How To Be Creative (Without Also Sucking as a Person)

It’s a caffeine-fueled week, folks.

I’ve started writing for myself again—just a little bit, just mission critical stuff. I bought a new journal two weeks ago, and it’s nice to have my own private space to be…well, a writer.

(Maybe it’s better to say “a person who writes.” Sounds less pretentious. )

This isn’t my first journal. In a few months, it will likely join the dozen other half-finished notebooks boxed away in my basement. Yet another awkward testament to my young narcissism. Or to my passion for artistic expression. Or both.

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Narcissism, self-expression. They kind of go together, don’t they?

Here’s a reality I’ve uncovered recently: Being a creative person can be pretty freakin’ self-involved, especially in the share-centric twenty first century. We’re claiming our own little corners of the internet, competing for attention, measuring our value in likes and upvotes. I have a website which is a pun of my own name, guys. That can’t be good for ego control.

And so it goes: I made this. I wrote this. I produced this. Please admire me?

Journalling for myself remedies some of that, sometimes. At the very least, it lets me differentiate between what is (and isn’t) relevant to the public. It lets me organize my thoughts before I throw them at you guys (that’s a good thing, trust me). I also have a private micro-journalling app called Day One, which often takes the place of InstaTwitterBook posting. It means I can caption, organize, and record little memories, without forcing them all upon every person I have ever met. It means I don’t spam you with my daily monotony.

Well, I do sometimes. But the app at least helps with the self-control.

I think having different outlets for expression is really healthy, especially if you seem to have a lot to express. Being creative means that I write articles like this, but it also means I take pictures of everything. I write stupid poems. I record brainwaves, I pen songs, I text weird puns at my best friend.

You don’t need to see all that.

I’ll show you some of it–when it could be inspiring, or interesting, or funny. When it becomes something more powerful, when it could reflect on your life in some way. When I can release it with an assured sense of “Yeah, this doesn’t belong to me anymore. This idea, this article, this story…I can let people have their way with it.

We shouldn’t hold back our gifts. I would be a hypocrite to speak against good ol’ self-promotion. Still, I think it’s fair to commit to creating things worth promoting.  The things we create matter not because they’re a solid contribution to our own “collected works,” but because they’re an important (or entertaining, or enlightening) contribution to the collected works of humanity, period.

And that can end pretty freaking well:

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I think the secret to creating without also sucking as a person (or just being annoying to be around) is to be thoughtful with when and how you share. Not everything matters to everyone…but, at the same time, one unexpected piece of art can completely change the game. Be bold. Be real. Remember that a well-crafted personal letter to just one person can be 10 times more powerful than a semi-popular blog post. Remember that appreciating the creations of others, large and small, can have a profoundly positive effect on community.

And remember that as soon as you share something you have created, it becomes a gift. It can be about you, you can put yourself and your effort inside of it, but ultimately it no longer belongs to you.

When I press publish on this blog post, it will go from being mine to being ours. You get to have your way with it.

And I’ll just be here–sipping cheap coffee, privately sketching out my self-obsession, and letting you know if I come up with something worth sharing.

Love.

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Making Mountains Out of Moments

We’re really bad at auditing our own histories.

Okay, I can’t speak for you. You’re probably great.  But other people, over-sensitive, nostalgic people like me, struggle with making sense out of a personal past.  We get caught up considering moments. Moments distract from patterns.

And patterns are what matter.

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Now, I’m all about good ol’ reflection.  When a long-term relationship falls apart, for example, doing a solid autopsy is just about the most positive response you can have. It’s constructive.  It’s necessary.

Good. Great.

But when things are fresh, when memories and emotions are running high, our autopsies tend to trace scars instead of patterns.  Sometimes, when we should be looking at recurring toxic (or not-so-toxic) behaviours, we dwell on moments.

And if you focus only on moments, friends? You are in for an emotional ride.

You’ll relive and relive and relive the really intense stuff.  Only the really intense stuff.  The major disappointments. The I-can’t-even-breathe-right-now romantic gestures. It becomes a mental scorecard–was the whole thing horrible, the worst, or was it unbelievably amazing? Was it that time I cried all night, or the time I laughed all night? I don’t know. I don’t know.

(Neither, guys. It’s probably neither.)

Instead of looking for patterns, we pit “good times” against “dark times” in our minds, acting like our history is defined by extreme stories and emotional confrontations. We forget the day-to-day behaviour. The reactions. How communication worked (or didn’t), and how do you feel about that?

Focusing only on tear-stained memories of “good times” and “dark times,” can paint a pretty dramatic and unfair picture of all these things.  Sure, mega-scars need healing, and the happy times are worth remembering…but in most cases, using only the most epic stories to illustrate how things went down might not be the best tactic.

Basically, it’s big picture time.

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The relationship thing is just an example, of course. In general, we seem to have a habit of over-valuing stories drenched in perception and projection (and probably other dangerous things that end in -tion).  And that’s a pretty big problem when our little-picture memories are this malleable and unreliable.

Can big-deal moments be important? Of course, of course, of course. I’m not talking about overlooking major losses, abuses, and epiphanies.  Intense things can happen, and they can effect us.  Fallible as they may be, our memories make us who we are.

But, when we’re trying to learn from something long term, to make sense of ourselves and our pasts, we cannot just lean on landmarks.

When we are auditing our lives, little antecdotes shouldn’t override the whole story.

The Truth About Hockey: It’s All in Our Stories, Folks

I’m getting sick of getting sick of the lockout.

What I mean is, I’m getting sick of pretending that I care about the NHL. I don’t care about the NHL. I like that the NHL combines great players/franchises, and that it keeps hockey entertaining.  That’s about it. Every other thing I like about hockey, about the league, my favourite team…it comes down to stories.

These stories belong to me.  These stories belong to hockey, too. But they do not, and I’m realizing this more and more, belong to the NHL.

Here’s why I “care” about the NHL:  Because I still remember when I started cheering for the Sens instead of the Leafs.  Because one time, I rescheduled a date when I realized Ottawa and Montreal were facing off that night (I lived with a Habs fan at the time. This was serious business.).  Because in second year, I picked up a contract job at the All Star Game and it was awesome.  Because I made it to Scotiabank Place for a cheap student game night when I had a cold (and could barely talk, let alone cheer). Because after a long day, Hockey Night in Canada is just the best.

These stories may be completely drenched in the NHL, but that’s not what they’re about. They’re about people.

They’re about sipping hot chocolate as Krissy digs out her old jersey, or begging Michelle to come out to the pub because “this one’s a BIG DEAL.” They’re about long distance calls home to hash out the highlights. They’re about meeting folks from New York, Boston, Toronto, Montreal—and connecting with them, just because we’re all hockey fans.   They’re about cheering with people I’ve never even met, just because of seat proximity (or, some nights, the simple hashtag #GoSens).

If the Lockout has shown me anything, it’s that these memories (NHL-affiliated as they may be) do not revolve around the league itself. At their core, these stories are about the sport, community, and whatever weird passions are involved in me caring too much about scores and stats.  NHL or no NHL, I have been waking up at 4 am to watch the World Juniors.  I have been reminiscing on my ball hockey days with my little brother, who still retains a mini stick collection.  And long before I worked at the All Star Game, I volunteered for a local TV station.  (It was 2008.  My hometown hosted the Ontario Hockey League championships. I worked cameras and graphics for the postgame show. The Kitchener Rangers made it to the finals. We lost to the Spokane Chiefs, and the cup snapped in half as they held it up. I laughed hysterically, even though my still heart hurt a bit from the loss.)

I remember this. I remember cuing up highlights, and watching missed games alongside the local hosts (I still revel at their endless knowledge of the game).  I remember when, in one of my slower moments, I finally understood what an offside was.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the NHL.

Neither does the fact that this morning, my little brother busted in and turned on my light at 3:55 am.  This was exactly 5 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, and 35 minutes before Canada faced the USA in the World Juniors.  I had worn my red and white Canada scarf to bed.  “Bed,” by the way, was a 2 hour nap between 2 and 4 in the morning.  Classy is as classy does.

Why?  Because I watch hockey. So does my brother. And if the World Juniors are being held in Russia, then I’m microwaving pizza and mocking pregame blabber at an ungodly hour. It’s that simple. And in the end, it’s about us—he and I, the country we love, the game…me singing obnoxiously to bug him, smeared make up, early morning Diet Coke.  Who cares about the NHL?

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What I care about is right here.

I Don’t Know What “Home” Means…But I Think it Involves Dollar Store Tinsel

One of my friends/readers tweeted me some really great blog requests for December:


Her bonus points didn’t last long. The suggestions were rad, of course, but I soon realized that she had spelled #shaunanagins wrong. And that I had spelled #shaunanagins wrong. I’m not going to even point out the irony in that.

The reason these were really great requests, besides that they fit into the student-sized Homestyle portion of this blog, is because I totally know this stuff. I love this stuff. I’m all over the gift-giving and decorations, especially in the homemade/reasonably priced department. This is something my requesting friend knows well. It’s something that You probably know well, too, if You’ve been reading the blog for awhile.

Okay, that’s nice and all, but…WHY? Why am I so into this stuff? Am I  really a future Pinterest mom?  I crash on couches!  I take the bus!  I crave chicken wings! I wear my scarves as shirts! I’m wearing mismatched Green Bay Packers socks RIGHT NOW, and the classiest thing I’ve done all month is *try* to walk in stilettos.

This is what the kids call “swag,” right?

All that may be true. But it’s also true that I love red lipstick and wedding shows and lingerie. I make a mean homemade lasagna.  I wear my scarves as shirts (yes, this fits into both categories). I have personally hosted a fondue party. And, of course, I have a blog that shares recipes and decoration tips on a weekly basis.

I have no kids to keep alive. Does this mean I have time to make soap?

I actually relate to both of the women on this meme.  There probably will be a day where my mismatched NFL socks and I will attempt to make soap.  It will probably be very messy. Reindeer-shaped treats are on the December agenda, but this will DEFINITELY be messy. And, no surprise, my friend/reader wants me to blog about homemade gifts and decor. Messy or not, she knows exactly how down Shaunanagins is for that kind of content.

But WHY?

I think I need to address why decorating and getting into the season is so important. I know that it can be regarded as materialistic, or frivolous–after all, having “stuff” that you don’t technically need to survive is involved, which at least makes it a luxury. I get that. But despite my many, many flaws (recall: *trying* to walk in stilettos), I do not think my desire to decorate is one of them. It’s not a bad thing. Or even a frivolous thing, really.  It’s creative and it brings people together–if it’s done right, at least.

Decoration isn’t a status symbol. It’s not a red, green, and gold announcement that I shopped at The Bay last boxing day.  It’s not even a red, green, and gold announcement that I got a little crazy at the dollar store.  It’s a red, green, and gold announcement that my house is a home, and that You’re invited to take part in whatever that means for this time of year. It’s the homemaking equivalent of making eye contact and smiling at people as you walk down the street. Some of my inherited decorations are painfully gaudy, cheesy, or just plain unnecessary. But I’ve made memories with them, and I want to continue making memories with them.

At age six, I met a girl whose family, following her father’s job, had moved to Canada for a few months. Because they were only here for a short time, they had very little with them from England. Upon hearing about the temporary bareness of their home and unfamiliarity with Canadian Christmas, my parents immediately set their hospitality into overdrive. My new friend’s family came with us to see the lights at Waterloo Park. They joined our family tradition of skating at City Hall. And, most importantly, my parents showed up at their door in December with a box of spare decorations to fill some of the otherwise empty space.

I didn’t know this story until a couple years ago. I’ve remained close with that girl–we never lost contact, and her family moved back to Canada a few years later.  When her mother recounted the story to me over a decade later, she still had the most amazingly touched look in her eyes.  My neighbors overheard us talking about my parents’ decoration donation and quickly joined the conversation.  They recalled their first Christmas in the neighborhood, far from their extended family and without traditions to stand on. They, too, were incredibly touched by the holiday season they were always invited to next door.  I don’t mean we had a cool one-night Christmas party–I don’t remember us ever having a “Christmas party.” But we had a decorated house, a full fridge, a schedule of the TV Christmas specials, and an open door policy.

A decorated home with an open door policy is the best. It’s amazing to live in. It’s amazing fill with people. And, now that I’m a big kid, it’s amazing for me to be able to make one for myself. A couple years ago, my parents’ box of spare decorations ended up on another bare doorstep: mine. The box was filled with tacky, cheap, memory-filled Christmas stuff.  Just stuff, really. But I fully teared up with joy while putting everything up.  My roommate and I spent hours with eggnog and a weird Christmas trivia book found in the box. It made a difference. There’s no doubt about it.

Last year, I ended up hosting my three brothers and parents in Ottawa for Christmas.  I knew what to do. I had learned from the best. We didn’t need decorations to have a good Christmas, but it sure helped make the place feel like…well, like “home.” I don’t know exactly what “home” is, but I think that (for me, at least) there’s a month a year where it involves tinsel.

When I post about homemade gifts and ornaments and silly-looking wreaths and warm recipes…I guess someone could be cynical and see it as a cutesy, first-world-esque response to a commercialized holiday. But I want You to know it’s coming from a very real place: A place that has brought a lot of people together.  A place that, during some of the harder years, has helped keep me together. And a place that, because I’m the coolest kid in town, got me procrastinating by making these the other day:

It’s also possible that I just really like stickers.

…okay, now I’m just showing off my cut & paste skillz. But that’s for another post.

Let the games begin!