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Time spent hanging out with family and friends can sometimes backfire when I don’t balance it with time alone to imagine and create.

I was recently scolded (in a well-meaning way) for complaining about not having time to compose. This person invited me to turn my frustration into thankfulness for the time I’ve spent with family and loved ones (which has prevented me from composing much of anything this summer). My father and I have spent the past couple of months helping my mother through the dying process, and also helping her family and friends (as well as ourselves) work through grief and sorrow. I am far from bitter about the time and energy spent in this way, in fact I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the time we’ve all had to embrace and lift up one another. Yet, I am experiencing some residual difficulty with concentrating on the semester ahead of me. I believe I am struggling because I haven’t had time to create (as I usually do) during the summer.

Creativity isn’t just something one can shut down indefinitely. It happens, whether we have time for it or not. I think this is the most misunderstood aspect of creativity. I’ve read several articles and books on the creative brain in an effort to understand myself better. What I’ve found is that “creatives” are often mis-labeled as disorganized, anti-social, tunnel-visioned, and lazy. What I’ve learned about myself is that, while my desk and household may appear cluttered and chaotic, my mind is not. While I may seem to be an extrovert because I’m generally a happy, jolly person, I honestly treasure my “alone” time. Like many musicians, I have a very high sensitivity to sound, so there are times when social settings feel like an assault on my ears. Many times when I find myself feeling irritated (though nothing specifically bad or negative has happened), I suddenly realize that I’m in a setting that is too noisy. It may not be for most people, but it is for me. “Tunnel-visioned” is a pretty accurate label, but not entirely. Yes, I get “in the zone” when I’m creating and this causes me to ignore phone calls, e-mails, children, pets, my spouse, my friends, and sometimes even my own needs. You’d never know it from looking at me, but I forget to eat all the time. However, outside of the “zone time” I am highly aware (perhaps too aware) of all that is happening around me. I observe everything pretty keenly, to the point of being overwhelmed at times by the barrage of sights, sounds, and even smells that are constantly filling the “in-box” of my brain, waiting for processing, analysis, categorizing, and eventually filing. The lazy label is the one that I find most harmful to my psyche. I keep weird hours. Most creative types do. I’ve learned not to schedule classes before 10 a.m. I just don’t function at my best before then. I’m usually awake by 6:30 because I have to get kids on the bus, but my brain doesn’t kick into high gear until much later in the day. Many studies have proven that the creative mind takes longer to “fire up.” Believe me, once my mind does get going, I’m a pretty hard worker. So, it stings a little when people tease me about “sleeping late.” Never mind that I stayed up until 4 or 5 a.m. the night before because I was working while all the “normal people” in the world were asleep. The world says that you’re lazy if you sleep past 10 a.m., so my psyche thinks it must be true. If you know a creative person who keeps odd hours, please try to be sensitive about this issue. Even if they laugh about it themselves (as I often do), just be aware that the humor is probably a defense mechanism.

My classes begin in two weeks. I have faculty workshop next week. I still have much class prep ahead of me, which leaves me zero time to compose. I typically put my creative ideas on hold during the academic year so that I can focus on my “day job” as a professor. When summer comes, I open the floodgates and let my creative self out of the cage. This summer, I have not had time to do that. It’s just a fact. I’m not bitter about it, that would be irrational. Frustrated? Yes. All this creative energy is currently bogging me down. My sponge is full and there’s no time or space to wring it out — so it’s just sitting there in my brain. This is feasible for a few months, but eventually it clutters everything else I try to do. It feels like driving through endless road construction — there are detours and roadblocks everywhere. So, that is what I find frustrating. I wouldn’t trade the precious time with family and friends I have had this summer for anything in the world. I just need another summer right now so that I can create. It’s not going to happen. I will find a way to back-burner that process for a few months, but that isn’t going to be easy. I do it all the time — it’s become a norm for me — but, it is stifling and makes mundane tasks more difficult than they should be. December will be my time to compose in 2018 — so, please don’t think badly of me if I seem a little unfocused until that time.

Here is a link to a short and humorous article that explains a bit about the creative mind, for those who are interested. By the way, I am totally the panda in this article: “Signs you are too creative…”