Thursday, November 03, 2011

Stress, rest, and creativity

Note: I started on this post a week ago. Perhaps that reflects the nature of what I'm discussing here. It's a bit rambly, but I think it's still mostly accurate to where I am in the moment.

I've been ruminating on this post for two weeks - maybe three or four - and even then I did not finish it in one sitting; it seems like this process reflects the nature of my creative, vocational, and personal existence right now. Life has been especially intense - even by my already intensified standards - since the end of July, when we returned from our trip to Saskatchewan. In that time - only three months - we have dealt with numerous significant family developments, my starting a very challenging new teaching job, and a constant monitoring of our church's current situation (financially and relationally). It makes me glad that we don't have children yet. Now, I realize that many of you will sigh, sit back, and start to glaze over as you read, since you have heard this before from me. I won't deny it: I know I've written posts like this before, and I'm sure I'll write them again. Here's my disclaimer: blogging is one way I work through the things that come up in my life, and this intstressity has consumed me over the past month or so. My blog does serve as somewhat of a journal, so in some ways it is more for me that for any of you; the fact that people are inspired/encouraged/enraged/etc. as a result of my writing is almost incidental. I do try to have something new to say whenever I post, and I think that there are some good nuggets contained even in this stream of thought about the connection between rest and creativity. So read on, brave soul.
It's hard to believe that it's closer to Christmas break than to Labour Day at this point; Daylight Savings Time and Remembrance Day are all in the foreseeable future, and the school year is already almost twenty-five per cent complete. As recently as mid-September, I felt like I was getting things on track, but October has been a real challenge. After Thanksgiving, I got sick for a week, had to deal with big picture church stuff the following week, and as a result I'm now feeling a couple of weeks behind in my work. I think the issue for me is that I expected (whether it was reasonable to think this or not) that I would be "okay" by this point. It's always bound to be crazy until Thanksgiving, but usually I'm able to find some sense of normalcy after that; this year I'm really struggling to get in step and stay caught up. It's challenging to feel that almost any minute of my day is mortgaged in some way against the future and that I'm constantly in a battle of life vs. school. I've been working through what it means to rest and how that intersects with being creative.
When I'm teaching, it feels like much of my creative spirit is diverted from my own interests into my schoolwork. It takes a constant level of creativity to work in a classroom, particularly in an environment with as many curveballs as mine provides each week. I would like to continue engaging creatively through my writing (blog and book) as well as through experiencing the media around me, but I have even struggled with that since school began. In the past two months, have read only two books, having finished both in the past week. I have been to the movie theatre once, and I'm several weeks behind on the new TV season. I've blogged four times. About my only significant cultural accomplishment is that I have watched through the first two seasons of Modern Family. I have been able to listen to many of the new albums that have been released in the past two months, but I haven't been able to process them into reviews yet. The bottom line for me is that it feels like it takes most of my creativity to get through each day and to be ready for the next.
So what's the relationship between stress, rest, and creativity? It seems that the more stress I have, the less creative I am, and the the less rest I get. But here's where I'm learning to flip it: I think that creativity might be the key to the other two, rather than a byproduct of them. It seems that when I sacrifice creativity or allow my personal creative enterprises to be subverted into my work is when I struggle the most. What if I were to place that priority on creativity, and that's what lowers the stress and brings rest regardless of what's happening around me? What if I'm giving up the very thing that would actually help me cope each day? When I've allowed myself the time to write or to watch a movie or to read, I've felt more energized; even the couple of times I've played video games with friends have felt much more inspirational than they should have. Perhaps I need to place a priority on engaging my media world, and that will help me unlock the creativity I need to succeed in my work and help me rest. Of course, the question still remains: what does it look like to do this well? Does it mean planning for "me time" each day to watch/read/listen/play something without distractions? Do I forgo sleep to get the rest that I need? How can I meet this need in the midst of working, being married, having friends here and there, maintaining a household, and being in leadership at the church? I recognize that these are challenging questions to answer at anytime, but I've been reminded of the kind of struggles I had in my first two years of teaching, the second of which was challenging primarily due to the new marriage and move. It really feels like I've been put back into my first year of teaching again, and that I'm having to work through everything from the beginning. It's a challenge to feel set back and to have to work through all of these questions again, but I think that everything will work out - as long as I can keep finding ways to be creative and to rest.

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