain. This is feasible for a few months, but eventually it clutters everything else I try to do. It feels like driving through endless road construction — there are detours and roadblocks everywhere. This can be stifling and makes mundane tasks more difficult than they should be.

Here is a link to a short and humorous article that explains a bit about the creative mind, for those who are interested. By the way, I am totally the panda in this article: “Signs you are too creative…”