What I Learned From My Creativity Staycation

Guess what, guys!  I took the whole week off last week!

It was a huge splurge of precious leave, but given my enduring frustration with having so many projects I feel compelled to do, it was worth it.  Because while I have a job so I can pay the bills and the content of that job is decent as jobs go, the activities that I perceive as creating the most real value are those that get relegated to “free time.”  Well, my primary takeaway from the week is that my projects, despite being deemed “hobbies” by standard twenty-first century American discourse, could readily fill the space of a 40+ hour a week job, frequently with overtime.  Perhaps that’s why I was developing some stress-related physical symptoms that provided the final incentive to take a vacation!

So after some reflection, I’m asking myself: was this use of vacation time a success?

The question demands further refinement.  Is the question whether I accomplished everything I wanted to do, or whether I gained anything meaningful in the effort?

Lesson One: Dreams Expand to Fill the Time Available

The first question’s easy to answer.  Did I accomplish everything?  Not by a long shot.  See, adding 40+ hours of freedom to the week seemed like so much time beforehand that instead of picking just one or two projects and dedicating the whole week to finishing them, I got my hopes up too high and spread myself too thin.  (And this is after trying to scope my week effectively to start!  I limited myself to five projects.  A project a day!  When you’re used to scraping a couple fatigued hours out of each evening, that seems like the height of temporal luxury.  But each project is bigger than one eight-hour day.  As it turns out, “establish democratic socialism” is not a reasonable goal even when one has the whole week off.  Ha ha, I’m joking, of course!  So I scaled it down to merely developing one course on Alternatives to Capitalism in the Real World.  On which I’m not an expert, but would like to be, so research is the first step.  Now, that’s reasonable, right?

Ha ha, NO.  Not unless it’s your only project for the week.  I did manage to get a bit of research done, but need several more days to keep digging and following threads.  Unfortunately, when you only have one week to Accomplish Your Dreams, your dreams have to fit inside it.  And mine don’t.  This is not a surprise, of course, but understanding something conceptually and actually experiencing it make a different impact.  As Max suggested, “They talk about a meaningful life, not a meaningful week.”

That’s a pretty weighty lesson.  With significant implications.

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Lesson Two: As Usual, I’m Weird Not Typical

You know, the header image for this piece is rather misleading, because it suggests relaxation.  And that’s what many people thought I was doing.  In talking about my plans, I discovered that very few people readily understood the idea of taking a week off to get important creative projects done.  Most people ended up saying something (perhaps with a look of envy) about how nice it would be to finally clean out those closets or refinish the deck.  Hey, I have chores, too: that’s part of why I took time off to get to the meaningful stuff.

On one hand, these people’s reactions—and the fact that we’ve created the word staycation in the first place—give weight to my argument against the 40-hour work week for everyone, not just people with an intense creative drive.  But the fact that I had to append the word creativity to it to convey my intention suggests something else.

So another lesson I learned was just how few people were able to relate to this kind of intense creative drive.  I’m aware that I’m unusual (hence my frequently referring to myself with the self-disparaging term “weird,” as some of you readers have called out in the past), but the degree to which many people totally failed to comprehend why I’d take a week off still surprised me.  Is this experience with intrinsic motivation truly so unusual? I mean, growing up in my family, I knew that I was the only one who ran three series of stories on the Web, but my sister also can fill time quite readily with culinary creative projects.  I didn’t think intrinsic motivation was the weird part.

Maybe it’s merely unusual among professionals with secure white-collar employment.  The optimist would suggest that they have found fulfilling professions that meet their need to create and contribute.  Is DC just full of self-actualized people living the dream?

On that note, let’s just say I’m skeptical.  Other people may not get twitchy from being unable to make progress on “hobbies,” but I do know so many others who could use more time simply to manage their lives, rest, develop friendships, and contribute to culture, even if they’re not planning both novels and revolutions.

Two distinct tangents could spring from that observation, but I’ll let them both be for now.  For now, I’ll merely note that while I like the header image a lot and went for form over function in this respect, this image of “freelancer” gives you a better image of what I was doing:

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(Except in this picture, the cat is satisfied to sit on the woman’s head and watch.  My cats, on the other hand, thought I was staying home to give them unending attention.  Oh yeah, and I use Linux, not Apple.  But who makes stock photos of Linux users?  That would be weird.)

Lesson Three: Set Aside 10% Time for Inspiration

Thomas Edison is quoted as saying that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.  And while I agree that perspiration is the bulk of it (more on that later), I find it beneficial to set aside more time for inspiration.

I have intellectual overexcitability, meaning my brain reaches out and tries to digest the whole world at once, which can lead to mental indigestion pretty quickly.  So it’s obviously necessary to pace myself and pick a project on which to focus.  But the first step needs to be playful and not super-goal driven.  That’s where the inspiration comes in.  Where serendipity takes over!  It pays off splendidly by enriching the later focused productivity.  For example, last Thursday afternoon, as I was researching some alternative economic ideas for that Alternatives to Capitalism class I’m developing, I stumbled across a fellow who came to some of his projects through what seems to be an experience of positive disintegration.  (Which says a bit about how my political ideas tie in with my work on Dabrowski, if you had been wondering about that.)  And now I have another very fruitful idea to pursue, but it must simmer for a while before it gets focused attention.

As a corollary lesson, I’ve learned that I probably have three project spaces in my mind.  Two can be active and one “empty” one at any given time, to be filled with whatever captures my attention in a big way—i.e., the seeding of new ideas.  I have to rotate the fields of my mind (as any multipotentialite will understand).  If I had more time each week, I would rotate weekly through the project spaces, rather than trying to cram five research projects into a single week.  I think I could thrive doing that.

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Lesson Four: But 90% of the Time Must Still Be Perspiration

The main thing I ended up doing during my week off was, frankly, polishing stuff I’ve written during weekend ten o’clocks over the past several months—you know, those 47 draft posts (I’m up to 50 now) that I talked about in a recent post.  Basically, I finally made time to do what I said I’d do in a post last August:

Given that I can in fact go back and refine what I’ve written in response to comments or just in response to thinking more, I’m going to try to take advantage of it and willingly post more garbage in the hope of also producing more gems.  I’m going to spin more unpolished gold with the expectation that I can polish it later.

So during my staycation, instead of having wonderful ten o’clock flow times of new content every morning, I made progress toward finishing things—blog posts, other writing projects, research for still other projects, e-mails I mean to write, et cetera.  I don’t do this during my weekends often enough, see, because weekends are my main opportunity to spin that unpolished gold and that’s my favorite thing to do with my time.  But what good is that if I never polish it?  While I have been spending some time doing that, it’s nothing near the 90% it probably has to be, as the fifty saved drafts suggest.

It is hard work, and it’s why I don’t do it more often.  When I had 40 more hours available in a week, however, I thought I’d surely have enough to get all that sanding down of previous projects done.  Did I finish all the things I’d hoped to?  No, of course not.  I did do significant work on three posts (one of which I published; two require still more work), but even most of those aren’t visible yet.  That’s one of the ways the week was a “failure.”

But the lessons of the prototype creative week surely outweigh those “failures” in the long term.  I won’t be able to magically speed up creative output, and I’m still trapped in capitalism and I don’t own any means of production.  But it might be that I can make some life adjustments.  And looking back at Lesson Two, it appears I’m going to have to figure this out for myself, because each person’s path to actualizing potential will be her own.

What about you, readers?  Do these lessons ring true for you?  Have you learned other lessons through the pursuit of your own intrinsically-driven creative projects?

12 thoughts on “What I Learned From My Creativity Staycation

  1. During the cold and hunger of the Russian Civil War an academic put a blanket over a table, crawled under the table, lit a candle for heat and light, and wrote a history of Japan. To most people this determination to starve to death productively is incomprehensible or at best a Hero of Intellectual Labour, king of Stakhanovites. What they don’t understand is the gifted don’t have a work ethic. They have a burning, maddening hunger that can never be sated.

    Once an obsession takes hold there is no escape and if I can’t find the answers I’m looking for, the email campaign begins. I was recently tormenting the inventors of liquid air energy storage and the Dearman engine with questions about if it is more efficient to use liquid air for cooling and power or to separate it and just use the nitrogen for that and the oxygen for oxyfuel furnaces in industry. I have everyone from a Daoist to a military theorist avoiding my emails, and I’m pretty sure there is a chemical engineer who thinks I’m a sociopath.

    What are you going to write novels about? I’ve had something in mind for years but it grew into one of those massive secondary worlds with ten thousand years of history and I have no idea what to do with it.

    Socialism can’t be achieved in a week you say? Going to have to rework some plans… 🙂 The time limit I’ve been working with is about two years in each location, as that is the longest people can maintain maximum mental and emotional arousal. This is the limit for romantic relationships, religious revivals and revolutions. However there is an amazing and borderline hallucinagenic article in the third Endnotes journal that claims global logistics is the defining aspect of modern capitalism and the entire economy is totally dependant on it. The author claims we have three months from kickoff to global socialist victory or there will be complete economic collapse. You can argue with some of the claims but it is a hell of a vision.

    You mentioning the gifted in stupid jobs and now Alternatives to Capitalism got me thinking about Parecon. I don’t expect any better of capitalism but Parecon is very disturbing to all enemies of bureaucracy and the gifted in particular. The whole thing is based on fear of the ‘coordinator class’ and the risk they pose. This could so easily become distrust for anyone of high skill and ability and justification for keeping them in their place. A large part of Parecon is a huge bureacracy of committees built on the suspicion that someone, somewhere, is trying to have a happy working life. It actually rewards poor career choice as renumeration is based on sacrifice, so doing a job you hate gets you more goodies. I hoped Parecon would be inspirational but found myself reading the blueprint for marginalisation and resentment of the gifted.

    Not alternatives to capitalism, but I am very interested in intentional communities, resilient communities and self-sufficiency in energy, food, transport etc. In the political tradition I come from these could be considered petty bourgeois deviations (my life is one big petty bourgeois deviation) but it’s the kind of work I enjoy and I think they build very useful skills, give you credibility to talk about environmentalism, and they are worthwhile for their own sake. Plus if you read the history of revolutions how often do you hear food shortage, fuel shortage, deteriorating material conditions? If a revolutionary isn’t also a survivalist it could be argued that they haven’t been paying attention. 🙂 Of course if such communities went bad, their semi-independence from the working class would make them an ideal base for strikebreaking and counterrevolution, a cross between the Vendee and the B-Specials, and the rock on which the revolution breaks.

    In other news, we may be facing a two-front war against the Islamists and the Nazis. So that will be fun.

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    1. On my novels, well, I have several ideas; first on the list is an idea for young readers that I came up with when I was about 11 or 12 years old, wrote on WordPerfect 5.1, and then rewrote in 2007 at age 25. I have a couple ideas for adult readers, but I take so long to mull over my ideas that I don’t think I’ve been an adult with anything to say long enough to have a novel idea. But it’s also true that my young readers’ novel is probably going to be more of a Saint-Exupéry-type “kids’ story that resonates more with adults.” No matter. I’ll write it and let others figure it out. (It won’t be heartwarming in the way that Le Petit Prince is, though. It’s not necessarily going to have a happy ending. Actually, I’ve conceived of the story as a trilogy, where the protagonist is 11 in the first book, maybe high school or college in the second, and a young adult trying to make it in the world in the third volume. And upon reflecting on this book I’ve tried to write every decade or so now, I realize that it’s about positive disintegration. No wonder I latched on to Dabrowski’s work so solidly.

      I wasn’t familiar with Endnotes before, and now I am. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! As for Parecon, your reaction is rather #mirrorlife. I don’t know much about it, to be honest — all I know is from a chapter in Leonard & Sunkara’s The Future We Want, and it made me think that it would indeed be an ultra-bureaucracy, and I hate bureaucracy. I am skeptical whenever someone suggests much good can come of it. I keep thinking I should read more about it (if only to be able to articulate why I don’t think it’s the right path for socialists, if indeed I hold to that view)…but right now I’m just more interested in things like UBI and all the discussion around that, since it seems like something is coalescing around that. (Not a plan for a workable UBI, I mean, in terms of what is coalescing…but something. A spectre.)

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    2. A spectre is haunting the DC Beltway…the spectre of Universal Basic Income. 🙂

      On the subject of stuff going on in America, have you read the platform of the Movement For Black Lives? They aren’t messing about! Although they’d probably face armed counterrevolution before they got a quater of it done.

      My hatred of bureaucracy has reached the point where I consider it one of the top-tier evils in the world. It produces untold human misery in its own right, it is entwined with all the other evils, is part of them, and protects them from change. It is also frighteningly persistent despite social change. The drama series GBH is basically a hatchet job on the radical left, but has one scene that haunts me. It is a situation close to dual power and to get anything done people have to go see the union boss and his enforcer. After leaving, Michael Palin’s character says “And then I realised, that’s what the workers’ state is – bullies and bureaucrats.” I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to prevent this from coming true. I also think ‘Bullies and Bureaucrats: Together Always’ sums up so much about how power structures work.

      If in doubt about a novel you can always write it as a Choose Your Own Adventure book, include every plot idea and every ending and make use of all your bazillion drafts. When writing a childrens’ book that appeals to adults you have to ask yourself questions like “is writing an allegory of PTSD and Gulf War Syndrome crossing the line when your characters are talking farm animals?” 🙂

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      1. I once skimmed the BLM platform and I remember being impressed and meaning to look back at it. I just got a book on the subject…it’s atop my pile, with The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (thanks for suggesting it). Well, good for them — they’re aiming high. That’s always the place to start!

        One of the 51 drafts in my WordPress account right now is about why bureaucracy is an evil. I wonder if this is more than just #mirrorlife and something that is particularly challenging for gifted people. On the other hand, I think most people hate bureaucracy on some level; most just think it’s a necessary evil rather than just an evil.

        And that’s sage advice on the PTSD and farm animals. I’ll keep it in mind. 😉

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      2. So I can make you read any book I suggest…I must use this power for good… 🙂 Hatred of bureaucracy (I hate it so much I can never spell it right first time) is why I push the works of John Seddon in a big way. His whole thing is pretty much no-waste, no bureaucracy organisations focussed on the work and the customer (or whatever thay have instead of customers). The method he uses even recruits a lot of former bureaucratic personalities by getting them hooked on working efficiently and well. So maybe we won’t have to be bureaucidaires when we grow up (esoteric joke even for me – a genocidaire is someone who commits genocide so a bureaucidaire is someone who kills bureaucrats). 🙂 Even though John Seddon is a management consultant for big business and public services, he could have custom designed the Vanguard Method for us (even the name – sometimes the universe smiles on us).

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      3. Not any book! Max keeps finding books he thinks I should read and occasionally even buying them for me, and I get stressed out because I want to read them, but I can’t possibly keep up with them all. Hah! But if you happen to suggest things that are right in line with my present mental trajectory, I might well pick them up! And Seddon’s works seem like they might actually be relevant to me right now as we try to figure out how to do meaningful things with a recently tripled-in-size socialist organization. We grew too fast for our organizational structure to keep up, and now I’m on the team that gets to try to address this.

        I have been getting cranky any time anyone proposes something that I can label “bureaucratic.” Being in DC, a lot of people share the nervous twitch about that word. But my preferred operation style is probably too grassroots/individual to scale up very well…but we can’t put barriers in the way of grassroots energy! What we need to do is channel that energy so it melds with other energy effectively.

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  2. I love this quote, “As it turns out, “establish democratic socialism” is not a reasonable goal even when one has the whole week off.” Ha ha, yeah I always expect to get WAY more done on my vacations then I do – and working in schools I get a lot more vacations. And this, “I have intellectual overexcitability, meaning my brain reaches out and tries to digest the whole world at once, which can lead to mental indigestion pretty quickly.” – great way to put it, I can totally relate!

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    1. Thanks, Aurora! I’m always delighted to encounter other people who relate to this experience. And though I haven’t yet managed to stop myself from having over-ambitious goals for any given time period, at least I’ve become self-aware about it, which seem to be the main hurdle to life management there.

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  3. This was fantastic! It is a blessing and a curse that artist is my vocation AND avocation. The “day job” is me artistically fulfilling other peoples’ visions and that can exhaust my energy, ideas and just plain oomph. Plus, both things happen in the same space so after a particularly difficult day at “work” I don’t necessarily want to stay in the same room for “play.” I’ve been giving thought to taking time off for my own projects, I appreciate all your advice and will give it a go!

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    1. Thank you, Alesia! Wow, I can only imagine what that would be like, being paid to do your dream job for other people and therefore never having the energy to do it for yourself, but what you say makes a lot of sense. I hope that you do get to take a staycation and work for yourself for a little while — even if all it points to, as it did for me, is the need to do even more of it! Thanks for stopping by and reading.

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