Why can't I just "be" anymore?
Creativity is like a child. It needs to be allowed to play or trust me, we'll rue the day.
Years ago, my Mom called and I didn’t answer. Back then my voicemail said, “Hi, this is Anna Lind Thomas with HaHas for HooHas …” (and dear Lord, I wonder if it still says that? I haven’t thought about my voicemail message in over a decade!”) She hung up and dialed my sister, who also didn’t answer. “Hi, this is Jenny with Planner Perfect …”
These were our personal phones, not work lines. Mom hung up, “Good grief, can’t people just “be” anymore?”
She reminded me of this story as I lamented how much I struggle with relaxing. If you watched me on a hidden camera all day, you’d think I was full of crap. “She relaxes more than anyone I know!” you’d shout. Especially during the winter. I just rotate from one couch to one chair to another couch on another floor for hours until I finally rally the courage to put a load of laundry in or get out a few time-sensitive emails. Then I get right back to relaxing. “Ohhhhh, a documentary about Alaskans living in the bush during the harsh winters? I guess I better watch all five seasons.”
But it’s not really relaxing. It’s more like “Guilt Ridden Lying Down,” and I don’t know who I’m kidding, but it’s not even close to refreshing and if anything, the constant thoughts of “I really should be productive” run round and round so hard I might as well be sprinting on treadmills.
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My mom’s issue pointed to a cultural one. Since the dawn of social media, many of us have become less a person and more a “brand” – and if you want to make a living from the “brand” – that is, you— life experiences aren’t to be enjoyed, so much, but to be refurbished and repackaged into micro-content. As a humor writer and book author, it’s a deep, deep joy to share the stories of my life. But marketing wisdom poses that in order to be successful we have to deliver this content every single day. Sometimes, it’s fun, and if you’re helping others, fulfilling. Other times, that creative grind feels as if I’m losing my humanity. So I resist and rebel. Then get real jealous of the people who are succeeding at doing all the things I like to resist doing, because needless suffering is my right as an American!
Maybe those Alaskan Bush people know something I don’t.
But it’s not all cultural. Some of this malaise is seasonal. Those of us who have harsh winters would like to actually, you know, leave our house and see the sun and we’re getting antsy about it.
Then there are those of us with those pesky, ambitious temperaments. We don’t do well in the present, we’re too obsessed with the future. “You’re your father’s daughter,” my mom sighs while I complain. My father is a luxury home builder and if he has several houses going at one time, it’s impossibly exhausting but that’s when he comes alive. Driven by purpose, creation, accomplishment.
But when the crazy season ebbs, as it should, it’s nice at first but eventually he gets a little … edgy. What should be a time of relaxation and replenishing before the next big project becomes a time of angsty restlessness.
Cozy up to Anna’s books for a real good laugh.
Then a get a few for your friends <3
And this is me, in between books. What should be a time to relish, replenish and play, becomes an anxious, guilt-ridden time, where it’s never quite enough.
Good grief, my mother says. Can’t you just be?
I’ve been chewing on her words for the past three weeks. I am actively willing myself to “just be,” because I so easily forget to give striving a rest. I’m not great at it, but I’m getting better.
Last week was a snow day at school. One of my closest friends, Amber, who lives about an hour away, called me up and said, “Wanna hide from our kids and play Mario Superstars online?” A couple months ago I would have been like, “Girl please, I gotta clean my bathroom and get some writing done,” then spend the rest of the day not doing any of those things. But this time, I said yes. We spent the next hour FaceTiming, laughing overly hard, and getting super pissed when we stole each other’s stars.
You know. Just being.
Julia Cameron compares our creativity to a child. Children like to play. No, they need to play. And if neglected long enough, they’ll rebel and act out. Or, hide away lonely and despondent. Discipline, a good work ethic, are of course, essential, or things get out of control. Sometimes you gotta get the job done regardless of how you feel. But too much discipline, too much work, too much wagging of the finger, too many hand-on-hips-sighs-of-disappointment can be, well-- just as destructive as no discipline at all.
So, I started playing again, like a well-balanced person should. And you know what? When I do, the craziest thing happens.
Eventually, I get an idea.
Excitedly, I run to my desk.
And I write.
Sometimes I share what I’ve written with you. Others, I tuck away for safe keeping.
I stretch. Clean my bathroom. Bake with my girls.
Then I call up my friend, Amber.
“So uh, whatcha doin?” I say.
I get it! I'm creative in the kitchen! When I'm feeling blue - nothing like cracking open a cookbook and whipping up something I've never made before! It revitalizes me....and my husband never complains..
It’s so hard to separate who we are from what we DO. But we should do so because as image-bearers we are valuable without having to be productive. And then if we can feel valued for that reason as an image-bearer, our contributions to others will be a joy and a gift rather than pressure and obligation. I’ve only come to this realization as a 61 yo. I’m at a much better place in my life to give Grace. Sort of sad it’s taken me so long….