When I was 21, I had one goal in life: get into the best journalism school in the country.
If I could get a place, then I would be one step closer to being a TV journalist, which was my laser-focused ambition from about the age of 14.
Ask my family and they’ll tell you that I am one of those people who always knew what to do from an early age. They’ll probably say it with a sigh: “he’s lucky, he always had a plan, unlike me…”
Note, however, that I am not a TV journalist, nor did I ever become one.
I did get into that journalism school though. Applicants were invited to a day of writing and current affairs tests, followed by an interview with a lecturer. I was so prepared for this interview I nailed it - right up until the final question.
“Do you have any hobbies?” she asked.
I was sweating. I couldn’t think of anything I did that wasn’t in some way an audition for this career I wanted.
I stumbled through an awkward minute of verbal vomit, clamouring desperately for something - one thing - I could say I did for fun, but had to admit defeat.
I thought I had lost it at the last moment. Clearly she was checking to see if I was an interesting, well-rounded person.
And clearly I wasn’t.
In the 13 years since that day, I never developed any hobbies - focused, as I was, on the work. I justified it by saying that making videos and telling stories was basically was a hobby that I was lucky enough to be getting paid for.
And with the ups and downs of freelancing, I never invested time or money into any other activities.
Over a decade, prudence became stinginess, which has become miserliness. My apartments have always been barely decorated; I have sometimes gone years without taking a holiday; I rarely buy nice clothes or let myself eat nice food.
A necessary strategy for survival, maybe. But through a long process of excavation this summer, it’s dawned on me that neglecting this aspect of my life has been really bad for me - and the work.
If you imagine that your creativity is a little version of you living inside of you: an inner artist. This artist is a kid, basically - it loves spontaneity, play, treats, toys; yet it’s also emotionally volatile and doesn’t like responsibility. It does not like being ignored.
With horror, I have realised that if my inner artist were a real child, I would be locked up for parental neglect, bordering on abuse.
By denying myself hobbies, treats, spontaneous indulgences - for well over a decade! - I have been starving my creativity to the point of chronic malnourishment, while at the same time demanding it work for me.
What a prick.
And so it is no surprise that this year, outside of my job at the Times at least, my creativity has all but dried up - leaving me in a funk. (#23)
(As an aside: despite some struggles, I have always been comfortably middle class. Can you imagine how this psychology affects the creativity of people on much lower incomes? People who genuinely can’t afford to indulge their inner artist? We rightly highlight that there aren’t enough working class people in the arts, but it seems the problem runs deeper.)
I have been hoping to come out of this summer with a renewed focus, a new ambitious creative project that was going to propel me forward into exciting new work.
But now I see how neglected and malnourished my artist is, I realise I have a recuperative journey ahead of me instead.
So my focus for the next year, but maybe two, is a program of creative self care.
I’m going to invest in myself - in my health, in hobbies. I’m going to let myself buy things on impulse, treat myself to little luxuries and make time for goalless writing and drawing. I’m going to surround my desk with plants and lights and books.
Around the corner from my office is a picture frame workshop which hosts weekly evening drawing classes in a large upstairs studio. I have walked past it daily for months, each time saying “I should sign up for that class” and then never doing it.
Denying my inner artist each time.
Well, friends, about a month ago I finally went to that class! There’s usually about a dozen or so people of varying levels (thankfully), and we drink tea and sketch models for a couple of hours.
And I love it.
Not because I am that good (although I do like some of my drawings) or because I think it could lead to some new career. I like it precisely because it is neither of those things.
Going to this class is like taking my inner artist on a secret date. I’m telling my creativity that it matters to me - but not because I need it work for me. I’m simultaneously declaring that it is free to play and that there is limitless possibility.
“I have a hobby!” I declared to C when I got home.
It’s proving to be a summer of quiet revolution.
“No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently” - Agnes De Mille
Until next Sunday,