Current Works in Progress

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On the Importance of Creating

I had a conversation, a while back, with an old friend of mine. This friend was in the throes of the sort of existential angst that is so familiar to my generation. The kind where you ask yourself questions like, “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?”, “What do I want to do with my life?”, and “What the fuck is the point?” I offered what support I could, gave what advice seemed appropriate, and life went on. The whole thing stuck with me, however, in the back of my mind.

While reading the blog post of another friend ( dealing with the role of our generation in bridging the technological gap between the old guard and the new one, it occurred to me that this particular brand of depression seems almost entirely constrained to people my own age and younger. The image of my father, head in hands, wondering what to do with his life just doesn’t compute. That’s not to say that my parents have never felt a bit lost, or depressed about the turns their lives have taken but, and correct me if I’m wrong Mom and Dad, they’ve always had a pretty good idea about where they were going with their lives and why. I can’t always say the same about myself, or most of my friends.

Some days later I was watching the first installment of the wonderful series “Fry’s Planet Word” (viewable here to those in the UK. If you aren’t in the UK just... find other means.) and was struck by the distinction drawn between language use in chimps who can be taught sign language, and humans. The chimps, it turns out, don’t initiate conversation and don’t use language with each other. They are not linguistic creators. Humans are.

That’s when it occurred to me. The biggest difference between my parents’ generation and my own is how we spend free time.  My parents’ generation is much, much more likely to spend their free time in creative, productive pursuits than my own. They build things, make things, cook things, and grow things. We watch TV, play video games, and socially network about the things we watch and play. They impose their will on their environment (not to be melodramatic) while we do not. They create while we sit passively back and consume.

I worked, for a period of about 4 years, in a call center. That job almost killed me. I would walk in at the beginning of my shift and log into my phone, and that was the last act of volition I would perform for the next eight hours. We didn’t even answer the phone manually. You would hear a beep in your headset, and you’d be talking to someone. The complete and utter lack of self-determined action drove me into a depression so deep that I bear the scars to this day. For a period of two or three years after I was fired from that job I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. I got call display so I could phone people back, instead. I still suffer anxiety when forced to answer a phone, and am prone to not answer unless I absolutely have to.
These days my free time is spent in much more creative pursuits. I cook (as opposed to heating up food). I play music. I write speculative fiction. I also passively watch TV and play video games, of course, but in a much healthier proportion than I used to.

This is why creative, constructive activities are so important. They allow us to impose our wills on our environment. They allow us to express ourselves and, in doing so, force us to decide who our selves are.

What about you? What hobbies do you have that allow you to express yourself? What creative pursuits fill your time? How do you stay sane? Weigh-in in the comments below.

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