This was only going to be a quick two paragraph blog post – a snatch of observation that, when I started writing, blossomed into a lot more…
The Wonder Of Youth
You know the advice that exists about child-like wonder? About how we should recapture the creative freedom that we lose in the transition to adulthood?
Well, it’s good advice! I wrote about it in We Will WriteThem On The Pitches, after all, but it sure can be difficult to enact. When my fingertips are hovering over the computer keyboard, itching to add another chapter to the next book, sometimes I pile pressure on myself.
Pressure to write a certain way, or to meet a self-imposed standard that is tantalisingly out of reach. Always just out of reach!
So much pressure … rather than relaxing and letting the words flow. Maybe you do similar with the art you create? In those moments, the idea of embracing the freedom of youth is the last thing on your mind.
Learning When To Spot It
Yet when you see it happen in other people, it’s a delight to behold. It makes you realise that maturity and world-weariness can be abandoned – even if just for a while – and life can be experienced with the joy that a child should possess.
It happened recently at work when a colleague hit one of those ‘silly’ moods; all light-heartedness, jokes and random comments. That person doesn’t aspire to produce art so didn’t recognise it as anything creative, but it was. It lifted the mood, made life seem more fun, and was exactly what the rest of us should aspire to more of the time.
And do you know what another colleague said to them? Do you know what they contributed to the improved atmosphere? If I tell you it made my heart sink then you might be able to guess, for the question they asked was:
‘What's wrong with you today?’
Why Does Something Have To Be Wrong?
It’s a sad indictment of society (or my office, at least!) that Colleague 1 could have sat at their desk in a bad mood and nobody would have said a thing. Part of that would have been the rest of us giving them some space, but part of it would also have been the acceptance of such a mood as normal.
Then they exhibit positive behaviour and Colleague 2 immediately questions it. That might say more about Colleague 2 than anything else, but I’ve been dwelling on this little episode because I think it’s emblematic of people’s reactions to each other’s moods.
One of the benefits of maturity and adulthood is the ability to better control our emotions. It’s not appropriate – or healthy! – to break down at the drop of a hat, but there seems to be an increasing unwillingness for people to appear vulnerable at all – even to close friends.
With social media and the inherent distractions of “being busy”, it’s easy to become disconnected from the people nearest and dearest to us. Ironically, something like Twitter makes it easier to embrace randomness: a quick, funny response to someone’s tweet can blossom into a rapid exchange of creativity that enlivens an otherwise humdrum day. The biggest shame is that those exchanges seem to be absent in existing relationships.
Or Is That Just Me?
I’m concerned at this trend, albeit not sure whether it’s a general one or specific only to my own life! I’ve tried to be more open with people of late and ask genuine, meaningful, ‘How are you?’ questions. Sometimes I get no answer, so perhaps I’m picking the wrong time to ask, or asking in the wrong way.
But when I do get an answer (and sometimes when I don’t), I’m sensing feelings of resignation; that “being busy” is the default setting and disconnectedness is simply inevitable. There’s nothing wrong with busy as long as it’s for the right reasons, but if it starts to impact on your mood and relationships then alarm bells should ring – unless, of course, letting relationships slip is a compromise worth accepting.
Writing, Listening, Observing
It’s not a compromise I’m willing to make, which is why I need to understand this apparent inhibition of our inner child. The most recent round-up e-mail from the website Brain Pickings featured Ernest Hemingway’s advice to writers, and one particular quote stood out:
“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand. When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe.”
Maybe through writing more I’ve unconsciously developed some of these traits. Not that I’m comparing myself to Hemingway – far from it! – but it could explain why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and why that concern is not reciprocated as fully as I sometimes wish.
By coincidence, in today’s One Thing Today podcast, Michael Nobbs mentioned how leading a somewhat introverted existence can skew your view of things, and finding out the opinions of others is important for perspective. Creating art can be a lonely business, so it’s hardly surprising when we feel the need to connect with people on a more meaningful level.
That doesn’t have to be true only of writers or artists – we can all listen and observe better. We encourage children to do so, and as adults we are capable of much greater empathy. Asking, “How are you today?” shouldn’t be a platitude or something we say out of routine. It’s time we asked it like we really meant it, so that we might encourage each other to rediscover our sense of joy.