On being a creative mess

Unfortunately, I was cursed with curiosity at birth. I have a tendency to develop an interest in far too many things, then end up overwhelmed or burn myself out in my attempts to engage with all of them. My brain is a wired, chaotic and intangible mess of ideas, excitement and failed projects. I get so caught up in the sheer range of things I want to do, that I don’t really get stuck in to any one thing at all – and therein lies my fatal flaw. My brain is a manic, claustrophobic web of DOOM.

Times Square
Times Square, New York, by Gianlu Colombi
I visited New York last year and hated Times Square in particular because it reminded me of how bloody claustrophobic my brain gets. It was like being in a visual representation of my own mind, wahhhh!
“Overwhelmed”, by Rae Ackerman

I went to a talk this evening at a place called PAPER Arts in Bristol – they are a FANTASTIC social enterprise, founded to help local artists to break into the creative industry. We heard two successful creatives talking about their experiences and how they have managed to get work.

It was massively inspiring, but my main worry was “BUT I LIKE SO MANY THINGS DAMN IT!”. The first speaker was a photographer, animator and graphic designer. The second was a copywriter and editor. Did I mention I want to be all of those things and more!? Some might say, “well, you’re lucky you like all of those things and could choose to pursue any one of them.” Am I, though? I’m alright – in fact, I might go so far as to say good – at a lot of things, but exceptional at none. I should really choose one particular skill to harness and dedicate myself to. I know I should. In conversation with the speakers this evening, they recommended that I narrow my focus a little and choose just a couple of things to really learn about and prioritise. Lovely idea in theory, and pretty much exactly the same advice I would give to anyone else in the same position. But…

I’m just not that kind of person. I am chaotic and interested in lots of things. I completely immerse myself in one thing, my attention span or excitement about another project cuts my focus short, and I move on to the next thing. I will probably go back to the first thing at some point, but the fact is, I dip in and out of things. It’s just the way I am. Even in my every day life, I’ll be brushing my teeth and realise that actually, I also have to wash up. So I’ll abandon brushing my teeth, go and wash up and then in doing so, realise something else I have to do like add a particular charm to a particular necklace so several hours later, I still haven’t finished the simple task of brushing my teeth. This is the story of my life.

Unfinished Ballet Dancer Drawing
A drawing of some ballet dancers in Photoshop that only ever got to this stage before I got bored.
Amanda Palmer Drawing
A drawing I did of Amanda Palmer in Photoshop. I really wanted to make into a cool little montage. Got bored, never finished it. OOPS.
Josh Holloway Drawing
A pencil drawing of Josh Holloway. I started it and never… well… I think you know what’s coming.

Is it a bad thing? Well, it’s certainly not convenient – especially when you’ve only put eye make-up on one eye, forgotten to brush your hair and have your top on inside out. But part of me likes being this way. I think it’s exciting, from a creative perspective, that I have such a variety of interests and so many things in my head at any one time. On the other hand, it limits my progress in any one thing and means I’m a bit of a floundering, scatty mess with dozens of half-finished projects around me at any one time. Seriously, you should see my living room (which is my de-facto studio). It’s covered with half-finished bits of jewellery, tools, and polymer clay trodden into the floor where I’ve stood on a partly crafted flower I got bored of part way through.

It’s even harder to cope with all of this when my chronic illness (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Postural Tachycardia Syndrome) is taken into account. It means that I am often tired, in pain, feel generally unwell, suffer with a reduced ability to concentrate, or am acutely ill as a result of my immune system being a bit pathetic. I have the added stress of factoring in rest time, making up for time during which I failed to complete something due to illness, and making sure I don’t overdo it and completely break myself health-wise.

During my time studying History at University (which I haven’t used at all since I graduated… ahem), I completely broke myself physically and mentally. I decided that when I finished, I needed to take some time out to rest and heal. I found myself a little housing association flat in Bristol and started claiming ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) due to my inability to work. For a long time, I was completely disengaged with everyone and everything. I was too scared to do anything in case I made myself more ill; I knew very few people here, and I didn’t have the energy to do much anyway. I felt like I needed to give my brain a break, but in doing so I found my mental health worsened and I isolated myself. I lost interest in my creativity, and I was perpetually bored and unfulfilled. But I gradually realised what was going on and decided I needed to get myself back out there and re-discover my interests because I wasn’t living, I was merely existing.

In the last two or so years I feel as though I’ve found myself again. I started volunteering at a local charity to get used to working again, and I recently started making jewellery which has been invaluable for my self-confidence and sense of creativity. I feel sort of like I’ve been reborn, and it’s a beautiful thing until you realise there just isn’t enough time in the world to do everything you want to!

I’m currently working part-time as an intern (unpaid, boo) and my spare time is dedicated to making the jewellery and whatever other bits and bobs. I barely have enough time for all of it. Yet I still want/ need to find the time to update this blog, build a website, learn about all the things I want (web design, copywriting, art, graphic design, photography, marketing, advertising… randomly I’d also really like to learn German, for no real reason), design, draw, play in Photoshop, take pictures, market my jewellery on social media and update my Etsy shop, update my Flickr page, actually have a social life, spend time with my boyfriend, and rest enough that I don’t break myself again. It’s tough, man!

Kate Maldonado

Another concern is that when I do inevitably apply for jobs in “the creative industry”, I’ll be turned down due to lack of experience (in fact, it’s already happened several times). I’m also aware that when I do find something, I’ll most likely be having to work for free for quite a while which will leave me feeling a bit exploited. That’s an issue that came up at the talk tonight, actually – a lot of people there were feeling the same.

I simply do not have the time to engage with all the things in which I am interested. I think I’m doomed to be a frustrated creative for the rest of my days! Does anyone else feel this way? How do you manage your time and learn all the skills you want? Do you just have to accept that you’re never going to be able to do it all?

I’d be interested to hear your opinions!