At a dinner party last night, an old friend asked how I’ve been spending my time during quittirement. What I’ve been up to, or working on, or reading, or thinking about. She hadn’t seen me in a year, and was genuinely curious. It was a fair question, and has been asked by many others. But so far I haven’t been able to answer the question. I hem and haw and evade. I’m the master of summarizing recent social activities without providing insight as to the hours in between. It’s not that I don’t know the answer, I’ve just been afraid to say it out loud.
So here’s the answer: I’ve been trying to develop my creative side. I’ve written posts for this blog, tried my hand at woodworking, and practiced my photography. I’ve drafted a couple of short stories and a few chapters of a novel that may or may not progress. There. Three sentences, said and done. But saying that aloud to actual people, instead of into the ether of the internet, is much more daunting.
Why so scary? I think it’s the radical change in self-definition. We tend to categorize some people as “creatives” and others as “not”, and once applied that label sticks – how often do you hear of a successful photographer transitioning to a career in economic analysis, or a successful programmer becoming a novelist? It seems that once you’re in a certain bucket you generally stay there – perhaps because those are the opportunities that fall in your path – do well in Calculus I, the teacher will suggest you take Calculus II, and eventually your faculty advisor recommends you for a job designing airplanes for Boeing. And perhaps, as well, you stay in that bucket because it’s self-reinforcing. Because you like being successful. Because it feels nice to do things that you’re good at and sucks to feel like an idiot. Better to avoid those things that require struggle. I’ve seen this dynamic play out on both sides of the aisle. I’ve helped several creatives with financial matters – mortgages, taxes, debt planning – after they’ve become frozen by the supposedly inherent condition of being “bad with money”. And I’ve watched myself avoid getting photos professionally printed because I didn’t want to see the reaction of the girl behind the counter when she looked at my pictures.
Intellectually, I think this is a bunch of hooey. I’m certain that my artist friends are cognitively capable of understanding financial matters as well as anyone, but would need to venture into an uncomfortable realm to build that knowledge. And I believe that everyone – including myself – has a creative side that could be developed if we were simply brave enough to create terrible art for a while. But intellectual conviction doesn’t reduce the discomfort of taking those first steps into unfamiliar territory. I still had to steel myself before finally opening the door to the pro photo lab last week. When I did, the girl behind the counter just smiled and said hello.