stepping away from the screen and making something


My friend Laurie Smithwick, an amazing graphic designer, recently blogged her dismay at the loss of what she called her "maker" side -- the side of herself that plays and makes and is creative.  "Lately," she says, "with kids, work, and blah blah blah life, it feels as though I’ve ceded that part of me to the 'not enough time' cliche."  And so, she decided to do something about it.  Working with her new mantra, step away from the screen and make something, she is going to be creating new design around these words and sharing them every day for 365.  The result is that she is able to stretch her design muscle by interpreting the words differently every day, and those of us who are watching get a bit of a virtual meditation as we see the familiar words scroll across our screens.

Boy, do I get how she feels, though.  By the end of last year, I had become so disillusioned with my work, feeling like everything I was sharing of it, both online and off, was completely rote.  My photography felt like the same thing every day, and I struggled with words.  Every now and then I'd have the fleeting insane thought of shuttering everything up -- but, with relief, I would realize that thought would fill me with dread, a good sign that I'm still meant to write and shoot. 

But still, I knew something had to change.

Recently, Alex has been asking me just before the golden hour if she could play outside in our front garden by herself.  As my only child, I've always been ridiculously paranoid and accompanied her outside when she was in our front yard, but now she's knocking on 9 years old, for heaven's sakes.  I remember riding my bike in our neighbourhood for miles when I was 9.  So, reluctantly at first, I say yes, telling her the boundaries of how far she's allowed go, and stressing that she needs to be back inside as the daylight starts to fade.  

What has been interesting is that she hasn't really gone anywhere on these evenings:  she simply sits in our front garden, making things.  She picks random flowers and devises ways to hang them from our naked winter trees, and she makes elaborate mosaics from the heart-shaped clover leaves she finds in the bushes.  And she's out there for hours -- I always think she's going to get bored in a few minutes and come back inside, but she never does:  she just plays out there, usually by herself, making things.

And then, right before it's time for her to come in for the night, she comes inside and grabs me by the hand, pulls me back outside, so I can see what she's done.


Watching her has been so instructive.  There was a time, a long time ago, when I'd do the same thing:  I would just play and create, and only after I felt like I had done something worthy of sharing would I share it.  Nowadays, it seems that it's the other way around:  I spend very little time just quietly playing with my words or images, but instead, I share things almost immediately, instantaneously ... and if I happen to share something that I'm actually deeply and viscerally proud of, well, then, that's just a bonus.

Between Laurie and Alex (two people in my life who barely know each other, and yet, shockingly, are so much alike), I think I've learned a lesson:  that perhaps I need to spend a little more time stepping away from the screen and making things, before I share them with you here.  That said, I assure you that this isn't some sort of dramatic announcement of my stepping away from the blog -- far from it.  Rather, my hope is that with Laurie's mantra and Alex's example, I'm more mindful of the time when I'm offline, and am using it to be more creative, and create better stuff.  It is part of the reasoning behind my signing up for my first photography course ever, and why, even though I'm still frequently here, I'm not here daily, at 12 a.m. central time, like clockwork, anymore.

This is instead, I guess, a dramatic announcement of my renewed focus on making, instead of my old focus of producing.

Anyway, so there it is.  I would love to hear your thoughts, especially from those of you who create content for a living (whether it's online or offline):  how do you balance making with producing?

SongShe by Laura Mvula.  Concidentally, this song was recommended to me by another friend of mine named Laurie