I read my old writing, cringing and rewording in my head, the vantage point of a more mature reader letting me judge the “me” that used a trite metaphor or botched syntax. Somehow a few lines are good. Really good. They stand the test of time for their insight and innovation. It may be that they are illuminated by default because of the surrounding word muck—bad writing can make even average lines read extraordinary in context. Knowing that I was only 15 at the time adds to the pleasure and surprise of finding these gems now. I imagine my gawky teen self in front of the old desktop I had throughout high school, wire-rimmed lenses glowing blue from the screen, and I immediately think, with pride, “You go girl.” If I could, I would reach back through the years that separate us and high-five that friendless marvel. Maybe offer her a more flattering pair of specs.
No narcissistic tendency informs the retrospective praise. So why applaud her efforts? I was a goofy kid, but I did what I loved every day: I wrote. It didn’t matter that the pages weren’t perfect or peer-reviewed. And it definitely didn’t matter that what I wrote was conventionally uncool to the public, a fact I embraced because I allowed no audience to judge it. I wrote strictly for myself about topics that were important to me, never once considering publicizing or publishing. I was 15, weird and didn’t care. Most of my lines were bad, but some are so profound that I wonder why I ever stopped writing.
Most of us stop writing. We stop painting, dancing, singing, recording music, performing, playing piano, sculpting or shooting videos. Unless we are fortunate enough to make a living off our childhood passions, we sweep them aside for more profitable prospects. It is rare that we come back from a nine-to-five with enough energy and fervor to fill our evenings with productive creativity. Although if you do, I applaud you.
Conversely, when we do find the stamina, our networks make us question if what we produce is good enough. We can be quick to compare ourselves online and consequently forget to enjoy the process. Suddenly the drive to create that you felt as a kid is not as fun as you remember. What’s the point of practicing cello again, you ask yourself, if your clip will never get more than 10 likes on Instagram?
Other factors alter our creative instincts. Our peer group changes, expands, diversifies. We acquire new interests. We start one too many Netflix series. We start to prefer alcohol to arts and crafts. Invariably, we decide to dedicate—if not drain—all our time and attention to another conduit, leaving the creative pool to dry. We get our kicks elsewhere—usually online.
It is worse if you feel you’ve never had these creative outlets to begin with, but I will argue that’s untrue. Every child has picked up a crayon, invented a game, burst out in song or danced on a coffee table. Whether you hacked and honed those primitive urges throughout your development will depend on you. No one is born without creativity, but it is possible to die without it. Creative time is reflective, meditative and has numerous documented benefits—from increased productivity at the workplace to improved communication in patients diagnosed with dementia. Students of all ages benefit when curricula include creative thinking. And stress levels are significantly reduced when individuals are given an hour a week to sculpt clay, paint on canvas or complete a coloring book.
But we are too busy. The statuses and photos we share on social media say so. We are in debt and over-worked. We post and compare, keeping up with viral trends. But at the root of oversharing an empty life is the absence of creativity. We have no space to self-reflect, no time to reestablish those imaginative forces that brought us bliss as kids. It may be true that you’re just not into it anymore—you are certain that the last time you could ever enjoy strumming that guitar was grade five. But this doesn’t mean you have to shut your doors to other creative avenues.
I am making a case for the anti-social media. I challenge you to complete a creative pursuit at least once a week, for one whole hour. Shut off your phone and focus solely on creating. Bring a project into existence and deny the urge to post about it or compare it to someone else. Do this often enough so that it becomes a fulfilling habit. I will be joining you, although I won’t be posting a status about it. I am taking a hint myself and writing about weird things again. This article is a start.
Sarah Jawhari is a graduate student at the Case School of Dental Medicine.