Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Late last year, I saw a quote from Brene Brown - magical Brene Brown, whose 2010 TED Talk opened up a discussion about vulnerability and shame that has acted like a lightning bolt through my life - that read as follows: Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgment, grief, anger and shame. I think most people are like, "right, yep, creativity, it's a thing, we should do it!" And then there's a certain sector of people who just winced when they read that, as if their soul was curling up like a leaf next to flame.

So, real talk: I spend my days staring at a 12" x 15" computer screen, which sits sixteen inches from my face. Because my boss does not like it when I leave the office, I often eat lunch at my desk. I try to escape at least once a day, but it's usually only for about twenty minutes. Most days, I go across the street and pick out a treat from the Lawrence Square Mall, like a Vanilla Coke Zero, or a sugar-free truffle from the bulk section of Fortino's. Some days, I don't even get that far: I just go and sit next to the radiator in the office building's back stairwell, staring at the words in whatever magazine I'm "reading" that afternoon. I tend to leave at the end of the day feeling very, very sad. Two days out of five, I get home and I cry brief, disgusted tears.

My job has some outlets for creativity, but they're sparse. An email template here, a survey there. It's "creative" in that specific, office-job way. I get a kick from reorganizing my files, or choosing which colour folders to use. But when I see my freelance writer/furniture designer/art director/poet/knitter friends post their latest article/chair/window display/chapbook/cowl, and I get all itchy and hot. It's not jealousy, exactly. It's like I'm a vampire, and they're drinking pint glasses of blood while I'm holding a thimble.

Anne Lamott once wrote that she is a writer because she's no good at anything else. My fatal flaw, the thing that feels like the nail in my creative coffin, is that I am good at other things. I can administrate and organize and draw up strategic plans. I like doing those things. It feels like a betrayal of the creative spirit to own up to it, but here we go: I am good at spreadsheets. I can write emails like a goddamn pro. I like writing reports.

And yet, do too much of that, and I feel disgusted with myself. I feel tired. I feel like half of my body is slowly filling up with an oily despair. The computer screen is too close to my face, and I can't get away.

If I was only good at the creative stuff, it would force me to hustle. It would force me to sit down every day and transform those skills into money. As it stands right now, I've banished myself from the island of creators - that wild jungle where tigers might eat you if you can't get your shit together enough to build a Swiss Family Robinson-style palace. I'm just floating along in the Sea of Vague Regrets: oh, look, there's Continuing Education Reef! Now I'm passing the Fjord of Damn Right I Am Somebody.

And I float on. I'm unsure of what to do with this sadness, this underutilized side of myself. Right now, I'm just sitting with those feelings, trying to feel them. It's a shitty process.

I'm starting to realize that I have a limited amount of time on the planet, and I don't want to spend it being an administrative assistant. I'm cultivating these amazing female role models, from my aunts who went back to school in their forties, to the moms I know who freelance, to my own mother, whose restless creativity has meant that we've grown up in beautiful, artful homes. The physically sensation of my unhappy days does look a lot like that unused creativity that Brown warned us about, and I'm so tired of feeling ashamed. I want to row back to the island—and I don't even need the treehouse; right now, a little lean-to would be plenty—but I'm not sure where my oars are.

Image of Fishermans Wife Knitting on Skagen Beach by Michael-Peter Ancher