I need to feel productive. I need a sense of accomplishment. When I don’t regularly feel that my actions are creating progress my mental health starts to deteriorate and depression creeps in. At the end of my library career I wasn’t getting any of this and it contributed to a significant decline in my mental health. A decline which, ironically, made it impossible for me to do anything but exist in the world, and this was a contributing factor to my eventual dismissal from that position. This feeling of accomplishment can come from anything: balancing the checkbook, cleaning the kitchen, taking a jog, or, as is appropriate for this blog, creating arts and crafts.
I’ve always been a creative person. Why it took me into my forties to realize the importance of progressive accomplishment for my mental health I’ll never know, but for as long as I remember I’ve enjoyed creating things. As a child I liked Legos and drawing. As an adolescent I discovered a love and talent for writing. In my teenage years I took up guitar. I college I was forced to write, and, presumably unlike most of my classmates, I would seek out classes in which I would be sure to write as a major feature of the learning experience. I took playwriting three times in college because I loved it so much. To some extent, “a writer,” is one of the most consistent descriptors of my life.
Eventually, though, I largely stopped writing. I have more than 25,000 words of an unfinished novel tucked away in a computer folder. I stopped playing guitar, too. It hangs on my bedroom wall as an art piece; a museum piece dedicated to the joy and therapy it once gave me. It’s the one object I’ve always needed where I lived to make it feel like home, and it hangs there waiting to be played, or not. Why did I stop?
Life, as the cliche goes, is what happens while you’re making other plans. I had a spouse and jobs and grad school and job searches and life things that made activities like playing guitar and writing a hard science-fiction novel seem frivolous. I took up time with watching television and drinking too much. We also took up time with wonderful things like going camping and hiking and traveling. Oh, and there’s the 8 years or so that I spent acting in the St. Louis area community theaters. Writing and guitar playing just fell away. I tried to bring writing back into my life. This is the second or third attempt to have a family blog, and I maintained a librarian blog for approximately four years, but it never became the vital part of my life that I wanted it to be. Guitar playing? Well, I’ll occasionally bring down the old girl and put her on my lap, but I find that while I remember most of the chords, the songs have all left me. And since I don’t play regularly I don’t have the calluses on my hand that I used to have and it hurts after playing more than ten minutes. Writing’s easier to pick up again because I don’t have to learn anything. I’ve always just been able to do it. It’s my one natural gift.
Writing and guitar playing took a back seat, but I did replace them with other creative things. First it was acting. There have been few greater joys, harder or more satisfying works than getting together with a group of people and putting on a show. Especially, when everyone is taking it as serious work. The rehearsal process was everything to me. I’ve always loved the process of producing art, whether that was putting together a record, a play, or now, a piece of furniture. The play performances were never really my motivator. I tended to think that audiences got in the way and interrupted our flow. The performance was the cap on the end of a work; the reward for our time and energy, but the joy and satisfaction came from the process before it. I did have hiking and camping for active hobbies that helped me out tremendously, but for a relatively long time I didn’t do any kind of creative work other than cooking the occasional meal. That began to change in 2018, though, when the woodworking bug bit, and again in 2020 when I added counted cross stitching.