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help, I learned past my identity

“Learning past” is like seeing a picture you used to think you looked good in and feeling embarrassed by your outfit, your face, and who you used to be. It means overthinking, growth, and change. This is a rant about my misconceptions of what it means to be a “Creative”.

1 fire

Say you walk into a store and see a necklace you like. The thrill is once, in buying it, vs. when you make something, you have to buy the parts, which is one thrill, then the second comes after you make it and you can say so to anyone who asks. When someone compliments me on something I’ve bought, they’re complimenting my taste. When they compliment me on something I’ve made, they’re complimenting my taste and my technical prowess. It’s addictive.

I’ve gotten in the habit of seeing everything and thinking, I could make that better – and for cheaper than it’s sold for here! But is it really cheaper to make it myself? Not when I account for tools and materials. When I buy a container of beads for one necklace I want to make for myself, I end up with a bunch of leftovers. I can’t possibly need 20 more necklaces using the same beads just for myself, so the only way it would be worth it is to make more of the original necklace and sell them. But as a maker who looks at everything and thinks I can make that myself, how can I feel good about selling? If I don’t buy, why should anyone else? I should just publish tutorials for how to make the necklace.

But some people would rather buy. I saw a comment under a TikTok tutorial for an acorn necklace asking the creator to please list it on her Etsy and she’ll pay whatever she wants as long as she doesn’t have to make it herself. I used to think people who’d rather buy than DIY were sheep, but now I think they’re right. Imagine people see my necklace, like it, watch my tutorial, go out and buy the same beads and make it themselves. Now we’re double, triple the waste. It would be so inefficient if everyone went and bought the materials and tools and spent time learning how to make just one necklace that someone else already has the materials, tools and knowledge to make. Remember, the only the way it’s worth it for the original person to have bought those materials is to use them up selling more pieces. There’s also something about giving credit where credit’s due. If someone’s made a necklace I like, they’ve earned my buying it. What nerve to say I can make it cheaper or better myself.

DIYers think we’re opting out of consumerism or capitalism, but it’s not like we make everything from scratch. We have to buy our tools from stores like Michael’s that are always encouraging us to buy more. Crafting is subject to trends, like how crocheting and tufting are really big right now, which means our tools won’t always be useful forever. I’m going at things now with the perspective what can I make with what I already have? I really, really don’t want to buy materials if I can help it. I already have a drawer full of stuff I might never use again (like three wire hammers with different material heads).

2 ashes

Sometimes I think that crafting would only be worth the resources to me if I were creating at the fine-arts level. But it’s stupid to say that if someone isn’t the best carpenter in the world they’re not allowed to enjoy woodworking in any sort of way. Crafting could probably be worth it if it were simply really fun for me. The only real fun I have is with showing off the finished product. Crafting itself often isn’t that fun for me because if I don’t have a really clear idea of something brilliant I’m trying to make, I feel extra guilty about wasting resources, cutting and hammering wire that doesn’t go into something, or cutting too much string to use in this necklace but not enough to save for another, or mixing polymer clay colors irreversibly in a shapeless blob. When I do have a good idea, the making is no fun because I’m just carrying out the idea – it was the idea that was fun to have. It’s also fun to have the physical idea in my hands, dangling from my ears or around my neck. 

It would be ideal if I could draw instead, especially digitally, but I don’t have control over a pen or brush the way I do my hands, shaping and cutting things. It’s probably worth the effort to improve at drawing though, so I’ve taped blank posters to the wall and I’ve been using a basic set of Crayola markers to crudely capture images from my dreams. It feels good to draw on the wall. It would probably feel so good just to scribble, but that would be a waste of paper. 

It’s helpful that other hobbies I have are pretty much zero waste – learning, playing, writing  music, reading, and writing. I learned past songwriting, so I’ve just been reading a lot. I started actively seeking content and inspiration and journaling about it when I started songwriting, so that I’d have something to write about, but I’ve since found that collecting consistently puts me in a deeper flow state than making the art. And it never drains me the way making art does – as long as my search is mindful. Pointless scrolling is the absolute worst, but so far that hasn’t happened during the 2 “input hours” per night I dedicate to filling up my inspiration bucket. If I never make art again, I think I’d be happy just reading and writing forever.

I do get worried that without something to collect for, I may start skipping the writing part and getting in the habit of just consuming. I can learn past writing – like creative writing; songs, stories, poems, whatever I throw myself at next – but collecting and journaling is the only time I listen to my thoughts, and I can’t learn past thinking.

3 phoenix

I’ve defined myself by my creative projects forever. Who am I if not a songwriter, a maker, an artist? I guess, a person. I know that this slippery slope thinking is kind of ridiculous, and that all of this could just be a creative slump. I just had a really productive period during which I wrote sheet music for ten of my songs in less than two weeks. Then the rain and 4 pm sunsets started and seasonal affective disorder officially kicked in, forcing me into a couple weeks of rest, leaving these thoughts marinating for weeks. I can still be creative without being A Creative. This isn’t the end of everything, just some misplaced dreams of “making it” and escaping 9-5 life.

I read that it always feels silly when you start exercising, like you’re just going through the motions. You try a different activity every day and it feels like torture but you do it because you’re supposed to. Then one day you try an activity that makes you feel better and more comfortable in your body than you were before, so you keep doing that. The perfect fit, the one shirt in the thrift store that was meant for you. Or is everything good, and you only think there’s one perfect one because you don’t know how to style everything else yet? I romanticize art and creativity and worship artists, so naturally, I want to force those clothes onto myself too. I know how to style them and make them look good. I don’t know how to wear corporate 9-5 and make it look stylish; it doesn’t fit in the movie I’d want to make of my life. But I’ve also read that we like things we know a lot about, and if you don’t like something, the only way to like it better is to learn more about it. What if I just don’t follow crafting and music for a while, and take time to learn about other topics? Things I’d usually ignore – acting, or extreme sports – and things I hate – work and gardening. My Instagram and TikTok feed are full of craft ideas, and YouTube is basically all concerts and music classes, so I’d have to stay clear of these places for a while. They’ve taught me so much, but they’ve also pigeon-holed me. I hated how we had to learn every subject every year in high school instead of just choosing our favorites, but I guess it pays to be broadly curious and practice different disciplines. How would I know my favorite was actually my favorite, and not just my favorite character’s favorite subject which the author chose because it was a romantic metaphor, not just the one I got the best grades in, not just the one my parents wanted me to like? What’s up with asking kids what their favorite color is? And pretending their choice says something about their personality. A little girl picks yellow so she’s got a cheerful disposition; her friend picks pink which makes her feminine and high maintenance. At some point kids are choosing the personality they want to be associated with and it has nothing to do with the color anymore. Also, favorite color of what? It’s different whether it’s wall paint or bedsheets or pants or hair.

It would help to stop picking favorites. I can give up on everything I’ve done today for something different tomorrow, and when I get bored of that I can go back. Learning past learning past my identity.

edited 12/8/21

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