I have always been all over the place with my creative interests. Over the years I have taken up cross-stitch, embroidery, beginning sewing, rubber stamping, scrapbooking, flute, ukulele, card crafting, crochet, loom knitting, knitting with needles, herbal crafting, candle making, cake decorating, felt crafts, dance, watercolor, pastels . . . I am sure the I could list at least twenty more things if I thought long and hard about it.
Some of these interests have waxed and waned, and I have easily let them go. Some of them are seasonal and don't engage me more than a few weeks each year. Some I barely dabble in. Some I haven't let go of because I have expensive supplies and a sense of guilt when I consider getting rid of things. Some I actively want to pursue.
Some things will always be with me. I like to sing. I'm not a particularly talented singer, but I am enthusiastic, and my family seems to enjoy it. My dad sang silly, made up songs to me, and I do the same to my boys. Sometimes the boys and I sing together purposefully, without accompaniment, and sometimes we all sing as a family, with Papa playing guitar or ukulele, or every now and then, piano.
I know that I'm not serious about singing, so I don't devote a lot of time to it. The good thing about singing is that you usually have your voice with you, and you can sing and do other things at the same time, like drive. In fact, when I was younger I often composed little songs while I commuted to and from work. I've forgotten most of them now, but I did come up with a lullaby that I would sing to my own baby ten years later.
It isn't always so easy with the other creative pursuits. I can honestly say that I have too much to choose from, and it creates a mental clutter that makes it hard for me to focus. Knit or crochet, and if knit, then which of the four projects I have going right now? Watercolor a card, or rubber stamp it? Crochet a baby blanket, or sew one from flannel, or attempt a baby quilt? Maybe I should knit the baby a hat instead?
The other day though, it occurred to me to ask myself, which of these things could I let go of? At first, my thought was none of them, and I started listing everything I enjoy about each specific activity (well not cake decorating . . . that's one I let go of). But it was easy to let each creative activity clamor for equal time. Knitting is great; I recently learned how, and I can make things for other people. Crochet connects me to my grandmother. Scrapbooking feels like something I should do. I've recently become interested in embroidery again. I saw some felt animals that I'd love to make. Nothing wanted to go.
So I rephrased the question, and actually created an exercise to help me weed through my many options. It goes like this:
If I never (did a certain activity), I would (fill in description or alternative).
If I never knit again, I would still find what I need.
If I never scrapbooked again, I could forgive myself for not meeting society's expectation for white, middle class moms, and I could tell my children every day that I love them by the life we live together.
If I never play the flute again, I can still sing.
If I never really learn to play ukulele, I can give mine to J-Baby and he can learn on a nice instrument.
If I never roll another candle, I will still have light.
If I never make another salve, I can find someone who does.
If I never rubber stamp again, I can write and draw with my hands.
If I never learn to quilt, it won't be the end of the world.
If I never take up embroidery again, I might be sad.
If I never crochet again, my hands might feel empty and cold.
If I never write again, I will be lost.
Do you see how easy it is? Right now I obviously want to spend my time writing, crocheting, and eventually, doing embroidery. It doesn't mean that I have to get rid of everything else, but I can tell you that I feel a renewed sense of vigor when I think of decluttering my craft supplies.
Having done this same exercise with other activities, I can see that my high priority list includes spending time with my family, getting out in nature, and reading.
Some things burn brightly in us, but we don't focus on them because we have candles glowing everywhere we look. We get distracted by the money we've spent, by other people's expectations, by goals we've set for ourselves without thinking about whether the express who we really are.
In some cases, the things we do are an expression of ourselves, but they are poorly received and perhaps poorly formed. For instance, many years I have worked hard to create a handmade holiday. I want everyone to have a gift made with my own hands and heart. It is also helpful that I can create nice gifts for far less than I could purchase them. I trade my time for the wow factor (which has increased over the years, as hand crafts have increased in popularity once more). But when I am completely honest about it, I don't always gets that "Wow". I probably don't get it half of the time. I don't get it from children other than my own. I don't get it from my side of the family. Most everyone who receives a homemade gift from me would be perfectly satisfied with a purchased gift.
So given my new, tightly focused set of priorities, where will I spend my time this year? I have a feeling I won't be knitting hats for my nephews, or making an ABC scrapbook for my niece. I'll probably finish what I've started, in the spare time that is truly spare.
Why did I learn to knit? Well, at first it was because I was supposed to, so I could teach my very Waldorf children how to knit in grade 1. We never got to it in grade 1, because I hadn't learned yet. By the end of grade 2 I got determined, and inspired (by a novel) and figured it out one night. So we made knitting needles, and bought fairly traded wool yarn, and gave it a go, but it turns out that someone had forgotten to program the desire to knit into my children. Oh, they liked the story I read to them, and the cute verse we learned, but when it came down to actually trying they gave it 5 minutes and proceeded to go outside and play.
I stuck with it, and made couple of scarves. Secretly I preferred crochet, but crochet isn't hip and a shiny aluminum hook doesn't have the cachet of two hardwood needles sticking out of your bag. Knitters are admired; crocheters are just old, even if the Stitch 'N Bitch author did try to make it hip by writing a book entitled The Happy Hooker. I've been to yarn shops and knitting circles; crochet is something that knitters have to learn just enough of to finish their garments.
What I am saying is that I didn't fall in love with knitting. I liked it for all of the wrong reasons: it was Waldorf, it was hip, it was supposed to integrate the left and right sides of my brain. I could make warm, practical, funky knit gifts for people who didn't want them, out of yarns that I loved but they would have to hand wash. I could hang out with friends who knit, which was cool.
I have a feeling that I am not done with knitting, but I know now that it isn't on my high priority list for now.
I still love the small, seasonal projects. It's nice to make a beautifully soft hat for a newborn, to roll candles for the holiday mantle, and to spend an afternoon mixing oils and herbs making hand salves for the year. Put in their proper place they don't take away from my focus.
Why was writing my top creative choice? Writing for me is like breathing. Everyone wants to communicate, and long ago the written word chose me, to both read and to write. I don't have to write published articles, award-winning poetry, or the next great American novel. I do need to find a way to let the ideas and words out of my brain. I have to get them out, and as I do, as the words move from my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen or paper, my thoughts are refined. The burn into my being as parts of who I am.
Really, that is what art is all about . . . expressing our humanity. At one time in my life I did that with my body, dancing and moving. Later, I painted. Always I am trying to communicate who I am by what I create, and always, words have been my preferred medium. Some of the other things are way stations, stepping stones, things that help me figure out who I am, but that in the end are not who I am. I know it's true, because always I must write about them.